Yearly Archives: 2005

The Spiritual Dimensions

In the book, The Unnecessary Pastor, Gene Peterson wrote a challenging thought:

As community diminishes, the “frenzy” for leadership accelerates, but it is more often than not a leadership that destroys community by functionalizing people. The more “effective” our leaders become, the less community we get. [Unnecessary Pastor, Eerdmans, 2000,  p. 203]

Every time I read of another book on leadership, or another seminar on leadership, Peterson’s words come to mind. It does appear that when it comes to issues of leadership there is a frenzy. In a casual conversation a few weeks ago, a friend described a conversation he had with Dr. Allen Churchill, former senior pastor of the  Dominion Chalmers United Church in Ottawa. In reflecting on the state of the Evangelical movement in Canada, Dr. Churchill commented on how similar our conditions are to those of the United Church in the 1960’s. It was in the ‘60’s, that the United Church began what he called an “incidental drift.” Issues of ministry took on a mechanical nature, and there was a unique focus on Leadership as a pragmatic study. From the seminaries, down into the churches, leadership became a matter of theory and management principles and technique.

The “drift” took the definition and practice of leadership further away from the Bible. Rather than referring to the Scriptures, or relating leadership to the dynamics of faith and the community of faith, leadership was measured through the models of management and through the school of business. As Peterson describes it, it became a matter of “function.”

If we were to anchor our definition of leadership to the Scriptures, we would find – at the core – that it is a matter of character. In the Pastoral Epistles, both to Timothy and Titus, we find that the measure of a leader refers to a person whose life is oriented and shaped by Scripture and whose speech flows out of that orientation and shaping, it is more a matter of character than of skill [Unnecessary Pastor, p. 202]

Sift through the lists of qualifications in Timothy and Titus and you will have a hard time writing a job description. Paul’s orders are not to find people who are able to run programs or raise finances. His concern revolves around the quality of character and spiritual formation.

Leadership and leadership development are not unique disciplines. If anything, they are an extension of the natural process of spiritual growth. The essential elements of a mature leader are rooted deep in the foundation of a character given birth in conversion, finding a voice through spiritual discipline, and discovering expression through obedient service. And, because service is something that is done in community, it is a matter of fellowship.

Over the last year, as I gathered materials for the Heart for Ministry course, I discovered a good number of assessment tools, tests that help a person assess their fitness. Many of the tests are helpful. But, I have this growing suspicion that they fall short.

When Timothy and Titus sought to detect people with the character traits described by Paul, they didn’t have computerized tests. As far as I can tell, they didn’t require anyone to sit down and take a Spiritual Gift inventory. Instead, they circulated in the community with a sensitive heart.

It’s as if God designed the Church, the community of Faith, to be a natural detector. It was in the community that a person would grow and it was the community that would be able to detect the integrity of their growth. It was among the people of God that a person would serve and it was the people of God who would confirm that their service was empowered by God.

It’s no wonder, then, that Peterson would have tied leadership and community into an essential partnership: If we let our imaginations be trained by the Pastorals when we go to work developing leadership in the community of faith, we are not going to be looking for talented people whom we can use. We will seek nurturing souls who are trustworthy and faithful.”[Unnecessary Pastor, p. 203.]

The Church is God’s chosen environment for leadership development. Over the next few months, I will be drafting a business plan to build a process for leadership development. It can’t be done without the Church in mind. It can’t be done without a healthy community. It can’t be done with congregations who make it their business to create and cultivate leaders from within. That is our Biblical mandate.

“Courageous Leadership”

Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervans, 2002) 253 pages, paperback.

This book is written from the heart. Bill Hybels packs into these pages key lessons and good advice about pastoral leadership that he has learned and continues to learn through his involvement with the Willow Creek Church and its Association. He is convinced that the local church is the hope of the world, but it needs courageous leaders. “[L]ocal church leaders have the potential to be the most influential force on planet earth. If they ‘get it,’ and get on with it, churches can become the redemptive centers that Jesus intended them to be”[12]. So after thirty years of ministry, Hybels shares what in his opinion this kind of church leadership is all about.

With many personal illustrations Hybels walks us through the various dimensions of ministry leadership. He centres his discussion in the fact, function and potential of the local church. But then argues that “the outcome of the redemptive drama being played out on planet Earth will be determined by how well church leaders lead”[27]. For this reason church leaders must take their role seriously, be committed to developing their gifts and abilities fully, and then be willing to act courageously for the good of the Kingdom. However, the bottom line remains “the Acts 2 church” [27].

In the course of his book Hybels considers the singular importance of vision and its implementation. Team ministry ranks high in his estimation. Both financial and personnel resource development must be priorities. And then the most important element, a leader’s self-development, occupies the last six chapters. Personally, I think these last six chapters are the best in the volume because they draw readers into deep reflection upon their own leadership journey and challenge them to be very intentional about this. If ministry leaders neglect self-development, they risk losing everything God has called them to be and to do.

A key component to the courageous leadership that Hybels encourages is the defining vision. Hybels states that “when a church needs a God-honoring, kingdom-advancing, heart-thumping vision, it turns to its leaders. That’s because God put in the leader’s arsenal the potent offensive weapon called vision” [31]. He defines vision as “a picture of the future that produces passion” [32]. I wonder how Hybels would distinguish between vision and calling? A vision is bound up with a leader’s very life. “That’s why God made you a leader. That’s your unique calling”[37], he claims. But are vision and calling the same?

I think Hybels would agree that every believer in Jesus has a calling. If this is so, then logically all believers should also have a vision for how that calling should find expression in their lives. So what makes a “leader’s vision” different? Or perhaps that is not the right question. Perhaps we need to ask whether the ministry leader’s function in a local church is to help the whole body discern how to integrate their personal callings and visions and direct them towards building an Acts 2 church. If we operate on the assumption that only the ministry leader sees the vision and then has to communicate this vision to the local church, are we in fact eliminating from the equation the very resource the Holy Spirit has given to the church to produce the growth of the church, namely the whole body?

Vision development in the local church must be seen as a community function. To try to cast vision from the top down makes the local church vulnerable when ministry leaders move. Such a process may work in a corporation, but when applied to the local church it fails to embrace the richness of perspective and the significant role that every member should play in vision development. Yes, ministry leaders must take responsibility to ensure that the process works and they certainly will have a very influential part to play, but the vision cannot be only theirs.

Calling relates to our position in Christ and the natural and spiritual endowments that He gives to us. Vision, perhaps, seeks to define in specific times and spaces how that calling will be lived out.

I found it intriguing that from time-to-time in his book Hybels mentions the elders of his church. He certainly honours them and consults with them. However, it is very difficult to discern exactly how his spiritual leadership integrates with their spiritual leadership. It seems that his ministry team is far more significant for the building up of his local church than the elders. Does he consider the elders as part of the ministry team? I am sure he would answer in the affirmative. However, such a perspective, while perhaps implied, is not stated.

How then do ‘courageous leaders’ in local churches relate to their fellow elders? Are elders truly spiritual leaders who carry the responsibility for the spiritual nurture and health of the local church? Hybels spends considerable time talking about the qualities he looks for in new ministry leaders, but does not discuss the question of selecting elders. He describes the importance of working carefully and wisely with ministry colleagues, but has nothing to say about his work and relationships with his elders. Perhaps this will be the subject for a subsequent volume.

This silence about the elders’ role begs the question whether ‘courageous leadership’ in a local church has any necessary connection with the elders’ team (however this may be defined). Finding good processes to integrate the respective contributions of the elder’s team and the ministry leadership team in a local church has to be an essential priority for the lead pastor if there is to be harmony, vitality, and growth.

Finally (and here I let my bias show more explicitly) Hybels does not appreciate the courageous leadership development that happens in seminaries. On the one hand he has good things to say about the influence of Dr. Bilezikian’s teaching in his life during college days. On the other hand his characterization of teachers seems to be quite one-dimensional. “[O]nly leaders can develop other leaders and create a leadership culture. Teachers can’t do it. Administrators can’t do it”[122]. I wonder what Hybels thinks motivates many seminary teachers to devote their lives to such vocation? Could it be that they have a passion to develop good ministry leaders? Could it be that they have significant ministry leadership experience and giftedness themselves and discern the seminary context as being a primary means by which to fulfill their calling to multiply ministry leaders? Could it be that seminaries consider as central to their mission the development of godly ministry leaders who can do the job effectively? Seminaries by and large seek to involve good ministry leaders as faculty for the development of the next generation of ministry leaders. I am undoubtedly defensive about this because of my involvement in seminary ministry. However, I do think Hybels’ characterization does not do justice to the passion and ability many seminary faculty bring to the daunting task of participating in the formation of the next generation of courageous ministry leaders. Undoubtedly it will require all of the resources of the church – local church, seminary, and denominational leadership – to get this job done well.

The questions I raise should not deter you from buying and reading Hybels’ book. You will enjoy it and be challenged.

November 2005.

“Ascent of a Leader”

Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, Ken McElrath, The Ascent of a Leader. How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999): i-xiii, 1-203

The three authors are all involved in various aspects of leadership development, building primarily upon experience in the corporate world, but with a commitment to following Jesus. As they say in the preface, they are exploring the definition and foundations of influence as the key to good leadership practice. Relationships and the environment in which we experience them are the key elements in developing good leadership. Their worldview is expressly Christian, although they seek to write for a larger audience, one that does embrace a relationship with God as significant.

The fundamental premise of their book is that “character – the inner world of motives and values that shapes our actions – is the ultimate determiner of the nature of our leadership. It empowers our capacities while keeping them in check.”(p.1). The goal is “to become the kind of leader whom others want to follow”(p.1). They write for people who desire to be leaders and to achieve their leadership potential. In their view, this cannot be accomplished merely by one’s own personal abilities, but is dependent upon “a certain kind of environment in which to live and work” (p.1) and relationships “to help you become more than a leader” (p.1).

They contrast two ‘ladders’. The first is a ‘short ladder’ that commonly is the focus of leadership development. They call it the “Capacity Ladder” (figure 2.1). It exists in environments of “mistrust and ungrace [sic]” (figure 4.1) and within relationships of “power and leverage”. This is the ladder that most people try to climb in order to become successful leaders, using their capacities and position to achieve potential. The authors reject this ‘ladder to success’ because it is fundamentally flawed by selfishness and has no centre of virtue.

What they put in its place, or rather seek to integrate with the ‘capacity ladder’ is the ‘Character Ladder’ (figure 10.1). People ascend this ladder by creating environments and relationships of grace. They have a deep trust in God that allows them to embrace humility, submission, obedience, and suffering/maturity, while being willing to “choose vulnerability”, “align with truth”, and “pay the price” in order to “discover (their) destiny”.

The authors believe that “our culture [i.e. American culture] is ready for leaders who climb a different ladder”(180). They have had enough of leaders who strive for their destiny purely on the basis of the capacity ladder. Their vision is for leaders who will pay the price to climb the ladder of success that integrates character and capacity (figure 10.2). Only leaders of this kind can truly help us shape and develop environments of grace.

The authors incorporate some stirring examples of people who, in their view, have demonstrated the values intrinsic to the character ladder. There are also times when they do reflect on the teachings of Jesus as foundational for their argument. As well, they encourage all people to consider themselves to be leaders in some respect and context.

The focus upon character as essential to good leadership, particularly good leadership in the church, is certainly welcome. For too long leadership has tended to be seen primarily as a toolkit of techniques and skills. Paul’s outline of ministry leadership qualifications such as is found in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1 certainly focuses upon character, but character that is empowered and shaped by the Holy Spirit.

The idea of environments and relationships filled with grace also merits serious consideration as a way to conceive of family, church, and corporate contexts. Here again a fundamental biblical principle gets woven into their argument. They urge leaders to ‘align with the truth’ and again we applaud this biblical mandate.

In the midst of these positives, I think there are at least three cautions that have to be expressed. First, the symbolism of the ladder carries connotations that jar, in my view, with the vision of Christian leadership. In the Gospels discipleship tends to be symbolized by a journey, following Jesus, and in this posture expressing God’s calling to love others through sacrificial service. Ladders convey a sense of hierarchy. In the business and professional world people do conceive of their progress as climbing the corporate ladder or getting to the peak of one’s discipline. However, in the context of Christian ministry, these are not helpful metaphors because they tend to be self-focused, power-laden, and expressive of ambition. I do not think the author’s desire is to express these things through the symbol they chose, but regardless these are inherent dangers. The picture Paul gives us of the Messiah in Philippians 2:5-11, as he carries out God’s will in human history, is a downward journey, like descending a staircase. There is no ascent until after the resurrection.

Second, although the authors seek to ground the development of character in religious experience, how valid is this premise? Yes, we can agree that religious instinct can motivate diverse people to altruistic service. However, it can also move people to acts of incredible hatred and hostility. I think Paul has it right when he argues that without love, all of our efforts lack worth and lasting value. In Paul’s view this love is God’s love poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Good ministry leadership that is selfless and loving has to be the product of the Holy Spirit’s incredible work in our lives. The ideal the authors put forward cannot be achieved without the continual work of God’s Spirit in the lives of individuals and communities.

Third, the authors have a very specific view about the way virtue works in a human being.

The heart – the inner life, shaped primarily by trust – molds our motives. Our motives establish our values. And our values govern our actions. What we believe about ourselves takes root and is nourished in our hearts. And it’s from the heart that our destiny — our ultimate influence and value – flows.(63)

The authors do expand on what they mean by trust. However, the concept of ‘motive’ does not receive much explicit attention in their volume. The word is not listed in the index. I could not find any definition of it in their work. Yet, it sits at the most crucial juncture – between heart and values. Unless we are clear about our motives, our ultimate loyalties (i.e. to love God, to serve God, to advance God’s purposes), we will not be clear about our values or our actions. Perhaps the authors feel they have addressed this, but in different terms. If so, a clearer connection needs to be made.

The authors offer an interesting discussion of the complex relationship between capacity and character (or competency and spirituality). Sometimes the call of God, our destiny, is not to the pinnacle of power, but rather is to the humiliation of a cross. If this is so then leadership in Christian terms must be our descent to humble, suffering service as our only ascent. It is this paradox that Jesus expressed in his words to the apostles – “whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43).

Reviewed November 1, 2005.

Home Grown Ministers

In the May/June 2005 issue of the Evangelical Baptist magazine [p. 16], I wrote of the new trends in leadership development that demand attention. In it were themes that have I’ve echoed at the FEBBCY association meeting in Vernon, in conversations with pastors and leaders. The message has, for me, almost become a mantra.

Quick review: surveys reported in 1999 that 4% of people in ministry were "home-grown" ministers. By 2003, the number had doubled to 8%, and estimates [which are proving already to be low] were that by the year 2010 30% of people in ministry would have emerged into mature ministry from within the fellowship of the local congregation. The Church is proving to be God’s chosen source for a new generation of ministers.

Over time I have noticed two general responses to this news:

1. A few people find this to be a bit disturbing. Just a few. For at least 50 years the standard conduit for leadership development has been a fairly direct academic route. The path to ministry led from Secondary School graduation to Bible School/University to Seminary.directly into Ministry as a final career. While there still are good numbers of people who follow that direct path, it is in decline [the average age of students in Seminary is in the mid-30’s.] This decline disturbs some people who possess a number of fears including a question over the survival of precious institutions [like Bible Schools.] The fact is, these institutions are working hard to refocus their efforts to target an older, church-based audience.

2. Most people celebrate the news with the comment that "it sounds so Biblical." After all, the Church has, from the beginning, been the environment where leaders have emerged into mature ministry. The assumption was made in the book of Ephesians that a spirit-led fellowship would "prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up and we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ [4:12-13]"  In the Pastoral Epistles, Timothy and Titus were directed to identify leaders from within congregations and empower them into mature ministry. When most people hear about the trend of "home-grown" leaders, they see a return to a Biblical pattern.

One pastor added a further reflection. He shared his reflections on how people like John Maxwell have identified the pastorate as a "toxic profession" in light of what appears to be growing numbers of conflicts between pastors and churches. One of the reasons he identified was that the conventional route to ministry created distance between pastors and churches. Churches sent emerging leaders away to get trained, and then imported other leaders in to serve. "No wonder there’s a disconnect," he said. Good point.

My reaction to this is mixed. On one hand, I am thrilled to see the "leadership culture" of the local church strengthened. It is a sign of health, and an indication that Ministry is a natural expression of the whole process of Spiritual development. People are growing into ministry, and God is guiding them all the way.

On the other hand, I am concerned that we may cut the development process short. Home-grown leaders are moving into mature ministry, and they are being discovered primarily because of their ability to run programs well. But, being a mature minister is more than being a good mechanic.

I continue to find Paul’s orders to Titus to be a challenge. In Titus 1:5, Titus was ordered to appoint elders to lead the churches in Crete. Nowhere in those orders do I find: "an elder must be one who can run a good program, an elder must be one who preaches a powerful sermon, an elder must be one who can chair an efficient board meeting." The criterion given Titus go deeper. The qualifications of a mature minister are largely a matter of character.

Not long ago, I was reviewing a list of competencies that would guide the training of a mature minister. It caused me to think of the distinctive marks I’ve seen in those who have influenced my life, those who have lived lives of profound impact in ministry. Three phrases began to form in my mind. They were people possessed of: a greatness of soul, a depth of perspective, and a breadth of wisdom.

They were also people who were also able to perform with excellence. But the weight of their character went far beyond the programs they ran. And, I suppose the focus of training that we would design for the "home-grown ministers" would have to center on these profound dimensions of inner character.

During this next year, I hope to galvanize a plan for churches to design a program of development for their emerging leaders. I’ve already discovered that some people discount some of the offerings available from academic institutions as irrelevant. Fields of study like Theology or Spiritual Formation pale in comparison to what are viewed as practical "how-to" courses. While such courses appear irrelevant, they demand reflection – and produce such things as "greatness of soul."

REFLECT:

I would appreciate your response. As I seek to catalog the competencies that would go into Leadership Development, what would you identify? As you have been engaged in ministry, what are the resources of character you have had to draw on? As you have learned dependence on God, what competencies has the Holy Spirit brought to life in you? As you think of those who God has used in profound ministry – what is it that allowed them to serve so well?

New trends in leadership development

In September 2001, the Alban Institute issued a special report identifying three major crises facing the North American church. Two of the three related directly to leadership development. A key finding confirmed the experience of most denominations; there is "a shortage of clergy to meet current congregational demands."[1] In essence, the attrition rate among the current pastoral leaders either matched or exceeded the replenishment rate. At the same time, the church is facing a period of growth where the need for mature ministers is expanding. In February 2005, Debra Fieguth reported in Christianity Today the results of three national polls conducted by Focus on the Family, Time Canada, and the Vanier Institute. For the first time in decades, weekly church attendance had risen in Canada, up 25% from the year 2000.[2]It is easy to identify a mounting challenge. While the numbers for the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada are difficult to calculate, in May 2003 it was estimated that 600 new, trained ministry leaders would be needed within a decade.[3] Over the next 10 years we need to see hundreds of newly trained pastors, church planters, missionaries, chaplains, evangelists, youth pastors, children’s ministers, theologians and Bible teachers emerge in our midst.

New generation takes a new career path.

We need to ask, "What is God’s chosen source for a new generation of ministers?" In the past, young people often moved into ministry as they would other vocations. After graduating from secondary school, they entered Bible school or university, and then proceeded to seminary to prepare for ministry. While such a flow continues, it is no longer the path followed by the majority of the current generation. In January 2005, Time Magazine reported on a phenomenon affecting the entire marketplace.[4] To a large extent, young people do not expect to settle on a career path until their 30’s. Social scientists call them "Twixters." They keep their options open, expect to experience a variety of careers, and delay making permanent commitments to family, career and ministry. Unsurprisingly, the average age of a seminarian across Canada is in the mid-30’s.

Once again, the big question is: "Where will God draw out a new generation of leaders and ministers to meet the needs of the harvest?"

The "homegrown" factor.

In 1999, Thom Rainer and the members of his research team at Church Central discovered a fascinating development.[5] In researching over 4,000 churches in North America, they uncovered a movement they entitled "homegrown ministers." At the time, it was only a "blip" on the radar, but a growing one. In 1999, 4% of people in ministry were "homegrown." In other words, churches were finding full-time ministry staff from their own membership. Within three years the proportion of "homegrown ministers" had doubled to 8%. God was doing something surprising. In 2003, researchers projected that by the year 2010, over 30% of people in ministry would be "homegrown." This figure has already proven to be a low estimate. In October 2004, Tom Harper, the publisher of Church Central, reported that 38% of all church and Christian non-profit leaders have come into their ministry as a second, third, or fourth career. We can draw some significant conclusions from this new trend. First, ministry is an expression of spiritual development and maturity. As people grow in faith, they learn the joy of service and ministry. The principle found in Matthew 25 in the parable of the talents is expressed. The Master reviews the investments made by his servants and promotes some of the good and faithful ones to positions of greater responsibility. A second conclusion is that God has designed the church to be the culture for developing leaders. People are brought to faith within the church and that is where they learn spiritual disciplines, discover their God-given purpose in life, and develop skills for ministry. A church that identifies itself as God’s chosen culture to develop leaders unites all of these into a meaningful process. People expect to grow, and it’s no surprise that when they do, God is able to tap a few on the shoulder with the invitation to "take it to a new level." A third conclusion is that those responsible for leadership development need to direct their attention to the church. It’s not unusual to hear pastors report conversations like this one: Pastor, I need your advice. I’ve got a reasonably successful career, and spend a lot of time at work, I find that I am living for the two hours a week when I am leading a Bible study.I can’t seem to shake this feeling that God wants me to kick it up a notch. What should I do? The efforts of the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, and the FLTA need to focus on the answer to that question. What should a person do when God’s call them? The tools that are being developed, "Reproducing Spiritual Leaders, Heart for Ministry – a 12-session assessment study for pastors to serve as mentors with emerging leaders" are critical to the future of the church.

_______________

  1. Wind, James P. and Gilbert Rendle, An Alban Institute Special Report: The Leadership Situation Facing American Congregations. September 2001 – available via download Duke University’s publication Pulpit and Pew, a journal devoted to research on Pastoral Leadership: www.pulpitandpew.duke.edu/links.html.
  2. Fieguth, Debra. "Finally, Church Growth in Canada", Christianity Today Daily Newsletter, 1 February 2005.
  3. Northwest Baptist Seminary FAQ, edition 3, 23 May 2003.
  4. Grossman, Lev. "Grow Up? Not So Fast." Time Magazine, 24 January 2005.
  5. Rainer, Thom. "Ten Predictions for the Church by 2010", Church Health Today enewsletter, Church Central, 10 January 2003.

“Jesus on Leadership”

C.Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership. Discovering the Secrets of Servant Leadership from the Life of Christ (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Ltd., 1998), 251 pages. Paperback.

Evangelicals seek to ground their faith and practice in the authority of God’s word. Gene Wilkes, in his examination of Jesus’ words and practices in relationship to Christian leadership, has done us all a wonderful service in drawing us back to careful reflection on shepherding God’s flock the way Jesus did. Wilkes has pastured Legacy Drive Baptist Church in Plano, Texas since 1987. His book arises from his own experience and deep reflections upon the nature of Christian leadership as it is practiced in the setting of a large, Baptist church in the southern United States. He also brings to the task the competency of a biblical scholar, drawing upon his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

There is much to applaud in Wilkes re-examination of “Jesus on leadership”. The refocusing on Christian leadership as essentially service seeks to capture the heart of Jesus’ message and model as the Suffering Servant. Wilkes distills the key aspects of Jesus’ leadership style in seven principles: humbleness, following God’s will – not position, greatness through serving, risk-taking, serving others without regard to personal prestige, shared responsibility and authority, and team-building to carry out mission. Each of these principles is a significant element in the Jesus leadership model as expressed in the Gospels.

Yet, I was unable to buy into several of Wilkes key assumptions because I think they are inherently contradictory to the seven principles he discerns.

Wilkes focuses correctly on the importance of mission and vision as keys to the health and vitality of the local church. God’s Kingdom purpose and plans must find expression and embodiment in the life of the faith community. In Wilkes view it seems that the “servant leader” is the one who discerns the mission, expresses the vision, and then seeks to gain the support of other Jesus followers to carry it out. As Wilkes says in his first chapter

The leader then sees a picture of what the mission looks like in the future and casts his vision of that mission to others. Vision is a leader’s unique rendering of the mission. Leadership turns to service when the leader equips those recruited to carry out the now shared mission.[1]

The paradox is that Wilkes argues that service is at the centre of leadership, but seems to hold that it is the leader’s sense of the mission and vision that determines everything. Others in the body give themselves in service to his mission. Wilkes does not tell us how it becomes a “now shared mission”. It seems it is only shared if people are willing to support it. Wilkes says

Every leader has an agenda – the ultimate mission she has been called to. When others begin to see that agenda, the leader has done her job! When she states her intentions clearly, she gives followers the opportunity to accept the plan or seek to end them.[2]

Now it is true that in God’s Kingdom, His mission is dominant. Jesus calls us to follow him and give our lives in service to His mission – the Great Commission. However, we do not find in the Gospels any mandate to some of Jesus’ followers to make their perception of how God’s mission should be accomplished determinative for other believers. Even in the case of Paul, it is the Antioch church collectively that discerns with Paul what the Holy Spirit is saying about a mission to the Gentiles that leads them to dispatch Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-3) to fulfill the work that God had saved them to accomplish for His Kingdom.

The perspective of the New Testament is much more collective and community-based when it comes to discerning God’s mission for the church and its vision of ministry. The spiritual care-givers assist the church in discerning God’s mission for them together and then encouraging, equipping, and supporting the accomplishment of that mission and vision together. Here is where the fundamental ‘serving’ of those entrusted as ‘elders’ finds expression. If we follow Wilkes’ perspective on this issue, we run the danger of violating the very principle of ‘serving’ that he is seeking to promote. Every believer is called by God and given Kingdom work to do. It is a primary role of the ones entrusted with shepherding responsibility to enable each believer to integrate their personal mission with the collective mission of the local church.

One of the analogies that Wilkes uses throughout his presentation is that of the ‘head-table’.[3] He urges servant-leaders to disavow the pursuit of status as something integral with leadership in the church. The head-table represents for Wilkes status and becomes a symbol of wrongfully ambitious striving. A key text Wilkes uses in this regard is Luke 14:11 “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” As he reflects on this principle, Wilkes concludes that “Jesus taught that head table seats are ‘by invitation only’ rather than ‘by hook or by crook’.”[4] He uses the example of Joseph to demonstrate this principle, as “God elevated him to a place where he could see.dreams fulfilled.”[5] In his comments on ‘waiting’ he suggests that “expectant waiting is waiting for God to exalt you.”[6] His conclusion is that “the first principle of servant leadership is ‘servant leaders humble themselves and wait for God to exalt them’.”[7]

This principle is biblical and true. Potential confusion emerges as to when exaltation occurs. For example, is Joseph’s position in Egypt the exaltation that God promised for Joseph or is it merely the role that God has for Joseph to accomplish as His servant? If we interpret ‘exaltation’ as being appointed to some position on earth, even in the church, then perhaps we are misplacing the emphasis of Jesus. Shepherding and service in the church require sacrifice, suffering and enslavement to loving others. In the context of 1 Peter the apostle reflects upon the “unfading crown of glory” that will be presented when Jesus appears once again. It is an eschatological exaltation that I would suggest Jesus has in mind, as well as Peter and Paul. If we think that our service for God normally should result in an exaltation to ‘head-table’, i.e. to some position of authority and prestige here and now, then we have, I would suggest, misconstrued the essence of Jesus’ principle. This may not be a major issue in the overall presentation of Wilkes’ thesis. However, it allows for misunderstanding to occur.

The third issue concerns the exegesis of Acts 6 that Wilkes uses as the basis for promoting the concept of distributed authority. There is much to commend in his interpretation of this passage. However, I would suggest he goes beyond the scope of the passage when he argues that “the apostles multiplied their leadership by delegating some of their responsibility and authority to others in order to meet the needs of the fellowship.”[8] I think Wilkes overlooks the involvement of the “multitude of the disciples” (Acts 6:2) in this process. It is true that “the twelve” discern the issue and make a proposal to the disciples. However, it is the disciples who evaluate the proposal and support it. They choose (6:5) the seven and present them to the apostles (6:6) for recognition. It is the collective church community that agrees with the proposal for a division of labour. There is no sense that the seven are accountable to the twelve or in some sense ‘delegated authority’ by the twelve. The seven are expected to look after this responsibility in the best way possible.

Further, Luke is very careful to note that whether people in the church are teaching the word or caring for practical needs in the church, they are all engaged in diakonia (6: 2, 4). There is no sense that one kind of ‘service’ is inferior to or less important than another. In fact it is precisely members of this group of seven that immediately are reported to be engaged in proclaiming the word of God through evangelism (i.e. Stephen).

The twelve discerned the need, made a proposal to resolve it to the church, and the disciples, i.e. the Christians in the Jerusalem church, agreed and selected those they thought would work well in this ministry. If we do not honour and respect the involvement of the faith community in such decisions, we endanger the entire concept of servant leadership, i.e. serving the people of God and enabling the body to bring about the growth of the body (Ephesians 4:16).

Studying and reflecting upon Jesus’ principles about serving as the heart of discipleship is a critical and healthy corrective. Our understanding of ‘leadership’ in the context of the church can only be enriched if we incorporate the ideas of service into the very fabric of our church life.

Reviewed May 30, 2005

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Alumni: Vern (1963) and Helen (u1960) Middleton

Dr. Vern Middleton is a Northwest alumnus (B.Div. 1963) and Professor Emeritus of Missions and Evangelism at [email protected] We took this opportunity to connect with him and listen to his continued heartbeat for global missions and for Northwest Alumni.

Vern, you have had a long and rich history here at Northwest. What year did you start teaching here? What were the highlights of your years at Northwest?

I started teaching at Northwest in August of 1976. Our family returned from India in July of that year, after serving 12 years there and I joined the faculty of Northwest in August.

The years 1976 – 80 were an exciting period in the history of Northwest. The synergism among the faculty, the quality of the students and the vision of Dr. Howard Anderson created a very dynamic environment in which to teach.

The 1980s was a decade of transition – in terms of location – in terms of a new vision for the creation of ACTS at Trinity Western University – in terms of my own academic development and the discipline of Ph.D. studies.

Two developments at Northwest over almost three decades of ministry brought great satisfaction. One was the steady stream of young men and women who graduated from Northwest with a strong determination to serve the Lord in pastoral ministry or to serve in some missionary endeavour. What I found especially rewarding was the fact that the number of people who became ministry or missionary casualties was significantly lower from Northwest than from other Bible Colleges and Seminaries. The second factor was the large number of students who became church planters. Northwest has produced several outstanding church planters who have each planted 5 to 15 churches during their ministry life-span.

What does "retirement" consist of for you? Tell us a little about what gets this missiologist up in the morning! We hear snippets of an India connection!

Retirement is still very full of meaningful activity and ministry. I continue to serve on four mission boards. Fellowship International Ministries is our denominational mission board and I am on the executive of that board. CityTeam is based in San Jose but is global in its scope and involvement. I am energized by their vision and their creativity. Missionsfest is a third mission board I serve on and I am on the telephone with the director at least once a week. I also serve on the IMTB [India Missionary Training Board] that raises funds for ministries in India. I just returned from my third trip to India in less than one year as my heart and love for that country and her peoples highly motivates me.

Since retirement I have gone high tech – in that I have purchased a lap top and an LCD projector. I have been engaged in transforming my old course notes into Power Point presentations. In the meantime the Lord has opened up several doors of opportunity to teach in places like YCLT, Yavatmal, a missionary training college in India, the Katmandu Institute of Theology, which is a graduate school in Nepal, and Union Biblical Seminary in Pune, India. The only restraint upon me for these ministries is a need for funds to travel which amounts to $2500 per round trip.

The Lord continues to provide Helen and me with good health – so as the Lord gives us days so we want to use them for the extension of His Kingdom. This is what gets us up in the morning. By the way I also serve on the leadership team of our local church and I have the privilege of being a volunteer pastor.

As well, I am involved as a World Perspectives teacher. These opportunities give me much joy and satisfaction.Still another involvement is with Northwest Alumni – I have the delight of regular contact with numerous alumni both on a formal and informal basis. I also have e-mail contact with fifteen Northwest alumni serving in various countries of the world.

As you look back on your years of teaching in missions and evangelism, and your involvement with Northwest students and alumni – how would you evaluate Northwest’s impact on the Kingdom of God? How have Northwest Alumni contributed in terms of vision, mobilization, cultural transformation, of understanding and grappling with the missiological issues of the day—in terms of simply taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth?

It is hard to answer these questions in general statements so I will cite various alumni who have made significant contributions to the kingdom of God. First, in terms of vision, Carlos San Lui (Master of Ministry 1988) began the first Filipino evangelical Baptist church in greater Vancouver. Within a year he started a second church in Surrey and while planting that church, he traveled every Sunday down to Seattle to start another church. By 1983 he moved to Portland and planted three churches in that city, then he moved to the Oakland-Bay area and started three churches there. Next he moved to the Fresno – Sacramento area and started two churches there. In the early 1990s he moved to Orlando, Florida and again started several churches there when his life was taken through a terrible accident. He had a vision to plant Filipino churches in every city in North America.

In terms of mobilization, Dan Chapman (1967) has been a catalytic agent in the lives of numerous young couples who have become our church planters and kingdom builders in new communities throughout BC.

In terms of cultural transformation, Rod (1979,81,96) and Donna (1979) Black come to mind as innovative people in the area of ethnomusicology and the use of ethnic music forms as a medium of entrance into the hearts and minds of people groups hardened to traditional patterns of evangelism. They will be returning to Asia this Spring and will begin to develop whole new patterns of sharing Christ. Don (1965) and Georgia Rendle and now Sharon were powerful change agents for Christ in many countries of Latin America. Certainly their ministries have made a major kingdom impact on patterns of justice, understanding of penal institutions and making a direct impact on hundreds of political prisoners with the transforming love of Christ. Don’s son Geordan (1984) has followed in his parent’s footsteps and is being used of God in many Latin American countries.

In terms of grappling with missiological issues, Mark Naylor (1984) and his e-mail publication “Cross-cultural Impact in the 21st Century” [see www.nbseminary.com for previous issues] is certainly provocative. Another grad who is making a mark in this area is Chuck Fletcher (1991) at McGill.

Finally in terms of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth it would take several pages to mention all who are worthy for this category. I have many pictures of graduating students from Northwest who now serve in remarkably diverse places around the world. Perhaps one whole Alumni publication could be dedicated to featuring our grads in Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Nepal, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Philippines, Maldives, Poland, Thailand, etc.

We are now well into the first decade of the 21st century. What issues and opportunities do you see the church facing today and in the days ahead? – What challenge would you place before Northwest Alumni? – How would you challenge [email protected]?

It seems to me that the intensity of the battle for the Kingdom of God has greatly increased in recent years. Certainly our Lord is very active in shaking the physical realms and the spiritual realms as predicted in Haggai 2:6,7 and Hebrews 12:26-29. Globalization is having a positive impact for the Gospel – but it also introduces a lot of sinful ideas to the worldwide market. What amazes me is the economic prosperity emerging in Asia and a few parts of Africa. A new population of middle class citizens is rapidly emerging in India, Malaysia, China, Korea, and the Philippines. These globalized peoples all speak English and are very much aware of the Judeo-Christian worldview. If I had the gift of prophesy I would predict the possibility of a great spiritual harvest among the millions of middle class entrepreneurs.

In your years with Northwest you have taught in both the college and seminary. What would you say to an alumna or alumnus who was considering enrolling at [email protected] in a masters or doctoral level program?

The faculty and administrators at Northwest are highly qualified in their respective areas of ministry. They combine excellence with caring, relational support and encouragement for all of the students of Northwest. These factors combined with good scholarship assistance and a support plan for those involved in our churches makes [email protected] ACTS an unbeatable place in which to study.

Key principles that God uses to get our attention

God’s Calling – Next Step. Identifying key principles that God uses to get our attention.

In the Bible, the term "call" does not simply describe God’s invitation for an elite few who might enter full-time ministry. In the last issue of Leadership Connection, ALL BELIEVERS were identified as "called people." Calling describes the way God expresses His will for Human lives: Believers are "called" to salvation – because it is God’s desire "that anyone perish, but everyone come to repentance" [II Peter 3:9]. When God expresses His will, you could say that the "voice" He uses issues a "Call." For whatever reason, whether it’s His will for people to find Him in salvation, grow in discipleship, or serve in ministry, when people respond to His call they do it is an act of faith, belief, and obedience. In essence, they become "bodies in motion." Each step they take in obedience creates a sense of momentum that God is able to direct and lead their lives.

That’s an important principle for believer’s to grasp. Not only because it extends the dignity of "calling" to all believers, but because it activates God’s presence into every corner of a believer’s life. It is this sense of Calling that makes all the difference in a believer’s life.

Not too long ago, I read what appeared to be a remarkable insightful assessment of North American Christianity written by the Swiss Theologian, Philip Schaff: [it is] more Petrine than Johannean; more like busy Martha than like the pensive Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. It expands more in breadth than in depth. It is often carried on like a secular business, and in a mechanical or utilitarian spirit. It lacks the beautiful enamel of deep fervor and heartiness, the true mysticism, an appreciation of history and the church; it wants the substratum of a profound and spiritual theology; and under the mask of orthodoxy it not infrequently conceals, without intending or knowing it, the tendency to abstract intellectualism and superficial rationalism. This is especially evident in the doctrine of the church and of the Sacraments, and in the meagerness of the worship … (wherein) nothing is left but preaching, free prayer, and singing.

Would it surprise anyone that Dr. Schaff wrote this assessment in 1854? In a century and a half, it doesn’t appear that much has changed. If anything, the spirit of "mechanical utilitarianism" [I  love the richness of that phrase] has become the hallmark of Church life and ministry. We don’t lack for an abundance of business or busyness in our fellowship. What we lack is a thorough sense of "calling" that enlivens every moment of life, including the moments invested in Kingdom service. Without the profound sense of God’s presence – of God’s involvement in every corner of life, ministry can become just another job, a sterile responsibility.and occupational drudgery.

That’s not the heritage God intended for His people. The most powerful voices of the Reformation, Calvin and Martin Luther rightfully identified the Biblical teaching that included ordinary work, ordinary life, as a matter of  spiritual "Calling." In 1520, Martin Luther put forth the case in The Babylonian Captivity – that the farmer in the field, or the farmer’s wife in the farmhouse, if they are doing their work by faith for the glory of God, are fulfilling as high and holy a calling as the pastor in the pulpit. The whole of life, lived in obedience to God’s will, becomes a matter of dignity and honor.

In his wonderful book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, Os Guinness writes If there is no Caller, there are no callings, only work. I have to think that every believer has the responsibility to recognize God’s interest in every corner of life. To deny His ability to "make the call" in simple things is a tragic mistake. It mutes His ability to speak in strategic ways at crucial moments.

We have the choice to make a critical decision with our life. We can choose to live ordinary lives doing ordinary things in ordinary ways without any extraordinary sense of purpose. Or, we can choose to invest time, talent, and treasure in obedience to God’s will and direction, no matter how simple it may seem, knowing that even the most simple investment welcomes the God who Speaks, who Calls, who Directs.

There is a word for the first choice, the ordinary option. It’s a life as Occupation. For too many, that’s about all there. Occupy, occupy a spot, a place, for a period of time. God intends so much more for all His people. For those who deliberately make the first choice, there is another, a treasured word that describes each moment of their day. Vocation. Whether it is washing dishes or composing sermons, their labor possesses the dignity that comes from purpose and meaning. It is an expression of obedience, it is Vocation.

Vocation is rooted in the Latin word vocare, [rooted in the Latin word vox – voice] which is exactly the same word call, which has an Anglo-Saxon root. If we were to be painstaking in our theology, the word Vocare would appear on the list of God’s attributes as one of His imminent qualities. He is a Calling God, one who speaks with clarity. When He speaks with a Vox and we respond with obedience, we discover Vocation, a life of divine presence and personal purpose and.

When it comes to discerning God’s Call, the most obvious questions tend to measure a sensitivity to God’s Work and Ministry needs: Is this a work God wants me to do? Is it a work that I am able to do? In reality, there are a deeper set of questions that measure that assess the quality of the human heart: Have I become a person able to find God present in all areas of life? Have I been faithful in even little things? What areas of my life have been reserved for God and His purpose? How could the rest of my life been lived to His service? Do I rely on His resources for only certain actions, or have I learned to depend on Him for it all? If I were to look in the quiet corners of life, do I sense the presence of God? What lessons has He taught me in those corners?

In an earlier generation, Brother Lawrence learned the nature and value of such discipline. His book, The Practice of the Presence of God, he refused to discriminate between the chores of life and the labor of ministry. He was determined to find the presence of God whether he was working in his kitchen or worshipping in his church. He had a simple daily prayer that opened a whole new realm of understanding, Lord of all pots and pans and things.make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.

It’s a curious thing to think that God would "make a saint" using simple chores. And, yet, that’s where the important lessons of ministry are learned.and discerned. Are you capable of faithfulness? Do you live in reliance upon God? Are you humble at heart? Are you able to serve? Are you willing to move according to His leading? [Next issue: 8 Heart-felt lessons that Measure God’s greater call.]