Yearly Archives: 2008

Bible Translation: the unforgivable sin

I was chatting with a friend of mine who works as a robotics engineer and I began to express my passion for Bible translation.  In fact, I got a little over-excited and exclaimed, “I have the best job in the world!”  He looked at me sideways and said, “I thought I had that job.”  Well, OK. Being a robotics engineer sounds pretty cool, too. 

Having recently come back from Pakistan after another month of translation, let me share with you one of the gems that I picked up along the way.  One of the joys of translation is the discipline it demands to understand what the passage means.  The act of representing the meaning of the original text in the forms of a different language does not permit the translator to “blip” over the phrases that don’t seem to make sense.  It is that search for the sense of the author’s original communication that provides those “aha!” moments, as the meaning of some apparently obscure or difficult passages is clarified.

For example, in Mt 12:30-32 Jesus speaks of the “unforgivable sin.” The context of this verse is the previous account of Jesus’ releasing a man from the bondage of demon possession.  The response of the Pharisees is not one of praising God – a reaction reflected in comments of the common people – but rather an attempt at political “spin” to disparage the miracle: “He is doing this by the power of Beelzebul, the king of the demons!” (Mt 12:24).

Amazed at such a blatant attempt to twist truth into falsehood, Jesus responds with the quote about the “unforgivable sin,” that is, “blasphemy against the Spirit will never be forgiven,” (vs 31). Essentially he is saying to the Pharisees, “You are hopeless! When you see God in action bringing salvation and healing in people’s lives and call it the work of Satan, then there is no possibility for you to take part in that salvation.  Any other sin can be forgiven, for the recognition and acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s working means that you are open to God’s rule, and that you have a desire for him; repentance and turning to life is possible.  But without that initial and sincere orientation to God, there cannot be repentance and salvation.  A denial of what God is doing because of adherence to religious norms is a blindness for which there is no cure.”

That is, the “unforgivable sin” is not a reference to a solitary act, as if there is one thing a person can do which dooms them forever, despite any change or repentance on their part.  Rather, it is an ongoing attitude of denial of the Spirit or essence of God’s work in bringing restoration and healing, a rejection of God’s action in making things right.

it is important to understand the context and point of Jesus’ teaching in order not to miscommunicate

When translating verse 31, it is important to understand the context and point of Jesus’ teaching in order not to miscommunicate.  That is, the translator must not only choose the appropriate words, but must also use a grammatical form within the target language that provides the reader with an equivalent understanding.  For example, when Jesus says, “blasphemy against the Spirit will never be forgiven,” (vs 31), the reader needs to make the connection between the Pharisees’ denial of the work of God described in the previous verses and the “blasphemy” referred to.  It is also important to make it obvious to the reader that Jesus is not speaking against one solitary act, but against an attitude of disregard for the action of God in bringing healing and salvation.  Taking care to communicate clearly in Bible translation prevents the spiritual harm that can occur through misunderstandings caused by an unclear translation.

And that was just one verse.  We completed most of Matthew’s gospel during that month of translation!

See also Sindhi Bible Translation

The Beauty of the Word

As we near Christmas, I wanted to use this opportunity to pass on a gift given me by a very dear student. During our last class session in November, the students were presenting the product of their final project paper on a selected topic for the Introduction to the Bible. One of the students, Benjamin Van Meter, had done a study on the authorship of the book of Ecclesiastes. Along with his study [which was actually quite a wonderful piece of work] he presented a picture that captured my imagination.

Using a free internet tool called Wordle, he had entered the text of the book of Ecclesiastes. The magic of Wordle created a mesmerizing piece of artwork. The only way I can describe it is to use Wordle’s own description: Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friend.

“Word clouds” – you have to see them to appreciate the sight as certain words stand out, capturing the essence of a message. In a demonstration of the “Wordle toy”, Benjamin made another map after the class, this one taking the text of the young man’s hymn of love in the Song of Solomon.  Adding a little artistry with colors and fonts, the final picture became a delightful gift for his wife, Jessica, as the words seemed to punctuate a delightful expression of Love.

Song of Solomon in a Wordle

Let me offer a recommendation. During the Christmas time, you might want to play with the toy and enter the text of the Christmas story just to see the beauty of the Word Made Flesh! I would love to see the result!  Merry Christmas!

The Moving of Heaven and Earth

 As Luke tells the Christmas story, in the hills surrounding Bethlehem, shepherds were awakened to wondrous angelic news of a Savior born to them. He was their Messiah and Lord. And the sign of this great arrangement to the shepherds’ eternal advantage was that they would find their Savior in the most humble of circumstances–swaddled in cloths and lying in a Bethlehem manger.

Luke continues that, if the heavenly announcement was not enough of a shock to them, the next thing the shepherds saw and heard was a great company of the heavenly host raising a chorus of praise: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)

God’s Good News through the Chaos

The Son of God, who was Savior and Lord was leaving his home to come to earth. And at the same time, the whole world was having to leave home to go to their places of origin to be counted.  Augustus Caesar was responsible for the chaos.

But it wasn’t beyond God’s marvelous arrangement and there was no surprise. All this only served to get a young peasant couple named Joseph and Mary relocated from Nazareth–a four day journey of about 70 miles–to Bethlehem, in order that Mary could deliver God’s own Son in accordance with the scriptures.

 It was the moving of heaven and earth to prepare for the arrival of the Savior.

Glory to God in the Highest

When I was young, I used to think that when the angels sang, "glory to God in the highest," the words "in the highest" meant at the top of their heavenly voices. While I’m sure that the volume was impressive, the song was not about volume but location.

"Glory to God in the highest heavens." they sang. It was not just praise anywhere; it was praise to God in the very place where he dwelt and from where His beloved Son had just left. 

That strikes me as somehow very important. When a beloved son leaves home to strike out on his own, there’s usually a good measure of parental hopefulness, but not a little melancholy and a whole lot of missing that occurs.

Not so in heaven.

Luke says that heaven was filled with joyful praise because of what the Son of God had left to do. He was on a mission from His heavenly Father. God was reaching down to earth in the most personal, intimate and understandable way he could. He didn’t have to, but He did nonetheless out of compassion, generosity and love for us all.

…and on Earth Peace to Men on Whom His Favor Rests

In the coming of Jesus, God himself was making the arrangements to establish peace between Himself and people who were, by and large, hostile toward him. It was going to be incredibly costly. But that cost was undertaken.

At Christmas time many folks think about "peace on earth" in terms of ‘giving it the old college try’ yet again.  They hope to work up pleasant feelings and lift the level of civility just a little because of the season. In fact, peace on earth has nothing to do with us manufacturing warm and generous feelings so that we can feel a bit more peaceful in ourselves. And it doesn’t really work anyway.

What Luke’s talking about is the earthly consequence where God’s Son is received and embraced for who He is. The angel praise is all about God’s disposition and not ours. Jesus embodies God’s action in making peace. Jesus represents God’s forceful intention to offer salvation against what people deserve and sometimes event want.

Christmas is all about God.

The Embodiment of the Holy Passion of Deity

There’s no uncertainty in the angels’ song, no doubt, no question but that Jesus’ coming represents God’s best for you and me. When Jesus arrived, he was the embodiment of the holy passion of deity and the full intensity of pure love.

Jesus embodied the favor of God’s peace to men. There is no other peace like it on earth … because it didn’t come from here. And heaven continues to ring with praise for that sending. Give God the glory; embrace His Savior.

Have a blessed Christmas!

God’s mission: Emmanuel

Emmanuel is my favorite Christmas word, partly because it is also a missions word.  God is a missionary God and provides us with the greatest expression of missions in and through the Christmas event.  The reason why the shepherds could accept the angel’s invitation was because God had come to earth: “Let us go and see” (Lu 2:15).  The reason why Jesus could say, “Come to me everyone who is tired and burdened” (Mt 11:28) was because he was living in the same world with the same demands, discouragements, obstacles and opposition that we face.  The reason why the apostles were so confident in their faith was because they had seen “the Life” with their eyes and touched it with their hands (1 Jn 1:1-2).  Missions (pl) is our part in God’s mission to redeem the world.  Jesus was sent into the world as the greatest act of that mission.  Our participation in God’s mission happens when we play a role through the ongoing sending of the Spirit: either by going ourselves or by becoming the means for sending others.

Emmanuel, God with us

Emmanuel, God with us, is the proclamation of the missionary God. God speaks the eternal Word and it becomes a baby lying in a manger, a man on a mission, a sacrifice on a cross, the resurrected savior, the ascended Lord.  But the proclamation of Emmanuel does not end at the ascension.   Emmanuel does not become “God no longer with us.”  Jesus said, “I will be with you always” (Mt 28:20) and this is not just a comforting metaphor or a pretentious sentiment, but a living reality.  The act of Emmanuel continues with the explosion of words and languages at Pentecost – the Spirit of Christ beginning to blast the message of Emmanuel out to the four corners of the earth.  It is not the principles and instructions of Christianity that are the essence (as good as they are for living well), but it is the presence of the living Christ impacting lives around the world – Emmanuel, God with us. Words are weak and limited, but the experience of the living Word continues on, and it is our faith in Emmanuel that drives us to be part of that movement, the mission to cross barriers, to face obstacles and to show love for the sake of Emmanuel. The God who came to earth continues to be with us, Emmanuel.

Glad to Let the Bible Speak

When I finished preaching yesterday, I was encouraged by the normal comments from people who had appreciated what I had to say. I was a little surprised then, when one woman rather breezily said, “Thanks for the sermon, though I disagreed with you.”

“Oh,” I asked, “what did you disagree with?”

It turns out that she had a problem with my primary point from 1 Peter 2:21-25, that Christians must follow the example of Christ by loving the people who hurt us instead of defending ourselves, even at great personal cost. Clearly, this woman had been hurt and she felt that in order to protect herself, it was not possible to extend grace to the one who had caused her pain. Indeed, she felt that it was wrong for the church to extend grace when that grace came at the expense of support for the victim – her, in this case. “Grace is for God to give,” she said, “it isn’t possible and it isn’t good for me to try and do God’s job.”

First, of all, I wanted her to know that I was sorry for her pain. I also wanted to affirm that a church must offer both grace and truth. In our attempts to give mercy, we must also be sure to not make excuses for sin or deny the truth. But having sympathized with her, it was important that I not back down from my message, but find a way to lovingly re-affirm the truth as I found it in the Scriptures.

The passage was clear, though the message was difficult. I encouraged her to take some time to go back and read the passage carefully and to let the Holy Spirit speak. I reminded her that the truths of Scripture might be hard, but that they always resulted in something good. Further, I tried to help her see that until she could find a way to forgive the one who hurt her, she would never know real freedom in her heart. Forgiveness, I admitted, is risky. People take advantage. They did it with Jesus and we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens with us. But if we can learn to live like Jesus, following the example he gave us to walk “in his steps,” we will grow into the kind of people that God intended us to be.

It was a lengthy, emotional conversation, but by the end of it, the woman seemed to appreciative the dialogue. Personally, I relished the opportunity to engage a conversation of such depth and importance. This is what preaching should always lead to if we’re listening honestly. The Bible is hard on us and it doesn’t hurt to admit it.

Reflecting on the experience later, I realized that I had experienced again the importance of expository preaching. When you let the Bible speak, you don’t have to worry when people disagree. I was able to help the woman see that whether or not she agreed with me was irrelevant. The question was whether or not she was willing to listen to God and to obey what she had heard.

The text was clear and I was glad to let it speak…and let it stand.

Using Templates in your WordPress Theme

So, you think that you want to use WordPress to run your church website and you have heard that in WordPress you can customize your website’s theme through the use of templates.  But what ever are templates?

To explain this it is helpful to understand how WordPress works in the background when someone visits your website.  First off WordPress makes a determination as to what it is that each visitor is looking for.  For example, "Has the visitor requested the home page?  Has the visitor requested a particular item (i.e. a specific page or post, a category, an author, a tag etc.)?  Has the visitor done a search and is asking for the results?  Once this is determined WordPress then fetches that information from the database and and displays it based on the WordPress "theme" that you are using. In order to display all the bits of information that make up a typical web page WordPress gathers the information through a series components called "templates" and ties them together into a comprehensive whole.1

Each of these templates will likely handle only the information for a particular section of a web page or a particular type of content to be displayed. These web page sections might be the top of the page, commonly known as the header, the middle section which carries all the "blog" or "page" information, commonly known as the body, or the bottom of the page which might have copyright information or links to contact you etc., commonly known as the footer. Each of these sections might have other sections within them. For example the body section might have a right and left sidebar, the header might have a navigation system for the entire site. These are all likely generated through the use of templates. Each template is (usually) a separate file within the structure of the theme. For example a particular theme might have a header template file (header.php) and a footer template file (footer.php) and a sidebar template file (sidebar.php ) and a comment file (comment.php) a loop file (theloop.php) file and so on.2 Larger components (template files) might incorporate several of the smaller templates in a single file. This would be the case with a category template file (category.php) or an author template file (author.php).

There are several primary components (files) that make up a theme.  You can view a graphical representation of how these files are targeted when someone comes to your site.  I find this very helpful when designing a theme and deciding how I want the flow of information to progress on the website:

  • index.php – this is the ultimate default file that WordPress loads.  If no other component file fits what the visitor is asking for – this file displays.
  • home.php – this is the first file that WordPress looks for when the visitor makes that first inquiry or when he clicks on your "Home" link.
  • archive.php – this is the default file that WordPress loads when some older content is requested.
  • page.php – this is the file that WordPress loads when an individual "page" is requested.
  • single.php – this is the file that WordPress loads when an individual "post" is requested.
  • 404.php – this is the file that WordPress loads when the content that the visitor is requesting cannot be located in the database.
  • various other specialty template files for specific uses – i.e. targeting an individual category using category.php or an individual author using author.php etc.  You can find more information on templates here.

Each of these primary components (files) incorporate the various template files within them to draw the information from the database and present it on the page.  So a typical "home.php" file will incorporate a call to the header.php file, the WordPress loop, the sidebar.php file and the footer.php file.  It will display the resulting information and style it using the CSS file that is also a part of every theme.  All of these files can be shaped the way you want them to meet the needs of your particular theme.  If you are new to WordPress take a look at the default themes that comes packaged with WordPress and familiarize yourself with the way these various files are laid out.  They can be found under "wp-content >themes".

WordPress has several built-in functions – get_header() - get_footer() - get_sidebar() – that will load the more common templates.  Custom templates3 can be included in the code by using the php "include" function – i.e. <?php include (TEMPLATEPATH . '/my_custom_footer.php'); ?>.

When designing a church website these are helpful factors to keep in mind.

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  • 1WordPress comes with a couple of default themes for you to choose from but there are thousands of others out there on the web for you to choose from should you so desire. The theme takes this dynamically generated content and displays it in the manner that you want it to.  Click here if you would like to read more on WordPress themes.
  • 2I intend to discuss the loop in another article.
  • 3I might write more on custom templates in another article.

Christian or Christ follower?

When Muslims come to Christ they often suffer a cultural and religious identity crisis.

I recently spoke to a Muslim background believer on the phone.  He told me of his struggles to live as a Christian within a Muslim setting.  His extended family has many Muslim religious leaders and there has been much opposition.  He recently registered his oldest son in elementary school and wrote down his religion as “Christian.”  The teacher was shocked and refused to allow the word “Christian” beside his obviously Muslim family name.  However, after some discussion he persuaded the teacher to comply.

Contrast this with a discussion I had with a believer who had become a follower of Christ during the time we lived as a family in Pakistan.  He came to me somewhat disturbed and, after the appropriate amount of preliminary chat and the customary cup of tea, he asked, “Do I have to call myself ‘Christian’?” 
I asked him, “What is a Christian?” 
He replied, “They are a certain caste of people in Pakistan who sweep the streets, eat pork and sell liquor.” 
I said, “Oh.  That doesn’t describe you very well.  What do you consider yourself?” 
“I consider myself to be a follower of Jesus.” 
“OK,” I replied, “Call yourself that, but be sure that you do live like Jesus.”

Which approach is the right one?  As a cultural outsider, it is not my place to judge.  Instead I see my role as encouraging both these men to live faithfully to the form of discipleship they believe God is calling them to.

culturally Muslim while openly claiming Jesus as Lord

At the same time, there is a controversial movement of believers within the Islamic context who are remaining culturally Muslim while openly claiming Jesus as Lord.  Consider these excerpts from an essay entitled “Transformation versus Rupture” by someone who calls himself a Muslim follower of Christ (from Chandler, Paul Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: exploring a new path between two faiths. Plymouth Cowley Pub. 2007, pp 116-117):

In my life I have pitifully seen the wretched destinies – in the cultural sense – of Muslims who have become Christians. They sometimes personified the concept of total alienation because they seemed to have undergone a process of eradication from their [indigenous] cultural soil. Eradication! Detraditionalisation! Deculturation! Deracination! The whole thing entailed a renunciation of one’s culture and traditions.

I have always wondered if it was really necessary to renounce one’s own Islamic culture to deserve Christ’s message. A renunciation, which in cultural terms means auto-destruction…. Culture is built into the heart of the heart. That is why a person who renounces his culture is doomed to remain till the end of his days suffering a terrible crisis of identity.

… if in Islam as a religion (i.e. a set of religious beliefs) difference of opinion is possible, Islam as a culture has a powerful impact which is impossible to rid oneself of. Thus in terms of culture, a Muslim remains a Muslim despite himself because he has been built as such.

This is why it is a bad approach to try to transmit Christ’s message to a Muslim by undermining lslam. (i.e. trying to efface the halo from above the great representative figures of Islamic culture.)… It is also a bad approach to make him feel that the mosque, which is a powerful spiritual and cultural space, is a negative and adversary place. It is also a house of God where if he likes he can experience his new relation with Jesus. It is also better to not make him feel that fasting during Ramadan alienates him from Christ’s message, but that he can give Ramadan fasting a new spiritual orientation through Christ.

It is also better not to ask him to affect a rupture with his spiritual verbal discourse. Let him in his prayers keep the name that Jesus is given in Islam, because that is the name dear and familiar and dose to him: and so with the other Biblical names. Let him keep the basic prayer formulas common in Islamic praying discourse. This will make him feel at home in his new relation with Jesus.

The main objective … is to experience conversion as a transformation … rather than rupture. [end quote]

This is not a sentiment that every Muslim background believer holds to, but it does represent the internal spiritual and cultural struggle that followers of Christ face within an Islamic context.

See also: Missions and Other religions, Is Allah God? and How are we to think about God in Islam?

Septuagint Studies and Evangelicalism – Using the Bible Paul Used

The study of the Septuagint in Canada during this past century has occurred primarily in the graduate departments of selected Universities, primarily the University of Toronto. The same reality marks the majority of Septuagint Studies that occur in the United States, Great Britain and Europe. Few, if any Evangelical Seminaries have considered Septuagint Studies sufficiently significant to provide scarce resources for its support. Yet, strangely in the case of the University of Toronto Ph.D. in Septuagint Program, many of the participants were Evangelicals.

Is there a compelling case to be made for Septuagint Studies in Canada to find a home in an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School? In Canada the major scholars in Septuagint Studies were at the University of Toronto, but they have retired and there do not seem to be plans to replace them. Is it possible this gap to be filled by an Evangelical Seminary or Graduate School of Theology? If so, what should Septuagint Studies look like in such a context for it to contribute meaningfully to the mission achievement of such an institution?

Historically Septuagint Studies at the University of Toronto focused primarily upon textual, historical, linguistic and hermeneutical issues. Cognate disciplines of Hebrew language and literature, Hellenistic history, secondary translation languages (Syriac, Coptic, Latin, Armenian, etc.) have also been associated with such studies as necessary competencies.

When we consider locating Septuagint Studies in the context of an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School, what would Septuagint Studies look like? If its focus should change, would it still legitimately be considered by the academy as Septuagint Studies? What shifts could or should occur in Septuagint Studies so that it reflects the particular values or educational outcomes that characterize an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School? Educational programs are developed and implemented because of mission compatibility and a sense that the time is right for such educational processes. How then might Septuagint Studies be conceived in an Evangelical Seminary environment so that a compelling case can be made that such studies are necessary and timely?

What is "Septuagint Studies"? It comprises the cluster of disciplines, competencies, and cognate materials that enable us to understand the origins, transmission, development, usage and influence (both Jewish and Christian) of the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament (probably located in Ptolemaic Alexandria and initiated around 280 B.C.) and its revisions, as well as its relation to other, later Greek translations of the Old Testament (i.e. Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, etc.). The Septuagint represents the first major translation project of a religious text in human history. As sacred text it served the needs of the Greek-speaking Jewish Diaspora in the three centuries prior to Jesus and concurrently with him. As the Christian church emerged from within Judaism, its expansion very early in its history into the Greco-Roman world required the use of the Septuagint as the sacred text to support its message. As the Christian church developed its own sacred text, we find these writings modeling and incorporating materials from the Septuagint and being combined with this Greek form of the Jewish Canon. This Greek translation of the Old Testament was linked with the emerging New Testament to form the Bible used by the Church during the first several centuries of its history and formed the basis for secondary translations used to support significant missionary ventures (Old Latin, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, some Syriac materials, etc.). Because the first segments of this Greek translation seem to arise at the beginning of the third century B.C., it forms a unique witness to the state of Hebrew Scriptures at that period and the hermeneutical principles and interpretation of those scriptures by Jews in Alexandria. For this reason it plays a significant role in understanding the textual development of the Hebrew Old Testament.

The role of the Septuagint for the historical development of Jewish and Christian sacred texts remains significant. Evangelicals have a serious interest in understanding all aspects of biblical text development, transmission and interpretation because of their faith commitments related to the authority and use of biblical materials to inform spiritual life. We are a people of ‘the book’. It is in our interests to understand, include and nurture within our research, teaching, and ecclesial life a deep appreciation for the Septuagint. The issues such study raises continue to challenge the Evangelical world. As well such study will bring greater opportunity for understanding other streams within the broader Christian tradition, namely the Orthodox tradition because significant parts of this tradition continue to use the Septuagint as their Scripture in liturgy and spiritual life.

  • For Septuagint Studies that are conducted within an Evangelical Seminary to retain the respect of the academy, certain knowledge and skills must be taught and developed. Since such Studies are textually based, but deal with translation literature, there is need for the textual domain to remain a central part of Septuagint Studies.
    1. This is advantageous for the Evangelical Seminary because of its commitment to Scripture as established canonical text. For those committed to the authority of Scripture insuring that such Scripture are correctly transmitted, translated and interpreted remains a central value.
    2. Septuagint Studies bridge the Old and New Testaments and in the Evangelical Seminary both Testaments are esteemed. As well their respective influence and relationship is a critical question. Because canonical issues are surfacing in new ways and the boundaries of the sacred text within Christian circles are debated, the influence of Septuagint upon Christian practice and thought remains critical.
    3. The principles of textual criticism used within the setting of Septuagint Studies in most instances are the same as those used within New Testament Studies. As students hone such skills in Septuagint Studies, they are easily transferred to the textual issues of New Testament Studies.
    4. Hermeneutics has occupied a central place in theological and biblical studies for over a century. The discussion shows no sign of diminishing. Septuagint Studies raise central hermeneutical questions. For example, as the New Testament references Old Testament materials through the Septuagint, what does this mean hermeneutically? If the hermeneutics employed in the New Testament reflect Jewish practices and the Septuagint is a Jewish document reflecting the translation and interpretation of Jewish sacred text, then we have much to learn from Septuagint Studies that can inform New Testament hermeneutics, particularly the Jewish aspects of New Testament hermeneutics.

In these ways the traditional aspects of Septuagint Studies can inform and significantly assist biblical studies within the Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School.

  • The Second Temple Period of Judaism holds great significance for understanding Christian origins. This period when the Old Testament materials were achieving their final form and Judaism was emerging under the shadow of the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires forms the context for life in first century Palestine. The Septuagint comprises one of our major sources for understanding Jewish thought during this period, particularly in the Egyptian Diaspora. The occurrence of Septuagint and other Greek materials among the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates that this translation was used in Palestine. By the time Jesus was born, Palestine had experienced Hellenistic culture for over three hundred years and Roman supremacy had rule for half a century.
  • The Evangelical Seminary’s primary mission is to develop good ministry leaders. Broadly conceived, such training will engage in some way the questions raised in section 1. But what other elements of Septuagint Studies would support such a mission?
    1. The vast majority of Evangelical Christians access their sacred scriptures through translation. This is different from Islam. Christian ministers have to know how to affirm the authority of God’s Word as it occurs in a translated form. The Septuagint represents the first great experiment in biblical translation. Fundamental principles relating to translation and translation process are raised through its study. We have the opportunity to discern how difficult texts are construed, what strategies are followed to insure consistency, what freedom the translators possessed and what limits they had, how the translation was received, how it was revised, etc. As English translations proliferate, ministry leaders need to understand the theological implications of such work and Septuagint Studies provide an excellent case study.
    2. The majority of preaching today in Evangelical Circles arises from the New Testament. A significant part of this sacred text includes material quoted from the Septuagint. Key passages in Romans, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, the Synoptics and Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, James, just to cite a few, are replete with such quotations. In some cases these Septuagint quotes represent an understanding of the Hebrew text that is quite different from the Hebrew text that we have received. Ministers need to know how to deal with such issues so that the coherence of the canon can be understood.
    3. Worship practices continue to change and develop in Evangelical churches and good ministry leaders will need to understand how liturgy has developed historically. The Septuagint was the Bible of the early church and so significantly shaped the worship practices of the church. As churches explore the ancient-modern worship paradigm, connecting with worship roots that originate in the second and third century church, Septuagint materials become important.
    4. The early church fathers, particularly the Greek-speaking fathers, used the Septuagint as their Bible. Their commentaries, homilies, and letters quote it freely and it forms the foundation for their exposition and direction in matters of faith and practice. As we understand this part of the Church’s life more deeply, we will have a richer context for nurturing the spiritual life of our churches today.
  • Good ministry leaders within the Evangelical Church tradition are characterized by theological astuteness. Critical to this competence are highly developed exegetical skills. These include expertise in the biblical languages and awareness of the way language works.
    1. The issues of semantics, discourse analysis, and rhetorical usage are significant components in New Testament exegesis. Because there is significant overlap in the vocabulary of the New Testament and the Septuagint there are natural linkages between Septuagint Studies and New Testament exegesis.
    2. Various aspects of Septuagint style may also have influenced the form of New Testament materials. The narrative style of Mark and Luke 1-2, the hymns in Luke 1-2, and the vocabulary used in Revelation reflect Septuagint influence. Discerning the meaning of such terms and their possible religious nuance is an important issue.
    3. The Septuagint represents one of the largest bodies of Hellenistic Greek and so for the New Testament provides a significant resource in understanding language.
  • Contextualization remains a current issue. The Septuagint represents a major attempt to contextualize Jewish religious thought. It predates the time of Jesus and so helps us understand some of the ways in which Judaism responded to the pressures of Hellenism through the translation process. Since the majority of the Septuagint seems to be a product of the Diaspora, and Alexandria in particular (Letter To Aristeas), it will reveal various ways in which the Jewish community sought to relate their Jewish faith to their Hellenistic environment.
  • The Bible that Peter, Paul, Luke, Mark, and John1 used primarily was the Septuagint. The more we are familiar with its phrasings, lexica, and interpretive processes, the better we will appreciate and understand their teaching.

Septuagint Studies within the setting of an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School will build upon the base of textual and historical competency, but use this as a means to explore the salient issues of:

  • Canonical studies
  • Translation – its hermeneutical and theological implications
  • Contextualization issues
  • Jewish-Christian relations
  • Significance and use of Old Testament materials in the New Testament
  • Liturgical history
  • Historical theology – first three centuries of early church thought and its development
  • Understanding the Old Testament as it was interpreted in the three centuries prior to Jesus – setting the scene for Jesus’ ministry
  • Understanding the Bible of Paul and Peter, i.e. the Early Church, and how this enables us to discern the meaning of their respective letters.
  • Understanding Eastern Orthodoxy as part of the Christian tradition, because it continues to use the Septuagint as its Scriptures, regarding it as inspired.

A Seminary or Divinity school setting encourages these inter-disciplinary aspects of Septuagint Studies to be explored and developed in ways that they could not be in a secular University setting. This enrichment of the task and agenda that defines Septuagint Studies would be a significant contribution to Septuagint Studies and the ministry of the Church.

In terms of timing we suggest that Septuagint Studies in Canada are at a crossroads. We are losing the most significant Canadian Centre for Septuagint Studies. Those scholars that have been instrumental in developing Septuagint Studies are eager to see their work continue in Canada. They have offered their libraries to the TWU/ACTS context to support Septuagint Studies if we were to commit to establish a Septuagint Studies graduate program and Institute. Further, there is a vacuum regarding Septuagint Studies in Canada that we can fill and do so in creative and innovative ways.

In the context of the SGS and GSTS of Trinity Western University we have four faculty who have Ph.D. level expertise in Septuagint Studies. This resource represents a unique clustering that exceeds even the level of support that the University of Toronto had to resource their Ph.D. in Septuagint Studies. We are well-positioned in this regard to be the Canadian Centre for Septuagint Studies.

There is another factor of timing that is significant. Through the work of many scholars the project to establish an edited text of the Septuagint is nearing completion. The only major segments of the Greek Old Testament that still lack such texts are Joshua through Chronicles and Psalms through Ecclesiastes. Work is progressing on some of this. So we are at a point in Septuagint Studies when the agenda can shift its focus to consider more intently the impact of this translation on the Jewish and Christian religious communities, as well as the emergence of the Septuagint as a literary artifact.

When we ask the question what Septuagint Studies contributes specifically to our understanding and advancement of the Believers’ Churches and their missions, the responses are complex. As with many aspects found within the curriculum we have designed to develop good ministry leaders within this part of the Evangelical spectrum, the connections emerge primarily because this tradition fits within the general stream of Christian orthodoxy. What Septuagint Studies contribute to our understanding of Jewish-Christian relations, the interpretation of sacred text, and the history of the emerging Church, it also contributes to the Believers’ Churches lodged within general Christian orthodoxy. The better we understand these elements, presumably the better we will understand the nature of the church, its mission, and its message.

Specifically, as we consider the recently revised statement of the Seven Believers’ Church principles that form the theological basis for the ACTS Consortium, Septuagint Studies relates primarily to:

Principle # 5 Belief in a high view of Scripture….the Holy Scriptures alone are fully authoritative and fully trustworthy as the very Word of God written. In Scripture God has given the Church a sufficient guide and final authority for all Christian teaching and practice.

In the Consortium agreement this gets translated into a statement of purpose that includes:

    • to uphold the Bible, as originally written, as the inerrant, infallible Word of God and to produce graduates thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word and competent in understanding, expounding, applying and communicating it.

As we have sought to outline in the paper, Septuagint Studies contribute substantially to achieving this part of our stated purpose. We seek to discern what Scriptures as originally written say and Septuagint Studies play an integral role in discerning this. Further if graduates are to be thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word, then some awareness and understanding of Septuagint Studies, particularly the dynamics of translation and its impact on interpretation must be part of this understanding. Finally, we emphasize the ability to understand and expound it (i.e. the Bible), as desired competencies and this requires some awareness of the Septuagint, particularly in terms of the New Testament implications.

There is a second area of purpose that Septuagint Studies will assist, namely:

    • to prepare ministry leaders and indeed the whole people of God to understand and address competently the Canadian and global cultural mosaics and to have a transforming impact on them through the Gospel.

As we have tried to express in this paper, Septuagint Studies in essence is a study in religious contextualization. The cultural diversity of the Hellenistic era in which Jewish and Christian people lived required careful and thoughtful response to relationship of their religious beliefs to the dominate cultures of their day. These issues remain for the church a significant challenge and Septuagint Studies provide many good examples of strategies employed to deal with such questions.

Finally, a specific purpose for the Consortium is:

    • to produce leaders….who are able to work cooperatively with fellow believers in other denominations to the glory of God and the building of the church of Jesus Christ.

The Believers’ Church tradition has not had much experience in relating to Eastern Orthodox traditions. However, with the increased movement of peoples around the world and the entry of much of Eastern Europe into the European Union, we will have to understand these traditions more adequately. Since their religious traditions build upon the Septuagint, the more we understand this part of our Christian heritage, the better we will be able to appreciate and understand the specific concerns of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

    ____________________

  • 1To what extent Jesus had access to and used Septuagint materials is a vexed question.

Church Transformation

There has been a lot of talk about Church Transformations in the past decade. In the 1990’s I was intrigued by a denominational development. Quite a few resources had been invested by one particular denomination toward Church Planting. While there was a level of success in the planting of churches, a question was raised “what about resurrecting dying churches?” In light of the heavy statistics that indicate the high percentage of churches that were in decline, an effort was made to design a process to transform distressed churches. Using techniques similar to church planting, it was discovered that if done right, transforming a dying church was far more economical than planting new churches, and while attention was still given to church planting, there was a renewed commitment made by the denomination to stimulate new growth and vitality in churches that had been at risk of abandonment.

Over the last 10 years, there have been a lot of lessons learned about Church Transformation. A lot of studies have been written and books published by experts on the subject. They all arouse a limited sense of interest, but last week I came across a study that intrigued me. Over the last Fall, one of my personal heroes – George Bullard [of the Columbia Partnership] has been conducting research on The enduring principles of congregational transformation. Rather than telling church leaders how to do transformation, he asked for church leaders to tell him how they are doing it. In this delightful bit of role reversal, over 700 church leaders have weighed in on an online research survey. Listing 21 “enduring principles” of church transformation, a list of top seven principles emerged: Continual Transformation Rather Than One-Time Transformation: Going Forward Rather Than Going Back, People Before Programs, Being Both Spiritual and Strategic, Future Rather Than Past, Kingdom Growth Rather Than Church Growth, Vision Plus Intentionality.

Each one were identified due to their perceived validity, strength, importance, and their enduring nature. At the same time, the results of the survey identify the bottom seven principles … ie. Those that proved to be of less importance for a church to experience transformation.

The results of the survey are free for the asking, and well worth the reflections: Persons interested in a summary of the complete preliminary results and a PowerPoint presentation that contains a presentation of the results may send a request to client.care@thecolumbiapartnership.org. Ask for: Enduring Principles Of Congregational Transformation Report.

Note: the results of the survey are intended to stimulate review, evaluation and dialogue. Bullard has made it a practice to gather church leaders into discovery groups that work out the implications of important principles. It’s an activity that I value … and intend to emulate.

Discerning Emerging Leaders

In his book, From Followers to Leaders [Churchsmart Resources, 2008], Bob Logan referred to an extensive survey of churches who were asked the question: “What is your greatest need as a church?” There was no surprise that the number one answer was “leadership development.” Over the last three years, as I’ve gone through training in a number of Church consultancy processes, I’ve had the opportunity to meet any number of Church Consultants, all of whom have affirmed the finding: “Every church where I have facilitated has expressed the need for more leaders and more mature leaders.” Yet, as Logan writes, “most pastors and churches don’t yet have a clear path for developing leaders within their own congregations … [they] muddle through, patching together a plan as they go.”

Looking at the leadership development efforts in the local church, I’m often reminded of a delightful phrase coined by Eugene Peterson in a Leadership Journal article, Haphazardardly Intent. As churches muddle along, there is a vestige of leadership development that pops up from time to time accompanied by the happy surprise that a leader has emerged.

Aubrey Malphurs [Building Leaders, Baker Books, 2004] suggested a clarification that would begin to erase the “haphazard” from the  ”intention” to develop leaders. His solution was to define leadership development as “the intentional process of helping established and emerging leaders at every level of ministry to assess and develop their Christian character and to acquire, reinforce, and refine their ministry knowledge and skills.” There’s a lot to unpack in that definition, but one point does stand out:

Leadership Development has to be seen in light of discipleship growth and maturity. When Leadership Development is viewed as a unique endeavor reserved for a select core of elite “chiefs” it becomes an appendix to congregational life, somewhat distant and disconnected. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul doesn’t leave much room for such a distinction as he focuses the unified impact of apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers on one task: to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until 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 v. 12.13]  Seeing this in holistic terms, and treating leadership development as a normal expression of the momentum in discipleship, probably shouldn’t come as any great surprise. But, it does require a different perspective where churches don’t begin their search for leaders until they’ve begun their process of raising disciples. It’s all a matter of intention and all part of a continuum.

In a study that continues to serve as a reference for me, Journey to Jesus, Robert Webber outlined the practice of the Ancient church as a deliberate and intentional process. Drawing specifically from The Apostolic Tradition [Hippolytus, 215 A.D.] Webber described four phases of spiritual growth and development: 1. a time for Christian inquiry – the seeker period; 2. A time of instruction, when the converting person was known as a hearer; 3. An intense period of spiritual preparation …; and 4. A time … for the new Christian to be incorporated into the full life of the church. The early church clearly identified four distinct steps of spiritual growth: Conversion, Spiritual Discipline, Spiritual Formation, and Vocational Formation. Each step of the Journey, as Webber called it, defined the mission and message of the church. And, each step connected critical elements of character and spirit in a dynamic flow that was recognized and celebrated by whole congregations.

I suppose, then, that it’s no surprise to find similar patterns on leadership development being applied to the church in the 21st century. In their book, From Followers to Leaders, Robert Logan and Tara Miller recast the journey by using the term “path”: the path of leadership development: The path of faith [becoming a follower of Christ], the path of serving, growing and praying [Spiritual formation.] Before the last path [the path of multiplying: investing in others] are two paths where congregations seem to begin to get “muddled.”

The first, the path of developing, identifies emerging leaders [not to be confused by the term “emergent leaders”!] Emerging leaders are people who begin to take on new challenges and expanded roles of influence in ministry. According to Logan and Miller, as these people “come into their own” on the second path, the path of leading, where they find themselves in need of support and guidance. They need wisdom to “discover their gifts and call, and developing competence in ministry” in order to go on and lead groups and teams of others. The big question facing the “muddled” church is how to aid emerging leaders to discern their fitness for a future in ministry.

Answering that question alone can be a daunting challenge for a congregation. Fortunately, there are a number of agents available to aid churches. Books are being written and programs are being developed. There is an announcement in this newsletter of an exciting initiative being offered for the first time this Spring for the emerging leaders of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in the British Columbia and the Yukon: The Ministry Assessment Process for Emerging Leaders.

There are many and good materials available, but the burden of leadership development remains a matter of mission for the local church. And, for the local church, several critical questions need to be addressed for success:

  1. Is there a distinct understanding that their fellowship is the culture that God has chosen to raise up leaders?
  2. Is there a clear sense of process given to each stage of spiritual growth? Is it communicated in such a way that everyone knows this to be their shared journey in faith? And does the fellowship celebrate with those who are making progress down the path in a meaningful way?
  3. Are the proper resources attached to each phase of spiritual development?

Do church leaders have a way to identify people as they move through the stages so that they can provide proper encouragement and support?

Coaching for Significant Conversations

The following comments are actually a repeat of a blog presented over a year ago.  Since that time, the relevance of Significant Conversations in facilitating the change needed to make a kingdom difference has begun to be noticed.  The Center for Intercultural Leadership Development is now offering coaching to FEBCC churches in the areas of evangelism and missions.  Contact Mark via the form below for further information.

Five aspects of evangelism that need to change if we are going to make a kingdom impact.

a. The individualistic nature of evangelism. People commonly view Sunday worship as their expression of church, while the rest of the week is lived without church involvement. For example, I have seen written over the exit in some churches: “You are entering the mission field.” While the focus on missions is laudable, the understanding for many is that while we are in the building we are part of a congregation, but when we leave, we are on our own! The common assumption is that those who “do evangelism” with their acquaintances, do it by themselves. This perception is inadvertently advanced by the testimony of those who are gifted evangelists because the interaction is often presented as a private affair. But this approach ignores the great potential for developing a support network with other believers.

b. Defining ministry as church based activity. The ministries of the church are usually understood as the activities that are on the ledger (teacher, usher, maintenance, etc.), and the personal spiritual interaction that people have in their every day relationships are not viewed as church ministry. This perspective needs to be reversed. Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives, while the tasks associated with church programs are support ministries.

Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives

c. Evangelism as the task of the church. At one level this is true, but the emphasis often results in downplaying the reality that it is God who has a mission to the world and it is his Spirit that changes hearts. Salvation does not depend on our ability to convict and convince. Rather we need to discover what God is up to in people’s lives and have a conversation. We look for where God is working and explore the significance of that spiritual interest with them.

d. The guilt aspect. In light of people on their way to hell, we feel enormous pressure to give people a gospel message – like medical staff in the emergency room. However, in my experience this perspective actually works against the effectiveness of motivating people to the task. We need to trust that God will do what is right with each individual and not put more responsibility for a person’s eternal destiny on ourselves than is warranted by Scripture. A more appealing and less intimidating paradigm is the view that we are on a spiritual journey and want to walk with others who are also on a journey.

e. The program approach to evangelism. Very often the plea is “bring your friends to church or to our evangelistic outreach” with the implication that “the expert” is best equipped to tell the gospel. However, any one who is a true follower of Christ has a gospel message inside them that their friends are more than likely willing to hear and which would make a greater impact. In the long run, a more productive focus will be to develop a support network so that believers can explore the spiritual joys and challenges of engaging the significant people in their lives.

See also Significant Conversations: Onion model of Culture

Contact Mark Naylor

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“Be careful; your nose is growing!”

"Be careful; your nose is growing!" The inspiration for this warning is the Disney movie Pinocchio. In the story, when the little wooden boy told a lie, his nose would grow longer. 

When we’re very young, our attempts at deception are rather artless and obvious. I recall, at the age of five, being asked by the emergency physician how I had managed to break my ankle. I didn’t want to tell him that I’d jumped off of a flight of stairs; my dad had brought me to the hospital and I was afraid to tell the truth. So I explained, "I ran so hard that my leg just broke!"

Actually, it’s not just the disposition of children.  People, generally, are not especially good truth tellers. In fact, the only thing that changes over time is the sophistication and subtlety with which the truth is "massaged" to avoid punishment and confrontation, or to avoid the pain of punishment or discipline. It is amazingly common how regularly we disappoint one another by dealing in untruths.

It was no different in Jesus’ day–and Jesus was concerned that his disciples would know that they were to live well above the level of conventional notions of honor and righteousness. In fact, Jesus encouraged that those who would enter the kingdom would have such a character as to possess surpassing righteousness in the area of truth-telling (Matt. 5:20).

So what does surpassing righteousness in Christian truth-telling sound like?

Righteousness admits the need to help others’ doubts

The first thing Jesus said was you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ (Matt. 5:33) Jesus’ words are not a quote, but they’re an excellent summary of a number of passages from the OT. Oaths were an accepted part of Jewish life in the OT and NT periods. Moreover, even God, wanting to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, … confirmed it with an oath (Heb. 6:17)

God’s intention was not that everything that was said needed to be augmented by oaths. Rather, he permitted oaths to comfort people because their confidence was so often and so easily shaken by  untruths.  Oaths were meant to be a comfort to doubt.

But righteousness is not just about verbal formulas

The comfort of oaths for the doubtful, however, came in Jesus’ day to be shrunk and twisted to such an extent by people that there developed a distinction between oaths that were binding and oaths that were breakable. This was no more than a license to lie and deceive.

Jesus’ response is very clear. This is not the way of disciples who are subjects of the heavenly kingdom.

Surpassing righteousness need no oaths

Jesus says, Do not swear at all…. (Matt. 5:34) Righteousness and honesty do not require oaths for emphasis.

The next thing that Jesus says is a reminder that we are always before a watchful God and this calls for truthfulness at all times. The forms of oaths are irrelevant. Look at how he explains. Mishnah Shebuoth allowed that swearing by heaven and earth were not binding. Jesus said,  Do not swear … either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool…. (Matt. 5:34) To swear by the domain of God untruthfully is to slight him. Jesus continued, Do not swear … by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. (Matt. 5:35)  The Jewish Tosephta Nedarim allowed that if you vowed by Jerusalem it was not binding but if you vowed toward Jerusalem it was. Jesus said, "Nonsense! No matter what your direction or orientation to Jerusalem, you are involving God in your oath and so taking his name lightly.

You could not avoid involving God even if you simply swore by your head!

Jesus said, And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. (Matt. 5:36) His point was that even this involved God because we do not have ultimate control over even the smallest things of our lives. The little hairs on my head are not listening to me–some of them are changing colour; some are growing in strange and exciting ways; others are moving to abandon me permanently!

Jesus simply says, "Don’t!"

Surpassing righteousness is unadorned and keeps its word

If it is righteousness to be serious about oaths; it’s surpassing righteousness when all speech deals in the unvarnished truth.

Jesus said, Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matt. 5:37) He’s for reality and truthfulness in the whole range of daily conversations. How can we claim to follow the Son who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) if we deal in untruths? Surpassing righteousness keeps its word.

Jesus’ teaching opens up many areas for application. We should be more careful in our speech: not exaggerating, or using hyperbole, or superlatives to be dishonest, deceive, or emptily flatter people. We shouldn’t slant our stories or pad our resumes. We should keep our promises and our appointments. We should be rock solid in reliable speech to our spouses, our children, our neighbours, our boss, the judge, the government, and above all to God himself.

Surpassing righteousness in the follower of Jesus is demonstrated, among other ways, in unadorned, sturdy speech that has the ring and character of truth and reliability…just like the words of Jesus.

After all, that is the new nature of the subjects of the kingdom of heaven who are the children of the Great King. Truth-telling shows that we bear the family likeness!

Keeping Your Mission On Track

So much is happening in our world these days that I find it hard to keep track of it all. Significant changes are happening in the leadership of the United States. The business and financial worlds continue to experience turmoil. Leadership among our seminary partners in ACTS is changing, as well as leadership within the ACTS Consortium. Discerning the implications of these things for our personal lives, as well as our church communities, families or businesses becomes challenging.

Keeping Northwest’s mission on track when times are turbulent and chaotic, when the future seems less clear than it did six months ago, requires wisdom, courage, and significant intentionality. I am sure you experience the same constraints as you are re-calibrating your own personal budgets, travel plans, business ventures, or investment strategies. My faith in Jesus Christ and confidence that God’s Spirit is with me, however, gives me assurance to press forward. In spite of the changes in the world around me, Jesus’ word remains central – “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). That remains the main thing.

When I translate all of this into the context of my leadership within Northwest, it requires me to ask once again this question – why does Northwest exist and what difference is it making for God in our world? Discerning the answers to these questions enables me as President to find joy in my calling and keep focused, patiently persistent, and significantly encouraged.

The more turbulent our times become, Northwest’s work to equip effective Kingdom leaders gains importance. Churches need passionate, competent, caring, godly leaders.

  • Brian Reagh, a recent graduate began his work as lead pastor at Ruth Morton Baptist Church at the end of October.
  • Tim Durksen, having finished his youth pastoral training program began as Youth Pastor at Sardis Baptist Church in September.
  • Robin Martens is the associate pastor of Discipleship at Campbell River Baptist Church.
  • Brian Pankratz is planting a new church in Burnaby.
  • Three Fellowship Baptist Church boards participated in the Best Practices for Church Boards Workshop at the beginning of November, discerning ways to lead more excellently within their churches.
  • Current Fellowship pastors (and those from other denominations) participated in a week-long Doctor of Ministry course entitled “Spiritual Leadership in the New Testament”, deepening their own understanding of Kingdom leadership.
  • Current students, like David Yeo at Northwest Langley Baptist, or Rob Schweyer at Maple Ridge Baptist, or Paul Truman at Fellowship Baptist in Kimberly, are deeply engaged in pastoral ministries within their churches.

Are we making a difference? Absolutely! New leader by new leader, one by one, our current students and graduates bring the Gospel of Jesus and the powerful presence of God’s Spirit into their communities.

Are these leaders enough? Absolutely not! We must press forward. The work of God’s Kingdom isn’t finished. So we must keep on task. Jesus is holding us accountable. His body needs more trained leaders than ever before.

Your involvement in this work becomes more critical, not less. We know that the message of Jesus changes lives and restores relationship with God. As the Spirit of Jesus takes up residence in people, radical transformation occurs. Your prayers for us, your financial gifts, your wise counsel, your encouragement of those in training – all of this keeps us focused and persistently achieving Northwest’s mission – equipping effective Kingdom leaders. What investment carries greater opportunity for Kingdom advancement?

Thank you for your encouragement. I know that each of you in your own situations is being challenged by the financial chaos. Yet God’s continues to provide for our needs.

There are many different ways that you can help me lead Northwest:

  • Help us connect with people in your church whom you believe have the gifts and calling for ministry leadership.
  • Provide legacy gifts to sustain Northwest’s mission – real estate, bequest by will, making Northwest the owner and beneficiary of a life insurance policy, gifting securities (stocks or bonds), gifts-in-kind. You benefit through the tax receipt, God’s Kingdom benefits as resources are applied to developing Kingdom leaders.
  • Let me know that you are praying for us.

This is my joy and my challenge these days. Thank you for standing with me.


Teaching at The Journey Centre

Some of you may have heard about "The Journey Centre," our new initiative in graduate theological education in Edmonton.

I just returned from a few days of teaching at The Journey, where I was teaching my basic homiletics as a modular course. This time we got together to do the theoretical and theological work. In February we will get together again so that we can listen to each other preach and help each other with the necessary critique.

Already, the course has been of help. One of my students emailed me the following…

Thank you for the time you spent with us, in spite of your cold, in class in Edmonton.  It proved a great blessing!

First, I spent 8 hours on Saturday revamping my entire sermon (notice I did not say message) for taglines and imagery (and a lot more) for Sunday morning.  [That’s not the blessing!]

I found the “imagery times” to be occasions to step away from the pulpit and not use notes.   Plus the taglines helped me remember the message!

Second, praying the message was very meaningful personally.  It was like making my heart ready.

Third, here is a note slipped to me following the sermon:

“Thank you.  I am 52 yrs old and the presentation you shared today was the most powerful expression I have ever experienced upon my heart.  Deep within my heart.  Thank you for being a vessel – that God flows out of.  Thank you.  Thank you for the truth of your heart to be imparted in this way.”

This is the kind of "just-in-time" training that we hope to be able to provide in Edmonton. Let’s pray that many more students are able to experience this kind of benefit.

Understanding Pages and Posts in WordPress

WordPress is an amazing platform for churches to use for their websites.  A strategic feature in the power and versatility of WordPress is the distinction that is made between WordPress Posts and WordPress Pages.  Understanding this distinction is a vital key to unlocking the potential of using WordPress as a content management system.

When I first started with WordPress I grappled with a considerable amount of confusion as to the usage of Pages versus Posts .  How was I supposed to use these two similar yet different creatures in the world of blogging and CMS application.  In this article I would like to help us better understand what pages and posts do and the distinction between them.  Click between the tabs below to view a description of Pages and Posts and some explanation of what their individual strengths are for designing a church website.

[tab:Posts]

Posts in WordPress

Posts are the meat n’ potatoes of a typical blog.  Posts are where a person writes the regular series of  "articles", "devotionals", "book reviews", "opinion or advice columns" and so on.  There are so many potential uses for Posts that I will not even try to enumerate more than the few I listed above.  Their value is in their versatility.  They can be sorted, tagged, categorized, searched and dated.  They can be cataloged by author, by date, by category and by tag.  They can be published publicly or privately (with password protection).  An example of this versatility can be found on the Northwest home page in the right-hand side bar under Special Topics.  Several of those links will open a compilation of all the Posts by a particular author that have been designated a specific category.  Church Website Dialogue 101 is one of them.

Posts are dynamic so they can be used in many creative ways to present regularly changing information or a continually growing body of information.  Normally Posts are displayed with the most currently published material appearing first.  This gives Posts their "freshness" and "interest value".  Posts are what users follow via RSS feeds and news readers.

One distinctive of Posts is that their content can eventually become dated.  For example, in this article (which is a Post) the elements I have listed for Posts and Pages will likely change as WordPress evolves and grows.  There will probably be new features and capabilities added in future releases – making some of what I am writing eventually become dated.  This is not as likely to happen with the content typically entered into Pages.

Read this discussion of posts on the WordPress website http://codex.wordpress.org/Writing_Posts

[tab:Post Elements]

Post Elements in WordPress

A WordPress Post has these components or elements.  I find this list helpful when trying to conceptualize how to design a CMS site using WordPress. The highlighted items are the distinct elements of WordPress Posts.

  1. Title
  2. Post content (body of the page)
  3. Tags
  4. Categories
  5. Password protection
  6. Exerpt
  7. Trackbacks
  8. Posts will allow comments
  9. Post Author
  10. Post revisions
  11. Post status Private or Public
  12. Publish date
  13. Permalink (slug)

[tab:Pages]

Pages in WordPress

Pages in WordPress are the equivalent of static html pages on a static site – with the exception that they are dynamically generated from the database.  Pages hold information that is constant.  They are for site content such as information pages, history pages, personnel pages, product information pages, ministry description pages and so on.  In WordPress Pages are the substance of a content management site as they can be identified in a menu type of hierarchy.  WordPress Pages can have sub-pages and sub-pages under sub-pages.  This gives great power and flexibility in designing the structure of a website.

One of the more powerful CMS capabilities in WordPress is that one can design individual and distinct templates for Pages.  This can give a website the potential of a new look and feel with each Page that is viewed.  One specific Page and all of its sub-pages can have their own template and create the visual sense of being in a new section of the site or even an entirely different site.  For a CMS this is a valuable capability.

Because Pages are "static" they can be used for navigation.  Pages can be assigned a numerical order within their page level which gives the web programmer the ability to create very sophisticated navigational systems.  WordPress has a template tag [a special WordPress function – wp_list_pages()] designed to display a list of all the page URLs.  The tag has a number of  "arguments" to give it great flexibility.  The drop-down menu on the Northwest web-site is dynamically generated using that single WordPress template tag with a few specific arguments.  That way new Pages can be added very quickly and if they meet the criteria set by the arguments of the template tag they automatically appear in the drop-down menu.

In order to better understand how Pages and Page Templates work in WordPress go to this article on the WordPress website – http://codex.wordpress.org/Pages.

Another feature of Pages and their Page Templates is that certain pages can be designed to be viewable by members only.  In a future article I will address this strategic use of the Users feature built into WordPress

[tab:Page Elements]

Page Elements in WordPress

A WordPress page has these components or elements.  I find this list helpful when trying to conceptualize how to design a Content Management Site (CMS) such as a church website using WordPress.  The highlighted items are the distinct elements of WordPress Pages.

  1. Title
  2. Page content (body of the page)
  3. Tags
  4. Custom fields
  5. Comments and Pings
  6. Password protection
  7. Page Parent (can have sub-pages as well)
  8. Page Template
  9. Page Order (i.e. 0, 1, 2 …20, 21 etc.  This is very helpful for arranging how page links will appear in a menu.)
  10. Page Author
  11. Page revisions
  12. Page status Private or Public
  13. Publish date
  14. Permalink (slug)
  15. Pages can be listed with a Template Tag

[tab:END]


I trust this little description will be helpful for all of us who are trying to use WordPress for more than just a blog.  There is lots of information on the WordPress Codex site.  But maybe this condensation will fill a need.

A Noah in every family

world's largest wooden ship, Al-Hashemi-IIIn the Cross-Cultural Impact article, Confessions of a Failed Church Planter, I related the following story of an incident during our ministry in Pakistan:

Nathaniel (not his real name) told me one day of his favorite chapters in the Bible.  Most of them were the expected ones (Ps 23, Rom 8, 1 Cor 13, etc.), but then he said Genesis 7.  I was a little taken aback as I recalled that this was the chapter in which God destroys the entire world and I asked him why such a chapter would be so important to him.  He replied, “Just as God chose Noah to save his family, God has chosen me to save mine.” On the basis of this, rather than challenging him to be involved in a “church plant”, I encouraged him to focus on being an active and intentional believer within his family.  Thus he is fulfilling a mandate that he believes is from God.

His efforts are all within a given societal structure (family) and as a result the conflict of authority and control which occurred in the church plant I attempted are nonexistent.  Relationships are established on social grounds, not on the basis of a common faith, and within this context biblical teaching is given the opportunity to influence the members of the family.  Moreover because the family unit is ongoing, so is the influence of the gospel.  Such a model is also reproducible when the patriarchal heads of the family are targeted.  As a result of Nathaniel’s efforts a number of family members have come to Christ and worship services are a regular occurrence within the family context.

the story of Noah has become a metaphor or motif for the spread of the gospel among the Sindhi people

Recently, I had opportunity to remind Nathaniel of the incident of the “favorite chapters.”  He laughed and said he remembered.  He then went on to say that the story of Noah has become a metaphor or motif for the spread of the gospel among the Sindhi people.  Rather than trying to form congregations with those who have become believers, the focus is on discipling believers in cohorts so that they can be equipped and challenged to bring Christ as Lord within their extended families.  In the words of Nathaniel, “We want a Noah in every family, someone who will build a boat so that the whole family can be saved.”

Investing for Lasting Returns

Two days ago, Northwest Baptist Seminary participated in an annual fund raising banquet with its ACTS seminaries partners. Doners, staff and faculty were present. The program was encouraging; the student testimonies particularly inspiring.

At one point one of our students–Lenora Klassen–was asked why she would recommend that folks financially support the work of the seminary.

I was particularly struck by her response.

Lenora replied, "I don’t know if anyone has been following the economy or activity in the world stock markets lately but there is virtually no place in that arena where a person can get a good return on investment."

She continued, "If you’re looking for a place to invest that generates incredibly strong and lasting returns, there’s no better place than to invest in training highly motivated people who will serve God in proclaiming the good news about His son the Lord Jesus in an amazingly broad range of ways."

Well said on the financial analysis, Lenora!

I’m not an economist, but you don’t really need to be one to see that there has been a lot of economic trouble in the world of late. Markets have plunged, bank credit is frozen, and panic reigns. In the past fifteen months, there have been over 2 trillion dollars’ worth of debt-related losses. Most nations have incurred great debt in floating ‘rescue plans;’ a few nations look to have gone bankrupt. We’ve heard about how the woes of Wall Street were going to begin to affect Main Street. This week the local press where I live featured stories about several large building projects that have stopped due to the debt losses and bankruptcy of lending institutions across the border. Construction workers were being let go from the sites. The media are featuring more and more people who have invested deeply and lost everything. One US pundit quipped that 401 K retirement plans are now just 01 K plans.

Lenora was also right in her spiritual assessment because it positively counseled those gathered at the banquet against the common tendency in tough times for people to experience a "generosity freeze."

Jesus taught, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Obviously, supporting a Seminary in its training of quality individuals for various gospel ministries is one place to make a good long term ‘safe’ investment. We should never be neglectful of that!  But there are also many other ways as well–ways that engage need in all of its desperate expressions and overwhelm the needy with generous goodness that makes them ask, "Why are you doing this?" The answer, of course, is "For the love of God and His Son."

So, we’ve been reminded once again that there are choices to be made. Jesus boiled the options down to a single choice: Who will we serve, God or Money? (Matthew 6:24)

Church Videography

In the last two decades, technology has opened opportunities that Churches have embraced with interesting results. In 1999, one of the pastors at the Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia realized that their sound room had become a media room. Looking at the cameras and sound equipment, he realized that cost was no longer a hindrance to creating professional productions. That led to the production of a movie in 2003: Flywheel. The goal of the movie was to express the Gospel in a compelling fashion.

And, churches have been taking the initiative in using their resources to create graphic messages. Sherwood Baptist Church went on to make the movie Facing the Giants [2006] and Fireproof [2008.] At last count, it was estimated that over 1,200 members of the congregation have participated in the productions [http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2008/005/1.14.html]

It was with this example in mind that I was fascinated last week to read about the Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. In Christianity Today, Brett McCracken wrote “No More Cheesy, Churchy Videos” [http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/news/badd.html] He began his article saying, “It wasn’t so long ago that some churches frowned upon their members even going to see movies, let alone participate in making them. But as new media and video forms have increasingly become ubiquitous and acceptable tools in worship services, that’s all changed. Today, it’s common to see a film clip or video illustration on Sunday mornings, and more and more churches have video ministries that are creating original productions.”

But, not all churches do it well – which is where Bel Air Presbyterian Church stands out. I suppose it’s no surprise that a church with a significant population of “elite, audition-based actors, writers, directors and other film/media practitioners” would be the ones to set a higher standard and provide a quality model. Their ministry carries the delightful title: BADD [Bel Air Drama Department] but their productions are anything but bad. Most of their videos are available on YouTube, about 80% of them comedy, and all of them related to relevant ministry.

I’d add my recommendation to Brett McCracken as he writes, ”BADD is neither the first nor the biggest church film ministry, but it is a good case study in what a film ministry might look like in an era of rapidly changing media.”  In fact, I’d say it’s a great case study worth the look http://www.belairdrama.com/.

The Candidating Sermon

Many of us know the stress and pressure that comes with the candidating process. We want to put our best foot forward, but we do not want to make such a good impression that we are never able to live up to it in the future. I remember hearing an older pastor years ago saying that we should avoid preaching our “Royal George Sermon” when auditioning for a church. I’m not sure what King George had to do with it, but we all have those sure-fire, can’t miss sermons that are certain to put us in the best possible light. It is tempting to default to such sermons when the footing isn’t sure.

For that reason Scott Gibson’s advice, that we preach our “best average sermon” seems wise. Scott’s comment can be found in his excellent article, Preaching the Candidating Sermon, the preaching.org feature article for October. “What is a best average sermon,” Gibson asks? “It is a sermon that captures who you are as a preacher, your personality; and also demonstrates your competence in handling the Word, delivered with skill.”

In other words, preach well, without resorting to any special measures, homiletic pyrotechnics, or features that you won’t be able to live up to. “Remember,” Gibson counsels, “you are not trying to preach your “barn burner” sermon. A candidating sermon is not the sole measure of your preaching ability. You want to give the listeners your best average sermon to demonstrate to them what you are able to do week by week.”

Preaching a candidating sermon can make a person feel like they are back in homiletics class. It feels like people are listening to the preacher more than they are listening to God. No matter what we say, people are thinking about our delivery, more than about the message. They are watching us closely, making decisions about what they are hearing. Their judgment has more to do with whether they would want to listen to us on a weekly basis than it has to do with their own response to the message that we came to bring. It is what it is. We can’t really change it, though we’re best not to dwell on this reality obsessively. The best thing we could do is the same thing that we ought to do whenever we stand to preach. We turn people’s focus to the Word of God and seek to help them to hear his voice.

WordPress is growing up

WordPress gets continually easier to use as a CMS (Content Management System) which is good news for churches who want an easy to use platform for their internet presence.  Yesterday I upgraded the Northwest website to the latest version (WordPress 2.6.2) and the upgrade went very smoothly.  With the size and complexity of our site I was expecting the upgrade to cause a number of serious headaches.  I was pleasantly surprised. There is a video clip prepared by the people at WordPress detailing some of the new features in WordPress. The clip can be accessed here, but it does not work well in Internet Explorer – use Firefox instead.

The following are some of the features that I like in the current version of WordPress (2.6.2).

1. In general the management interface for WordPress is much cleaner and easier to use. The layout is more intelligible, the design is cleaner and the colors are more aesthetically pleasing with lots of white space.

2. Plugin management has been reorganized. Plugins in current use are visually separated from inactive ones. Plugins can be updated directly from the plugin management page (no more uploading them manually via ftp). All this gives the webmaster a much easier time managing plugins: which ones are being used, which ones are in need of updating, doing the updating etc.

More Useful Plugins for WordPress:

Here are several more plugins that I have discovered along the way that help make life easier for the church that wants to use WordPress as a full-featured CMS.

Sermon Browser: One of the features that many churches look for is the ability to place audio and video material on their website for others to access and benefit by. Sermon Browser was designed for just that. It is still in beta form but seems to be working well. Here is a link to the website of a church that is using it http://www.bethel-clydach.co.uk/index.php.

RefTagger: Our friends at Logos Bible Software have also created a plugin for WordPress that allows all Scripture references on one’s site to be linked to the full text of the passage.  Check out John 3:16 (just hover over it).  Here is a quote from their website:

RefTagger is an amazing, free new web tool that instantly makes all the Bible references on your site come alive! Bare links turn into hyperlinks to the full text of the passage at Bible.Logos.com, making it easy for your readers to access the text of Scripture with just a click. Even better, RefTagger brings the text right to your readers by generating a tooltip window that pops up instantly when they hover over the reference. You can also have RefTagger add an logos icon that is hyperlinked to the passage in Libronix—ideal if many of your readers use Logos.”

Simple:Press Forum is a full featured forum application that works as a plugin for WordPress. I have just begun using it on a personal website and it seems to be just what I have been looking for.

CQS Reloaded: This is a powerful little plugin that allows one to determine how many posts will appear at one time in a given WordPress section or category.  For example, if one wants visitors to their site to only see the current article on the home page but multiple articles on an archives page or as many as possible on a search page, this is the plugin to use.  If one has category templates designed for their website they can determine a precise number of posts for each category.

Page restrict: Suppose a website has one (or several) page that you would like only logged-in members to access. This plugin gives that kind of control.

Simple Tags: If a person is into using the new tagging feature in WordPress 2.6.2 this plugin gives a whole bunch of options and features for managing tags.  Both the Northwest website as well as Mark Naylor’s blog use this tagging feature.  See the bottom of this page.

The following two plugins are ones that I use on both Larry Perkin’s and Mark Naylor’s blogs. They are particularly useful if a visitor to the site wants to either email a copy of an article to someone or if they want to print up a hard copy for themselves.
WP-Email: Here is the read-me information.
WP-Print: Here is the read-me information.

WP-DBBackup: This is a valuable plugin for the many management tasks one might want to perform on the site’s database. This plugin, however, must be used with great care. I completely messed up one of my websites by not being careful. Here is the read-me information.

Feel free to interact witn me on this topic.  What have you found helpful for your church website?

Training with Impact!

The increasing diversity and complexity of our context has given rise to specializations in pastoral ministry.  Due to the increasing ethnic diversity in Canada a further skill set is required – pastoring in an intercultural setting.  Northwest Baptist seminary is addressing this need through the Cross-cultural Leadership Development program (CLTP), a one-year undergrad, mentored, experienced-based training program in cross-cultural ministry.  See also Why CLTP?

Jarrod Haas writes of how the CLTP experience has impacted his life:

Jarrod HaasThrough the CLTP program, my understanding of cross-cultural relationships has grown substantially…. I have come to see more clearly that the core of practical ministry occurs through relationships with others…. A new understanding of cultural dynamics has made me aware of the importance of learning to speak in the “language” of the other. Whereas before I focused almost exclusively upon acceptance and articulation of truth, I have realized that real relationships involve the contextualization of the self as a messenger, so as to develop credibility and communicate truth from a position of servantheartedness.

With this broadening of my perspective on relationships has also come several more practical insights.

experiential knowledge of other cultures is essential to building solid, lasting relationships

First, I am becoming more aware of the cultural barriers that exist when building relationships with ESL students. Students may perceive relationship with me or other Canadians as being very transitory (so that they are unwilling to involve themselves beyond a superficial level) or as a vehicle for the achievement of their English communication goals. They may also idealize white people or Western culture, or simply be uncomfortable with foreigners and cross-cultural situations. Understanding the baggage that can come into cross-cultural relationships is helpful in maintaining a sober attitude and expectations in ministry and friendships. It is also helpful to know what obstacles exist so that I can pray and seek ways of removing them.

Second, the dynamic between giving and receiving is becoming more apparent. Although we are called to be servants first and foremost, it is necessary to balance this by giving others an opportunity to serve and give back. Continually offering service to another has the effect of placing them in an inferior position. Without giving the other a chance to give in return, relationships can turn into a selfish monologue or dependency.

It is an honour to be a servant in missions for the Glory of God

Third, [E. Stanley] Jones noted that caution was required when ministering in India because of the inferiority complex that existed towards the West. Tension towards the West because of its colonialism and affluence extends to other countries as well. Simply being a white Christian carries a significant amount of baggage that the cross-cultural worker must be aware of. It is particularly important to be conscious so as not to create an attitude of superiority or arrogance. Even seemingly innocent statements of comparison between Canada and other countries can cause people to think that you believe your own country is the standard by which everyone else should live.

Fourth, I have learned that an experiential knowledge of other cultures is essential to building solid, lasting relationships. In particular, I am beginning to gain a small working knowledge of the Korean worldview and how it manifests through expressions such as of high-context indirectness and group-centeredness.

Fifth, in relation to the previous point, I intend to be more conscious of listening to and observing internationals, rather than focusing on influencing them…. Learning the relational language of the other is essential to relating effectively. Furthermore, I intend to be more mindful of differences (e.g. personality types, social status, etc.) that I perceive in relationships. My approach thus far has been to downplay or ignore the various kinds of disparities that can occur, so as to focus on acceptance of the other. That approach does have merits. However, I am discovering that it is important to keep a healthy focus on differences that do emerge because they are important for understanding how to speak and relate to the other on his or her terms, rather than my own.

Sixth, above all else, heavy reliance upon a right relationship with God, prayer, and the Spirit have proven to be the core elements of all relational processes. I have come to see, in practical terms, that no amount of experience or knowledge can supersede the level of integration and empowerment of skills that the Spirit provides while forming and nurturing relationships.

There are, of course, many aspects of relationships that are not on this list. What has been most significant, however, was growth in the understanding that the development and integration of these and other relational skills will be essential to effectiveness in all future ministry…. I am looking forwards with great anticipation to the work that God will do both in Canada and internationally. It is an honour to be a servant in missions for the Glory of God.

How to Stay One

In early September, I had the deep privilege of officiating at Scott’s and Katherine’s wedding. Scott’s my nephew. There was a bit of déjà vu in the experience for me as the very first wedding I officiated at was Scott’s dad’s and mom’s wedding.

Weddings are all about becoming one. Jesus said, "The man and the woman are no longer two, but one!" In the mysterious and wonderful way that God built into the DNA of marriage, that is just what happens. But Jesus also said, "What God has joined together, let man not separate." That phrase tells me that there’s effort required to stay one.

In a lot of ways, churches are like marriages. They’re made up of very different people united under Christ—different shapes and sizes, different personalities and dispositions, different gifts, and different hopes and dreams. But as in marriages, even the best of churches, while they have been made one by God in Christ, have to work at staying one. There are challenges to that oneness from within and from without. Against those pressures, over and over again, the Bible calls for the church—like it calls couples in marriages—to work at staying one.

One of Paul’s most beloved churches was in the town of Philippi. This church had come together in a place that was hostile to Christianity. In this climate of pressure and threat, this wonderful church had become severely distressed; its unity was beginning to unravel. So Paul gave them some great advice. That advice also works very well for marriages. Here is what he wrote:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look out not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

Paul indicated a number of essential principles for working at staying one.

1. Never forget who you really are!

Paul says, “Your core identity, is ‘follower of Jesus Christ;’ you are God’s person.” When a couple opens their hearts to Jesus and become His followers, God does some amazing things in them. He lavishes his riches on them just like he did on the Philippian church. They come to live in the comfort of Christ’s salvation; they are consoled by His love; they come into and presently experience unbroken fellowship with God through the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit; and they experience God’s amazing compassion and mercy. The long and short of it is that a couple already shares an incredible amount in common as they each share in salvation.

2. Pursue Harmony!

Paul next says, “Trusting in that greatest common denominator of a personal relationship with Jesus, pursue harmony! Being one is not without effort. And that effort begins with healthy communication that builds toward harmony. Paul says, “Be like-minded,” “have the same love,” give expression to that “oneness in spirit,” and he concludes “think the same thing.” It’s a lot like singing in a choir. Obviously there are a lot of different voices in a church choir. But when those very different voices are all on the same page musically and pursuing harmony, the result is both deeply gratifying and God-honoring. Its the same in marriage–two very different people building toward a deeply gratifying and God-honoring harmony.

3. Show Consideration!

Selfish ambition uses all its energy to roughly press ahead in personal advancement without thinking whether this helps or hurts others. Vain conceit is filled with an overblown sense of self-importance. It’s always saying, “Me first!” and “I count more than you!” These are both mortal enemies of staying one. That’s why Paul says, “do nothing” out of such unworthy motivations. Instead, he says, work at staying one by “in humility considering others better than yourselves.” There is no sense of inferiority, self-disparagement, or groveling in this. Paul says, show consideration—“look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.”

4. Imitate the Great Example!

The final piece of advice on staying one in a marriage so that it goes the distance is this: Imitate the Great Example. Paul’s final recommendation is to model your life in marriage after the selfless example of Jesus himself. He writes,

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:5-11, The Message)

Becoming one is great; working at staying one is even better!

Preaching to Remember Those We Never Knew

I came across the following passage, yesterday, as I was reading Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics. The novelist is describing a memorial service for her protagonist’s private school teacher and mentor.

“Johnson went on and on, giving an equal amount of eye contact to every third of the congregation with the mechanized surety of a sprinkler system, most likely having learned this from a course, How to Give a Mesmerizing Sermon, with its concepts of Bringing Everyone In and Evoking a Feeling of Togetherness and Universal Humanity. The speech wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t at all specific to Hannah. it was teeming with She Was a Lights and She Would have Wanteds, mentioning nothing of her real life, a life that Havermayer and the rest of the administration were now all deeply afraid of, as if they’d secretly discovered asbestos in Elton House or found out Christian Gordon, St. Gallway’s Head Chef, had Hepatitis A. I could almost see the paper on the lecturn filled with (Insert Deceased’s Name Here) (see www.123eulogy.com, #8).”

Pastors all know the challenge of speaking uniquely into the lives of people at such services. This is particularly true when the deceased is not well known to us. We do a little sleuthing so as to uncover one or two anecdotes that can personalize the sermon, but if we are honest, most of us take a template approach to our sermons in such cases.

The saliency of this issue struck me with some force given that shortly before reading the afore-quoted passage, I received the real life news that my wife’s much-loved grandmother had died and that I am being asked to perform the memorial service later this week. The family wants me to perform the service because they know me, because they know I cared about my wife’s grandma, and because they know they can trust me to speak authentically about that love. I expect that it will be a meaningful service for those reasons.

All of this lead me to think about some of the many other funeral sermons I have preached for those I never knew. I did my best to tell the stories, and to personalize the event, but it always felt a little artificial. I was telling someone else’s stories and those who attended well knew that I didn’t truly know what I was talking about. They appreciated the effort I made to reflect their loved one, but given that I didn’t know the deceased, it didn’t always have the needed spark.

I’m wondering what we might be able to do about that. I do think we should still work to personalize things, as much as possible. But I also think that we should not try to speak as if we know the person we have never met. There are other ways, I think, to spark the needed authenticity. We can speak with passion, for instance, about the sense of mortality that we all feel whenever someone dies. It’s like the quote from John Donne, “don’t ask for whom the (funeral) bell tolls. It tolls for you.” I don’t need to have had a close personal relationship with someone to have an authentic response around their death.

People want to hear us talk about things that are real within us. We need to get close enough to the situation to be able to reflect an honest and helpful response. We need to let the death effect us, whether we knew the person or whether we did not. When people die, they leave a hole. As Donne said, “we are not islands unto ourselves.” The death of one diminishes the experience of us all. Sometimes we just need to let ourselves get close enough to be touched a little by that truth. Those who listen to our sermons will sense it if we do. It will help them and they will appreciate it.

Honoring Muslims

The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, coincides with September this year [See 30-Days prayer focus for daily online prayer items or a downloadable calendar].  Historically, much Muslim – Christian interaction has been negative and detrimental, with the Crusades being the most glaring example that impacts relationships to this day. 

However, there are those who are building bridges of honor, respect and love with Muslims. Mazhar Mallouhi’s life and teaching provide us with a powerful example of how Christians can effectively relate to Muslims in a way that reveals the love of the Savior.  Mazhar is a follower of Christ from a Muslim background whose appreciation of and love for Muslims has communicated the gospel with obvious impact.  Paul-Gordon Chandler provides the English speaking world with an introduction to the life and teaching of this Arab author through his book, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road [Chandler, Paul Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: exploring a new path between two faiths. Plymouth: Cowley Pub. 2007].  In the book, Chandler explores some of the ways Mallouhi has broken down barriers between Christians and Muslims through showing honor.

breaking down barriers … by showing honor

During the time Karen and I were living in Pakistan many people would come to talk about spiritual things.  However, few religious leaders ever stopped by and I generally did not seek them out. Mazhar Mallouhi, on the other hand, has been known to seek out respected Muslim spiritual leaders in order to ask them to become his spiritual mentor! He explains to them that the Bible is his guidebook to live according to God’s will, and he then asks, "Can you please read these Scriptures in order to help me live up to them? In other words, I would like you to observe me as I live in your country and am accountable to you" (Chandler: 80). This vulnerability in asking to be watched and corrected based on interaction with the Scriptures demands humility and openness.  It also has great potential toward the development of significant relationships and spiritual conversations.

One of first people to come to Christ during our ministry in Pakistan was a young Muslim man studying at the local university.  After his baptism he went back to his home only to return and announce that his father, the spiritual leader of his village, had thrown him out.  Because I had never met his father, I was not in a position to develop a relationship with him at that stage and ease the situation.  It took two years before I finally met the man so that his concerns were eased and his stance towards his son was softened.

In contrast to this error on my part, Mazhar’s cultural sensitivity causes him to honor Muslims by first approaching the father to ask permission if someone has requested an opportunity to study the Gospels. Mazhar’s experience is that the father, and others in the family, may also want to be involved when approached in this way. Because of expressed concern for the honor of the family, the seeker is not alienated from their family, and the whole family can be introduced to the person of Christ (Chandler: 81). Muslims live in many of our Canadian communities.  An attitude of respect and honor towards the leaders may run counter to our easy going egalitarian culture, but it will serve to break down barriers and can create lasting and significant relationships.

Tighten Up On Loose Change

I’m not sure exactly why, but it seems that there has been one word repeated incessantly over the last few week: Change. Maybe it’s due to the political season. Possibly it’s due to the initiation of Fall programs. Whatever it is, and wherever it’s used, it seems to carry a sense of urgency. As the comedian, Professor Irwin Corey used to scream, “if we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re headed. It’s with that in mind that I was intrigued by an article that I read this morning by Mark Sanborn entitled Why Organizational Change Fails [http://www.maximumimpact.com/articles/read/article_mastering_change_why_organizational_change_fails1]

The article served as a caution: There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things … Sanborn quotes Jean-Jaques Rousseau. I would tend to agree. I’ve discovered the truth of an axiom penned by Havelock Ellis: What we call “progress” is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance. Change is not a guarantee of success. Unless it’s done with care, it can result in disaster.

Sanborn’s article provided a good checklist of common faults, or reasons, how failure can occur. Ten reasons in all: 1. Missarts, 2. Making change an option, 3. A focus only on progress, 4. A focus only on results, 5. Not involving those expected to implement change, 6. Delegating change to outsiders, 7. No change in the reward system, 8. Leadership that doesn’t “walk the talk”, 9. Wrong size, 10. No follow-through. It’s an article worth of review. In fact, it might make a good checklist for anyone who is about to launch into a new project.

Endorsing Candidates from the Pulpit

With election fever across North America, it might be helpful for us to consider how we guide our listeners from the pulpit. Traditionally, preachers have understood that while we should feel free to speak broadly about issues that are relevant from the perspective of the Scriptures, we should draw the line at telling our listeners precisely who to vote for. Statements that are of a partisan nature have been viewed to be off limits. Not least among the reasons for this approach is the risk that overt partisanship from the pulpit poses to the tax-free status enjoyed by churches. Preachers are loathe to say anything that would put that status in jeopardy.

This may, however, be changing. According to an article in the Washington Post, the Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors in the U.S. to deliberately challenge the Internal Revenue Service by making endorsements from the pulpit. The article, Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted by Peter Slevin, suggests that the ADF is moving proactively with it’s "Pulpit Initiative" to take the matter to the IRS before the IRS takes it to the churches. According to the ADF, the prohibition stifles freedom of religious expression and inhibits a preacher’s constitutional right to speak freely from the pulpit.

So far, three dozen church leaders from more than 20 states have agreed to deliver a political sermon, naming political names. According to ADF attorney, Erik Stanley, these sermons "will be an evaluation of conditions for office in light of scripture and doctrine. They will make a specific recommendation from the pulpit about how the congregation would vote," he said. "They could oppose a candidate. They could oppose both candidates. They could endorse a candidate. They could focus on a federal, state or local election."

These folks have a point. Preachers should not feel cowed by the government as to what they say or do not say from the pulpit. Of course, that argument cuts both ways. Freedom comes with its attendant responsibilities. If we say what we want from the pulpit, we ought to be prepared to pay the consequences, which may include the need to pay taxes. We remember that Jesus said that we should render unto Ceasar what is rightfully his. Whether the IRS has a right to a piece of the action when the offering plate is passed is a matter for which I have little expertise. What I am more interested in, however, is whether partisan comments from the pulpit are a good idea regardless of the legal or financial implications.

Our citizenship is in heaven and that is where we place our primary interest as Christians and as preachers. However our challenge is to live out the interests of heaven in the context of this earth. We are literally to work out the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Among the implications of this principle is the sense that Christians ought to vote and that they ought to vote for candidates and parties that best represent the value of God’s Kingdom. At the same time, we understand that while our concern is for the Kingdom, our tools are primarily of a spiritual nature and not political. We bring the Kingdom by prayer, by preaching, and by the practice of our faith, not by use of power politics.

In general, I would support the traditional view, that preachers should be careful about naming names and picking parties from the pulpit. Pulpit partisanship risks the integrity of our preaching. I suppose there may be extreme cases, where a party or a politician embodies a perspective so abhorrent to the principles of God’s Word that a direct approach could be warranted. Such situations, however, are probably rare in this part of the world. Most candidates we have to consider offer a mixed bag of perspectives, some of which we support and some of which we would not. In the more extreme cases, the truth will be obvious to everyone without our having to put a point to it from the pulpit.

The wise approach is to tackle the issues of the day from the perspective of the Scriptures. Let the Bible speak about the matters that are before us. If we can hear the voice of God through his Word and by his Spirit we will have a clearer sense of how to vote and how to live. We may even encourage a few politicians to a greater degree of biblical faithfulness in their work.
 

Generating Hope In God

As I sit in my office, the returning and new students create a real buzz of excitement and energy around the Seminary – at least I think it’s the students and not the coffee! Seriously, new semesters always generate significant vitality – new relationships, new encounters with God, new ideas, new ministry opportunities, new hope. A new semester breathes hope that God’s Kingdom work is alive and progressing.

I think Northwest’s essential business is generating hope in God. We accomplish this by equipping kingdom leaders who possess this hope in Jesus personally and know how to share it with others to build communities of hope. So many things that destroy hope happen in our world– war, famine, evil leadership, criminal activity, deceitful relationships, and disease. The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings peace, restores goodness, destroys evil, empowers healthy relationships and eventually promises us a new, resurrected body! So I look forward to Northwest’s sixty-eighth year of hope-generating ministry.

One of the challenges I have as President is to keep Northwest, entering its sixty-eighth year of ministry, fresh and relevant. It is easy to keep doing the same things and using the same methods to equip leaders, but new times require new approaches. This new academic year we are focusing our energies:

  1. to offer more of our leadership development courses on line. This will increase accessibility, dissolving the geographical barriers that prevent many from benefiting;
  2. to revise our primary pastoral training degree so that key pastors can be involved more significantly with us to equip emerging leaders. The co-op model of education is being considered;
  3. to provide more initial ministry leadership development training in the churches.

A new initiative I personally am developing is the workshop entitled “Doing God’s Business: A Theology of Work.” This is offered Friday and Saturday, November 7-8, 2008 at the Fosmark Centre (TWU Campus). You can register for this on our website (right hand column, click on the date November 7-8).

Another significant initiative is being led by Dr. Lyle Schrag, the director of our Fellowship Leadership Centre. He will be working with our students to help them discern more clearly their calling in ministry and helping them to assess their progress towards achieving the goal. You might describe it as a ministry coaching process.

And then, related more to biblical research, we are hosting a major international conference on the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), September 18-20, 2008. A public session (Thursday evening, September 18) will be held in the Northwest Auditorium (TWU Campus), beginning at 7:30pm. There will be good music, along with several presentations related to the Septuagint Institute and its significance, as well as presentations by the general editors of the New English Translation of the Septuagint, published by Oxford University Press. I personally contributed the translation of Exodus in this volume.

I would encourage you take a look at our website and make use of the resources that are there. Dr. Schrag’s notes on church leadership, Mark Naylor’s contributions about cross-cultural ministry challenges, the frequent blogs about many aspects of Christian life, and the biblical and preaching resources are helpful.

As the summer gently shifts into the autumn season, I trust that you will be energized in your relationship with Jesus. Perhaps now is the time to take action and refresh your walk with God. Courses or workshops can be a stimulating way to engage this.


Heroic Living

 

Yesterday I was surprised by a gentle gift of grace. Several weeks ago, I had made a reference in this blog to the book by Chris Lowney (Heroic Leadership) Apparently the publishers of the book monitor the Web with care, and sent me a copy of Lowney’s latest book, Heroic Living. (At this rate, I am tempted to take every opportunity I can to name all of my favorite authors in all of my blog submissions, and watch my library grow!)
There is serendipity in the timing of this gift. The subtitle of the new book (and excuse me for mentioning it one more time: Heroic Living!) is “discover your purpose and change the world.” This comes on the eve of Labor Day, and for me Labor Day serves as more of a turning point for me than does New Year’s. Many people assume that New Year’s is the time for resolutions, a time to take stock of life and direction and investment, and a time to make necessary corrections.
For me, those sort of resolutions occur more at Labor Day. It seems that the Fall is when life at work begins anew, and I need to recalibrate my focus on purpose so that I can actually change the world. That, I gather from Chris Lowney, is what makes for Heroic Living.
When I first read in the subtitle the words “discover your purpose” I suspected something along the lines of Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life. Instead, I found something more in line with Bob Buford’s Half-Time. (Like I said, I am tempted to list as many authors as possible from now on!)
Lowney puts forward a number of simple, core questions at the center of the process of discovery: Who am I? What am I trying to accomplish in life? How should I behave and treat other people? What values are important and fundamental, in business and family life? Why do I matter? And What makes my life meaningful? [p. 18, Heroic Living.]
I’ve just spent a great deal of time over this summer asking and answering questions that would produce a more focused work and ministry. Reading this list left me rebuked. As Lowney continued, you can understand why:
In the ancient world of, say, twenty years ago, we could skip these philosophical questions and get right to the nitty-gritty ones, such as where to work and live. But change, culture clash, scale and complexity won’t allow us to operate in that old-fashioned way any longer. Before we are bankers, priests, astronauts, or film manufacturers, (or Pastors, or Directors, or Professors …) we are human beings. So the first and most strategic question we must ask is: What does it mean to be a fulfilled, purposeful, successful human being?If we don’t tackle the question of what makes human life meaningful, we may end up becoming expert and successful in ways that we’ll discover, late in life, were not very meaningful at all. Before worrying about what we’re doing for a living, we need to figure out what we’re living for, because our “career” in the new world environment is not a job? It’s our whole lives.
Not a job … but a whole life. As I prepare for the last long weekend of the summer, those are the questions and that’s the task that really matters most.

Ministry Talk: Reflections on “The Shack”

William Young writes an interesting novel (as the title page describes this book) — and we have to remember that The Shack is a novel! According to the foreword Young is telling the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips and his encounter with God at “the shack”, the place where Phillip’s youngest daughter was murdered. Young recounts how ‘the great sadness’ that overwhelmed Phillips after the kidnapping and death of his daughter was removed through this encounter with God.

Theology finds expression in this novelistic narrative in ways that suit the postmodern perspective. As the story unfolds, the reader is led skillfully to reconsider the very nature of God in the context of such a tragic circumstance. Young emphasizes the Trinitarian essence of God and the primary element of love that defines God’s inner relationships. Some might find his characterizations of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit somewhat unusual, but Young is not deliberately sacrilegious and always treats God with respect in this novel. His description of the human Jesus and his assertion that Jesus was totally dependent upon the Spirit (pages 99-100) for any miraculous power he displayed will raise some eyebrows. Jesus’ description of his intimacy with God and sharing of understanding and power in John’s Gospel and Matthew 11:25-26 suggest that Young’s description is somewhat inadequate. And what do we do with the Transfiguration?

Personally I think that Young’s portrayal of Jesus in the story (apart perhaps from some elements in chapter 15 entitled “A Festival of Friends”) fails to show him as the ascended and reigning Lord. Jesus is friend, companion, and saviour, eagerly wanting a relationship with each human being, but his Lordship seems strangely muted.

In my view, Young is at his best in the narrative when Phillips engages one of the members of the Godhead in conversation about a difficult theological issue. Why did God let Phillips’ daughter die in such an evil way? If we blame God for these kinds of events, are we in effect judging God?  What kind of relationship does God want to have with human beings and how does Jesus’ death on the Cross enable this restored relationship to become a reality?  How does human freedom work in connection with divine sovereignty? How does God want us to live as his saved people? What does holiness look like? The dialogues explore these theological nooks and crannies, providing helpful perspectives.

We cannot expect a book, especially a novel, to deal with every significant question or the writer’s selected questions equally well. Young’s novel is no exception. He focuses on some very critical issues. However, we are left wondering somewhat about the relationship of a Jesus follower to the local church. Is the local church too much a part of ‘religion’ to be of any significant help for someone in Phillips’ situation? This seems to be a conclusion, whether intended or not. Perhaps the central focus on relationships is the way that Young seeks to define how a believer finds sense and meaning as part of a local assembly. As well, sin and evil are certainly key components in the narrative, but we have no discussion about Satan or his role in the events described. Young makes the point that God is not responsible for evil, because human beings are independent agents. And God is able to bring good out of evil. But where is Satan in this mix?

And then there is the continuous emphasis upon emotions – not unexpected given the subject matter.

Young’s novel deserves a read, but one that is critical (in the best sense of that term) and discerning. Bad things do happen to good people and resolving this question within a Christian frame continues to require the very best of our thinking, a robust theology, and a deep relationship with God.

What will you do with the rest of your life?

Lorry Lutz, in her book, Looking Forward To The Rest Of Your Life? Embracing Midlife and Beyond,1 asks the challenging question, “What specific ministry/service do you think God expects of you in the years after retirement?” For Joe and Lourdes De Guzman, it is training church leadership in the Philippines. For Herm and Joan Braunberger it was hospitality and administration in Pakistan.

Did you ever have a dream of serving God in missions? – holding the hand of woman who has brought her sick infant into Shikarpur Christian Hospital, praying with a family who lost their home in a landslide, comforting an abused wife at the Hope center, Kazakhstan, using your administrative skills to bring some order and structure to an outreach ministry, provide tech support for a Bible correspondence school, have tea and a significant spiritual conversation with a friend who wants to learn English, being a house parent for missionary children, spending your time making a significant impact.

In today’s world the possibilities are endless and Fellowship International is assisting people from our Fellowship churches find their place of service in God’s mission to the world. In particular, those 55 and over who are facing retirement are encouraged to face the challenges of missions through the “Finishers” program.

Northwest Baptist Seminary and Fellowship International  are teaming up to sponsor a Serious Missions: “Reaching Ahead” retreat a camp Qwanoes in Feb 2009 for those 55+ who believe in the importance of missions and would like to explore the possibility of their involvement through FEBI.

View the Serious Missions website
Download the Serious Missions brochure
Download the application form

You have no idea what God is ready to do through you.

    • ____________________

 

  • 1 Lutz, L. Looking Forward To The Rest Of Your Life? Embracing Midlife and Beyond, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
  • 2 ibid., p. 107.
  • 3 Ibid. p. 96.

Key Board Traits

At the end of June, Board leaders from seven churches participated in the Advanced Best Practices for Church Boards workshop. Dr. Guy Saffold, the Executive Director of Ministries at Power to Change, addressed the role of a Church Board in making good and Godly decisions. The purpose of the workshop was directly connected to the fact that the governing leaders in a congregation form the core community of the church. Their ability to interact as a healthy community strongly influences the quality of the spiritual health of the entire congregation. One of the strongest tests of that ability is the capacity to make decisions as a team.

It’s one thing to make a decision alone. Leaders are often defined through their powers of discernment, vision and certainty. As I was collecting resources for the workshop, I discovered that most of the “how-to” material was directed at the individual. I suppose that most people find it easier to take an issue in hand and make a command decision all alone. Making a group decision is a whole different thing, especially as it relates to the spiritual work of the people of God.

As the result of a Lilly Endowment funded study in the mid-1990’s, Charles Olson began a ministry called Worshipful Work, and wrote the book Transforming Church Boards into Spiritual Communities [Alban, 1995.] His study explored the ways that congregations make decisions. What he discovered was that most boards were guided by a business model of executive, politically efficient and democratically guided decision-making. The deeper work of spiritual discernment was largely absent.

Olson wrote, “Consulting Scripture, waiting in silence, and corporate soul searching are not an easy way out … Efficiency-minded boards are accustomed to controlling the agenda … but Spiritual discernment is sometimes lengthy, sometimes meandering activity of determining what God wants, or from an eternal perspective, what already is.” He pointed to Romans 12:2 as the work of a Board’s decision making process: Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Going back to the June Workshop, the comments made by the leaders on the evaluation form confirmed that it was a “good investment of time” for Church boards to learn how to unite around “vision, mission, and strategy.” The simple strategy of the “OODALoop” presented by Dr. Saffold created a template for Board leaders to make their work a worshipful, spiritual exercise (and eventually the workshop will be available in the same sort of “course” format as the Best Practices for Church Boards Personal Workshop: Now That I Am A Board Member DVD and Workbook.) But, it also became apparent that no matter what decision-making strategy a Board adopts, several fundamental traits need to dominate the relationships of the Board. Let me suggest a few:
Kingdom Vision: When it comes to teamwork, one of the most significant obstacles is the lack of a clearly defined and commonly accepted mission. Very few teams succeed as adversaries. And yet, too often Boards are divided around competitive agendas.

I love the story used by Dr. David Horita to describe an episode from his ministry where he was given an assignment from his Church Board to draft the Church vision statement. Being the clearly defined leader, he accepted the task – but on the condition that the board participate in the work as a team. He made a list of everything that the church could be, and asked the board members to identify their top choice.

It was a humbling discovery when they found that there was no common agreement in their choices. Even more humbling was the discovery of how their choices revealed their own personal agendas, what they personally needed their church to be. David asked them to repeat the exercise again, only this time with a simple addition: What did their church need to be for others?  

Adding those two words made quite a difference. Once they were able to “set themselves aside” they discovered, together, a common vision of what God had in mind for them.

Spiritual Courage: As Larry Osborne writes in his book Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation: “The mark of a healthy board is courage. When a tough decision has to be made, people aren’t afraid to make it. They realize that’s what they’ve been called to do. In contrast, dysfunctional boards often are dominated by fear. They find it safer to say no and to maintain the status quo.”

In the Gospel of John [6:28,29] Jesus informed the disciples that the work of ministry would be a matter of Faith. What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, “the work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”

Before Church board members engage in decision-making, there must a heart of courage to boldly accept the challenge of faith. Over this summer, I’ve enjoyed reading the book Heroic Leadership [by Chris Lowney, Loyola Press, 2003.] The subject of the book revolves around the 5 pillar commitments of the Society of Jesus [Jesuits], identified by Chris as the “best practices from a 450-year-old company that changed the world.” Regardless of what you may think of the Jesuits, the one critical feature was that they were utterly commited to “elicit great desires by envisioning heroic objectives” in service to Christ. As Chris writes: “[they] were driven by a restless energy, encapsulated in a simple company motto, magis … more, something more, something greater … magis inspired them to make the first European forays into Tibet, to the headwaters of the Blue Nile, and to the upper reaches of the Mississippi River … regardless of what they were doing, they were rooted in the belief that above-and-beyond performance occurred when teams and individuals aimed high.”

For Church Boards to aim high, there needs to be a predisposition to spiritual courage.

Honest Trust: And, there must be an environment of trust. One of the marks of a healthy board is that people are empowered with freedom to fulfill their ministry. It’s true that trust is a quantity that has to be earned. That’s why there has to be an element of honesty where people can learn to trust each other.

That’s another lesson identified by Larry Osborne: Every board I’ve work with has had a basic bent toward either trust or suspicion. What made the difference? In most cases it was a choice. Dysfunctional boards chose the role of watchdog, making sure no one got by with anything … on the other hand, healthy boards chose trust.”

I am sure that there are more traits that could be used to measure the fitness of church leaders to boldly follow where God is leading. But, these three are a good place to begin. Get them right, and I have to believe that the worshipful work will flourish.

Vacation Tip

It’s August, and for what it’s worth, it’s time to take a break. Call it a “vacation”, a “sabbatical”, a “leave of absence”, a “retreat” or an “escape”, now is the time to take it. It may sound silly, but I suspect that some people could appreciate some advice on what to do with the spare time.[singlepic=165,300,,,right]

A couple of years ago, I came across an article in the Chicago Tribune. John Thompson, of Yorkshire, England, decided to make the most of his holidays by staying at home and enjoying the fishing pond behind his place. Not content with just enjoying the view, he decided to actually learn how to fish. He had no idea of what would happen after his first cast. In the course of his brief summer holiday, he never caught a fish. Instead, he hauled in an inventory which included: “20 iron bed frames, a washing machine, railroad ties, porcelain ornaments, women’s clothing, handbags, shoes, somebody’s late dog, somebody’s late parakeet, somebody’s two old kitchen sinks, and somebody’s old four-door Ford Anglia with 73,000 miles on it.”

When John was asked to describe his vacation, he went on the record. “I’m not fishing anymore, and I’m not digging any deeper. God knows what I’d find. I’d have been better off just taking a long nap.”

For those who are wondering how to make the most of their vacation, there’s something to learn from this man. Have a great vacation!

Which Bible Version is Superior? 1. Two Styles

Are literal translations more accurate?

When Today’s New International Version (TNIV) was first published, I walked into our local Christian bookstore and asked the sales person, "Do you have the new TNIV?" A wary look came into his eyes and he said, "Why do you ask?" Puzzled, I replied, "Because I would like to purchase a copy." Relieved he showed me where the books were being kept. He also explained the source of his angst: some people were coming into the store and rebuking them for carrying such a "heretical" translation.

Recently I heard a sermon in which the speaker criticized certain "meaning-based" Bible versions and promoted "literal" translations as "more the word of God." He encouraged people to consider the common language versions, which were easier to understand, as less worthy to be considered God’s word than the more "word for word" translations.

If some translations are heretical, then we should avoid them. If meaning-based translations are truly less God’s word than literal translations, then we would do well to read versions that are more accurate. But are such claims true, or do they arise from a misunderstanding of the nature of language and the translation process?

Translations are like theologies: Human attempts to express the Divine Word

Since Babel there have always been both "word for word" and "thought for thought" translations between languages. "Dynamic equivalence," "thought for thought" or "meaning-based" are new terminology to describe a translation style which has always existed. "Literal," "Word for word" or "formal" describes a separate translation style which also has always existed. For example, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), which was often quoted by New Testament writers, has instances of both literal and meaning-based translations. As one example among many, the Hebrew word rosh has a nuance of a literal, physical "head" as well as a more metaphorical usage of "chief authority." The LXX sometimes uses the Greek word for "head," kephale, to translate rosh, and sometimes uses other words to describe the concept of "chief authority" in non-metaphorical terms.1

Outside of Bible translation, in the modern secular world of written translation, the meaning-based style tends to be the norm for translation, rather than "word for word." The assumption is that rather than the structures and words of the original language, it is the meaning that is of interest to the reader. The role of the translator is to express the meaning of the original manuscript so that the receptor audience can engage the meaning according to the accepted usage of the receptor language. The goal is the communication of the message. However, Bible translation deals with manuscripts which are considered by those of us who are evangelicals as verbally inspired by God. The sacredness of the original writings is reflected in the desire of the translators of literal translations to reflect, as close as possible, the linguistic structures and individual words of the original.

Is the ordinary method of meaning-based translation suitable for the biblical texts, or does their nature as "God-breathed" require a different, more literal, style? In our human attempts to express the divine word, how should we proceed?

Read the complete Cross-Cultural Impact Article

Summertime Preaching

Summer offers a different pace of life for most of us and life at church is no different. Even preachers need vacation, meaning that pulpits everywhere are filled with unfamiliar faces.

In many such churches, summer relief comes from associate staff, offering an excellent opportunity for youth pastors, worship pastors, and other such leaders to have their voice heard by the congregation. Many such leaders prefer not to preach, for reasons of giftedness, but the benefits related to the congregation hearing from their staff members might be enough to outweigh any such concerns. Hearing associates preach is a good way build confidence in the ministries of these under-appreciated co-laborers. Given that many churches have only one main preaching opportunity each week, summer is a good time to be able to utilize people who would not normally have an opportunity. It may also provide opportunity for younger, emerging leaders to get an opportunity to test their gifts.

With smaller crowds in the summer it is tempting to throttle back and lower expectations, but we need to remember that the people who come are as interested in hearing from God in July as they are in January. In addition, the presence of visiting family members (many of whom don’t know the Lord) and worshipers from other locales, is further motivation for giving of our best.

It may be possible that the more relaxed approach to worship afforded by the summer could provide the preacher with opportunities to explore a wider preaching palate. Might this be a time to try a new narrative technique or to experiment with note-less preaching? You might learn some things you will want to carry over into the fall.

Summer also provides an opportunity for preachers to plan, read, and get ahead on their preparation for their preaching in the fall. Wise preachers use the time well.

So here’s to some great preaching in your church this summer, whether done by you or someone else. May many be blessed by the Word of God in these weeks to come.

Liturgy – What is it good for?

It’s my time to add to the blog and I’m going to run the risk of a personal rant on Worship. It’s a theme that continues to stir my soul, which was stirred once again when I read simple comment made by Annie Dillard [in Marva Dawn’s book Reaching Out without Dumbing Down]: “Since “we” have been doing this for 2,000 years, why can we not do it as well as a high school drama club cast can do after six weeks of rehearsing a play? Not that worship is nothing but rehearsable performance and not that a high school play is worship – though drama and liturgy do have some common roots. But people who attend services of prayer and praise, song and action, preaching and the sacraments, often have to endure mumbling and stumbling of offputting sorts. This is not how God is to be praised, and this is not what worshippers will put up with for indefinite periods of time.” Strong stuff! And yet, I keep finding myself asking the Annie Dillard question as I move through so many worship services.

Not long ago, with a group of friends, the conversation turned to worship and I mentioned my growing affinity for the deep symbols and rich voice of liturgy. The response was swift and certain, to the effect that liturgy is dry, sterile, dead, and that nothing good could come of it. Later, another friend who overheard the response sought to console me. It should be noted that this man is enrolled as a doctoral candidate in “liturgical studies.”

“Let me suggest what good comes from liturgy” he said. And then he tossed out a fascinating thought. His thesis went like this: the use of Sunday School as the primary educational vehicle of the Church is a relatively new phenomenon – dating to the early 1900’s. Up to that time, the primary means by which people learned core spiritual disciplines: the language of prayer, the theology of creed, the reading of Scripture, the spiritual journey from confession to absolution, the expression of praise … all of this and more was cultivated through Worship and the liturgy of Worship.

In recent years, it appears that the influence of Sunday School as an educational experience has diminished. Which makes me wonder what is left to be learned in our services of Worship? It’s a troubling question, but one that needs to be addressed. If a worship service was to be the only “school” for the learning of spiritual discipline for a new believer what have they learned of prayer, of belief, of the word and of the profound drama of faith that defines their life in Christ?

Leadership Next – What has to Change in Ministry Leadership?

Eddie Gibbs writes with passion and insight as he seeks to answer the question: what kind of leaders does the church in the 21st century require in order to carry forward the mission Jesus gave it? LeadershipNext. Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture assumes that the missional church perspective represents the direction that the Western Church needs to take if it desires to recover and truly incarnate Christ’s kingdom mission today. However, for the church to implement this missional theology requires a new kind of ministry leader. Gibbs presents his ideas with clarity, using numerous illustrations and wit.

The recovery of a missional theology coincides with the cultural shift from modernism to postmodernism. Church leadership as practiced within a modernist culture tends in Gibbs’ view to be controlling, practiced solo, and essentially transactional, bent on keeping the corporate church operating. Individuals under thirty-five and whose values are shaped by postmodernism aspire to serve with leaders who consider team to be the essential leadership mode, with emphasis on relationship, connecting, and empowering. This new, postmodern generation will not work with the prevailing style of leadership shaped by modernism. This is as true in the corporate world as it is in the church. As the subtitle to his book indicates, Gibbs believes that the church must develop new leaders who embrace new ways of exercising influence for Christ in a changing culture. Repeatedly he argues that “yesterday’s styles of leadership will not be adequate for the opening decades of the twenty-first century” (34).

Although his first chapter is entitled “Redefining Leadership”, Gibbs never offers his own definition of leadership. Rather, he works his way selectively through the definitions offered by others (i.e. Robert Clinton, Walter Wright, Robert Banks and Bernice Ledbetter, and James Kouzes and Barry Posner), embracing a common thread that sees leadership as the exercise of influence within a relational matrix. The ideas of Roger Greenleaf regarding servant leadership are particularly considered. This discussion occurs against the background of change that postmodernism is generating within Western culture. And this leads Gibbs to reject models of leadership that are dominating and hierarchical, based upon status and the exercise of power. Such a mode of leadership conflicts both with the scriptural warrant, in his view, as well as with the emerging postmodern culture. He considers character, charisma and competence important, but character must take first place.

The first chapter ends with a list of seven “leadership challenges” (38-45) that the church must face.

  1. Beyond preserving the inherited institutions: leading a mission-focused community of disciples;
  2. Beyond ideology-driven evangelism: leading a values-based community of disciples;
  3. Beyond dispensing information: seeking spiritual formation rooted in Scripture;
  4. Beyond the controlling hierarchy: leading empowered networks of Christ followers;
  5. Beyond the weekly gathering: building teams engaged in ongoing mission;
  6. Beyond a gospel of personal self-realization: a service-oriented faith community;
  7. Beyond the inwardly focused church: leading a society-transforming community of disciples.

Who can argue with these ideals? Undoubtedly we can find examples of faith communities that exhibit these limiting, negative behaviours. However, it is also the case that many church communities in the era of modernism were mission-focused, embraced a relational method of evangelism, pursued spiritual formation that was rooted in Scripture, etc. I wonder whether we can draw the lines as clearly as Gibbs would suggest. The way in which church leaders in the modern era responded within that cultural setting may have been exactly appropriate. After all such leaders were seeking to express the Gospel and lead the church in ways that were culturally relevant to the prevailing modernist philosophy. Gibbs is right to emphasize that the cultural shift to postmodernism means that the leadership styles and approaches that were suited to life within modernism will not be suitable for life in postmodernism. Whether he has identified correctly what needs to change is another question.

We need “different kinds of leaders” according to Gibbs (47). The transformations globally we currently experience require this. Gibbs emphasizes the chaotic conditions and suggests that they provide opportunity as well as require us to risk new ways of leading. Religious pluralism, increased complexity, information explosion, new means of communication – they all generate the need for a different kind of leadership. I wonder whether church leaders felt similar angst in the early twentieth century, with the explosion in technological development, the havoc caused by the First World War, and the economic complexities generated by The Great Depression. In the midst of these significant changes Church leaders had to learn afresh the best ways to live out the Great Commission, to make disciples, and to make decisions under pressure. In these circumstances ministry leaders had to communicate, debate and negotiate (96). People then as now wanted to be treated with dignity and respect. Relationships and trust were as integral to organizational life and nurture then, as they are now. People desired authentic community then, but perhaps defined and expressed it differently. Yes, change happens and continues to happen. This requires modes of leadership to adjust as well. However, I suspect that many of the fundamental issues remain the same; however changing cultural values create expectations for different modes and manners of response. I think Gibbs inherently knows this because he keeps using examples of leadership in Scripture to ground many of his key arguments. However, I do not think he would argue that the cultural contexts in which these leaders functioned were similar to the current postmodern situation.

I think one of Gibbs’ best chapters is devoted to the concept of team-building leadership. New emerging leaders seem to gravitate towards and work well within a team-building style of leadership. In Gibbs view this is more compatible with the postmodern cultural context. However, leading effectively through a team context requires considerable skill, particularly the ability to serve as leader and follower concurrently, as well as dealing with diversity. Gibbs suggests that the primary leader in a team context operates like a coach, nurturing the team so that it accomplishes much more together than it could as separate individuals. The impact of the sum will be much greater than that of the individual parts. Gibbs draws on the analogy of the Trinity to suggest how such a team functions harmoniously to provide ‘leadership’. He builds on Cladis’ reference to the perichoresis, the constant and lively interaction and involvement of the persons of the Trinity within their singular relationship. He mistakenly follows Cladis in thinking that perichoresis signifies dance, a sense the word does not convey. Gibbs identifies some competencies and attitudes that team leaders must possess: lead with questions, not answers; engage in dialogue, not coercion; conduct autopsies without blame; build red-flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored. In this he builds on the work of Jim Collins. He also refers to the concept of ‘connective leaders’ proposed by Jean Lipman-Blumen. Gibbs seeks to build a vision of “leadership next” based on these ideas. “By giving priority to team building the church can move beyond the prevailing culture of hierarchy and control to that of networking and empowerment” (120). I agree that we need to do a better job in the church to help people discern and live out their calling, that ministry teams probably create a better context in which to promote this, and that networking and empowerment are critical elements that enable this kind of community to flourish. Yet, having said this, what at the end of the day is the role of “the ministry leader” in a local church which is designed to operate under this new kind of leader? There must be some framework that empowers the leader, defines responsibility and requires accountability. We may shy away from naming this command and control, but if that ministry leader is being held accountable by a group of elders, then that ministry leader needs to exercise appropriate authority to accomplish the tasks necessary to achieve the church’s vision. In the last chapters of his book Gibbs considers leadership traits, activities, attitudes and costs. He offers good advice for any Christian leader. However, again I question to what degree any of this is new? For example, when you consider the list of leadership traits (character shaped by God, called by God, ability to contextualize, courage forged by faith, competence linked with gifting and experience, creativity, compassion, confidence (128ff)), how does this list differ from the traits a “modern” ministry leader must emulate? In terms of leadership activities is it only the young “genial mavericks” that have creative new ideas? What happens when a leader hits fifty – does all of hope of any new creative idea suddenly vanish? Acts 2 does promise through the Spirit that “your old men will dream dreams.”

Gibbs says that “clergy means ‘called’ (kleros), with the unspoken implication that the laity is not chosen or called by the Lord” (132). I would suggest that he is somewhat misleading here. kleros signifies primarily an object used in casting lots for the purpose of decision-making, or a portion or share, something assigned as a person’s allotment.1 In the Gospels and Acts it describes the casting of lots to determine which soldier would get Jesus’ garment (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24) and which follower of Jesus would replace Judas as apostle (Acts 1:17-26). Peter tells Simon Magus that he has “no part or share (kleros) in this ministry” (Acts 8:21). Paul confesses that during his Damascus road vision Jesus revealed to Paul that his apostleship would give to the Gentiles “a place (kleros) among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). The notion of ‘inheritance’ seems to be suggested by Paul’s use in Colossians 1:12. Peter used the word once in 1 Peter 5:3 to describe the “portion” of God’s people over which the elders were given spiritual direction. The cognate verb occurs once in Ephesians 1:11. In that context the concept of inheritance once again probably is most appropriate, with the sense of “obtaining or acquiring a portion or share”. It is rendered in the King James Version as “in whom we have obtained an inheritance”, but the New International Version rendered it as “in him we were also chosen,” a very different sense. It could also be rendered “in whom we have our destiny,” i.e. “in whom our lot is cast.” The English term ‘clergy’ reflects more the sense of a person who has been assigned responsibility over a kleros, a portion.2 While Gibbs general point is correct, his attempt to base his perspective on the New Testament term kleros unfortunately appears to be somewhat misguided.

His final chapter is entitled “Leadership Emergence and Development.” Here we hope to find Gibbs prescription for ministry leadership development. His key idea is that ministry leaders must be trained essentially as missionaries, people able to “operate in crosscultural settings, frequently on the margins of society” (197). He refers to a Church of England study entitled “Mission-shaped Church” which argues similarly. A strong lament about the high drop out rate from ministry of Bible College and Seminary graduates follows. However, he does not comment on the drop out rate from ministry of those trained in other methods. Perhaps it is higher. There is a hidden assumption here. Also, does crosscultural training guarantee ministry success? The return rate of missionaries would suggest not.

For all that, Gibbs’ suggestion deserves careful thought. What a missional focus as the framework for ministry leadership development should ensure is the acquisition of cognitive, spiritual-moral and practical obedience. Perhaps the use of more problem-solving learning processes, more intentional linkages with a specific ministry context, and carefully led, mentored reflection on these elements would provide more effective ministry leaders for the 21st century. One might further ask how Gibbs’ emphasis on team-based leadership would be advanced through missionary training? Is there anything inherent in missionary development that requires team-based leadership? Perhaps in the new, emerging models of crosscultural leadership development and practice that is the case, but historically it is not immediately evident.

    ____________________

  • 1F.W.Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature . Third Edition (BDAG) (Chicago, ILL: University of Chicago Press, 2000): 548.
  • 2See the entry under ‘cleric’ in the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Volume 1 (Oxford University Press, 1971): 491-492.

Nova – New Things

Relationships require good communication, if they are going to flourish. Over the years you have demonstrated a deep commitment to the ministry of Northwest Baptist Seminary and I count you as one of our significant ministry friends. Yet friends need to be connecting in order to keep the relationship warm and flourishing.

I am initiating NOVA, a bi-monthly, informal communiqué from the Northwest President, to deepen your relationship with the Seminary. It is my hope that this will help you to keep more informed about the progress of our mission, the challenges for which we need prayer, and the contributions of our students, faculty and alumni to Kingdom advancement. You need to know how your investments in our vision are multiplying our capacity to develop effective Kingdom leaders and grow healthy churches.

The word ‘nova’ is a Latin expression meaning “new things.” One of the new things we started this June enabled emerging Christian leaders to explore the relationship between a Christian’s spiritual life and the marketplace. Does a believer’s occupational work have any value? Do the 80,000 hours the average person spends ‘at work’ contribute to God’s mission in the world? Or is it only the 4500 hours a believer spends ‘in church’ which have eternal significance?

Northwest received a major grant to offer a series of courses and workshops around The Theology of Work. Our desire is to help average Christians see themselves as God’s kingdom agents in their places of work, as well as discern the value of their work as opportunity to exercise stewardship and to be creative, active and effective for God’s glory and human good.

You might be interested to participate in the workshop scheduled for Friday evening and Saturday, November 7-8, 2008 in Langley and again March 27-28, 2009 in Victoria. A good number of the seats in the seminar will be subsidized through the grant so cost will be minimal. You can register through our website (www.nbseminary.com) after August 1, 2008.

During this summer I am working with our new Board chair, Larry Nelson, to bring to successful conclusion the Making a Difference Campaign.  $126,000 will enable us to reach our target and resource several new and exciting leadership development projects. Please be in prayer that God will enable us to complete this campaign.

This time of year also connects us with people wondering whether God is calling them into specific ministry leadership. Perhaps you know of someone who should be moving in this direction. Would you let me know about them so that I could connect with them and share how Northwest might assist them? Who knows what the Kingdom impact might be? Give me a call or send me an email.

Thanks for taking a moment to refresh your awareness of Northwest’s influence in God’s Kingdom. And thank you for your stewardship in our ministry.


They’re All Funny!

I’ve noticed something about some of the better-known preachers of our time. They’re all funny! People like Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Andy Stanley, Erwin McManus – these guys will crack their listeners up. They know how to tell a story that is both insightful and entertaining. Listening to them is not only helpful, but it can be a pleasure.

This is a trend that seems to have taken hold. I’ve noticed that my funnier student preachers get much better peer reviews in class. I’ve even heard of preachers taking stand-up comedy courses so as to improve their delivery.

As a communicator, I understand the power of humor. But when did humor become a primary element of powerful preaching? No doubt they had their moments, but I don’t sense that there was a whole lot of humor in the preaching of Charles Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Billy Graham, or any of the great preachers of previous generations. Even today, there are still some excellent preachers out there who never stoop to tell a joke. Still, coming to church is starting to feel like a night at the Improv.

I imagine this says something about us as a people at the beginning of a new millennium, though I’m not sure what. Are we less serious? Are we more trivial in our interests? Or are we somehow more aware of the incongruities in life? Is more humor in preaching a good or a bad thing?

I’m not ready to make any final comment on this phenomena. Clearly, people enjoy humor and I’ve been known to make use of it myself. If I can help them stay connected with the text and with the sermon by saying something funny or describing something in a witty way that’s great – just so long as the humor doesn’t get in the way of the message or trivialize it in any way. Sometimes humor brings the law of unintended consequences into play.

Humor itself is not what it used to be. The late George Carlin, famous for his “seven words that can’t be said on television,” recently won a Mark Twain award. I’ve no doubt Carlin can be funny, but Mark Twain he was not. The problem with contemporary humor is that it is often so cynical. Humor that gains a laugh by tearing something down or that comes at the expense of another human being, or group of fellow humans has no place in the preacher’s repertoire.

On the other hand, some things in life are just plain funny and if by looking at things from another perspective we can lead our listeners to laugh, this might be a good thing.

Preachers don’t preach so as to get a laugh. Laughter is not our goal. However, if humor can lift a little stress for people and draw them closer to our message, it might be just the thing we need to help our people hear.

So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore

There is a book that has developed something of a cult following among frustrated pastors and bloggers who yearn to be “organic” Christians. It has a controversial title that is guaranteed to stimulate discussion: So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore. Written by Jake Colsen [actually by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman who created a pseudonym out of their partnership] the book has an indy feel to it. You can download it for free from www.jakecoleman.com/Jakespreads.pdf.
As is becoming common from the emerging church template, the book written as a conversation between an ancient disciple [John] and a modern day believer [Jake] as a way to reexamine the statusquo of Church life. For some, the book is troubling … for other, it is a challenge. In essence, the church as an organization is viewed as guilty for distracting people from the true mission of Jesus. No matter what the nature of the organization – traditional church or house church – each are taken to task for obscuring true spiritual growth with the performance of religious exercises.
No matter what you think about it [and personally, I think that the criticism of Church as an organized body with rituals that create a common voice is simplistic, misguided, and in some cases prejudicial. The fact is, there was a bit more organization and common voice in both the New Testament and the early church than the “relationship based fellowship” presented in the book] … back to my thought, No Matter what reaction you have to the book, the one thing that I do appreciate is the nudge for leaders to engage in a more sincere and deliberate ministry of spiritual formation.
Just one clip from the book:
If church can be this simple, John, how do leaders fit in all of this? Don’t we need elders and pastors and apostles?”
“For what?”
“Doesn’t someone need to be in charge and organize things so people will know what to do?” Marvin was almost beside himself. I cringed inside knowing he wasn’t going to hear what he wanted.
“Why, so people can follow someone else instead of following Jesus? Don’t you see we already have a leader? The church gives Jesus first place in everything and it will refuse to let anyone else crawl up in his seat.”
“So leaders aren’t important either?”
“Not the way you’ve been taught to think of them. One can hardly conceive of body life today without an organization and a leader shaping others with their vision. Some love to lead; others desperately want to be led. This system has made God’s people so passive most can’t even imagine living without a human leader to identify with. Then we wonder why our spirituality falls so painfully short. Read through the New Testament again and you’ll find there is very little focus on anything like leadership as we’ve come to think of it today.”
“But there were elders and apostles and pastors, weren’t there?”
“There were, but they weren’t out front leading people after their personal visions, they were behind the scenes doing exactly what you have on your heart to do, Marvin—helping people to live deeply in Christ so that he can lead them! Elders won’t end up managing machinery, but equipping followers by helping them find a real relationship with the living God. That’s why he asked us to help people become his disciples and why he said that he would build his church. Let’s focus on our task and let him do his.”
And don’t think that non-traditional churches get away with much either.”
It’s a stimulating, sometimes disturbing, read … which raises some poignant questions for any leader. In reading the flurry of blog discussions about the book, one set of questions arose that made the debate worth the trouble:
When I structure things am I facilitating sincere devotion to Christ or am I steering people to perform religious exercises to meet others expectations? Will people come out of this with a greater devotion to Christ and a pure love for others, or will they be motivated by guilt or fear?

Surpassing Righteousness

Christians are called to live above the level of their culture. I’m OK with that. But living unreflectively can be as spiritually unhealthful as enthusiastically endorsing the culture.

Though I’ve had my share of childhood scraps and squabbles, I’ve never as an adult settled a dispute by resort to bloodshed. I feel good that I’m living above the call of the Sixth Commandment, “Do not murder.” and I don’t have to worry about being subject to judgment on that account. But just because I haven’t “whacked” someone, doesn’t mean that I’m in the clear.

Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount that while not committing murder is righteous, it does not equate to the surpassing righteousness which is the hallmark of the heaven-bound (Matthew 5:20). Surpassing righteousness not only will not shed blood, it won’t allow itself to become angry or express resentment to the person who offends. Jesus said, “anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Hell.” (Matthew 5:22)

If I allow myself to become so upset that I think angry and harmful thoughts toward another (whether I know that person or not) or vent my anger by calling a person stupid, an idiot, or a fool, that is the same as murder.

How can this be? Let me illustrate.

Most of us don’t like dandelions in our lawns or gardens. We go to great lengths to dig them out so that our lawns are clear of their ragged leaves and yellow heads. But it would be a complete nonsense if we were to have such an activist attitude toward the plants and yet be unconcerned or even accommodating towards the tiny seeds from which those weeds grow. Obviously the plants are much bigger and more unsightly; but they have their origin in those tiny airborne seeds. If you are a gardener, shouldn’t you be just as concerned about the seeds as you are about the weeds?

That is exactly what Jesus is getting at. Murder is unrestrained anger. But in his instruction regarding angry thoughts and speech against others, it’s pretty clear that anger is just restrained murder. Murder is the full grown plant; anger is the seed from which it grows. Therefore, anger is just as deadly. Shouldn’t we be just as concerned about the seeds as we are about the plants?

Indeed!

Allowing ourselves to cherish vile thoughts about others when we’re frustrated by them is as wrong as doing them lethal harm. We ought not to do this. But simply refraining from wrong doing, wrong thinking, and wrong speech is largely negative. That is not the full expression of surpassing righteousness, because surpassing righteousness is at the same time positive, exerting restorative energies in relationships.

Jesus declares that surpassing righteousness, far from simply not hurting or maligning others, will be exceedingly anxious to make amends. In fact, it holds priority over worship (Matthew 5:23-24) and coming to one’s perceived rights (Matthew 5:25-26).

God’s interest for us is that we enter into his kingdom and that nothing keeps us from that joy. That calls for surpassing righteousness, which only he by the power of his own Holy Spirit can provide. Surpassing righteousness is interested in both the outside of the call not to murder and the inner dynamics of anger which it also wishes to prevent.

A great comfort that we are heaven bound followers of Jesus is that we wish people well and not ill in what we think of them and what we say to and about them. Far from being angry people, Christians are people concerned to admit when they’ve wronged someone and instant to pursue making amends.

Resolving Intercultural Tensions 4: Law’s “Mutual Invitation”

NOTE: A companion workshop to these articles is available to multi-ethnic churches that provides information, exercises and interaction to encourage the implementation of those disciplines that promote healthy intercultural relationships. Please contact Mark via the form below.

Whose rules rule?

card handIn the innovative cultural simulation game, Barnga, created by Sivasailam Thiagarajan, groups of people play a simple card game without realizing that each person has been given slightly different rules to the game. The participants are not permitted to speak to each other or to communicate by writing. It doesn’t take long before there is some banging on the table and grunts of disgust as the game does not proceed as expected. 1 Because the point of the game is the same for all, one conclusion drawn by the players is that some of the other participants are either cheating or did not properly read the rules.

HPD = High Power Distance LPD = Low Power Distance

Similarly, when people from different cultural backgrounds congregate for discussion or decision making, the overall context can be so familiar that each cultural group believes that their assumed "rules" of interaction will be followed as the norm. When the cultural groups have contrasting low power distance (LPD) versus high power distance (HPD) orientations, the result can be frustrating with the participants misattributing2 the motives of others according to their cultural perspective of what is normative behavior. When someone speaks "out of turn," they are judged as "rude" or "aggressive," rather than recognizing that some people are "playing by different rules." In the first article of this series, the concept of power distance was introduced with illustrations that showed how the contrast between high and low power distance causes tension in intercultural relationships. The second article dealt with leadership dynamics when dealing with high and low power distance cultures. As a means of resolving these tensions, the third article described the important skill of speaking each other’s "language of respect." In this final article in the series, we will explore Eric Law’s innovative method of "mutual invitation"3 as a method of developing productive interaction in order to bridge the power gap between HPD and LPD cultures. READ THE COMPLETE CROSS-CULTURAL IMPACT ARTICLE

Contact Mark Naylor

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Graduation 2008

Graduation this year was held at South Delta Baptist Church. It was a beautiful day for a graduation and the celebration was memorable. Our graduation speaker was our own president, Dr. Larry Perkins. He summarized his address this way:

The theme ACTS has adopted this year is “Come together, Go Further.” By living consciously as part of the body of Christ, we maximize our ministry and together can do great things for God. The metaphor of the great spiritual house God is constructing (1 Peter 2:5,9) illustrates this reality. As God enables us to “come together,” we discover our priesthood and our service. Spiritual formation can only be fully accomplished within the community of Jesus – it is not a solo effort. We cannot mentor ourselves or be a family of one or be a nation of one. Only as we come together can we fulfill the mission God has given to us. As we live and work together “under God’s mighty hand,” He will enable us to do great things to advance the Kingdom. This is why ACTS came into being.

Here are a few photos from the day’s celebration:

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Are there hip replacements for limping leaders?

Leading With A LimpDan Allender has provided a provocative look at several serious aspects of ministry leadership in his book “Leading with a Limp.” He writes primarily out of his experience as the founder of Mars Hill Graduate School located near Seattle. His thesis is clear: “to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues” (p.2). He then proceeds to discuss common, unhealthy responses to the challenges of leadership and urges ministry leaders to replace them with more effective responses — courage, depth, gratitude, openness and hope. The leadership challenges he identifies are crisis, complexity, betrayal, loneliness and weariness. The phrase “reluctant leader” seems to capture for him essential aspects of a healthy leadership perspective. Any ministry leader would gain considerable benefit from reading and reflecting on Allender’s ideas.

Allender helps us map the interior contours of Christian leadership, a kind of psychology of leadership, incorporating a realism about a leader’s limitations and dependence. Depravity works wondrously well even in the world of Christian leaders. The story of Jacob’s midnight wrestling match with God and his resulting disability — his limp — provides the overarching metaphor for Allender’s presentation. What struck me, however, was the silence regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in restoring, enabling, and guiding Christian leaders to walk with their limp in God-honouring ways. The result is a rather dark view of Christian leadership, lived in a hostile, dangerous and debilitating context. Periods of joy, satisfaction, thankfulness and redemptive accomplishment seem very rare or extremely intermittent. Allender is right to urge leaders to name their failures and walk with humility, but there is another side to this picture. We do lead as Christians in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Surely this awesome reality makes a difference. Does God ever provide “a hip replacement” and enable us to walk “normally”?

Allender rightly points to examples in Scripture of reluctant leaders — Moses, Jeremiah, etc. Yet, there are also many examples of people–Joseph, Joshua, Samuel, Nehemiah, Daniel, Mary, Paul– who embrace God’s calling, fearfully but willingly. . God’s entry into their lives is surprising and filled with change, but I am not sure from the information Scripture gives us that these people were reluctant leaders. We seem to have various responses to the leadership challenge in Scripture. I wonder how Peter’s encouragement for ministry leaders (1 Peter 5:1-4) fits into this idea of “reluctant leader”?

I found it hard to locate the faith community in the picture of ministry leadership that Allender presents. The community seems to be primarily a hostile place, the place where leaders are undone rather than the Kingdom context where God’s power and love triumphs. Undoubtedly Allender writes out of personal experience and many Christian leaders, unfortunately, would have to agree that churches often fail to live up to God’s ideal for his people. Yet, for every bad leadership experience, one could probably name a good church leadership experience. What Allender does help us realize is that naivete is not helpful. Faith communities can be places of devastating animosity for leaders, but they can also be contexts of wonderful support, love and encouragement. To lead with suspicion may not be the best stance. If Christ “loved the church and gave himself for it”, then some of this perspective must also guide our embrace of ministry leadership. Leadership is fundamentally relational. Ministry leaders are given a trust by the people of God to live and lead within the faith community. How does 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 get lived out in Allender’s perception of ministry leadership?

Allender begins by acknowledging that leadership is something for all of God’s people — every disciple is a leader. However, his focus quickly shifts to what he terms “formal leadership”, by which he means a specific leadership role in terms of organizational leadership in church, seminary, non-profit business, etc. Does the leadership model he presents then apply to all followers of Jesus? I think he probably would agree to this, but this is not his focus. But what difference does it make for a ministry leader to see himself as a “limping leader” serving in the midst of a host of “limping leaders”? One of his recurrent emphases is Paul’s confession that he is “the chief of sinners” and the importance for leaders to own this reality for themselves. Again, there is no argument against this reality. But here again the leader operates in a context where all, as disciples of Christ, are leaders and “chief sinners”. This is not a category exclusive to the formal leader. It is the reality in which all disciples live. Perhaps the challenge for the formal leader is to understand how to exercise Kingdom leadership as a “suffering servant” among a group of “chief sinners”.

Every believer is a flawed person. Scripture makes this clear and this is part of our daily confession. However, in Christ we also are “new creations”. This too is an exciting reality. Paul in Galatians urges Christians to “walk/live in the realm of the Spirit” and as we do this “we shall not let the fleshly nature achieve its goals” (Galatians 5:15-16) (my translations). How does this reality fit into the context of Kingdom leadership? We will never lead perfectly and there obviously are times for confession, repentance and restoration in every ministry leader’s experience. But should this be the overwhelming perspective? If a ministry leader is living in submission to the Holy Spirit daily, will the fleshly temptations towards narcissism, fear and addiction gain control? If a ministry leader repeatedly expresses sinful behaviour, does that person have the spiritual maturity to be in a formal leadership role? How do the characteristics and behaviours Paul identifies in 1 Timothy 3 for formal leadership match the paradigm of leadership that Allender proposes? I wonder whether Allender gives too much room for excusing sinful behaviours and fails to give sufficient challenge to pursue the way of the Spriit, the ways of the Kingdom — and the great potential we have to live it.

Taught by God (theodidaktoi – 1 Thessalonians 4:9)

The Psalmist declared “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me” (Psalm 71:17) and he desires that God continually would teach him to do his will (Psalm 143:10). His experience and expectation is that God does instruct him, with the result that he knows God and his ways. While this defines the Psalmist’s relationship with God, it was not true for all in Israel. The prophets yearned for the day when God would restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Sometimes the language borders on the fantastic as they consider how God, using all of his creative power and resources, will fashion Jerusalem from rubies and sapphires. Its walls and buildings will be “sparkling jewels” and “precious stones” (Isaiah 54:11-13). But even more wonderful is that those within its walls will be “taught by the Lord”.

Jeremiah takes this vision a step further. God enables him to foresee a day when God establishes a new covenant with Israel. But it is quite different from the covenant he made at Sinai. Israel did not keep that covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). When this new covenant is implemented “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (31:34) and no one will have to teach them this knowledge because God “writes it on their hearts” (31:33).

In a first century B.C. document called the Psalms of Solomon, a messianic figure is called “righteous king, taught by God (didaktos hÅ«po theou)” (17:32). Because of these wonderful characteristics this figure is able to restore Israel to the glory God intends. Jesus himself urged his followers to acknowledge only one instructor, the Messiah (Matthew 23:8).

It seems that Paul creates a new word in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 to celebrate the inauguration of God’s new covenant. He commends these new believers for their sincere love for one another. What is perhaps more astonishing is that he attributes this to the fact that “you yourselves are God-taught (theodidaktoi) to love one another” (4:9). There is no evidence that this word existed in Greek before Paul wrote this letter. He creates this word to mark the astonishing change that salvation in Jesus has brought to these people. It has changed fundamentally their ‘place’. When Paul visited Thessalonika, he proclaimed “the gospel of God” (2:8-9) and many in city received it as “the word of God” (2:13). The result is that these followers of Jesus now know “the will of God” because Paul and those with him gave them instructions. They know God, in contrast to “the nations” (4:5). But even more significantly God has “given his Holy Spirit to you” (4:8). All of these actions by God have generated their new status as people who are “God-taught” (theodidaktoi).

The rest of this article is published on Dr. Perkins’ Internet Moments with God’s Word blog site. View it there along with many other similar articles.

Who’s Ready For Change?

When we first began to address the health of church leadership through the Best Practices for Church Boards workshops, it didn’t take long to realize the wide range of potential that existed. Soon after the first workshop, the need to train individuals for board leadership was expressed … answered by the Personal Edition. Immediately, church boards began to express a shared desire to explore critical issues … giving rise to the Advanced Workshop. All along the way, we have been building a toolbox of resources for church leaders. So, it was only natural that churches would propel us to a higher level of response.

One of the more critical requests that emerged was for the sort of personal consultation that a church would receive as help in plotting out a future plan. The Advanced Workshop of 2007 focused on that process. The Role of the Board in Strategic Planning and Vision Development, as prepared by Dr. Horita, helped chart a process that would help church leaders fulfill the first of their two board governing imperatives: To Direct. [The second imperative, as identified by Jim Brown in his book The Imperfect Board Member … is “to protect”, but that’s another topic in itself.]

To Direct … the mandate to sense God’s unique purpose [vision] for a congregation and plot a specific course into that future [strategic plan.] As an initial topic, the advanced workshop only whetted the appetite. Over the last year, we’ve begun to discover just how many churches would ask for help to pursue the process.

For over a year, I have focused my research on various agencies who provide such help: consultation, coaching… At last count, I had reviewed 12 different programmed responses, and received training and certification in 4. These range from Outreach Canada’s Vision Renewal to Christian Swartz’s Natural Church Development … to Church Central’s Church Coaching, George Bullard’s Spiritual Journeys … the list is long. It’s been a fascinating study. I’ve discovered a number of features that are unique to each. I’ve also discovered that each have their own similar outline.

One of the great assets that we have gained as the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches has been the experience of our new president, Dr. John Kaiser. His partnership with Dr. Paul Borden has given us an inside view of  a process [Growing Healthy Churches] that has led to the Church Consultation Process that Dr. Horita has begun to deploy. That, along with the wide variety of resources that we’ve studied has open a repertoire of tools that allows us to address the unique character of each church.

One of the central issues that unlocks the process in any congregation is a readiness to change. I was fascinated to note, in my research, that change is a natural element to institutional life. In one study, it was noted that thirty years ago, churches could expect programs to have a life-cycle of approximately 5 years. It would take one to two years for people to settle on a mission, and a method, and start a ministry – that would remain effective for approximately 5 years before it would lose it’s impact and need to change.

For any number of reasons, the speed of society has shrunk the “shelf-life” of ministry. In 2006, a study posted online with Leadership Journal reported that programs now have a life-cycle of 2 to 3 years. The required time for preparation has remained the same. But, the speed of life has accelerated the need for change.

Several weeks ago, I met with a group of church leaders who have expressed a desire for a Church Consultation. As I sought to expose them to the path that they would face, we began by addressing the word: Change.

In one of the better books I’ve found on the subject, Leading Change in the Congregation [Alban Institute Publications, 2001] Gilbert Rendle writes “Working with congregations in change is not a dispassionate proposition. While working with goals and programs of the congregation, leaders will also be confronted with emotions … It is important for leaders to know what they and their congregation are feeling …The more helpful response of leaders is to wonder and question what message the feelings being expressed carry for the congregation.” [p. 106-107]

I found that it was really helpful to adapt an exercise from Rendle’s book [The Roller Coaster of Change] by asking the leaders to assess their personal attitude toward risk and change. I know it sounds simple, but my suspicion is that when you boil it down, people have one of two fears when it comes to change: They fear that there will be TOO MUCH change … or … they fear that there will be TOO LITTLE change.

We used a simple scale 1 to 5. 1 represented those who tend to fear ANY change as too much: they value stability above all else. The thought of change can be hateful to them. 5, on the other hand, represented those who delight in change and fear that they won’t get enough to satisfy their eagerness: they value creativity and flexibility.

Once we settled on the definitions, I asked the leaders to do three things: Using the scale – a line of 1 to 5 – they were to, each one, put 3 letters: M – where they felt that the majority of the membership in the congregation would land … L – where they felt that the leadership of the church was most comfortable as a group … and I – where they, personal, would identify their own attitude toward change.

The results were fascinating. They discovered that as a group of leaders, they shared more than they had expected – and were “readier” than they had thought to face the challenge. They also discovered, after some conversation, how they would be able to care for the congregation as they began to discuss new directions for the future. It gave them a place to begin.

It’s an assessment, I believe, that every group of leaders should take according to the responsibility to provide direction. As the advertisements say, results may vary … but insight is required as leaders seek to refresh vision, renew commitments, focus with clarity and serve with great effect.

“Being Imitators (mimētai) of God”

Paul’s choice of words in his letter to Christians in the province of Galatia reflects careful intention. The issues he confronts are extremely serious, the opponents powerful and persuasive, and his audience somewhat befuddled. Strong warnings mingle with cries of frustration as he encourages these believers to keep running well the discipleship race. He has equally strong words for those unidentified proponents who articulate a “different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7). In the conclusion to his argument Paul tells the Galatian congregations: “Do not err; God is not scorned (muktÄ“rizetai)” (6:7). This is the only place in the New Testament where this verb in its simple form occurs.

The verb muktÄ“rizō and its related compound ekmuktÄ“rizō derive from the noun muktÄ“r, “nose” and have the sense of wrinkling or turning up the nose to demonstrate contempt, scorn, distaste, or ridicule. The idea of mockery or derision is conveyed quite explicitly by various facial expressions, i.e. body language. The nose, for whatever reason, when contorted in certain ways, communicates in many cultures a sense of disagreement based in scorn or contempt. The person finds the message, action or very being of another completely disagreeable and by wrinkling the nose displays this contempt. Of course the reason for this ridicule or contempt needs to be defined. Hellenistic Greek used the noun muktÄ“rismos to describe “sneering” or “derision”.

We discern the contemptuous hostility expressed by the compound form of this verb when Luke uses it to describe the actions of the Jewish rulers towards the crucified Jesus. In his narrative (23:35) these rulers stood watching the proceedings and they “even sneered (exemuktÄ“rizon) at him.”1 The following verse turns our attention to the soldiers and they “mocked (enepaixan) him” (23:36). These two verbs used in parallel define one another to some degree. Luke also used this compound verb (16:14) to describe the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ teaching. When they hear his teaching that a person cannot serve God and ‘mammon’, according to Luke’s narrative, the Pharisees “were sneering (exemuktÄ“rizon) at him” because they “loved money.”

We catch the wider significance of Luke’s choice of terminology when we examine the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). Although both forms of this verb, as well as the noun muktÄ“rismos occur in the Septuagint, the compound verb ekmuktÄ“rizō only occurs in biblical and post-biblical literature. The sense of these terms is discerned when we see them in context. For example, when Elijah is in contest with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, he “mocked (emuktÄ“risen) and said, ‘Call in a loud voice! For he is a god, for prating occupies him and at same time he is perhaps giving an oracle….”2 The sense of ridicule and contempt is clear. When Hezekiah consults the prophet Isaiah about what to do in response to the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, God ridicules the Assyrians through the prophet’s word:
“Virgin daughter Sion made nothing of you and sneered at (emuktÄ“risen) you; daughter of Jerusalem shook her head at you.” (2 Kings 19:21)
The Rabshakeh, the leader of the Assyrian forces had taunted the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ridiculing their ability to resist his armies, but God says in response that Jerusalem will “sneer at” the Assyrians and their claims. That night God slays 85,000 Assyrian soldiers and Sennacherib must retreat in disarray.

The rest of this article is published on Dr. Perkins’ Internet Moments with God’s Word blog site.

    ____________________

  • 1Luke used the imperfect verb form implying a continuous activity.
  • 2New English Translation of the Septuagint.

Resolving Intercultural Tensions: Understanding Leadership in High and Low Power Distance Contexts

The Power Distance Contrast

Pir with disciplesIn Pakistan there is a strong tradition of "holy men" who are called Pirs. One day I had a visit from a young man who informed me that he was the Pir of his village. I was puzzled by this because he was dressed in modern clothes and did not have the religious, spiritual air one would expect from a revered holy man. He explained that in the tradition of his tribe, the honor and authority of the Pir was passed on from father to son and his father had recently passed away. For his part, he did not believe that he was able to give blessings to people, nor that his prayers were especially efficacious. In fact, when his father died and the mantle was passed on to him, he tried to refuse it. He told the people that he didn’t believe and that he didn’t want the responsibility. They replied, "It does not matter what you believe. You are the one chosen for this position and no other."

HPD = High Power Distance

Pakistan is a High Power Distance culture (HPD).  It is the role and status of the leader, rather than his or her particular character or ability that is of greatest concern. In this context a high priority is given to maintaining harmonious relationships and affirming the historical traditions and social structures. Rules of conduct are paramount, and anyone who does not function within that protocol is ostracized, no matter how reasonable or beneficial their proposals might be. In HPD cultures, it is assumed that the status quo is the way life is intended to be; the established hierarchy is ordained, competition is bad, and conformity to tradition and roles is good.

LPD = Low Power Distance

Canada, on the other hand, is a Low Power Distance culture (LPD). Titles and status mean little if the person in charge cannot fulfill their responsibilities. Harmonious relationships may be sacrificed in order to pursue a particular goal and the measurement of success is accomplishment. In LPD cultures, it is assumed that reversal of fortunes is a part of life, competition is good and no one has ordained or fated priority.

When I was doing my master’s thesis on Chronological Bible Storying among the Sindhi people on the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13), one aspect that the Sindhis who were interviewed emphasized over and over again was the importance of the disciple to always obey the teacher. They were appalled at Peter’s audacity when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet, and they found Jesus’ stern response, "You will not have any part of me," to be necessary and appropriate. HPD cultures, like Pakistan, consider the student insubordinate and rude who would question or contradict a teacher. Rote learning is the preferred method of learning as it emphasizes the teacher’s status above the student. In contrast, a teacher in a LPD culture like Canada encourages the student to challenge and question. Ideas and the stimulation of the mind are of first importance.

Due to Power Distance, leadership within a LPD context will function differently than within HPD groups. Awareness of this dynamic in interpersonal relationships along with appropriate adjustments can greatly reduce tension in multicultural churches.

Read the complete Cross-Cultural Impact Article

Into Great Silence

I’ll confess to enjoying good movie, especially ones that evoke a sense of meaning. So, when ChristianityTodayMovies came out with their top 10 Critic’s choice movies of 2007, I was intrigued by #10 on the list: Into Great Silence. Once I read the review [http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/commentaries/quiettime.html] I knew that I had to see the movie.
In 1984, the German documentarist, Philip Groning, sought permission to film life at the monastery of Grande Chartreuse near Grenoble in the French Alps. The monastery is of the Carthusian order, the most ascetic – and silent – of all monastic orders. It’s no surprise that having written his request in 1984 it took 16 years before he received a reply allowing him [and only him – no film crew, no artificial lighting – just him and a camera] to record life with the monks for 6 months. The product is a film, 162 minutes long, composed of silent prayers, simple tasks, tender rituals, and a rare excursion. [My favorite is of the monks – both young and old – enjoying a rare day of conversation and fellowship while sledding down a hillside of snow on their robes. Who knew that men, so silent, could whoop it up like children.]
Unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, at first I couldn’t detect a plot. There were no car chases, and sometimes the only action in the span of five minutes was the occasional movement of lips or flutter of an eyelash as a monk was bowed in prayer. Just watching the film was a conviction that I was witnessing a discipline of spirit totally foreign to my experience. In one frame, a blind monk simply sits in prayer. At first, it appeared to be a still shot. But, in the background, through a window, you could see the clouds sweeping past the mountain peaks in time-lapse photography. The artistry of the moment continues to haunt me as a vision of something utterly eternal [prayer] circled by the currents of time and space.
It’s a movie of impressions, and while I thought that it was without a plot, I’ve since discovered that the plot is in fact much more profound even as it was so much more subtle. I have found myself revisiting the scenes frequently, unlike any other movie, intrigued as I reflect on a dimension of life and soul that challenge me. As Brandon Fibbs wrote in his review: You are aware, while watching, of just how much you have and just how much you lack; of the omnipresence of the divine in the most mundane of activities; of the pervasive majesty of the natural world utterly squelched by our urban lives; of the inspiration these men arouse. To watch this film is to be humbled. To watch this film is to be in awe. Into Great Silence is a transformative theatrical experience, a spiritual encounter, an exercise in contemplation and introspection, a profound meditation on what it means to give oneself totally and completely, reserving nothing, to God.
Twice in the last week, I have had quiet and tender conversations with very dear friends. Both have been struck by illnesses that have forced them into stillness. Both have lived accomplished lives and freely express their addiction to business as well as busyness. But, now, both are coming to terms with stillness. One, unable to move without aid, the other unable to sustain much energy. Both struggle with finding meaning in their day. And, yet, there is a way where God makes His presence known. It is not easy. Just watching a movie left me exhausted after two hours. I struggle to imagine what it would be like to live a sustained [and enforced] life of stillness. It’s a discipline, but one with a reward for those willing to learn.

The perception of a loving church depends on where you stand

In the book UnChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), which deals with research from the Barna group, David Kinnaman refers to a survey which asked the participants to agree or disagree with the statement, “Christian churches accept and love people unconditionally, regardless of how people look or what they do” (p. 185). 20% of non church goers (outsiders) agreed strongly, just over 40 % of church goers agreed strongly, but 76% of pastors strongly agreed that this statement described Christian churches.

The discrepancy is intriguing. Do the pastors have a good sense of reality based on personal experience, or is this an expression of their desire for this statement to be true? Have the outsiders been biased by unfair reports, or have they had negative experiences that contradict the statement?

I suspect that part of the discrepancy has to do with the difference between standing inside looking out verses standing outside and looking in. For example, I have a love / hate relationship with hospitals. I think they are wonderful but I am happiest if I don’t have to be inside one. When visiting I feel quite out of place and uncertain about what I am permitted to do and am always relieved to leave. On the other hand, my daughter, Becky, has just completed her nurse’s training. She enjoys the environment, loves to be busy and experiences significance as she helps the patients. The hospital is the same, it is our separate and distinct relationships with and experience of the hospital that is different. It is a matter of perspective.

those of us who are church goers need to learn to speak another language of love

This illustration may parallel the contrasting perspectives between pastors and the outsiders described by Kinnaman. What looks like love to the pastors is seen through another lens by the outsiders and experienced as uncomfortable, judgmental or cold. Most likely the relationships and environment of church speak differently to outsiders. Perhaps their language of love is different from what is normally expressed in church. If this is so, then those of us who are church goers need to learn to speak another language of love, one that is understood by those outside of the church.

This missional stance – becoming like others, as opposed to inviting others to become like us – has even greater urgency when relating cross-culturally. What is considered comfortable, familiar and accepting varies from culture to culture. Cross-cultural experiences tend to be stressful due to the many unfamiliar cues which bombard the person who is not used to the setting, cues that need to be interpreted. In that context even expressions intended to communicate love and acceptance can be misunderstood or judged negatively. On the other hand, when God’s people learn how to make people from another culture feel comfortable and accepted by speaking that people group’s language of love, rather than waiting for others to conform to the church’s way of relating, then the experience of the outsider will correspond to the perspective of the insider.

Alumni: Jim (2006) and Janet (2006) Visbeek

Jim and Janet Visbeek graduated from Northwest/ACTS in April 2006. They both earned the MA in Christian Studies, but Janet’s focus was in Chaplaincy. Dawne, one of their daughters, also graduated in April 2005 with the Master of Counseling degree. Jim is the Managing Director of Cedar Springs Retreat Centre, Sumas, Washington. They have three married children – Dawne, Aaron and Renee.Jim and Janet Visbeek

Jim, what led you and Janet to attend Seminary?

I was managing a large regional electrical and automation distributor in Bellingham, Washington. Every summer, Janet and I with our family attend conferences at Cannon Beach, Oregon. In 2002 the speaker challenged the audience to get off the curb and into the parade with respect to Christian life and ministry. God used that time to speak to me and encouraged me to start thinking about getting more involved in Christian service in some way. Without my knowledge Janet felt the same urging.

That same summer our daughter Dawne graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Counseling. She wanted to take a graduate program in counseling and applied to ACTS. When we shared what we thought God was urging us to do, she told us about ACTS and encouraged us to consider applying to seminary. So we decided to check it out.

We had not set vocational goals, but wanted to be obedient to God’s leading, unsure of how it all would turn out. So we applied to the MA in Christian Studies and were accepted. We wanted to be ready for whatever God might have us do.

Jim, you have been an entrepreneur for most of your adult life. How did you find the fit between your business experience and preparing in seminary for potential ministry leadership? What adjustments were necessary?

Yes, the adjustments were immense. I had to maintain my business throughout my seminary studies in order to support my family. Janet has a passion for Christian history and so she took to the studies naturally. For me, the move from the business context to the graduate classroom required greater energy and transformation. It required a different way of thinking – and writing papers!

Time management became critical. The first semester we both took four courses – we soon discovered that was a plateful! Yet, God enabled us to get through, but we moderated the pace during the ensuing semesters.

In some areas of study I found the relationship between business and ministry leadership quite similar. For example, in business I had to deal with a lot of conflict resolution and in seminary one of my courses dealt with conflict resolution and my internship that same semester involved me in conflict resolution work within a Christian agency. What I discovered was that the spiritual dimensions of conflict resolution in ministry contexts shaped the process and dynamics quite differently from my business experience.

We did the entire program part-time and through it all God marvelously enabled us to balance business, family, church, and seminary. The challenges were great, but God’s grace was sufficient. All five of our family were in college or grad school at the same time, so when we were all together, we would all compare our various studies.

Janet, what led you into chaplaincy?

When I began seminary, I had no inkling that I would select the chaplaincy option. My natural interests were in history and theology. I loved those subjects. In one of my Christian Leadership Development courses, my mentor happened to be a volunteer community support officer for the local 911 call centre. For one of my assignments I shadowed him in this work and discovered that I could minister in situations of personal trauma and death. So I followed this lead and found God opening up a whole new world of ministry opportunity. It was transforming for me.

Since you both were attending seminary together, how did this enrich the experience?

First, we are grateful for the spousal discount that reduced the overall costs substantially. Second, we discovered that our study patterns were quite different, but complementary. The papers we wrote when we took the same courses were very different. However, we could work through questions and issues together. Third, because our learning styles are quite different, we discerned different things in the courses.

After finishing Seminary, how did God lead you into your current roles?

When we graduated, we were still uncertain about the specific ministry situation that God might have for us. Initially we considered various opportunities for pastoral ministry. However, none of these seemed to be the right fit. Several months after graduation God directed us to the position of managing director at Cedar Springs Retreat Centre. As we interviewed for the role, prayed about it and considered our gifting and experience, this role seemed to provide a wonderful opportunity to blend business experience with pastoral ministry. We began serving in this role in Summer 2007. The longer we serve in this position the more it seems that this is what God was preparing us for many years ago.

Janet has the opportunity to work with staff, praying and encouraging them. She is a staff cheerleader, giving people hope. As well, she volunteers three or four twenty-four hour shifts each month as the support officer for the 911 emergency system in our area. This enables her to offer spiritual guidance for people in difficult, often life-threatening situations.

You are now leaders in the Cedar Springs ministry. Tell us about your vision for this ministry.

Cedar Springs desires to nurture Christian character and enrich the church by offering a peaceful, natural environment for adult discipleship. We want to fulfill this mission. And so we hope to expand our ability, for example, to help pastors who need a quiet space for restoration and recovery. Perhaps God will enable us to provide some programs that will strengthen marriages or help with parenting issues. Maybe we could offer some workshops on organizational leadership. We are also able to help fill in on Sundays for pastors in the area that need a break in pulpit supply. We are open to God’s direction here. We know there will be rich possibilities.

As you reflect back on your seminary experience in the context of the Cedar Springs ministry, can you discern general or specific ways in which your education through Northwest/ACTS has assisted you in pursuing God’s call?

In my (Jim) case Seminary enabled me to discern what ministry was all about. I had opportunities in my internship to teach, participate in conflict resolution, plan and initiate ministry projects, preach, etc. As I worked in my business, I would be reflecting on how means and methods of ministry were similar to but different from the business world. It also taught me not to be so judgmental. I do not know everything and I must listen to the views of other believers. When I reflect upon the way God led me in business and through seminary, I can see that He has equipped me in special ways to fill my current ministry position at Cedar Springs.

For me (Janet) Seminary opened up the world of chaplaincy. I probably knew it existed before Seminary, but I had no idea that God had gifted me for this ministry. The need to look at culture compassionately was impressed upon me. People are lost; the products of our culture constantly give voice to the pain of this lostness. There is a lot of hurt being expressed and God gave me through the Seminary the heart and skills to respond to these hurts through chaplaincy. As God transformed me through the Seminary experience, even my children noticed the difference.

Many people think that Seminary education only relates to people who are thinking of becoming pastors or missionaries. Obviously, this is not how God has led you, yet He has given you a very significant ministry. Do you think seminary education has relevance for Christians whose calling lies outside these traditional areas of vocational service?

We did not know how God would use us when we began our Seminary training. What we did know was that it was time to get started and to begin our preparation for whatever God had in mind. Seminary became for us the place to acquire understanding, skills, and spiritual depth so that we could serve wherever God would place us. We had to get up off the curb and into the parade and Seminary provided the best way for us to achieve that.

It has been transformational. I (Jim) remember reading the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. He challenged me as I was in my late forties to consider seriously what I was going to do with the last twenty years of my life. I was not satisfied with the status quo and this message energized me to seek God’s direction. Today I am filled with a sense of wonder that God has given us this opportunity at Cedar Springs. We would not be in this role today, unless we had taken those first steps several years ago.

Seminary can be a significant place to discern more clearly how God is directing your path and to be equipped to serve Him as clarity is received.

Recent Events and Celebrations at Northwest@ACTS

Student – Faculty Luncheons

Some of the more enjoyable moments in the semester are when faculty and students take time out of their busy schedules and sit down for a lunch together.  We did three of those lunches this semester and at each one we have had a great time of fellowship, camaraderie and food.

Each time we meet like this, one of our faculty members gives a brief "chat" on something related to his ongoing pursuit of study in his discipline.  This week Brian Rapske shared a little of his personal academic journey – particularly as it related to the research and writing he has done. 

ACTS Seminaries Spring Banquet

The annual ACTS Spring Banquet is always a memorable event.  Last night was no different.  The venue at Newlands Golf and Country Club always sets a great mood for celebration.

The Northwest President’s Birthday

Here in the office at Northwest we are always on the lookout for something to celebrate. 

[singlepic=94,275,,web20,left] [singlepic=93,180,,,right]

On Tuesday we had a very memorable celebration as a number of faculty and staff took Larry Perkins (our president) out for lunch to celebrate his 60th birthday.

The Prayer That Never Fails…

In February I wrote a posting about the book series Home To Harmony by Philip Gulley. My suspicion is that just about every pastor I know has enough material to write their own series of stories. A theological version of All Creatures Great and Small, if you will. While few of us pastors who will actually sit down and do the hard work of writing “memoirs” whether fictionalized or not, there are a few out there that have written stories that bring ministry to life.
One well-meaning friend sniffed at my suggestion that “as much could be learned about pastoral theology by reading such books as by reading a Systematic theology.” It was as if human tales were too base or crass for the elevated vocation of the pastorate. I begged to differ. If anything, my experience is that it’s in the simple corners of life where theology comes alive. It’s where I’ve learned my most enduring lessons of what there is about God that is true, and there is about the Gospel that endures.
It’s with that thought that I add another series of stories for the record. For many, the name is so familiar: The Mitford Years and The Father Tim novels  by Jan Karon [http://www.mitfordbooks.com/] Once again, the stories are drawn from a small town, this time in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The pastor, an Episcopalian [Anglican for Canadians] priest named Father Tim lives out a ministry among a “crazy quilt of saints and sinners – lovable eccentrics all.” It’s a faith that is simple, daily, gentle and routine. His life isn’t driven by growth statistics. Instead, it’s the sum of an abundance of subtle mysteries and tender miracles.
Throughout the stories, there is a reference made to “the prayer that never fails.” It seems that whenever Father Tim or someone close is facing an insurmountable situation, the phrase is used. In her book Out To Canaan, I finally found out what that prayer was. The only prayer that never fails? Thy will be done… Simple words, yet utterly profound. And, today, Maundy Thursday – a date on the liturgical calendar largely lost to too many – there’s an echo, not just of the Lord’s Prayer which we should all be praying … but the Lord as He prayed with His own unique introduction: nevertheless, not my will … but Thine be done.

Cross-cultural ministry classic

The Christ of the Indian Road by E. Stanley Jones, 1925. Abington Press

E. Stanley Jones was a highly influential missionary who worked in India during the time of Gandhi.  The principles for cross-cultural ministry presented in this classic are as valid today and in any context as they were when this book was written.  His understanding of contextual theology is profound as he seeks for an Indian interpretation of Jesus.  His confidence in the supremacy of Christ is evident in his practice of conducting round table dialogues in which each participant explains how their particular faith has impacted their lives spiritually. Consider this following excerpt concerning the transforming power of Christ:

There is no real danger lest Jesus be lost among the many in all this, that it may end up in his being put in the Pantheon of Hinduism.  Greece and Rome tried that and the pantheons amid which he was placed are gone – Jesus lives on.  He is dynamic, disruptive, explosive like the soft tiny rootlets that rend the monuments of man’s pride.  Like the rootlets he quietly and unobtrusively goes down into the crannies of men’s thinking, and lo, old forms and customs are broken up.  Absorb him?  You may as well talk about the moist earth in springtime absorbing the seed!  The seed absorbs it, for it is life.  Jesus is Life.  He will take care of himself.

‘Give us Jesus,’ said a Hindu to me, ‘just Jesus.  Do not be afraid that we will make a human Jesus out of him, for his divinity will shine out of its own accord.’ (pp 167-168)

Helping CHURCHES do MISSIONS better

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“Thank you for the great workshop.  Our missions focus is struggling and we found it to be so helpful and encouraging. The questions and exercises were well thought out and gave us good direction, as well as the prayer focus throughout.  We found it time well spent as it enabled us to focus well right there.  We have a good plan, I think, to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”

This was one of several positive comments received from the participants of the Best Practice for Church Missions Workshops held in Victoria (March 1) and on the TWU campus, Langley (March 8).  While organized and sponsored by Fellowship International Ministries and Northwest Baptist Seminary for our FEBBC/Y churches, the facilitators who participated were from Outreach Canada, Center for World Missions BC, YWAM, Fellowship International Ministries as well as others who represented a wealth of missions experience.  Each of the 13 church groups that participated was provided with a facilitator who guided them through the exercises designed to stimulate conversation and lead to consensus and direction for church missions teams.

One of the facilitators comments:

“These workshops … have exceeded my expectations.  Not that I had low expectations but the level of relational building, prayer, and planning was very good from what I saw.  My time with [the church] leaders was very significant … and some real progress was made. I felt honored to help them through the process.

The number of people that came from the churches was also very significant.  To have 5-10 people from the same church (including pastoral staff) together at the table for 7 hours discussing Global Mission is truly remarkable.”

This one day basic workshop for doing missions in churches focuses on vision, strategy and planning.  Five one hour sessions encourage each group to discuss and shape their missions team in the following areas:

  • Clarifying the ROLE of the missions committee and determining priorities
  • Assessing the HEALTH of the missions in the church
  • Identifying people resources according to GIFTING
  • Setting strategic GOALS
  • PLANNING and assigning tasks

Read about this workshop with more comments from participants

For information concerning further opportunities to participate in this workshop contact Mark via the form below

Contact Mark Naylor

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Squeezed into a Mold

The Christian life is filled with delightful "coincidences"–confluences of life events with Scripture that give an unmistakable impression of the active oversight of God.

Conformity to the world is as deeply and extensively damaging as  transformation by the renewing of our minds is deeply and extensively beneficial and God-honouring.

This past week I had an email interchange with my pastor. He was preaching on Romans 12:2 which declares, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approved what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will." The question was whether conformity to the world is merely an outward shallow act and transformation is inward. That’s what a few of the older commentaries say.

We discovered through the conversation and the resources we looked at together that "Paul is not merely concerned that believers will outwardly conform to this age. He is worried that their adaptation to this world will shape them in every dimension of their lives." (T. Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 646f.) Conformity to the world is as deeply and extensively damaging as  transformation by the renewing of our minds is deeply and extensively beneficial and God-honouring.

This really strikes at the lie we too frequently tell ourselves that we are only "shadowing" the world’s tastes and behaviours and that it won’t affect us "deep down" because we’re Christians and that’s not "where we really live." So, the distinction is a false one and we’re only getting ourselves into profound spiritual trouble by entertaining the negative when we should be rejecting it in favour of the alternative embrace of "transformation."

As circumstance would have it, I learned first hand that being squeezed into a mold is not just external or superficial.

Brian in a plaster moldThat same week, my daughter asked me to model for her for a major art show she is preparing. It consisted in adopting a pose and staying still while she applied plaster of paris to me to create a full body mold. The event was memorable! I donned track shorts and an old t-shirt and she put me into a prone position on the tile floor. By the way, she asked, had I gone to the bathroom? Once the plaster was applied, I wouldn’t be able to move for as long as an hour or so.

Being squeezed into a mold is definitely not superficial. As I lay on tile floor and the plaster was applied, I began to feel the increasing weight and pressure on every place that was covered. Soon, as the plaster began to harden, it was not the weight alone but an increasing constriction of movement that began to intrude. I was entombed!

My daughter warned me that as the plaster began to harden it would heat up a bit. A bit! Not only did it heat up, but my daughter began to move around my encased and gradually hardening cocoon applying further heat with a hair dryer to hasten the hardening!

As the mold hardened around me, I became completely constricted. Muscles and joints don’t do very well when completely immobilized. I started to cramp.

I was immensely relieved to be removed out of the mold after the required hardening time. What an ordeal! Weight, heat, constriction, immobility … and pain!

Pastor, I can now tell you from a very personal experience, being pressed into a mold does go deep deep down.  It’s far from a superficial thing. I’ll choose transformation!

Home to Harmony

One of my greater joys comes from time shared with my “A-Team” which I affectionately call the tiny band of brothers and sisters in our CLD Affinity Group. The group has grown over the years to several dozen, each called by God into a wide array of ministry in the church. They study hard. The course material is intense and demanding. But, I guess that my job is make it real. After all, ministry is much more than the formulas taught in books. The reality is that theories dissolve into the fabric of human life.

The subject of study this semester is Power, Change, and Conflict. To be honest, I am impressed with the material that the students are expected to read. But, if it were up to me, I’d add a few books to the list. And, I’d probably start with one – Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley.

Philip is a simple, Quaker pastor in Danville, Indiana – gifted with the grace of story. He has written what has become a series of books about a simple, Quaker pastor in the fictional village of Harmony, Indiana. Some have likened his stories to James Harriott’s All Creatures Great and Small or Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegon tales. will probably never be compared to Lyle Schaller or John Maxwell or any other authority in Leadership studies – but, it’s evident, he knows the life of pastoral leadership with an intimacy that befits ministry.

His stories include an array of characters all too familiar to too many pastors: petty “dictators” like Dale Hinshaw, congregational “queens” like Fern Hampton, wizened saints like Miriam Hodge. There are theories that help discern the dynamics of power, change and conflict – but somehow finding them come alive in a story makes it so much more human. And, I have to believe that when pastoral ministry is seen in humanity, it becomes much more divine.

So, for just a moment, allow me the heresy of suggesting that you set aside Barth’s Theology, or Maxwell’s Leadership or even Anderson’s Preaching [forgive me!] for just a moment – and read what happens when people become church, and pastors become people. For a sample, give it a try: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/151/story_15151_1.html

Northwest Alumni Connections Magazine – 2008

Update: April15, 2008

It is here!  The 2008 Northwest Alumni Connections magazine is off the press!  If you have not received one by the end of April and would like one see the order form below.

__________________________________________________________________

Dear Fellow Alumni,

For each of the past 4 years connecting with Northwest Alumni and publishing the Northwest Alumni Connections magazine has been a great highlight for me.  Hearing from fellow Alumni has reminded me again and again why I do what I do.

We are poised to publish the 2008 edition of the magazine – NAC 2008 – and I want to hear from you.  You can email me at loren.warkentin@twu.ca or you can use this form to send me an update on yourself, your family and what God has called you to participate in for His kingdom’s sake.  Because I want to fit in as many alumni as I can, please keep your write-up concise. I can only use between 140 and 180 words each.

I would also like you to send me a color digital photo of your self (and your family).  If you are using this internet submission form then you will need to also send me an e-mail with the photo attached to it (my address is above).  Here are some things to keep in mind for the photo:

  • Make sure it is a color photo – since the magazine is in color.
  • Make sure the photo has good lighting and isn’t out of focus.
  • Be sure that faces fill the main part of the photo.  I like scenery shots but that is not what this magazine is about.
  • Please be sure to identify everyone in the photo. 
  • The photo must be of a high resolution – so unless the photo is over 1 megabyte in size don’t compress it when you e-mail it (sometimes email programs like Microsoft Outlook will ask before you attach a photo).  If the "print size" is a 4"X6" or a 5"X7" at 300dpi that will give me lots to work with.

Please make sure that your mailing information is correct so that I can send your copy as soon as it is off the press.  The target date for that is the beginning of April.  You can use the form below to update your information.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.  Thank you for your participation. 

Blessings,

Loren Warkentin

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Images of God

I came across an interesting theory.  People act according to their conviction about the nature of God.  If God is perceived as an autocratic patriarch whose rules must be followed without question, then that is how the leaders of that group will act.  If God is viewed as a stern judge who is inflexible concerning any hint of rebellion or disobedience, that is how fathers will deal with their sons and daughters.  If God is seen as a demanding taskmaster who demands perfection, then mothers will be strict with their children.  If God is understood to be a harsh God of wrath, this justifies a severe response towards those who have broken the law (I recall a protestor’s sign in a Time magazine photo: “God hates gays”).

People act according to their conviction about the nature of God

This theory would seem to be a logical conclusion to being created in God’s image (Gen 1:26,27).  This would be true not only for Christian who are called to be perfect as God is perfect (Mt 5:48), but to other religions as well. The 9-11 attackers lived out their understanding of the nature of God.  We  all try to respond to our situation according to the way we think God would act.  The question is, what does this reveal about the nature of the God we worship?

Our Christian view of God must begin and end with Christ

If the theory is true, then it is of first importance to cultivate a correct belief about the nature of God.  But where do we start when the Bible does present God as the absolute authority, the stern judge, the demanding taskmaster and a God of wrath?  I suggest that all these descriptions must be interpreted through the perspective of God as seen in Christ.  Our Christian view of God must begin and end with Christ and all other revelation must be viewed through the New Testament perspective of God as he has been revealed as a human being.

Following this assumption, any view of God that undermines the love and justice of the heavenly Father – a love so great that it “surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3;19) – should be dismissed as a misunderstanding or a perversion of the truth.  If God, seen in Jesus, is good, loving and just above all that we can imagine, then any conception of God cannot be correct which views him in a fashion that would make him less loving, merciful, just or good than our perception of the ideal. Any view of God as loving that makes him appear less just, or any view of God as just that makes him appear less loving, needs to be rejected as false.  Our foundational view of God is Christ who gave us the image of the loving Father who makes things right (e.g., the prodigal son in Luke 15).  We must begin there and put aside any thought that takes us off track from that core belief.  If we can imagine a better, more loving or more merciful God than the god we worship, then it is time to reject the God we have created in our minds, for that is not the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When my children speak about the God of their father, I hope they [speak about] a caring, merciful and just heavenly Father

I find this meditation helpful because I need to look carefully at myself and think about what my actions are saying about the God I worship. When I act harshly and justify it in my mind, that justification stems from what I imagine God to be like.  But if that image of God does not fit with the merciful, self-giving God who suffered on the cross so that we can live, then that is idolatry.  When my children speak about the God of their father, I hope they do not speak about an autocratic patriarch, a stern judge or a demanding taskmaster, but a caring, merciful and just heavenly Father.

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology #3

Reason #3.

Philosophy Needs Theology

Why do we need theology when we already have philosophy? Precisely the reason we need theology! Theology, at a minimum, is a constant reminder to human wisdom that a transcendent judgment stands over all human attempts to arrive at God through pure human sapentia alone. God’s wisdom stands over against human wisdom. The real basis of human wisdom as such must be found in God’s own self-revelation. Thus theology must be the real ground of all love of wisdom.

Dollars and Sense

You can’t get away from it. Everyone’s talking about profits and losses.

The global economy is moving into a deep recession–perhaps even a depression–some say. Others are just as convinced that the markets are moving through a period of "turbulent correction" trying to find "a bottom" from which they will eventually "power upward" again to new highs. Gold bugs are counseling flight from the markets, prophesying an "end of the world" economy and advising a haven in the yellow metal which they predict will reach $3,000 per ounce shortly. Value investment counselors say, "Hold tight. Don’t panic. It looks very bad, but keeping a steady grip will eventually see profitability return to your holdings." The anxious are bailing out of plummeting stocks while their steely opposites are salivating on the sidelines waiting to pick up the ripe economic plums from the panicked.

It’s all very personal too.

Young homeowners are wondering how they’ll be able to manage their mortgage payments. Their jobs are just not that secure in this climate and perhaps they shouldn’t have gotten into the skyrocketing real estate market despite the confidence of their agents and the ready availability of credit. The drop in real estate prices, foreclosure news and bankruptcy statistics only increase their sense of dread. Seniors are deeply frightened by the fact that the whipsawing markets are wreaking havoc upon their retirement nest eggs and threatening to overturn their careful financial plans. How will they survive?

If there is a single truth in all of the above, it is that uncertain economic times intensify the great drivers of greed and fear.

Obviously, believers shouldn’t be ignorant of the dollars and cents realities that are a needful part of wise living. But Christian generosity should not become a casualty either.

Jesus told a difficult parable about a rich man who accused his manager of wasting the money entrusted to him. The manager was called to give an account of his dealings before he was let go. Here was a financial crisis. The manager reasoned that he was too weak for heavy manual labor and too ashamed to beg. He hatched a plan. In the little time that he still had oversight of the rich man’s possessions, he would show great generosity by a significant write down of each of the rich man’s debtors’ accounts. The manager apparently reasoned that the rich man would not peel back the write downs because they made him look very good. But, more importantly, the action would favorably dispose the rich man’s debtors to the manager so that they would show him kind hospitality when he lost his job.

Jesus shocks the hearer by his initial analysis, "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." (Luke 16:8-9)

Obviously, Jesus is not commending the falsifying of books or engaging in illegal behavior. What he is interested in doing is rooting certain truths deeply into our consciousness about a God-honoring attitude toward things: First, we cannot hold onto them–the things we hold are not permanent possessions but a transient entrustment from God. It’s obvious that "you can’t take it with you," but how easily we forget! Second, we should be generous in the face of others’ needs. Such acts of generosity redound to the credit of God’s good name whose managers we are.  That kind of behavior is a powerful witness and may be God’s means to open people’s eyes. Third, God is watching to see if we’ve encarnated the first and the second truths. If so, that’s the demonstration that we’re serving Him and not just slaves to stuff.

WordPress Plugins

WordPress is a great CMS (Content Management System) platform for a church website and web design as it is extremely flexible and very easy to use.  Part of this flexibility comes from WordPress’ ability to take advantage of the programming skills of people from around the world who have designed various small add-on applications for WordPress called plugins. There are many hundreds of plugins to be found in the WordPress Plugins Database. A web search for specific plugins will open a long list of possibilities. If you need a particular functionality on your website the chances are that someone has already designed a plugin for it. There are also sites which list the top plugins (here are a couple – Top 50 and Usefull WordPress Plugins )

I have spent considerable numbers of hours researching the net and searching for just the right plugins for the Northwest site. The following is a list of some of my favorites and a short description of their function.

  1. The WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin.
    WordPress is continually being improved both for functionality and security.  This plugin allows the webmaster of a WordPress powered web to easily update to newer versions of WordPress, automatically taking care of backing up the site first and then updating the WordPress code.  This plugin makes the webmaster’s life a whole lot easier.
  2. The Author Image plugin.
    On a website like the Northwest site where we have multiple contributors and authors – it is a valuable feature to have the author’s photo automatically linked to their article or blog.  This plugin facilitates that.
  3. The word processing plugin "Deans FCKEditor".
    The word processing editor that comes packaged with WordPress is a somewhat "bare-bones" editor.  This plugin expands the functionality of the editor so that it acts much like a normal word processor.
  4. The Event Calendar plugin.
    Northwest always has some sort of up-coming event.  This plugin help to keep track of those events via the WordPress web interface.  Adding a new event can be done by any of the regular contributors to the Northwest site by adding an Event Calendar activated post.
  5. The FormBuilder plugin.
    Forms through which people can respond to you (i.e. ask questions, submit prayer requests, comment on items on the site etc.) are a normal part of creating a website.  Forms need to be secure and able to filter out junk and spam.  This plugin allows one to create any number of forms on a site and have them all share the same security features.  This plugin rates special mention as it is designed and maintained by my son who is a web programmer with Power to Change.
  6. The Google Site Map Generator plugin.
    This plugin creates a sitemap for your website and informs search engines of any changes or additions.
  7. The NextGen Image Gallery plugin.
    Putting images on the web in an orderly fashion can be an onerous task and if you want them to be displayed in fancy ways requires knowledge of web scripting languages.  This plugin takes care of the details and allows you to add galleries and albums of photos to your web.  The header on the Northwest site is powered by this plugin.
  8. The Role Manager plugin.
    The Northwest website has a number of people who use the site to post their articles and edit their information on the static pages.  User levels of permission are designed into WordPress and this plugin gives the webmaster greater flexibility in assigning those permissions.
  9. The Simply Exclude plugin.
    Sometimes it is desirable to keep a particular category of posts (articles) from appearing on the front page of the website.  Yet they need to be accessible some other way.  This plugin allows one to designate categories to be excluded from the front page.
  10. The Themed Login plugin.
    The default WordPress login page is very plain and merely displays the WordPress logo.  This plugin allows one to use one’s theme as the login page.  If you click on the login link you can see what it looks like.
  11. The Search Pages plugin
    WordPress uses both ‘Pages’ and ‘Posts’.  Pages are static while ‘Posts’ are the blog part of the site.  WordPress search function only searches posts. This plugin allows one to search both posts and pages.

These are just 10 plugins.  There are many-many more.  There are e-commerce powered plugins which would allow you to add a "shopping cart" to your site.  There are mailing plugins which would allow you to manage users in a mailing list.  The list of possibilities is virtually endless.

Installing and using these plugins is as simple as uploading the plugin folder to the correct spot in your WordPress powered website and then activating it.  Usually each plugin comes with complete instructions as to how to use it.

If you are using WordPress for your church website – let me know – send me a link to your site.  Share what techniques you have learned or what hasn’t worked for you.

If you are interested in this topic don’t forget to read the other articles that I have written on church websites.

 

 

More Prayer

When I had once mentioned that I collected prayers, a friend quickly sent me a copy of the Prayer of Jabez, a book written by Bruce Wilkinson in 2000 based on a prayer found in I Chronicles 4:9-10: And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep from evil that I may not cause pain.” So, God granted him what he requested.

On the surface, the prayer seemed innocent enough. But, I found the instructions that came in the book a bit troubling. It was a word of challenge that Wilkinson gave: I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.

The book became a bestseller, number one on the New York Times non-fiction list, selling over nine million copies. I suppose what troubled me wasn’t the matter of prayer, but the practice it inspired. I quickly became aware of many friends who took it to heart – fully expecting prosperity to break out in all corners of their life. I’m not convinced that the prayer, itself, carried the promise of affluence or success. But for many, that became the aspiration.

Which was why I was attracted to a brief article, written in Christianity Today by Adam Hamilton, a pastor in Leawood, Kansas. As a church-planter, he discovered that church leaders needed to be focused not on themselves and their own personal success, but on the Will of God and the purpose of Christ. As he wrote: Some have found in the Prayer of Jabez a foundation upon which to build their lives. For me and our church family, it is one of John Wesley’s prayers that has shaped us – heart and soul … a prayer often called the “Wesleyan Covenant.”

While I’ve added the Prayer of Jabez to my list of prayers, the Wesleyan Covenant has become a guide in prayer toward to the essence of what it means for me to be a man of God:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it. Amen.

John Wesley

Umar and Marvi

The story of Umar and Marvi is a legend of the Sindhi people that expresses a fundamental tribal value of the Sindhi people.  A young, beautiful teenage girl (Marvi) is kidnapped from her tribe by a young prince (Umar) who is enamoured by her and wants to make her his wife.  She is taken to his palace where he, his mother and his sisters promise her wealth, honor, and happiness, if she will marry the prince.  Instead she refuses to deny her loyalty to her tribal values and to the man to whom she was pledged as a little girl. Despite all the joys the world can offer, she refuses even to the extent of pushing away all the delectable food they offer. In the end, relatives of Marvi come searching and Umar gives her up, submitting at last to her wish and unbending will.  She arrives home faithful to the end, but in such a weakened state that she dies.

A western twist on the story would have Marvi and Umar eventually fall in love to demonstrate that romantic love conquers all and is stronger than traditional values. Individual rights, happiness and freedom is a message with strong appeal in the west. But in the Sindhi context nothing is more important than loyalty and conformity to community values.  It is not the individual life of Marvi that counts (she dies in the end), but her willingness to sacrifice all to maintain the traditional values and concerns of her people. The call to loyalty goes beyond individual needs and Marvi becomes the ultimate role model for all Sindhi girls to emulate.

the parable of Marvi … can reveal to the Sindhi people the meaning of Jesus’ life

A “missionary” for equality and individual rights will despise this story as a message that prevents the Sindhi people from embracing “enlightened” western values.  A missionary for the kingdom of God, however, recognizes that such stories can provide bridges for the gospel.  This does not occur through a power struggle to overcome or replace the Sindhi values presented, but by recognizing that the values portrayed have at their heart an eternal truth recognized by the Sindhi that can be enhanced and given fresh meaning through the story of Jesus.

In Jesus’ temptation (Luke 4), the devil offers him many good things: sustenance that gives life, power that convinces the world, control over the earth to make things right.  But the price is to abandon God’s will.  In the end, Jesus’ choice to reject the good things offered and follow God’s will costs him his life.  To hold fast to that which is right and true and eternal in the face of the attractive choices of this world is one understanding of the parable of Marvi that can reveal to the Sindhi people the meaning of Jesus’ life.

In the story of Umar and Marvi, she is praised but mourned by her people.  However, for Jesus, God could not let such an expression of loyalty and love see decay (Acts 2:31) – the Messiah lives!  Moreover the invitation to life given through Christ extends to the Sindhi people – a people who already appreciate the value of such a sacrifice.

Core Basics for Church Boards

In November of 2005 we held our very first Best Practices for Church Boards workshop. At the time, it seemed to be the right thing to do and the right way to do it. Two years later, what seemed to be right has proven to be monumental. As of November, 2007 we have conducted 5 workshops throughout British Columbia – from the Lower Mainland, to Vancouver Island and into the Interior both in Vernon and Cranbrook. On March 8, 2008 we will return to Vancouver Island for the second time.

During the course of the two years, 30 Churches have sent their leadership teams – both Pastoral Staff and Board members. That represents close to one-third of the leadership of the British Columbia and Yukon Fellowship of churches. From those 30 churches, 240 Church Leaders have been registered as participants. The event in March will add to that number. In order to serve the leadership teams, 13 leaders have been trained and employed as facilitators to provide guidance to train effective Church governing leaders.

It has been a work in progress. After the first workshop, it became evident that more needed to be done. Both the interest and needs of Church Boards demanded a greater response than the Basic workshop could provide. This demand has generated a number of training instruments. Two [presented later in this Quarterly newsletter] have provided special training, first for the personal development and training of a Board member. Best Practices for Church Boards: Personal Edition has been published as a training tool under the title: Now That I’m A Board Member … a five-session course that includes both video instruction and workbook exercises.  Even though it was only introduced in the Fall of 2007, 12 Churches have purchased it and are using it in a number of creative ways.

The second additional instrument, or Edition, of Best Practices for Church Boards has been the Advanced Edition. Each June, a specific issue has been targeted for training. In 2007, 5 Church Board teams met for a one-day workshop led by Dr. David Horita for training in The Board’s Role in Strategic Planning and Vision Development. As advertised, the Advanced Edition workshop on June 23, 2008 will feature Dr. Guy Saffold’s training on the role of the Church in making good decisions. [see below.]

Beyond the formal “Editions” of Best Practices for Church Boards, churches have begun to request Coaching assistance to address a whole array of congregational health issues. This has opened the opportunity for the Ministry Centre, the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, and Northwest Baptist Seminary to focus resources that would elevate the health of local of congregations through consultation and coaching.

With each development, we have learned a number of lessons and confirmed a number of principles. A few of the lessons learned:

  1. Church boards at large have a desperate need for training: At first, I thought that the interest shown by the Fellowship Baptist Churches was unique, something that was felt only by a few congregations. The fact is, the need for training is almost epidemic. As the Best Practices for Church Boards has expanded, interest has increased beyond the boundaries of the Fellowship. Each of our ACTS denominational partners – and more – have been watching us carefully with a high degree of interest. As I talk with the regional directors, it is evident that their church governing bodies are in serious need of the same sort of training. One of the key discoveries that we’ve made is that very few church board leaders are specifically trained for their role and responsibility, and are left to rely on either previous experience or vague intuition to guide them through their work.
  2. The training of a Church Board is unique: There is a growing body of resource agencies that teach “board governance.” The growth of such agencies underlines the general need for such training. Such groups as the Banff Institute for Board Governance, the United Way and their Board governance training, and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities have created wonderful ways to train boards for non-profit, charitable organizations. But, one of the things that they have discovered is that while the Church is technically a non-profit, charitable organization – it is a unique species with a distinct character that possesses its own exclusive application.
  3. Church boards need to see their work as a critical spiritual ministry: One of the standard questions that I ask of Board members is “what is your spiritual ministry in the local church?” More often than not, the answers omit the role of Board governance. They will point to “teaching a Bible Study”, “part of the worship team.” When I say, “but, aren’t you a Board member? Isn’t that a ministry?” they will often respond something to the effect that “no, it’s a necessary evil, someone has to do it.”  

Such a response has reconfirmed two key principles that undergird our passion to elevate the quality of a Church Board. I continue to make this a challenge as Church Board Leaders consider their own level of performance. Two Principles:

  1. Membership on a Church Board is a profoundly Spiritual Ministry: Leadership is listed among the differing gifts of grace listed in Romans 12 [verse 8] as a governing function. The definition of the term applies to practical administration, the type required of Church Board members. The spirit of the challenge is that of diligence [earnest, eager, careful.] …If it is leadership, let him govern diligently.
  2. The Church Board is the Prime Community of the Local Congregation: When Paul outlines the qualities of oversight leaders in the Pastoral Epistles, it is significant to note that he points to character rather than ability, and the type of character that is assessed through community and ultimately builds community. I can’t help but read that and extrapolate a principle: that Board members form the definitive community of a church. The quality of their interaction and the integrity of their relationship has direct bearing on the health of the congregation. This principle can be measured by two corollary statements: 1. If a Church Board is unable to generate a Biblical sense of community – it will be extremely difficult to expect a congregation to enjoy a healthy sense of community; 2. By the same token, if a Church Board is able to generate a sense of Biblical community – the church stands a great chance of building a healthy sense of community throughout its fellowship.

The Church Board, the governing body, has a significant role. And, every possible opportunity to elevate the quality of service is well worth the investment.

Chronological Bible Storying

My friend and mentor, Grant Lovejoy, sent me a link this morning to the new website for Chronological Bible Storying. The website offers the methodology, research, and reports from the field into this powerful way of preaching to oral and indigenous cultures.

According to the website, "Chronological Bible Storying (CBS) is the process of encountering God by telling the stories of the Bible. In CBS we tell Bible stories without interruption or comment and we tell them in the order that they happened in time. Afterward we discuss each story and its significance for our lives. Each story builds on those that came before; as a result, the overarching message of the Bible becomes clear and we discover our own place in God’s story."

The oral nature of communication within many of the people groups of the world is a major motivator for those championing CBS. "Though literacy has developed and spread its reach around the globe, a majority of the world’s people still live day to day by the spoken word, by orality. Some people live by oral communication out of necessity; their language may not have a written form or they may not have acquired literacy in school."

When people live primarily by means of orality, memory becomes a major feature in everyday life. People in oral cultures prefer the familiar and are slow to accept new information, especially when it does not come in a memorable format. Chronological Bible Storying is a way of communicating the truths of Scripture in a format that is both memorable and familiar to the recipients.

The good news is that this format is an effective way of training locals to communicate the gospel. The opportunity for the spread of the gospel is exponential. In a report from South Asia, for example, training in CBS is multiplying its impact. A missionary reports, "The 48 men who have now finished their first year of training say that they are formally training another 553 storytellers. Of these, 439 have 10-15 men and women each to whom they are telling the stories.  So every story we teach is perhaps being taught to 5,000 people immediately–most of whom are not yet believers. You can imagine the potential for God’s Word to work in these thousands of lives!"

Other helpful websites on this theme include oralbible.com and wycliffe.org. Chronological Bible Storying is an initiative of the International Mission Board.

Snowflake Prayer

I was intrigued by a comment that I overheard some time ago to the effect that “prior to the age of Sunday School, the most influential instrument used to instruct Christians was Worship.” It was through the liturgy of worship that people learned theology – as they recited the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed from week to week. It was through the liturgy of worship that people learned to read and make sense of the Scripture as it was read, week to week. And, it was through the liturgy of worship that people learned the language of prayer as together they prayed prayers of confession and shared litany’s of request and thanksgiving.

In recent years, as I’ve sensed a decline in Sunday School for adult education, I suspect that we have returned to the place where the burden of instruction is to be found in worship. And that troubles me, especially when it comes to prayer. Too often the prayers I’ve experienced in evangelical worship have not reflected careful thought, nor have they drawn out the voice of God’s people – which only makes me value the treasury of prayer that I’ve been collecting over the years.

Years ago, I began to collect what I discovered to be significant prayers. A significant prayer being one crafted with care, able to give voice to the depth of heart, and one that stimulates even greater expression of prayer as it is prayed again and again and again.

Some of the prayers are quite simple. One that I’ve included in my cycle of daily devotion I discovered in an old tattered used book simply titled Pray by Charles Francis Whiston. It was called the “snowflake” prayer, a title just odd enough to capture my imagination. As Whiston explained, an isolated snowflake melts quickly. But, when joined by other snowflakes over time, a snowflake becomes a glacier – able to carve channels through the hardest rock. It was a way to describe the discipline of prayer, especially commending the practice of using the outline of one prayer as a template for each day. The outline of this prayer has, over time, gained a glacial weight in my life. And, for that reason, I find my self commending it to anyone who wants it. It’s my adaptation:

Gracious Heavenly Father, in obedience to Your claim on my life, I surrender myself to You this day. All that I am, all that I have, to be wholly and unconditionally to You and for Your using. Take me away from myself, and my sinful preoccupation with self, and use me as You will, when You will, and with whom You will. Take away by loving force all that I will not give to You. And help me to know that having been crucified with Christ, I no longer live but that He lives in me, so that the life I love today, I would live by faith in the One who loved me and gave Himself for me. This I pray in His name, and for His sake. Amen

We’re Rich?

This Sunday marked the second installment in a four part series that our pastor is preaching through entitled "LO$T." The dollar sign in the title is purposeful. The series is all about the dangers of becoming lost as a result of things and the pursuit of them.

He began with a question, "Why do you have more than you need?" There were a few snickers in the congregation. Many were thinking, "If the pastor only knew how tight things are in our house with finances, he’d know how ludicrous the question is."

What followed was a shock to us all.

The pastor informed us that 92% of the people in the world don’t own a car. Many in our church have one, some two or three cars in the family, and a few have more than that. 

He continued that a billion people don’t have access to clean water. We not only have drinkable water from the tap, we make it more pure by filtering it. We bathe in drinkable water and sprinkle it on our lawns and go to community centers and other facilities to play in it. 

800 million people won’t eat today and 300 million of them are kids. I have a weight problem. All talk of metabolism aside, its because I eat too much. I’m not alone by a long shot.

"The bottom billion plus people in the world live on less than $1 a day." our pastor said.  He then took us for a quick visit to www.globalrichlist.com. You can put your annual wage into a box to get an automatic calculation of what percentile of the population you fall within and how many people have a wage below yours in the world.  An annual wage of $37,500 puts you in the top 5% of the richest people in the world. What we call a low wage and "poverty line" earnings, when scaled this way, is very sobering.

As the pastor brought the message to a conclusion, he invited us to reconsider the question with which he began. His answer to us was this, "The reason we have more than we need is so we can share with those who are in need."

So we are rich beyond the rest of the world’s wildest dreams and imaginations.

Luke 19:1-10 does make it clear that people can be lost when it comes to accumulating stuff. Getting saved, this passage teaches, should reach right down to the depths of my bank book and not just my soul. It was a great sermon: What does "saved" look like for me?

Church Talk: Discerning New Ministry Leaders

In 2007 Amal Henein and Francoise Morissette published Made in Canada Leadership. Wisdom from the Nation’s Best and Brightest on Leadership Practice and Development. They argue that "in each of us rests the potential for leadership, but the response and measure depend on us….We are all called to lead"(58). They discovered that parental influence and leadership identity are linked. Parents can model what leadership looks like — making it visible for their children.

They also discovered the some "have a passion and disposition for leadership early on", but in contrast some individuals "stumble upon leadership by accident"(61).  Those who enter leadership by accident tend to be reluctant participants,  but, motivated by a desire to serve, they step forward, often when things are in crisis and no one else is willing to do it. The innate leader, however, instinctually grasps leadership opportunities. Over time both kinds of experience result in effective leadership.

What I found surprising is that two thirds of current leaders placed themselves in the accidental category and only one third in the innate group.

I think their results have significant implications for our understanding of ministry leadership development in the church. Every believer is called by God to exercise influence for the Gospel, i.e. to be a leader. The Holy Spirit within us empowers us to grasp and accomplish this leadership. Some will exercise leadership in the church as pastors or missionaries or youth directors. Others will express a quieter leadership, mentoring others one on one, parenting their families, leading a small group, being responsible for maintaining good facilities — there are countless ways.

What we need to grasp is that ‘accidental leaders’ must learn "to see themselves as leaders through others’ eyes first"(64). Someone else has to awaken them to their potential and encourage them to try. "For accidentals the challenge is to turn leadership on"(67). If this dynamic is operative within the church setting, then ministry leaders need to understand this reality. If we only respond to innate leaders, those with a surging creativity to express leadership, then we run the risk of ignoring 66% of the potential, gifted leaders that God has placed within the body of Christ, the accidental leaders.

How then do we create the right conditions so that the majority of people who fit the accidental leader category will have the opportunity to respond to God’s calling in their lives? Plainly we have to help them discern their leadership potential, be encouraged to step out and test their ability, and be there to support them in their first tentative steps. We have to help them "see themselves as leaders."

I would suggest that we have a huge untapped resource of potential leadership capacity in our churches because we are quite unaware of the accidental/innate leadership distinction. What could you do within your sphere of ministry leadership to help accidental leaders emerge and discover their potential?

Uneasy with Evangelism

It feels impolite and invasive to challenge someone on a personal level

I am uncomfortable with direct methods of evangelism that early on present the hearer with an invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  Part of my unease has to do with my Canadian upbringing.  It feels impolite and invasive to challenge someone on a personal level in our cultural context. While my attitude cannot be used as an excuse not to give people the opportunity to become followers of Christ – and many people have become believers because of the “forwardness” of faithful disciples – nonetheless other approaches may be more conducive to certain segments of the Canadian population.  Much evangelism training encourages people to becoming bold in calling others to commitment, but perhaps the assumption of an early and direct gospel invitation behind such methods needs to be questioned.

One missiological concern is that while cultural norms do not pre-empt the Great Commission, they need to be taken into account so that the stumbling block of the gospel remains the cross, and not methodologies that may push people away, rather than attract them to salvation in Christ.  The currently running Mr. Sub commercial of the two young “missionaries” presenting their message to a young woman at her home is amusing, but also includes a certain “cringe factor” as I listen to the canned approach.

 A further concern is that the majority of evangelical approaches with their early presentation of a gospel challenge are geared towards those ready to make a faith profession.  While appropriate for some people – as we hear from stories about responses to such programs – to others it feels like manipulation or a proposal given outside of the context of relationship.  For these people such an approach may work as an inoculation against the gospel, indicating that a less direct approach could be more effective in the long run.

However, the main reason I feel uncomfortable with direct methods of evangelism is that an early call to faith can undermine the significance of the commitment.  A commitment to Christ is analogous to that of marriage (cf. Paul’s admonition to husbands in Eph 5:25-33).  I have made two life long vows: one to my wife, and one to my Lord.  What we are seeking from people in evangelism is a commitment to Christ on a level with the commitment a person makes to their life partner.  If a call to salvation in Christ can be considered on the level of a proposal to a future spouse, then one has to make that presentation when the time is right and in a way that validates the importance of the decision (cf. Jesus’ caution to “count the cost” in Lu 14:25-30).

A commitment to Christ is analogous to that of marriage

In our culture the validity and impact of a marriage proposal is dependent upon a pre-existing close personal relationship; the relationship does not occur because of the proposal but is an important step in the development of the relationship.  The courting relationship could last years, the proposal, one evening.  Furthermore, a proposal made too early in the relationship could destroy it.  In the same way, perhaps we need to think in terms of helping people develop a relationship with Christ before commitment. If we do not help people understand how Jesus is relevant to life, alleviate their misunderstandings, work through their hurts, etc., a proposal to commitment could be misrepresented as a call to religious conformity and control rather than a relationship of joy and release.

help people develop a relationship with Christ BEFORE commitment

My intention is not to disparage direct means of evangelism.  There are many people who have come to Christ because of such an approach.  At the same time, there are others in our lives resistant to the gospel who need time and patience to work through their perspectives of Jesus and how the meaning to life is found in him.  Rather than calling them to commitment, our role is to walk with them in their spiritual journey until their attraction to Jesus matures, so much so that a proposal is not only fitting, but unavoidable.

Does this thinking make sense to you?  If so, consider the merits of the SISI system with its focus on learning how to engage others in significant conversations that will bring them into contact with the Kingdom of God.

User Friendly Bibles: When Titles Mislead

section headings … can be misleading

I like section headings in Bible translation.  They are not part of the original text, but added by the translation team to assist the reader in three ways: “1. to help those already familiar with the Bible to find a passage they know; 2. to help those unfamiliar with the Bible to assimilate the text; 3. to help every reader by breaking up what could otherwise be forbiddingly large slabs of print.” (1) But there are times when the insertion of section headings into a passage of scripture can be misleading.  Even when the title itself may be accurate in its identification of the passage, the focus of the message may be distorted. (2) Furthermore the placement of some titles can actually undermine the structural unity and continuity of thought because the presence of the section heading communicates to the reader that the passage before the break is, in some way, disconnected from the passage under the heading and therefore is a “stand alone” passage with a unique message.

the section headings actually disguised, rather than illuminated the overall meaning of the passage

During my trip to Pakistan for Bible translation at the end of 2007, I was involved with a small team of translators and helpers who were reviewing a translation of the New Testament in the Sindhi language.  In our study of the Sermon on the Mount we found a number of places where section headings actually detracted from the flow of the passage and obscured the meaning….

 

Read the rest of this entry in Cross Cultural Impact # 58

A Challenge for 2008

I would like to present you with a tough but exciting challenge for 2008 . . . but let me back up a little! 

This past two months I have been somewhat restricted in my activities because of a ruptured achilles tendon.  After 4 weeks in a fiberglass cast and now another almost 4 weeks in a cast boot I am still using crutches to get around and spending much of my time with my foot propped up on a pile of cushions.  At first it was a bit of an adventure to have family and colleagues helping me with such basic things as opening doors or carrying a cup of coffee.  But the adventure aspect wore off quickly and I found myself in a complaining mode.  I didn’t complain to God openly but in my heart there were the sulky "why" questions – you know what I mean! 

I tell you this for two reasons.  First, because I have been so restricted I have found myself with much free time on my hands with only a few options available for filling those hours.  So I have been taking some of my own advice (found here) and have spent considerable time reading and re-reading the book of Hebrews – aloud.  Secondly, the personal result of that exercise has been for me to come to view my torn achilles as a blessing and not a curse.  For the past few weeks I have been soaking in the wonder of who Jesus is and what he has done for me (for us).  Normally I find I can fill my hours with so many good things that I rarely take the time to meditate on the Word in any more than a passing attempt.  Lately I have been "allowed" all the time I need and that has been a blessing.

So back to the challenge for 2008!  I would like to encourage you to carve out the time and space necessary and read the book of Hebrews 12 times this year – once a month – and read it aloud.  The ideal would be to read it in its entirety in one sitting but if you cannot do that break it into two or three chunks and read it that way.  Here is what I would encourage you to do:

  • Make 2008 a year of coming to know Jesus better.  Many years ago when I was a young student at Prairie Bible Institute a visiting speaker, Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter, encouraged us to read the Gospels "pictographically" – in other words with the express purpose of seeing Jesus as the gospelers pictured him.  That is the challenge I pass on to you – read Hebrews pictographically – with a view to seeing Jesus anew.  The writer to the Hebrews himself speaks of Jesus in this way.  In 2:9 he writes, "But we see Jesus…"   In 3:1 he enjoins his readers to "…fix your thoughts on Jesus…" and in 12:2 he exhorts, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…"  Jesus is the centrepiece of Hebrews.  My prayer for you is that you will come to see him afresh this coming year – that you will rejoice in the wonder of who your Savior is, what he has accomplished for you and who you are because of him.
  • Take your time – don’t hurry.  Allow the writer’s passion for Jesus to permeate your soul.
  • Read expressively.  Try to read Hebrews the way the writer intended it to be read.  At first you may not find reading aloud the most comfortable thing to do – but try it – I believe you will like it!
  • Notice how Hebrews weaves a wonderful tapestry of descriptions of Jesus’ person and work, exhortations to live fully in what Jesus has provided, cautions that we not take lightly this marvelous salvation and examples of others – both faith-filled and faith-less.
  • Don’t give up!  This is not an easy challenge – but you will find it very worthwhile!

As the year progresses share with me and other readers of this blog  what you have seen.  Feel free to add  comments to this post.  Return here throughout the year and encourage and be encouraged – that is what the writer of Hebrews tells us to do.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (3:13)

…let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (10:25)

I will place a 2008 Challenge link in the sidebar (under Special Topics) so that you can return here easily.  May God richly bless you this year and may you daily rejoice in the wonder of this Hebrews benediction:

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

God’s New Year

When God led Israel out of Egypt, he told them to change their calendars. Their year would now begin in the month when the last plague occurred, when Israel experienced Passover, and when Israel left Egypt. In Exodus 12:1 we read "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year." In the days and months that followed Israel witnessed the miracle at the Red Sea, the provision of food and water, victory over the Amalekites, and God’s revelation of His covenant at Sinai. What a year! It was God’s new year for Israel.

As Moses led Israel in celebrating and praising God for some of these wonders, they affirmed, "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed" (Exodus 15:13). God drew the map for Israel to follow and provided the navigational aids so they would not get lost. They might have preferred different latitude and longitude, a speedier schedule, less arduous terrain or  a safer route. Sometimes they failed to discern God’s "unfailing love" as the journey unfolded. Fear, anxiety, doubt, and anger characterized their response when their water supply was running out in wilderness, when starvation seemed imminent, and when hostile forces attacked. Instead of seeing God’s love in these circumstances, they saw a threat by God to destroy them! In Exodus 16:3 they claimed that Moses, God’s representative, has led them into this wilderness "to starve this entire assembly to death." This was only two or three weeks after their celebratory confession expressed in Exodus 15:13. God’s new year did not unfold in accordance with Israel’s expectations. Yet, at the end of the day, they have water, they have food, they are preserved from their enemies, and they met God at Sinai! Incredible challenges still faced the Israelites, but God demonstrated His complete faithfulness.

What will God’s new year, the year of 2008, hold for His people? It is beginning with rather ominous news — violence, riots, economic recession, threats of nuclear war, imminent ecological disaster, risk of pandemics, rising cost of oil. Will we experience God’s unfailing love in the midst of such dire circumstances? Will we be willing and able to discern God’s unfailing love in all that we experience? Who will explain for us how God is at work? How patient will we  be  in allowing God to set the timetable?  When  difficult things happen, how quickly will we begin to complain or  become angry with God?

After God led Israel into Canaan and as Joshua was preparing to die, he could look back on all that Israel had experienced and confess "every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed" (Joshua 23:14). We can enter God’s new year of 2008 with the same confidence. We know that God’s "goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life" (Psalm 23:6). May His Holy Spirit enable us to perceive His goodness and rejoice in His mercy, i.e. His unfailing love. May you know and experience this kind of confidence in God in 2008.