Tag Archives: Church

Rolls-Royce Never Fails

The following story was told by Mac Brunson of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida in his sermon, The Purpose of the Passion which you can hear on the most recent Preaching Today Audio CD (#283). For more information on this audio series and for other online features check out PreachingToday.com. A man who lived in England came over to the United States to go to a resort for several months, and he wanted to bring his car – his Rolls-Royce – over. It was packaged up and shipped over so he could drive his car while he was in the United States. But, while he was here, something happened to the car. There was a mechanical failure. And so he called over to England and said: “I’ve got this problem with my car. I think this is what it is.” And Rolls-Royce told him: “That’s fine. Within 48 hours, we’ll have a mechanic with the auto parts there to fix it for you.” They put a mechanic with some car parts on a plane and flew him to the United States. He worked on the guy’s car out in the parking lot at this resort, fixed it, got on a plane, and flew back to England. The man drove his car the rest of the time. Then he packaged it back up, put it one a ship, and sent it back. He was back home for nearly a year before he discovered he had never got a bill from Rolls-Royce. So he wrote the company. He said: “This date last year I called – there was something wrong with my Rolls-Royce, and you flew a mechanic over. You fixed it, but I’ve never received a bill. If you’ll find that bill in your office, I’ll be happy to pay the bill for fixing my car.” He received a letter back from Rolls-Royce that said this: “In the files at the headquarters of Rolls-Royce, there is no accounting that anything has ever been wrong with a Rolls-Royce anywhere.” Brunson said, “Now that’s justification. When you get to heaven and Satan wants to holler and scream about all your sin, Jesus is going to look through the files, turn around and say: We don’t have a file on him here at all.”

Keeping Missions from becoming a number in the budget

People committed to supporting cross-cultural missions, whether locally or globally, recognize the essential role of missionaries who have dedicated years to learn the culture and language of a particular people group. It is through their expertise that bridges for the gospel are discovered and churches planted. However, missions mobilizers serving in churches are often frustrated and discouraged at the overwhelming task of keeping people interested and committed to the support of missionaries over the long haul. There are so many legitimate activities and alternative ministries that staying the course with one family whose ministry requires slow and steady progress, rather than glamorous leaps, is difficult. Support sometimes becomes reduced to a budget item that is “rubber-stamped” each year.

As a result people no longer give to the church generally and think about their financial commitment to missions once a year. Instead, a focus on missions giving is highlighted weekly along with giving towards the church’s general needs.

One church in our Fellowship has developed a creative approach to the support of their missionaries that, even though only a small adjustment, has helped provide a stronger focus for missions in the church. Each year they designate part of their budget to the support of their missionaries, as is common practice for most of our churches. However, funds from the general offering cannot be applied to this commitment. Only those funds designated “missions” are used to fulfill this responsibility. As a result people no longer give to the church generally and think about their financial commitment to missions once a year. Instead, a focus on missions giving is highlighted weekly along with giving towards the church’s general needs. Secondly, the deacon in charge of missions is responsible to keep the church informed of their commitment and when giving has fallen short, he or she reminds the church of the importance of these ministries and the role the church plays in advancing God’s mission. Furthermore, when giving exceeds the budgeted commitment, and this is not uncommon, they are able to apply these extra funds to special projects such as the Fellowship International Ministries 2007 “Blessing the Nations” project. Have you discovered some creative ways to highlight missions in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team. We are working on a workshop to support churches as they seek to join in God’s mission both locally and around the world. Information on this will be posted on the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage as it comes available.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

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What Makes A Christian Relevant?

I never met E. Stanley Jones, but over the years he has served as a Mentor to me. His book Song of Ascents is one that is a constant source of insight and wisdom … and perspective. Over the last couple of years it’s been hard to find perspective. Not since the Jesus people revolution of the ‘60’s have I detected a spirit of struggle among pastors and churches desperate to be “relevant.” It’s hard enough to define what it means to be “post-modern, seeker-sensitive, emergent, and missional.” It’s even harder to prove that you are all-of-the-above. And, if you aren’t? Well, to mangle a phrase from Hughie Lewis and the News, “it ain’t hip to be square.” Carrying all of this angst about being irrelevant, I turned to my Mentor and on page 132 of Song of Ascents found a truth that set me free. There, E. Stanley Jones described his first meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. As a young missionary in India, he went straight to the point, “You are, perhaps, the leading Hindu of India. Could you tell me what you think we, as Christians, should do to make Christianity more naturalized in India. Not a foreign thing … but a part of the national life…? He immediately replied: “I would suggest four things: First, that all you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, that you practice your religion without adulterating it, or toning it down. Third, that you emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, that you study the non-Christian religions sympathetically to find the good in them.” “This is genius” Stanley wrote. The sheer simplicity of the idea that to be more “naturalized” or relevant to a society is to be more Christian freed him from trying to be something he wasn’t in order to simply be who he was – a Christian, and work by love. Stanley was astonished that it took the leading non-Christian of the world to give him permission. After offering a few examples to support this perspective, Jones then wrote a paragraph that I wish everyone who struggles with the search for relevance would take to heart: “People say that we must adopt the language and culture of the day to be relevant to today. That is a mistake. If the church marries itself to the spirit of the times, it will be a widow in the next generation. There is a universal language – the language of reality and the language of love. Have those two things and you’ll be understood and appreciated in any situation, anywhere, in any age. [page 133]” Tucked away in the passage is a phrase that gives balance to my heart: to be home in any given situation, be like Christ…be just what I am – a Christian – and work by love!

So, What’s Different?

OK. It’s Monday, the day after the Easter weekend. So, what’s different? I attended two services—one on Good Friday at which a number of churches attended and one on Sunday in my home church. Regular church-goers like me and C & Es—Christmas and Easter only types—were reminded of the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The sermons we heard took different tacks as they crisscrossed various texts. I heard a couple of good ones—one from a youthful preacher and another from a man who’s been in the ministry for over fifty years. As the sails of their sermons each caught gusts of relevance, I was thrilled at the sudden quickening.

“True understanding builds a life on what is heard.”

But, what’s different?

 

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he concluded by telling people that true understanding was not merely attaining to a personal intellectual “click” point. Rather, true understanding builds a life on what is heard; its hearing and doing. Jesus likened it to a man wisely building a house on a solid place so that it would withstand storms (Matt. 7:24). I heard the preachers. They were helpful. But did I really get it? How will that part of the world I touch be different because I’m building upon what I heard this past weekend? What’s going to be different?

The Dance is Not Perichōrēsis

In several recent publications various authors have sought to support arguments related to the understanding of the Trinity by stating that the Greek noun perichōrēsis (cognate verb perichōreō) signifies dance or dancing. For example, George Cladis states that “Perichoresis means literally ‘circle dance’.”[1] Eugene Peterson concurs: “The dance is perichoresis, the Greek word for dance.”[2] In her discussion about the Trinity, Catharine LaCugna discusses various analogies “used to depict perichōrēsis.” But she finds them too limiting. Instead she suggests “this is why the image of ‘the divine dance’ has been used to translate perichōrēsis. Even if the philological warrant for this is scant, the metaphor of dance is effective. Choreography suggests the partnership of movement,…”[3]

But does perichōrēsis mean “a circle dance” and does the cognate verb mean “to dance”? The fact is that these terms have nothing to do with dancing. Liddell and Scott indicate that there are two distinct Greek verbs:

perichōreō means to go around. perichōrēsis is defined as ‘rotation’.[4]

perichoreuō means to dance around.[5] No cognate noun is listed.

So there is no warrant for suggesting that perichōrēsis has any connection with dancing in Greek Classical Literature.

Perhaps, though, it may have come to mean this and so the church fathers had this sense in mind when they applied it to the Trinity? A scan of the information revealed in Lampe’s A Patristic Greek Lexicon, however, is not encouraging:

perichōreō means “interchange” when used in reference to the two natures of Christ and “interpenetrate” when it describes the actions of the members of the Trinity. A similar range of meaning is found for the cognate noun.[6]

perichoreuō is also listed with the meaning “dance round”, but the primary references are found in Pseudo-Dionysius Aeropagita (5th century) and these uses are not related to the Trinity per se. Also, Lampe only lists three occurrences, whereas for perichōreō he lists many occurrences, both Christologically and in relation to Trinitarian discussions.

Again, we find no evidence that suggests perichōreō has anything to do with dancing.

St. John of Damascus (8th century) used perichōrēsis in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith to describe how the members of the Trinity relate to one another. For example, he says “they are made one not so as to commingle, but so as to cleave to each other and they have their being in each other [kai tēn en allēlais perichōrēsin echousi] without any coalescence or commingling.” However in this context he makes no use of the analogy of dancing to explain this relationship. Augustus Strong indicates that “theologians have designated this intercommunion by the terms perichōrēsis, circumincessio, intercommunication, circulation, inexistentia.”[7]

What can we conclude from this? It seems that some writers have confused perichoreuō (dance round) with perichōreō (interpenetrate). Although the verbs sound similar and are spelled somewhat similarly, they have two quite different meanings. The primary lexica for Classical and Patristic Greek give no indication that perichōreō was ever used to describe the motions of dancing. Catharine LaCugna is right so far as she goes to say that “the philological warrant for this is scant.”[8] It is in fact non-existent.

If a person desires to use the metaphor of dance to describe the mutual interactions of the persons of the Trinity that might be useful and appropriate. However, one cannot justify the use of such a metaphor by trying to connect it with perichōreō. That tune will not play. Nor should one pretend that the term “choreography” in some sense relates to perichōreō. Again, there is no etymological relationship whatsoever. Perichoretic dancing is a modern invention that does not come from the meaning of the underlying Greek term or its use in the Church Fathers.

 

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

December 8, 2006.


[1] George Cladis, Leading the Team-Based Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999):4.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eedrmans, 2005): 44-45

[3] Catharine LaCugna, God For us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1973): 271. Peterson refers to her publication in footnote 15 of his volume and quotes from page 272 as support for his understanding.

[4] Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966):1394

[5] Ibid., 1393.

[6] G.W.H. Lampe, editor, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968):1077-1078.

[7] Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Penn.: Judson Press, 1974):333.

[8] Op. cit., 271.

Easter Surprise!

While I love Christmas and Easter, over the years as a pastor I found it an annual challenge to find something fresh to add to my preaching. I would thrill at any new insight that would add a new voice to the message. One year the Pastor of the College Church in Wheaton Illinois, Kent Hughes, introduced me to a familiar passage with an added twist. At his advice, I turned to Matthew 27 and attempted to relive the scene of Pilate’s final judgment from a prison cell on death row with a convicted felon named Barabbas. In verses 16 and 17, it was apparent that Barabbas was living on a bubble. His crimes deserved death, but his name was up for the annual pardon. It takes a bit of imagination, but it’s easy to picture him listening intently to the sounds of the crowd through the bars of his prison window. It would have been almost impossible for him to hear Pilate give the crowd a choice in verse 21. But it would have been impossible for him not to hear the crowd roar out his name: Barabbas! That got his attention. From that point, the only voice he could hear would have been the crowd as it continued to shout out: Crucify Him (verse 22), Crucify Him! (verse 23) Let his blood be on us and on our children! (verse 25.)

"But, I thought I was the one to die?! Isn’t that what the crowd wanted? Isn’t that what my verdict says? Isn’t that what I deserve?"

He had heard all he needed to hear. His life was at an end. It was judgment day. The sound of the crowd would have been in his heart as he heard the guards open the door to his cell. Forget a pardon, it was time to die. Except there was a voice he hadn’t heard. The one that said, “release Barabbas, crucify Jesus [verse 26.]” You can imagine the mental confusion: But, I thought I was the one to die?! Isn’t that what the crowd wanted? Isn’t that what my verdict says? Isn’t that what I deserve? All of that was true, except for one thing. Somehow, by a divine plan, Jesus intervened. The Bible says of Jesus, “He was pierced for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities…the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5,6)” Somehow, I have to think that Barabbas was the first human to fully appreciate the sheer intensity of that fact. And, somehow, I’d like to think that what he discovered would give me, give all of us, even greater reason to give thanks!

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

The Evangelical Emergent Condition

I have been teaching a series called “Principles of our Faith” lately at one of our local Fellowship churches and one of the questions people keep asking me is; “what do you think of the concept ‘emerging church’”? My answer is always the same. The emerging church, like Postmodernity, is a condition, only confined to the evangelical church. It marks its self by its lack of clarity, its lack of direction and its lack of theological depth, all because evangelicals have forgotten their Bibles, lost their historical identity and jettisoned their doctrinal roots. The reactions are predictable. Denial. But I have yet to be proven wrong. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Of ‘Impossible People’ and Iceburgs

Before he became a follower of Jesus, the apostle Paul was a persecutor of Christians. Scripture relates how he “began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) and of his “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” (Acts 9:1f.) He did not look to be a likely prospect for conversion. In fact, he seemed an “impossible case.” Image:Iceberg IlulissatAnanias thought that. When the Lord commissioned Ananias to go to see Paul, his response was shock. He rather audaciously reminded the Lord that Paul was a Christ-hater and persecutor (Acts 9:13f.)—he was an impossible case. Ananias may have been far more convinced that Paul would kill him than that he would become a follower of Jesus! What Ananias didn’t know at the time—but what we know from Acts 9:3-16—is that Paul had, a short while before, been shaken to his core by a meeting with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul had had a vision in which a man named Ananias came to restore his sight. Ananias didn’t know that the Lord had some very big plans for Paul. God was ‘on the case’ long before Ananias arrived on the scene.

"Someone has said that God’s action is a lot like icebergs-9/10ths of what he’s doing is below the surface, beyond the field of human vision."

Few conversions are ‘out of the blue.’ Almost always there has been an incubation period.God is preparing unsaved people through life experiences and circumstances long before we ever arrive on the scene. In fact, he can work even through the very things we might think make our friends ‘impossible cases.’ Someone has said that God’s action is a lot like icebergs—9/10ths of what he’s doing is below the surface, beyond the field of human vision. Think of your ‘impossible’ person—God is and has already been working in their life, even though they and we may see nothing at all. That’s part of the great news of this passage—God is working and can save ‘impossible’ people. So, don’t be discouraged!

Good News About Seminary Training

I heard some good news about theological education over the weekend at the Chief Academic Officer’s Meetings of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). It seems that people are happier with seminary education than we may have thought. Barbara Wheeler of the Auburn Institute reported on data gathered from an array of comprehensive surveys over several years. It seems that the seminary experience is highly rated. Some highlights:

  • Seminary students rated the quality of their educational experience as 3.2 out of 4.0.
  • 95% of graduates said that they would encourage others to pursue ministry.
  • 4 out of 5 would encourage others to attend the same seminary that they did.
  • 4.75 out of 5 would attend the same seminary again if they had the chance.
  • 74% of seminary graduates end up in professional local church ministry. 88% end up in some form of professional ministry.

The attrition rate of Master of Divinity grads who end up in professional ministry is only 1% per year over ten years. Put another way, 90% of grads stay in ministry over 10 years. These numbers are staggering and "blow away" comparables from any other form of professional training such as law or medical school. I agree with Wheeler who said, "I don’t care what your business is, if you can deliver these kinds of results, you are doing phenomenal work." It has become common to criticize seminary as "cemetary" and to generally see it as an outdated and inefficient way of training people for ministry. The numbers say otherwise. Perhaps it’s time to stop seminary-bashing and to begin to think more creatively about how seminaries and churches can leverage this work for the benefit of people and the growth of God’s kingdom.

The Difference Between Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Cultural

At a recent seminar a pastor posed the question: “What is the difference between multi-ethnic and multi-cultural?” Ethnicity primarily refers to group identity arising from a common history, kinship and language. Culture refers to the way members of a particular ethnic group relate to their environment and each other. This includes legends, laws, priorities, structures, customs and artifacts. Multi-ethnic, therefore, refers to members of a variety of ethnic groups interacting within a particular forum (such as a multi-ethnic church). Such forums require a common structure or format with which all members agree to conform in order for this multi-ethnic interaction to function successfully (e.g., for multi-ethnic churches in Canada this is generally the church practice of the dominant Canadian culture).

The hope is that churches will be able to clarify their own particular identity as they navigate the passage between multi-ethnic and multi-cultural that will result in healthy and liberating expressions of the church of Jesus Christ.

Multi-cultural, on the other hand, is much more complex, harder to envision and fraught with conflict. The concept is that members of a variety of ethnic groups interact while maintaining their distinct cultural practices and priorities. In reality, this is a paradox because while cultures are defined by their distinctiveness, community and interaction rely upon commonalities to establish unity. In order to have intercultural relationships, some accommodation must be made on one or both sides of the cultural divide. But the act of accommodation represents, to some degree, a compromise and loss of cultural values.

In my experience, most of our Fellowship churches that are multi-ethnic are not multi-cultural. These churches have embraced a number of ethnic groups within a culturally Canadian expression of church life. My article on setting an intercultural agenda for our churches in the recently published book by NBS, Being Church: Explorations in Christian Community, recounts a discussion of cultural issues with a Punjabi couple (p. 26). Although they attended a multi-ethnic local church, they expressed appreciation for the opportunity to occasionally attend a worship service with a mono-cultural Punjabi congregation some distance away. The attraction was the specifically Punjabi cultural elements such as singing the Psalms in Punjabi with traditional musical instruments. In order for them to participate in their multi-ethnic local church, they were required to relinquish much of their Punjabi heritage as it relates to church life.

Our Cross-cultural Think Tank has prepared a seminar on cultural diversity designed to help our Fellowship churches work through the cultural tensions that arise within our multi-ethnic churches. The hope is that churches will be able to clarify their own particular identity as they navigate the passage between multi-ethnic and multi-cultural that will result in healthy and liberating expressions of the church of Jesus Christ. For further information contact Mark via the form below.

 

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Making Health Part of a Natural Cycle…

Over the last two months, I’ve been gathering together research in preparation for the Best Practices for Church Boards: Advanced Edition workshop on the role of the Church Board in Vision Development and Strategic Planning. I’ve sorted through a number of coaching programs – from Church Central’s Church Consultancy, to Natural Church Development’s Coaching system, to Stadia’s New Church Strategies, to Outreach Canada’s Vision Renewal. [Hartford Seminary has an interesting list of consultant operations at: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/leadership/consultants.html.] telescopeOne of the things that I’ve discovered is that for the most part each system follows a similar outline: Prepare for evaluation, Evaluate, Analyze, Resolve, Act … and then Monitor a renewed Ministry Plan. When you chart out the steps, it seems so simple and direct. Yet, as I talk with the consultants who guide and coach congregations through the process, it is one of the most difficult shared tasks congregations will endure. At first, I thought that the actual work that went into building a Ministry Plan was what made it so difficult. It is a lot of work. Most of the programs estimate the cost of creating profiles, taking assessments, crafting vision statements, and creating effective communication patterns to take: an average of 6-8 months at the cost of approximately 1 month of a senior pastor’s salary. It’s hard, costly work. But the work is not the most difficult thing. One consultant revealed the greatest hurdle faced by the Church: having the courage to embrace the cold, hard facts. It’s a direct reflection of what Jim Collins defined as the third key element of Great Institutions [Good to Great]: Yes, leadership is about vision. But leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted … the good-to-great leaders understood this distinction, creating a culture wherein people had a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard…to confront the brutal facts and to act on the implications [p, 74,89.] I suppose that it’s no surprise that most churches initiate the Re-Visioning process with a spirit of desperation, as a last resort. They can no longer ignore the brutal truth. And, I suppose it’s no surprise that those who work with such churches have such a sense of critical care. But, it could be different. As I continue to work with such instruments as Best Practices for Church Boards … I take great satisfaction in helping hurting congregations get healthy … but I am also resolved to help healthy churches see the process of Re-Visioning as a natural, normal, expected part of the cycle of their life.

A “Cheating Culture”

A recent study conducted among undergraduate students at Canadian universities and colleges revealed that more than 50% of students surveyed admitted to “cheating on written work”. This included copying sentences from online or other sources, as well as cheating on exams. 22% of graduate students admitted to engaging in some forms of plagiarism. It is estimated that the web has led to a 5 to 10% increase in the amount of plagiarism occurring. Up to a quarter of undergraduate students falsify or fabricate lab data. Often students with high grade point averages cheat – to maintain their standing. A primary reason why students are doing this, by their own admission, is that they see leaders in business, sports and journalism, high profile cheaters, getting away with it. Sometimes cheating occurs because faculty are not teaching well or are grading in ways perceived to be unfair. Very few Canadian universities have codes of academic integrity that they require students to sign and faculty to follow. This kind of information shakes one’s faith in the educational system. How can we trust the credibility of degrees people earn if they are cheating their way to success? As critical as this concern should be, it led me to reflect on the ‘cheating culture’ that flourishes in churches. Jesus had another word for it – hypocrisy, i.e. pretending to be religiously sincere and genuine. We look around and see many people claiming to be Christian and not taking very seriously the words of Jesus. So we begin to adopt a similar kind of haphazard approach to our spirituality. Or we begin to excuse our failure to live obediently – little lies, little thefts, little jealousies, little frauds, little lusts. The cumulative effect of these little sins is terribly corrosive. The Spirit’s voice becomes less authoritative and compelling. What of the effect of this creeping hypocrisy on those outside of the Kingdom? How damaging our religious cheating becomes to the credibility of the Good News of Jesus. If we claim to love one another, but fail to demonstrate this sincerely, what good is our claim? As James says, without works, our faith is dead. A sincere and genuine love for God and others lies at the root of our Christian experience. Spiritual leaders should consider whether they are contributing to religious cheating by not making clear Jesus’ standards, or by not modeling and urging obedient discipleship. If we can reduce academic cheating through education and the use of pledges of academic integrity, surely we can take similar action to reduce religious cheating. Checking on whether religious cheating is occurring and naming it, may be one of the most effective strategies. Accountability is part of kingdom living, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-20. The regular involvement of Christians in the Lord’s Table provides a singular opportunity to recalibrate our spiritual lives.

Checking assumptions about church

I have come to appreciate the fact that the writers of New Testament did not provide a definition of the church. There does not exist a transcultural form, liturgy or practice by which a church can be identified and classified. Instead we are given powerful metaphors such as the body of Christ, or the bride of Christ which prevents us from reducing the church to an agency, institution or organization. These metaphors stimulate our imagination to explore a myriad of communal expressions of the kingdom of God. Church exists through house churches, training institutions, mission agencies, orphanages as well as through traditional congregations, all living under God’s rule and revealing some aspect of what it means to be the body of Christ in this world. I found the following check-list taken from Postmodernity and the Emerging Church By Geoff Westlake in LausanneWorldPulse.com Feb 07 to be very helpful in challenging my assumptions concerning legitimate expressions of emerging and established churches:

  • Absence of singing does not equal absence of worship.
  • Absence of certain miracles does not mean they do not see God at work.
  • A focus beyond the assembly does not negate care within the assembly.
  • Absence of preaching does not equal absence of learning or of the ministry of the word.
  • Interactive learning does not equal theological shallowness.
  • Absence of traditional liturgy does not equal a piece-meal approach to God’s grand narrative.
  • Living with the people in the harvest does not equal syncretism.
  • Missiological flexibility does not equal theological looseness at the core.
  • Respect for individual autonomy does not equal individualistic formation.
  • Absence of tithing does not equal absence of stewardship.
  • Absence of external structures does not equal absence of internal structure.
  • Absence of denominational control does not equal absence of accountability.
  • Absence of big meetings does not mean the church is small.
  • Small does not equal ineffective.
  • Temporary does not equal ineffective.
  • Empowering others to initiate does not equal chaos.
  • One method or another does not equal righteousness.

Not Alone …

Over the last two years, through our Best Practices for Church Boards workshops, we have gathered together church leaders from all over the province. They’ve come from all directions: large churches – small churches, urban churches – rural churches. Last week, as we met with 5 churches in the Kootenays, I found my reflections moving beyond their differences to their commonalities: Is there anything specific that all church leaders share? Among the possible answers, there was one thing that stands out: Anxiety. All church leaders wrestle with anxiety. They worry about their church. They spend sleepless nights in agony over their church. In idle moments, they fret over their church. And, I wonder if there is a cure for their agony,. In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul delivers a charge to those who would lead that creates a perspective that serves as a cure. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with His own blood. [Acts 20:28]” The fact is, while leaders serve the church – God owns it. While there is a unique sense of diligence that is woven into the words “my church” the fact remains that it is “His church.” While that reminder may not cure the causes of anxiety, it does create a perspective for leadership health. Church leaders are not alone! If it’s true that they worry and fret and fear over the life of a congregation – how much more does God carry the concerns in His heart. Church leaders are not alone! If it’s true that they serve and give to the point of exhaustion – how much more is God able to do for what belongs to Him. I shared this thought with one of the leaders at the Best Practices workshop. I just wanted to see if it would make a difference. The reaction was immediate. It didn’t remove his problems or solve his issues – but it did make a difference. “I’m not alone … Someone else owns this venture, and I’ll work it out with Him.”

The Tomb of Jesus – Empty or Still Occupied?

Has all the hype surrounding the "documentary" film The Lost Tomb of Jesus caught you off guard? The film’s website proclaims, “An incredible archaeological discovery in Israel changes history and shocks the world.” Well, what about it? The website contains a "proviso" stating that they are not disputing the resurrection of Jesus. The film makers claim, “Even if Jesus were moved from one tomb to another, this does not negate the possibility that he was resurrected from the second tomb” and then add in relation to the ascension: “If Jesus’ mortal remains have indeed been found, this would contradict only the idea of a physical ascension. However, it says nothing against the possibility of a spiritual one nor does it dispute the idea of the Ascension.” The fact remains that, if it is true that Jesus’ bones are contained in an ossuary somewhere in present day Jerusalem, then Peter’s statement in Acts 2:22-24* "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." (emphasis added); and Paul’s declaration in Acts 13:34 "… God raised him from the dead, never to decay…", are nothing but empty lies! If, in fact, Jesus did not rise from the dead, victorious over sin and the curse, death and the grave, then in Paul’s words, we have believed in vain! But have we? What does the New Testament record tell us? Here is what Paul wrote to the church in the city of Corinth – countering the claims of some, who even in that day were disputing the possibility of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-25 – headings and emphasis added).

The Case: (1) Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. (2) By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. The Claim: (3) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, The Evidence: (5)and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. (6) After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (7) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, (8)and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. The Summary: (9) For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (10) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (11) Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. The Question: (12)But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? The Stakes: (13) If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. (14) And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (15) More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. (16) For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. (17) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. (19) If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. The Fact: (20) But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. The Theology: (21) For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. (22) For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (23) But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (24) Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (25) For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The apostle Paul continues in Acts 13:37 “… the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay” and in Romans 6:9-10 he declares, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Allow the import of the necessity of the bodily resurrection, ascension and imminent return of Jesus penetrate deeply into your soul. The New Testament is replete with eye-witness accounts and public declarations of the physical resurrection of Jesus. When the disciples first saw Jesus after the resurrection they wondered if he were a ghost. Jesus told them to both look at him and touch him to assure themselves that he was the flesh and blood Jesus – and if that were not enough he asked for some food to eat in their presence (Luke 24:36-43). Later when Thomas doubted, Jesus urged him to touch the very scars and believe (John 20:27). It was Jesus’ intention that his followers have full assurance that he was physically alive. Now listen to the words of the two men to the watching disciples on the morning of the Ascension, “ ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ ” (Acts 1:11) This same physically alive Jesus has promised to return and take us to be with him (John 14) Here is the hope we have; "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." (Romans 8:11) Let us rejoice together with all Christians everywhere that “He is risen indeed!” *All Scripture quotations are from the NIV Bible

Webpage reflections…

What began this morning as a casual conversation has become a reflection that I just have to put into words. The subject of Community came up as Dr. Perkins mentioned his wonder of what sort of unifying symbols we have as Canadians that express our shared identity. Even more, what sort of unifying symbols do we have as Christians that allow us to recognize each other in the Canadian community. An image immediately came to mind. Last week my son and I had a chance to see the Coyotes play the Calgary Flames in Phoenix. In the parking lot we witnessed probably the most common unifying symbol of Canadian identity as a crowd of fans – all wearing Flames jerseys – discovered each other in the parking lot. By the time we were in the stadium, it was obvious that the Canadian “community” had arrived as more and more Flames fans were attracted by the gravitational pull of the jerseys. I must confess, even though I was determined to protect my interest as a Vancouver fan to cheer for a Coyote win against the hated Flames, my son and I found ourselves drawn to the Canadian crowd behind the Calgary bench as we watched the pre-game warmup. If there were a unifying Canadian symbol, it would have to have something to do with Hockey. But what about a similar symbol for the Christian community. Again, an image came to mind. The hockey game was on Thursday. On Wednesday my son and I had tickets to see the Phoenix Suns play the Boston Celtics. Different arena, different sport … but as we bumped our way into the stadium, I noticed another symbol. There was a large number of people in the crowd with smudges on their foreheads … Ash Wednesday, don’t you know. I must confess, there was a part of me that wanted a smudge on my forehead if for any other reason to be able to sense, in the crowd, that I – too – was one "of them." I realize that it’s not very Baptist of me to say it, but there is something quite compelling about the power of ritual and deep symbol. Maybe it’s part of this yearning for a tangible sense of identity and community that has animated a revival of interest in the “new Evangelicals” as named by Robert Webber toward ritual and orthodoxy. Back to this morning. As I returned to my office, I read an article by Nathan Bierma in the Christianity Today daily newsletter, The Shape of Faith. It was a review of two books, both of them historical studies of the ancient Christian practice of the sign of the cross: The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andreopoulos, and The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer by Bert Ghezzi. Again, I confess that I was fascinated by the study. As Bierma writes, Protestants have traditionally dismissed the act as “a Catholic thing.” But, the fact is that it has roots much deeper into the early church and practice that extend beyond the Reformation. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther prescribed the practice because of the powerful potential for physical demonstration and the remembrance of deeper meanings. As Bierma writes, the faithful can treasure the multitude of meanings behind symbols. It is something that identifies community: the sign, as an act, small it may be, expresses the impetus of crossing the threshold between thinking in theological terms and practicing the Christian life. So, I linger on the question with a sense of wonder. How do we, as Baptists, create a sense of identity not just as a human community, but as members of a heavenly family?

Church and Culture

In a recent essay I wrote on the future of evangelical ecclesiology I came to the following conclusion regarding the need to engage the culture in a different way. “We need to “disestablish” and “disengage” ourselves today if we hope to bring anything meaningful from Evangelical ecclesiology to culture. “Until we have learned to distinguish the Gospel of the crucified one from the rhetorical values, pretensions, and pursuits of society, our churches will fail to detect, beneath the rhetoric of official optimism, the actual humanity that it is our Christian vocation to engage.” We must liberate ourselves from the conventions of cultural religion. We are not advocating an abandonment of culture, but a recognition that Christianity has a responsibility in culture, not to it. We are salt, light and yeast. We must re-discover the possibilities of ‘littleness.’”

The Value of the Locker Room

The locker room is an essential part of the culture of sport. It is an environment charged with team bonding, encouraging speeches and correcting rebukes, practical strategizing, the repair of both cuts and wounded egos, relief from the pressure of the game, the enjoyment of physical and mental refreshment, the adjustment and sharpening of equipment. It is important for the success of the team that it be kept clean and well organized. The atmosphere can cause a team to succeed or to fail. But what happens in the locker room is not the game. Neither the players nor the coach should be satisfied with good relationships in the locker room, even though only healthy cooperation will ensure success in the game. Both players and coach have a role to play on the field and it is the quality and function of the relationships on the field that guide the coach in shaping the activity in the locker room. The team is not judged on how they relate in the locker room, but how they perform in the heat of contest. The church organization – building, services, programs – is the locker room. The people are the players. Those in leadership play the role of the coach. The occupational hazard of the leadership is to engineer a clean, well-organized, enthusiastic locker room with excellent speeches explaining the rule book – and miss out on the essential aspect of coordinating the team’s effort to bring about gospel transformation. In the final analysis, the church will be judged not on the activity in the locker room, but on how they play the game of life, in the world.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

What’s In a Name?

A recent email from a colleague describes a decision made at his church regarding their Baptist identity. It begged a response and so I have followed this quote from the email with my own response. The email states as follows:

"We have stopped making reference to being "Baptist" for a few reasons. First, the denominational distinctives are often based on spurious biblical arguments which have nothing to do with the heart of the biblical theology. Thus, adding denominational qualifiers often disqualifies people who come from other labels. Secondly, we aspire to be a Christian, Bible based church, where people who seek to purse God under the authority of God’s Word can worship together without artificial barriers. Thirdly, our congregation at the present is made up of people from all Christian traditions like Baptists, Mennonites, Brethren, Pentecostals, Anglicans and others. We are a mosaic of Christians going well beyond Baptist distinctives. Thus, while there are many claims which make Christianity exclusive. Our name, while helping people to identify us and find us, should be as inclusive as we can make it without erecting unnecessary barriers and divisions. For accountability, and in order not to multiply the denominational fragmentation, we still remain a part of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada."

Now, this sounds to me like another effort at, "lets return to the pure form of the church" that gave rise to "Baptists" in the first place. At some point all churches have to establish a set of doctrines, even if one of them is, ‘we have no set doctrines.’ The moment they do that they will form a new denomination, of sorts. Call it the ‘non-denominational-non-doctrinaire church of Christ’ if you will but they will have to teach their beliefs, train others in them and then ensure structures are in place to continue the process. That is essentially what a denomination is. Every church has standards of membership. What are they going to say to people who want to retain the Baptist identity? "You no longer belong!?" Labels are inevitable because it is part of human nature. So they are deluding themselves if by denying their Baptist heritage they think they will succeed in alienating less people. That’s my belief anyhow!

Listening for the Tremors of Faith

I’m told that British Columbia, being part of the Pacific "ring of fire," has quite frequent earthquakes. Our province can experience as many as 30 or more quakes per month, which is pretty average. Of those quakes, five are magnitude three and only one is magnitude four. It’s a curiosity to me that I’ve only actually been aware of two or three of those quakes in my whole life. Maybe I’m not that sensitive. But there are seismologists who record every quake, determining its intensity and its focus and monitoring the many smaller aftershocks. I’m not that sensitive to the earth’s movements, but the earth’s movements are their whole job. Jesus listens for tremors of faith in people with infinitely more passion and commitment than any seismologist. When the woman plagued by a chronic bleeding problem touched Jesus’ clothes in faith as he was making his way through a jostling crowd, Jesus knew it immediately (Mark 5:24-34). The lesser motives of the crowd and their pawing were unremarkable to him. But the slight touch of faith stopped him in his tracks. He turned around to ask, "Who touched me?" …….. There was a second reason for his question. Jesus didn’t want for the woman to be an anonymous believer in him and, just as much, he didn’t want to be an anonymous Savior and helper to her. That’s why He called her openly to confess what had happened. As she did, Jesus declared, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." (v. 34) In all of the pushing and shoving of the crowds on the way to Capernaum that day Jesus was listening. In all of the activities in churches round the world Sunday by Sunday and in the world everywhere, Jesus is listening. This is a great encouragement to everyone-but especially to the beleaguered, the newcomer and the quite timid who reach out to him. Faith in him will effect transformation. But he does call for an open confession. Your faith in Jesus is the most important thing!

Put Weakness in its Place

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself at the center of a number of converging themes. As we’ve been preparing to meet with the churches in the Kootenays for the Best Practices for Church Boards Basic Workshop, I’ve noticed that a number of the congregations are eager to address strategic planning. At the same time, I am working to develop the Advanced edition of the Best Practices for Church Boards workshop to be held in June. The topic for that workshop was selected because of the high level of response from churches that have attended the basic workshop. I guess it’s no surprise that it, too, is focused on the role of the board in Vision Development and Strategic planning. A third stream along the same theme that captured my imagination came when I asked several church leaders what they hoped to accomplish in creating a strategic plan. Their answer was revealing: "we want to get rid of our weaknesses." That has always struck me as a good way to doom the process to a spirit of desperation. To start with a negative seems a good way to insure that things will go downhill from there. Which is why I was caught by an article that made its way through my newsletters this week. Tucked away in the Strategy and Vision resources of Building Christian Leaders is a tidy little article by Larry Osborne, "Unconventional Wisdom That Works: Doing Things Differently Can Pay Off." In it, he lists three principles to guide a healthy, intelligent planning process. At the top of the list he writes:

Ignore your weaknesses: The usual pattern for planning in churches goes something like this: size up the ministry, identify any major weaknesses, develop and implement a plan for removing them. Yet, this strategy is counterproductive: time spent worrying about weaknesses siphons away time and energy better spent on identifying and developing strengths. Instead of taking a creative and proactive approach, planning ends up defensive and reactive. The result is most often a mediocre program. Churches, like individuals, have been gifted and called to do some things uncommonly well – and other things not at all. [http://www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/vision-strategy/ articles/howto-030610.html] ……..

Some may react to the thought. It may sound unrealistic. After all, we can all list our weaknesses without any problem. Our strengths, however, may been hard to recognize. Even harder to own. But, they do exist, and if we were to humbly begin to build on them, we might just be able to have enough momentum to do something positive about our weaknesses.

Doing it ‘the Lord’s Way’

In a post-Super Bowl comment, winning coach Tony Dungy is quoted as saying, ".more than anything else, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American, but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord’s way." He doesn’t drink or rant and rave at his players or curse them. Such things are not necessary for good coaching. You can coach in the NFL using God’s values and still reach the top. The ability to control what you say reflects an attitude of heart, a personal discipline that is committed to goodness. Today, Northwest Baptist Seminary is launching a newly redesigned website. Our first desire is to promote thoughtful, godly discussion around key contemporary issues, seeking the Lord’s way in such matters to the best of our ability. Secondly, we want to provide useful resources that will help ministry leaders in churches and other Christian agencies fulfill their calling with excellence, doing things the Lord’s way. And thirdly, we want to demonstrate what it means to think Christianly, applying our minds to follow the Lord’s way. Doing things the Lord’s way is a discipline of learned obedience. Only when we know and understand the Lord’s way can we possibly discern its influence on and implications for our daily living. In his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) Jesus pressed his followers to live the Lord’s way. Wise people will listen to him, learn and respond; fools will hear, disregard him and crash. The Lord’s way begins by going through a ‘narrow gate’, the way of salvation as Jesus defined it, and follows a pressured road, but it leads to life. The Lord’s way is not popular or the way most frequently chosen. Jesus said there were few who would find it. But he also promised that if we truly seek it, God will disclose the way and enable us to find it. The Lord’s way provides ‘the salt’ and ‘the light’ that our world needs. Our prayer is that this website will be one way through which people might discern, discover and find life in the Lord’s way.

At the Origins of the Christian Claim – Luigi Giussani

Luigi Giussani, At the Origins of the Christian Claim Trans. V. Hewitt; Montreal & Kingston:  McGill-Queens University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-7735-1714-6 (Cloth): ISBN 0-7735-1627-1 (Paper)

In his “Religious Sense”, Luigi Giussani laid the foundations for a defense of the inherent religious impulse of the human that requires a totalizing answer to the “utmost questions” of human life and existence.  Giussani is now prepared to offer an initial answer to the question laid bare at the end of his first enterprise, namely, does the Christian God, understood as Father, provide the most reasonable solution to this human religious dilemma?  The answer lies, as the title suggests, At the Origins of the Christian Claim.

This second part of Giussani’s trilogy amounts to an investigation into how the ultimate questions of the earliest disciples were decisively answered by the totalizing message of Jesus Christ the risen Lord.  This was a conclusion at which they arrived simply because life “spurs reason to search for a solution.  Indeed reason’s very nature implies that a solution exists.” (Introduction, p. 9)  The “religious creativity of man” [sic], which is the “entire expression” of human imaginative efforts to “possess the mysterium tremendum” has left us with a “spectrum of hypothesis” regarding the “truth” of any one religion.  1)  Either we must know all religions in order to make a rational and dignified choice or; 2)  Know at least the major religions and risk the loss of any truth in minority religions.  3) Perhaps we should aim at a form of enlightenment syncretism which synthesizes the best of all religious truths or still; 4) Allow for the truthfulness of all religious on an empirical basis, requiring adherence to ones native religion only.  All of these options, which express our human imaginative attempts at grasping the divine, require us to posit a freedom on the part of the “mysterium tremendum” which transcends, interrupts and challenges our “religious imaginations”.  That is, human reason must be “confirmed by revelation”.  Reason cries out for it and launches itself toward this hypothesis, “which is so rational and so much part of our nature that, to some degree, it always emerges.” [p. 21]  This impulse toward revelation is inherent in our drive for knowledge, our need for mediators of knowledge, our experience of proximity to God, our common appeal to revelation, and our western appeal to the faith of Israel.  If there is a crime that can be leveled at this universal religious impulse, as conceived by culture today, it would be that of the claim to “exclusive truth.”  Yet, Christianity does just this.  For Giussani this is a claim that can only be justified or not, when we return to the “origins of the Christian claim.”

Considered on its own merits as a human construct, Christianity would certainly be wrong to make such a claim in the face of other religions.  If, however, we understand the Christian claim to be an expression of the “enigma” as a fact within the history of this human religious trajectory, then this fact must be regarded or examined on its own merits.  Were we to suppose that the enigma (mystery, God) became flesh then this “supposition would correspond to the need for revelation”.  To deny this would be irrational and contrary to the human religious sense.  Were this to be the case then could not Christianity prove to be “a more human synthesis, a more complete way of valuing the factors at play.” [p. 30]  Taken in this way the Christian claim is no longer an hypothesis but a problem that must be solved.  Announced as a fact of history, the Christian claim must be taken seriously as a problem to be solved, not as a “despotic irrational claim”.  It concerns a question of fact, i.e. incarnation, not opinion.

Given that Christianity, as a factual problem, has a history, the place to begin solving the problem is with an attuning to the singular event of Christianity, the Incarnation.  “The mystery chose to enter the history of man through a life story identical to that of any other man.”  As imperceptible as this divine entry into time was in terms of recorded history, nevertheless history records a certainty on the part of the disciples of having found the Messiah.  The imperceptible became perceptible as a conviction among a few which produced a “profound certainty over time.”  If one follows faithfully the “itinerary” of their conviction one comes to the certainty that this incomparably great man of power and goodness was a master to be followed in freedom as the Messiah, indeed as the forgiving one whose new ethic inaugurates a new kingdom.

So the origin of the problem as a fact of history lies not so much in the event itself as in the “perceptive experience of the earliest disciples” and their careful formulation of the primitive “Christology” or Messianism.  While the event is a mystery, almost imperceptible, the conviction is the fulfillment of humanities deepest longings, needs and questions.  It was, as such, a totalizing event.

But Giussani is not satisfied to lay all the weight of the exclusive claims of Christianity on the basis of the experience of the earliest disciples.  He takes great pains to point out that Christ himself, through a “slow pedagogy”, taught his disciples to think of him as “God”.  Jesus’ claim is simply a fact that lays bare “the basic position of the human heart – whether closed or open – to the mystery of being.” [p. 79]  As such the Christian problem is resolved in the same terms in which it presents itself:  “either we are dealing with madness or this man, who says he is God, really is God.” [p. 79]  Our free decision to penetrate this mystery “is a decision with hidden roots bound to our attitude to reality as a whole.”  It is that “supreme something” which sees Jesus as the ultimate good and worth our free commitment.

To understand this Christian claim we must be educated into “Christ’s conception of life” which is an education in “morality for understanding”.  What is at stake is the “correspondence of human existence as a whole to the form of Christ.” [p. 83]  Jesus own outlook on the value of humanity, dependence on the Divine, self existence, sin and human freedom answers the ultimate questions about these core human realities in a definitive way.  “Following Christ (faith) thus generates a characteristic existential attitude by which man walks upright and untiring towards a destination not yet reached although sure (hope).” [p. 83]  Thus, the event of the Incarnation, as mystery, is an “ethical urgency”, and an “education to the ideal”.  It was “an extra ordinary historical reality” in which Jesus moved his disciples from “awe to conviction” because the answers he gave to the questions of ultimate concern convinced them that he was the “God-man”.  The greatest task of Christianity is to announce, with the same conviction that was present “at the origins of the Christian claim”, that Jesus of Nazareth is God.  Furthermore;

“The task of the Christian is not only the greatest, but also the most tremendous in history because it is destined to provoke unreasonable reactions; yet it is supremely reasonable to face and to verify an hypothesis on its own terms, and here is precisely an event which happened in history.”

This task is the reason for the Church’s existence, from which place the message will be proclaimed and worked out in society.

Some Reflections

Once again Giussani has surprised us with his unique ability to combine profound concepts with a well illustrated and very readable style.  As with The Religious Sense, one has the feeling of not being in the classroom but rather sitting by the fire listening to the sage expound on the most important events in life with story, poem and prose.  Catholics, whether clergy or laity, should embrace this almost folksy rendition of contemporary Catholic Christianity with enthusiasm and a desire to go deeper with Giussani.  Though this work is shorter and less detailed than the previous volume, The Religious Sense, it is no less a serious call to reconsider the Incarnation as a natural, historical event that gave rise to an historical consciousness of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Similar treatments in the history of Christian theology from Schleiermacher to Schillebeeckx have taken many more pages and done it less justice than Giussani’s brevity.  As with the previous volume, this one will have to be reckoned with by Protestants and Catholics alike; whether scholar, clergy or lay person.  It will be intriguing to see how such a religious sense is worked out in the Church, the bearer of the historical claim to answers of ultimate concern.

A serious question remains, however.  Despite his brevity, clarity and intellectual power, Giussani has still failed to answer the question of the relationship between revelation and experience.  The Incarnation as event is almost eclipsed by the disciples experience of it.  The attempt to uncover the “religious sense” of today will always be a dubious exercise because of the gulf between our time and theirs.  Without a clear starting point in revelation as the event of the Word of God, we are left with only a surmising of how that event affected the first followers.  Their experience must be secondary to the event and not constitutive of it.  Giussani needs to be clear on this.

When Emerging Leaders Go BOOM!

Over the last three years as I’ve been seeking to create instruments to empower home-grown leaders, I’ve noticed that the greatest personal interest being shown comes from people of a certain age. Let me share an example: “I am an engineer, 50 years old, chair of our church board … my wife and I have been praying about our future plans to devote ourselves to full-time ministry in the next 5 years.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to discover a cultural phenomenon that is creating a huge impact in the church – the Baby-Boomer generation in transition. Over the last month, it has not been hard to collect a significant amount of research. This movement has been tracked by researchers for over a decade.  Consider a few of the details:

  • 1 baby boomer retires every 7 seconds in the US.
  • Baby Boomers [those born after WWII through early 1960’s] make up 25% of the total population of North America.
  • Baby Boomers in the US number 82 million. In 2001, the leading edge of this group turned 55.
  • Financial planners have recorded a significant shift in retirement planning indicating a significant rise in early-retirement, and active retirement.
  • Baby Boomers have the highest volunteer participation rate of any demographic group.
  • There are 12 million self-described Evangelical Christian baby boomers according to the Wall Street Journal.

The age wave is beginning to break over society with surprising impact. While Boomers have been sometimes branded as the most selfish generation, there is evidence that as they age they are proving to be much different. A study from the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2005 revealed that Boomers are not only more active in volunteer participation, but fully expect to extend their volunteer commitments to more mature – even career – levels.

This surge is being felt in a number of arenas. It has created an impact in the world of missions. In late 2005, Wycliffe Bible Translators built a volunteer mobilization center in Orlando, Florida in an attempt to keep up with their largest sector of missionary growth. Since the year 2000, Wycliffe has experienced an average of 40% annual increase in the number of “Boomer Missionaries.” Martin Huyett, Wycliffe’s vice-president for volunteer services explained, “these people have a certain amount of freedom and control … they want to do something significant, not just write checks.”

Along with Wycliffe, many mission organizations have begun to realize the value of the Boomer generation as the most healthy, well-financed, and highly educated retirement generation in history. According to Martin Huyett, “today’s 60-year-old is mature and needs far less training in living skills than his or her younger counterparts … a person in his or her 50’s and above has triumphed through their productive years and has built-in strategies for success.”

One organization, The Finisher’s Project, was founded by Nelson Malwitz as a way to match Boomers with the growing list of ministry opportunities provided by Mission agencies. Currently, the Finisher’s Project is working with 100 organizations, has placed over 1,000 people in full-time missions, has 1,000 people in process, and has an additional 1,200 people expressing their intention to make a transition in the next 2 years. Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity said, “Most mission agencies are trying to work with this trend … that 20 years ago was unwelcome.”

Engaging “seniors” [according to Win Arn, Boomers prefer the title “middle adults”] in ministry may have been “unwelcome” 20 years ago. Now, they appear to be absolutely crucial to the life of the church. Jim Hughes, professor of Aging at Abilene Christian University, has questioned several conventional thoughts that may stand in the way of propelling Boomers into service. One has been the emphasis on youth ministry – with the conventional wisdom being that youth are the most open to faith commitments. Considering the level of interest in “significance studies” reflected in books like Bob Buford’s Half-Time, older adults are proving to be extremely responsive to issues of faith.

Another idea is that age, for older people, equals inertia. The reality of the Boomer generation is that there is an eagerness for change. Life passages such as retirement, the “empty nest” syndrome, are no longer viewed as debilitating. Instead, Boomers are proving to value mobility and the freedom to pursue creative options. Nelson Malwitz of the Finishers Project described this attitude: “as you hit 50, you no longer count your years from the time you were born, but you count the amount of time you have left. The BIG idea [of the Boomers] has to do with finishing well.” Backing up his comments, a survey sponsored by the Finishers Project among 600 evangelical Boomers reported that 61% are planning to retire early [as soon as possible as no later than 65] and pursue a second career. 54% said that they would consider a second career in missions. 81% expect to be able to pursue this service together with their spouse. 

As I reflect on the growing body of statistics generated by the explosion of the Boomer generation, I find myself almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of implications. Apart from the fact that many of them are intensely personal [since I, too, am a Boomer] each seem to have a consequence for the future of the church. Let me share three quick discoveries:

1. The Boomers are ready – use them or lose them: Jim Hughes of the Abilene Christian University writes, “many churches look to younger people to fill significant roles, leaving older adults to trivial tasks.” Many Boomer post-retirement plans are being built around significance, mission, and impact. With their proven record of life-skills and initiative, if their Church won’t match their intentions in a serious fashion, they will find other avenues to influence their world.

2. The Boomers are capable – adapt and enjoy: One of the things I have noticed as I’ve sought to empower emerging leaders is that very few of them have aspirations for what the church would consider conventional ministry. Very few 50 year olds are eager to become Senior Pastors. Instead, one of the reasons that they are considering a more mature level of ministry is that God has stimulated a burden in their hearts for specific ministries – some of which are unique and exceptional. Todd Johnson, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary reports that the Boomers are more interested in being active than just giving money. They have a passion to “start NGO’s, orphanages, business centers, health clinics, all at local levels.”  Churches that strategically empower Boomers are discovering themselves suddenly engaged in ministries beyond their imagining.

3. The Boomers are passionate – put them at the nozzle: I discovered one subtle, but profound, comment that revealed the Boomer attitude. Their vocabulary reflects a difference in generational attitude. When it came to management and administration, Boomer’s parents would frequently use the word “delegate.” On the other hand, when Boomers speak of management and administration, they more frequently use the word “empower.” The difference between the two words reveals, I think, the key to mobilizing this generation in the local church. Since they already possess a history of initiative and responsibility, when it comes to initiating Boomer ministries – they should be set free to identify the target and aim the flow of ministry.

Those are just three quick, off the cuff reflections. You may have more – and I’d love to hear them. Better yet, maybe your church should hear them too.

Sources: Articles:

“Retirement: Retirees May Become Ministry Cutting Edge”, Andy Butcher, Christianity Today Online, 16 June 1997  [http://ctlibrary.com/1140]

“A Boom for Missions” John Kennedy, Christianity Today Online, February 2007 [www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/February/18.20html]

“Boomers: The New Wave of Volunteer Missionaries” Alex Coffin, Christian Newswire, 14 November 2007 [www.christiannewswire.com/new/356371502.html]

“Issue Brief: Baby Boomers and Volunteering: An Analysis of the Current Population Survey”, Corporation for National and Community Service, December, 2005 [www.nationalservice.gov]

Books:

FutureThink: How To Think Clearly In A Time Of Change, Edie Weiner and Arnold Brown, Pearson Prentice Hall, Toronto, 2006.

Organizations:

Finishers Project: www.finishers.org

The Power of Empowerment

I am always fascinated by those who study trends and are able to discern the shape of the future. Their findings often allow me to see things I have not noticed before and to pay attention to things that matter most.  I had that experience recently as I was browsing through one such study, Megashift by James Rutz [Empowerment Press, 2005.] While I tend to be a bit skeptical of raw, global statistics, I was surprised to read his report that: in 1960, there were 24 nonbelievers for every believer in the world. Now there are only 6.

Now, I am not sure how to verify those statistics [especially when I weighed them against other claims made in Megashift], but it did cause me to look beyond the Canadian border. There has been some limited growth reported in North America. Reginald Bibby recently reported of encouraging signs in Canada,. But our experience hardly sets the global lead. However, it’s true that there are significant pockets outside North America that are experiencing phenomenal growth. Wherever it may occur, that growth has set the stage for a trend – a Megashift – that is affecting the face of leadership in the Church.

"Empowerment," Rutz writes, ".empowerment of what used to be called "the laity" is the greatest paradigm-shattering event since the rise of the priesthood class in the second century. What we are seeing today is the greatest mega shift in the history of the church: a transfer of momentum from the steady hands of the leaders to the fleet feet of the followers. Empowerment of non-professional Christians is . rapidly revising Christianity."

That is certainly reflected in the rapid-growth areas of the world. Talking with missionaries, whether from the Philippines or Columbia or Nigeria, I’ve detected a common theme. Growth has required empowerment. Often the needs of ministry are filled by laity regardless of training or certification. Ministry happens, and in the words of Larry the Cable-guy, men and women of God "get up and get ‘er done."

The idea of empowerment, however, is not as simple as it may sound. One of the best books on the subject appeared in 1996, written by Ken Blanchard of the "One-Minute Manager" fame. Like many, I had read a number of his "One-Minute" books: The One-Minute Manager, Leadership and the One-Minute Manager.The One-Minute Manager meets the Monkey." The title of his book in 1996, now reissued and updated, was a message in and of itself:Empowerment Takes More Than A Minute [Barrett-Koehler, 2001.]

As I reflect on my life in ministry, and my experiences with congregations, I have to admit, empowerment is not necessarily easy. The "paradigm-shift" is a challenge to familiar structures, roles and responsibilities. The idea of empowerment is as much a mentality as it is a method.

Over the last three years as I’ve been focused on creating initiatives that would enable congregations to develop emerging leaders from within. At the heart of leadership development lies the spirit of empowerment. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve come to some conclusions that are both Biblical . and obvious . that define empowerment:

Conclusion 1: Empowerment recognizes the inherent giftedness of God’s people. One word that could describe a more conventional form of ministry management would be Delegation. The difference between the two is that delegation is about giving power to people. Empowerment is about releasing the power that already exists in people – and getting out of their way.

In Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 the source of power behind empowerment is the Holy Spirit. If one of the tenants of our faith is based on the "priesthood of all believers" it would seem reasonable to assume that God’s people are invested with knowledge, experience and power that awaits release. The mentality of empowerment begins when we look at each other through God’s eyes and realize that we are able.

Conclusion 2: Empowerment requires honest, candid communication. The first of three principles presented by Ken Blanchard is that for empowerment to occur is that Information must be shared by everyone. For whatever reason, it seems that there is a hesitation to risk free speech.

Bob Nelson [of FirstMoves.com] wrote that "traditionally, managers have been reluctant to share financial information." Yet there is truth to the principle that "while people without information cannot act – people with information cannot help but act."

Conclusion 3: Empowerment honors people by wedding authority with responsibility. Blanchard calls itautonomy within boundaries. General George Patton was a bit more blunt in saying "never tell people how to do things.tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

Conversely, people who willingly accept responsibility but are prevented from making decisions or executing actions because they lack the authority become quickly and sometimes deeply demoralized.

Conclusion 4: Empowerment produces partnership. The third principle of empowerment presented by Blanchard is that old hierarchies are softened and replaced by energetic teams though empowerment. We often take a certain level of pride in the term "servant leadership." Empowerment actually turns the term into a reality. Again, Bob Nelson concludes that the structure of an empowered organization experiences a 180o shift . from being a triangle with bosses at the top with people working beneath, to become a triangle with the employees on top and leaders at the bottom working for them..

Final Conclusion: any congregation that aspires to become an environment where people grow and leaders emerge must learn the lessons of empowerment . 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. Ephesians 4:12-13.

The Leadership Body

Consider the following episode. In an effort to start a small-group ministry, one church encountered a familiar problem: identifying small group leaders. Inspired by an example, the pastor invited everyone interested in small-groups to a dessert evening. As people arrived, they were seated around tables in small groups. They were each given a very simple piece of paper: a Bible verse, followed by a few questions … and instructed to “have at it…”

After about an hour of conversation, the pastor called the room to attention. Thinking that they were going to have a chance to share their insights, everyone was surprised when the pastor said, “Now, could I ask you to please put your papers and Bibles aside. I really hope you enjoyed your study, but I invited you here this evening for a different reason. Could I now ask you to do one thing as a group. At the count of three would you please, all of you, point to the leader in your group… one, two, three…”

The results were stunning, In every circle the fingers were all pointed in the same direction. While the people began to laugh, the pastor quickly added, “Now please keep your fingers pointed at your leaders while we take down names.” That night, the leaders were revealed.

Over the last few years as I’ve focused on leadership studies, I’ve come to the conclusion that leadership isn’t so much about leaders – but about community. At last count, I have reviewed 12 different instruments used to identify leaders – “Psychometric tools” like the DISC profile, Ministry Match, Spiritual Gift Profile, MMPI-2… They all provide a measure of insight into the types of personal strengths and weaknesses that pave the developmental pathway for an emerging leader. But, according to the pattern of Spiritual leadership, I have to believe that they only reveal a narrow band of discernment.

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to identify leaders according to character traits, and I have to believe that such traits were detected by the community. When it came time for Titus to appoint elders in Crete, my imagination pictures the scene. Titus joins the Christians of the village at their weekly meal, and then stands before them. “Brothers and Sisters, I now ask you to do one thing as a group. At the count of three, would you please, all of you, point to the person who is blameless, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain…the one who is hospitable, who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined…who holds firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, is able to encourage others by sound doctrine and able to refute others who oppose it [Titus 1:7-9] Got that? Okay, one…two…three! All that was left to do was to take down the name of the new “overseer.”

Again, I have to think that when it comes to leadership it’s not so much about leaders…as it is about community.

Leith Anderson argues that spiritual leadership is more about “the matrix of followers.” Peter Senge expands that thought by saying that “we are coming to believe that leaders are those who “walk ahead” people who are genuinely committed to deep change in themselves and in their organizations. They lead through developing new skills, capabilities, and understandings – and they come from many places within the organization.” Combining those comments, Warren Bennis writes that “we…move into an era in which leadership is an organizational capability and not an individual characteristic that a few individuals at the top of the organization have.” [Taken from Leadership Next by Eddie Gibbs, IVP, 2005]

In essence, the discoveries turn the attention back to the church where leadership is not so much about leaders … as it is about community.

As I’ve continued studying leadership development, I’ve drawn some conclusions based on this discovery:

  1. While it may be true that a good leader can build a healthy congregation, it is almost certainly true that a healthy congregation will give birth to good leaders.
  2. While it may be true that a good leader can build a healthy congregation, it is equally true that an unhealthy congregation can damage a good leader.
  3. It is certainly true that a healthy congregation in which all members: find personal significance in intentional relationships, develop to their full spiritual potential, and are able to weave their distinct contributions into the fabric of fellowship – continually produce great leaders.

The balance of concern in leadership development rests squarely on the quality of the congregation. Over this last year, we produced the course: Heart for Ministry as the first course in an initiative to provide a process for emerging leaders to be trained toward mature ministry. Within the month, I hope to build on this initiative with an announcement of a diploma program for emerging leaders. It is momentous initiative … but will only have limited value if it isn’t coupled with initiatives that make leadership not just about the leader … but about the community. The concern expressed by Fellowship Baptist churches … by your church … concerning leaders needs to be addressed with questions about community.

In the next issue of Leadership Connections, I intend to present news about a new diploma program AND an instrument for Church leaders shaped by the retreat in May: Best Practices for a Church Leadership Culture.

The Good to Great Church

In 2001, Jim Collins produced the book Good to Great. His book was drawn from the world of business and intended to answer the question "Can a good company become a great company and if so, how?" The fact is that some companies have continuing, sustained growth in comparison to similar companies in the very same field. This factor captivated Jim Collin’s imagination. “Why are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? What are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?

Good to Great has become a defining management study beyond the world of business. It didn’t take long for people to discover that the key discoveries had a direct application to Church life. As an example, the first discovery that they made was that a “great institution” was built upon a unique sort of leader – the Level 5 leader – marked by a blend of two distinctive traits: personal humility and utter persistence. It’s not hard to read the description of a Level-5 leader and see the epitome of a servant leader. As Jim Collins writes: Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.

In researching Christian Leadership Studies, I have encountered a number of presentations drawn around the outline of discoveries presented in Good to Great. It’s no surprise that in the five years since the publication of his book, Jim Collins was to pick up on that similar discovery. As expected, his study produced a significant number of invitations to address leaders in business – at conventions, in board rooms. What came as a surprise was the sheer volume of interest he received from what he calls “the social sectors”… in particular, the Church. Most notably, he was invited to participate as a speaker at the Willowcreek Leadership Conference. What he discovered was that while he was generally categorized as a business author, over a third of his readers came from the non-profit sector.

This interest intrigued him and prompted him to look beyond business and into the world of “the social sector.” What he discovered was that within the social sector [read: the Church] exists the possibility of true greatness. Simply stated, he discovered that “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

That statement is made in his latest writings, an appendix to the book: Good to Great … and the Social Sectors. He begins his monograph with a statement that may bring a smile to many: We must reject the idea – well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses – like most of anything else in life – fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great … why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors?

While his study heads in a different direction, what he discovered touches on the truth. There is a resource of motivation that runs deeper in the Church than it does in the world of business. It is in the enterprise of ministry that people go beyond product lines, production quotas, and the accumulation of net worth. It is in the Church where work is worship, and service is substantial. It is through ministry where people activate the new creature that is coming [II Corinthians 5:17] It is in the “business” of ministry that Gifts are expressed, passions discovered, purpose defined, and God is honored. And, it is through the labor of ministry that eternal transactions are made, and the “product” endures forever. At least that’s what it could be, should be, and would be if we employ another discovery.

As Collins reflected on the difference between “the good and the great” he uncovered a critical element, a culture of discipline created by conscious choice. He called it a relentless culture of discipline – disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action. Greatness comes from a culture that transcends business practices, and one that is created by the conscious, deliberate choice made by people of conviction.

Over the last several months, I have been doing research to prepare for the Convention Workshop: Best Practices for Leadership Culture Churches … and the Pursuing God’s Heart Workshop expanding the same issue. Over the last year it has become evident that Churches struggle with leadership development. Among the churches that have participated in the Best Practices for Church Boards, Leadership Development was the third most common issue identified as a critical concern.

As Churches seek to unlock the potential for greatness that God has invested in His people, this element of discipline becomes the key. Certain words keep appearing as Churches with a healthy leadership culture. Words like: Conscious – well-understood, commonly acknowledged values; Deliberate – well-planned, well-resourced processes; and Intentional – focused commitments. When disciplined people are galvanized by disciplined thought – it produces disciplined actions – that’s not just the theory described by Good to Great. It’s a pattern designed by God where People who are Disciples are galvanized by the teachings of Discipleship which produce a world inhabited by more Disciples. After all, isn’t that the definition of the Church’s mission: Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit., and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you… [Matthew 28:19-20] The big questions: How well is the Church taping into this well of greatness? How intentional is your Church in creating deliberate processes to empower Disciples? How conscious and aware are the people of the processes designed within the Church that would allow them to go as far as God leads them? Churches with a healthy culture of leadership development are churches aimed toward something great.

Intentionality – The Key Ingredient

In the process of researching leadership development programs, I’ve discovered that one word keeps appearing. In Building Leaders, Aubrey Malphurs defines the term “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 [p. 23].  In Leadership Baton, the creators of the Center for Church-Based Training describe an intentional process of Discipleship Training and Leadership Development [title.] In The Equipping Church, Sue Mallory talks about the equipping culture of a church as having systems that intentionally change lives [p. 51.]

Intention…Intention…Intention… It’s the critical ingredient that breathes life into ministry. It’s what takes inert programs and fills them with purpose and meaning.

When I first started as the director of the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, a number of wise advisors warned me: Lyle, whatever you do…whatever you do…don’t fixate on program. Make sure you understand process. Don’t obsess on curriculum. Make sure you grasp the plan first and foremost. Great advice! Wise counsel!

Too often, in ministry, the pressures of the moment demand an swift, effective, and urgent response. I have to confess the tendency to look for products that work without asking the question “why.”

With the warning, my advisors provided a word of assurance: Lyle, when you understand the appropriate process that connects what God wants, how God’s people are designed and how the Fellowship Baptist systems work…then finding curriculum won’t be a problem.  It’s true. Over the years, I’ve been exposed to over 50 programs for leadership development, seen more books on leadership development than I can read, and discovered a world full of glossy courses and classes. The easy thing for anyone in church leadership would be to simply open a checkbook and start buying.

But, that just fulfills an old Chinese proverb: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Intention…Intention…Intention. I can’t read the Bible without realizing how important that word is to God. He created the world by design. He created humans for a purpose. He guides lives with a will. He fills life with meaning. He conducts Himself according to Intentions…and it’s no surprise that He would expect the same from us.

I love the way Phillips translates God’s command in Ephesians 5:15: Live life with a due sense of responsibility, not as those who do not know the meaning of life…but as those who do!

Every step taken toward Spiritual Maturity has to be “on purpose. Becoming a believer is an intentional act: if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.. Romans 10:9. Forming Spiritual disciplines is an intentional process: …make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded… Matthew 28:18-20. Learning to serve demands intentions: …each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…I Peter 4:10.

In Ephesians 4, Paul speaks of Leadership Development as process intended to prepare God’s people for works of service. It’s not hard to look at leadership development and expect it to be guided by required learning objectives and measured ministry experience. But, the fact is, that’s not where Intentions begin…it’s where they continue.

Over the next few months, I will be producing a number of initiatives from the Centre. After working with a design team representing 11 churches over the winter, I will be circulating the first template of a template for an in-church certificate in Christian Ministry: The Next Step. In April at the Convention, and then in May in a Centre-sponsored workshop, I will be initiating a leadership conversation network with church leaders. As I prepare for each initiative, I am duty-bound to focus on process first…and an intentional process at that.

I’ve discovered that the churches who provide the very best environment for leaders to grow are churches who don’t wait until it’s time to train leaders. That’s not where their intentions begin…it’s where they continue. In fact, the churches who have become the best culture to raise leaders are those who have made every step of discipleship a clearly understood path of purpose and meaning.

Turning the Chinese proverb around, they are churches who “know where they are going, and pave a road to get there!”

The Spiritual Dimensions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Grown Ministers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECT:

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

New trends in leadership development

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

New generation takes a new career path.

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

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

The "homegrown" factor.

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

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

Key principles that God uses to get our attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is “Training Leaders”?

Over the last year, I’ve quickly discovered that leadership training has become something close to an obsession for this decade. In September, 2001, the Alban Institute published a special report: The Leadership Situation Facing American Congregations. This report identified 3 major crises facing the North American Church – two of which addressed issues of leadership development. The first was the general shortage of ministers available to the church. In essence, the annual attrition rate of pastoral leaders was beginning to exceed the replenishment rate leaving the church with either a declining or static rate of available ministers. The second crisis was related to the first. It identified the "burnout statistics," a crisis of concern for the quality and health of those in ministry.

Along with those finding, I discovered a number of dynamics that were beginning to emerge as a response to this "leadership crisis." One of the most telling was the emergence of "homegrown" ministers. According to the Rainer Report, in 1994, 4% of people in ministry were "homegrown." In other words, these were people whose service had proven so valuable to their local congregation that they were being employed as staff ministers. In 1999, that number had doubled to 8% . Estimates now indicate that by 2010, over 30% of ministers will have been "homegrown."

The combined impact of these findings can be seen in the tools being produced to train leaders. Over the year, I reviewed 45 different programs designed to train leaders. Some, from church and denominational efforts.others by separate professional agencies. 45 programs.and there even more to be discovered. The effort is there and the resources are being developed. But behind the scenes, several critical questions have to be raised:

What does it mean to be a "leader"? How does this training relate to followership and servanthood? Does this training recognize the process of spiritual development? Does it define ministry as a natural expression of mature discipleship?

Where is the emphasis of training focused? Is it to produce leaders who are able to do ministry – or on leaders who are able to be ministers? Or does that really matter?

What does this training mean to church when it comes to roles in leadership? Does it relate to a sense of "higher calling" and is there a sense of place and respect for those who would be called as ministers?

What are the critical elements that are required for training? Is there a healthy interaction between the individual and the community? Is there a forum required for deeper reflection? Are there relationships of mentoring and accountability and affirmation built into the process? Are important relationships – spousal impact – addressed through the process?

What culture does the program identify as the necessary environment for the leader to grow? Does this reflect God’s choice for the ecology of leadership development? I ponder these questions as we begin to build a foundation for a leadership model.