Posts Categorized as: church leadership
Caveat: This is a complicated post and might be boring to some readers…. fair warning.
It can be discouraging times for a Bible-believing Christian if you look around at all. The Charleston massacre, racism, the vitriol about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner’s issues, the decision by SCOTUS on gay marriage, the Pope and ISIS. If you are like me, you might be wondering, “how in the world will we ever be a nation that pleases God?” If you look around a little further, you’ll see the church at odds with itself. Facebook abounds with lazy, ad hominem attacks on why the church has failed (x) demographic and how it has missed (x) teaching of Jesus. I have some smart Christian friends who are avidly anti-gun and other smart Christians who are equally pro-second-amendment. Even the Christians who are trying to do some good tend to take shots at each other regarding justice, poverty, loving your neighbor etc. And, if you’re like most people, this discussion goes at the national or regional level even if you have never met the people involved, or researched the issue at hand. We have, at times, become a church at the mercy of the media. The only vetted purveyors of truth are those self-proclaimed prophets with the fastest internet or the shrillest voices.
Now, in all fairness, this is nothing new in principle. Gossip, rumor, personal attacks and intentional misinformation have been around since the dawn of mankind (e.g. Adam and Eve’s deflection of blame in the Garden). Empires, both old and new, have used these techniques. Mussolini’s first weapon was the newspaper he owned; Hitler had Goebbels. And, while the press has also been a force for truth, freedom and democracy, the issue here is that we have a new platform (internet and social media) but the dangers involved are the same. The biggest change with the new platform?—no editors and no pushback. Anyone can throw out anything they want and escalate things as fast as they like. Passions flare, calls to action abound and clear thinking becomes difficult.
This tends to create camps, groups, and labels. Negative attribution begins to thrive and we start developing a strong sense of who our enemies are. A former student of mine has announced that he’s become “a champion of justice and a defender of gay rights.” according to a social media post. Regardless of your beliefs on gay rights, this person has set up everyone who is not on his side as an enemy. Against whom is he actually fighting? We have turned into a society that demands that you endorse our opinions and feelings. If you don’t, you’re a bigot and,…well, you better watch out because my righteous team is against your evil team. This kind of emotional pain makes us myopic. Our own pain (real, imagined or borrowed) makes us stop thinking about anything other than our wounds. Our “camp” becomes our form of communal sharing of pain. And, when we feel our camp might be threatened, we all tend to get defensive and a little aggressive.
What pathway do we take to find hope for ourselves and assist in healing? How do we engage the suffering we see around us, actually love our enemy (esp if we’ve never met them personally) and do good work in the world today? How do we address racism and white privilege without separating into camps? How do we love the gay community and still pursue holiness? Who can show us how to address poverty, terrorism, domestic violence and hyper-capitalism?
John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (NASB95). Grace and truth—here is our secret and hope.
Some of us err on the side of grace—we say that there is no room for the church to judge anyone, ever. If we’re not careful, sentimentality becomes our new standard. Statements like “love has no labels” creep into our dialogue. Feelings tend to become the indicators of rightness and anything that hurts emotionally becomes the work of the evil one. We can also err on the side of truth and simply let broken people go on their way and smugly judge them. We fight hard to address things as they really are (e.g. love really actually does have labels) and then let the bodies fall where they may. Over the last few years as a teacher, leader and pastor, I have seen most of my students gravitate toward one side or the other. It is very difficult to walk in both grace and truth. It’s a very, very messy pathway. But I’d like to suggest that the grace-and-truth-way gives us several forms of leverage for the world we live in.
- Canceling Revenge: Grace, together with truth stops the revenge cycle. Here’s what I mean—It’s easy to say “you should forgive” if you’re not the one who feels hurt. This is part of the issue of the racism arguments. Truth calls out the evil, the sin, the injustice and takes the brokenness out into the sunlight where we have to address it. However, left by itself, the truth demands action—usually punitive. Our problem is that we all tend to think that we are the judge of what equality should look like. Grace allows us to let God be the judge. We get the chance to forgive, to extend to others the grace that was extended to us. Grace without truth in this situation is a terrible option…we expect people to “get over it” and just decide they shouldn’t be hurt anymore. This just escalates the hurt and the sense of injustice. Grace and truth together give us the chance to address the “Stockdale Paradox”* and still choose to not be chained to revenge. Only then can we move forward. Grace accepts the true debt owed and then cancels it; there is no more need for revenge.
- Thinking Clearly: The combination of Grace and Truth helps us to stop and think a bit. Revenge will scream at us but truth tends to whisper. Allowing ourselves to step back from the issue and think a bit gives us a chance to practice Covey’s habit of “seeking first to understand…” Proverbs 18:17 is applicable here. There are two sides to every issue (or more) and truth helps us see clearly what’s going on while Grace allows us to resist judging motives or intentions. When we stop for even a moment, we can start to see that there are more opinions than just ours. This helps us not be afraid. The Gospel turned Rome upside down and has flourished in far worse civilizations. When we think clearly, we see that God is still in control and we have to pay attention to him.
- Humility: This awareness of the power and sovereignty of God allows us to genuinely manifest humility. We all tend to think we’re geniuses and prophets. Everyone seems to think the answers are obvious. But grace and truth allows us to partially remove our biases, address our weakness and ignorance (and we are all of us, very ignorant indeed) and see that we are both part of the problem and part of the healing. Very few people belong to actual hate groups. Most of us are just weak and afraid. When we humbly admit our fears as well as our bias, we can look for truth, through a lens of love for others that cannot come outside of Jesus. Truth tells us that we are not the judges or creators; we are derived from the One who can see all things. Grace shows us that while we are limited, we are loved and cared for. That’s what humility looks like.
- Courage: When God told Jesus “no” in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was forced to trust God through the worst things imaginable. He was forced to walk through the hatred and violence. He had to trust that God the Father was going to repay him (Heb 12:2). He was an example of suffering unjustly (I Peter 2:21) that we can follow. Trust in God starts with picking up your cross…your death to self. This has never been easy and will not get easy until we have practiced it over and over (Luke 9:23). Courage comes from knowing what really is happening and realizing we can love the messy people around us anyway. And, when action is finally required, we know that grace and truth accompany us as we go.
Grace and truth is what came through Jesus into this world. Law was the option before Jesus and most people are still trying to live by law…only they set themselves or their “community” up as the arbiters of that law. Woe unto those who break their law…
If you would live a life of both Grace and Truth, there are a couple of suggestions I have that might be of help.
First, read a chapter of Proverbs every day and try to think clearly about what’s going on in the text. You’ll begin to see parallels immediately in the culture around you and this will give you a rubric to think more clearly about our issues. I’m not kidding about this one… if you want to think well, you need a teacher. Start here.
Second, take a season and stop listening to social media about the issues and get involved in serving locally. I suspect you’ll find that there are plenty of complicated issues right next door to you that require grace and truth. We all tend to want to have our voices matter on the national (or global) stage but the truth is that what makes the news is probably our local context writ large. If you ask God to open your eyes to the needs around you, he is faithful and will do so.
Next, read wisely. Read Stephan Bauman, or Jud Wilhite, or John Perkins, or Eric Metaxas, or Thomas Sowell or Dallas Willard or… well, you get the idea. Read good history. Read widely—especially books that have been vetted by other thought leaders. What you’ll find as you read really wise books is that our generation is addressing the same problems that have faced humanity since the first day.
Lastly, work through Matthew 5, Habakuk and I Peter to think about how we love those who are against us. Think deeply about what it means to suffer unjustly and yet be pleasing to God in spite of our pain. It doesn’t take much to love the people who look like you or agree with you. It takes nothing less than grace and truth to love your enemies. In fact, you should practice this with the people you work with daily. Let them win….
It can be extremely discouraging if you pay too much attention to the world today. But take heart! God has not left us! The response from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after the shooting in Charleston has garnered the amazement of millions—grace and truth is being manifested in power. Thanks be to God, grace and truth still are being made real every day. We can be honored that we have a role to play in this era! You can be part of that same power and process.
*I refer here to what Jim Collins discusses in his book “Good to Great.”
Apologies for the lapse in posting. Transitions demand a lot of attention. Getting into a rhythm little by little.
Caveat: This is not like any other post I’ve done up to this point. I was asked to do a book review of Dudley Rutherford’s new book, “Walls Fall Down.” I am not being rewarded or paid in any way for this post. To be honest, due to my schedule, I only said “yes” as a favor to one of my best friends. Read on for my response.
In my work as a professor/pastor, I have done several scholarly reviews of books before. This is a review of “Walls Fall Down” by Dudley Rutherford. The process for a book review is usually one of dissection, explanation, opposing views and highlights. I was ready to do the usual book review this time as well. The book arrived in the mail and I put it on my desk to read. A week or so passed by while I traveled and after getting home and getting my things back in order I sat down to read and evaluate. I was really delighted by the experience of reading this book—I really liked it.
I don’t have a great deal of time to go into a lot of detail but here is why liked the book so much.
- This is based on the Bible. That could sound cliché but I mean it’s the actual story of how Israel defeated Jericho, and how that story teaches us about walking with God today. We live in an era where many, many people don’t actually know much about God (cf I Cor 15:34) and others work hard to discredit the integrity or historicity of the text. This book starts with the idea that this event happened and that God’s approach has a great deal to teach us today. I love that. Don’t know the story at all? It’s there too.
- You can see Dudley’s pastoral heart. You can tell that the writing is for people to hear the Word, learn something from it and then live differently because of what it says. There is a prayer at the end of each chapter and, here’s what’s cool, its about real life. It doesn’t have that super-spiritual-but-not-like-real-people feel to it. This means more to me the longer I work with churches.
- It’s encouraging. For those of us who are trained to see the gaps, the mistakes, the logical fallacies etc. things can sometimes get pretty grim. Dudley’s book is full of hope and shows a good reason for that hope. There is a story about a guy named Raúl that is particularly impressive.
- I actually want my students and my own kids to read it. That’s a good endorsement.
- It’s practical and real. He addresses the 10,000 hour issue from Gladwell. He talks about visualizing and knowledge and how those exercises affect us. He teaches us why to choose courage over fear. It addressed some of the ways people experience God as well as how we have to obey God. Awesome.
So. I write with a sense of thankfulness to Dudley for this excellent book and a good reminder that if you preach to people’s brokenness, you’ll always have an audience. I hope this book will be a blessing if you choose to make the purchase.
 This is from a conversation with Jud Wilhite… I didn’t make it up even though I wish I had…
For those of you who might not have heard, my family and I are leaving the wonderful town of Lincoln, IL
and moving to the wonderful town of Dallas/FortWorth.
I accepted the offer of Compass Christian Church to be their “Missions Pastor” and will no longer be teaching full-time here at LCU as of July. This has been a very fast decision that, in all honesty, snuck up on me. I had no plans of leaving LCU or of doing anything but the tasks laid before me by my own conscience and the administration of LCU. Some of my friends have wondered (aloud) if my post about the Mills moving was a pre-emptive move to announce my own intentions. With some of these questions coming to me personally, I suspect that, among my students at least, there might be some other questions floating around. So before I get to my letter, allow me to say a few things:
- I am not leaving LCU because of any reason. I’m not frustrated, worried or bothered by anything at LCU in a way that would make me pack up my toys and go elsewhere.
- I am not looking for greener pastures. This move is not a “get-to-civilization” attempt or a chance to be somewhere that’s really “moving.” Truth be told, I was not inclined to even listen to the offer from Compass at first…and that was because I have been happy to be here at LCU and my family was doing great.
- However, I AM trying my best to listen carefully to God’s call on my life. I will write more about that later.
- And I AM convinced this is God’s invitation to our family (through CCC’s gracious invitation).
- LCU and CCC have all acted with grace, kindness and respect through the entire process.
- I will still be connected to LCU in a big way. I have officially accepted the position of “Professor-at-Large” (which is a legit title…) and will teach online as well as in-person at LCU in an intensive format (2x/year).
With all of that being said, I wanted to write something specifically to those of you who have been my students over the last 7 ½ years. I would also say that this would apply to many of you who have studied with me on a personal level.
I have thought about this letter for some time. As I prepare for a new phase of life and ministry, I thought hard about what I would like to say to you as I shift my primary focus from teaching to leading. After some time to sort things out in my own heart, I think I can pull this together. I hope and pray that this will be helpful to you.
First, thank you for your friendship and your time. You paid a great deal of money to sit in those seats and I have never taken that lightly. Each class period to me represented a significant investment on your part and it still amazes me that you would so humbly be part of my classes. I am acutely aware of my many limitations, my speech patterns that get annoying (“follow?”) and my lack of depth as a true scholar. Yet the joy that came from spending my life with you in classes, retreats, the Warehouse and in my office was a constant source of joy to me. At times I was weary but there always were some of you who brought hope and renewal to me. I also want to thank you for your patience. Between the doctoral studies, my extra work at LCU, the journey with Shannon’s Lupus and my own parents’ aging, you have been patient with my slow emails, texts, time limits and office hours. Your patience with me was very Christlike and I will not forget it. While you may not know it (or even even have felt it), you were a delight to me and I owe you a debt of love. Even when I was aggressive or grumpy in class, I never took your attendance and attention for granted.
Second, you still represent (at least to me) the best hope of the church. The power of college students who willingly give their lives to God during the 18-22 age-range is simply stunning. The historical data really backs that up! It is a supra-cultural phenomenon that transcends time (think of Patrick’s training of the young) location (the Syrian Christians and their schools of leadership) and culture (a school in an unnamed country comes to my mind here). Young leaders who, like Timothy, have an entire life ahead of them to serve God, represent a formidable opportunity to both grow wise as well as deep. When I see you on campus or around town, my thoughts are ever hopeful, ever positive regarding the potential you have. On the other side of that coin, it also grieves me deeply to see students still enslaved to sinful habits or thought-patterns. Most of you have more latent talent than you might realize and I am ever hopeful that you will be unleashed, through the power of the Holy Spirit to serve those who are either far from God, or deeply hurting while serving God. As you have led Restoration Week trips, weekend ministries, Quest and a host of other service ops, I have seen you grow in astounding ways. I am so impressed with you!
Thirdly, I want you keep learning! This is hard to overemphasize. I don’t mean that all of you should apply for seminary (while several of you should indeed), I mean that as you grow older and wiser, your need to keep learning does not decrease! The problems and issues I deal with at this stage of my life are far more complex and difficult than any stage of my life thus far. My hope is that you’ll continue to keep learning about character development so you can finish well (CCL anyone?)! I pray you’ll learn more about the ontology and application of spiritual formation practices so you are abiding in the Vine. It is significant in this era to be wise about how to help and not hurt the poor. Economics, metaphysics, prayer and project management are all within the scope of the Christian leader. Knowledge and wisdom bring blessing, resources and application to a host of situations in the “real world” and I want you to have these. Wisdom is supreme.
Next, I want to encourage you to stay humble. When I was starting my doctoral work I had a chance to speak with Dr. Dallas Willard. I asked him for advice about entering into a scholar’s life and he told me to be very careful. After our conversation was over, I wrote down what he said to me and he warned me that the temptation to study for your own sake is very tempting. He was right. The academic world is (at least in my opinion) incredibly important. But there is an inherent danger there to be infected with a significant “Competency Extrapolation.” For those who work hard to understand things, this temptation is very, very hard to avoid. Being smart in one (or more) areas leads many of us to believe we’re just plain smart in all areas. This leads to some very difficult issues. The reason I mention this is that I have personally struggled with this and have watched many of my friends do so. Happily, I have also found some mentors and scholars who have maintained a powerful humility that leans toward Jesus and willingly suspends judgment as they pursue truth as best as they are able. These folks not only do great scholarship, they also come at the process as stewards and servants. They have inspired me and I am growing while I watch them. It appears that a significant key to maintaining this humility is that you work with broken people on a regular basis. It means stay in the church and stay in the trenches while you study.
Lastly, I would like to encourage you to learn to live in and practice being in the Presence of God. I am aware of the difficulties of that statement. I know that to say that when God is omnipresent, the issue of “Presence” is confusing to many people. I also know that there are theological positions that decline to highlight immanence for several reasons. Yet I would still maintain that being aware (at the very least) of the friendship and power of Jesus during your earthly sojourn is the highest level of power and joy available to humans. I also think it to be the source of the kind of work that will last and endure for eternity. This will take surrender and seeking. Your will and efforts must be focused on this quest but as you experience it, you will have that amazing sensation of working hand-in-hand with your Father on something He cares about. This is what I suspect Paul was referring to in Philippians 3. The seasons of my life that have been the most joyful have been seasons where this was paramount to me. Even during desert seasons, the constant seeking of God brought me nearer to the Word of God and was rewarded by God. There is far, far more to say about this, but suffice it to say, it is the highest good I have had on earth so far—and I wish it for you as well.
Fifteen semesters does not seem very long when I compare myself with people who have taught 40+ years. But for me, this has been a massive journey. You, my students, have been at the heart of it. I deeply love you and I am so very thankful for your willingness to learn from someone like me. I pray God’s richest blessing on you and I ask (as I often do) that God would remove the foolishness or folly of my teaching and leave what is of Him. Please pray for me—I am acutely aware of my need. And may God bless you for blessing me.
 From Humilitas by John Dickson, Zondervan, 2011