Posts Categorized as: leadership
As I write this post, Easter is right around the corner. I love Easter! The resurrection is the single most important historical fact in the world. I rejoice every year that sin has been broken and light came into the world! Through the Pascual Event the redemption of the world began. While I deeply rejoice during this season, I am always tempered in heart by the injustice and suffering I see around our world today. The experience of Easter has still not come for many people in the world today. For the last 20+ years I have had the privilege and sorrow of trying to be part of the solution to this issue. And, as mission practitioner and professor I am always looking for wise ways to help people to engage in being part of what God is doing for those who are most vulnerable. Over these decades I have gone through several iterations of trying to be helpful: Prophet (I’m not very good at that), Activist (exhausting and unproductive for me), Systems-guy (lacking passion) and even scholar (more or less). I have read mountains of books and articles to try to understand what the wise way of engaging this problem is. I’m happy to say that my friend, Stephan Bauman* has written a wonderful book to help people begin the process of standing with the vulnerable.
When I call this book “wise,” it’s a high compliment for me. I know lots of people who become single-issue activists. There are rafts of folks trying to point out where the church is off-base and there are oodles of impassioned pleas for some kind of radical steps. Seldom do you hear voices advocating a way that is both possible, wise, honest and sustainable. So, let me tell you some things that you might need as a caveat before reading this book:
First—this is not an explanation of injustice or an exegesis of poverty. For you analytical folks, the book does not go into macro-economics or the theologically variant positions held by those searching for a true antibody to the global causes of evil. Rather, it is a book that calls us personally to get involved at a whole-life level.
Secondly, for the passionate side of the room, this book is not the common “rah-rah” about how the corrupt American church has abandoned the true gospel and how the tears of a thousand victims accuse us from the yada yada yada. This book is an invitation to get involved with what is hurtful to God. So, for those of you who tend to drop a book at the first hint of passion—keep reading. While the book starts out with an impassioned plea from Stephan, it gets more practical and helpful as you continue to read. And, for those of you who will start to get bogged down in the logic behind a sustainable pathway to wise engagmement—keep reading! The end of the book is a wonderful reminder of what we can do!
Here are some things that I like the book:
- I know Stephan. He is both a remarkably gifted leader (on a truly global scale) but he also a poet, a great Dad and a faithful husband. He is smart, gifted and yet surprisingly humble. Do he and I disagree? Probably. But I would never start there. He and Belinda show the fruit of the Spirit and my wife and I just simply love them—we always want to be closer to Jesus when we’re around them. That says a lot to me.
- The book is a catalyst rather than an explanation. Poverty and Injustice are categories that are excruciatingly hard to explain. Categorically, for many people there are no words to explain the horrors of the LRA in Uganda or the DR Congo. Sex-trafficking and starvation are not like biological categories—they tend to be protean and inhabited with evil. Even that statement is hard to understand unless you’ve seen and felt it. “Possible” is a book that says that while we may not understand it, we can be part of the solution.
- In the book, the central character is God. I love this. Some people sell books or a media empire based on their own personality. Stephan constantly points back to the fact that God is the agent and we are the participants! It is God who holds the responsibility for the movement and the success. He is the standard of what is just.
- The stories Stephan uses are people and situations that he personally is familiar with. Almost anyone can use data or stories from others to prove almost any point they like, but Stephan has lived and walked with the people he discusses in the book. That’s pretty rare.
- The appendices are extremely helpful. Stephan took some very complicated theories and practices and made them accessible for anyone willing to simply take the time to work a little bit.
I have two small critiques of the book from my experience as a missionary and as a teacher. First, the book doesn’t address the nature and effect of the spiritual powers that are involved in systematic evils. Second, there isn’t a section on the character formation needed to sustain a lifetime of involvement with injustice and outreach. But, those things being said, no one book can be all things to all people. Stephan’s point was not specifically to explain but to catalyze. In this department he succeeds admirably. If nothing else, read the list of endorsements in the front pages from some of Christianity’s most influential leaders and you’ll understand that this is a book you’ll want to read.
Stephan, thanks for writing. Reader, I hope you’ll take the time to at least give the book a chance. Happy Easter!
*Stephan is the President of World Relief. For more information on World Relief, please visit their website soon. For more of his poetry and writing, check out stephanbauman.com. And, just for anyone wondering, Neither Stephan nor the publisher asked me to write this review. I just wanted to share.
Early in my education for Christian leadership I heard and felt the tension about reading your Bible every day. There were some voices who had nearly angelic visions of word studies and parsing Greek verbs and there were others who wondered (usually aloud) about ineffectiveness, Pharisaism and a loss of love for the lost. That tension has followed me my entire ministry career. In this post, what I want to do is share why I try to read the Bible every day. I am aware of the nature of illiteracy, dyslexia, orality and individual personality, and the roles they play in this process. I believe that the fundamental issue is placing our confidence in Jesus to be our teacher and King for salvation—His love is the basis for life. A new legalism is not my goal and spiritual smugness is not in my heart as I write. Rather, this is a short explanation of why this is my practice as a leader. At its root, my issue is practical.
The godly leaders I most admire all used this practice
Joshua chapter one is the starting point for me in this regard. God tells Joshua that he is supposed to “growl” over the Word of God (usually translated “meditate”) in order to obey God fully and to lead Israel in their battles. I would like to be more like Joshua as a leader. That same idea is also found in Psalm 1 where the one who focuses with God’s word day and night will flourish (like David). Peter, Paul and Jesus all mirror this idea as well.
Beyond my Biblical heroes, my missionary heroes also were deeply focused in the Word of God! Patrick’s mind was so saturated by the Bible that even as he was writing, his own syntax would slip into quoting long sections of the Bible. He uses over 200 scripture quotations in his Confessions alone. But Patrick was far more than just an introvert writing in a scriptorium somewhere lost in Ireland. Celtic Christianity became the dominant missionary force in Northern Europe for hundreds of years because of him. J. Hudson Taylor and Andrew Murray are two more missionary heroes who loved the Bible. John Sung and Watchman Nee along with the Bible women of the Chinese house church movement have been people of “one book.” Even today, effective, godly leaders of the church (and academy) that I admire have this in common.
The nature of life
Here I am thinking of what Dallas Willard refers to in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. He says that you define “life—whatever its ultimate metaphysical nature and explanation—to be the ability to contact and selectively take in from the surroundings whatever supports its own survival, extension and enhancement.”  Later he talks about part of life being our ability to interact with God as part of that contacting and taking in life. If you compare this with some of Jesus’ teachings in John 5 and 6, I think the picture of the Word of God being part of what brings us life seems obvious. Athletes use nutrition as part of their main strategy for performance. As a leader, I want a wise and steady intake of the Living Word that brings life. For me this is a significant part of renewing my mind (Rom 12:2, Eph 4:23).
Whether you call it the Protestant work ethic or Western Cultural improvements, Bible readers have had enormous influence on the betterment of society. Hospitals, education, child labor laws, the ending of the slave trade, anti-corruption laws, fair trial systems, etc. are all results from people who were influenced by what they read in the Bible. Literacy movements, human-trafficking opponents and people involved in the war on poverty have all been influenced by the Bible. Bob Woodberry’s  amazing research shows the power of what happens when Protestant missionaries are part of a culture’s development! In the end, God’s ways are good here and a guide to what is to come. I want to know more about that kind of wisdom because I want to be productive in my work for the Lord here.
Grounding in Wisdom
In the trends of culture, I am interested in what is supra-cultural—what transcends cultural boundaries and is common for all people, everywhere, for all time. In church life this is particularly important as blogs (yes, I see the humor here) books, and church events constantly expand. I have read statements that suggest that Christians read the Bible far too much. I’ve also heard statements about how it does not matter how much Bible you know, it matters how much you love people. One recent Christian leader said that they don’t care as much about what the Bible says is “wrong” but how we are supposed to treat others. Daily exposure to God’s Word gives me a starting point to evaluate the many voices I hear. What I seem to find is that “love” is usually culturally understood, but the source of love is scripturally defined. The Wisdom literature of the Bible gives us insight into how the universe functions. I remember reading Covey’s concept of the P/PC balance for effectiveness and thinking that a lot of what Proverbs has to say correlates with that idea. Regular Bible reading keeps us from being carried away by any kind of trend by passionate folks who can get out of balance.
The most important command is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength (Mt 22). In my opinion it is nearly impossible to love someone without knowing a lot about them. Two of my favorite books coincide here: The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer and Knowing Christ Today by Dallas Willard. Both books say that knowledge is a pre-requisite to loving God. Now, let’s be clear. I’m not saying that you need to know the order of the books of the Bible to become a believer. I AM saying that the longer we are disciples, the more critical it becomes to know about the One we claim to love and serve. Knowledge is not the enemy of action or evangelism—it is the best foundation for them. The more we know about the nature, history and power of God, the more awe and reverence we receive. It is a gift. At that point, our response is the issue. But replacing poor responses with intentional ignorance is a foolish choice. Beyond the information required, as I know more about God, the more immediacy I have in my experience with Him. He gives me help, guidance and reminds me of his presence and love. He reminds me to trust him for the day and to submit to Him. I never weary of hearing Him say, “I love you.”
So. For these five reasons, I try to read the Bible every day. I don’t mean to be legalistic (I hope it’s obvious). I am not slavishly bound to this practice. If I miss a few days, I have freedom. I want to avoid Pharisaism or doctrinal arrogance. I am also aware that some people just hate the process of reading in general and some are simply unable. I don’t mean to suggest that this is something that is required for being loved by God.
Yet I will continue to invest my time, money and effort into reading God’s Word. The Word of God helps me be more productive, wiser, braver, and kinder. It sharpens my mind about human behavior (including my own). It keeps me focused on the eternal and quickly checks my bad attitudes. It is a singular blessing in my life. Final Issue: I am a better leader when I am established on the Word. This is my attempt to keep my lamp “trimmed and burning” (Matt 25) and be ready when Jesus is calling on me. Matt Perman says that “the Scriptures are at the foundations of our productivity because the Scriptures are one of the chief ways God…builds our character.” O Lord, grant me more character that will be productive.
Sometime soon, I’ll write about HOW I read the Bible, but this is the foundation of WHY I do. May God bless you as you learn more about his Word in whatever way you can…
 From Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book, Eerdmans, 2006, pg 2. The word is “Hagah” in Hebrew
 An excellent example of this is Bryant Myers’ amazing book Walking With The Poor, Orbis, 1999
 An easy intro to his research can be found here
 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People 2004, Free Press, pg 54
 From What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, Zondervan, 2014
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