Archive for September, 2022

I haven’t weighed in on the issues regarding ESS (the eternal submission of the Son, sometimes Eternal Subordination of the Son) or EFS (eternal functional submission). For some reason I was pondering this the other day so I thought I would share my thoughts.

The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has used ESS/EFS to support complementarianism. Aimee Byrd did a good job of pointing this out, and eventually this became a controversy. While it has mostly died down, it pops up periodically through statements by proponents of ESS. Sadly, she didn’t seem content to point out this problem but has slowly rejected complementarianism in practice if not in doctrine.

What does this have to do with complementarianism? One of the criticisms of complementarianism is that one person submits to her equal. Both husband and wife are equally made in God’s image and have equal dignity bestowed upon them by God.

In ESS we have an attempt to say that God the Father and God the Son are equal, but that the trait of Sonship means that the Son submits to the Father. This submission is part of what distinguishes the Father and the Son.

Such a statement is not consistent with the Reformed Confessions. For instance, the Westminster Confession of Faith:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. WCF, 2 Of God and the Holy Trinity

We see that all three persons of the Trinity are of one substance, power, and eternity. From the Westminster Shorter Catechism, reflecting Nicea, we see in answer 4 they are “of the same substance and equal in power and glory.”

None of the great confessions of the Church speaks of the submission or subordination (to be under the authority of another) of the Son as part of His nature. We see that what distinguishes the Father is that He “is of none, neither begotten, not proceeding” while the “Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.” In terms of the Confession, and classical theism, this is what distinguishes them, not authority. The Son is not a child. As God the Son is perfect, exhibiting no change in His being. He doesn’t gain wisdom, knowledge or maturity. The Son is the same now as He has always been and always will be.

Subordination has to do with being under the authority of another. To say that the ontological relationship between the persons of the Trinity is identical to our relationships is to deny the fundamental differences between God and man, the Creator-creature distinction.

Historically, the submission of the Son has been in His role as Mediator or Messiah. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11, “the head of Christ (Messiah) is God”. This points to His office of Messiah, not His nature as God the Son. He has taken this role willingly for the salvation of sinners.

We can say that the Father sent the Son, and the Son agreed to take on a human nature and serve as Mediator. As the Messiah, He only spoke and did as the Father told Him. We see this as prominent in John’s gospel.

The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. WCF, 8, Of Christ the Mediator

A key component of submission is disagreement. When two people agree, there is no submission. Neither is submitting their will to the will of the other. There can be no submission between the members of the Godhead because they don’t, indeed can’t disagree.

Why do I say that? They are all perfect, all knowing and all wise. They have the same information and their perfect wisdom means that they will arrive at the same conclusion. Their will is united, identical.

One heresy regarding the Incarnation is monothelitism- the idea that Jesus had one will. With two united but unmixed natures in one Person, Jesus had a divine will and a human will. A will would be one of the essential properties of divinity and humanity. We see this in the Garden of Gethsemene. He wanted this cup to pass from Him. Yet, He submitted: “Not as I will, but as You will”.

In complementarianism we have two equals in a husband and a wife. They are both finite. As finite beings they do not have all the information, and they may have different information. Even in the Garden of Eden, they could disagree as a result. When there is disagreement, someone needs to submit. After the fall you add selfishness, darkened understanding and futile thinking into the mix. There will be even more disagreement between spouses. At times a husband may realize that his wife is right and change his mind. Or he may think that his choice is the better one. In accordance with Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 she should submit. Wives, in creation and redemption, have been placed subordinate to their husbands. Patriarchy, on the other hand, believes women are subordinate to men. This would, in my opinion, move beyond the clear teaching of Scripture. The wife submits to her own husband, not men generally. This is reflective of the covenant relationship between the two.

God will hold the husband accountable for those decisions and his motives (in addition to selfishness there could be the fear of his wife). God will hold the wife accountable for whether or not she submits. When he advocates the commission of sin, she can and should refuse to submit. If she follows him into lawbreaking, she is also culpable. She can’t say “I did what I was told”.


In the Trinity we see 3 equals who are all in agreement, all the time. There are not conflicts because all of them are perfect, infinite in knowledge and wisdom as well as goodness. They necessarily agree. This is the ontological Trinity.

In the Son’s office as Mediator he is the God-man, fully God and fully man. As Mediator, or Messiah, the Son submits to the Father for our salvation. This is the economic Trinity which is tied to the work of salvation carried out by the Son as Messiah.

In marriage we see two finite and sinful people who often disagree. God places the role of covenant head to the husband. In was this way in creation, and continues after the fall into sin (Gen. 3) and in redemption while on earth (Eph. 5). When there are disagreements, the husband plots the course to the best of his ability. As long as he’s not choosing sin, she submits and helps.

Seen this way, ESS should not be used to justify complementarianism. ESS should be rejected for the damage it does to the Trinity. We can, and should, affirm complementarianism without affirming ESS/EFS.

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The last part of Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger is Transformation: Everybody Will Be Changed (Especially the Leader). This is not the same as the Borg, where all will be assimilated.

This is probably the scary part of church transformation: we must change too! Often we think everyone else should change. We tend to minimize our flaws and love for the status quo. This is the section most leaders don’t want to be true, or part of the process of leading people into the unknown.

Bolsinger brings us to Sacagawea. She became part of the expedition when Lewis and Clark hired his husband, a Canadian trapper as a guide. She was Shoshone but was kidnapped by the Hidatsa as a tween. He doesn’t note how she became his wife a few years later. Was she sold to him?

Painting by Edgar Samuel Paxson

Soon Lewis and Clark realized she was the person they needed, and he was not very much help. During the expedition, she was caring for her baby son. Her ability as a translator we incredibly helpful. At one point she discovered she was talking to her own long-lost brother. She survived a fever. She was quick thinking. Her presence help re-assure other native Americans that they were not a war party since no one brings a nursing woman and child into battle.

He goes into this lengthy story to discuss the unexpected leader in uncharted territory. In the transformation unexpected people will rise to the occasion.

One aspect of the changing world is crossing cultural differences. Along for the ride are our biases which cause conflict. Christian leaders are called into a caldron of the cultures of generations, gender, class, education, politics and more. This means there are more voices involved in our conversation. It can lead to uncomfortable situations. There will be more opinions, very different opinions.

Listening becomes increasingly important, and we are often slow to listen (hence James’ admonition). Listening can provide more wisdom as we make decisions. At a key moment of the expedition, for instance, Lewis and Clark allowed Sacagawea and Clark’s slave York vote on what the group should do.

Our past experience is not irrelevant, but it is incomplete. It does challenge the homogeneous principle that used to be at work in many churches, and echoes of is still exist. The church is not simply an affinity group, but encompasses people who are not like you. And that is great.

Uncharted leadership survives and thrives by listening to the ignored voice (Sacagawea), by expanding the table of participation beyond what is imaginable (Sacagawea’s and York’s votes), and by discovering new worlds and seeing what will come (Colter’s exploration of Yellowstone), but mostly, the challenges of uncharted leadership challenge us to keep exploring and become someone completely different from when the journey began.

The End of Our Exploring

The journey can be very discouraging at points. The second winter was discouraging as the diet of elk meat, without seasoning, wore on the men. The joy of discovering the ocean just 6 weeks earlier was gone.

They discovered that North America was much larger than they could have imagined. You would imagine they would want to head home by the shortest possible route, or at least one they knew. Instead they chose to split up for a time to investigate more territory. Lewis went north and Clark south. The goal to was meet up where the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers meet. Off the map, they began to write the maps.

Leadership is risky. It is often lonely. Leaders can’t be ruled by their emotions and need to step out before everyone else. All your questions may not be answered. Trying the untried will raise more questions to be considered.

He speaks here about reframing the questions. We begin to see options where before we used to see dead ends. I’m in one of those spots now. Reframing, according to Bolsinger, is more about emotional capacity than intelligence. Fortunately, a sabbatical increased my emotional capacity which had been close to zero in the previous 6-8 months. I was running on empty.

He provides some examples including:

  • Is the church in decline or is the western, Christendom version of church life on decline?
  • Does declining attendance mean people aren’t interested in God or that people are no longer giving preference to Christian and its traditions?
  • Is the lack of cultural affirmation of Christians at threat to our witness or an opportunity to work together in ways we didn’t need to before?

He shifts to how Christian leaders often confuse their self and their role. I think of Top Gun: Maverick. He didn’t just fly jet fighters, he was a fighter pilot. We can begin to think that way and trap ourselves. To be a healthy functioning, rather than idolatrous, leader we need to keep them separate. When I go home, I am myself. I husband my wife and parent my kids. I don’t pastor or counselor them. My father-in-law used to take the long way home to give himself more time to disconnect from work so he could be a husband and father.

Differentiation is the ability to have a sense of self that is distinct from one’s role, one’s relationships and the family or organizational system we are part of without having to disconnect relationally.

This, Bolsigner argues, is key for personal and spiritual maturity. We get stunted when we can’t differentiate. We can stay with a group during difficult times, even when they blame us for the trouble. You can’t take anything personally. Tom Brady points to the Four Agreements for his success, or at least part of it. The criticism may hurt, but you can’t take them personally. Failure weighs heavily on most leaders (except the narcissists), particularly pastors. The demand of mission and change puts internal and psychological stress on leaders.

Bolsinger tells of how Lewis struggled with depression during the expedition. He would drink too often at times. There were long lapses in his journal. After returning to normal life the darkness of depression became too heavy a burden. He would take his own life. He tells how Clark became more dedicated to building better relationships with the indigenous people, there was a portion of a letter when he spoke of beating York who became too arrogant after the expedition. He struggled to return to “civilization” and the same role. Clark struggled to accept the changes in York that were helpful on the expedition.

Communities are transformed by the transformation of people who then transform their spheres of influence. Transformational leadership is the overlap of adaptive capacity, technical competence and relational congruence.

Focus on how you need to grow in technical competence, relational congruence and adaptive capacity, and especially focus on what you need to leave behind, let go and even let die so your church can become more and more effective at fulfilling its part in God’s mission.

We often have to let go of what we once were, admit what we currently are and pursue what we should be.

This was a very helpful book for me to read at this point in time. It is where I find myself. There are lessons for me to apply, and communicate to our other leaders. It helped me to better understand the lay of the land, the challenges for me and our organization. It would be a helpful read to understand how to engage the challenges presented by our changing/changed culture. The hard reality is not just that how you do things must change, but each of us must change.

The organization that has inherently valuable relationships also has an instrumentally critical purpose. And holding that tension, leading a Christian organization that is faithful to both mission and family, is indeed a challenge for most of us.”

The weakness of the book, as I noted in the first part of this, is the lack of Scripture. Bolsinger focuses on lessons from the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and various teachers on leadership and systems. There is lots of general revelation here. Far more than special revelation. He doesn’t need to toss out the general revelation, but he should probably include more special revelation.

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Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger is about leading organizations, particularly churches through uncharted territory. With the lack of a map, leadership takes on a very different approach.

In the first review, I covered the first 2 parts of the book. Here I intend to cover the 3rd and 4th parts of the book. Part 3 is Leading off the Map, and part 4 is Relationships and Resistance.

Navigating the “Geography of Reality”

Bolsinger brings us again to the experiences of Lewis and Clark in exploring the Louisiana Purchase and looking for a northwest passage. His dream of an easy water route across the continent was shattered by the sight of the Rocky Mountains. The “geography of hope” was obliterated by the “geography of reality”. Our dreams die a thousand deaths on the rocks of reality.

Adaptive leadership lets go of our hopes (and the status quo), learning along the way and pressing on. “It’s about loss, learning and gaps”. Adaptive leadership addresses the “conflicts in the values people hole, or to diminish the gap between the values people stand for and the reality they face.”

It is often competing values that cause a group to get stuck. The leader has to help people see that the values are in conflict and stopping forward progress. Some of the examples he provides is pay raises vs. adding staff, ministering to the “old-timers” vs. reaching out to the unchurched, control & unity vs. collaboration & innovation. This doesn’t mean that neither is valuable, but they can be at loggerheads organizationally. You have to recognize what to lose to let go of one or the others. You want to clarify the decision.

A number of years ago we came to the conclusion that our building was a limiting factor for us. We could expand it. That would require taking on some debt. The congregation had been debt free for a number of years and enjoyed the flexibility it provided. If we didn’t do the project we’ve remain debt free, but our growth would be hindered and even halted. If we took on debt, we lost some financial flexibility and freedom. You couldn’t have both (unless you had a multi-millionaire funding the project, which we certainly did not). We did the expansion. It has not yet worked out the way we wanted, but it didn’t take us long to pay off the debt.

Bolsinger addresses the adaptive capacity, or “the resilience of people and the capacity of systems to engage in problem-defining and problem-solving work in the midst of adaptive pressures and the resulting disequilibrium.” That is a bit of a mouthful. During the time of disequilibrium (expanding the building) we had a decreased capacity to define an solve new problems that emerged. And emerge they did. We had to put in a new sewer line. We discovered that we needed to install a new fire hydrant. These added expenses, and we tried to keep the loan total low. But there was only so much money we could ask people to donate at that time. Capacity was lower.

To do so, there is yet another set of skills to be developed:

  • face the unknown calmly
  • reject the quick fix
  • recruit others in the learning/transformation process to take on the challenge
  • seek new perspectives
  • ask questions to reveal competing values and gaps between values and actions
  • expose deeper issues in a community
  • identify and address resistance and sabotage
  • adapt without sacrificing your integrity as a person and organization
  • help them to make difficult decisions to fulfill their mission in the changing context.

Part of this process is helping the people to see “who we are” or the core ideology. I see this as the DNA of an organization. These are the things we cannot change and continue to exist. This is separate from the things we are able to let go so the mission can continue. You will have to reframe your strategy to continue with your mission. When the culture around you changes, the strategy to reach that culture will have to change too. You don’t change your theology, but you do change how to apply it at times. Your old successful methods of evangelism may not work. You need new methods. Waiting for people to come to you is changing and you have to find ways to go to them.

This requires learning new things. If you don’t you will default to the old methods, again.

When a leader and a people together resist the anxiety that would lead to throwing in the towel or relying on the quick fix, but instead look more deeply- recommitting to core values, reframing strategy and relying on learning- this enables them to gain the just-in-time experience necessary to keep the expedition going.”

My Italian Grandfather Was Killing Me

Italians are known for heart disease. As I looked at the genealogical records of my father’s side of the family (largely Italian) most of them died of heart disease. Bolsinger found the same thing. Processed meats.

Just as your body will flourish when you cooperate with God’s design and wisdom, human organizations will only thrive when they do the same. If have a diet heavy on processed meats doesn’t help you thrive, you need to decrease the processed meats. You may need to up the exercise too.

We need to lead the learning so we lose the bad habits and learn new good ones that will help the organization flourish.

His view of vision is better than most I have heard (or perhaps assumed). Visionary leaders are usually seen as those who see what will be. When we think of vision we think of men like Steve Jobs. Bolsinger focuses on seeing what is clearly, and being able to discern the helpful from unhelpful.

Understanding a congregation is like understanding family dynamics. People have particular relationships with one another that can help or hinder growth in the congregation. You have to see what is hindering the system. You then energize the people toward transformation of the dynamics to accomplish the shared mission even and particularly as the world around changes.

In the second Jumanji movie, each character in the video game had a list of strengths and weaknesses. The leadership needs to unpack the strengths and weaknesses of individual and the congregational dynamic.

Here he talks at length about organizational DNA. These are the essential elements of a congregation and how it interacts with the world around it. It can include the theology of a congregation/denomination (in our case the Westminster Confession of Faith) and posture toward the world (fortress church “defending the truth” or winsomely inviting people to investigate the truth). The key elements, interconnection and purpose of the congregation are aligned the congregation is healthy, but if they aren’t it becomes dysfunctional. For instance, practices that are contrary to the gospel (like ignoring conflict or refusing to resolve it) produce dysfunction that prevents a congregation from fulfilling its mission of reconciliation.

The DNA can function as a magnet which attracts particular people and repels others. Churches formed by schism tend to attract schismatic people. Fortress churches will attract people who are looking for refuge from the world. People wanting to engage the world will soon realize they aren’t wanted, and are often called liberals.

Just as people generally seek self-preservation, so do systems of people. People will resist any change that they see as striking at the DNA.

He talks about non-essential DNA that can be discarded. That doesn’t seem to be DNA. I call these more like habits. People may think they are essential, but they are not. Or perhaps we need to think of them as the wisdom teeth or appendix. They are there, but unnecessary and can be removed when they become problematic. There will be practices and ideas that seem to be part of the identity that must be discarded when they become problematic.

He also talks about creating DNA through experimentation. Sounds like gene-splicing. They may be things to add to a church’s DNA. I would frame this more as new habits to put on.

But churches need to identify what cannot be changed, what ought to be put off and what ought to be put on. He notes that this can provide sufficient conflict to make any leader want to avoid the conversation.

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There … Then Do Something

Anxiety-producing problems like declining attendance and/or giving often lead us to look for the quick fix. He encourages us to adapt to fulfill a missional purpose rather than simply plug the leak. Here is differentiates between directional leadership and adaptive leadership. Directional leadership is based on past experiences (a proven track record of success!) and offers advice and direction based on the leaders’ expertise. Adaptive leadership doesn’t have the experience because it is uncharted territory. Before acting there is a time to learn.

In particular he speaks about a cycle of making observations, interpretations of said observation and appropriate interventions. Interpretations should take congregational dynamics into account. Cause and effect are not always closely related in time. There can be a gap between the cause and the effect. A drop in attendance may not be related to the worship service or style of music. Bolsinger learned that his congregation was not good at helping people remain connected during life transitions. As kids age their needs change and the church may not offer what parents think they need. A different staff member may now be in charge. Over time, particular families feel disconnected and leave looking for greener pastures. They may not even be able to express why they feel disconnected.

In this he advocates for protecting minority voices. He relates a story about bombers in WW II. They studied bombers that survived to see how to help more survive. They advocating putting more metal on the areas they took hits. The minority voice pointed out they had survived. They need to know where the planes that didn’t make it back took damage and reinforce those areas. Too often, we listen to the survivors in a church instead of the ones who left, so we have an unbalanced view. The survivors will tell you what you are doing right. The ones who left what you are, in their opinion, doing wrong. Exit interviews can be quite helpful.

This is when you can discuss competing values and the stuckness or tension they create. We’ve had, like many other churches, competing values regarding the music in our worship services. Some wanted us to be more traditional.

Interventions are experimental. Some will fail. Others succeed. Don’t put all your resources in one. Begin modestly, he says. And playfully, which I take to mean not so seriously. It is temporary at first. It may not last. That is okay. But be clear that change will be coming. It will be resisted!

The Mission Trumps!

Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.Heifetz and Linsky

When change happens people will be disappointed. They will experience loss. When experiments fail other people will be disappointed. They were vested in it, or too many experiments have failed. They are experiencing loss and perhaps too much in too short a time span.

Leadership is taking people where they need to go and yet resist going.

Here he sounds a bit like Rick Warren’s purpose-driven church. “The focused, shared, missional purpose of the church or organization will trump every other competing value.” He wants us to evaluate whether or not a program or idea helps fulfill the purpose or is contrary to or indifferent to that purpose. It can sound ruthless, and people may be disappointed. But the goal is the God-given mission of the church, not the preferences or special interests of particular persons.

Institutions like families and churches can accumulate any number of traditions that get in the way of mission (marriage is given in the context of the creation mandate btw). They seek and remain in homeostasis. Change is disruptive and resisted. Ask your spouse to change a routine in the family and see what happens.

Begin with conviction. Conflict will raise the question: what are we here for? Are we committed to the mission? Decisions must be based on the convictions we have. You have to be clear about your convictions. The people have to share the conviction! If they don’t buy in, they will bail or fight to the finish depending on their personality.

A good mission statement will focus conversations that build adaptive functioning. “How does this help us….? What can we do that will help us to ….?” Leaders act on their convictions, and invite others to follow them.

Take a Good Look into the Coffin

People today isolate themselves from death. It seems remote until it hits home. Pastors are trained to help people deal with death. We help the dying and the grieving. We can bring that to dying congregations too. We need to help people let go and grieve.

Acting with conviction, stay calm. The real challenge of leadership is emotional. We can be anxious because failure means big changes for us and our families. The uncertainty of uncharted territory can make us reactive and anxiety-ridden.

Transformational leadership can’t settle for the win-win scenario. It recognizes that change brings us to forced choices. There isn’t as much money, what gets cut? There is only so much time, how does this staff member spend it? We only have so much space, who gets to use it and when? This is where convictions come into play. And this is where the leader needs to be the calmest person in the room.

The leader must learn to continue the process of change while also caring for people’s disappointment. As the leader attends to the system, he can know when to turn down the heat and when to turn it up. What can they tolerate?

One type of heat is urgency. It is the sense that you must act now. False urgency focuses on issues that are not contributing to the mission and transformation. Too often the urgent pushes out the important. We have to put out fires rather than address the real issues and move things forward. We begin to run on the treadmill and grow exhausted.

In two different congregations I have tried to be proactive. And when I have, we got lost in reacting to a number of “urgent” crises. We continually got distracted. And I got exhausted. I need to do a better job of identifying the important and ignoring the urgent. But you have to identify it as something distracting you from mission. The person who leaves in a snit is a big distraction much of the time. The issue isn’t personal, but someone can treat it as personal or get personal to justify their actions. The problem isn’t we disagree on the mix of music, but rather the pastor is trying to ruin the church.

We should neither shield people from reality or fail to call them to share the mission in a way that they are personally responsible, not simply organizational responsible (meaning the leaders do it all).

Anxiety is not a bad thing, in and of itself. It can let us know that there is danger on the horizon. But anxious systems are a bad things. We can be chronically anxious. This often happens when the “threats of the past continue to hold power even though the system is no longer in danger.” This is when we have to stay calm. Our response should be about the issue, not the anxiety of the other people in the room.

He refers to the book Thriving Through Ministry Conflict for the distinction between “blue zone” and “red zone” decisions. Blue zone decisions are focused on effectiveness and rooted in your values. Red zone decisions are highly emotional and reactive. They are focused on “survival, acceptance, competence and control.”

In the past we have made decisions to not hurt the feelings of a member (not the same as principled compromise). I’ve seen others threaten or challenge people. People lose their cool, and serve their idols in the heat of the moment. Strive to be the one who continues to see clearly, or pause until you can. Your calm can be as contagious as their anxiety.

Bolsinger advises pastors to pay attention to the purple, meaning the issues that trigger you so you can’t make good decisions. The conflict begins to be about you, not the mission. Good decisions are about the mission.

Part Four, Relationships and Resistance is not very long but it is very important. Leadership is largely about relationships. Change inevitably involves resistance.

Gus and Hal Go to Church

Bolsinger tells about Gus, who is an amputee and his friend Hal, who is blind. Together they are able to get to church. Gus tells Hall where to go. They work together.

Churches are organic relational systems. It is a system that exists for mission, but can settle for existing for itself. Systems seek homeostasis. When change begins, there will be resistance in order to return to homeostasis. Sometimes, he notes, the people who applaud the vision resist its implementation.

If … leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world, then leadership is always relational.

We are in relationship with people we need to disappoint. We want to be their hero, but at times we will need to disappoint them. When they push back, we are tempted to bail on the transformation. He identifies 6 relationships.

Allies are inside the system and take part in the change process. They have something at stake in the system and the process. He warns us that we can’t assume that your friends will be allies. Sadly, I’ve experienced that. It does create “confusion and hurt feelings”, deeply hurt feelings. Confidants care more about you than the mission. The best ones are outside the system. They provide healthy feedback on you as a leader in the system. They have no investment in the outcome. Their investment is in you.

There will be opponents. These are stakeholders in the organization who risk losing more than they want to if you succeed. They are against the change. It isn’t personal, but it sure looks like it at times. They can try to make it personal with how they attack.

Senior authorities are those in authority over you as you seek to fulfill the mission and make the changes necessary. He advises staying connected to them. This lessens the possibility of sabotage. But you can’t push them to make a stand. You can pass the anxiety and obstacles to them.

Casualties experience “the change most personally and dramatically.” They might lose a place of service (or even a job), responsibility or comfort. They may need to learn new skills to survive and thrive. You need to engage them on this. Don’t pretend they don’t matter.

Dissenters are very important. These are fellow decision makers that disagree with the change. He likens the early dissenters to canaries in the coal mine. In them you’ll see the arguments of others. They will ask the tough questions you need to answer. They aren’t enemies, but they seek problems. Engage them, talk it through. This helps the system to be transparent.

Transformation requires risk-taking born of urgency, leadership, a holding environment that will create enough stability and support in an organizational system to experiment with a big idea...”

While the leader, and others, are trying to lead transformation, others will need to keep doing the necessary work not connected to transformation. He also identified a group that maintains mission. They commit to providing “safety, time, space, protection and resources to the project.” They aren’t necessarily doing the work, but providing those directly engaging in transformation time and space to do that voodoo they must do. The transformation team is the group responsible to carrying out the process. They listen, learn, conduct the experiments and deal with the reality of failure and hope of success. It will be comprised with people with authority and informal influence. They have to buy in and be willing to invest relational capital.

Most pastors have not been trained in organizational relationship skills. We’ve been trained in relating to persons. Leading change isn’t about helping a person change, but a system.

As a transformational leader, you aren’t supposed to do all the work. Give it away to people who desire its success the most. It can be those who complained in the first place. Transfer their energy from complaint to innovation. “You’re right, there is no youth ministry. Want to start one, because we really could use one?” We are also to engage those who are motivated to tackle the challenge.

Stay connected to those who are resisting change to keep influencing the system toward health and life. This is counterintuitive and, yes, dangerous.

Et Tu, Church?

The important thing to remember about the phenomenon of sabotage is that it is a systemic part of leadership- part and parcel of the leadership process. Another way of putting this is that a leader can never assume success because he or she has brough about a change. It is only after having first brought about a change and then subsequently endured the resultant sabotage that the leader can feel truly successful.Edwin Friedman

You can’t change an organization without attempted sabotage. It may come from those closest to you. It may come from those who must benefit from change, but it will come.

Sabotage may come for peace-mongers who can’t endure the anxiety necessary for change. They prefer harmony over health. They want to quiet the complainers rather the hold them accountable. It can often be friendly fire which is exceptionally destablizing. It gets back to having to disappoint your own people. Disappointed, they will turn on you.

Sabotage is the attempt to knock you off course. It is an attempt to derail the mission. We need to respond rather than react to them. We can’t take it personally nor make it personal. They are supporting the status quo, often unconsciously. They are the peace-mongers and risk-avoiders. Unfortunately many of us pastors are just that due to job security. As Richard Pratt used to tell us “2-car garage”. We can lose our faith to keep our jobs. To keep our faith we risk losing our jobs. Most people side with security.

The art of leadership is helping the system override the instinct to self-preservation and replace it with a new organizational instinct to be curious about and open to the terrifying discomfort of asking, Could God be up to something here?

Depersonalize the attack. They are really attacking the change. You will be more likely to stay calm and relationally connected.

He quotes Bob Johansen in calling leaders “tinkerers”. I can identity. I am constantly tinkering. I am habitually discontent. I want things to be better. This really bothers some people because they like the status quo. Change makes them anxious.

Sabotage, he says, tests our resolve and the resilience of the system. Stay calm and on course. Stay in that blue zone. Continue to choose principle over your personal need. This calm courage can be contagious, and he relates a scene from Casablanca. Encourage those who are losing heart. Keep moving forward, but don’t get ahead of your people.

Eons ago we went to Disney for my wife’s birthday. That year you went free on your birthday. Someone at church got me and the kids in for free, with a free stroller (which really came in handy). There was one moment by the concessions when we tried to get through a crowd. I blazed that trail. But I was too far ahead, and the trail would close behind me. She and the kids couldn’t keep up. I had to slow down even though I irrationally wanted them to speed up. They couldn’t.

I’m finding so much here, that I can’t keep up and process it all. I’m having to hang on to a few things at a time as I seek to lead us through change.

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In the last few years there have been some titles of Christian book that have been controversial, like The Prodigal God. Here is another entry in the controversial title sweepstakes: The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken (a pen name for reasons that will become apparent later),

The subtitle is A True Story of Faith Resurrected. He is a man who did NGO missions work in Africa and returned hopeless after the debacle that was Somalia and the death of a son. Most of the books is about how God restored his faith.

My wife had heard about this book from an OPC pastor’s wife. She shared it with a few other people, and encouraged me to read it. It finally hit the top of my queue and I began to read it earlier this year. I read it when I could which means it took me over 6 months to read it. Some of my brevity is explained by this fact as the book was not fresh in my mind.

The Book

The book begins with his background story: his youth, conversion, early life as a Christian in college, his marriage. He and his wife ended up in Africa as missionaries in Malawi until he got malaria and had to move to South Africa. He speaks of the racism and hostility that ate at the soul of South Africa. He would often be pulled over for “driving while white.” After 6 years of ministry there, they moved to Kenya to work with Somalian refugees.

In 1992 he visited Somalia, which was ravaged by a civil war. There were no Christians, no Christian witness, no food, no jobs …. practically nothing but guns, bullets, fear and hate. The infrastructure had been abandoned, blow up or wasn’t there in the first place.

From the refugee camps, he began to build a mercy ministry in Mogadishu. Any faith-based organization there was assumed to be Christian, and its workers Christians. The Muslim population was suspicious at the least and at times willing to kill people associated with them. He tells some horrible stories of the things he saw and experienced while in Mogadishu.

I and Somalia against the world; I and my clan against Somalia; I and my family against my clan; I and my brother against my family; and I against my brother.Somali saying

It wasn’t just that Somalia essentially lacked a government, but the West and the UN didn’t seem to have organizational resources to deliver aid. It would be taken by the warlords. Ripken quickly learned to travel with food, water and white linen so he could give the dead a proper Islamic burial. He began to wonder how God could allow such suffering and pain. He saw the human greed, corruption and sin but wondered how it could get so out of control. The evil he witnessed was profound, and it ate at him.

His office in Mogadishu was about a mile from the battle portrayed in Black Hawk Down in which 18 U.S. soldiers and over 700 Somalis lost their lives. He could hear the battle raging for 17 hours.

4 believers who worked in the office had been ambushed and killed. The office received death threats and was told to leave immediately. Even their Muslim security was in danger at points. There was a hit list that was made public by a terrorist group. They feared that killing Westerners would bring foreign armies, but killing the traitorous Somalis who converted or were suspected of converting would put fear in the hearts of the people.

Meanwhile in Nairobi, his 16 year-old son suffered an asthma attack and died in 1996. They returned home mourning his death, feeling like failures having been broken by Somalia.

In the months after returning home they decided to find others whose faith had survived similar experiences. They began with a trip to Russia and former Soviet bloc nations to interview Christians who had survived Communist rule. Many of these people had never told their stories to anyone. He discovered that sometimes stories connected. He heard of amazing things God did: providing for families of the imprisoned, judgment on persecutors and more. But he also learned how many survived prison and torture. God gave them songs, what he calls heart songs. Their faith was sustained and spread by singing these songs of faith.

In home churches, people were recreating the Scriptures through memorization. They also memorized hundreds of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. These memorized passages and songs sustained the house churches, hidden from the government for decades. He also discovered a hope in the resurrection that enabled many of them to face the prospect of death at the hands of the government with joy.

He also visited a Soviet bloc nation that had little persecution of the church. What he found there was disheartening. The church focused on Romans 13, submitting to the government. The government did not perceive them as a threat as a result. The church shrank under the weight of its compromise.

Another nation began the same way: submission and compromise. Eventually they realized they needed to be free to follow Christ. They realized that state’s authority was limited by God’s authority, and they began to live as if they were free. One of the older men he talked to also spoke of similar heart songs. After his release from prison, the churches began to sing them.

He returned home to process what he learned from these interviews, share them with his community of faith and wondered, “what next?”. They developed what they thought were better questions and began to plan trips to closed countries, some communist and some Islamic.

In China, imprisoned pastors teach and encourage one another. It is viewed as going off to seminary. Despite the persecution they face, the house churches continue to grow. He heard stories of healings and other miracles. They didn’t seek persecution, but didn’t live in fear of it either.

You can only grow in persecution what you go into persecution with.

This statement from a persecuted Christian is similar to what Rod Dreher learned interviewing those who survived Soviet persecution. We need to know the Scriptures (and believe them) before persecution comes.

In Muslim countries he heard, as we often do now, of people being led by dreams to places where they can find someone to share the gospel with them. With no ordinary means available to them (there was no church they could visit), God used extraordinary means to get them to the ordinary means.

He shares the story of Pramana. Ripken has no idea how this man found out about him or where he would even be.

It turns out that Pramana traveled twenty-nine hours to find me. He had lived his entire life in a remote, tropical, and rural region of his third-world country. He had never before been on a bus. He had not even traveled on a pave highway. Yet, somehow, he found me in one of his country’s major cities.”

Then he learned that Pramna lived in a people group with no church and 3 Christians. He was a devout Muslim whose marriage was falling apart. His imam apparently also blended in some spiritualism and told him to sacrifice a chicken. On the third day he would get his answer from God. On the third day he heard a voice say “Find Jesus, find the gospel.” He was at a loss. The voice told him to go over the mountain to a particular city, and follow two men that he would see at daybreak. He was to ask them where a particular street was, and then knock on a particular home and ask about Jesus. He did and was dragged into the home and given the gospel by one of those Christians who then gave him the gospel and discipled him for two weeks.

He refers to Ananias going to restore Paul’s sight. But says he was there to instruct Paul. I’m not sure where he got that. This is one of the confusing things Ripken writes. But these are places where people know nothing of Jesus.

When evangelism is illegal, you don’t know if you can trust anyone you may share the gospel with. He notes that we have to do what we’ve been trained to do and leave whether they are converted up to God, and whether you get arrest up to God. But obey God, not men. We are to live by faith, not fear. These people had good reason to fear men (and the government), but they feared God more (like the Egyptian midwives). This mixture of awe and faith that draws us to God instead of running from Him is what leads us to learn the Scriptures and sing songs of faith.

Processing the Book

The book does not always follow chronological order. In the earlier chapters he bounces around some. At times he goes back to earlier events. At times this is clear and others confusing.

His own theological convictions are not expressed or articulated. There is no theological framework. He does speak of providence, but is this in an Arminian sense (general) or Calvinistic (meticulous, including salvation)? There are some head scratchers like the statement about Paul and Ananias. He’s also concerned at times about people being persecuted because of him, as though the real issue wasn’t Jesus. He seems a little fuzzy at times. This is a book, not a stream of consciousness conversation or podcast discussion. Some that that could have been clarified.

This book is an account. He does not try to provide theological analysis of the accounts he will hear from others. He looks for patterns, but is not attempting to discern the truthfulness of any accounts given by others. He assumes the truthfulness of the accounts given in interviews (there is no reason to think they are lying). He’s not debating cessationism and continuationalism. He’s not trying to verify any of these accounts with physical evidence.

Keep in mind, however, the people he interviews in this book are not televangelists seeking to bilk you out of your money with tales of miracles. The people interviewed are people who were or still are in countries where Christians were persecuted. Their circumstances were more like the apostolic times than life here in America. Bibles are not readily available, there is not a basic biblical literacy to draw on, churches (if there are any) are underground and unknown to unbelievers. In contexts without the Scriptures, God may attest to the truthfulness of the message through miracles. This does not mean that people have the gift of healing, as claimed by “signs and wonders” ministries in the West.

This means their experiences or testimony may not fit your theological grid. But neither are they the people you may meet or see on TV with similar sounding claims. They live in what could be characterized as “extraordinary circumstances” by the Westminster Divines since they grew up and lived in a nation with a state church and Christian heritage. These people live(d) in nations dominated by communism or Islam, meaning that any Christian heritage and church has been stamped out, erased and crushed underfoot.

While I rejoice with Ripken about the resurrection of his faith through his excursions and interviews, I still wasn’t sure what the point of the book was. There were a few things that helped people survive, and even thrive, in persecution. But, like any American, I expected a list or something. The summary wasn’t very helpful.

He nearly got to the point in talking with some Chinese Christians. Our prosperity has made us weak. While they consider us blessed because we are free to worship and evangelize, and we have multiple copies of the Bible within reach and they have to tear out pages of the Bible a number of pastors share, they have been blessed with a deeper, more vibrant faith. While he doesn’t say it explicitly (or I missed it) the “insanity” of God is that we grow best under pressure. While we may not face persecution, we can grow in the midst of affliction. While we want the easy road, we see throughout Scripture and history that the church grows best in hardship which includes persecution. It seems crazy to us, but it is true.

The blood of the martyrs is the seedbed of the church.Turtullian and a host of others after him

If your faith is as dead as his was, this is a book worth reading to discover that God is alive and well, and working in ways you can’t understand. He does things in closed countries that He doesn’t do in situations like ours with churches in abundance. It challenges our faith but we see the “lengths” God goes to make the amazing length He went to to redeem us, the sin-bearing death of His Son. In a sense this is similar to Paul’s discussion of “filling up what was lacking in Christ’s sufferings” (Col. 1). Jesus’ suffering (and obedience) was sufficient to save us. Paul suffered to bring that gospel message to people. These testifying miracles of healing and dreams are about bringing that gospel message to people who have no knowledge of Jesus in a society that prohibits belief in Jesus.

It is an encouraging book. It is an interesting read. I assume the truthfulness of these stories. If they aren’t true (if he was like Mike Warnke), it doesn’t affect my life but he will be held accountable for his deceit and for making money off of it. Even so, there are too many stories of God doing similar things in those parts of the world for me to dismiss them. I can leave my cynical and jaded heart at the door because God is growing these hidden churches in ways we can’t figure out. It isn’t a plan for ministry. But it does testify to God’s ability to bring people to faith, and preserve them in the faith, in the most difficult of circumstances. Our God is an awesome God.

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