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Posts Tagged ‘character’


The divisional round of the NFL playoffs are over. In many ways the legacy of Bill Belichick was on display. The Patriots, led by Belichick took their division and won a bye week yet again, for a long streak of dominance among a division filled with the futility of other teams leading to frequent turnover. Once again the Patriots are in the AFC championship game. Either they are the Steelers will go to a record 9th Super Bowl.

The team the Patriots beat, the Texans, has a coaching staff stacked with former Patriots’ coaches and players (O’Brien, Crennel, Larry Izzo, and Mike Vrabel). The team the Steelers beat, the Chiefs, had former Patriots’ Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli as their GM for 4 years. While the Chiefs struggled during his tenure, many of the key players for this team were acquired by Pioli.

Pioli is currently the assistant GM for the Atlanta Falcons who also won their division, got a bye week and defeated the Seahawks to advance to the NFC conference championship against the Packers. The Falcons’ GM is Pioli’s old friend from the Browns and Patriots (both under Belichick), Tom Dimitroff.

Half of the teams in the divisional round came from the same organizational roots!

This organization is the subject of Michael Holley’s book War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team. Holley spent a year with the team researching his earlier book, Patriot Reign. He wanted that book to be about Belichick. It has paid off for a growing number of books. Contrary to common opinion, Belichick isn’t self-absorbed and keeps wanting Holley to write not about him but about the organization.

In this book, Holley focuses on Belichick, Pioli and Dimitroff. He provides some biographical information, particularly as he introduces Piolo and Dimitroff, and traces their relationships, how they achieved great success together, and how they’ve been building teams since (when this was written, Pioli was still with the Chiefs).

There is plenty of interesting information about football as Holley retells how some key seasons unfolded. It covers some key drafts as well, bringing you into the process to better understand it. It isn’t just about successes. You see that in drafting disappointments Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson, Belichick tuned out the scouts who were raising red flags. You discover Belichick is not the man you see or typically hear about, but that is rather is “stage personae”. Behind the scenes and to his friends he is seen as having a great sense of humor and caring about the people he works with, often providing them with advice.

Reading this book you get a better sense of why so many organizations flounder, or lack consistency. Their organizational games of musical chairs, approach to scouting, focus on the short-term instead of the long -term too, are here to see.

I think this book extends beyond football. There are some principles to appropriate for other organizations. While it is about football, it is about more than football. Success begins with people, identifying people with both skills and character. This is not simply players but the whole organization. Belichick, for instance, hired Pioli to a low level position and watched. He saw a guy driven to know more, do more. Pioli quickly rose as Belichick tested him and he passed those tests. Belichick largely develops staff from within instead of importing people from elsewhere. This way you know if they can actually do the job, not just interview well (a problem not just in football but in most organizations). Evaluating players is not just about skill, but character (the flaw in the Maroney and Jackson picks for instance). Players are not evaluated in the abstract, but in comparison to current members of the team. The idea is whether or not they make the team better in both the short-term and long-term.  The focus is not on “stars” but depth, spending your money so you can survive the attrition of an NFL season instead of floundering because a few key guys are hurt.

I don’t want to give it all away. I want you to read the book. It is interesting as well as informative. There is more here than just the “inside story” on some draft picks (though that is interesting too). There is organizational wisdom for those with ears to hear.

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I’ve been thinking about my next writing project. Okay, I’ve been thinking about it for about four years. I’ve begun to do some research; over my study leave I read When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search.

Chris Brauns’ book is highly acclaimed, for good reason. It is an excellent book but I thought an insufficient book. Let me explain. The material he covers he does in generally excellent fashion. As someone who has searched for a call twice and has helped a number of churches find a new pastor, I thought he missed a number of issues important to the process of searching for a new pastor.

He does address key issues like unity (around the Word) in the search committee, the importance of prayer, the character of the pastor, evaluating preaching and interviewing. He keeps pointing us to the Word. His style is easy to read, and interesting. He uses some very good illustrations. In these areas it is a very helpful book. It should be read by those about to start searching for a pastor.

The bulk of the book seems to be evaluating the preaching of pastoral candidates. I’m not completely convinced of his “basic goal of preaching.” Much of what he says about preaching was learned from Haddon Robinson at Gordon-Conwell. I’m not saying that is bad (his was a good book). Brauns offers this as the basic goal: Truth nourishing God’s people. There are many good elements there. In preaching we speak Truth to people. We as shepherds are to nourish God’s people. We want to see them transformed by the truth.

But that strikes me as a tad reductionistic. Am I being nit-picky? Maybe. As I think of preaching using Frame’s triperspectivalism I think of worship and preaching as having three goals: exaltation of God, edification of God’s people, and evangelizing the lost. Early on he doesn’t sound very Christ/gospel-centered (I got redemptive historical preaching pounded into my head, and I need it pounded into my head). This is largely because of his focus on application (preaching a bullet). He rightly speaks of unction as well, though I’m not sure how you measure that in a recorded sermon. He didn’t really explain that but didn’t weigh it heavily in his evaluation form.

In the section on interviewing, which he compares to dating, he offers some excellent direction for committees. There were a few things that required unpacking. One was the area of leadership and a “right fit”. He didn’t bring us (earlier) through leadership style in trying to figure out who you are as a congregation. The type of leadership needed is an important part of that because there are many kinds of leaders.

This book helped me think more about the areas missing or glossed over in this book. I’m hoping that I can fill in that gap and supplement the many fine things that Brauns has said in this book.

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Lay leaders are often very busy. They can often work long hours and have kids to raise. This can make on-going training difficult. This can be frustrating for the pastor, and the elders and other leaders. They often want to learn more but find the realities of life an obstacle.

“In any group of any size, a leader will emerge. Someone who takes initiative, assumes responsibility for the activity and direction of that group. … But in the end, I have a deep and enduring conviction that it is the gospel that should shape my attitude to and practice of leadership.”

Steve Timmis’ new book, Gospel Centered Leadership, is an answer to some of that frustration. It is a short book with short chapters on important subjects that encourage and challenged leaders new and old. He includes questions to help you think through the implications of the material. His fundamental position is that church leaders lead from an on-going faith and repentance. Apart from this, their hearts become hardened by sin and they will inevitably be unable to counsel, guide and direct the sheep.

Leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in the context of Jesus as the Head of the Church. Gospel centered leaders submit to His authority and recognize that they are merely under-shepherds. It also happens in the context of culture. Each culture has definite ideas about leadership. The church will usually follow that style of leadership, but should repent of unbiblical notions of leadership within that culture. For instance, Korean churches in the US often have a more autocratic style of leadership then other churches in the U.S. This is not a problem as long as they don’t “lord it over” the people.

“In simple terms, headship is all about creating an environment in which those in our care are able to flourish and thrive.”

Christ rules through His Word, and thru fallible, sinful people. Timmis notes the numerous failures of biblical leaders. They all anticipated Christ in what they did right and in their failures. We will also fail at times. The gospel enables us to receive forgiveness, get back up again and keep leading. It keeps us humble regarding our skills and abilities, and confident in God’s love and provision to us in Christ. While he recognizes that all Christians should minister to others, he does hold that the office of elder is restricted to men.

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Books are written for a variety of reasons- some good, some bad and some neutral. They can be written because of a great love for something. They can be written to sound a warning.

Paul Tripp wrote Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry to sound a warning. As he has traveled the world and visited with many churches and their staff, he has seen some disturbing trends.

Joshua Harris compared this book to heart surgery. The main point is the gospel, which challenges the sinful status quo in our lives. God is more concerned with our holiness (and His glory) than we are. So God’s grace is often disruptive. This, reflecting that, is a disruptive book.

The initial premise is that pastoral  ministry presents some unique challenges. These challenges are destructive to ministry and ministers. The only solution is the gospel rigorously understood and applied on a consistent basis.

“You are constantly preaching to yourself some kind of gospel.”

As Tripp lays out some of the most common traps and snares, you will not recognize yourself in them all (I hope). But you should see some tendencies toward some of them. You should be able to identify with some of them (I’m always preparing, for instance). And when he ruthlessly goes after you, so to speak, it will be difficult to continue. Unless you keep sight of the gospel and recognize the goal is sanctification, and not condemnation.

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In the third chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung looks at the pattern of piety found in Scripture. It is not enough to know we are called to holiness, but we also need to know what it looks like, and doesn’t look like.

Holiness means separation. That is the bottom line. God sets us apart from the rest of humanity in two ways. First, we are definitively set apart at justification. We are set apart as Gods’ people. So, every Christian is sanctified. But God continues to set us apart from the world morally. This is progressive sanctification. You don’t have one without the other. Both of these are a result of grace.. The first is an act of grace (one time event) and the second is a work of grace (a process) according to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

What Holiness is Not

It is not rule keeping. Holiness certainly includes obedience. People often get off course by thinking about non-biblical rules. We are set apart for God. We are to obey his law. Jesus was not too keen on the Pharisees for neglecting God’s law from man-made traditions. It is not about dancing, whether or not you drink a beer with dinner, or have the occasional cuss word slip out when you smash your thumb with a hammer. It is about gentleness, not getting drunk, and having lips used to edify and express gratitude.

“Holiness is more than middle class values. … checklist spirituality is highly selective.”

It is not generational imitation. Some people think it is having the standards and practices of an earlier generation. It could be the 1950’s in Amercia, Calvin’s Geneva or the Puritan’s England. This is what got the Amish in trouble. DeYoung notes that the 50’s may have had a better standards of sexual decency. But when it came to race relations, not so good. Just an example. We are trying to apply the timeless law in our time, not recreate another time.

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Yes, I’ve already reviewed The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I thought I would go back to something that I think is important. It is something that we tend not to learn easily. People tell us about, but the cultural pull can be so difficult to escape.

The quest for marriage, or the search for a marriage partner, must include developing your own relationship with Christ. Since our hearts are factories of idols (Calvin), we quickly make idols of marriage itself, or particular people.

We make an idol of marriage when we think we MUST be married. We sound like Rachel, who said she must have children or die (Gen. 30). We get angry with God because he hasn’t provided a spouse. Marriage won’t fix all your problems or address all your felt needs.

We can also fixate on particular people. We end up like all the men in There’s Something About Mary. We pursue a relationship in an unhealthy manner, rule out other relationships and harm other people who stand in our way. But that is extreme. Think of Jacob, who made an idol out of Rachel. He had to have her, and nobody else but her. Or John Newton whose journals reflect his constant temptation to make an idol out of his wife, Polly.

Without a deeply fulfilling relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in their lives.

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The topic of church discipline is a touchy one.  People tend to go to extremes.  They either try to discipline people for anything and everything, or they try to avoid ever doing it no matter how severe the sin.

My experience as a pastor has been mixed.  There have been times I’ve believed church discipline was required, but enough of the Session disagreed that we never pursued it.  I’m sure some of those times I may have been over-reacting since the people were attacking me.

I have been wanting to read The Transforming Community: The Practise of the Gospel in Church Discipline by Mark Lauterbach (that’s not a typo, but the British spelling of “practice”, I think) for a few years.  I finally picked it up.  I’m glad I did.  It is a great little book (so far, I’m only 1/2 done).  Mark sees church discipline as a part of how we live out the gospel and how God transforms us.  It is an essential function of church life- part of the church being the church.  Without it the church becomes a social club and lives are not really changed.  This was one of the issues I encountered.  Many in the church wanted it to be more of a chapel (nice service, not much else) rather than a place where the gospel was at work to make people more like Jesus (Romans 8), as Christ is formed in them (Galatians 6).

“… as the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the church, so does discipline serve as its sinews, through which the members of the body hold together…  all who desire to remove discipline or hinder its restoration- whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance- are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church.”  John Calvin

Lauterbach rightly points to pride as one of the main problems in the church.  We  resist church discipline, thinking it unnecessary because we think more of ourselves than we ought.  We fail to recognize we are the biggest sinners we know (1 Timothy 1:15, as Paul uses the present tense).  If we are unwilling to face our sin, the gospel makes no progress in our lives.

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