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Posts Tagged ‘leadership’


A while ago one of the admissions guys from our denominational seminary was in town and stopped by. We talked for awhile. A short time later a book arrived in the mail. It was The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine. As a result I read it while on study leave.

I am reminded of the story of Elisha hounding Elijah because he knew it was time for Elijah to “go home”. He asked for a double portion (the firstborn son’s inheritance). As I read this book I got the impression that he is the new Eugene Peterson. This is about the man in ministry and how he goes about ministry. It is not ivory tower theory, but born of the intersection of theology and life.

I am also reminded of the great men in Scripture who thought they would be great on their own terms, and then God humbled them and they became more useful. Zack is not the hero of this story, and neither are we. This is an honest book about the hard lessons he learned.

This is not a “perfect book”, and that is perfectly fine. There is plenty here to encourage, humble and re-direct. He breaks the book into 4 sections: Calling, Temptations, Reshaping the Inner Life and Reshaping the Work. There is an element of who the reader is that impacts how any book is perceived. For me the lag was in the 3rd section. In some ways though I suspect he could make a cottage industry of this with the Imperfect Husband, the Imperfect Father ….. precisely because this material does apply to all of these callings.

“My pastoral desires had become tainted, and I did not realize it. A lot of us don’t. We and our congregations suffer for it.”

The main part I took away from the first section on calling is the intersection of God’s calling and our past. Our history is important because we don’t just shake it off. It comes with us into our calling, and makes our fulfilling that calling more difficult. Our history shapes who we are (grace does too), often in ways we cannot or do not perceive. The more we ignore our history, the more it will impact how we do ministry.

The temptations pastors face, and are sometimes thrust upon them as demands, are important. In this section he has something of a mantra: “You and I were never meant to repent for not ___________. You and I are meant to repent because we tried to be.” His issue is our attempt to be like God, not in terms of His communicable attributes but in terms of His incommunicable attributes. We want to be everywhere (and at the right time), able to fix everything, knowing everything and that everything can happen NOW. Here he quotes Eugene Peterson:

“I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience.”

luke-face-dark-side-caveThese temptations are part of the context of fulfilling our calling. We cannot avoid these temptations, but must face them much like Luke Skywalker has to face the temptations of the dark side. Except this doesn’t happen in a cave, but in the course of ministry.

“When Jesus begins to rescue us from trying to fix it all, know it all, be everywhere for all as fast and as famously as possible, we find ourselves in a hard spot.”

The 3rd section sounds like it has been greatly influenced by The Contemplative Pastor. He encourages speaking less and listening more (James 1:19). There will be a time to speak, but first we must listen. This is made even more difficult in the social media/sound bite world we live in. He offers three thoughts for other pastors for us to ponder in our “detox”.

  1. The boundaries of your calling reveal God’s pastoral care for you. He knows our limitations and capacities, precisely because He gave them to you. He doesn’t expect you to go beyond those limitations. Respect them.
  2. In trying so hard not to miss out, you actually create the thing you fear. Too many pastors are so busy going to conferences that they miss out on their actual calling. I’m not called to go to conferences, but to shepherd people.
  3. Smaller is always better than larger unless, and only if, God extrudes us. I’ve only been a small church pastor. I see some larger church pastors struggling to actually shepherd. They are teachers (and there are times I wish I was primarily a teaching/preaching “pastor”). God does put some people in these larger contexts, but we have to resist the selfish ambition that claws for them, always looking for the next, better & bigger position instead of shepherding the people where you are.

“When the three-fold omni-temptation to be like God takes hold of us with speed, we gradually turn to the Bible as a tool kit to make our programs work or our sermons applaudable rather than as the words of our Beloved meant to help anyone anywhere find the way home.”

The last two chapters, Local Knowledge and Leadership, are among the high points of the book. Ministry does not happen in a vacuum, but in a real place which is different from other real places. So he talks about how to grow in knowledge of your place (made more difficult with the internet which helps us know about every other place). Leadership takes a slower pace, more intentional and contemplative, including training. I’ve done some of this in training- the idea of shadowing and attending meetings to see how the guy fits in and approaches things. I can do more.

So, the bottom line is that I highly recommend this book to pastors and elders. The pastor cannot change the local culture and expectations alone. He needs the help of those in leadership with him. As they embrace the things Zack talks about, the healthier their leadership and churches will become.

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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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It is that time of year to consider all the “best of lists.”

While it has been a great year for Boston sports (the Patriots nearly made the Super Bowl again to gain revenge on the 49ers, and the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Red Sox won their 3rd World Series championship of this young century) I’m thinking of the best books I’ve read this year. This is not necessarily books that came out in 2013, but what I read this year.

I’ll take them in the order in which I read them. What you will notice is that I’ve probably read less this year, and clearly blogged less. Having 4 kids will do that. As will being pastor of a church that has grown enough to have to expand it facilities to expand ministry capacity. I also read some enormous books, and that takes time.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp. I couldn’t identify with all the problems he talks about, and that is a good thing. Some issues are connected to how we “do” seminary and preparation for pastoral ministry. Others have to do with the manifestations of pride and sloth.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology by Richard Gaffin. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a significant book to read. As I noted in the review, for Gaffin soteriology is eschatology. This book explores the significance of the resurrection for our redemption which is a neglected area of thought.

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and Christian by John Piper. John Piper looks at his own history with questions of race and brings the gospel to bear on the question. I wish he would have co-authored it with a person of color to balance the perspective. But much of what he says is excellent

The Book of Revelation by G.K. Beale. This is a humongous commentary on Revelation but is well worth the time needed to read it. This is the one to read to understand its connection with the Old Testament. While I don’t agree with all he says (like I prefer an early date) this is excellent.

Freedom & Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church by Kevin DeYoung. He is correct, it is a primer. He concisely addresses the most important texts and questions that arise. He presents a complementarian position but not an extreme one. I highly recommend it.

Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft. This little book was an excellent treatment of common mistakes church leaders make. Some I’ve made and I don’t want to make the others.

Sex & Money by Paul Tripp. He talks about the 2 things that occupy most of our time, energy and thoughts. He focuses on the tendency toward idolatry and the healing power of the gospel. Great stuff.

The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul. Typical Sproul. He explains sound theology so the average person can understand. Here he’s explaining the atonement, which every Christian should understand.

Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester. Books on the Trinity are pretty rare these days. Helpful, interesting and accessible books on the subject are even more rare. This is a book that is all three. It isn’t very big, but it is worth reading.

Gospel Centered Leadership by Steve Timmis. This is a very helpful little book that helps us understand how the gospel should shape our leadership in the church. I gave this one to my elders and we’ll study it soon.

Modest: Men & Women Clothed in the Gospel by Tim Challies & R.W. Glenn. I haven’t read any books on the subject before. What was good about this one is that it is about both men & women, and it is about how the gospel changes the equation. It is not about rules and a moralistic spirit.

Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church by Peter Hubbard. This was an excellent and challenging book. He tries to balance truth and love (I think Paul said something like that) when we speak to homosexuals. We should not back off biblical teaching, which he explains by looking at key texts. We should not treat people as lepers either and he talks about how we can love them as we communicate the gospel to them as sinners, not just homosexuals.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. This is another enormous book. I have not quite finished the appendices since I’ve been focusing on other projects. This book examines ethical systems and then moves into understanding and applying the ten commandments before briefly discussing sanctification. This is an excellent book even if you agree with his particular end points.

The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. This is another very good book on ministry. His focus is the importance of the doctrine of justification on who we are and how we go about ministry. Theology applied!

Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. It is very short. I read this during a crazy busy time that mercifully should be coming to an end. I gave this to my elders and those who have gotten to it have appreciated its message. It is not just about techniques but the heart.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I’m not quite done with this book yet so it might end up on next year’s list too! As I preach thru the prologue of John’s Gospel this has been a great help. He really pushes the point of “God is love” as we think about the Trinity and Christianity. This is definitely a must read in that rare category of books on the Trinity. Like Chester’s of the same name this is relatively short.

Interesting-

  • 2 books by Paul Tripp and Kevin DeYoung
  • 2 books on the Trinity
  • 5 books on ministry
  • 2 books on salvation
  • 2 books of over 1,000 pages

Not one book by Tim Keller (I left off the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). Don’t worry, I’m sure there will be at least 1 next year.

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I was bored.

CavMom keeps renewing a subscription to Family Circle for CavWife. Sometimes I flip thru it to look for good recipes.

I stopped when it talked about the Secret Life of Boys. It was an interesting article on the dynamics of relationships among boys summarized from her book . Each boy in a circle of 3-5 friends seems to fit into an established role. Those roles are identified as:

Mastermind: He’s the ringleader, charismatic and good at identifying people’s weaknesses. He gains power and control over the group (think Alex in A Clockwork Orange). He fears losing his status and can’t admit when he’s in over his head.

Associate: He’s the right-hand man. He’s essentially the “best friend” who can be honest with the mastermind. He gains power by association. He has power and status he would never have apart from the mastermind. But often they lose their sense of identity apart from the mastermind.

Bouncer: or enforcer. It would be Dim in A Clockwork Orange. People skills are not his forte. He’s the one who can enforce the will of the mastermind. He often forfeits the ability to have healthy relationships.

Entertainer: he’s the village idiot who make people laugh. That is his identity: comic relief. He has to keep cutting up to feel valuable.

Conscience: here is the guy who tells the truth, and is often trusted by adults. He will be left out when the others want to cross some lines. He is often used as the smokescreen with parents.

Punching Bag: he’s like the little brother everyone loves by picks on mercilessly. He pays a high price for friendship, but feels it is necessary.

Fly: he hovers around the group, desperately wanting to get in. They often try to earn the acceptance of the rest with gifts and favors.

Champion: he doesn’t play by these rules. He makes his own friends and is genuinely liked by people in many groups. But people will turn on him when he tries to do the right thing instead of playing alone. Most parents think their kid is a champion, but they aren’t. They are rare.

The main point is that these are boys trying to act like men. They are trying to figure it out, but they have not figured it out. It is a sad parody of adult male relationships.

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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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No doubt about it, ministry is time consuming. Some people think we read books all day (yes, I read plenty of books- that is part of my job responsibilities). There are also plenty of meetings, during the day and in the evening and sometimes on weekends. There are phone calls, e-mails, personal counseling, working lunches…

Ministry takes time. I don’t say that to make it sound like pastors are busier that other people. I say it because some people think it isn’t. And that busyness can be a problem. Being too busy is one of The Mistakes Leaders Make.

“… it seems that most leaders are moving too fast and trying to do too much. There is precious little time set aside to think, pray, plan, and listen to the Lord.”

Ministry is more than doing. Leadership is about more than doing things. It is about setting a pace, a direction and a tone. And if you do that intentionally (thinking, praying, planning), it will just happen and when that happens the results are usually not pretty. The pace becomes too fast, there is no real direction and the tone is “don’t bother me now.” It happens in parenting, and it happens in ministry.

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I’ve lost track of the avalanche of men’s books over the years. That’s because I wasn’t too impressed with what I was seeing. Neither was Rick Phillips. In particular, he was not happy with some of what John Eldredge says in his book Wild At Heart, and how he runs his wilderness retreats. So he ended up writing The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men.

But, while you might expect a reactionary book this really isn’t. He only mentions Eldredge in the first chapter. His point is that what John says concerning Adam and the GardenĀ  is not really defensible. Eldredge argues that man finds his identity outside the garden, that men are not domesticated. If you mean “feminized”, then Phillips agrees with you. But he notes:

“The garden is the place where God relates covenantally to his creature man and where God brings the man into covenantal relationships and obligations. … God put the man in the garden. … If God intends men to be wild at heart, how strange that he placed man in the garden, where his life would be shaped not by self-centered identity quests but by covenantal bonds and blessings.”

Phillips’ thesis is that man’s calling is to live responsibly within those bonds and enjoying those blessings. The call of man is found in the creation mandate “to work and keep” which is lived out in work, marriage, parenting and church.

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