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Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’


About a year ago I realized I had no books on the subject of our union with Christ. I decided to go on a buying binge. It didn’t last long because there are not many books on that subject. Since then I read Robert Letham’s excellent book on the subject. Since I was on study leave, I decided to take J. Todd Billings’ book Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church.

The phrase reframing theology can often be a bad sign, sort of like ‘repainting the faith”. But here it is not. Billings is a Reformation scholar, with particular emphasis on Calvin. This book oozes Calvin, along with others. He utilizes “retrieval theology”, which was a new term for me. You look to the theology of the past to address problems of the present, and to renew our vision. We tend to be culturally captive, and see theology in light of the problems of our day. This looks to the past to gain a theological foothold to examine the problems of our day, sometimes to even see them. I hope that makes sense, and that I did it justice (I suspect some Ph.D. candidate out there could take me to task). Billings wants to reframe our thinking, so we look at things like salvation, justice, communion and ministry in light of our union with Christ.

When I taught a Sunday School class, one congregant took issue with Packer’s assertion that one only understands Christianity to the degree that they understand adoption. His assertion was that union with Christ as the most important unifying principle or doctrine that we must understand. So, I found it ironic that the first chapter is entitled Salvation as Adopted in Christ. The point is, that they are connected to one another. You can’t have one without the other. But one way we can better understand union is thru understanding adoption. Much of the book keeps our current context in mind, and explores how Christianity really differs from MTD, or moralistic, therapeutic, deism. Odd in that some of the other books I’ve been reading have dealt with that as well. Salvation as adoption is so different than MTD. God, who is transcendent (great & glorious) draws near to us in salvation. He draws near to us to save us.

“The prospect of adoption in this sense is an offense. It is too much closeness– it is the sort of closeness that requires giving up one’s own identity.”

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Soon this will make sense

Sometimes stuff just happens.  You forget things.  For instance, one of the joys of re-hydrating at a late dinner each night is that you wake up 3 times in the middle of the night.  I felt like a guy with prostate problems.  I forgot to share that special joy with the world.

I forgot to share some other things- my final thoughts.  But before I get there, there was an update.

I went to get my oil changed today.  I should have gotten it done last week, but life goes on.  The guys at Midas pulled me out to the garage to show me that the new tires I bought in Yuma were the wrong size.  The front tires were 215s, but these were 185s.  Glad to discover this.  The dealer had a franchise nearby, so that was my next step.  The invoice had the correct size tires listed, so I paid for the right ones.  But the guy who installed them pulled the wrong tires.  So tomorrow I go back tomorrow and have the right ones put on.  Yeah, they didn’t have the right size.  So, that was a little fun.  Not as much fun as getting up to pee 3 times a night, but fun none the less.

I had a few take aways for our slide show presentation at the church.

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I’m nearly finished with reading The Letters of John Newton.  It is a great, humbling and encouraging read that is focused on the gospel.  The reason I bought the book was for a letter that ended up not being in the book.  It is a letter he wrote to a young pastor.  It is suitable for many of us.

Your understanding of the gospel is intellectually sound, but there is much legalism in your experience of Christ, and that perplexes you.  You are very capable of giving advice to others, but I wish you could apply more effectively what you preach.

Did he meet me?  Part of what is scary here is that we can intellectually “get it” but still have a heart bound by legalism.  We still try to relate to Christ with a legal spirit.  We seem quite capable, but don’t seem to live in light of what know intellectually.

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It is really strange that maturity would be considered a neglected aspect of discipleship.  I know I mention it regularly in preaching.  But, seeing as how the evangelical world is fairly shallow spiritually, John Stott is probably wise to bring it up in The Radical Disciple.

Stott begins by lamenting the explosive growth of the Church in the non-western world because it is about as superficial as the Christianity of the West.  Thanks to satellite and the internet we get to share our ignorance with them.  The world over, the Church is lacking depth in biblical knowledge and therefore character, or maturity.

The Scriptures, on the other hand, instruct us that such immaturity is “unnatural”.  Babies are meant to seek milk and grow up.  There are many Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 3, Ephesians 4 and Hebrews 6 that remind us that it is natural that we move toward maturity.  If we aren’t, there is some sort of dysfunction taking place- just like a teenager who doesn’t get taller and stronger.

The end of Colossians 1 is my “mission statement” as a pastor.  I strive to present everyone mature in Christ.  Since we are “in Christ” or vitally united to Him, “to be mature is to have a mature relationship with Christ in which we worship, trust, love and obey him.”  One of the problems we face is that people tend to create a Jesus in their own image (based on ethnicity, politics or ethics) rather than becoming conformed to the likeness of the real Jesus.  This is what idol factories do.

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  Jerome

Instead our “image” of Christ must also be shaped by Scripture.  It, not our preferences or vain imaginings, must determine who we worship.  That is because, according to Scripture, we become like what we worship (this is one of the problems with idols revealed by the prophets).

Back to Colossians 1, unlike many pastors or evangelists, Paul was not content with conversions.  He saw evangelism as leading directly into discipleship.  We are not to merely make converts, but disciples (Mt. 28).  We are to strive in His power to present the as mature in  Christ by proclaiming Christ to everyone.  We have lots of work to do.

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One of the hot books among Reformed pastors these days is The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.  If you haven’t heard of them, it may be because they are Australian.  The fact that these brothers are from “down under” shows up in some of the words and spellings utilized in the book.  But that does not mean the material is irrelevant to churches here in the States, or elsewhere.

My friend Morgan had an extra copy and passed it along to me.  I’m glad, I’m reading it as I prepare for my new call in Arizona.  The subtitle is The Ministry Mind Shift that Changes Everything.  That is a mighty bold claim, but how we think about ministry determines how we go about ministry.  Marshall and Payne are noticing some wrong ways of thinking and going about ministry.  Their goal is to reorient the church to a more biblical understanding and therefore practice.  In other words, orthodoxy leading to orthopraxy.

What did they notice?  One of them spent some time pondering their landscaping.  There they noticed a beautiful trellis and a meager trellis.  What was more important than the relative beauty of the trellises was that one had a thriving vine on it, and the other didn’t.  One trellis was beautiful, but it’s purpose was not to be beautiful, but to support a thriving vine.

Ministry has become, for many, more about having a beautiful trellis than a thriving vine.  This is the opposite of what ministry is about in Scripture.  This is there thesis.  Just as the vine needs the trellis, churches need the proper structure and support for the church to grow.  But a good vine dresser spends most of his time on the vine, not the trellis.  Most pastors spend most of their time on the structure instead of the Body.

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I really appreciated the perspective on leadership presented in Roger Parrott’s book The Longview.  I found it helpful to better understand my role as a leader and to avoid many of the traps that undermine leaders or waste their time with unnecessary work.

The B&B Media Group provided me with a copy of the book.  And they just provided a brief interview with the author about the book.  Here you go:

Many of today’s ministries suffer from a near-sighted vision.  Too often leaders choose easy solutions over principled, long-term strategies.  The results can be devastating, as ignored issues become full-blown crises, and small problems become big challenges.

The Longview (David C Cook, October 2009) is a fresh approach to leadership that will transform how readers make decisions and address problems.  Author Dr. Roger Parrott offers proven, practical principles drawn from scripture and his renowned career in educational leadership.  Parrott issues readers a timely challenge: Defy the trends of short-sighted goal-making for quick returns by learning to lead for long-term significance.

Do we have a leadership void today?

The problem is not that we don’t have great leaders, in fact, we’ve probably never had more educationally well prepared leaders than we have today.  The problem is that leaders are caught in an ever tightening vice grip of unrealistic expectations that pressure them into valuing turn-around over transformation. Today’s leaders are expected to find simple solutions to complex problems, and because these quick-fixes only hold for a short time, leaders from presidents to pastors disappoint those they are leading.

I believe this pattern started in American culture in the 1980s with the quest to get rich quick from junk bonds and buy outs, through the dot.coms in the 1990s, and the explosion of “want it now” credit card debt and built into the real-estate frenzy created by leveraged speculators in the past decide.  So leaders have been reared, tutored, and equipped to operate in a world that prizes immediate results over lasting significance.

For three decades skyrocketing incentives have been the norm for all manner of short-term producers—from stockbrokers to college coaches—as leaders at every level have indoctrinated us to believe immediate gains trump long-term consequences. This nearsightedness is eroding the foundational underpinnings of organizational quality and severely handicapping the effectiveness of leaders who are robbing the future to pay for today.

How did the Church become caught up on a short view approach and what are the consequences?

As we often do in the Church, we’ve followed the pattern of the world – in this case, the best of business and organizational teaching – but in mimicking the leadership patters of business and politics, we’ve strayed from the Longview leadership model given to us by Jesus.  Because this short view corporate culture has so permeated the church today, we in ministry have loosened our grip on the biblical model for leadership. We have grown to expect and even demand an ever-increasing cycle of measureable and immediate results from our leaders.

Our theology and our ministry passion draw us to talk about Longview outcomes as our heart’s desire, but we have been duped into fostering a generation of leaders, board members, employees, and constituencies who value short-term gain over Longview significance. Ministry leaders believe it and act accordingly—hiring and rewarding people who can promote Band-Aid fixes as monumental solutions, creating plans that promise the moon and always come up short, raising funds from unrealistically compressed donor relationships, and touting those results that can most easily be measured and applauded.

Why do you believe rising leaders are the generation who will value a Longview approach to leadership?

For three reasons I’m convinced this new generation of leaders are ready to embrace Longview leadership:

1.      They know the short view doesn’t work. This is likely to be the first generation that has not had a quality of life better than their parents.  And they know the reason is we are not dealing with Longview solutions in the macro problems of health care, terrorism, energy, and the economy. And they will be the ones to pay the price for patchwork fixes.

2.      They are connected to huge networks of real people through social networking, and listen to them rather than public relations messages – and they know from their peers that sugarcoating a problem doesn’t make it go away.

3.      This new generation of leaders is much more focused on mission significance and problem solving than on organizational stature and position climbing. They want to make a difference in the world, and they are willing to dig into problems to find lasting solutions.

The challenge for younger leaders is that they have never been given the tools to lead in a Longview pattern.  So the book is not just a call to Longview leadership, but mostly is deals with the everyday nitty-gritty issues of leadership from a Longview perspective.

Stay tuned for more….

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The 4th chapter of Roger Parrott’s The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders gave me plenty to ponder.  I’ve been mulling over it for a few weeks now.

It is entitled Vulnerability May Get You In, but Humility Keeps You There.  He there outlines some of the differences between transparency and humility which can greatly affect one’s ability to lead a group of people.  I’m part of that transitional generation when transparency began to be advocated after generations of a lack of transparency from leaders about their shortcomings and mistakes.  Parrott writes some things to challenge this.

“But (a pastor) exposing himself in order to demonstrate vulnerability diminishes his ability to be sought after as a counselor who can be looked to for advice.”

At first I am thinking, they need to know I’ve struggled and God has been faithful.  They can’t see me as impervious to sin or above struggling with things.  I’ve talked about my struggles to put unrighteous anger and selfishness to death.  But there are struggles I’ve not shared publicly.  I may share them in private ministry, but not for everyone’s ears.

“While pride is an unattractive quality in leaders, humility is a strength that compels others to follow.  In an effort to be seen as humble, many leaders have wrongfully substituted vulnerability for humility, and in doing so turned a self-centered spotlight on themselves, laying the groundwork for leadership deterioration.”

This is the key thing, substituting vulnerability for humility.  They are not the same thing, and sometimes vulnerability is driven by pride.  Either pride in wanting the spotlight, or in manipulating others to follow through the sharing of secrets.  Parrott notes that many a vulnerable pastor had bigger secrets that lead to a public moral collapse (think Jim Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart).

“Leaders who purposefully expose their liabilities limit their sphere of influence and often forfeit their long-term viability. … Humility and vulnerability are two different things, and the first must be established without offering the second.”

Vulnerability makes you vulnerable, in the wrong way.  You are not merely accessible to others, but leave the gates open for the hordes to attack and oust you.  I’ve experienced this as some people have turned the table on my transparency.  They hide behind the claim that I will get angry and yell at them, without any prior evidence for this.  I have been yelled at many times- no one seems to be afraid to yell at their pastor.  As leaders, we must remember that people are not basically good.  Some people will use the truth against you.

Humility is the most important element of leadership.  Humility means being willing to listen readily instead of thinking you have all the answers.  They think about, and talk about others more than they think and talk about themselves.  But this humility is combined with an “intense professional will”.  This person keeps others focused on the organization and its goals, and how they fit into the plan rather than how the leader fits into the plan.  Most often, effective leaders are able to influence people without direct confrontation and exercising power.  As Mark Driscoll talks about, control and influence are inversely correlated.  The more control you exert, the less influence you will have.

One way in which humility fits in here is the teachable spirit.  A teachable spirit, a willingness to listen to one’s critics, minimizes power differentials.  Unteachable leaders maximize the power differential and reduce their influence over others.  This fits well in the longview.  To remain longterm, you must be humble and teachable.  This means you will learn to work with others in light of eternal perspectives rather than using powerplays to achieve short-term victories.

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