Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘weakness’


What does evangelism have to do with grace? Obviously we want the other person to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ. But why do we want this? Mike Bechtle ponders this in the short, next chapter of Evangelism for the Rest of Us.

Let’s be honest. We often feel guilty about not sharing our faith. I feel it at times. As I prepare a sermon that touches on evangelism I can feel it. I want to produce conviction, surety of thought, on having it as a priority. But I’m sure it is often heard through the filter of failure and my words produce far more guilt than I’d like.

Evangelism often seems like one more obligation of the Christian life. The type A persons around us (or in us) have it on their To-Do List. It’s about obedience, for the love of Pete.

Yeah, but ……

We miss the point if it isn’t about compassion. The Father didn’t send the Son to save sinners as part of His To-Do List. “Oh, yeah. Time to save some sinners!” We see God’s great compassion for sinners in Scripture. This is most clear in Jonah, particularly chapter 4. Jonah’s compassion was limited to the plant that grew up overnight without any help from Jonah to provide Jonah with shade lacking from his lousy lean-to. Jonah was there hoping God would smite those lousy Assyrians. God, on the other hand, had compassion for this great city filled with people and animals that He made. God sent Jonah to them, not out of sense of obligation, but out of compassion. This is also why He sent the One greater than Jonah. “For God so loved the world…”

Too often we are about obligation, obedience, checking stuff off our list (or growing our church to satisfy our selfish ambitions or pay off our mortgage- ouch!!!!). We simply lack compassion.

He tells of a car salesman who paid him and his family so much attention. He felt connected to this guy who seemed interested in them. But the next day the salesman didn’t pay any attention to them when they came to pick up the van. It was simply the sale he cared about.

As we evangelize, or bear witness, we can be all about “closing the deal.” We can communicate that in unexpected ways. This mentality, not just its manifestations, is wrong. But that is what happens when our motivation isn’t compassion.

What we need more of to bear witness more consistently is compassion and love.

“But the more we love people, the more we will want to share with them. The focus will be external- on them, not us.”

As we grow in love our evangelism will be rooted in grace rather than guilt.

God uses weak people. The treasure of the gospel is in jars of clay. He didn’t remove Paul’s thorn but said “My grace will be sufficient.” He didn’t give Paul super-human strength, but enabled Paul to persevere despite that distracting, disabling thorn. The thorn seems to have become a means by which Paul gained opportunities to bear witness.

We hate pain. We’d rather be pain-free than experience sufficient grace. And that means we’d rather enjoy ease (like Jonah) than be channels of grace by pointing people to Jesus. Graceful  evangelism bears witness from reality, who we really are and out of our circumstances, not out of some fantasy land where Christians have it all together, have plenty of cash on hand, and never deal with sickness and tragedy. God often reaches people dealing with tragedy or illness through people who have or experienced something similar.

As Christians, Bechtle argues, we are to be bilingual people. The language of faith is our second language if we’ve come to faith in adulthood. We are speaking to people who don’t know or understand the language of faith. We are communicating to unbelievers. Graceful witness means speaking their language (I’m not talking about dropping “f” bombs), translating our faith into words they can understand as best we can. We connect it to their world, their needs, rather than keeping it abstract. Graceful witness doesn’t expect them to learn our language so we can share the truth (if they come to faith they will learn it).

This will happen if we genuinely care about people. If we love them and have compassion on them, we won’t expect them to buy a theological dictionary so we can evangelize them.

If we genuinely care about people we will listen to them.

“If I learn what’s important to him, I can find out where Christ might fit in his life.”

The above statement isn’t meant to somehow limit Christ, but to identify the points of entry for the gospel. Because you genuinely care! We want them to come to faith for their well-being, not so you can boast about it, ease your guilty conscience or feel better about spending time with them.

Graceful witness keeps in mind that it doesn’t all depend on me. I’m not just talking about my theological commitment to “the efficient call”, meaning God converts the person. I’m also talking about the fact that God may be using a variety of people in this person’s life. I can show them grace because it isn’t about my timetable for them or somehow showing my methods are superior to yours like some kung-fu showdown. (Yeah, I’m not sure where that came from.) We genuinely care and so wait on the process and players God is using. It isn’t about my airtight arguments. It not about winning the debate. It is about loving another person.

 

Read Full Post »


Finally! This was the reason I really bought the book. I’ve been pondering on how to foster evangelism among the members of my congregation, many of whom are introverts. Our congregation could be identified as “introverted.”

This does not relieve the congregation of the responsibility to bear witness to Christ. Jesus won’t say, “Oh, it’s okay. I know you are an introvert.”

But introversion will often shape how such a person and a congregation bears witness and evangelizes.

The term “evangelism” often strikes fear in the hearts of introverts. This is frequently due to false assumptions about what it must look like. We may picture open air preaching, or going door-to-door to talk to complete strangers. We think it means engaging the person next to us on the airplane. We think it requires the mental dexterity, speed of thought (not thoughtfulness) many of us lack.

For some people it does mean those things. Most of those people are quite extroverted. We see them doing their thing on YouTube, and they write the books on evangelism that make most of wish for the 2nd Advent, now.

“Truthfully, most introverted Christians I know would be delighted to bless the evangelistic efforts of extroverts and return to their lives of solitude and contemplation with a sigh of relief.”

In Introverts in the Church, McHugh notes that introverts must be wary of falling into a private understanding of our faith. But neither should we assume that we must evangelize like Billy Graham, the local expert in Evangelism Explosion or some other gifted evangelist you know. God doesn’t want you to be them, He wants to use YOU.

Evangelism isn’t about being the best “used car salesman” and closing the deal. I know people who seem to be “closers”, but most of us aren’t. We are ordinary people trying to be faithful and trusting that God is working thru, above and beyond our meager efforts.

McHugh proposes that we be people willing to explore mystery together rather than the salesman pitching salvation to people who didn’t think they needed it. This reveals some of his more emergent leanings (based on names he dropped earlier in the book). So it is difficult to differentiate between how he thinks introverts share the gospel and his postmodern leanings at times. Particularly this one.

There is also some confirmation bias for me. His approach is more relational, which confirms much of what I’ve been thinking. Introverts generally don’t talk to strangers, but as we grow in relationship we share more of ourselves, including our faith. Our faith is not shared out of our strength, but often out of our weakness. This treasure is in jars of clay. Our weakness often reveals the connection point for the gospel. This means witnessing is less confrontational (the gospel still confronts them even as it invites them).

“Our deepening friendships with seekers involve a deepening process of intimacy and vulnerability. … The gospel paradox is that when we reveal our own weaknesses, we come in touch, and put others in touch, with the One who has the ability to heal. … We subject ourselves to the same questions we pose to others, and as we traverse them together, we may arrive at surprising conclusions we could never have reached when simply trying to defeat another’s logic.”

His understanding of evangelism ends up looking very much like spiritual direction. He notes much changed for him when he started to realize he was not initiating spiritual conversations so much as responding to how God was already at work in that person’s life. It became about “cultivating spiritual awareness.” As I ponder this, the entry points may often be the places where they are emotional (angry, glad, anxious) or depressed.

Bearing witness to Christ, his sufferings and subsequent glories (1 Peter 1) can take different forms. At times it is confrontational as a person’s double-mindedness draws forth the bluntness of the Gospel (choose you this day…). I’ve had those conversations. At some point the person must believe or not, leaving their excuses behind. But leading up to that, you can leave plenty of hints or bits and pieces rather than a packaged gospel presentation.

In my own evangelism I should remember the lessons I should have learning in my counseling training. When encountering resistance, point it out. Don’t try to plow thru it with “shock and awe”. Rather, “you seem to be putting up some walls right now. What’s going on?”, inviting them to share their fears, doubts or whatever is going on, if they want to.

McHugh notes the quote often erroneously attributed to Francis of Assissi- “preach the gospel at all times- if necessary use words.” He fully affirms the need for words. He also reminds us that our words often need to be backed up by actions that adorn the gospel and make it attractive. We love them. After all, didn’t God love us when we were ungodly, weak, enemies and sinners (Romans 5)? Isn’t the gospel that God loved us first and sent the Son as an atoning sacrifice (1 John 3)? As a result, we can and should embrace a holistic approach to evangelism. Some may call that a “social gospel” but only if the goal isn’t the gospel. Many conservatives are allergic to “justice” or “mercy” as a part of evangelism. We are showing them justice and mercy so they will have a better grasp of who God is, not making justice and mercy the gospel. Nor calling them to justice and mercy apart from Christ who is just  and One in whom the ungodly are justified.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6

McHugh offers some more practical suggestions at the end of the chapter.

  1. Narrow your focus. Instead of trying to share the gospel with everyone you meet, develop a few relationships you already have. These are people you’ll be friends with whether or not they come to faith. But share that part of your life with them.
  2. Ask open ended questions. Don’t do it out of the blue or in a heavy handed fashion. They can be natural out-growths of your conversation or current events.
  3. Ask for time when you don’t have a good answer. It is okay if you need to research a question they ask. It shows humility, that you don’t have it all together and expect them to have it all together.
  4. Don’t accept the premise of their question. He gets this from Leo McGarry (West Wing chief of staff). This has to do with accusatory questions. Flip the question to challenge their premise. The example he gives is flipping “How can you possibly believe in a God who would condemn people to hell?” to “Perhaps the real question is how could humans rebel against a God who created such a beautiful world?” Not really the best example. Perhaps, “What do you suggest God do with wicked people?”
  5. Find a comfortable environment. You could invite them to Christianity Explored, or a Bible Study that investigates the claims of the gospel. Maybe discussion boards. Don’t debate. Explore.
  6. Know your role. You may not bring that person from darkness to light. You are, or should be, a part of a community of faith. Getting them in touch with your community is a great thing. A healthy body will contribute to the process according to each person’s gifts and strengths.

As I noted, much of this confirmed what I was thinking already. That might be helpful. I could have done without the postmodern approach at times. I’m not advocating modernism. But we can’t assume a person has a postmodern world view. Or that the best way to grasp the gospel is thru the postmodern lens. The Bible, and the gospel, transcend philosophical frameworks and actually challenge them. But that is a different discussion.

 

 

Read Full Post »


While the world generally sees extroverts as making the best leaders, truth is that introverts also have leadership skills. They can be leaders too, and often are. How they lead will differ from how extroverts lead. This is the question Adam McHugh addresses in the next chapter of Introverts in the Church.

He begins with Moses arguing with God, as many prophets did, about being called by Him. McHugh may be guilty of some eisegesis here since I don’t think he’s essentially saying, “Look, don’t you know I’m an introvert.” He does rightly point out the theme of hiding found in the early chapters of Exodus. He was hidden as an infant so the Egyptians wouldn’t kill him. Hidden in the reeds of the Nile until Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. Moses hid the body of the Egyptian he killed. Moses hid from Pharaoh in the mountains of Midian. Now Moses is trying to hide from God’s call.

Most sane people do, initially. Shepherding people is harder than shepherding sheep. Not many people choose this for themselves. I didn’t. I love it now, but resisted my sense of calling initially.

This is particularly true of introverts. The social demands of ministry are draining. So are the expectations others place on us, particularly in a smaller church where there are no additional staff to help. Being in ministry is about people and involves people.

“Just because we lose energy doing something does not necessarily indicate we are not a good fit for it. I am convinced that calling, not personality type, is the determinative factor in the formation and longevity of a leader.”

As a Christian, we should recognize that God doesn’t promise that leadership will be easy, or feel natural. It takes place within the context of a world of sinners, including yourself. There is also the reality that His strength is made perfect in weakness. God promises to be with us, and strengthen us. It is not intended to be pursued by the powerful and highly competent. Christian leadership is not about you so much as about Him.

Thriving in ministry requires a few things. The first he mentions is self-care. In caring for others we cannot forget our own needs. Because introverts tend to internalize everything, dealing with failure (real or perceived) and disappointment can be constantly draining. We can carry the burden for everything and end up crashing and burning.

Moses, McHugh notes, was frequently on the brink; exasperated with the Israelites complaining and rebellion. They were often complaining about him. He tried to judge Israel all on his own, a long line of issues to be resolved piling up outside the Tent of Meeting. It all culminated when he struck the rock he was supposed to speak to in a fit of anger. This was why he never entered the Promised Land (an earthly, not eternal, consequence).

People in caring professions, like pastoral ministry, can experience compassion fatigue. They can become either depressed with the unending needs of others, or become callous to those needs. Self-care has internal and external dimensions. Internally, we tend to our own spiritual and emotional health. We pursue Christ, resting in His promises. We make use of the spiritual disciplines to enjoy healthy and health-giving communion with Christ. Feeding on the promises fights our typical internal pull toward despair and catastrophic thinking. We need to regularly hear His voice (in the Word) to combat the pessimism of our own (as well as the world’s & the devil’s). Additionally, some pastors take periodic personal retreats.

There must also be an outward dimension. He must have a support system, other people who encourage and listen. They help us to normalize our experiences so we aren’t catastrophizing. McHugh goes so far as to think therapy or spiritual direction should be mandatory for introverted leaders (I suppose it should also be mandatory for extroverts who lack self-understanding). I’d say it can be helpful for many. A good wife and a few good friends fulfill that need for many people.

In addition to self-care, introverted leaders learn how to monitor their energy levels through scheduling. Make sure to schedule time in the office, alone. This helps to reduce the compassion fatigue. After particularly busy seasons, I may take comp days, which is really taking an afternoon for a movie or a hike. I also work out after work most days. It deals with the stress, keeps me healthy, and prepares me to be home with the pressing needs there.

He then moves to ways in which we direct people toward God. He begins with preaching. Many introverted pastors feel quite comfortable preaching. It is a controlled environment (in most churches) and you prepare for it all week. You know what you will say, approximately how long you’ll say it, and there will be no questions requiring you to think on your feet. He then notes a number of ways to let your introversion shine in your preaching. Use pauses to “add gravity and contemplativeness”. You don’t have to fill every second. Modulate your voice (wisely) to maintain interest and indicate the important material. Use stories to make the abstract accessible. Use sermons as an opportunity to share something of yourself with them, so they can know you better. It is a way of building your relationship with the people that often doesn’t happen in small talk opportunities for introverts.

We also share our lives, investing in others. Let people into your home instead of treating it like the fortress of solitude. As a young Christian, the most important relationships with older men were forged by hanging out at their homes helping them with projects. Sadly, for them, I wasn’t much help. But we talked while working on roofs, replacing toilets and that kind of thing.

Lead by writing. Think out loud, so to speak, by blogging. Let people see or hear what you are thinking. I blog on a number of things particularly for the people I lead. The rest of you are welcome to eves drop.

We lead by spiritual direction, helping people to grasp what God may be up to in the patterns and rhythms of life. Much of that is listening and assessing. I wish more people came to me for this. But since many of them are introverts, they are already thinking about their lives. They are probably more self-reflective and don’t need me to help them reflect. At least this is what I tell myself as I ponder it.

He then shifts to what introverted leadership looks like. We will tend to impact fewer people, but often more deeply. This is like Jesus with the three. Introverts tend to invest in a few. I do this, in part because I can’t invest in everyone. Trouble is matching up those I want to invest in with those who want me to invest in them. Some people want more attention. Attention, not really investment.

Introverted leaders are more likely to equip others to do the work of ministry instead of trying to do the work of ministry themselves. Yeah, we can struggle with control too. I found in my previous pastorate that I was reluctant to let the worship team plan the music. Part of it was the friendship- I enjoyed those meetings as we often laughed together. But I had to trust them to do well to free myself up to do other things. In this pastorate I quickly realized they knew what they were doing and after a year let them doing on their own. Perhaps I need to pop in periodically to invest in those relationships, but they do a good job.

Introverted leaders are more likely to build leadership teams, not simply a group of ‘yes’ men. I want to collaborate even as I want to be in control. That joyful battle between the Spirit and the flesh. Perhaps it is hiding behind them, but I want us to do things together. We share responsibility for better or worse. Things move slower than I’d like at times (okay, most of the time) but that probably saves the church from my impulsiveness. I’ve seen too many pastors with dictator powers continually shifting the direction of the church instead of slowly moving in the same direction. One of the important lessons is that you need to make decisions as if you’ll have to living with them the rest of your life (instead of leaving them for the next guy because you’ve moved on to ‘greener’ pastures).

Finding y0ur place can be tough. I’m 7 years into this pastorate and still trying to find my place in Presbytery. I was thrust into my place when I was in FL. People saw gifts in me and put me in places of responsibility. Here? Not so much. Then there is the internal battle between being a faithful steward of the grace I’ve received and selfish ambition. In FL I didn’t seek those positions. I don’t want to seek them now. Maybe I should, but I am leery of my prideful heart. McHugh notes that many introverts actually thrive in larger churches. This is because people don’t expect pastors to be accessible. I want our church to be larger for a number of reasons. One is the gospel impact; I want more people to hear (and then share) the gospel in our area. One is being able to limit my responsibilities because there are other staff to do other things. I recently preached at a much larger church. It was great not having to lead liturgy and play guitar. All I had to do was preach and offer the benediction. It was refreshing. It would be great to invest in young men in ministry. In the past I’ve mentored younger men working at other churches in the same town. I miss that. I wish we were big enough to have interns, associate pastors etc. People who are there all day so we can talk and learn together.

McHugh then talks about leading different types of people. Leading extroverts is difficult because “they can view this internalizing tendency with suspicion.” I’ve seen that! Since we are processing things internally, instead of acting, they can perceive us as apathetic or indecisive. We will need to communicate more with the extroverts. There are certain people I clue in on what I’m thinking so they know their concerns and dreams aren’t being ignored even though nothing dramatic is happening. They can learn that progress is happening behind the scenes. You also make time to listen to their input.

This means I “over-communicate” for our introverts. Too many emails they think. But we need to repeat things, use body language, for our extroverted friends.

In leading introverts we need to give them space to speak. You have to wait them out in small groups, Session meetings etc. The extroverts will speak quickly, but the introverts will wait. If you move too quickly, you won’t hear from them. When I’m in a class, not teaching, I’ll often wait to see if someone else says something. But might wait too long for that teacher who moves on. Give people time to process their thoughts and gather the courage to express them.

Many of the things in this chapter were things I learned the hard way. Perhaps this chapter will help others to learn them the easy way.

Read Full Post »


In the past my experience with Alzheimer’s has been minimal. There is a Deacon Emeritus in our congregation who suffers from it. I did not have the honor of knowing him before this illness began to take its toll on him. While I felt bad for him and his family, I didn’t have much personal investment, so to speak.

At some point in the last few years I noticed that my mother was losing track of things. Her short term memory was becoming non-existent. She was faking conversations to cover up the pain and frustration she felt (or so I imagine). My father tried to eliminate every possible source of the problem.

Last fall she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I had seen her in the summer but still didn’t realize how bad it was by the fall. There were benefits, so to speak. She no longer obsessed over her health, recounting every pain and problem. Perhaps, in a sense, that was a strange mercy for her (and us).

I was prepared for the worst when I saw her this summer. Or so I thought. I was prepared for to not recognize me. She thought I was one of my father’s friends. I thought I handled it well.

I must give kudos to my Dad. He’s doing a great job with her. She looks well-cared for, and he was patient with her while we were out to eat (and she kept trying to order different meals). It has to be a great strain on him. She calls him “the Boss” which leads me to believe she doesn’t really know who he is either. That has to break his heart, but he continues to care for her.

I must admit that I don’t do “sad” very well. I tend to stuff those feelings deep inside. I hate the sense of powerlessness. I hate the reality of what produces it. I’m angrier than usual, and have a short fuse. Anger seems easier than sadness. At least for me, but not for anyone around me.

Eventually the sadness catches up to me, I just don’t know when it will happen.

What is it like to have a mother with Alzheimer’s? It is like she has vanished. There is someone walking around who looks like my Mom, but really isn’t. There is no warmth, no “glad to see you.” There is no delight in my kids as cherished grandchildren. It is like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. She has been replaced with a person who doesn’t respond like she did, act like she did or share a common history.

I’m not really sure what to do with that. I’m not angry with God as if this shouldn’t happen in a world filled with sin and misery. I’m angry because I can’t fix it. I can’t make it better for my Dad. Yet, like most people, I have and hate that sense of our powerlessness and weakness.

Yet that weakness is everywhere right now. I feel weak as a parent trying to raise four kids. Sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by their needs, their sin and their foolishness. I feel weak as a pastor in the midst of a renovation project that seems to produce an unforeseen crisis (costing more money we don’t really have) each week. Weak as I try to manage church conflict and miss friends who have moved away. I see those empty seats where a few families used to sit and wish we could have another meal together.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12

I hate my weakness. Instead of boasting in my weakness and boasting in the power of Christ (whose power is made perfect in my weakness) I rage. Stupid, I know. Foolish, indeed. An act of unbelief.

But nothing can change the fact that my mother is gone, and I can’t say ‘good-bye.’ There is the sense of loss, but no opportunity to say ‘good-bye’ unless I manufacture one. But then I will see the person who looks and sounds like her.

In the months and years to come I will learn more about this disease and its effects on families, on the soul. I’m not really looking forward to that. There will be things that I wish I could forget.

This morning I read some Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the subject of trials. I know God is using this to develop patience in me (Romans 5; James 1). This means He has to reveal the impatience in me- the impatience that drives my anger. It is a painful process and an ugly process. But the result will be good. He will hang on to me, so to speak, through the process

In the midst of all of this I am reminded of the final recorded words of John Newton: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.” May I never forget these two things.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »


Weakness is not something we tend to spend much time thinking about. We usually spend time avoiding it or trying to get out of experiencing weakness. Thankfully there are men like J.I. Packer who don’t (or can’t) run from it. Recent health problems have provided him with the opportunity to consider his own weakness. More importantly it gave him the opportunity to consider 2 Corinthians and how Paul, when faced with his own weakness, found strength in Christ.

Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength (Paperback) Packer, J. I. cover image

The fact that weakness is not option is found in the title of the book that resulted: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength. This is a short book with only 4 chapters. Size should not be confused with significance. This is no Knowing God, but it is a balm for the soul plagued by weakness, which will eventually find all of us.

“The memory of having fallen short in the past can hang like a black cloud over one’s present purposes and in effect program one to fail.”

Many of us live with such black clouds. It could be moral failure. It could be vocational failure. I was the pastor of a church that closed. That black cloud hung about me for years. It still shows up  at times seeking to distract & deceive me. For Packer, his childhood accident and its consequences have hovered over him his entire life: weakness, alienation, left out…

(more…)

Read Full Post »