Could you imagine what Jesus’ ministry would have looked like if after giving “The Sermon on the Mount” he immediately checked social media to see how many retweets he got, or if #beatitudes was trending?
Or, before riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, he sat down with his creative team to map out exactly how to create a moment people would remember for thousands of years. (#TriumphalEntry, anyone?)
I wonder what opinion polls would have looked like after the crucifixion … or a big throw down with Pharisees … or a mass healing session. What if he healed certain people more than others because data showed healing someone with leprosy went viral (heh, viral) faster than healing the blind?
If Jesus had built the direction, branding, ideology of his earthly work around any of those things, I wonder if Christianity would exist at all today. Yes, I understand that Christ was the very Son of God, but I’m not speaking to that reality in this post, I’m simply saying this: There was one thing conspicuously absent from everything Jesus did … attention to public opinion.
"Everything is flourishing. So, I’m needing to focus."
by Url Scaramanga
On Wednesday Mark Driscoll announced his resignation from the presidency of the Acts 29 church planting network. The same day leaders from The Gospel Coalition said they received a letter from Driscoll announcing his resignation from the group's leadership council.
In a statement released by Driscoll, he made it clear that no one asked him to resign and that he will continue to support both Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition. No conflict or controversy was behind his decision. Rather, says Driscoll, "I'm transitioning for no other reason than I find myself at the end of my tether with time and energy."
It was announced that Matt Chandler will assume the presidency of Acts 29, and the group's headquarters will move from Seattle to Dallas. Driscoll will remain on the board.
A conversation about work, mission, and why some Christians throw "crap" parties.
interview by Skye Jethani
Last year Rob Bell made waves with his book Love Wins which he describes as "a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who has ever lived." The waves became a tsunami when John Piper tweeted "Farewell, Rob Bell" and dismissed him as a heretic. Agree or disagree with his point of view, Bell knows how to stir conversation. And there is one thing about Love Wins we cannot dismiss- how we think about the future shapes how we live in the present.
I've had the benefit of interviewing Bell a number of times and have always found him thoughtful, gracious, and genuine in his pursuit of Christ. He was kind enough to talk to me once again--this time about his decision to leave his church, the lost theology of vocation, and how our view of the end of the world impacts the way we think about our work today.
Skye: Apart from ministry, Christians talk very little about "callings." What do you attribute this to?
Rob: The problem goes back to how you read the Bible. A lot of Christians have been taught a story that begins in chapter 3 of Genesis, instead of chapter 1. If your story doesn't begin in the beginning, but begins in chapter 3, then it starts with sin, and so the story becomes about dealing with the sin problem. So Jesus is seen as primarily dealing with our sins. Which is all true, but it isn't the whole story and it can lead people into all kinds of despair when it comes to understanding just why we're here.
As a pastor, I have authority in my community. But authority is not really what I want. What I really want is influence.
Authority is the ability to get people to do what I think they should do. Influence, however, is the ability to move people to want to do what they need to do.
Here’s what I know from Scripture: Pastors/elders/overseers have authority in the local community. Hebrews 13:17 encourages us all to “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God.” First Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work.” Of course, this isn’t carte blanche for church leaders to have control over every aspect of peoples’ lives, though I bet you have met some leaders who’d like to think so.
Jesus pointed us toward the correct use of authority, both in His strong-yet-compassionate example and in His admonition that we lead through serving and avoid using authority in an “authoritarian” way (Mark 10:42-43).
As we continue our exploration of pastoral authority, the theme for the upcoming issue of Leadership Journal, it's worth our time to look at the ultimate authority. In this video John Piper interviews Rick Warren about the sovereignty of God.
Pastor. In the eight years since this label first applied to me, it has been fascinating to notice who uses it and who doesn’t. The church that first entrusted the title to me was suburban, predominately white, and largely middle-aged. As a twenty-something associate pastor, I was mostly referred to by my first name. The lack of a title before my name suited me fine. At the time I was coming to grips with being a pastor and, frankly, the idea of regularly being identified as such by people ten to twenty years my senior was frightening.
In hindsight I realize there was something more to my timidity about this title. Being identified as a pastor carried with it a level of intimidating responsibility and authority that I felt I didn’t deserve. Surely I needed another ten years or so in the trenches before anyone could confidently call me their pastor. Being called simply by my first name was a relief, evidence in a way that I was still trying on this vocation to see if it fit.
The fact that this congregation indulged my skittishness with my pastoral role didn’t mean I had no authority. As Matt Tebbe pointed out, there is a kind of authority that comes over time, one that is established through faithful relationships. I felt both honored and surprised when congregants twice my age confided their struggles and listened to whatever biblical counsel I might offer. Despite my meager experience the church elders willingly listened to my ideas for future ministry. My authority as a new pastor came from ongoing presence in the community, being faithful to the church despite my insecurities and mistakes.
What happens when a stutterer is called to preach God's Word?
by Url Scaramanga
By now you are aware that The King's Speech has won the Academy Award for best picture. The film chronicles the King of England's stuttering problem and how he overcomes it. The movie hit home for Dan Wallis, assistant pastor at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in Ontario. Dan wrote an article for CT about his own lifelong battle with stuttering. But as one called to preach God's Word, a stutter creates additional problems and causes deeper reflection. Here's an excerpt:
At times like this, I question the will of God, too beat up to pray for a miraculous healing (which I know God can do). I wonder whether the best I can expect is to stumble through life, unfulfilled in what I think is my calling as a preacher. Perhaps my best work will be done on paper. Perhaps I should leave the ministry and instead work with my hands. I'm married with three kids, so becoming a monk vowed to silence is no longer an option.
Who knows, perhaps God will raise me up, loosen my lips, and I'll become the greatest expositor of Scripture this world has ever known. I doubt it, but it's nice to dream. But that's the problem—stuttering makes one a realist. Life never is more real than when you've stalled your way through an agonizing preaching of God's Word, followed by a backfiring observance of Holy Communion. If it wasn't so sad, it would almost be funny.
Read Dan Wallis' entire article at ChristianityToday.com. And then share your thoughts on obstacles you've faced as a communicator called by God.
Ambition can drive us to service to God and others, or it can be a veneer that hides far less noble motivations.
by Skye Jethani
When I entered seminary 12 years ago, I was humbled by many of my classmates. While we all suffered through "suicide Greek" (an intense six-week summer course that only a gifted linguist with a penchant for self-flagellation would enjoy), I learned that some students sacrificed far more than others to follow God's call into pastoral ministry.
Scott left his position as a Navy pilot, with a stable salary and excellent benefits. David left his management job with a Big Three automaker and relocated his family. He attended classes all day and studied while working as a night security guard. I have no idea when he slept.
Gregory, an engineer from China, brought his wife and two young girls from Hong Kong to Chicago—he'd never seen snow before, let alone 12 inches of it covering his car. In six months Gregory taught himself enough English to successfully translate the New Testament from Greek into English, and then into Cantonese for his congregation in Chinatown.
These pastors represent the power of godly ambition. God's call upon their lives, and their desire to serve his people, was the engine that drove them to make enormous changes and sacrifices.
But seminary revealed the dark side of ambition as well.
He talks about Rick Warren, his leave of absence, and his new book.
Our colleague over at Christianity Today, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, has snagged an interview with John Piper that Ur-banites will want to read. Piper has been on an 8-month leave from ministry to focus on "soul check, marriage and family check, and recalibration of life."
John Piper also discusses the controversy that erupted when he invited Rick Warren to speak at his Desiring God Conference. Piper admits that he's still not sure the invitation was the right thing to do, but he feels Warren has "been slandered." When asked if Rick Warren exemplifies "thinking" (the subject of Piper's new book), he responds:
No, I don't think he exactly exemplifies what I'm after. But he is biblical. He quoted 50 Scriptures from memory. Unbelievable, his mind is Vesuvius. So I asked him what impact reading Jonathan Edwards had on him. What these authors like Karl Barth and Edwards do for him is give him a surge of theological energy that then comes through his wiring. What I wanted to do with Rick is force him to talk about thinking so pragmatists out there can say, "A lot of thinking goes into what he does."
Driscoll says Chan is "coo-coo for Coco Puffs" for leaving his church. Is he right?
Earlier this year we ran an interview with Francis Chan in Leadership journal about the significant shifts he's led at his church in Simi Valley, California. Just as that issue of LJ when to print word leaked that Chan had resigned from his role as senior pastor. Usually news of a sudden resignation is quickly followed by rumors of a scandal. Not so with Chan. But that left everyone wondering--why did he leave?
This video features Joshua Harris, Mark Driscoll, and Francis Chan. In it Driscoll (true to his reputation) asks what many have been thinking but unwilling to say. He wants to know why Chan decided to leave a thriving church.
What do you think of Chan's response? Would have left if you were in his shoes?
Eugene Peterson laments in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker Books, 2010) that he has been “trying for fifty years now to be a pastor in a culture that doesn’t know the difference between a vocation and a job.” It was a bunch of artists that clued him in on the difference.
Definitions are in order. According to Peterson, a job is “an assignment to do work that can be quantified and evaluated.” Most jobs come with job descriptions, so it “is pretty easy to decide whether a job has been completed or not…whether a job is done well or badly.” This, Peterson argues, is the primary way Americans think of the pastor (and, presumably, that pastors think of themselves). Ministry is “a job that I get paid for, a job that is assigned to me by a denomination, a job that I am expected to do to the satisfaction of my congregation.”
A vocation is not like a job in these respects. The word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, “to call.” Although the term today can refer to any career or occupation (according to Webster), the word (vocatio, I imagine) was coined to describe the priestly calling to service in the church. So vocation=calling. This is how Peterson is using the word, anyway. And the struggle for pastors today, he continues, is to “keep the immediacy and authority of God’s call in my ears when an entire culture, both secular and ecclesial, is giving me a job description.”
Moving beyond the "messiah" and "manager" pastoral models.
A friend told me that Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant should be required reading for every pastor who has served for at least five years. That was how long it had been since my ordination. I picked up a copy.
Peterson claims that there are two common types of unhealthy clergy. The first is the messiah. Messiahs seek out wounded, broken people, to make them healthy again. It is a noble task, except for its motivation: messiahs need to feel needed. They consider healed people to be numbers, accumulated to suggest pastoral effectiveness.
Then there are managers, who seek not the unhealthy but the healthy: talented, faithful, and prepared people. Managers plug them in, finding the right places for them to serve in an ever-expanding congregational machine. The bigger the church gets, the better managers feel effective and useful. Once again, people become numbers.
I have both messianic and managerial tendencies. It is too easy for congregants to become statistics, which I can use to inflate my sense of clergy effectiveness.
That realization prompted me to search for a new pastoral identity, one that treated people more personally. I found one at the Louvre.
Ed Young Jr., the eccentric pastor from Fellowship Church in Dallas (remember the "7 Day Sex Challenge" sermon he preached from a bed rather than a pulpit?), is reaching out to other pastors with a message on the dangers of imitation. Young practices what he preaches by presenting the message in a form no other pastor (that I know) would dare attempt.
What focus and intensity and time and God can produce.
by Marshall Shelley
The irrepressible financial guru Dave Ramsey burst on the Catalyst stage talking about “momentum.”
“When you have it, you look better than you are. When you don’t have it, you’re better than you look.”
He talked about times his ministry had no momentum and times that it had it. He poked fun at those who don’t work hard enough to make momentum a possibility. Some people are so low key, he said, they can’t experience burnout because they’ve never been on fire.
Momentum is created; it does not randomly occur. And it requires our best efforts.
He talked through “The Momentum Theorem”: “Focused Intensity over Time, multiplied by God, creates unstoppable Momentum.”
Be open to divine interruptions, and follow only where God leads
By Drew Dyck
As a leader, you face a lot of great projects to take on, a lot of good directions to go. But in Friday’s first session, Priscilla Shirer reminded the Catalyst crowd to proceed only down those paths on which you sense God’s presence.
“God often shocks you with his plan,” she said. “But when God interrupts your life, will you obey?
In her sermon she unpacked the story of Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan. She presented Joshua as a paragon of leadership. What did he do right?
Mark Batterson's Primal call to purity of motivation
by Marshall Shelley
Mark Batterson led off the Catalyst lab sessions with a few words from his upcoming book Primal, which led into a reflection on the foundation of ministry. (Kevin Miller was across the room blogging this session as well, and his report follows this one.) Mark's emphasis:
"What is the primal essence of what we believe? Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That's more foundational than the forms we employ to live that out. ... There are ways of doing church that we haven't thought of yet."
Then Mark pointed out: "We come to conferences too often to find methodologies that we can take out of context and apply to our context. But that too often is misguided. We can learn 'how' but forget 'why.' "
He reflected on 1 Samuel 14-15, where Saul sets up a monument to himself. He suggests we need to erect not monuments to ourselves but altars to God, to remind yourself of the greatness of God and the cause to which you have been called.
Mark told about the moment he was aware of God calling him into ministry. He was in a pasture in Minnesota. Years later, he framed a photograph of that pasture and hung it in his office as his "altar," to remind him of the greatness of God and of his calling.
All of us listening are forced to consider: Am I performing my ministry as a monument to myself? Or to show the greatness of God?
Clint Eastwood taught me something the other day. The veteran actor and director's latest film sheds light on the tendency by many of us to seek the cultural values of homogeneity, stability, and comfort rather than finding God in the midst of our confusing, painful, and volatile circumstances.
In Gran Torino the 79-year-old actor and director plays a newly widowed retiree. A veteran of the Korean War, Walt Kowalski has spent his life in the same Michigan town, raising a family and working for the Ford plant. Surveying the neighborhood from his front porch, it's clear that much in Kowalski's life has changed. His neighbors are recent Hmong immigrants, people whose language and customs incur Kowalski's derision. Crime has become commonplace and rival gangs cruise the streets staring menacingly at Walt who, while drinking beers from his front porch, is all too happy to glare right back. The neighborhood is not what it used to be and the old man's sons repeatedly try to convince their father to leave it behind and join them in the suburbs.
Former suburbanite David Swanson reflects on ministry in the big city.
by David Swanson
Pulling up to a busy intersection recently, my wife and I were startled to see a car with its rear windshield shattered. Out of the damaged car leaped a man with a baseball bat, yelling and chasing the two apparent perpetrators. As we slowly drove by, my wife reaching for her phone to call the police, we saw into the back seat where a young girl sat trying to make sense of the chaos that had erupted around her. Arriving at our apartment three blocks away I became aware of an emotion I hadn't felt in a long time: fear.
Three months after moving into Chicago from one of its affluent suburbs, we are still getting our bearings. Is it the Mexican or Polish market that has the better produce? What time is too late for my wife to take a walk by herself? How long will it take to get from the church office to my lunch meeting via the Blue Line? We expected these kinds of questions. Unanticipated, however, was the proper response to shattered windshields and guys with baseball bats. I knew the transition to life and ministry in the city might be tough, but this tangible sense of fear came out of left field.
Our eight years of suburban life and ministry were not without fear, albeit of a different kind. I oftentimes worried about the effect of affluence on our congregation. Anxiety about spiritual formation in a landscape of individualism and crass consumption is enough to keep any pastor awake at night. Conversations with friends and suburban colleagues often centered on pursuing the way of Jesus while being surrounded by the deep-seated values of safety and comfort. You could say my fear was of a spiritual nature: I was anxious about how suburbia affected our souls.
This year's roster at Willow Creek's Leadership Summit conference includes an impressive lineup of leaders from both the ministry and secular business realms. Pastors John Burke and Efrem Smith, and Bill George (current Harvard Business prof and former CEO of Medtronic Inc.) spoke yesterday, as (of course) did Bill Hybels. Today we heard from Craig Groeschel and Chuck Colson, and later from Brad Anderson, vice-chairman and CEO of Best Buy. But for my money, the two most challenging and inspiring presenters were relative unknowns--two women who lead small but incalculably influential organizations.
How we label others and ourselves gives life and takes it away.
What is a Christian response to the flap over radio personality Don Imus's description of the Rutgers women's basketball team? Is his firing a concession to pressure groups or an appropriate judgment? In this debate, is there something deeper to be said about language and the coarseness of public conversation? This column by Mark Labberton, appearing in the Spring issue of Leadership and arriving in mailboxes this week, was written before current controversy. In it Labberton speaks to the deeper issues of naming and labeling. He offers a biblical perspective on the words we apply to others and to ourselves.
Every day our naming of the people around us gives life and takes it away. Really? Really.
Being rightly named means being truly known. It changes our lives. Embedded in our words, and in our actions, are the names we give to and receive from others. Gestures of value, nods of recognition, glances of curiosity, looks of compassion, signs of paying attention build one another up.
God created by naming: "Let there by light," and "let us make humankind in our image." In turn, the human beings named with unflinching instinct, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Yet right from the start our very capacity for rightly naming includes our freedom to misname. "Did God really say . . ." are words that rename God's intent, and reality cracks. "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" easily becomes, "The woman you gave me."
Misnaming misidentifies who we are and our relation to others. The tragic consequences are everywhere.
And other ministry lessons from the creator of Veggie Tales.
How can a church leader keep their soul rooted in Christ and still keep pace with their ministry? The next issue of Leadership, due in mailboxes in April, will focus on that question. Phil Vischer may seem like an unlikely person to address the darker corners of a pastors' souls, but his new book, Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story about God, Dreams, and Talking Vegetables(Nelson, 2007), wrestles with questions every church leader should be asking.
In 2000, Phil Vischer was running the largest animation studio between the coasts, had revolutionized Christian family entertainment by selling thirty million Veggie Tales videos, and was named one of the top ten people to watch in worldwide religion. Vischer's vegetable empire, better known as Big Idea Productions, seemed poised to become a Christian Disney.
But by 2003 the dream was over. After a heartbreaking court decision, later overturned on appeal, Big Idea declared bankruptcy and Vischer had to sell the company's assets, including his computer animated characters Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. We spoke with him recently about his life after Big Idea, and how God has transformed his understanding of ministry.
In the book you talk about growing up in evangelicalism. How did that shape your sense of mission when you started Big Idea?
In college I heard a sermon in chapel about knowing God's will. It was given by a former mathematician. He said that if God's will is not clear we should use the test of spiritual expediency. Which of the two choices in front of me will impact more lives? That one is God's will. My evangelical upbringing said more impact is better. It's better to be Bill Bright than Mother Teresa. Better to impact millions at once than one at a time. God has given us limited time and resources and we have to help as many people as possible - not just two or three. Mother Teresa should have franchised a system for feeding the poor on a massive scale. She needed an MBA.
Last month we shared the disturbing late night experience of Pastor Nick Overduin. While sleeping in his study Overduin had a frightening encounter with "The Voice." His experience started a conversation about our openness and skepticism toward the supernatural. Nick Overduin is back to respond to many of your comments and concerns, and to keep the conversation going.
I appreciate the comments that were made in response to my Aug. 18, 2006 article "Old Men Will Dream Dreams." I have searched the links regarding "sleep paralysis," and definitely resonated with those descriptions. I think, physiologically, this was my experience. However, according to my understanding of God as the Creator, such a scientific diagnosis does not eliminate the possibility that God was saying something to me precisely at such a time.
All pastors are crazy; I've known that since seminary. Some pastors, however, have fewer cards in their decks than others. Nick Overduin, pastor of Toronto First Christian Reformed Church, began to question his own sanity after an experience that was beyond explanation.
Overduin now believes God was in this encounter. You may believe otherwise. In either case, reading Nick's account has made me wonder - as more church leaders are rethinking the nature of ministry in a post-Christian culture, is it also time to rethink our assumptions about the supernatural, and its place in our communities?
Who wants to be known as a crazy nut-case preacher that hears voices? I don't advocate hearing voices; I just happen to have heard one.
I did not hear any strange "voices" in my first church. Nor did I feel distracted by the supernatural during my second charge, a University Chaplaincy. In my third posting I was perhaps too busy to hear any divine whisperings. My congregation had 800 members. My fourth church is conceivably the most implausible setting for a semi-mystical deviation. Many of its 120 members are certified experts, executives, or independent entrepreneurs. My wife Nandy and I have been married 25 years, and at first I didn't tell even her. I am writing the episode now partly because I believe it could be sinful to keep it to myself.
About three years ago I woke up one night very suddenly. It was as if I had been jerked from deep sleep into alert wakefulness in less than a second.
Developing a multicultural congregation is something many people have talked about but few have done. David Anderson is one of the few. As founder and pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, a multicultural church in Columbia, Maryland, Anderson knows the challenges of ministry. But he encouraged pastors on Friday morning to never settle for less than what God has called us to.
An engaging and colorful storyteller, Anderson spoke about his recent purchase of a 1991 Ford F-150 pickup truck, and the thrill of shifting into all-wheel-drive when he got stuck in a snow filled ditch. After reveling in the masculinity of the moment (Anderson wants a bumper stick that simply declares "TESTOSTERONE"), he shared an important principle: in ministry we get stuck from time to time and we need to shift gears.