IVP - Online Pulpit - March 2013 Archives

March 19, 2013

Survive and Thrive

by Bob Burns

In our book Resilient Ministry, Donald Guthrie, Tasha Chapman and I refer a number of times to Russ Moxley, an ordained Methodist pastor and former Senior Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership. One of his chapters in Handbook of Leadership Development is titled “Hardships.” There he states that difficult experiences—coupled with support and reflection—are the most important method of leadership development.

In our six-year study of what it takes for pastors to survive and thrive in ministry, a consistent theme is the way God uses hardships to shape the lives of our participants. The pastors we worked with faced personal rejection, physical trauma, accusations against their leadership and even church splits. Most (not all!) allowed their experiences to mature them in their calling.

How will we respond to hardships? Here are two suggestions. First, we can view our hardships through the lens of Scripture. In Romans 15:4 Paul says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (ESV). God designs our hardships to shape our character. This is seen in Paul’s experience of his thorn in the flesh. Similar examples are found throughout the pages of the Old and New Testament.

Second, we can do an audit of past and current experiences. Pondering these lessons can teach us how God is forming our character. One way to do this is by journaling, recording thoughts and reflections on difficult experiences, remembering how God was faithful while we went through them.

This kind of reflective introspection can be difficult. We need support. Talking with friends, sharing with a mentor or even meeting with a counselor. The support of others aids us in understanding our experiences and grappling with the implications.

Born a slave, Josiah Henson became a lay preacher and abolitionist leader. In 1851 he traveled to London, where he continued his fight against slavery. After one lecture the Archbishop of Canterbury asked Henson where he had attended university. The former slave simply replied, “Sir, I attended the university of adversity.”

God doesn’t waste pain. He uses difficulties as graduate study in our development. Hardships are part of our continuing education for pastoral ministry.

burnsOP.jpgBob Burns (Ph.D., University of Georgia) is the dean of lifelong learning and associate professor of education ministries at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He is also ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as associate pastor at Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 3:03 PM

March 5, 2013

Don't Be a Hero: Rethinking Impact

by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson

Many years ago I was involved with an organization that had the grand mission of tackling the world’s biggest problems.

The leader of the organization—I’ll call him Bill—had a Rolodex full of contact information for top leaders around the world in government, business, civil society, religion, arts, entertainment. He had built his connections on the strength of his charisma and his genuine desire to do good in a world plagued with problems. Everyone who met him came away with the impression of a charming, sincere leader—a not-for-profit hero who was doing great things.

Bill was great in a public setting, where he could communicate his vision with grand, heartfelt rhetoric. When you got a little closer, however, cracks in this world-saving image started to appear. Out of view from anyone he needed to impress, Bill flew into rages at small obstacles. He stalked through the office wearing an invisible bubble of cold anger, chewing out junior staff for minor mistakes or differences in opinions. He grew abusive toward an executive who’d come on board to help stabilize the chaos he created. This poisonous environment led to rapid staff turnover and terrible morale.

In sum, the disconnect between Bill’s vision for the world and the way he treated those around him had huge consequences for the very effort he was called to lead.

Bill is an extreme example, but I frequently come across this personality type: men and women whose good intentions and grand ambitions blind them to the terrible ways they interact with real human beings. Such leaders may love a concept—peace, community, flourishing and so on—but don’t seem to like people very much.

Granted, we’re all a lot easier to love in the abstract than we are face-to-face. But leaders who like causes more than those the causes serve often wind up sitting in the rubble of their ambitions and relationships—left alone with a great vision for what the world could look like if God would just call and ask for their help.

My intimate familiarity with the siren song of ambition is what makes me so concerned about much of the talk I hear in Christian circles today. Everywhere I go, it seems that people are talking about saving or changing the world. The message to individuals is that we should be leaders—heroes—who can make an impact.

But impact is value neutral. It’s a concept based on degree of influence rather than quality. If I make an impact on something, all I’ve done is hit it really hard—with no guarantee that it’s better for the collision.

This “impact culture” is dangerous on many levels.

  • It can make us inadequately self-critical about our work because we know it’s “all for Jesus and the kingdom.”
  • It can stifle personal discipleship, when the quest to do great things in Jesus’ name comes at the cost of becoming less and less like him.
  • A church culture that exalts heroes and grand accomplishments can discourage many people who may not feel like their gifts are significant enough to offer.

We should remember that God does not need our big plans. Instead, he calls us to become little Christs. So perhaps we would do well to pump the brakes of ambition, to slow down a bit while we discern whether we are moving in the right direction. After all, if we are headed the wrong way, it would be much better to be moving slowly.

Excerpted and adapted from The World Is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good.

twsOP.jpgTyler Wigg-Stevenson is the founder and director of the Two Futures Project, a movement of Christians for nuclear threat reduction and the global abolition of nuclear weapons. He also serves as chairman of the Global Task Force on Nuclear Weapons for the World Evangelical Alliance.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:02 AM