IVP - Online Pulpit - Leadership Archives

May 15, 2013

Ministering to the Soul of Entrepreneurs in the Church

by R. Paul Stevens

Eugene Peterson has affirmed that “the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.” If this is true, as I believe, it means that church leaders could have a major role to play in the character and spiritual development of the people in their communities that are working in the world. In our book, Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference, Richard Goossen and I explore many of the practical and biblical dimensions of entrepreneurship in both business and not for profits, including the church. But we do so in a way that could be a major resource for pastors and church leaders wanting to empower the whole people of God for their “full time” service to God and neighbor in the workplace. But before we ask how, we must ask why.

People go to work as whole persons, not just mind or body, but with that inner yearning and expressiveness that links us with God. We gain this perspective from biblical theology and the narrative in the Bible, for example, Romans 12:1-2. What Henry Ford famously lamented—“Why do I always get a whole person when all I want is a couple of hands”—is indeed a wonderful gift. As soul persons with capacity to relate to God, people are given ideas, visions and perspectives that can be implemented through entrepreneurial activity. These may be in the area of church life but also in family life and enterprises in the world. An example is Nehemiah in the Old Testament, who had the difficult job of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and rebuilding the people. He said, “My God put it into my heart to …” (Neh 7:5). Bright ideas come from God. So here is where you as a church leader come in, not only with the why but the how.

First, church leaders can encourage the “mixed life” of action and reflection. Jesus lived this way: engaged in a major way so that sometimes he was too busy to eat, but also dismissing the crowds to spend time with the Father in prayer. The mixed life phrase comes from the biblical story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. A superficial reading of the story puts Mary on the top of the heap as the one who listens to Jesus and gets his approval, with Martha busy in the kitchen and being criticized for fussing about making a gourmet meal for Jesus and his friends. But the story is better understood this way: Martha’s actions were not wrong in providing a meal, but her attitude was wrong. She was so anxious to produce a supermeal for Jesus that she didn’t even bother to commune with her most important guest, Jesus. And that, Jesus says, is even more important than making a fine meal. Martha was anxious about many things. But the point is not that Martha should become Mary. Rather, Martha and Mary should be doing the same thing: working but communing with Jesus. That has led people throughout church history to say we need to embody both Mary and Martha in the same person, sometimes at different times. Sometimes we will be busy at work (in the kitchen or the corporation), but at other times we withdraw from these pressures to attend to God wholeheartedly.

Second, the warp and woof of everyday business becomes an arena of growth. The workplace is where people get revealed, their strengths and weaknesses, their dysfunctionalities, the soul-sapping struggles that emerge day and night as they undertake to get an enterprise going and growing. And every one of those areas of struggle becomes a nonverbal cry and a prayer to God to please reveal in us some aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5). This is especially true of the so-called Achilles’ heel, that point of vulnerability. For most of us the point of vulnerability is one of three things: the need to be needed, the need for status, or the need to be in control. John Calvin said that true religion is knowing ourselves and knowing God. We cannot have the one without the other. Church and marketplace together can become a school of spiritual formation. Church leaders have a key role in interpreting life experiences from God’s perspective and growing through them. This is doing theology “from below,” from the reality of life, something which Martin Luther did so eloquently. This can be done from the pulpit, from adult education classes and in personal conversations with people in the workplace. Why not visit some of the members of your church in their workplace and “job shadow” them for a few hours and over coffee or lunch, listen to the issues and discoveries?

Finally, church leaders can do something that is both revolutionary and wonderfully empowering. They can affirm publically that what entrepreneurs (and other people working in society) are doing is their ministry, the main part of it. This can be done by interviewing someone each week, or even once a month, for five minutes, “What do you do for a living? What are the issues you face in your daily work? What difference does your faith make to how you address those issues? And how can we pray for you for your ministry in the workplace?” That simple public and symbolic role can do wonders for the ministry of entrepreneurs. But, at the same time, it will change the church culture from one in which only so-called full-time pastors and missionaries get noted and prayed for to the practical embodiment of the priesthood of all believers.

97.jpgR. Paul Stevens is professor emeritus of marketplace theology and leadership at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, and a marketplace ministry mentor.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:32 AM

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

February 7, 2013

Seeing God

by Michael P. Knowles

Just before Christmas, IVP sent me (among other things) an advertisement for the IVP Pocket Reference App (“A Library in Your Pocket”!). The appeal of this little marvel—so I was told—was that it would permit me to look up obscure theological terms such as aseity (which, for the uninitiated, refers to the nonderivative existence of God). The problem, however, is that I never know quite what to do with this more philosophical kind of God talk. I have no doubt that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, as well as transcendent, eternal and much else besides. Yet none of these categories help me to know God in any particularly meaningful way. If that seems too selfish, perhaps a better way of framing my complaint is to observe that these are not the terms in which biblical writers usually speak of God. Romans 1:20 (“eternal power and deity” [RSV]) and 1 Timothy 1:17 (“the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” [TNIV]) are about as close as any passage comes to the usual preoccupations of philosophical theology. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time seeing how such principles would be of much help to a parishioner overwhelmed by personal failure and sin, or at the bedside of a child dying of leukemia. If the primary responsibility of congregational leadership is to help form the body of Christ, so that we might live “for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12), such abstractions—however ultimately true—strike me as particularly unhelpful building material.

Even as congregational ministry is difficult and all-demanding, so the task of training future pastors is a weighty responsibility. The prospect of a more exacting judgment (Jas 3:1) arises from the fact that those of us who teach are responsible for equipping leaders with knowledge and skills that will enable them to lead their congregants to spiritual maturity, “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). As I tell my students in their introductory preaching class, their future congregants will be interested in knowing, above all, just one thing about their new pastor or preacher. And they will know it as soon as the unsuspecting newcomer begins to speak for the first time. They will want to know whether this person actually knows God. Most congregants will want an answer to this question because they too are seeking deeper intimacy, greater understanding or a fuller experience of God’s saving strength. Others will be interested because they are concerned to keep God at bay, but fortunately such folks are usually in the minority.

Where does such knowledge come from? From Sunday school onward we have been taught to quote Jesus’ answer to Philip: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). But what exactly does this mean? Jesus can hardly be referring to divine aseity, transcendence or omnipresence; the possibility of Jesus being omniscient or omnipotent may be debatable, but even this is far from clear. For more than a decade I have been plugging away (with many ups and downs along the way) at a study of the divine “character creed” from Exodus 34. This revelation of God’s character is given to Moses at a point in the life of Israel when, so to speak, the wheels have come off. Delivered from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites have unexpectedly reverted to more familiar patterns of worship. Having recently been warned that the one thing God demands above all else is for them to forsake other gods, forswearing every form of idolatry, they do the exact opposite, crafting a fertility symbol—a young bull—from the gold that they have somehow managed to finagle out of their former Egyptian neighbors. So great is his frustration that Moses smashes the tablets that record the now-broken covenant. Such is his confusion that, more than anything else, he needs to know God—not God’s omnipotence, omniscience or omnipresence, but the manner in which God actually deals with people as stubborn and ungovernable as those whom God has chosen for himself. The answer is unexpected:

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:5-7)

These divine characteristics are known in Jewish tradition as the “thirteen attributes of love”: they are widely echoed elsewhere in Hebrew Scripture, and have profoundly influenced Jewish and Christian (as well as Islamic) theological and devotional traditions. For me personally, this text has become a kind of theological “theory of everything,” the one, all-encompassing principle that underlies and unifies everything else in Scripture and the life of God’s people. This is no abstract speculation but rather a description of how God actually relates to broken and wayward creatures: with compassion and graciousness, with forbearance, faithfulness and forgiveness. One Hebrew term is repeated twice, yet it is all but impossible to translate into any Western language: ḥesed means, in essence, God’s unconstrainable, unmerited, life-saving love. These are the principles that forever guide and govern God’s covenant, God’s relationship with his people.

As it turns out, I am not alone in thinking such considerations to be all-important: the further I have looked, the more examples I have found of saints, scholars and ordinary people in every century celebrating God’s generous love, mercy, compassion, patience and willingness to forgive—not infrequently citing the very language of the Hebrew text or its subsequent renderings into Greek, Latin and the languages of our own day. Examples abound, almost without limit. Among the many from Christian sources, already in the first century the first letter of Clement declares, “The all-merciful and beneficent Father has compassion on those that fear Him; to approach him in sincerity of heart is to be repaid with His kind and gracious favors” (1 Clement 23:1). Or there is this wry comment from Saint Jerome (c. 345-420) on one of the more challenging aspects of the passage, which is the idea of multigenerational divine punishment:

It is thus that he visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation; [by] not punishing those who sin immediately but pardoning their first offences and only passing sentence on them for their last. For if it were otherwise and if God were to stand forth on the moment as the avenger of iniquity, the church would lose many of its saints; and certainly would be deprived of the apostle Paul. (Letter 147.3)

As the Anglican scholar John Trapp (1601-1669) observes, “It is the comfort of saints, that they have to do with a forgiving God, that can multiply pardons, as they multiply sins.” Jesus himself insists that the essence of true piety is to imitate God: “Be merciful,” he commands, “just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).

This, surely, is the meaning of his comment to Philip in John 14. By coming in human flesh, Jesus has given his disciples the opportunity to see God “face to face.” And not only to see God, as if at a great distance or in some abstract philosophical sense, but to know and be embraced by divine mercy, grace and kindness. This exchange between Philip and Jesus, it seems to me, is as good a model of “knowing God” as we are likely to find. We see here a disciple who seeks the face of God, discovers where God is to be found, and—with a shock of recognition—encounters divine mercy in person. “Knowing God” is not the same as “knowing about God,” even as knowing about God’s grace and compassion is very different from experiencing them in practice, in response to personal need. This is the difference between speculation and discipleship.

Let’s be clear: I’m delighted that the results of my long study have at last found their way into print. But in the end, this isn’t just about another book. For me, the process of reflecting on God’s “ways” has brought me again and again into the company of a great cloud of witnesses who have experienced for themselves the God of whom Moses spoke and whom Philip saw face to face. For me, the discovery has been very practical, and very deep. Of course, my knowledge and experience of God are far from complete, yet one day, I trust, I too will see him face to face.

6654OP.jpgMichael P. Knowles holds the George Franklin Hurlburt Chair of Preaching at McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario and is author of The Unfolding Mystery of the Divine Name: The God of Sinai in our Midst (IVP Academic 2012).

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:30 AM

December 5, 2012

If You Haven't Bled, You Haven't Led

By Janis Bragan Balda

Everywhere we go when people find out we have written on the subject of “battered leaders,” they have a story to tell. It’s amazing how many people identify with the subject. Even mentioning the phrase results in heads nodding and sometimes more painful signals of despondency, such as shoulders sagging. Every leader seems to remember being beaten up at some point.

Recently we had dinner with a woman who has a wealth of experience in fundraising and fund development, both as a consultant and as staff for an international development organization. When she found out about the book, she immediately identified and then related (after a little encouragement) the experience that still mars her ability to participate in leadership in her church.

Her story involved leading a team on a short-term mission trip. Despite experience in this type of leadership, sharing the task with someone she knew well and respected, and lots of prayer, she met with such blatant resistance from two or three people, that the trip was a disaster for the leaders and has so hurt her that she will not lead another one.

What happened? A couple of people decided to dig in, asserting their own will and refusing to be led. No amount of negotiating, seeking common ground or prayer seemed to resolve the matter. The end result was a burned leader, someone who cannot see her way to serve in this capacity again. She is still seeking answers to what went wrong—and doesn’t seem to have any even though the incident occurred over a year ago. But she moves forward in other ways and doesn’t let this experience define her as a person or as a leader in the other capacities.

This is just one example of hundreds we have heard. What is your story? How have you learned to cope with negative responses that have resulted from attempting to lead? What ways have you dealt with the pain and disappointment that comes with finding resistance? When you are offered new opportunities, do they remind you of past experiences, inducing fear or anxiety rather than hope and excitement?

More often than we think, this is a common experience. Knowing that the apostle Paul met the same challenges offers us encouragement, and by looking at his response to the church at Corinth we can gain some insights into the leader-follower dynamic.

We see for example, leadership did not eliminate suffering in Paul’s life, rather it sometimes inflamed it. And while certain believers in Corinth discredited Paul for enduring suffering, he knew it ended up for their benefit: “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort (2 Cor 1:6 NIV).

Paul’s response to the suffering he endured—which occurred in large measure because of what the believers thought of him and acted out toward him—was to see it in perspective. He saw how his responses benefited them and also how he gained understanding through it. Hopefully we too can gain personal insight and awareness so that like Paul (2 Cor 6:6) we find among our “credentials” knowledge (gnosis) or a “grasp of truth” (NEB), “insight” (Phillips) or “understanding” (NIV).

Handbook for Battered Leaders is designed to help us along that path.

JBaldaOP.jpgJanis Bragan Balda (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University) is professor of management, currently teaching at Fuller Seminary and UCLA Extension. She formerly taught at St.George’s University in the Caribbean and George Fox University. Dr. Balda also established the Peter F. Drucker Society of the Caribbean at SGU while working as a principal at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 1:39 PM

September 17, 2012

Time Will Tell

by Eddie Gibbs

Looking back over fifty years of ministry provides a perspective that eluded me when in the turmoil of daily ministry demands. Some projects we thought highly significant for the future vitality and direction of the church outlived their shelf life to leave little if any lasting impression. Perhaps they were of value at the time, but with a changing spiritual climate and the cultural marginalizing of the church the day came when they had to be laid aside without regrets.

On the other hand, other projects that were puny in comparison and we thought were making little impact have in the long run assumed strategic importance. Perhaps that’s what Jesus had in mind when he described the kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Never underestimate small beginnings. The Journey of Ministry is indeed one of surprises and has to be traveled with a lifelong commitment. We cannot chart the course beforehand, and there are many twists and turns that we were not able to anticipate. That is what it means to walk by faith.

This is not to cast doubts on the vision of those leaders who had a clear and unswerving sense of direction throughout their ministry. They were privileged to see the end from the beginning, which provided them with both focus and resilience. If such describes your own journeying experience, then I rejoice with you. However, I have become convinced as I have reflected not only on my own past experience but also on the ministry journey of other church and mission leaders that this clear and specific sense of call toward a defined goal is the exception rather than the rule.

The reasons for these contrasting experiences are many. Some are given a specific sense of direction and a clear destination to enable them to survive the many obstacles that lay along the journey. For those of us who have stumbled along with the Lord surprising us with each new challenge, it has been a case of learning to trust him at each stage. If the Lord had revealed the whole course of the journey, we might have recoiled in horror or fright. We could never envision ourselves in any of those future scenarios. We felt so utterly inadequate. In response the Lord has graciously dealt with us at each stage, giving us the opportunity to learn the lessons and gain the necessary experience to function in that role, until we were ready for the next challenge.

In my own experience, I have always felt ill-prepared for that next stage, whether it is an overseas missionary assignment, an administrative and vision-casting role in a major Christian organization, a seminary professor or a leadership trainer in other parts of the world. Christian discipleship entails a lifelong apprenticeship. Any worthwhile accomplishment is due entirely to the grace of God, which includes both his provision and his patience.

GibbsOP.jpgEddie Gibbs is senior professor in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and a senior adviser to the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts. His new book, The Journey of Ministry, is available now from InterVarsity Press as part of the launch of IVP Praxis.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 12:06 PM

August 20, 2012

Vocational Holiness

By David Rohrer

Often after preaching a sermon or leading a weekend retreat a family member or colleague will ask me “How did it go?” In answer to this question all I can usually offer is some tepid remark like, “Well, it felt OK,” or “I got pretty good feedback.” The plain truth of the matter is that I am probably the person least qualified to weigh in on that question, because I am never quite sure how it went.

In thirty years of pastoral ministry I have yet to find a satisfactory measure of the success of my labors in the lives of others. Some say we can adopt the metrics of business and talk about growth in market share and income, which we translate into worship attendance and giving. Some look to formal and informal surveys of congregational satisfaction with respect to pastoral leadership. Yet none of these things can ever really tell me if people are growing in their capacity to say yes to Jesus and thus growing in the ability to love of God and neighbor.

While I can never be certain about what God is doing through me to accomplish this in others, I can be reasonably certain about is what God is doing in me as I try to faithfully answer his call. It is in this context that Eugene Peterson’s phrase vocational holiness comes to mind. I first saw it used in the title of his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. The phrase speaks to the way God grows us as we answer his call. It is the affirmation that what God is doing in us as we seek to be faithful pastors is as important as what God is doing through us in the lives of others.

If we forget this and make institutional metrics the primary arbiters of our success, the results can be disastrous. We start thinking of ministry in mechanistic terms like “deploying our people” and “aligning mission and resources.” We potentially objectify persons and make congregations into little more than institutional abstractions that need to be managed. We forget that real work of the Spirit is happening in the hidden recesses of individual human hearts, and we get lost in the burdensome and ultimately unfulfilling work of merely trying to make our congregations going concerns.

So much more than this is possible, things greater than “we can ask or imagine.” The miracle of people growing into the image and likeness of Christ is happening all around us. When we are attentive to the ways it is also happening in us, we are on the road to becoming better pastors. Our vocation is one of the means God is using to shape us and when we are well established in our role as followers of Jesus we are going to make better leaders in his church.

RohrerOP.jpgDavid Rohrer is the author of The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry (IVP, 2012). He was ordained in 1982 and has served 3 Presbyterian churches in that time, most recently in Seattle. He is currently serving part-time as a Regional Mentor for PC USA.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:29 AM

July 26, 2012

Discernment: The Heart of Spiritual Leadership

By Ruth Haley Barton, author of Pursuing God’s Will Together

It was a conversation similar to many I have had with Christian leaders. An associate pastor from a large church was telling me that his church was going through a major transition as they tried to respond to the growth they were experiencing. They had outgrown their facility (a good problem to have!) so the obvious question was “Will we add on to our facility or will we start another church?”

As we talked, it became clear that this question was only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface larger questions lurked: What should be our emphasis now? Does our stated mission still capture what we are called to now? Is our leadership structure effective for all that is emerging? Can we keep going at this pace, or will we burn ourselves out by adding a building campaign and more people and activities to our plates?

Sensing the weight this pastor was carrying, I probed a little deeper and asked, “How are you going about answering these questions together? Do you have a process for discerning God’s will in these matters?”

A look of awareness crossed his face as he realized that the answer to the question was no. After recovering himself a bit, he added, “But we always have a time of prayer at the beginning of our meetings!” It was awkward, to say the least.

Decision-making or Discernment?

This pastor, like so many Christian leaders, had a vague sense that there should be something different about our approach to decision-making than what secular models put forth—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (which is sometimes viewed as being irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. And sometimes even these get lost in the shuffle!

Discernment—the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives—is the difference between leadership models that are basically secular and those that are deeply spiritual. Discernment is the ability to distinguish or discriminate between good (that which is of God) and evil (that which is not of God). While there are many qualities that contribute to good leadership, it is our commitment to discerning and doing the will of God through the help of the Holy Spirit that makes leadership distinctly spiritual.

Discerning God’s Will Together

Corporate leadership discernment is the spiritual practice that increases our capacity to recognize and respond as a leadership group to the presence and activity of God relative to the decisions we have to make. It is a commitment to discern important matters together so we can affirm a shared sense of God’s desire for them and move forward on that basis. It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate. This raises a question—if we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?

Discernment together as leaders carries us far beyond human decision-making to an entirely different reality—the wisdom of God that is beyond human wisdom and is available to us as we learn how to open ourselves to it (1 Cor 2:6-16).

Embracing the Challenge

What’s so challenging about leadership discernment is that it can seem somewhat subjective and even a little mystical—which doesn’t always go over too well with the hard-nosed business people and pragmatists who often make up boards and other leadership groups. It is one thing to rely on what feels like a subjective approach when it pertains to our personal life; however, it feels much riskier when our decisions involve large budgets, other people’s financial investments, the lives of multiple staff, reports to high-powered boards and serving a congregation or “customer base” with varying levels of expectation.

And yet many leaders today are longing for a way of life in leadership that is more deeply responsive to the will of God than to the latest ideas from the New York Times leadership bestseller. We wonder, “Is there a trustworthy process that enables Christian leaders to actively seek God relative to decisions we are making?”

The answer to that question is a resounding yes but it requires leadership groups to move beyond human decision-making and to become communities for discernment. It involves working an intentional process that includes preparing individual leaders for discernment, cultivating the leadership group as a community for discernment, and committing to an actual process for discerning God’s will together. It emerges from the conviction that whenever and wherever Christians gather in Christ’s name to carry out his purposes in the world, we are the body of Christ and need to act like it.

As the body of Christ—the real-time expression of Christ’s presence on earth—there should be something about what we do and how we do it that is distinctly spiritually. Whenever Christians gather to lead something together we have the opportunity to make decisions in a way that reflects with that reality. Corporate leadership discernment is that way.

BartonOP.jpgRuth Haley Barton (D.D., Northern Seminary) is founding president of the Transforming Center, a spiritual formation ministry to pastors and Christian leaders. A trained spiritual director (Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation), teacher and retreat leader, she has served on the pastoral staff of several churches, including Willow Creek Community Church. A sought-after teacher, preacher and consultant to leadership teams, she is currently adjunct professor of spiritual transformation at Northern Seminary.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:43 AM

June 18, 2012

The Protégé Path: Cultivating a Leadership Development Culture in Your Church

by Steve Saccone

As a young, aspiring ministry leader, I wondered what it would take to excel in the years ahead. My quest began with a calling and a vision. A plethora of questions drove my learning and curiosity, and immeasurable drive and passion fueled my quest. What I didn’t have initially, though, was a mentor to guide me in a personalized, customized way. I didn’t have someone who was willing to take the time necessary to guide, sharpen and motivate me to be who God uniquely designed me to be as I gained insight into the realities of ministry and leadership. Unfortunately, seminary doesn’t accomplish this kind of development either.

That’s the dilemma I believe many young leaders face.

That’s the dilemma the church is staring in the face as we ponder how the next generation of leaders will be developed.

It’s going to take a culture change in the church. It’s going to take women and men who decide to intentionally build processes and systems and paths that facilitate transformational development.

As my journey evolved, God led me to a few key mentors who have altered the trajectory of my ministry and my entire life. Though not the path I expected, it’s been transformational, personal and influential. As a result, I’ve come to believe more deeply than ever in the power of being a mentor. And perhaps more significantly, I’ve come to believe more deeply than ever in the power of being a protégé.

In essence, a protégé is someone who desires to master their craft and discover their true calling through the mentorship of another. Protégés have a humble, teachable heart and a deep longing and need to seek the guidance and wisdom of another. Protégés are hungry to grow and are passionate about excelling in all aspects of life and leadership. At the core, they know they can’t do it and don’t want to do it on their own. Joshua was Moses’ protégé. Paul was Barnabas’s protégé. Timothy was Paul’s protégé. The disciples were Jesus’ protégés. Ultimately, we have to decide whose protégé we will be, remembering that to be a great mentor, we must first learn to be a great protégé. That’s where the culture of the church must change.

But there’s a huge gap in the church. My experience and research has repeatedly revealed that there is a significant gap between a protégé’s strong desire to grow as ministry leader and the ability to find a substantial mentor who knows how to offer a customized, personal and transformational investment. Herein lies the great dilemma in developing the next generation of leaders.

As I moved from being a protégé to being a mentor, my conviction to do something about the gap grew deeper. As a result, in 2005 I initiated a leadership experiment called the Protégé Program, which is a customized, holistic development process that serves young and future ministry leaders. It is designed to shape their character, calling, mission, competencies and creative potential.

Over the course of this two-year journey, I come alongside protégés to help facilitate a personal, customized development plan for each of them. I seek to serve as a growth catalyst for their character formation, help them navigate the complexities of relational leadership and coach them in areas of mission, team building and organizational leadership. I help them craft a unique learning experience that sharpens their communication and stretches their theology. I challenge them to become entrepreneurial leaders who know how to face failure as they cultivate a life of initiative and risk. Real transformation and growth become a reality in their lives.

protegeOP.jpgI realize that not everyone has access to the kind of customized, personal development that the Protégé Program offers, nor can most pause their entire life and enter a two-year leadership development program. So, I recently put the DNA of the Protégé Program inside a book—Protégé: Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders. This book can serve as a way to help pastors and ministry leaders codesign their own protégé journey no matter what age or experience levels they have. In addition, the book intends to help them gain insight into developing the next generation of leaders—protégés—around them.

The DNA revolves around essential five areas:

  • Character Transformation
  • Relational Leadership
  • Effective Communication
  • Missional Formation
  • Entrepreneurial Leadership

Truth is, God is using a powerful movement to answer people’s deepest searches and longings. It’s called the church. And God is using certain people to lead the church: you and me. It is a high calling, one that requires the best of who we are and the kind of devotion this world has never seen and doesn’t think possible. Ultimately, we are all God’s protégés, called to learn from the Master and Creator of humanity. We’re also invited into a way of life that pushes us to be protégés as well as mentors to and for one another. Let’s follow in his footsteps and give the best of who we are to the One who gave his everything to us.

sacconeOP.jpg*Steve Saccone is a director of leadership development at The Highway Community in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he trains and develops emerging leaders, staff and volunteers. A specialist in leadership development and inner life formation, he also founded and directed The Protégé Program, a global leadership experience for future entrepreneurs, church planters and spiritual leaders. *

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 8:53 AM

March 23, 2012

Letter 1: The Ideologizing of the Church

In his letter David Fitch makes a plea for us to expose our ideology, our “false consciousness” of identifying ourselves by who we are against. He suggests that we should abandon the cycle of the ideological church by “going local.”

Unfortunately, the church in North America is now defined more by what we are against than who we are or what we are for. This kind of ideology happens all the time in our churches. We notice it when someone says “Oh that church is the Bible-preaching church—they believe in the Bible,” implying the others don’t. Or “We’re the church that believes in community.” The others somehow don’t. “That church? They’re the gay church and that one is the church that is anti-gay. We’re the church that plants gardens and loves the environment,” and “Oh, by the way you’re the church of the SUVs.” On and on it goes as our churches get identified by what we are against.

We get caught up in perverse enjoyments like “I am glad we’re not them!” or “See, I told you we were right!” In the process we get distracted from the fact that things haven’t really changed at all, that our lives are caught up in gamesmanship, not the work of God’s salvation in our own lives and his work (missio Dei) to save the world. This cycle of ideologization works against the church. It is short-lived and it breeds an antagonistic relation to the world. In the process we become a hostile people incapable of being the church of Jesus Christ in mission.

And so today, this week and in the months that lie ahead, we must join together as Christians to break this cycle of ideological church. I suggest we can do this by “going local.” We can resist the ideologizing of the church by refocusing our attention on our local contexts. In going local, we inherently refuse to organize around what we are against and instead intentionally gather to participate in God’s mission in our neighborhoods, our streets, among the peoples that we live our daily lives with. Here we gather not around ideas extracted from actual practice in life that we then turn into ideological banners, but around the participation in the bounteous new life God has given us in Jesus Christ and his mission.

We participate in his reign, the kingdom, by actually practicing the reconciliation, new creation, justice and righteousness God is doing and made possible in Jesus Christ. Here we become a people of the gospel again. It is only by doing this that God breaks the cycle of ideological church.

Read David’s entire letter here.

Get involved and write your own letter here.

lettersOP.jpgWith open letters from Andy Crouch, Ron Sider, Shane Claiborne and more, Letters to a Future Church paints a portrait of the world as we have it and the mission we have in it. You may find your calling in this book; you may even find your own voice.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 8:51 AM

March 2, 2012

The Age-Old Myth, Part 3

If churches wish to embrace the profound truth that God is primarily concerned with what each person is relationally and seek to honor the wisdom of the elders in their midst, what kind of practical changes will the congregation and larger community see?

Encouragement in a healthy lifestyle. Christian teaching maintains that the Holy Spirit truly inhabits the believer, including the body, which is why Paul calls the body the temple of the Holy Spirit. The church can and should be a place of education on healthy lifestyles—that, for example, it is never too late to quit smoking or lose weight. Churches do not often partner with or participate in health-related initiatives, but doing so can being a dual benefit: taking the church out into the community as a caring entity and increasing the health of its members.

A heart for those (of any age) with disabilities. While it is appropriate to strive for “successful aging”—that is, a lifestyle that keeps our bodies and minds sharp for the tasks God has given us—to have failed to age healthfully is not to have failed at being human or fulfilling our calling from God. After all, lifestyle choices rarely contribute to physical and mental health challenges that affect many young people: autism, many cancers, traumatic brain injury, and degenerative diseases. Such ministries often draw in families whose beloved children face such challenges and they teach church members to see the inherent value in each person. Those whose faculties have been compromised by Alzheimers or dementia can be seen in a new light as well.

Support of caregivers. My instinct tells me that churches are already a major source of informal support for adult children, based upon the number of prayers I have heard offered in small groups and church services for people in this situation. But most churches have not drawn upon the many community resources and support opportunities offered in the larger community, nor have they considered the stress of caring for adult parents a need for which their community could use faith-based support and encouragement.

Intragenerational relationships. The paradigm of age-graded Sunday school does great disservice to the development of intragenerational relationships. Likewise, church-related small groups tend to develop by life-stage boundaries. While some intragenerational sharing is healthy and supportive, often the younger members suffer the lack of perspective on their particular struggles. When church leadership encourages the formation of small groups (or life/connect groups) that transcend generational boundaries, they place older members in a position to be able to share their wisdom and experience but also to be loved and cared for by members whose skills can benefit them—for example, younger persons who will help an older church member set up and learn to use their email so they can communicate with their grandchildren.

Capturing the stories of our elders. When a church prioritizes inter-generational relationships, members naturally develop an interest in the unique life stories of their elders. Gifted—or even average—writers can be of invaluable service to families by recording memorable moments in the lives of various older church members. My uncle, a gifted and creative pastor, wrote numerous stories and poems for my grandparents about their childhood, courtship, and experiences in World War II. As a child I was mildly curious about this pastime and enjoyed the stories well enough, but the other day I stumbled on one of them tucked away in a children’s book my daughter had picked up. I had forgotten so much, and was incredibly thankful to have stories of these people I loved, people my daughter will never remember but whose legacy she can continue through hearing their stories.

I fear that many churches fail to take on such ministries because they don’t see an immediate “gospel impact” in them—where are the conversions and baptisms? But talking on such ministries sends a lived theology into the community: God cares for, and therefore we care for, individuals of all ages. God’s word gives a vision for the aging populations in our churches and communities, therefore we follow God even in this.

varnerOP.jpgEmily Varner worked extensively with A Vision for the Aging Church as a freelance editor and publicist for IVP Academic. Her business, AcademicPS, focuses on ministry books and academic texts from Christian publishers. She and her husband doug have a six-year old daughter and are also foster parents to a baby girl.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 12:23 PM

February 17, 2012

The Age-Old Myth, Part 1

by Emily Varner

As a small child, I was desperately afraid of elderly people. The white hair, the wrinkly skin, the change in vocal tone all seemed to me a dangerous and potentially contagious disability. I consider with sadness how my avoidance must have felt to my paternal grandmother—white-haired and arthritic from my earliest memory—or great-grandmother—bent nearly double with osteoporosis and missing an eye—neither of whom are around to accept an apology and explanation.

I blame this aversion partly on my temperament and mostly on the fact that I grew up in rather isolated military communities until I was six. My friends and I had young, fit parents and even the “older people” we knew were not yet retired. It took a change of scenery, some growing up, and simply more interaction with elderly people to lift me out of paralyzing fear at the less-than-pretty effects of aging.

But moving beyond simple fear doesn’t necessarily mean that my perspective on the elderly is healthy, much less that it is informed and (perhaps most important) biblical. The effects of sin undoubtedly reach into how a society views and treats its most aged members, and in the experience of far too many older people these days, the church often fails to challenge its surrounding culture with a new vision for both the value and potential impact of its aging members. (And if you haven’t noticed, the Baby Boom generation will very soon comprise the largest percentage of elderly persons our society has ever known.)

A new offering from IVP addresses this concern for the church to embrace its unique position in both improving the lives of seniors and seeking to learn from the lived wisdom of its elders. A Vision for the Aging Church is a partnership between an elder theologian, James Houston (one of the founders of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia), and Michael Parker, a gerontologist and public health researcher whose work has focused on increasing access to elder-care resources and encouraging community partnerships to benefit the elderly.

This book came to me at an interesting intersection of personal circumstances, not all dealing with aging per se, but changes that were very closely related. My husband’s grandfather was ailing and passed away while I read the book, my closest friend experienced a traumatic brain injury, and my in-laws and parents dealt with serious health issues that were severely impacting their lifestyles. I found its conscious approach to how the church approaches its aging and elderly members relevant to my personal life in ways it had not been even weeks before.

How a church involves older members speaks to the deep-seated theological beliefs of the people responsible for these programs. In my experience, church ministries for the elderly can be reduced to either day trips and entertainment for the active elderly or individual hospital visits to ailing congregants. My cynical side questions this as an attempt at keeping the old people happy so they will continue to give the church needed monies. But the more a church utilizes its aging members’ skills as volunteers and their accumulated wisdom in teaching and mentoring, the more it speaks to the continuing value of every person. Fostering intergenerational relationships and offering practical assistance to the elderly (not to mention the adult children who often care for them) does not come to our churches nearly as naturally as it should.

Part two explores the central theological idea that plays in the background of these issues.

varnerOP.jpgEmily Varner worked extensively with A Vision for the Aging Church as a freelance editor and publicist for IVP Academic. Her business, AcademicPS, focuses on ministry books and academic texts from Christian publishers. She and her husband doug have a six-year old daughter and are also foster parents to a baby girl.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 12:03 PM

February 9, 2012

Encouraging Vocational Stewardship

by Amy Sherman

I’ve never known of a church that doesn’t encourage its people to serve God with “their time, talent and treasure.” Sadly, though, few congregations—even those sold out to the missio Dei—actually facilitate “serving God with your talent” in an intentional, sustained, practical and strategic way that pays attention to members’ vocational talents. In a telephone interview, church-equipping guru Don Simmons, who’s helped innumerable churches with volunteer mobilization for decades, reports:

There are very few churches that have strong, intentional systems for deploying their people’s time and talent. Churches would not consider doing a stewardship campaign for money and not having systems in place to be able to gather it in, to disseminate it [and] report back how it’s being used… . But they don’t think of people’s use of their talent in the same way.

Congregants in our pews need to know that they should—and can—connect their workaday world and their faith. So often they feel a disconnect between Sunday and Monday. When we exhort congregants to “live for Christ’s kingdom,” we need to show them what that can look like in their lives 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. We need to do better in training our people to live missionally through their vocations.

kcOP.jpgIn researching Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, I discovered a handful of churches that are trying to do just that. We can learn much from their efforts.

At Christ Community Church outside Kansas City, pastor Tom Nelson has been preaching for a decade on the high calling of daily work. He visits parishioners at their job sites and uses workplace illustrations in sermons, diligently avoiding language intimating a sacred-secular dichotomy. Instead of only recognizing Sunday school teachers and missionaries, Nelson publicly commissions members for their professional service in local government and public schools. As a result, Christ Community congregants are living out their faith at work in fresh, thoughtful ways:

  • Dave and Demi, business owners, go the extra mile in supporting their employees’ families. Their firm’s light-drenched facility boasts a room for nursing mothers and a playroom for kids who come to visit Mom or Dad on site for lunch. And they offer financial aid to employees pursuing adoption.
  • David, an architect, now articulates his calling as one of redeeming architecture—designing buildings that “contribute to human flourishing.”
  • Jay, an attorney specializing in business transaction law, has found deep fulfillment in realizing that his work is all about advancing the kingdom’s values of peace and reconciliation.

At Church of the Good Shepherd in Durham, N.C., associate pastor Sean Radke has encouraged congregants to meet in vocationally oriented small groups. There they can share ideas about how to advance the kingdom in their particular fields. Already the law fellowship, Justice Matters, has launched a new legal aid clinic.

Grace Church in Noblesville, Ind., Northwood Church in Keller, Tex., and Crossroads in Cincinnati encourage congregants to serve abroad using their unique vocational gifts in specially designed short-term mission trips. For several years Grace has sent IT professionals to serve a seminary in Nairobi; Northwood has sent teams of educators to a partner ministry in South Africa; and Crossroads has sent lawyers, cops and researchers abroad to serve in special projects with International Justice Mission.

Let’s stop asking our bankers, engineers and artists for their canned goods and used clothes instead of their unique vocational knowledge and networks. When we create onramps for parishioners to advance the kingdom in ways that specifically draw on their vocational talent, we’ll find that they experience newfound joy and purpose in their work while the church significantly improves its effectiveness in bringing neighbors near and far greater foretastes of shalom.

shermanOP.jpgAmy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, where she directs the Center on Faith in Communities. Her latest book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, was released in January by IVP.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:41 AM | Comments (1) are closed

October 17, 2011

Being and Seeing Christ

By Jamie Arpin-Ricci. He is an urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg’s inner city West End neighbourhood.

Outside of Scriptural record, no Christian has received more attention in art, literature and the wider culture than St. Francis of Assisi. This unusual saint had the audacity to believe that Jesus actually wanted Christians to do what he taught and the naivety to do so himself, as literally as possible. While such “absolutist” obedience sometimes resulted in awkward blunders and extremist behavior, more often than not it resulted in God’s kingdom powerfully emerging in his world.

Of all of his reckless obedience, it is his loving service to the lepers that has most stood out to me. People of Francis’s day lived in perpetual fear of the disease, with any sign of white splotches on the skin resulting in devastated lives. They were declared “dead to the world”, their property seized, their freedom eliminated and their social status dissolved. They were cut off from everything and everyone, living at the mercy of others, doomed to disfigurement and death.

So why would Francis choose to spend so much time and energy living among and serving these outcasts? Some historians suspect that the complications in his health and eventual death were the result of long-term exposure to the disease. His loving devotion to the lepers was surely one of the most beautiful and powerful examples of being Christ in others. In so doing, he stood as an example to both his fellow Franciscans and the wider Christian community that watched his movement with fascination.

However, Francis was not only being Christ to others. In fact, I do not believe he would have seen that as his primary emphasis. Instead, Francis was drawn to the lepers because he was seeing Christ in them. After all, who better could understand the selfless, emptying of the incarnation of Christ—who gave up everything to dwell among us—than those who had lost everything because of that devastating disease. Francis was drawn to them because he saw in them the Jesus he longed to know, serve and follow.

Living in that tension—between being Christ to others and seeing Christ in others—is a critical one for all Christians, especially those of us in roles of pastoral leadership. Most of us are inspired by the former. After all, who doesn’t want to be identified with Jesus, serving those in need in love? This is worthy our aspiration. However, with the dynamic tension of the latter emphasis, such an identity can easily warp into one of paternalism. This is bad enough for any one of us to fall into, even more deadly for those of us who bear the responsibility to model through leadership the right attitudes and actions of Christian obedience to our communities.

It is when we primarily approach others in ministry through the lens of seeing Christ in them that our intentions, posture and even methodology are transformed into that of loving servants. It breeds a mutuality, humility and unity that is essential to the establishment of God’s kingdom. This does not deny or even downplay the essential spiritual authority in our roles as leaders, but frames them as Christ did—selfless, humble and disempowered for the sake of the other.

Seeing Christ in others was a centrally defining perspective for St. Francis and the Franciscan movement. They did not come as great saviors but as humble servants&mdasheven reverent in their service because they believed they were encountering Christ in the other. The fruit of such obedience continues to be a shining example for Christians in powerful ways. Perhaps the most significant fruit born of such a posture was that, in the end, when they served people as a result of seeing Christ in others, they were truly being Christ to others. The same promise holds true for us.

communityOP.jpgJamie’s new book, The Cost of Community, shares the way his community lead him to the teaching of St. Francis and then ultimately to a brand new understanding of The Sermon on the Mount. Jamie sees the sermon as a new calling to community that is still ringing out today, offering perplexing encouragement and at times daunting challenges to us and our neighbors.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:33 AM

September 8, 2011

The Theological Cure

by Andrew Root

I have a hunch. It is totally anecdotal, but I do think it is based in a reality, one that I’ve sensed over the last decade of talking with youth workers and speaking at pastors’ gatherings.

Here is my hunch: all pastoral ministry has gone the way of youth ministry.

What I mean is this: Almost since its inception youth ministry has been trying to make a case for why fickle people should come to church. Sure, I know that youth ministry has been about much, much more than this (and thank God), but it is a fair assertion to state that Protestant churches began funding in-house youth workers in their congregations because their children were no longer coming or were not all that interested in the church. So we hired young (at times hip) youth workers that could make a case for religious participation.

This meant a number of things: good looking, athletic young workers, big youth rooms, cool events, relational contact, new worship experiences, the blending of technology and Christian practice. And this has had a huge impact on the church (and this isn’t anecdotal); youth ministry people have shifted the direction of the church more than almost any other group of people in the last fifty years. After all, Billy Graham was a youth preacher, then Bill Hybels and Rick Warren were old youth workers, and a good number of emergent church folks, both leaders and participants, are either present or former youth workers.

So pastoral ministry has gone the way of youth ministry. And so far, this is positive—I think. But here is the wrinkle. As this process has happened and as our context has become more detached from Christendom, pastors, like youth workers in the past, have had to concern themselves with how they were going to get fickle people to come to church. At the beginning of youth ministry it could be assumed that people would show up on a Sunday, the only question was, would their children? Now there is no guarantee that anyone will come.

So the pastor has had to take on the entrepreneurial spirit of youth ministry, using programs, events, relational contact, new worship experiences, hip clothes, and the blending of technology and preaching to make a case for giving participation a shot.

But there was a bacteria in this youth-ministry entrepreneurial movement that has now been passed on to pastors. Because the focus was on winning participation, there was a little need or desire to reflect, especially to reflect theologically about the practice of ministry. Thinking was okay, but what won esteem was action. The hyperpractical, scaled down and digestible now became essential. I think this bacteria is now in the bloodstream of pastoral ministry, and unfortunately I think that youth ministry was the original carrier.

theoturnOP.jpgBut here is my historical hunch, and where my book The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry comes in. In the last ten years I have watched youth workers want (yearn) to think theologically. They’ve been at this winning participation perspective too long and know it is a dead end. They are ready to think theologically about what ministry is and how human action in ministry participates in the action and being of God. They still want action—that is, they still want to take kids on mission trips—but they would also like to reflect deeply on what a mission is and how it participates in God’s own ministry.

But here is a further problem: As youth workers have sought to take this theological turn, their pastors haven’t always been that helpful or supportive. The pastor simply wants the program to continue, adding some more kids and keeping the energy high. So as the youth worker turns to theology, often times her or his pastor is ambivalent.

But this is the gift that the youth worker can give back to his or her pastor: the youth worker can remind you, pastor, that theology still matters, that deep thoughts still have a place.

It is only a hunch, but if youth ministry is guilty of being the carrier of this thoughtless ministerial perspective, then maybe we can become part of the antidote, inviting the church back into a theological conversation on the very practice of ministry.

rootOP.jpgAndrew Root (Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary) is in the Baalson Olson Chair as associate professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN).

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:55 AM | Comments (10) are closed

July 19, 2011

On Being Practitioner Guides

by Mark Scandrette

practicingOP.jpgI wrote Practicing the Way of Jesus to address the gap so many of us feel between how we want to live and how we actually live as followers of Christ. As leaders and teachers we long to see people experience the freedom and vibrancy of life in the kingdom of God, and we wrestle with how to best help them become well-formed disciples.

I think one of our temptations is to think that we can lead people to become well-formed disciples by merely teaching about the vision of the kingdom or preaching the need for embodied spiritual disciplines. But you and I cannot lead people to a place we’ve never been ourselves. In the documents of the early church, a leader was someone who “spoke the word of God” and modeled a “way of life” (Hebrews 13:7). In a community of practice, the credibility of a leader is dependent on their lived experience in practicing the commands of Jesus. I’m convinced that to really guide people in the Way of Jesus, we must become the message we proclaim.

It was deeply revealing for me to recognize that my knowledge of the Bible, my experience as a pastor and even my seminary education did so little to prepare me to lead others to do the things that Jesus did and taught. In the reality of the kingdom our credibility doesn’t come from how well we perform publicly but from our lived experiences practicing and teaching the Way. Good leaders are committed learners. We can commit ourselves to being humble students who dare to follow the instructions of the Rabbi in the details of our own lives—by taking on practices that help us become people who live without worry, fear, lust or greed and walk in the forgiveness, power and love that our master promises.

To become leaders of practice we may need to renegotiate our contract of leadership— from service provider to practitioner guide. We can begin to see ourselves not just as hosts, caregivers or communicators, but also as initiators and coaches who invite people into shared acts of obedience. This implies a shift in expectation from “giving people what they want” to inviting them to trust us as master apprentices who will challenge, train and guide in a manner similar to someone teaching you how to cook or drive or plan a sport—less like a college lecture-hall professor and more like a karate dojo sensei.

Not everyone is ready to participate in shared experiments and practices, and people should be free to self-select into this dynamic. My friend Alex leads a medium-sized suburban church. When he first recognized the power of practice for spiritual formation, his first impulse was to try to get the entire congregation to buy in. He taught about the reality of God’s kingdom on Sunday mornings and challenged the whole congregation to do specific experiments he came up with. Most people either ignored his attempts or were frustrated by trying to act alone. Eventually Alex changed his approach.

First, he invited a few trusted friends into a shared experiment. Then he invited the congregation to sign up for a short-term small group called Praxis, which would explore shared practices. As people from the Praxis group began sharing stories of life change, the idea spread throughout the whole congregation. A good place to begin is to simply ask, “What is one thing we can each commit to do, as an experiment, between now and the next time we meet to practice the way of Jesus?”

scandretteOP.jpgMark A. Scandrette is the founding director of ReImagine, a spiritual formation center based in San Francisco. He has extensive experience providing leadership in churches and community-based organizations and has been a minister, writer and spiritual teacher for twenty years.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:16 AM

May 20, 2011

Co-Pastoring: A Surprising Catalyst for Transformation

By Michael Lueken

When the pace of life slows down and the reckless noise subsides, I see the ugly in my heart more clearly. I see ambition that is often fueled by a craving for significance. I see my identity wrapped around the latest sermon. I see how I brood when I don’t get my way. I see an unhealthy need to be needed. I see how much I want to be the “go to” guy. Over the years I’ve become an expert at ignoring, dismissing or justifying these issues. I forge ahead writing sermons, planning services, leading meetings, speaking at retreats, teaching on spiritual formation and calling others to Christlikeness, while significant aspects of my heart remain stunningly unlike Christ.

Obviously, the tension will never be fully resolved. Ministry can’t wait until everything is “just right” in our interior world. But we underestimate the long-term damage of living in fragmentation. It is crucial for those who seek to lead others toward formation in Christlikeness to engage in their own process of spiritual formation.

Eleven years ago our leadership sensed God’s leading to transition the church from a seeker-oriented model to one that prioritizes life in God’s kingdom and the inner transformation such a life produces. This has profoundly shaped the culture of our church, as well as my own heart. And a surprising means for spiritual formation has been the co-pastoring relationship I have with my friend Kent Carlson.

We have different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. We each have our unique roles in the church, but we work through most things together. We share the preaching and leadership responsibilities. We talk through the major decisions that need to be made. We discuss staff issues, finances and the various other challenges and opportunities the church is facing. We both sit on the elder board.

Over the years people have expressed their disbelief that such an arrangement can actually work. Co-pastoring does create inefficiencies, tension and sometimes conflict. But it has been a profound catalyst for spiritual formation because the dynamics of the daily relationship expose unformed aspects in our hearts that we simply have to address for the sake of the gospel, the church and our friendship. For over a decade we have been learning how to not get what we want. We’ve had to learn how to submit to the other person. There are times when I have to let Kent lead and vice versa. There are times when Kent thinks something should be done a certain way, but I’m going in a different direction and he has to submit his opinions and follow. Throughout the course of a week, there are multiple occasions when we are facing our own insecurities, weaknesses, fears, anger and pride, and we have to deal with these before God or spiral into a black hole of self-absorption and pity.

Co-pastoring is probably not an arrangement to mass produce. There are some crucial elements that need to be present if it has any chance of working. But it has provided a daily laboratory for experiments in the fascinating journey of “Christ being formed in us.”

LuekenOP.jpg Michael Leuken is co-pastor, with Kent Carlson, of Oak Hills Church of Folsom, California. He is co-author, with Kent, of the recently released book from IVP, Renovation of the Church.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:50 AM | Comments (1) are closed

May 1, 2010

Telling the Truth

Pastors must be the unhappiest collection of people I’ve ever met. At least that is the feeling I came away with from a recent gathering of dedicated servants. Pastors from all over the country poured into a sun soaked California location to find encouragement and rest from their hectic schedules—taking time to reconnect with old friends, make new connections or just recline by the pool. And when pastors get together, away from their parishioners, they can actually tell the truth about their feelings toward ministry. We are overworked, underpaid, overfed and underappreciated—each of us struggling to balance our low self-esteem and our messiah complex. Most of us hold to the idea that being a pastor is not a job, it’s a calling—and all to often, a call to suffer. This calling defines us and can quickly dominate our lives and subvert all other responsibilities.

It really isn’t all that bad, is it? Pastoral burnout is on the rise (but experts have been telling us that for forty years), and infidelity and sexual addiction are no longer rare occurrences. The average tenure for a pastor is about eighteen months (depending on the denomination), and now those pastors who have survived burnout and parishioner abuse struggle to “compete” with the latest multisite McChurch now residing in the junior high gymnasium.

These are but a few tidbits I picked up at the latest gathering of my brothers and sisters proclaiming the good news, but this isn’t what scares me most. A few weeks ago I was talking with some of our youth about colleges and possible career choices, and I asked if any of the students were contemplating a call to ministry. (There’s that word call again.) No one answered. They just stared at me as if I had asked them to give up the password to their Facebook account. Not only were none of the students considering ministry, but they were also outraged that I had the audacity to even suggest it. When I asked them why, each of them gave me the same answers about the low pay, high stress, low prestige of ministry. In my fairly affluent community, low pay ranked as the first reason (which is a topic for another day).

These students did not attend a ministerial gathering and hear pastors being honest about church life. They had absorbed this attitude from my preaching, teaching and interaction. I won’t take full credit for their feelings—there are other members of the staff to blame too. I would wager that your students feel the same (or at least have similar leanings).

I absolutely understand the need to have opportunities to vent about our frustrations—my wife understands that need too. But we must also celebrate the joy that comes from serving our Lord and his church—from holding a newborn to celebrating the resurrection at a dear friend’s funeral. We must remember the smiles we bring when we visit those shut-ins who rarely see anyone or when holding our friend’s hand while she awaits the results of a biopsy. We have the best job in the world; we get paid to help make our friends’ lives better. We get paid to love people.

I often complain about my job, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything—I hope the kids in my youth group read this. (I hope yours do too.)

“Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).

Posted by Lee Cook at 9:01 AM

February 1, 2010

"Howdy, Pardner!"

Blame it on Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, blame it on The Rifleman, Rin Tin Tin or Annie Oakley. Whatever the cause, I am a big fan of Louis L’Amour westerns. He was a great story teller who painted vivid pictures of the prairie, desert and mountains. In his books, he makes the people and the events of the Old West come alive.

You know what else I really appreciate about his stories? Time and again, the hero of his tale has a mentor. I recently finished re-reading one of L’Amour’s books where the main character is orphaned at a young age. While he shows enough spunk to stay alive in spite of many adverse circumstances, he needs someone to show him how to make the transition between boyhood and manhood. So L’Amour gives him a “Life Coach” as he does for so many of his other characters in other books. He obviously believed that success in life was taught, not caught.

As pastors and Christ followers we believe that too. We know we never outgrow the need for mentors. In every stage of life mentors are vital. Children, young adults, parents, married couples—individuals in literally every stage of life benefit from having a guide along the way. As I have been focusing on this important aspect of ministry the last few months, I have been asking myself the question, How are we ministers and the church doing?

In order to create an atmosphere in our churches that welcomes and embraces the idea of coaching and mentoring one another, we as pastors must model it first. We cannot expect our parishioners to embrace what we do not model. Pastor, do you have a life coach? Do you have a ministry mentor? Are you committed to being that for someone else? It has to start with us.

I am very encouraged to see seminaries requiring mentors for their students. Many denominations have fellowships and provide regular opportunities for their ministers to give each other mutual support and encouragement. Now let me offer a challenge to go one step further. Pastor, ask God to help you find someone that you trust and can be specifically committed to. Ask God to give you a mentor. This person will be someone you regularly meet with and are accountable to both professionally and personally.

As you pray for a person to coach you, remember there are many following behind you who could benefit from your experience. Ask God to also show you who you can help as others have helped you. Back in my college days, the Navigators called it “pouring your life into someone else.” I have always loved the picture that it evokes and the passion it inspires to help someone else along the way.

As I shape my own ministry to more closely fit my gifting and calling to be an encourager and mentor, I am discovering that it is much harder for women pastors to find a life and ministry coach of like heart. Perhaps there are other women out there who are longing for a mentor relationship and can’t find one. Can we share ideas of how to connect with other women ministers around the country?

Mentoring is not a new idea, and it is not our idea, it is God’s. It has always been his plan for those further down the road of life to guide—to be a “Pardner” to—those just starting out. Let’s all rethink and reevaluate the shape of our lives, and make sure there is room in it for mentors, and for mentoring. Our lives will then provide the model for those we minister to in our churches.

Posted by Joan Tyvoll at 10:10 AM

September 1, 2009

Lives that Pour Out Into the Streets

In February I had the privilege of traveling to Vietnam with five members from my church. Our church had hosted Vinh, a seminary intern from Vietnam, for over two years, and his presence in our congregation changed us. We are seeking to be faithful as a multicultural, multigenerational congregation in southern California, the frontline of our rapidly changing national community. Vinh’s presence in our congregation gave us the opportunity to grow in openness to those who are very different. His life poured into our streets. And we decided to see the church that fostered the faith of this remarkable young man.

Visiting three different cities and one very rural community in Vietnam helped me understand why Vinh had such an impact on our church. In Vietnam there is little separation between public life and personal life. Especially in the north and central part of Vietnam, where there is much less Western influence, the people conduct life out in the open. The small shops that line most of the streets are places of business, but here shop owners also sit with their families and their neighbors while they eat their meals and drink afternoon tea. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish between paying customers and family members. And when you walk the street, it’s not uncommon to be invited to sit for a while.

The same is true of many of the Vietnamese homes, many of which have large doors or gates that open wide to the street and neighbors. The street or sidewalk is a part of the home. While I was having dinner with the Ha family one evening, several times neighbors stopped at this wide open door to talk. We could hear the neighbors all around doing the same thing—living their lives open to others.

I was struck by how dramatically this contrasts with the American obsession with privacy. We have weatherized our porches and air-conditioned our homes so that the windows and doors are almost always closed, and our blinds or drapes are often pulled. If we do venture out, it is into the privacy of our back yards. We are intentionally not open to the streets and our neighbors. One sociologist says that Americans have lost a sense of public space. In our search for privacy we have retreated, and we now fail to value publicly shared lives—lives that pour out into the streets.

Vietnam was a vivid picture for me of the task that lies ahead for my church. We must find a way to pour our lives out into the streets. Our church services and activities should be much more open to passersby. And more of our activities should be done on the streets and in the neighborhood. After all, according to the Scripture, “The Word became flesh and moved right into the neighborhood” (Jn 7:17, The Message). We need to do the same.

Unlocking the church doors and ministering outside of the church building and on the streets is challenging. Neighborhood children playing on our church’s lawn and basketball court are great, but we have only just begun. I hope in the not-too-distant future people all around our city will witness the lives of our church members pouring out into the streets.

Posted by Candie Blankman at 8:44 AM

August 1, 2009

The Mouth of the Lord

One foggy morning, when my parents were visiting my family, we decided to go out for breakfast. We found a nice large booth so six of us could sit together. My thirteen-year-old son, who was with us, loves to go out to eat, but as much as he loves to eat at a restaurant, he loves to meet new people. You see Jesse has Down Syndrome, and for some reason he loves to go up to strangers (the stranger the better) to introduce himself and shake hands.

Since it was still early on a foggy morning, I thought we would be safe in the largely empty Perkins Restaurant. Just in case, I sat with my arm around Jesse for most of the breakfast. We had a great conversation spiced by maple syrup and hot coffee.

As we ate, a couple of gentlemen sat down in the booth across from us. These well-dressed businessmen took out their Palm Pilots and notepads and conversed about figures and budgets. I could tell that Jesse wanted to greet them, so I tightened my grip around his shoulder. But when we got up to put our coats on, he escaped my grasp and went immediately to the larger of the two men. He greeted him and shook his hand. The surprised man was very cordial and greeted Jesse back, and even gave him his name. Jesse seized on the man’s greeting and then went in for a hug, which did not upset the man at all. He seemed to enjoy the break in his meeting and the affection of a young boy.

But Jesse was not finished with him or his unconventional greeting. Sensing a real openness in the gentleman, Jesse went for it all. He got the man in a headlock and gave him a noogy (vigorously rubbing the man’s hair with his knuckles). I quickly tried to intervene, but I was too late. All I could do was try to tear Jesse away from the man’s head and begin to apologize for my son’s behavior.

I got Jesse away and put my hands on both sides of his face, looked him right in the eyes and told him that this man did not deserve to have a noogy given to him. But then to my astonishment, the man immediately responded that indeed he did deserve a noogy this morning. He said that when he left the house that morning he did not treat his wife very kindly and actually deserved more than a noogy. He then went on to say, “Sometimes God speaks to us loudly through a burning bush, and at others times though a young child.”

Well, I was speechless and simply thanked the man for being so understanding. He in turn thanked me for my son and the clear message he brought to him from the Lord.

The Lord also brought me a clear message that morning. He can speak through whomever he wishes. I had to repent of wanting to cuff God’s messenger (Jesse) upside the head.

Maybe we need to quit pretending to know whom God will use to be his voice and allow him to surprise us as he speaks through some unlikely people.

Posted by Gerry Koning at 10:27 AM

January 1, 2009

Ministry or Management

Is the church primarily a community of believers striving to worship God, glorify Christ and love one another? Or is it primarily an organization that needs management? Few would argue for the second definition. Yet what would a neutral person who sat in on one of our leadership meetings (e.g., deacon board, church council, vestry, coetus or session) observe: ministry or management? This is the challenge of my new call—to help our church’s session (ruling elders) be a community of believers striving to minister in Christ’s name.

The Principal’s Office

To that end I sent out a note to all the elders expressing my desire to meet with each one individually in order to get to know them and be better partners in ministry. I heard through the grapevine that many were a bit disconcerted. They felt as if they were being called to the “principal’s office.” I reassured them it wouldn’t be painful: I don’t bite, and they weren’t in trouble. I just wanted to get to know them better.

With each elder I stated my belief that the session is a microcosm of the church. The spiritual condition of the church will reflect the spiritual condition of the session. In order for us to be spiritual leaders we must know each other; we must know our strengths and weaknesses; we must know where we excel and where we struggle; we must be able to look one another in the eye and ask, “How are you doing spiritually?” Shocking that it has to be asked—but we church leaders must be able to talk about Christ!

Church Business

In order to effectively conduct the business of the church we must effectively live as Christ calls us to live—to glorify God and to love one another. Certainly the financial and administrative business of the church is important, but all too often it becomes the main thing or even the only thing. So our church committees are filled with competent bankers, lawyers, managers, educators and, occasionally, carpenters and homemakers, but we know nothing about their spiritual “competence.”

In my experience, church leadership meetings are packed with business details while underlying spiritual pain and struggle and triumph go unattended:

  • An elder is ready to divorce her husband, and not a single person knows they were even having problems.
  • Dying of cancer, a long-time elder doesn’t have the ability to say so or to ask for prayer.
  • Another elder is always cranky and complaining, and expresses little in the way of Christian faith.

Does anyone know the spiritual condition of these people? Does anyone care?

The character of a church will reflect its spiritual leadership, for ill or for good. As we conduct the necessary business of the organization, let’s not forget to be about the real business of church—worshiping God, glorifying Christ and loving one another in word and deed.

Posted by Candie Blankman at 8:48 AM

October 1, 2008

Spiritual Triage

Last November I found myself in the emergency room with my husband. He had been having nose bleeds on and off for a week. But this nose bleed was definitely “on!” There were two other people waiting for attention in the emergency room. Both were elderly and looked in much worse condition than my husband, who is fairly trim and fit and barely over fifty. A superficial look would have concluded that my husband could wait. I pressed the triage nurse a bit, indicating the escalation of his condition. She took his blood pressure. The reading was so high that she assumed it was wrong. She took it two more times. These readings confirmed it was 220 over 190 and his pulse was 120. That triage nurse went into emergency action. Drew was a heart attack or stroke waiting to happen! Understanding the degrees of his critical condition, she directed all of her energy and resources to the most immediately critical patient.

I have come to realize this is what I do. Being a pastor is like being an emergency-room triage nurse. In the emergency room, a triage nurse must quickly assess all those medical conditions presented at any given time and direct energy and resources toward those persons presenting the most critical care needs. There are several parallels that help me manage my time and my heart, both of which are easily overtaxed.

First, there are always more patients to care for than I can address at any given time. The ministry of the church is ever-growing and expanding. I am one person. I must work very hard to direct energy and resources at the most critical need determined through careful observation, prayer and godly counsel.

Second, I cannot help everyone. It takes a whole hospital to care for the needs of all the sick and dying. The triage nurse simply mobilizes the right people and resources to best do the job. Alone, I will not be able to care for the spiritual needs of all whom God brings to my church. I must equip, train and encourage those who can.

Third, some folks will not come for care—and will die. Even worse, some will come, and because the medical staff are people and not gods, there will be losses. I am human. I must constantly reiterate the confession of John in the third chapter of his Gospel account—“I am not the Christ.” In Christ’s name and by his Spirit I will be able to do far more than I could ever imagine, but I can’t do everything.

Finally, I can’t serve twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I must get time off. And this does not jeopardize my care capacity; it ensures it will be sharper and more effective. I must get rest and care for myself in order to come to the emergency room ready to give the best care possible. If the emergency room nurse has an infection, he or she only jeopardizes the health of those being served. Pastors are no different. If we try to do ministry when we are not well (emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually), we risk jeopardizing the spiritual health of others.

God has called us to spiritual triage. By the power and presence of the Spirit of God, let’s give the best care we can to those in the greatest need. And let’s inspire and equip the people of God to be partners in ministry.

Posted by Candie Blankman at 8:51 AM