Monthly Archives: July 2007

Mark 1:1 — The Beginning of the Gospel or the Norm for the Gospel or both?

Eugene Boring in his new commentary on Mark’s Gospel published in the New Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006) proposes that the first word in Mark’s Gospel (archÄ“) signifies both beginning or origin, and norm, which he proposes should be translated as "the norm for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ" (32). There are at least two problems with this proposal.

First, it would be unusual for one word to carry two separate and distinct significances in the same context. Would this not comprise a  hermeneutical fallacy, unless something in the text would signal that a double meaning was intended by the writer? Surely one has to choose one or the other, but not propose that both equally are valid and were intended by the author.

Second, there is the question whether the term archÄ“ means "norm" or "yardstick" in the New Testament, and especially in Mark’s Gospel. The term does signify ruler, in the sense of an authority figure in the New Testament and Boring does reference such usage. However, there is no clear example in the New Testament where this word conveys the sense of norm or yardstick. In fact, I think one would be hard pressed to find examples of this usage in Greek literature outside of the New Testament. It can signify ‘first principle’ in philosophical and cosmological discussion, but even here the sense of ‘norm’ would be rather unusual.

Certainly within the Markan narrative (10:6; 13:8,19) this term carries the meaning of ‘beginning’ with reference to creation or to the starting point of persecution. As well, the analogies we find in the Greek Old Testament (e.g. Hosea 1:2 "the beginning of the word of the Lord to Hosea") would suggest that the sense of ‘beginning’ or ‘origin’ defines Mark’s intended meaning in 1:1 — "The beginning/origin of the gospel of Jesus Messiah Son of God…."

It may well be that Mark intends to compose "a narrative that both communicates the message from and about Jesus and provides the norm for the continuation of the proclamation in the mission of the church", but I do not think he can base such a conclusion on the use of archē in Mark 1:1. That must be argued on other grounds.

 

“Led to the Lord”

Every now and again I hear the phrase “how many people have you led to the Lord?” The meaning of this evangelical lingo is “how many people have committed their lives to Christ under your guidance as you have explained the gospel message?” Although my desire is for people to commit their lives to Christ, this question makes me quite uncomfortable for a few reasons.

First, the implication is that bringing a person to such a commitment to Christ is in our control. The message seems to be that if we only approached people with enough skill, boldness and a clear witness many would become Christians. But, “the only thing that counts in ministry is the one thing that is impossible for us – to change peoples hearts.” It is the Spirit that convicts of sin and turns people to Christ.

Second, if we have not been involved in such experiences, this suggests we have not been faithful to our call as followers of Christ. The result is that many Christians who have not been privileged in this way feel envy towards those who can relate such experiences and they view themselves as less than worthy followers of Christ. Feelings of joy over the news that someone has come to Christ are mitigated by a struggle with guilt.

Third, it reduces other aspects of Christian ministry to secondary status. The “ideal Christian” is the one that “leads many people to Christ” so that they commit their lives to Christ. This perception contradicts the complementary description of believers as parts of a body working together to bring glory to God. A spiritual hierarchy based on a person’s success in “leading people to Christ” is lacking in Scripture.

However, rather than deleting the phrase from our vocabulary, I would suggest changing its meaning to “being an influence in another person’s life so that the beauty of Jesus and his kingdom has been revealed to them.” This is something we have been called to and have been given the freedom and power to do: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16 TNIV). Therefore, even if people refuse to pursue the way of Christ, they have been given a taste of what could be. A young woman was relating to me the devastation and hurt that occurred through the divorce of her parents. During the course of the conversation I said, “That is why God hates divorce. He has created us for love, commitment and security in relationship. When there is betrayal of that ideal, the brokenness and anguish affects the heart of God.” Did she become a follower of Christ? Not yet. But she saw a little bit of the light of a loving father. Perhaps this a better meaning of “leading someone to the Lord,” because we can all do this on daily basis whether through word or deed, and let Jesus have the glory that comes when people commit their lives to him.

A Father’s Contribution to the Development of a Great Leader

As the dark years of Israel’s history, recounted for us in the book of Judges, draw to a close and we see the transition of national identity from cowering fugitives into a great kingdom – a remarkable leader is used by God to bring Israel back to Himself.  That leader is the prophet and judge of Israel, Samuel.  Given the cultural, social and religious milieu at the time of his birth and early childhood it is even more remarkable that he became the man that he did.  In a previous article we looked at the influence of Samuel’s mother, Hannah, on her son’s development into a highly respected leader.  It was her faith, prayer, nurture, perseverance, integrity and care that deeply influenced this little boy and encouraged him to become the man he did.

But there is another person who, I believe, also had a profound influence on Samuel’s growing up years.  That person is his father Elkanah.  Here is what I observe about this man from 1 Samuel 1-3.

1. He was an ordinary man, husband, father in the context of his society and culture. But he was also a man who stood tall above the cultural anarchy and religious apathy of the day. (c.f. Judges 21:25)

2. He was not a national or religious figure. He was not a tribal head or clan elder but he was an upstanding leader in his own home and family. (1 Samuel 1-3)

3. He, personally, was a faithful, God-fearing, deeply religious man as evidenced by his regular pilgrimages to the tabernacle in Shiloh to offer up sacrifices to the Lord (1:3).

4. He did not keep his religion to himself but faithfully led his family in the worship of the One True God – encouraging their individual participation.  It is noteworthy that the writer of 1 Samuel took the time to detail how Elkanah gave portions to each member of his family – adults and children.  He was doing his best to ensure that his family knew God and followed in His ways (1:4).

5. In his conversation with Hannah in 1:8 we get the sense that he is a devoted, loving and tender husband.  This one factor alone would be significant in Samuel’s healthy emotional and social development.

6. Elkanah fully supported Hannah in the fulfillment of her commitment to the Lord regarding Samuel (1:23).  Penninah, the rival, aside – one gets the sense of a family unit that are in one in heart to follow God.

In an age of religious turmoil, waywardness and spiritual ignorance, Elkanah stands tall as a godly man, loving husband and competent father.  Samuel, his son, could not have been anything other than indelibly influenced by his father’s example.

Dads! The challenge is there for us.  Let’s never underestimate the power of the example of a godly, faithful and committed father to influence the next generation.  Some will even go on to become great leaders.

 

The “Ministry Leadership Team” – the Best Model?

George Cladis, Leading the Team-Based Church. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999. vii-xv, 1-189.

According to Cladis the best of kind of leadership model for the North American church in this postmodern era is the ministry leadership team. He begins by grounding his model in Trinitarian theology. Then he defines seven specific characteristics, based on his understanding of the Trinity, that such a team should cultivate and exhibit, discerning along the way connections between these characteristics and the contours of postmodernism. Effective ministry teams will be covenanting, visionary, culture-creating, collaborative, trusting, empowering, and learning. In the second section of his book Cladis treats each of these elements in detail, providing examples of their effectiveness and importance to the success of a ministry team leadership model.

When I saw that his first chapter would establish a theological foundation for ministry leadership teams in the way the Trinity operates, I was eager engage his ideas. He makes reference to Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity, with the three persons pictured as sitting, perhaps on thrones, around a central table. Intense, intimate, but calm discussion seems to be occurring among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Cladis correctly discerns that Rublev was expressing the concept of perichoresis, the interpenetration of the persons of the Trinity. Continue reading

Summer Reading

One of the pleasant perks that comes from living close to the ocean is that I am able to grab my beach chair and a book and read while listening to the gentle sounds of wind and waves. My reading this summer has ranged from real-life adventure [The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz; Carrying the Fire, Michael Collins] to historical novels [The Religion, an epic story along the lines of the battle of Thermopile of the last battle of the crusades waged on the island of Malta between the Ottoman hoard and a small band of Knights of St. John, by Tim Willocks.] Tucked away in my list of summer reading is one book that has captured my imagination: The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century, by John Harper.

I’ll admit, from the sound of the title, this book does not sound like beach-reading. But, it has been so refreshing to rediscover what one writer has called the missing jewel of the church … Worship. After sitting through an endless stream of services composed of two sets of worship choruses [three choruses a piece], a somewhat thoughtless prayer [we thank you, God, for being God], sprinkled with an abundance of announcements followed by an offering, topped by a sermon, it’s been stimulating to encounter the rich tapestry of treasures that belong to worship.

Consider a few of the following quotes:

“The praise of the Almighty was for Christians the highest and most important of human activities, deserving the best of their energy, artistic endeavor, and wealth. The rich heritage…reflects this.” 

“Medieval liturgy was not only highly sophisticated; it was often the principal pursuit of communities of men or women whose whole lives [often from childhood] were dominated by daily worship.”

“But, the communities of clerks, priests, monks and nuns who animated these rich resources are gone. Gone too are the aesthetic, spiritual and theological backgrounds and the social framework that supported these communities.”

Each line begs for reflection. I’m just a bit unsure how far such reflection will go.

I was sharing some of my thoughts with a few dear friends who dismissed the subject with a quick “well, that liturgy stuff is dry and meaningless, just dead ritual.”

As I read more of the way worship can be expressed, I can’t help but form a mental picture of the quality of the banquet God has spread before us. Carefully prepared expressions of gourmet artistry, deep symbols, shared voices, rich textures of holy things. It’s hard to imagine that we would reject them all in favor of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and consider ourselves nourished.

Around Our Table

Our house has been a-hum with guests most of this month. But as busy as we’ve been, the joy has been greater. Sitting around the crowded dinner table laden with good things this week, I’ve been reminded of how many times in the past my family and I have been the beneficiaries of God’s great kindnesses through the generous hospitality of Christian acquaintances and friends. One never loses in the act of hospitality. The act is always overwhelmed by returning gains—personal, relational and spiritual.Dinner Table

 What binds us to these guests around our table is a golden thread that stretches back to the years 1987 through 1992, when our family lived in Aberdeen, Scotland while I pursued a PhD. 

 Maureen and her son Joel are at our table. She and her husband Mark were among our first friends in Scotland. They opened their hearts and their home to us when we were Christian strangers just newly arrived, helping us in many ways to settle in to an unfamiliar environment. We were overwhelmed.  Joel was only 3 or 4 years old then; he’s 24 now and looks remarkably like his dad, who passed away just this year. Joanna’s at our table too. She and our daughters became best of friends in those five golden years as did our respective families. The Atlantic has been crossed several times to maintain the connection. As I listen to her news of mom and dad and sisters, I recall wonderful memories made during our five years in Scotland. Peter is at our table and so is his friend Andy. Peter’s uncle Philip was the teaching elder in the small Christian fellowship where we worshipped. They love the Lord Jesus and both are pursuing meaningful professions and expressing their Christian commitment in them. 

 Hospitality, it seems, has always been a peculiar distinctive and calling of the people of God. The Old Testament patriarchs set food before strangers on divinely ordained missions. In Luke’s Gospel, two disciples prevailed upon a fellow traveler to stay with them and share a meal on the road to Emmaus, discovering later that they had given hospitality to their risen Lord. In the Book of Acts early Christians were known for signs and wonders, but also for breaking bread from house to house. And believers continued to be challenged in the book of Hebrews to inexhaustible kindness in hospitality, lest they miss the potential of entertaining angels unawares. 

 The saints are sitting around our table. It’s been a wonderful summer thus far!

Research on Second Career Pastors

Here is a link to some fascinating new research on the increased incidence of second-career pastoral leadership, particularly in conservative protestant denominations. It appears that pastors are starting older and that they usually have had a career before they come into ministry. In general, I find this trend encouraging. Pastors with real life experience ought to do a better job of relating to the people that they preach to and serve. Check out the numbers and graphs at Pulpit and Pew.

Who is the Happiest Canadian?

Macleans magazine did their annual ‘happiness’ poll of Canadians on our national holiday. While some aspects of Canadian life generate stress and disappointment, the trend continues to show that Canadians, by an overwhelming majority are happy — in fact may be one of the happiest people living on this planet. Of course, the degree of happiness felt is related to feeling good about oneself, feeling loved, having a satisfying job, and having a reasonable income. Tune into a phonein radio show or read a community paper  and you may wonder about the accuracy of these results! We may be happy, but our ability to complain has achieved the level of an art form!

What seems astonishing is the discovery that "there is no statistically significant difference in happiness levels between atheists and those who have a religion." Yet there is an exception: "The survey’s small sample of evangelical Christians found a 100 per cent satisfaction level with their relationships." A similar score was noted among Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and Bhuddists. Perhaps the depth of happiness reported is related to the degree of religious commitment or the confidence such believers have in God.

What the Macleans article does not do is to define ‘happiness’. So we are left wondering what Canadians are really saying when they respond to this survey. Are we happy because there is no military conflict within our borders and social institutions continue to function with a modicum of reliability? Is happiness a function of financial security? Are we happy because we have food to eat, a reasonable place to live, and some degree of self worth? If Canadians are so happy, why do we find so many of our fellow citizens addicted to drugs, living in alcoholic stupor, getting divorced as frequently as they get married, mired in debt,  and generally disappointed with life?

Jesus warned people to measure happiness correctly. First, we must consider the eternal scale. If we define happiness merely in terms of this life and its situation, then we will be wildly misled. Jesus told the story of the rich farmer whose harvests made him incredibly wealthy. Preoccupied with plans to build new barns and expand his operation, he neglected eternal realities — death that would separate him from all of these material things and require him to give an account to God for his living. We have to measure happiness in terms of our eternal destiny.

Second, Jesus taught that happiness means receiving God’s approval. We only discover blessedness when we are reconciled with God and belong to his family. Jesus told the story of the wise person who listened to his words and obeyed them, in contrast to the foolish person who disregarded him. The wise person was compared to the housing contractor who built his house on a rock foundation. The foolish person was like the builder who constructed his house on the sandbar in the creek bed. When the winter rains came, the swollen waters of the creek destroyed the house of the foolish person, but these storms could not dislodge the wise person’s house. God’s approval rests on those who follow Jesus.

Third, Jesus showed us by his own life that true happiness is to be found in serving others — giving ourselves so that others might be helped. There may be ‘pain in the offering’, but we know as well the blessing of God. Paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 13. If we have all the wealth in the world, if we are the most generous people in the world, if have all the knowledge and wisdom in the world, but lack God’s love in our lives, we are nothing.

If we use the measurements for happiness the Jesus taught and Paul expressed, then I think we would find the survey results drastically changed.

Shaping the Message

One of the primary responsibilities of the cross-cultural Christian worker is to discover how God’s revelation of himself in both the written word (the Bible) and the living Word (Jesus) resonates with the cultural group with whom she or he is developing a relationship. In our ministry among the Sindhi people, we discovered that both the message and the method needed to be formed and expressed by relevant cultural images and values in order to provide a spiritual impact. Consider these examples:

Honor for one’s teacher is a very important value for the Sindhi people. Part of the reason rote learning is the preferred method in schools is because honor is expressed through unquestioning acceptance and trust of the teacher. This contrasts with the heavy dependence upon rational thinking found in western education. As a result, an important aspect of the person of Jesus Christ for the Sindhi people is that of teacher. During the washing of the disciples’ feet, Peter at first refuses to have his feet washed (Jn 13:8). The Sindhi reader is quite offended by this and views his refusal as an act of disloyalty. In the Sindhi mind a student obeys the teacher without question even if it is a matter of honor. If the student is unable to trust the teacher, then he or she should not be a disciple.

Tied to this value is the interesting observation that Sindhi believers do not require an “assurance of salvation,” a common lesson in discipleship manuals for new believers. The need for this is because many western believers seem plagued with doubt and at times wonder if they are saved. However, the Sindhi believer does not contemplate such a question. They have made a commitment to their Teacher Jesus, and any doubt or questioning would be considered an act of dishonor to him.

In the Sindhi context as well, baptism becomes the primary act of commitment through which one pledges his or her life to Christ. While individual prayers and expressions of faith play a role in the development of the believer, it is this public act of commitment and submission to the Teacher – an acted out prayer – that expresses the point of full allegiance. Through this act they gain a new identity as a disciple of Jesus bound together with other committed followers. Individual faith thus finds its expression and fulfillment in a communal context.

The Canadian context is increasingly a mosaic of many cultures. The variety of values and perspectives requires cross-cultural workers to discover the heart language of the people they are working with in order to shape both the method and message of Jesus Christ in a way that will resonate with the worldview of those people.

Samuel, a Mother’s Contribution to a Great Leader

Recommended reading: 1 Samuel 1-8

I am intrigued with the rise of Samuel’s leadership as described in the first few chapters of 1 Samuel.  After the years of Israel’s spiritual, moral and national decline as described in the book of Judges the years of Samuel’s leadership stand sturdy and tall.  Under his faithful and godly guidance Israel regains her faith in God as well as her sense of nationhood under God.  Samuel was a giant among leaders. What fascinates me are the people surrounding him during his growing up years. 

What contributed to his development as a leader? What about the people surrounding him? In his earliest years there is his mother, Hannah; there is Hannah’s rival Peninah (with all her children) and there is his father, Elkanah.  Later, as he begins his tenure as the understudy for the temple there is Eli, the priest and default leader of the day along with his two evil sons Hophni and Phinehas.  Then there were the Israelite worshipers who came to the tent of meeting there in Shiloh to offer sacrifices and worship the One True God.  What influence did these people have on young Samuel?  What did they contribute to the development of this great leader to be?

Hannah is the first influence in his life.  Imagine with me young Samuel growing up under Hannah’s godly care.  I get the sense from the conversation between Hannah and Elkanah in 1:21-23 that Hannah intended to pour herself into her little boy during the years that she had him and before she was to give him into the Lord’s service.  It is likely that from his earliest recall he would hear the stories of Hannah’s sorrow and ultimate blessing.  Hannah probably retold many times how God answered her prayers.  I am sure Samuel was also quite aware from early on of his mother’s promise to God.  My guess is that Hannah had a great deal to do with Samuel’s growing up with a deep sense of awe of God and His goodness. 

Samuel probably could see early on the contrast between his mother and that other woman, Peninah.  The gentleness contrasted with the sneering, the selfelessness contrasted with the pettyness…  Even though we are not given many details, I doubt that Peninah’s character changed much with the birth of Samuel and the contrast must have been instructive to him.  His mother’s character and godliness were great influences in his life.

Hannah was a woman of prayer.  She understood prayer as communing with God.  When Eli questioned her in the tabernacle, Hannah described her prayer as "Pouring out my soul to the Lord" (1:15).  I believe Samuel’s deep and close relationship with God began here on Hannah’s knees. Hannah’s prayer in chapter 2, recorded for all succeeding ages, gives us a little glimpse of this woman’s considerable understanding of God and his ways.  I believe it can be safely infered that she did not stint in communicating these truths to her young son.

Commentators vary on how old Samuel might have been when he was presented to the Lord at the temple.  But short time or long, Hannah was probably the most influential person in the development of this leader. 

Put yourself into the picture of the yearly pilgrimages from Ramah to Shiloh.  Imagine with me the excitement preceeding the event.  Samuel in Shiloh waiting impatiently for the day to come when his mother and family would arrive.  Hannah in Ramah, lovingly putting the finishing touches on the garment she made for her little man every year.  There is a faraway look in her eye, a tiny smile tugs at the corners of her mouth.  She will see her little boy soon. "How tall will he be by now"? 

It is what the text does not tell us that intrigues me.  Was Hannah’s heart lifted to God daily on behalf of this little man?  Did she ever worry?  Did doubts ever creep in? – "Did I do the right thing?"  "Did I really have to give him to God for all of his life?" Did intense longing for her first-born ever cloud her eyes with tears?

What influence do you and I have in the lives of the youngsters around us? What do they see in us?  Are we praying for the children in our sphere of influence?  Are we contributing to the development of tomorrow’s godly leaders?  Allow me to encourage us to take another look at the influence of this godly woman on an entire nation through her influence on her son and let’s ask God how we can be used of Him in similar ways.

Note: The topic for the fall ACTS Seminaries Pastors’ & Mentors’ Day is "Children Matter"

Gentle Summer Thought

Okay, trivia fans, here’s a question. How many steps can a sparrow take in a minute? It’s summertime and as I was lounging in the shade of my deck, thinking of what I could post on this web space, I found myself watching a flock of sparrows bouncing around the yard. And I began to count. How many steps can a sparrow take in a minute? My scientific poll came to an average of 80 to 100.

Is there a point to this? I’m just repeating a study referred to by Jesus in Matthew 10:29 when He said: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of you Father.”

Some people assume that the sparrow’s “fall” refers to it’s death which, as far as I know, happens only once. But [and here my learned colleagues may correct my understanding of Greek vocabulary] the word used by Jesus may also mean to take a step with a foot, or hop. As it applies to sparrows, I believe that “hop” would be the proper use. And, if that was what Jesus meant, then it strikes me that God has His work cut out as He keeps track of every single hop of every little sparrow. They are studies in perpetual motion, hot-footing it to a primitive beat. And God cares for each step.

But, you may ask, what does He care about? My guess is that the answer has something to do with what makes sparrows hop. As I watched my little friends, I discovered several reasons: 1. fear – those little guys are on constant red-alert, 2. need – those little guys are on a constant hunt for food, 3. weakness – they may have the right stuff to soar in the air, but they struggle when it comes to ground transportation.

Is God just keeping count of their steps? As I lazed in the summer sun, it dawned on me that it’s His will to sense their fears, needs and weaknesses – and whatever else keeps them hopping. And even more. Jesus continued, don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.

What a comforting thought. Another reminder that God really does love us, enough to embrace everything that keeps us on our toes: fears, needs, weaknesses and so much more. A gentle thought to take into the day.

Missional Leadership: Does this Emperor have Clothes?

The missional church movement calls the church to rediscover its kingdom identity and purpose as the people of God. Now we hear that churches will require a new kind of leadership – missional leadership – to guide their re-development as missional congregations. Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk in The Missional Leader. Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World articulate how current ministry leaders can become missional leaders and be equipped to lead churches in the transition from current modes of being church, to the missional mode – “a community of God’s people who live into the imagination that they are, by very nature, God’s missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ”(xv).

What kind of leader will this transition take? Does it require a new kind of leader? Roxburgh and Romanuk argue that it does and that old patterns of ministry leadership no longer serve. Consider their comparison and contrast between ‘pastoral’ and ‘missional’ models of leadership (12-13).

As I reflected on their materials, I wondered how different such missional leadership really is?

In the first part of their book they offer good advice and perspective about the new postmodern cultural context in which many congregations now function. The changes are real and in many cases dramatic and if congregations do not pay attention to these changes and seriously inquire how to be authentic, hospitable people of God in this new reality, then they will become missionally irrelevant. But these issues of contextualization, cultural exegesis, and biblically-faithful community surely have surfaced as key issues in congregational life again and again. They form the very stuff of being God’s people. During the past twenty years these issues have formed core elements in ministry leadership development.

Do we need to give continual attention to the matter of contextualization and incarnational Christian living? Of course, but it will be led by ministry leaders who possess both pastoral and missional abilities. Roxburgh and Romanuk rightly call ministry leaders to re-engage this task with fervour, understanding, imagination and a sense of hope.

They correctly caution ministry leaders against borrowing unthinkingly leadership practices espoused in the corporate world. They have concerns, for instance, that common strategic planning processes may be too linear, too structured and too top-down, If applied in a straightforward way within the congregational context these processes may violate the community context and prevent significant vision and meaningful change from emerging. These are salutary cautions.

Roxburgh and Romanuk, however, borrow freely from the work of sociologists and psychologists, but rarely do they offer any theological critique of the ideas they use.

For example, they use ideas from Steven Johnson’s publication Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software. As well Surfing the Edge of Chaos by Richard Pascale, Mark Millemann and Linda Gioja is cited to support the idea that congregations, if given opportunity, have the capacity to discern a new future, one not “already determined by a leader.” Yet they do not show how these ideas are coordinate with the patterns which developed in the first generation church and witnessed in the New Testament. Was there a major response to new critical issues in the New Testament church that did not receive some direction from key ministry leaders?

The second part of their book addresses the missional leader specifically. Again, they offer good, sound advice. Ministry leaders need to “model patterns and habits of life” as an effective means of providing leadership for the congregation, rather than depending on organizational restructuring or new forms of polity(115).  But again, does one have to choose between these two or will there be situations where both are important and necessary? The authors believe that the complex sociological contexts in which congregations live requires leaders who “know the basic principles of leading people, forming effective staff, developing teams, or communicating processes”(117). I would agree, but ask what is new about this? Developing these skills has formed part of the standard curriculum for ministry leaders for the last decade or two.

On the one hand Roxburgh and Romanuk argue that ministry leaders do not help the church by creating change processes or measure quantitative growth (120). Rather, ministry leaders must give their attention to the formation of the people of God and through this, change will emerge and perhaps growth as well. They must focus on forming “alternative communities of the kingdom shaped by theological and biblical narrative”(123). On the other hand, if the goal is missional transformation of the congregation, then change must occur and some process of change must be followed. The methods employed to secure change may be different, but some process of change will be embraced.  According to Roxburgh and Romanuk the missional leader prepares the stage or perhaps even takes specific steps to iniatiate such change, even if through quiet, dialogical means.

They have a chapter devoted to “The Character of a Missional Leader”(125-141). Again, what is emphasized is helpful. They urge ministry leaders to foster credible and authentic character, which exhibits four personal qualities: “maturity, conflict management, personal courage, and trustworthiness and trusting”(127). I would question whether conflict management is a ‘personal quality’ rather than a competency, but ministry leaders certainly need these qualities. Again I ask what is new here? Paul seems to me to mention these very things in his list of qualifications for ministry leaders in 1 Timothy 3.

So is missional leadership really a different form of leadership or the wise application of well-known ministry leadership competencies to help congregations deal both with change and transition? Roxburgh and Romanuk emphasize the importance of ministry leaders enabling congregations to discern their identity as kingdom communities and develop processes for missional engagegment that are coherent with this reality. Time, dialogue, and attention to spiritual formation are significant elements. I wonder whether their model works best with rather small congregations, given the dialogical and intimate nature of the process.

In the end I am not convinced that missional leadership, as they define it, is essentially different from good, pastoral leadership that has led congregations historically through periods of significant social change and enabled these communities to develop new ways of being church.

Blinded by Familiarity

Beatrix PotterLast night our family had a dinner and DVD night at home.  After a delicious taco salad, we settled in to watch Miss Potter, about the famed children’s author Beatrix Potter who gave the world Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-duck and a host of other characters and their various adventures.  A significant sub-theme in the movie was the struggle that Beatrix’s parents had in coming to terms with the reality that their daughter was not just a published author, but a very famous one at that. They only came to see their daughter in a new light rather late. That’s parents for you. But, then, that seems to be all of us! We tend to be blinded by assumed familiarity.

Notwithstanding angels, signs and prophecies (Matt. 1; Luke 1—2), Jesus’ parents had great trouble coming to terms with their eldest. It was the same with the neighbors— “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matt. 13:54-56)

The movie reminded me that when a parent allows him or herself to be blinded by assumed familiarity, it can steal the joy of celebrating a child’s achievements. It can pose a threat to the health—or even the survival—of a parent-child relationship.

How much more costly the risks in being blinded by an assumed familiarity with the Galilean preacher, the Son of God and only Savior of the world?

Roast Preacher

Preachers need to have thick skin. Whenever a person gets up in front of a crowd to speak, people are going to evaluate what they have to say – which may be a mild way of describing the kind of scrutiny under which a preacher is placed. Roast Preacher is the most common dish served for Sunday dinner.

Of course if our skin is too thick, we run the risk of not caring for our listeners. Our sermons will come off sounding hard and uncaring. I remember my mother telling me about a conversation she had with a friend when I had just mentioned my interest in getting involved in ministry. "Does he have a soft heart," she asked. "Yes, he does," said my Mother. "Then I’m glad – but at the same time, I’m sorry," my mother’s friend responded.

That’s it exactly. We won’t be any good to our people if our skin is too tough, but if we can’t stand up to the scrutiny we are going to fall apart and be little good to anyone.

The key, of course, is to be deeply grounded in God’s love. When we understand how much God loves us, we will be less susceptible to the pain that people cause. Further, understanding that what we do as preachers is the exercise of God’s love helps to shield us from personal criticism. We preach because God loves. If people don’t like it, they can take it up with God.

It should be added that sometimes people’s criticisms are on the mark. A good preacher will listen for what can be learned from the the things that people say about our preaching. It’s just that we don’t have to take the mean-spirited comments and own them. God loves us and that’s enough. In the freedom his love brings we are able to pursue excellence in our calling so that people hear God’s word and his kingdom is established.

Commitment vs Decision

A number of years ago after delivering a sermon I was rebuked by a young woman. It would be nice to say that this was a unique occurrence, but unfortunately, such is not the case. I had made some disparaging remarks about the "Four Spiritual Laws," a tract that provides a four step understanding of the gospel message. She had been introduced to the gospel through one of those tracts and it was significant to her spiritual history.

I was duly chastened and learned that the sermon is not the place for such insensitivity and I praise God for people with the courage to approach and correct me when I fall short. Nonetheless, even though evangelism programs and tracts have played a role in the salvation of many people, I am still disturbed by the reduction of the good news of Jesus to a few well rehearsed lines no matter how well crafted.

Becoming a follower of Christ is not a "decision," like deciding to buy a house. Rather it is a commitment, like getting married. It is a momentous covenantal step when one vows a lifetime commitment to Jesus as Lord. It involves a "burning of bridges": all other ultimate commitments are now off limits, even as in my marriage to Karen, all other women became off limits in terms of intimate personal relationships.

In our western culture, the vows of marriage come as the culmination of a number of decisions that have shaped the relationship to the point of declaration before God and community of the permanent and sole choice for a life partner. Similarly, children in their formative years, or a person newly introduced to the gospel can make decisions in the development of their love for Jesus. But the covenantal commitment made before God and community that is required of a follower of Christ (the point of baptism as I understand it), is so profound and life shaping, that it should not be made prematurely, even as a marriage should not be entered into without an understanding of and commitment to the consequences. A booklet on the "Four laws of marriage," can be very helpful in introducing a couple to the significance of marriage, but it would be inadvisable to move directly from the presentation of such a booklet to a wedding proposal.

Godliness, Again!

I am curious about Paul’s usage of the word ‘godliness’ (eusebia) in his letter to Titus on several counts.  The first is that Paul makes it clear throughout the letter that the pursuit of godliness is a normal practice in the life of the believer.  In the very first sentence he writes:

From Paul,a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began.  (NET Bible)

Second, each passage in this letter that deals with the core teaching on salvation (i.e. that salvation is provided freely by God’s grace and mercy and not because of any of our doing) inevitably concludes with an exhortation to godliness being expressed through good works (2:11-14; 3:4-8).  Godliness, then, is the outworking of the inner work of salvation and it is expressed in good works.  The entire letter seems dedicated to describing what godliness must look like in the lives of God’s people.  That ‘look’ is linked to living righteously, "denying ungodliness", and doing good works.

Third, Paul exhorts Titus to challenge all of his listeners to lives of godliness.  The challenge is thrown out to church leaders (elders and overseers), to men and women, to husbands and wives, to young and old, to slaves and freemen – godliness is for all.

Here They Come…

In the February edition of the Leadership Connections newsletter, I recorded the results of some research that I’ve been doing on emerging leaders: [When Emerging Leaders go BOOM! http://leadership.nbseminary.com/ncld_011.htm – check it out.]

Twice this week, the issue has come up as both the Seminary – and our Churches are beginning to witness this phenomenon. So, for what it’s worth, I’ll repeat the details in part … with one distinct conclusion: if the Boomers don’t’ find meaningful expression in their church – they will go elsewhere…

“Over the last three years as I’ve been seeking to create instruments to empower home-grown leaders, I’ve noticed that the greatest personal interest being shown comes from people of a certain age. Let me share an example: ‘I am an engineer, 50 years old, chair of our church board … my wife and I have been praying about our future plans to devote ourselves to full-time ministry in the next 5 years.’ 

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to discover a cultural phenomenon that is creating a huge impact in the church – the Baby-Boomer generation in transition. … While Boomers have been sometimes branded as the most selfish generation, there is evidence that as they age they are proving to be much different. A study from the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2005 revealed that Boomers are not only more active in volunteer participation, but fully expect to extend their volunteer commitments to more mature – even career – levels. This surge is being felt in a number of arenas. It has created an impact in the world of missions. In late 2005, Wycliffe Bible Translators built a volunteer mobilization center in Orlando, Florida in an attempt to keep up with their largest sector of missionary growth. Since the year 2000, Wycliffe has experienced an average of 40% annual increase in the number of “Boomer Missionaries.” Martin Huyett, Wycliffe’s vice-president for volunteer services explained, “these people have a certain amount of freedom and control … they want to do something significant, not just write checks.” …

One organization, The Finisher’s Project, was founded by Nelson Malwitz as a way to match Boomers with the growing list of ministry opportunities provided by Mission agencies. Currently, the Finisher’s Project is working with 100 organizations, has placed over 1,000 people in full-time missions, has 1,000 people in process, and has an additional 1,200 people expressing their intention to make a transition in the next 2 years.

Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity said, “Most mission agencies are trying to work with this trend … that 20 years ago was unwelcome.” … As I reflect on the growing body of statistics generated by the explosion of the Boomer generation, I find myself almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of implications. Apart from the fact that many of them are intensely personal [since I, too, am a Boomer] each seem to have a consequence for the future of the church.

Let me share one quick discoveries:The Boomers are ready – use them or lose them: Jim Hughes of the Abilene Christian University writes, “many churches look to younger people to fill significant roles, leaving older adults to trivial tasks.” Many Boomer post-retirement plans are being built around significance, mission, and impact. With their proven record of life-skills and initiative, if their Church won’t match their intentions in a serious fashion, they will find other avenues to influence their world.”

Interested in more: check out www.finishers.org/ and www.finisherscanada.ca/

Alistair McGrath and the New Atheism

Here are a few notes taken from a lecture I heard by Alistair McGrath at the International Congress on Preaching in April. The address, titled “Preaching Truth in the Shadow of the Idol of Science” was directed at the recent writings of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, and Christopher Hitchens, all of whom seem to be angry that Christianity and religion in general has not gone away.

McGrath dispenses with the idea that belief in God is simply delusional along the lines of believing in Santa Claus. How many people start believing in Santa at the age of 50 or 60, he asked? What about all the believing intellectuals? It’s just not true that science leads to unbelief. C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in God the way I believe in the Sun, for not only do I see the sun, but by the sun I see everything else.

Richard Dawkins says that there is a scientific explanation for the fact that many believe. But this is a loaded argument, McGrath said, because it overlooks the most natural explanation. We’re told that belief in God is a “virus of the mind.” So then, McGrath asks, are all beliefs viral or only just the ones that Dawkins doesn’t like?

McGrath suggests that the Christian gospel actually makes a lot of sense in explaining much of science. Take Psalm 19, for example. For the atheist, the heavens are depressing because of their vastness and the lack of hope that they offer. For the Christian, the beauty of nature displays the beauty of God who can be known in Christ. Dawkins says that thinking of God diminishes nature, but this is not so. We study science so as to glorify God. In other words, we need to encourage the scientists in our congregations.

“Preaching has helped me grow,” McGrath said. “Preaching is the way that God resources his church. So don’t criticize science from the pulpit. Criticize what some people are doing with science.”

Stay With the Man in the Boat

While there is a debate on about the extent of global warming, there are a few things that are sure: Storms will come and we all experience them. We may lose a few shingles off our roof. On the other hand, we may lose the whole house! This is also true in a metaphorical sense. There are health storms, economic storms, emotional storms, and relational storms—they are real and they do come. ShipwreckAs surely as we each experience physical storms, there will come a time when we will be caught up in one, another, or several storms. Our lives may be bashed and buffeted until we think that the ship of our life will sink and our faith in a God who cares will drown.

How can you survive life’s storms with faith intact and strong?

At Mark 4:35-41, Jesus and the disciples experienced a storm. As the disciples desperately rowed, Jesus was asleep on the cushion, apparently unconcerned by the threat on all of their lives. Finally, in a tone of resentment and rebuke, they woke him with the words, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (38) Clearly, Jesus did care. Mark writes that he “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’” (40) The storm abated instantly and there was a great calm. Then Jesus asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Their response was terror and astonishment, “Who is this?” Who indeed!

In the inevitable and threatening storms that will come, Christians may ask the question, “Don’t you care if we drown?” The answer to that question is a second question—Who is the man in the boat of your life? It is often our prejudice to take accurate measures of every dimension of the storms we are in, but to forget to reckon with the identity of the One we fancy to be carelessly sleeping in the boat of our lives. Such calculation is shortsighted. This passage encourages that we stay with the man in our boat.

SAY A WORD
Brian M. Rapske © 2005

The carpenter is sleeping so still,
As you row through the storms and the chill
He is there, he is there
And he cares, and he cares
As you row through the storms and the chill

You must stay with the man in the boat
Even though it’s just barely afloat
That is faith, its real faith
You believe, you believe
Even though it’s just barely afloat.

Say a word, sleeping man
Say a word now … or then!
Peace be still
Peace be still
Peace be still!