Monthly Archives: November 2008

Using Templates in your WordPress Theme

So, you think that you want to use WordPress to run your church website and you have heard that in WordPress you can customize your website’s theme through the use of templates.  But what ever are templates?

To explain this it is helpful to understand how WordPress works in the background when someone visits your website.  First off WordPress makes a determination as to what it is that each visitor is looking for.  For example, "Has the visitor requested the home page?  Has the visitor requested a particular item (i.e. a specific page or post, a category, an author, a tag etc.)?  Has the visitor done a search and is asking for the results?  Once this is determined WordPress then fetches that information from the database and and displays it based on the WordPress "theme" that you are using. In order to display all the bits of information that make up a typical web page WordPress gathers the information through a series components called "templates" and ties them together into a comprehensive whole.1

Each of these templates will likely handle only the information for a particular section of a web page or a particular type of content to be displayed. These web page sections might be the top of the page, commonly known as the header, the middle section which carries all the "blog" or "page" information, commonly known as the body, or the bottom of the page which might have copyright information or links to contact you etc., commonly known as the footer. Each of these sections might have other sections within them. For example the body section might have a right and left sidebar, the header might have a navigation system for the entire site. These are all likely generated through the use of templates. Each template is (usually) a separate file within the structure of the theme. For example a particular theme might have a header template file (header.php) and a footer template file (footer.php) and a sidebar template file (sidebar.php ) and a comment file (comment.php) a loop file (theloop.php) file and so on.2 Larger components (template files) might incorporate several of the smaller templates in a single file. This would be the case with a category template file (category.php) or an author template file (author.php).

There are several primary components (files) that make up a theme.  You can view a graphical representation of how these files are targeted when someone comes to your site.  I find this very helpful when designing a theme and deciding how I want the flow of information to progress on the website:

  • index.php – this is the ultimate default file that WordPress loads.  If no other component file fits what the visitor is asking for – this file displays.
  • home.php – this is the first file that WordPress looks for when the visitor makes that first inquiry or when he clicks on your "Home" link.
  • archive.php – this is the default file that WordPress loads when some older content is requested.
  • page.php – this is the file that WordPress loads when an individual "page" is requested.
  • single.php – this is the file that WordPress loads when an individual "post" is requested.
  • 404.php – this is the file that WordPress loads when the content that the visitor is requesting cannot be located in the database.
  • various other specialty template files for specific uses – i.e. targeting an individual category using category.php or an individual author using author.php etc.  You can find more information on templates here.

Each of these primary components (files) incorporate the various template files within them to draw the information from the database and present it on the page.  So a typical "home.php" file will incorporate a call to the header.php file, the WordPress loop, the sidebar.php file and the footer.php file.  It will display the resulting information and style it using the CSS file that is also a part of every theme.  All of these files can be shaped the way you want them to meet the needs of your particular theme.  If you are new to WordPress take a look at the default themes that comes packaged with WordPress and familiarize yourself with the way these various files are laid out.  They can be found under "wp-content >themes".

WordPress has several built-in functions – get_header() - get_footer() - get_sidebar() – that will load the more common templates.  Custom templates3 can be included in the code by using the php "include" function – i.e. <?php include (TEMPLATEPATH . '/my_custom_footer.php'); ?>.

When designing a church website these are helpful factors to keep in mind.

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  • 1WordPress comes with a couple of default themes for you to choose from but there are thousands of others out there on the web for you to choose from should you so desire. The theme takes this dynamically generated content and displays it in the manner that you want it to.  Click here if you would like to read more on WordPress themes.
  • 2I intend to discuss the loop in another article.
  • 3I might write more on custom templates in another article.

Christian or Christ follower?

When Muslims come to Christ they often suffer a cultural and religious identity crisis.

I recently spoke to a Muslim background believer on the phone.  He told me of his struggles to live as a Christian within a Muslim setting.  His extended family has many Muslim religious leaders and there has been much opposition.  He recently registered his oldest son in elementary school and wrote down his religion as “Christian.”  The teacher was shocked and refused to allow the word “Christian” beside his obviously Muslim family name.  However, after some discussion he persuaded the teacher to comply.

Contrast this with a discussion I had with a believer who had become a follower of Christ during the time we lived as a family in Pakistan.  He came to me somewhat disturbed and, after the appropriate amount of preliminary chat and the customary cup of tea, he asked, “Do I have to call myself ‘Christian’?” 
I asked him, “What is a Christian?” 
He replied, “They are a certain caste of people in Pakistan who sweep the streets, eat pork and sell liquor.” 
I said, “Oh.  That doesn’t describe you very well.  What do you consider yourself?” 
“I consider myself to be a follower of Jesus.” 
“OK,” I replied, “Call yourself that, but be sure that you do live like Jesus.”

Which approach is the right one?  As a cultural outsider, it is not my place to judge.  Instead I see my role as encouraging both these men to live faithfully to the form of discipleship they believe God is calling them to.

culturally Muslim while openly claiming Jesus as Lord

At the same time, there is a controversial movement of believers within the Islamic context who are remaining culturally Muslim while openly claiming Jesus as Lord.  Consider these excerpts from an essay entitled “Transformation versus Rupture” by someone who calls himself a Muslim follower of Christ (from Chandler, Paul Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: exploring a new path between two faiths. Plymouth Cowley Pub. 2007, pp 116-117):

In my life I have pitifully seen the wretched destinies – in the cultural sense – of Muslims who have become Christians. They sometimes personified the concept of total alienation because they seemed to have undergone a process of eradication from their [indigenous] cultural soil. Eradication! Detraditionalisation! Deculturation! Deracination! The whole thing entailed a renunciation of one’s culture and traditions.

I have always wondered if it was really necessary to renounce one’s own Islamic culture to deserve Christ’s message. A renunciation, which in cultural terms means auto-destruction…. Culture is built into the heart of the heart. That is why a person who renounces his culture is doomed to remain till the end of his days suffering a terrible crisis of identity.

… if in Islam as a religion (i.e. a set of religious beliefs) difference of opinion is possible, Islam as a culture has a powerful impact which is impossible to rid oneself of. Thus in terms of culture, a Muslim remains a Muslim despite himself because he has been built as such.

This is why it is a bad approach to try to transmit Christ’s message to a Muslim by undermining lslam. (i.e. trying to efface the halo from above the great representative figures of Islamic culture.)… It is also a bad approach to make him feel that the mosque, which is a powerful spiritual and cultural space, is a negative and adversary place. It is also a house of God where if he likes he can experience his new relation with Jesus. It is also better to not make him feel that fasting during Ramadan alienates him from Christ’s message, but that he can give Ramadan fasting a new spiritual orientation through Christ.

It is also better not to ask him to affect a rupture with his spiritual verbal discourse. Let him in his prayers keep the name that Jesus is given in Islam, because that is the name dear and familiar and dose to him: and so with the other Biblical names. Let him keep the basic prayer formulas common in Islamic praying discourse. This will make him feel at home in his new relation with Jesus.

The main objective … is to experience conversion as a transformation … rather than rupture. [end quote]

This is not a sentiment that every Muslim background believer holds to, but it does represent the internal spiritual and cultural struggle that followers of Christ face within an Islamic context.

See also: Missions and Other religions, Is Allah God? and How are we to think about God in Islam?

Septuagint Studies and Evangelicalism – Using the Bible Paul Used

The study of the Septuagint in Canada during this past century has occurred primarily in the graduate departments of selected Universities, primarily the University of Toronto. The same reality marks the majority of Septuagint Studies that occur in the United States, Great Britain and Europe. Few, if any Evangelical Seminaries have considered Septuagint Studies sufficiently significant to provide scarce resources for its support. Yet, strangely in the case of the University of Toronto Ph.D. in Septuagint Program, many of the participants were Evangelicals.

Is there a compelling case to be made for Septuagint Studies in Canada to find a home in an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School? In Canada the major scholars in Septuagint Studies were at the University of Toronto, but they have retired and there do not seem to be plans to replace them. Is it possible this gap to be filled by an Evangelical Seminary or Graduate School of Theology? If so, what should Septuagint Studies look like in such a context for it to contribute meaningfully to the mission achievement of such an institution?

Historically Septuagint Studies at the University of Toronto focused primarily upon textual, historical, linguistic and hermeneutical issues. Cognate disciplines of Hebrew language and literature, Hellenistic history, secondary translation languages (Syriac, Coptic, Latin, Armenian, etc.) have also been associated with such studies as necessary competencies.

When we consider locating Septuagint Studies in the context of an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School, what would Septuagint Studies look like? If its focus should change, would it still legitimately be considered by the academy as Septuagint Studies? What shifts could or should occur in Septuagint Studies so that it reflects the particular values or educational outcomes that characterize an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School? Educational programs are developed and implemented because of mission compatibility and a sense that the time is right for such educational processes. How then might Septuagint Studies be conceived in an Evangelical Seminary environment so that a compelling case can be made that such studies are necessary and timely?

What is "Septuagint Studies"? It comprises the cluster of disciplines, competencies, and cognate materials that enable us to understand the origins, transmission, development, usage and influence (both Jewish and Christian) of the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament (probably located in Ptolemaic Alexandria and initiated around 280 B.C.) and its revisions, as well as its relation to other, later Greek translations of the Old Testament (i.e. Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, etc.). The Septuagint represents the first major translation project of a religious text in human history. As sacred text it served the needs of the Greek-speaking Jewish Diaspora in the three centuries prior to Jesus and concurrently with him. As the Christian church emerged from within Judaism, its expansion very early in its history into the Greco-Roman world required the use of the Septuagint as the sacred text to support its message. As the Christian church developed its own sacred text, we find these writings modeling and incorporating materials from the Septuagint and being combined with this Greek form of the Jewish Canon. This Greek translation of the Old Testament was linked with the emerging New Testament to form the Bible used by the Church during the first several centuries of its history and formed the basis for secondary translations used to support significant missionary ventures (Old Latin, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, some Syriac materials, etc.). Because the first segments of this Greek translation seem to arise at the beginning of the third century B.C., it forms a unique witness to the state of Hebrew Scriptures at that period and the hermeneutical principles and interpretation of those scriptures by Jews in Alexandria. For this reason it plays a significant role in understanding the textual development of the Hebrew Old Testament.

The role of the Septuagint for the historical development of Jewish and Christian sacred texts remains significant. Evangelicals have a serious interest in understanding all aspects of biblical text development, transmission and interpretation because of their faith commitments related to the authority and use of biblical materials to inform spiritual life. We are a people of ‘the book’. It is in our interests to understand, include and nurture within our research, teaching, and ecclesial life a deep appreciation for the Septuagint. The issues such study raises continue to challenge the Evangelical world. As well such study will bring greater opportunity for understanding other streams within the broader Christian tradition, namely the Orthodox tradition because significant parts of this tradition continue to use the Septuagint as their Scripture in liturgy and spiritual life.

  • For Septuagint Studies that are conducted within an Evangelical Seminary to retain the respect of the academy, certain knowledge and skills must be taught and developed. Since such Studies are textually based, but deal with translation literature, there is need for the textual domain to remain a central part of Septuagint Studies.
    1. This is advantageous for the Evangelical Seminary because of its commitment to Scripture as established canonical text. For those committed to the authority of Scripture insuring that such Scripture are correctly transmitted, translated and interpreted remains a central value.
    2. Septuagint Studies bridge the Old and New Testaments and in the Evangelical Seminary both Testaments are esteemed. As well their respective influence and relationship is a critical question. Because canonical issues are surfacing in new ways and the boundaries of the sacred text within Christian circles are debated, the influence of Septuagint upon Christian practice and thought remains critical.
    3. The principles of textual criticism used within the setting of Septuagint Studies in most instances are the same as those used within New Testament Studies. As students hone such skills in Septuagint Studies, they are easily transferred to the textual issues of New Testament Studies.
    4. Hermeneutics has occupied a central place in theological and biblical studies for over a century. The discussion shows no sign of diminishing. Septuagint Studies raise central hermeneutical questions. For example, as the New Testament references Old Testament materials through the Septuagint, what does this mean hermeneutically? If the hermeneutics employed in the New Testament reflect Jewish practices and the Septuagint is a Jewish document reflecting the translation and interpretation of Jewish sacred text, then we have much to learn from Septuagint Studies that can inform New Testament hermeneutics, particularly the Jewish aspects of New Testament hermeneutics.

In these ways the traditional aspects of Septuagint Studies can inform and significantly assist biblical studies within the Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School.

  • The Second Temple Period of Judaism holds great significance for understanding Christian origins. This period when the Old Testament materials were achieving their final form and Judaism was emerging under the shadow of the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires forms the context for life in first century Palestine. The Septuagint comprises one of our major sources for understanding Jewish thought during this period, particularly in the Egyptian Diaspora. The occurrence of Septuagint and other Greek materials among the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates that this translation was used in Palestine. By the time Jesus was born, Palestine had experienced Hellenistic culture for over three hundred years and Roman supremacy had rule for half a century.
  • The Evangelical Seminary’s primary mission is to develop good ministry leaders. Broadly conceived, such training will engage in some way the questions raised in section 1. But what other elements of Septuagint Studies would support such a mission?
    1. The vast majority of Evangelical Christians access their sacred scriptures through translation. This is different from Islam. Christian ministers have to know how to affirm the authority of God’s Word as it occurs in a translated form. The Septuagint represents the first great experiment in biblical translation. Fundamental principles relating to translation and translation process are raised through its study. We have the opportunity to discern how difficult texts are construed, what strategies are followed to insure consistency, what freedom the translators possessed and what limits they had, how the translation was received, how it was revised, etc. As English translations proliferate, ministry leaders need to understand the theological implications of such work and Septuagint Studies provide an excellent case study.
    2. The majority of preaching today in Evangelical Circles arises from the New Testament. A significant part of this sacred text includes material quoted from the Septuagint. Key passages in Romans, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, the Synoptics and Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, James, just to cite a few, are replete with such quotations. In some cases these Septuagint quotes represent an understanding of the Hebrew text that is quite different from the Hebrew text that we have received. Ministers need to know how to deal with such issues so that the coherence of the canon can be understood.
    3. Worship practices continue to change and develop in Evangelical churches and good ministry leaders will need to understand how liturgy has developed historically. The Septuagint was the Bible of the early church and so significantly shaped the worship practices of the church. As churches explore the ancient-modern worship paradigm, connecting with worship roots that originate in the second and third century church, Septuagint materials become important.
    4. The early church fathers, particularly the Greek-speaking fathers, used the Septuagint as their Bible. Their commentaries, homilies, and letters quote it freely and it forms the foundation for their exposition and direction in matters of faith and practice. As we understand this part of the Church’s life more deeply, we will have a richer context for nurturing the spiritual life of our churches today.
  • Good ministry leaders within the Evangelical Church tradition are characterized by theological astuteness. Critical to this competence are highly developed exegetical skills. These include expertise in the biblical languages and awareness of the way language works.
    1. The issues of semantics, discourse analysis, and rhetorical usage are significant components in New Testament exegesis. Because there is significant overlap in the vocabulary of the New Testament and the Septuagint there are natural linkages between Septuagint Studies and New Testament exegesis.
    2. Various aspects of Septuagint style may also have influenced the form of New Testament materials. The narrative style of Mark and Luke 1-2, the hymns in Luke 1-2, and the vocabulary used in Revelation reflect Septuagint influence. Discerning the meaning of such terms and their possible religious nuance is an important issue.
    3. The Septuagint represents one of the largest bodies of Hellenistic Greek and so for the New Testament provides a significant resource in understanding language.
  • Contextualization remains a current issue. The Septuagint represents a major attempt to contextualize Jewish religious thought. It predates the time of Jesus and so helps us understand some of the ways in which Judaism responded to the pressures of Hellenism through the translation process. Since the majority of the Septuagint seems to be a product of the Diaspora, and Alexandria in particular (Letter To Aristeas), it will reveal various ways in which the Jewish community sought to relate their Jewish faith to their Hellenistic environment.
  • The Bible that Peter, Paul, Luke, Mark, and John1 used primarily was the Septuagint. The more we are familiar with its phrasings, lexica, and interpretive processes, the better we will appreciate and understand their teaching.

Septuagint Studies within the setting of an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School will build upon the base of textual and historical competency, but use this as a means to explore the salient issues of:

  • Canonical studies
  • Translation – its hermeneutical and theological implications
  • Contextualization issues
  • Jewish-Christian relations
  • Significance and use of Old Testament materials in the New Testament
  • Liturgical history
  • Historical theology – first three centuries of early church thought and its development
  • Understanding the Old Testament as it was interpreted in the three centuries prior to Jesus – setting the scene for Jesus’ ministry
  • Understanding the Bible of Paul and Peter, i.e. the Early Church, and how this enables us to discern the meaning of their respective letters.
  • Understanding Eastern Orthodoxy as part of the Christian tradition, because it continues to use the Septuagint as its Scriptures, regarding it as inspired.

A Seminary or Divinity school setting encourages these inter-disciplinary aspects of Septuagint Studies to be explored and developed in ways that they could not be in a secular University setting. This enrichment of the task and agenda that defines Septuagint Studies would be a significant contribution to Septuagint Studies and the ministry of the Church.

In terms of timing we suggest that Septuagint Studies in Canada are at a crossroads. We are losing the most significant Canadian Centre for Septuagint Studies. Those scholars that have been instrumental in developing Septuagint Studies are eager to see their work continue in Canada. They have offered their libraries to the TWU/ACTS context to support Septuagint Studies if we were to commit to establish a Septuagint Studies graduate program and Institute. Further, there is a vacuum regarding Septuagint Studies in Canada that we can fill and do so in creative and innovative ways.

In the context of the SGS and GSTS of Trinity Western University we have four faculty who have Ph.D. level expertise in Septuagint Studies. This resource represents a unique clustering that exceeds even the level of support that the University of Toronto had to resource their Ph.D. in Septuagint Studies. We are well-positioned in this regard to be the Canadian Centre for Septuagint Studies.

There is another factor of timing that is significant. Through the work of many scholars the project to establish an edited text of the Septuagint is nearing completion. The only major segments of the Greek Old Testament that still lack such texts are Joshua through Chronicles and Psalms through Ecclesiastes. Work is progressing on some of this. So we are at a point in Septuagint Studies when the agenda can shift its focus to consider more intently the impact of this translation on the Jewish and Christian religious communities, as well as the emergence of the Septuagint as a literary artifact.

When we ask the question what Septuagint Studies contributes specifically to our understanding and advancement of the Believers’ Churches and their missions, the responses are complex. As with many aspects found within the curriculum we have designed to develop good ministry leaders within this part of the Evangelical spectrum, the connections emerge primarily because this tradition fits within the general stream of Christian orthodoxy. What Septuagint Studies contribute to our understanding of Jewish-Christian relations, the interpretation of sacred text, and the history of the emerging Church, it also contributes to the Believers’ Churches lodged within general Christian orthodoxy. The better we understand these elements, presumably the better we will understand the nature of the church, its mission, and its message.

Specifically, as we consider the recently revised statement of the Seven Believers’ Church principles that form the theological basis for the ACTS Consortium, Septuagint Studies relates primarily to:

Principle # 5 Belief in a high view of Scripture….the Holy Scriptures alone are fully authoritative and fully trustworthy as the very Word of God written. In Scripture God has given the Church a sufficient guide and final authority for all Christian teaching and practice.

In the Consortium agreement this gets translated into a statement of purpose that includes:

    • to uphold the Bible, as originally written, as the inerrant, infallible Word of God and to produce graduates thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word and competent in understanding, expounding, applying and communicating it.

As we have sought to outline in the paper, Septuagint Studies contribute substantially to achieving this part of our stated purpose. We seek to discern what Scriptures as originally written say and Septuagint Studies play an integral role in discerning this. Further if graduates are to be thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word, then some awareness and understanding of Septuagint Studies, particularly the dynamics of translation and its impact on interpretation must be part of this understanding. Finally, we emphasize the ability to understand and expound it (i.e. the Bible), as desired competencies and this requires some awareness of the Septuagint, particularly in terms of the New Testament implications.

There is a second area of purpose that Septuagint Studies will assist, namely:

    • to prepare ministry leaders and indeed the whole people of God to understand and address competently the Canadian and global cultural mosaics and to have a transforming impact on them through the Gospel.

As we have tried to express in this paper, Septuagint Studies in essence is a study in religious contextualization. The cultural diversity of the Hellenistic era in which Jewish and Christian people lived required careful and thoughtful response to relationship of their religious beliefs to the dominate cultures of their day. These issues remain for the church a significant challenge and Septuagint Studies provide many good examples of strategies employed to deal with such questions.

Finally, a specific purpose for the Consortium is:

    • to produce leaders….who are able to work cooperatively with fellow believers in other denominations to the glory of God and the building of the church of Jesus Christ.

The Believers’ Church tradition has not had much experience in relating to Eastern Orthodox traditions. However, with the increased movement of peoples around the world and the entry of much of Eastern Europe into the European Union, we will have to understand these traditions more adequately. Since their religious traditions build upon the Septuagint, the more we understand this part of our Christian heritage, the better we will be able to appreciate and understand the specific concerns of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

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  • 1To what extent Jesus had access to and used Septuagint materials is a vexed question.

Church Transformation

There has been a lot of talk about Church Transformations in the past decade. In the 1990’s I was intrigued by a denominational development. Quite a few resources had been invested by one particular denomination toward Church Planting. While there was a level of success in the planting of churches, a question was raised “what about resurrecting dying churches?” In light of the heavy statistics that indicate the high percentage of churches that were in decline, an effort was made to design a process to transform distressed churches. Using techniques similar to church planting, it was discovered that if done right, transforming a dying church was far more economical than planting new churches, and while attention was still given to church planting, there was a renewed commitment made by the denomination to stimulate new growth and vitality in churches that had been at risk of abandonment.

Over the last 10 years, there have been a lot of lessons learned about Church Transformation. A lot of studies have been written and books published by experts on the subject. They all arouse a limited sense of interest, but last week I came across a study that intrigued me. Over the last Fall, one of my personal heroes – George Bullard [of the Columbia Partnership] has been conducting research on The enduring principles of congregational transformation. Rather than telling church leaders how to do transformation, he asked for church leaders to tell him how they are doing it. In this delightful bit of role reversal, over 700 church leaders have weighed in on an online research survey. Listing 21 “enduring principles” of church transformation, a list of top seven principles emerged: Continual Transformation Rather Than One-Time Transformation: Going Forward Rather Than Going Back, People Before Programs, Being Both Spiritual and Strategic, Future Rather Than Past, Kingdom Growth Rather Than Church Growth, Vision Plus Intentionality.

Each one were identified due to their perceived validity, strength, importance, and their enduring nature. At the same time, the results of the survey identify the bottom seven principles … ie. Those that proved to be of less importance for a church to experience transformation.

The results of the survey are free for the asking, and well worth the reflections: Persons interested in a summary of the complete preliminary results and a PowerPoint presentation that contains a presentation of the results may send a request to client.care@thecolumbiapartnership.org. Ask for: Enduring Principles Of Congregational Transformation Report.

Note: the results of the survey are intended to stimulate review, evaluation and dialogue. Bullard has made it a practice to gather church leaders into discovery groups that work out the implications of important principles. It’s an activity that I value … and intend to emulate.

Discerning Emerging Leaders

In his book, From Followers to Leaders [Churchsmart Resources, 2008], Bob Logan referred to an extensive survey of churches who were asked the question: “What is your greatest need as a church?” There was no surprise that the number one answer was “leadership development.” Over the last three years, as I’ve gone through training in a number of Church consultancy processes, I’ve had the opportunity to meet any number of Church Consultants, all of whom have affirmed the finding: “Every church where I have facilitated has expressed the need for more leaders and more mature leaders.” Yet, as Logan writes, “most pastors and churches don’t yet have a clear path for developing leaders within their own congregations … [they] muddle through, patching together a plan as they go.”

Looking at the leadership development efforts in the local church, I’m often reminded of a delightful phrase coined by Eugene Peterson in a Leadership Journal article, Haphazardardly Intent. As churches muddle along, there is a vestige of leadership development that pops up from time to time accompanied by the happy surprise that a leader has emerged.

Aubrey Malphurs [Building Leaders, Baker Books, 2004] suggested a clarification that would begin to erase the “haphazard” from the  ”intention” to develop leaders. His solution was to define leadership development as “the intentional process of helping established and emerging leaders at every level of ministry to assess and develop their Christian character and to acquire, reinforce, and refine their ministry knowledge and skills.” There’s a lot to unpack in that definition, but one point does stand out:

Leadership Development has to be seen in light of discipleship growth and maturity. When Leadership Development is viewed as a unique endeavor reserved for a select core of elite “chiefs” it becomes an appendix to congregational life, somewhat distant and disconnected. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul doesn’t leave much room for such a distinction as he focuses the unified impact of apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers on one task: to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ v. 12.13]  Seeing this in holistic terms, and treating leadership development as a normal expression of the momentum in discipleship, probably shouldn’t come as any great surprise. But, it does require a different perspective where churches don’t begin their search for leaders until they’ve begun their process of raising disciples. It’s all a matter of intention and all part of a continuum.

In a study that continues to serve as a reference for me, Journey to Jesus, Robert Webber outlined the practice of the Ancient church as a deliberate and intentional process. Drawing specifically from The Apostolic Tradition [Hippolytus, 215 A.D.] Webber described four phases of spiritual growth and development: 1. a time for Christian inquiry – the seeker period; 2. A time of instruction, when the converting person was known as a hearer; 3. An intense period of spiritual preparation …; and 4. A time … for the new Christian to be incorporated into the full life of the church. The early church clearly identified four distinct steps of spiritual growth: Conversion, Spiritual Discipline, Spiritual Formation, and Vocational Formation. Each step of the Journey, as Webber called it, defined the mission and message of the church. And, each step connected critical elements of character and spirit in a dynamic flow that was recognized and celebrated by whole congregations.

I suppose, then, that it’s no surprise to find similar patterns on leadership development being applied to the church in the 21st century. In their book, From Followers to Leaders, Robert Logan and Tara Miller recast the journey by using the term “path”: the path of leadership development: The path of faith [becoming a follower of Christ], the path of serving, growing and praying [Spiritual formation.] Before the last path [the path of multiplying: investing in others] are two paths where congregations seem to begin to get “muddled.”

The first, the path of developing, identifies emerging leaders [not to be confused by the term “emergent leaders”!] Emerging leaders are people who begin to take on new challenges and expanded roles of influence in ministry. According to Logan and Miller, as these people “come into their own” on the second path, the path of leading, where they find themselves in need of support and guidance. They need wisdom to “discover their gifts and call, and developing competence in ministry” in order to go on and lead groups and teams of others. The big question facing the “muddled” church is how to aid emerging leaders to discern their fitness for a future in ministry.

Answering that question alone can be a daunting challenge for a congregation. Fortunately, there are a number of agents available to aid churches. Books are being written and programs are being developed. There is an announcement in this newsletter of an exciting initiative being offered for the first time this Spring for the emerging leaders of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in the British Columbia and the Yukon: The Ministry Assessment Process for Emerging Leaders.

There are many and good materials available, but the burden of leadership development remains a matter of mission for the local church. And, for the local church, several critical questions need to be addressed for success:

  1. Is there a distinct understanding that their fellowship is the culture that God has chosen to raise up leaders?
  2. Is there a clear sense of process given to each stage of spiritual growth? Is it communicated in such a way that everyone knows this to be their shared journey in faith? And does the fellowship celebrate with those who are making progress down the path in a meaningful way?
  3. Are the proper resources attached to each phase of spiritual development?

Do church leaders have a way to identify people as they move through the stages so that they can provide proper encouragement and support?

Coaching for Significant Conversations

conversationsThe following comments are actually a repeat of a blog presented over a year ago.  Since that time, the relevance of Significant Conversations in facilitating the change needed to make a kingdom difference has begun to be noticed.  The Center for Intercultural Leadership Development is now offering coaching to FEBCC churches in the areas of evangelism and missions.  Contact Mark via the form below for further information.

Five aspects of evangelism that need to change if we are going to make a kingdom impact.

a. The individualistic nature of evangelism. People commonly view Sunday worship as their expression of church, while the rest of the week is lived without church involvement. For example, I have seen written over the exit in some churches: “You are entering the mission field.” While the focus on missions is laudable, the understanding for many is that while we are in the building we are part of a congregation, but when we leave, we are on our own! The common assumption is that those who “do evangelism” with their acquaintances, do it by themselves. This perception is inadvertently advanced by the testimony of those who are gifted evangelists because the interaction is often presented as a private affair. But this approach ignores the great potential for developing a support network with other believers.

b. Defining ministry as church based activity. The ministries of the church are usually understood as the activities that are on the ledger (teacher, usher, maintenance, etc.), and the personal spiritual interaction that people have in their every day relationships are not viewed as church ministry. This perspective needs to be reversed. Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives, while the tasks associated with church programs are support ministries.

Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives

c. Evangelism as the task of the church. At one level this is true, but the emphasis often results in downplaying the reality that it is God who has a mission to the world and it is his Spirit that changes hearts. Salvation does not depend on our ability to convict and convince. Rather we need to discover what God is up to in people’s lives and have a conversation. We look for where God is working and explore the significance of that spiritual interest with them.

d. The guilt aspect. In light of people on their way to hell, we feel enormous pressure to give people a gospel message – like medical staff in the emergency room. However, in my experience this perspective actually works against the effectiveness of motivating people to the task. We need to trust that God will do what is right with each individual and not put more responsibility for a person’s eternal destiny on ourselves than is warranted by Scripture. A more appealing and less intimidating paradigm is the view that we are on a spiritual journey and want to walk with others who are also on a journey.

e. The program approach to evangelism. Very often the plea is “bring your friends to church or to our evangelistic outreach” with the implication that “the expert” is best equipped to tell the gospel. However, any one who is a true follower of Christ has a gospel message inside them that their friends are more than likely willing to hear and which would make a greater impact. In the long run, a more productive focus will be to develop a support network so that believers can explore the spiritual joys and challenges of engaging the significant people in their lives.

See also Significant Conversations: Onion model of Culture

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“Be careful; your nose is growing!”

"Be careful; your nose is growing!" The inspiration for this warning is the Disney movie Pinocchio. In the story, when the little wooden boy told a lie, his nose would grow longer. 

When we’re very young, our attempts at deception are rather artless and obvious. I recall, at the age of five, being asked by the emergency physician how I had managed to break my ankle. I didn’t want to tell him that I’d jumped off of a flight of stairs; my dad had brought me to the hospital and I was afraid to tell the truth. So I explained, "I ran so hard that my leg just broke!"

Actually, it’s not just the disposition of children.  People, generally, are not especially good truth tellers. In fact, the only thing that changes over time is the sophistication and subtlety with which the truth is "massaged" to avoid punishment and confrontation, or to avoid the pain of punishment or discipline. It is amazingly common how regularly we disappoint one another by dealing in untruths.

It was no different in Jesus’ day–and Jesus was concerned that his disciples would know that they were to live well above the level of conventional notions of honor and righteousness. In fact, Jesus encouraged that those who would enter the kingdom would have such a character as to possess surpassing righteousness in the area of truth-telling (Matt. 5:20).

So what does surpassing righteousness in Christian truth-telling sound like?

Righteousness admits the need to help others’ doubts

The first thing Jesus said was you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ (Matt. 5:33) Jesus’ words are not a quote, but they’re an excellent summary of a number of passages from the OT. Oaths were an accepted part of Jewish life in the OT and NT periods. Moreover, even God, wanting to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, … confirmed it with an oath (Heb. 6:17)

God’s intention was not that everything that was said needed to be augmented by oaths. Rather, he permitted oaths to comfort people because their confidence was so often and so easily shaken by  untruths.  Oaths were meant to be a comfort to doubt.

But righteousness is not just about verbal formulas

The comfort of oaths for the doubtful, however, came in Jesus’ day to be shrunk and twisted to such an extent by people that there developed a distinction between oaths that were binding and oaths that were breakable. This was no more than a license to lie and deceive.

Jesus’ response is very clear. This is not the way of disciples who are subjects of the heavenly kingdom.

Surpassing righteousness need no oaths

Jesus says, Do not swear at all…. (Matt. 5:34) Righteousness and honesty do not require oaths for emphasis.

The next thing that Jesus says is a reminder that we are always before a watchful God and this calls for truthfulness at all times. The forms of oaths are irrelevant. Look at how he explains. Mishnah Shebuoth allowed that swearing by heaven and earth were not binding. Jesus said,  Do not swear … either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool…. (Matt. 5:34) To swear by the domain of God untruthfully is to slight him. Jesus continued, Do not swear … by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. (Matt. 5:35)  The Jewish Tosephta Nedarim allowed that if you vowed by Jerusalem it was not binding but if you vowed toward Jerusalem it was. Jesus said, "Nonsense! No matter what your direction or orientation to Jerusalem, you are involving God in your oath and so taking his name lightly.

You could not avoid involving God even if you simply swore by your head!

Jesus said, And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. (Matt. 5:36) His point was that even this involved God because we do not have ultimate control over even the smallest things of our lives. The little hairs on my head are not listening to me–some of them are changing colour; some are growing in strange and exciting ways; others are moving to abandon me permanently!

Jesus simply says, "Don’t!"

Surpassing righteousness is unadorned and keeps its word

If it is righteousness to be serious about oaths; it’s surpassing righteousness when all speech deals in the unvarnished truth.

Jesus said, Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matt. 5:37) He’s for reality and truthfulness in the whole range of daily conversations. How can we claim to follow the Son who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) if we deal in untruths? Surpassing righteousness keeps its word.

Jesus’ teaching opens up many areas for application. We should be more careful in our speech: not exaggerating, or using hyperbole, or superlatives to be dishonest, deceive, or emptily flatter people. We shouldn’t slant our stories or pad our resumes. We should keep our promises and our appointments. We should be rock solid in reliable speech to our spouses, our children, our neighbours, our boss, the judge, the government, and above all to God himself.

Surpassing righteousness in the follower of Jesus is demonstrated, among other ways, in unadorned, sturdy speech that has the ring and character of truth and reliability…just like the words of Jesus.

After all, that is the new nature of the subjects of the kingdom of heaven who are the children of the Great King. Truth-telling shows that we bear the family likeness!

Keeping Your Mission On Track

So much is happening in our world these days that I find it hard to keep track of it all. Significant changes are happening in the leadership of the United States. The business and financial worlds continue to experience turmoil. Leadership among our seminary partners in ACTS is changing, as well as leadership within the ACTS Consortium. Discerning the implications of these things for our personal lives, as well as our church communities, families or businesses becomes challenging.

Keeping Northwest’s mission on track when times are turbulent and chaotic, when the future seems less clear than it did six months ago, requires wisdom, courage, and significant intentionality. I am sure you experience the same constraints as you are re-calibrating your own personal budgets, travel plans, business ventures, or investment strategies. My faith in Jesus Christ and confidence that God’s Spirit is with me, however, gives me assurance to press forward. In spite of the changes in the world around me, Jesus’ word remains central – “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). That remains the main thing.

When I translate all of this into the context of my leadership within Northwest, it requires me to ask once again this question – why does Northwest exist and what difference is it making for God in our world? Discerning the answers to these questions enables me as President to find joy in my calling and keep focused, patiently persistent, and significantly encouraged.

The more turbulent our times become, Northwest’s work to equip effective Kingdom leaders gains importance. Churches need passionate, competent, caring, godly leaders.

  • Brian Reagh, a recent graduate began his work as lead pastor at Ruth Morton Baptist Church at the end of October.
  • Tim Durksen, having finished his youth pastoral training program began as Youth Pastor at Sardis Baptist Church in September.
  • Robin Martens is the associate pastor of Discipleship at Campbell River Baptist Church.
  • Brian Pankratz is planting a new church in Burnaby.
  • Three Fellowship Baptist Church boards participated in the Best Practices for Church Boards Workshop at the beginning of November, discerning ways to lead more excellently within their churches.
  • Current Fellowship pastors (and those from other denominations) participated in a week-long Doctor of Ministry course entitled “Spiritual Leadership in the New Testament”, deepening their own understanding of Kingdom leadership.
  • Current students, like David Yeo at Northwest Langley Baptist, or Rob Schweyer at Maple Ridge Baptist, or Paul Truman at Fellowship Baptist in Kimberly, are deeply engaged in pastoral ministries within their churches.

Are we making a difference? Absolutely! New leader by new leader, one by one, our current students and graduates bring the Gospel of Jesus and the powerful presence of God’s Spirit into their communities.

Are these leaders enough? Absolutely not! We must press forward. The work of God’s Kingdom isn’t finished. So we must keep on task. Jesus is holding us accountable. His body needs more trained leaders than ever before.

Your involvement in this work becomes more critical, not less. We know that the message of Jesus changes lives and restores relationship with God. As the Spirit of Jesus takes up residence in people, radical transformation occurs. Your prayers for us, your financial gifts, your wise counsel, your encouragement of those in training – all of this keeps us focused and persistently achieving Northwest’s mission – equipping effective Kingdom leaders. What investment carries greater opportunity for Kingdom advancement?

Thank you for your encouragement. I know that each of you in your own situations is being challenged by the financial chaos. Yet God’s continues to provide for our needs.

There are many different ways that you can help me lead Northwest:

  • Help us connect with people in your church whom you believe have the gifts and calling for ministry leadership.
  • Provide legacy gifts to sustain Northwest’s mission – real estate, bequest by will, making Northwest the owner and beneficiary of a life insurance policy, gifting securities (stocks or bonds), gifts-in-kind. You benefit through the tax receipt, God’s Kingdom benefits as resources are applied to developing Kingdom leaders.
  • Let me know that you are praying for us.

This is my joy and my challenge these days. Thank you for standing with me.