Monthly Archives: June 2009

How Do You Handle the Word of God?

Ed Stetzer has published an excellent research-based article on the ways that preachers use the Bible: How Do You Handle the Word of God. Lifeway research looked at 450 online sermons in order to discern the place of Scripture in contemporary preaching.

Some findings…

“Half of pastors traveled verse-by-verse through a passage, and almost half organized their sermons around a theme. Almost one out of five pastors named and explained a Greek word in their sermon. More than half explained verses by using other verses in the Bible.”

“In fact, 41 percent explained at least one church or theological word during their sermon. Another 21 percent avoided such words altogether. This means more than half of the preachers we studied either avoided or at least explained some of the church or theological words they used. While this is notable, it still means that one out of three preachers are not speaking in the vernacular of their audience—at least if the uninitiated or unchurched are in attendance.”

“Half of these preachers focused their preaching around one block of scripture text, moving verse-by-verse through the passage. … Another 46 percent of preachers focused their preaching around a main theme, question, or topic using multiple Scriptures to support it. …Finally, the other 4 percent organized their message around one main biblical character using multiple Scriptures to support the theme.”

“The preachers we surveyed had a definite preference for the New Testament. Nearly three quarters (71 percent) of the main biblical texts were found in the New Testament. More than a third (37 percent) of the sermons came from the New Testament letters alone. A quarter came from the Gospels.”

“When preachers flipped through their New Testament looking for a passage to preach upon, they didn’t flip far. Matthew was the most preached-upon and the most referenced book in the entire Bible. Genesis was the most preached-upon Old Testament book. Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, and Romans—all from the New Testament—were the other most likely biblical books for preachers to use as a main text.”

While these statistics are interesting, Stetzer’s analysis is important. “How we handle the Word of God matters,” he says. “As preachers, we have a limited time with our audience every week. The question is, how will we use that time? Will we handle the Word of God in a way that demonstrates its authority in our lives and over the lives of our listeners?”

The Parable of the Talents — How can it be applied today?

A colleague who works with Christian entrepeneurs asked me recently whether Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) offers any principles to guide Christians in business? This is a wonderfully provocative question.

1. I am strong believer in first seeking to interpret Jesus’ parables in the context of the presumed first century audience and his ministry goals. In terms of Matthew 25:14-30 the audience is Jesus’ disciples during the Last Supper. These are Jewish men who are embedded in first century, Jewish religious understanding. In terms of Jesus’ ministry goals, this is his final major discourse or cluster of teachings to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel. In my view he foretells God’s judgment against Israel for rejecting the Messiah (i.e. the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70), the way history will unfold and how this affects his new "messianic assembly", and the return of the Messiah at the end of the age. Jesus told this parable and the prior one about the Ten Virgins to explain the warnings to his disciples at the end of chapter 24, namely keep watch, be ready, serve well – because the Messiah will hold you accountable, but you do not know when he returns so be ready. Probably the last thing on Jesus’ mind at that moment was to provide principles for operating a business.

2. The situation in real life that the parable describes probably occurred fairly regularly given what we know about estate management in first century Roman Palestine. Wealthy owners often left the management of their estates in the hands of overseers. Because there were no banks as we know them today, the wealthy had to use other means to secure their property. In this parable we see one means, i.e. the division of wealth among trusted clients/servants who are expected to employ these resources to enhance the owner’s wealth and position. If the managers perform well, the master will ensure that they participate in the gains. If they do not do well, he will punish them for poor, lazy or illegal activity.

Jesus does not validate or criticize this means of doing business, he merely used it as the platform through which to express a principle of kingdom living. So I think we have to be careful not to extrapolate from the story of the parable any principles that would support a particular economic or business theory or construct.

3. The point Jesus makes is found in vv. 28-30 — the returning Messiah will hold his followers accountable for how they managed the resources (i.e. their time, abilities, wealth, knowledge, etc.) that he gave them to carry forward his mission. In some sense God will reward those who honour him and work carefully and profitably, taking risks in order to expand the influence of God’s rule. How and in what way God helps such people increase these "talents" is left unexplained. Further, how God in the heavenly sphere defines the rewards He gives is a matter for speculation. Such people will share their "master’s happiness" (v.23). Those who dishonour God by refusing to take risks to enlarge his rule are regarded as unworthy and have no share in God’s future. This is similar, in my view, to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:21-23. People in that context knew what God required but decided to ignore Him. So He ignores them and will not allow them to participate in his glorious future.

So, what does this parable have to say about business or entrepreneurial activity? For general business operations, I would say nothing specific. From the point of view of a Christian who discerns that the best way for him or her to fulfill God’s calling in Christ is through marketplace ministry (however, that is defined), then I think the key point would be – use the gifts and abilities God has given to extend God’s rule in every sphere your life touches, including the world of business, even if this requires considerable risk. But I think that this applies equally to the Christian who is a stay-at-home mom, the Christian university student, or the believer who is incapacitated and can’t participate in the marketplace.

When Children’s stories go wrong

keysI was witness to an amazing children’s illustration one Sunday that went hilariously wrong.  The woman was trying to make the point through the use of keys that the only key into heaven was Jesus.  She dangled her keys and asked what they allowed her to get into.  One child said “house” and another said “car.”  The program seemed to be running smoothly with the children all on board.  Then she tried to make the shift to the spiritual lesson asking, “How do we get into heaven?”  There was a short pause as the children pondered this.  Then the hand of a small boy shot up and he confidently announced the obvious, “We have to die!”

The woman was disconcerted at this morbid turn of events, but it was too late. The children’s minds were fixated on this barrier to getting to heaven and how it should be overcome.  Another boy’s hand went up and the woman quickly turned to him, “Yes, how can we get to heaven?”  He said in a rather solemn tone, “God has to call us.”  The woman looked a little desperately at the other children and the boy repeated it a little more loudly since he hadn’t received the affirmation expected, “God has to call us to heaven!”  She tried to rephrase her question, “What do we have to do to get to heaven?”  The kids stared at her, their minds whirling at this twist to the question.  She tried to help them out, “We need to trust in J-J-J…” Her hope of salvaging the lesson were raised by a girl who waved her hand, but then immediately dashed when the girl said, “Well, if we were to stop eating and got weaker and weaker, then we could die and go to heaven.”

The woman finally talked about “accepting Jesus into our hearts,” but I’m sure that the children left confident that the boy’s first comment about having to die was the point of the lesson.  But maybe that was a healthier perspective than leaving them with the impression that the primary point of Jesus’ work is to provide a free ticket to an eternal Disneyland.

God’s Purposes in Crisis

The English word ‘crisis’ has its origins in a Greek noun meaning “exercise judgment.” A crisis requires a person to discern very carefully a just response to current or emerging circumstances. Usually it defined the activity of judges in a legal setting, evaluating the behaviour of people and holding them accountable. Times of crisis require us to evaluate what we have been doing and discern its continued viability and validity.

Two years ago Northwest and its partnering seminaries in the Associated Canadian Theological Schools initiated a strategic planning process. It was time to review our collaborative ministry. Enrolments were decreasing and financial pressures were increasing. The Consortium had been operating for eighteen years. We needed to re-examine our collective vision. We were well into that strategic planning process, discerning some new directions, when the current world economic crisis developed (summer 2008).

Dr. Kenton AndersonI am pleased to share that one of the new initiatives that our strategic planning discerned, largely through the creative insight of our Dean, Dr. Kent Anderson, is now operational and beginning to generate significant attention. I believe it represents a paradigm shift in the way seminaries provide ministry leadership training.

We call the initiative The Centre for Ministry Excellence (CME). It is a joint venture of Trinity Western University and the Consortium. Essentially it enables Christian agencies who provide a wide variety of equipping opportunities (such as worship leadership training, children’s ministry development, camp leadership development, etc.) to link with Northwest, ACTS and Trinity to accredit this training. Through this collaborative networking the Christian agency is able to offer accredited learning opportunities and the Seminary is able to extend its ministry with very low risk.

One of the opportunities presented in this is Worship Leadership Training offered by Dr. Kelly Ballard of Beyond Worship, a worship consulting agency based in Oregon. As Dr. Anderson says, “By collaborating with Beyond Worship, we are able to bring the best worship leadership resources possible to our churches, without sacrificing academic credibility. Kelly Ballard works with many of the top worship educators in North America and we are immeasurably enriched by being able to partner with this network.”

Dr. Paul EarlyAnother great learning forum will happen June 26-27, 2009. One of the leading addictions counselors in North America, Dr. Paul Earley, will be participating in our Addictions and Recovery MinistriesConference. The LAIR Medical Centre, directed by Dr. Frank Anderson, is co-sponsoring this conference with Northwest. Our desire is to highlight the issue of addictions and ways that the transforming power of Jesus can break their power.

The current crisis is stimulating us to redefine the way ministry leadership training can be offered and accessed across North America and even in other regions of the world. Your investment in Northwest enables us to carry forward this vision for equipping ministry leaders in a truly global manner. The Kingdom implications are significant.

Our 2009 financial goal for supporting such initiatives as CME is $100,000. Currently we have received 17% towards achieving this target. It is normal for us to be at this level in our fund-raising efforts at this point in the year. I am noticing that our supporters, while giving faithfully, are not able to give as much as in previous years. Thank you for your sacrificial help. Please pray that God will provide for our needs.

God uses crisis to enhance his glory and accomplish his purposes.

The Pre-Service

I recently had the privilege of preaching and teaching at The Meeting Place, an innovative Fellowship Baptist church in Nanaimo, BC. Putting together worship at this church is a logistical challenge given that they gather several hundred people over multiple services in a rented movie theatre. If church isn’t done by noon, they will be over-run by people looking for the latest Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller movie. Running services at a place like this requires a lot of volunteer labor.

At 8:15 in the morning, the large team of volunteers has already been at work for some time, setting up equipment, configuring sound and video, and rehearsing music. At that point, lead pastor Dave Koot gathers the whole team for a brief pre-service. They talk through service details, confirm critical pieces, and then Dave offers a kind of mini-sermon, after which the people spend some time in prayer.

I was impressed, first by the commitment and enthusiasm of these volunteers, and second, by the impact of the brief pre-sermon. This opportunity allowed the pastor to prep the people for the specific objectives and goals of this service. The team was then better able to participate in the service in pursuit of the goals for the actual service and sermon. I think that something like this could be replicated to good effect in other churches.

Kudos to the folks at TMP for their commitment to serving Christ,  for their innovation and example, and for their unflinching dedication to seeing lost people come to faith in Jesus.

Green Shoots

Green shoots” is the lingo economists and business gurus are using to describe the signs of economic recovery, at least what they hope are the signs. I have no expertise to discern whether these green shoots are weeds or wheat, I have to leave that to others more competent or perhaps more daring than I.

Jesus stressed the importance of being able to read the spiritual signs that mark our times. Consider Luke 23:31 “For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” or Luke 21:29-30 “When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.” His teachings suggest that God does broadcast his intentions in advance – green shoots. The question for us is this – do we discern them?

Recently I watched a documentary entitled Revealed: Hip 2B Holy on Global TV that documented the resurging interest among Canadian younger adults in the Gospel message. Kevin Newman Global National anchor, who hosts and also co-wrote and co-produced the documentary, says: “They seem to be in the middle of a significant rebranding exercise for conservative Protestant faith and are making significant inroads among curious young Canadians.” Are these “green shoots” indicating a significant shift in attitudes towards the Gospel? Perhaps.

God’s “green shoots” meaningful in our Seminary context include:

  • people responding to God’s call to train for ministry leadership
  • people willing to invest in developing leaders by supporting the Seminary
  • people dedicating their lives and their gifts to teaching and mentoring emerging leaders
  • people engaging vigorously the challenges of planting churches or moving churches to greater health and Kingdom enterprise
  • people moving to other parts of the world to translate the Bible or engage the hard work of developing new ministry leaders in national church networks.

By God’s grace there are many “green shoots”, emerging and continuing ministry leaders. They tell us God’s harvest is ready and He invites us to reap with Him.

One “green shoot” that is making an impact for Christ is Erika Lui. She graduated in 2000 with the Master of Theological Studies in Counselling. She recently connected with me and noted her work with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. in the Family and Youth Services division. Her story could be multiplied in the experience of many other alumni.

God continues to develop his Kingdom plan and his Spirit energetically works among his people. Discerning the “green shoots” and helping them grow and mature is part of our Seminary work. Thank you for your helping us fulfill this important work. At this point in our fiscal year your support is particularly required.


“God will not let me into Heaven”

Continue the Conversation

conversationThis past week I had a discussion with a couple of fellow believers who had had a significant conversation with an elderly person who was in the last days of his life.  They were talking to him of the grace and forgiveness offered by God.  His response was, “I have cheated and lied.  I have not treated people properly.  God will not let me into heaven.”  They did not know how to respond.

What would your response be?  How would you carry on this conversation?

I will give a possible response from my perspective at the end of the article, but at this point I would like to propose that people in our churches are having significant conversations like this in many different forums (hospitals, schools, work, playing sports) and with a variety of people (friends, family, acquaintances).  What we require is support from other believers to discover how to continue the conversation.

Significant Conversations

Significant Conversations is designed to help believers as we talk with the people in our lives about the important issues of life. Coaching for churches encourages the development of a culture of prayer and mutual support that further strengthens the impact of significant conversations in our lives.  The purpose statement for coaching Significant Conversations is to equip groups of “champions” in local churches for the role of initiating, supporting and encouraging other believers as they engage those outside the church in significant conversations.  This includes:

To read the rest of the article visit <a href="http://impact losartan dosage.nbseminary.com/75-%E2%80%9Cgod-will-not-let-me-into-heaven%E2%80%9D/”>Cross-Cultural Impact

 

Jimmy Long: The Leadership Jump

Jimmy Long. The Leadership Jump. Building Partnerships Between Existing and Emerging Christian Leaders (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). 205 pages.

Writing from his experience as a leader and leadership developer for many years within InterVarsity, Jimmy Long passionately argues that existing and emerging Christian leaders need one another in order to guide the church through the present cultural chaos into an uncertain future. In his view serious differences in leadership style and savvy follow the modernist and postmodernist fault line. Fearing debilitating “leadership wars” in the church, similar to the worship wars, he urges both kinds of Christian leaders to collaborate, rather than contend.

Long places the burden for change squarely on the shoulders of the existing leaders. Their current leadership style characterized by the principles of control, command, and celebrity (145) must change. Rather, they must learn how to give away power, to lead through relationships, and to recognize the expertise, gifts and insights that emerging leaders possess. For their part emerging leaders need to exercise patience, value the experience that existing leaders possess, and choose to work collaboratively without a critical spirit.

He uses position and role as fundamental categories around which to arrange his argument. The essential leadership shifts he sees occurring are summarized on page 42. For example, existing leaders who operate on the basis of positional authority will have to alter their perspective, because for emerging leaders authority is something earned, independent of any position. Further the mantra that leaders cannot show weakness should be turned on its head because emerging leaders value authenticity and vulnerability, rather than a pretense of perfection. A leader’s role in the 21st century context will be to walk with the team on a journey of exploration, rather than to know both the goal and how to arrive at that destination.

Evangelical leaders must, in Long’s view, find forums within which to nurture significant conversation between existing and emerging leaders in order to avert “leadership wars” and potential destabilization of many churches and Christian agencies. Existing leaders who function using a hierarchical leadership model will frustrate and eventually lose gifted emerging leaders. Long urges existing leaders to adopt a team leadership approach that encourages shared responsibility, unleashes the creativity potential in emerging leaders, and permits the opportunity to take risks. Let’s admit, he says, that we do not know what church ministry is going to look like in the future and commit to learning together what it may become.

Long’s analysis of the difference between existing and emerging church leadership styles displays considerable reflection and expertise garnered from developing emerging leaders over many years. Different perspectives on leadership do exist and if we fail to recognize them and deal with them, our ability to lead will be compromised, the church will suffer, and emerging leaders will be stifled, if not discouraged from pursuing their ministry leadership. “Both existing and emerging leaders feel alone and uncertain of what the future holds. Both sets of leaders need each other to overcome their fears and ease their uncertainty about the future” (33). Existing leaders might feel somewhat stereotyped by Long’s descriptions, but his perspective still has value.

In responding to Long’s proposal I will consider two of Long’s presuppositions and two of his prescriptions. First the presuppositions.

  1. Long believes that Church leaders in the modernist period erred by borrowing too heavily from business models in order to define both the leadership position and role in the church.  “Like the corporate world, the modern church has emphasized a corporate culture where the goals are clear, the mission is clear and there is not a lot of fluff….This type of leadership model from the Western corporate world tends to induce compliance from its members, not foster commitment or creativity” (50). This model of leadership no longer is aligned with postmodernist culture and its values, in Long’s view.

    When he describes the leadership paradigm that should replace this “corporate” understanding of leadership, however, he defaults once more to the world of business to find solutions. Again and again he quotes from articles or studies about emerging leaders in the business world published in the Harvard Business Review or Business News or the Academy of Management Executive. I am not critical of him doing this because we have much to learn about leadership through such publications. It is ironic, however, that he seems to depend upon the corporate world as it now exists in postmodernism to define the emerging leader’s position and role, even in the church. There is no suspicion that such sources today may be just as tainted and misguided for defining emerging leadership positions and roles in the church as they were twenty years ago when the church was enamored with the corporate leader model.

    In my view we must constantly be evaluating the degree to which the leadership perspectives, principles and practices occurring in the corporate world are helpful for determining church leadership praxis. Leadership is a cultural phenomenon and as culture changes so will our leadership perceptions and practices.

  1. Long’s second presupposition is that we can discern Jesus’ leadership model and that Jesus’ model supports the emerging leaders’ perspectives on the position and role of church leaders. I agree that we must examine Jesus’ teachings and actions to inform our understanding of church leadership. After all, the church is his idea, not ours. He is the head, not us. So rightly Long seeks to ground his prescriptions for a new leadership paradigm in the person of Jesus. Almost every chapter has some reference to Jesus.

    There is a problem, however. Long is not the only one who turns to Jesus to discern the most appropriate leadership principles. Hybels and Maxwell, to name two noted leadership gurus, would also claim to ground their understandings of leadership, as different as they may be from Long’s perceptions, in Jesus.

    What kind of exegesis allows us to bend the life and teachings of Jesus to serve and promote such diverse leadership models? Were the twelve apostles really functioning as a “ministry team” in any meaningful sense? What about Jesus’ statements where he defines himself as master and teacher and his disciples as his followers and learners? His followers are to wear his yoke, not one of their own devising. Did Jesus lack a vision? Was his vision not dominant? Is it really the case that “for Jesus, who was on the team was more important than where they were going”? Jesus seems to be very focused, at least according to Luke 9:51 where “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Where does he invite his disciples to help him cast the vision? In what sense did Jesus lead in weakness? Jesus does say in John 13:3 that “the Father had put all things under his [Jesus’] power.” We must acknowledge some mystery here in the way Jesus integrates washing his disciples’ feet with this power. The Gospel narratives present a Jesus who is very much in charge, submissive to God’s will, embracing the cross in fulfillment of his mission, but triumphing over his enemies. He is an authoritative leader. So in what sense is he weak and vulnerable?  
    We might extend this discussion to how Moses or Paul or other people in Scripture become illustrations for various models of leadership. It seems to me that too often we play fast and loose with the biblical narrative in these matters and must exercise considerably more exegetical discipline before claiming Jesus or some other biblical personality as an example of our particular leadership model.
    On a minor note Long’s exegesis of Luke 10:27 (page 110) in support of relational leadership, i.e. leadership in community, is suspect. Long proposes that the second great commandment “love your neighbour as yourself” is plural in formation, meaning “people are to love as a community.” However, this is not the case. Both pronominal forms in this command are singular, not plural. His exegesis is unsustainable in this instance.

    Earlier (page 108) he suggests that Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8 incorporates “a plural word for ‘you’” and “Jesus meant, ‘You will be my witnesses in community [author’s italics]’.” It may be that the context of Acts leads to this exegetical conclusion. However, there is nothing in the use of the second person plural pronoun that necessarily means this command should be fulfilled in a communal manner. The plural pronoun will not carry that freight all on its own.

Long offers several prescriptions as possible solutions to these incipient “leadership wars.” The first is that leadership must be exercised in a team context. Biblically the metaphor of the body, in his view, serves to support the need for diverse individuals to contribute to the leadership, based upon expertise and giftedness (although I wonder whether this leadership application of the metaphor was in Paul’s mind). The function of the team leader is to enable the team to fulfill its communal leadership responsibility. Again, there is good practical wisdom that Long offers to help leaders understand this. However, what I missed in all of these discussions is any guidance about the need for accountability and how it works in such structures. I think I noted two occasions where the word “accountability” occurs in his book. Existing leaders are urged to let emerging leaders have space to risk and fail. Such experiences are important for developing leadership competence. Accountability, however, still has to be present. Without accountability leadership runs the serious danger of becoming dictatorial, self-serving, and manipulative. Emerging and existing leaders both must learn how to lead with accountability.

The second prescription that Long proposes is that existing leaders must let emerging leaders pursue their dreams and not be controlling. Again, Long’s idea has merit. Good leaders give space for those on their team to discover creative solutions to current and emerging problems. But Long does not seem to recognize that existing leaders also have dreams and are working hard to implement them. It seems that emerging leaders want control to implement their dreams and existing leaders want control to implement their dreams. When dreams clash, how do you arbitrate? Not every new idea is a good idea; not every idea will move the ministry towards mission fulfillment; not every idea is prudent; not every idea is timely. Part of leadership competency is ability to discern which ideas really have legs. This is not so much an issue of control, as an issue of deep wisdom, the kind of wisdom that James discusses in his letter (3:13-18).

Long sounds a necessary caution as the Evangelical church seeks to discern how leadership should be exercised in these times. If leadership is essentially a cultural phenomenon, then we do need to discern the scriptural principles that will help the church evaluate which elements of leadership practiced in our culture are compatible with Kingdom values. If church health is inevitably tied to good ministry leadership, then we have to understand how to provide such leadership within the faith community so that Jesus’ Kingdom mandates are being fulfilled in culturally relevant ways. Diverse views about ways of leading probably have always marked leadership transitions from one generation to another. Let’s recognize this reality and have the spiritual maturity to deal with it in ways that are good for the church.