1970_alumni_reunion

1970’s Alumni Reunion

More details will follow. To get on our email list – fill out the form below.

– Judi Warkentin
Alumni Reunion Committee

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Glory and kids

Kingdom Ministries

For Glory Destura, Immerse student and Director of Children’s Ministry at Burnett Fellowship Church in Maple Ridge, building God’s Kingdom is her main focus. Glory signs all her emails with “FTK (For The Kingdom), Glory“. Her love for her Lord and Saviour and her heart for children is a joy to witness. Glory directs the Kingdom Kids service each Sunday and she meets with a handful of young girls for prayer and mentorship each week. She exclaims,  “Exciting things are happening! We launched Kingdom Kids to meet three major goals. They were, BELONG to a Caring Community, BELIEVE in God’s Kingdom, and BUILD Faith by Empowering Parents. My heart is full of gratitude and thankfulness for the amazing work God is doing at Burnett Fellowship and also for the many faithful people who give to support the Immerse Program – Thank you!”

Upon completing the Immerse program Glory will have earned an accredited Masters of Divinity degree while gaining invaluable ministry experience serving at Burnett.

Tom DrinkwaterTom Drinkwater, one of our more recent Immerse students is the Children’s Ministry Director at Central Baptist in Victoria. Tom loves to have FUN and share JESUS with the children and families in Victoria: “I have the great privilege to work on a staff team at Central that is very supportive and it’s great to see the kids getting excited about God, their faith and sharing the Good News.”

Tom is on a life journey to serve Jesus: “The Immerse program is helping to highlight my ministry strengths, as well as tending to areas that need growth. I am on a journey to keep learning, keep improving and serve our Lord as best I can, in the context He has called me and gifted me. Thanks to all who support Immerse! ”

The Ministry of Northwest and Immerse is about building God’s Kingdom through the development of key leaders like Glory and Tom. Thank you to all our faithful partners and donors for their generosity and prayers as we impact our communities and beyond together. To donate, you can do so directly online at www.nbseminary.ca/donate or contact me – Ron J. Sing, Director of Development: ron -at- nbseminary.ca or 250-240-3737.

Opportunity

Opportunity is an interesting phenomenon. It comes and goes. You need to grab it when it is present, because you are never sure when it might come again – or so it seems. The reality is that opportunity presents when people God has prepared meet the moment that God intends. At Northwest, we have that kind of opportunity before us now. I am so encouraged by the multiple means by which we are able to fulfill our mission.

We continue to value our partnership at ACTS Seminaries. Some say that the day for classic education has passed. Those people have probably not been in one of our classrooms. I continue to be energized by the passion and commitment that our students bring.

I am also grateful for the opportunity we now have to extend our context-based model of learning. We are now in full delivery or active development of nine different versions of the Immerse program. Soon we will be able tell you more about the C2C church planting network, SEMBEQ in the province of Quebec, the Antioch Project out of Texas and California, and several others, all of whom have embraced Immerse and who are partnering with us.

I am further pleased to celebrate our return to Korean programs and the offer of our new Global Leadership Doctor of Ministry offered in the Korean language. We have assured that this program carries the Northwest theological ethos, along with a strong commitment to our signature, context-based approach to learning. Many thanks to Larry Perkins for his championing of this exciting piece.

Speaking of Larry, our work is a team affair. It has been wonderful to welcome long-time friend and pastor, Trent Erickson to the team. Howard Andersen continues to bless me in his role as Academic Dean. Ron Sing is really hitting his stride in his role as our Chief Development Officer. Loren Warkentin has been God’s choice servant in making possible the technology upon which our work depends. Archie Spencer has a special opportunity to teach at Regent College this year, which is an encouragement to the quality of his scholarship. Eric Fehr has just begun a PhD program at the University of South Africa (by distance education), which will prepare him to serve us better. Brian Rapske, Dianne Gleave, Nikki Lanigan, Mark Naylor, and Brent Foster all continue to serve our mission with excellence.

To lead this team has been the opportunity of my lifetime. We are here by God’s appointment and for his purpose. It is to his service that we dedicate ourselves.

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Northwest’s Newest Member – Trent Erickson

Hi! My name is Trent Erickson and I am the Chief Operating Officer at Northwest Baptist Seminary, a new role implemented to assist the President’s office in managing the operations of Northwest internally, and its growing network of relationships with partners in Canada, the US and abroad.

My wife, Karen, and I live in Abbotsford. We have two boys. Evan is married to Alyssa and has just begun a ministry career in the Fellowship, serving as a pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in Maple Ridge. Our other son, Lukas, currently lives with us at home and is preparing to be an elementary school teacher and a husband, getting married in September to his beautiful fiancé, Crystal.

Over 27 years, Karen and I have served in pastoral ministry roles in Victoria (Central Baptist, Youth Pastor), Vernon (Emmanuel Fellowship, Youth and Music), Edmonton (Millwoods Evangelical Free Church, Lead Pastor) and Abbotsford (Immanuel Fellowship Baptist, Senior Associate). I started working at Northwest in January 2015 after completing our ministry at Immanuel earlier in 2014.

One of the questions that I have been asked, and have frequently contemplated, is, “Why the move from the church to the seminary?” It’s a good question, and while I am sure I do not yet have the complete answer, I am encouraged by the one I have – that God is the one who is obviously in control. Just as we have seen His fingerprints in the decisions and direction of our past ministry roles, we are able to see them here as well.

I did not apply for a position at the Seminary for two reasons – first, there wasn’t one to apply for; and second, I am a pastor, and pastors apply for jobs in churches. I did ask for prayer at one of our FEB Pacific board meetings for clarity in God’s direction for the role and placement that He had for me, and God began bringing the understanding of two worlds together. Our Northwest President, Dr. Kent Anderson, was sitting at that table contemplating his unique need for someone to help in furthering the work of Northwest. His question at the time was, “How do I find someone I trust, someone who knows the uniqueness of the Fellowship network, and can quickly learn to understand Immerse and represent Northwest well to potential partners?” After our prayer time, Dr. Anderson caught my eye across the table and whispered, “Trent, I’m hiring. Can I talk to you at the break?”

As I continue to grow my understanding of how a career pastor can contribute to the operation of Northwest, some things are readily obvious. The development of Immerse within the Fellowship, and its potential to spread nationally and internationally through like-minded networks provides an opportunity that must be stewarded well. Having been privileged to be part of the concept and conversation about Immerse almost since its inception, I have experienced its growing pains in the church from the eyes of its potential, its implications in implementation, and its needs in ongoing development.

I also appreciate the importance of our partnerships. Serving in the church, on the Fellowship Board, and now as part of the seminary staff, I am benefiting from the perspective of all three partners in the Immerse concept. It is not a stretch to realize that the identification, development and training of the next generation of pastors, ministry leaders, and effective church leadership is important to the Church, the Fellowship, and the Seminary. In this new role, I am especially learning to appreciate the gifts and passion that our seminary staff and faculty bring to the partnership. I believe it is important that we appreciate each other in our work towards the common goal of real world kingdom and spiritual impact, whether it be through Immerse, or any other partnerships we have, perspectives we bring, or pursuits we engage.

This is an exciting time, and I feel privileged to be part of God’s plan as part of the Northwest team and the broader partners it represents and serves.

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Northwest Alumni – Andy and Nancy Steiger

Northwest Baptist Seminary is approaching 80 years of history in partnering students and churches to make a God honoring impact. God has used, and continues to use, faithful men and women in ministry to make His mark on our world today.

I recently had opportunity to interview Northwest Baptist Theological College alumni Andy and Nancy Steiger.

They noted in my interview, and I had heard before, that they were declared “the most unlikely couple” to emerge from Northwest. It would seem that God knew what He was doing bringing the two of them together for partnership in life and ministry. Andy (NBTC 1998-2000) serves as the Pastor of Young Adults at Northview Community Church in Abbotsford, and is the founder and director of Apologetics Canada, while his wife Nancy (Schellenberg – NBTC 96-99) is full time mother, and part time Executive Assistant for Apologetics Canada. They have two children, Tristan (7) and William (5) and live in Abbotsford.

Apologetics Canada has developed a significant identity in the Lower Mainland through its conference ministry over the last four years, bringing together thousands to benefit from the teaching of top apologists from around the world. Apologetics Canada has captivated a younger generation of believers looking for an authentic community where their significant questions and doubts about Christianity and faith can be addressed with reasoned and logically plausible answers. The appeal is apparently broader than just the next generation. While they specifically target young adults and the next generation of leaders, they are drawing in multiple generations of believers from multiple denominations and faith expressions.

Curious about the God-shaping developments and events that are part of any ministry’s growth and effectiveness, I asked, “How did God bring this thing about?” They responded that they both recognized early on that they were missionaries at heart. As they began their life journey together, they envisioned serving God as missionaries to a small people group – “running around naked with the natives” as Andy so eloquently expresses it. God was nudging them in a slightly different direction.

As they were waiting on applications to missions agencies, God began to make Andy aware of a struggling people group and culture within North America – young adults. This next generation is either leaving the church or just leaving the church behind, unsure of what they believe and unsure of the reasonableness of the faith they have been taught. His bent towards missionary service helped him understand that you need two things to be successful in reaching any people group – you need to know their language and their culture. He thought he knew the language and culture of this people group because he was serving them within the church. He began to realize he didn’t, and was therefore drawn to understand more fully this particularly needy group in his own back yard.

In 2009 the Steiger’s young family moved to California to attend Biola University. Andy packed a 2 year master’s degree into a year and a half, graduating with a Masters in Apologetics (with Highest Honors) in 2010. During this time, a vision was birthed for Apologetics Canada. The Steiger’s passion for the work of Apologetics Canada is obvious as you talk with them. They both speak with passion and insight as they describe the core of what they do and how they seek to do it. The name “Apologetics Canada” is strategic. “Apologetics is a term (and discipline) that needs to be redeemed,” says Andy. It comes from a Greek word that means to “give reason” for the hope you have. Andy sees himself as a translator, appreciating the work of theologians and academics pursuing disciplines in high thinking, but seeking to make it possible for the average person to understand and express deep thinking in their own thoughts and words. They faithfully uphold that Christianity is not a tradition of blind faith, but a reasoned faith. Faith is another key word in their vocabulary. It means “trusting what you have good reason to believe is true.” Their vision biblically is from Romans 12, that transforming your mind should result in transforming the way you live; that faith touches your head and your heart; that loving God also means loving people!

Nancy’s passion for the work of Apologetics Canada is evident. I asked how it came about, since Andy was the one going to school and studying. Her response – knowledge has grown from reading, listening, and conversation. More importantly, her motivation to learn was birthed through her desire to engage her son Tristan in conversation equivocal to the depth of the questions she was being asked by him. Her desire to be a great mom for her kids highlights an important question for us all – who is the motivating force behind your desire to grow your knowledge and skill in answering the questions of faith for our day and the next generations?
As we concluded our time together, I asked what insight they might have for what the questions and issues of church and culture in the future might be. Andy responded with two thoughts.
The question that has dominated the Enlightenment period has been “Does God Exist?” The resulting question for our time might just be “Do people exist?” Andy’s recent seminar at the Apologetics Canada Conference, “Zombie Culture,” addressed the evidence and issues that result from a culture that is uncertain of God’s existence and leads to the next logical uncertainty, our own existence.

He also suggested that the church needs to monitor the effects of social media on our culture, especially noting the tendency of people to prefer a virtual community over a real community, their walls being the computer, phone, or tablet screen, keeping them from engaging in community with God, the church, and peers.

ThinkingWhat’s next for Apologetics Canada? The big goal for the immediate future is to take the new “Thinking Series” across Canada and the US. This resource enables pastors and lay ministry leaders to equip their church for thinking deeply and engaging the culture. They are also looking forward to presenting their first Eastern Canada Apologetics Conference in Ontario.

Many resources are available for people to discover on the Apologetics Canada website
www.apologeticscanada.com and www.thinkingseries.com. While you are there, check out Andy’s new book, “Thinking? Answering Life’s 5 Biggest Questions.”

KDMN Planning Committee

Discerning a ‘Kairos’ Moment

Paul claims that God always acts at the right time and presents opportunities for Kingdom advancement at crucial moments – “kairos” moments. He talks about “open doors” and the importance of advancing through them.

KDMN Planning Committee

KDMN Planning Committee

At Northwest we believe God is providing us with a “kairos” opportunity to assist key Korean pastoral leaders in Canada, Korea and other parts of the world to develop their capacities as Global Christian Leaders.

On May 1st. Northwest will launch a new Doctor of Ministry program with a focus in Global Christian Leadership for Korean pastoral leaders in our Fellowship, as well as for other Korean Christians throughout the world.

Vancouver is one the primary centres in North America for the Korean diaspora, with over 150 Korean churches, many of which are substantial and growing. When Korean pastors come to Canada, they have great challenges understanding our culture and adapting their leadership to this new reality. This program will develop their capacity to transition cross-culturally.

Many pastoral leaders in Korea lead their congregations to establish mission projects around the world, including Canada. Yet, they have not had opportunity to develop cross-cultural leadership skills or discerned the challenges involved in being global Christian leaders. Significant struggles ensue, despite great passion for the Gospel.

This program will be cross-disciplinary, incorporating the following areas of study:

KDMIN

This new Doctor of Ministry program will enable the students to interact with and be mentored by Christian leaders who have significant global leadership experience, as well as deep commitment to and understanding of the mission of God in this world. Recruitment for the first class has already started.

Dr. Larry Perkins, Northwest Professor of Biblical Studies and President Emeritus, and Dr. Daniel Park, pastor of Global Korean Mission, a Fellowship Baptist Church located in Coquitlam, are co-directing the new program. A petition for accreditation of the program has been submitted to the Association of Theological Schools.

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Biblical Interpretation and Spiritual Life

Immerse Instructional Seminars

This past weekend we held two of our Immerse Instructional Seminars, Biblical Interpretation with Dr. Brian Rapske and Theology of the Spiritual Life with Dr. Kent Anderson.
Click on an image to see them all in a viewer.

 

The combined group

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Training Biblical Leaders and Preachers in Their Own Country

It is wonderful to train biblical leaders and preachers in our own country, but it is also fantastic to be able to do so in other more needy parts of the world. That was my privilege this past August, as I traveled to Cali, Colombia to work with the LanIMG_2361gham Partnership as keynote speaker for a conference on the preaching of the prophetic books of Scripture.

Langham is an organization that was begun by John Stott and funded through his book royalties. It continues today as an organization that works to develop biblical preachers in developing countries around the world. This past year they offered more than 100 such seminars and training opportunities globally.

In my case, I was able to work with about 100 pastors and preachers for several days. Their hunger to learn more about the craft of preaching and to better appreciate the interpretation and proclamation of the prophetic texts was a beautiful thing to experience. I was then given the further opportunity to travel farther inland to the city of Armenia where I engaged a large lay leader training event and preached at Shalom Church, where a couple of thousand had gathered to worship.

As a seminary president I have plenty of opportunity to travel, but not often for this kind of purpose. I remember from my earliest days hearing stories about Colombia from furloughing missIMG_2373ionaries. For several decades, our churches in British Colombia have been sending missionaries to Colombia. These missionaries have done a tremendous job and today the El Redil network of churches is one of the most vibrant movements for the Gospel that I know.

Colombia is a great example of the kind of place a seminary like Northwest needs to be engaged. The time for the career foreign missionary is over in a place like this. The national church is strong and their witness is vibrant. Now the time is ripe for seminaries like Northwest to come alongside and work on the development of a great cadre of national pastors and leaders. As long as those opportunities exist, I will be thrilled to participate.

Board of Governors Award – Evan Scales

award-01The Board of Governors Award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the mission of Northwest Baptist Seminary. In recognition of such commitment, the Board of Governors is pleased to present this award to Evan Scales.

Evan served on the Board of Governors for 18 consecutive years, from 1990 through 2007. These were some of the seminary’s most challenging years, during which Northwest concluded its decades-long college level ministry, transitioning to its current form as a primarily graduate level institution. Those who served on the board during this time were required to show a courageous level of focus on the primary mission that the school had served going back to its inception in 1934 – the development of high quality, ministry leaders for the church. While this discussion was painful for Evan, he understood the necessity of this decision. That the seminary currently prospers in this mission is due in large measure to those like Evan who offered steady governance-level leadership at that time.

Evan and Mary ScalesEvan’s unique contribution to the board was in the writing of a new set of by-laws to govern the seminary, with a particular concern to enshrine the relationship of the seminary to its churches. This was a significant task during these days of transition. This kind of work may not have been glamorous or even interesting, yet Evan knew the importance of a firm documentary foundation. The current stability of the seminary bears testament to the durability of Evan’s work.

Along with his service to the board, Evan and his wife Mary, sent several of their own children to study at Northwest. They also were faithful and significant financial contributors. May many follow after their example!

Evan spent his career working for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, which later became known as BC Rail, and later for the CNR. But it would seem that he put in almost as much effort toward the health of the churches he helped plant and encourage, most notably Dallas-Barnhartvale Baptist Church. It was in his study and teaching of theology that Evan’s passion for the church came together with his passion for the mission of the seminary.

Evan is also known for his work as President of the Fellowship Baptist Interior Association and for his years of service to Sunnybrae Bible Camp where he served as Director for a time.

The work of the church depends upon people who will give graciously and sacrificially of their time, talent, and treasure. Those who can see how graduate-level leadership development is of strategic importance to God’s Kingdom are to be particularly cherished. Evan and Mary Scales are a tremendous example of such. By this award, we express our gratitude to God and to the Scales for their commitment to the Lord, expressed through their service to all of us.

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Kalimantan, Indonesia Trip

I was born and raised deep in the jungles of the island of Borneo (now Kalimantan, Indonesia) where I witnessed first-hand the entry of the Gospel and the birth of the Church among a people group called the Dayaks. Years later, after graduation from Prairie Bible Instute and Winnipeg Bible College I returned there with my wife, Becky, and we served alongside that same Dayak church for 16 years.

This past June Northwest granted me a three week window to travel back to Indonesia to revisit the Dayak church. The purpose of the trip was to meet with and encourage the pastors and leaders of the local churches among whom Becky and I had worked back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I have returned with great rejoicing having been immensely blessed and encouraged. Jesus’ church among the Dayaks is alive and growing. I was greatly encouraged to witness their love for the Lord, their faithfulness, their determination to follow Him wholly, their affection for us, and the common bond we have with them in the Lord.

I was joined on the trip by Darrel Davis of Three Hills, Alberta, and my sister and brother-in-law, Henry and Jan Armstrong, of Singapore. All of us had served there together in the past and now were returning to see what God was doing. Everywhere we went we heard stories of God’s amazing work in the lives of many of our brothers and sisters among the Dayaks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This group of Dayak churches celebrated their 60th anniversary this year and the leaders expressed to us several times their thankfulness for the missionaries (my parents among others) who had brought the Gospel to them all those years ago. It was especially encouraging to hear of their understanding of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ had done in them individually and for them as a racial group. It was delightful to hear their expressions of gratitude, first to God and also to the missionaries through whom God had sent them the news of salvation. For me personally this made everything we had experienced worth it.

There are still many challenges that they face and I ask that you increase your prayers for the Dayak church of Kalimantan. They face significant pressures to accommodate to societal and cultural issues that tend toward syncretism – that is the mixing of the Christian faith with their old animistic religious beliefs. Also, their economic conditions have improved so dramatically and suddenly that they face the temptation to confuse the transformative effects of the Gospel with a so called gospel of wealth.

Despite these challenges, it was clearly evident to our little team that God was at work and we were witnessing the ongoing ministry of the Spirit in Christ’s church among the Dayaks.

Right at the beginning of our visit we were also given the opportunity to meet with the provincial governor at his home. When we told him that our reason for requesting an audience with him was so that we could pray for him his entire demenour changed from cautious suspicion to delighted friendliness.

I was very grateful to the Lord that I was able to remember the language and was able to converse, preach, and teach fluently. After 20 years of very little use – my language facility was not a given. Then there was the food! We had to sample all of the local fruit and local dishes that we had missed over the years. That was very enjoyable for us !

OMeeting with the national church leadership and hearing their passion for a vibrant, missionally minded church, and then spending some time with them praying together was one of my top highlights of the trip. They, in turn, mentioned several times how encouraging our visit had been to them. Despite our lengthy absence they still saw us as partners in the Gospel. What an incredible privilege. Thank you, Jesus!

 

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Immerse is Accredited

We are very excited to announce that Northwest Baptist Seminary is now fully accredited by The Association of Theological Schools. Of particular importance is that ATS also accredited our innovative Immerse program.

This is no small thing, given the uniqueness of Immerse. The fully church-based nature of the program means that Immerse exceeds the standards for residency normally expected of seminaries. Granting approval for this kind of learning marks a dramatic step forward in the world of theological education with Northwest at the forefront of this exciting change.

For many years, Northwest has held its accredited status on the basis of two elements: its charter to offer theological degrees granted by provincial legislation back in 1959, and through its partnership in ACTS Seminaries. Now that Northwest is offering programming outside of the ACTS umbrella, it was important to submit Immerse for the examination of ATS.

IMG_2188Immerse offered several challenges to the accreditors. The program is built on a number of principles that are unique. For example, Immerse has no courses, no semesters, and no fixed timetable. Instead it challenges students, working under the direction of a team of mentors, to pursue mastery of a comprehensive set of outcomes. The mentors are free to customize student expectations in order to provide whatever will be the most helpful to the student. Recognizing that schedules and timetables can arbitrarily limit student learning, Immerse allows students to continue working on a subject until they get to a level of appropriate mastery. When they’ve got it they can move on.

Key to the value of Immerse is its rootedness in context. We believe that the best place to learn to lead the church is the church itself. Immerse students go beyond theory to prove their competency through ministry to real people on the ground. The problem was that seminaries have traditionally understood themselves as campus-based, valuing greatly the learning and personal formation that happens best in community. Our answer was that we agreed in the importance of community, but that we see the church as the primary community and the best environment for student development. This church-centric approach is more consistent with our long-standing commitment to the church as God’s primary instrument for the spread of his Kingdom.

In the end, the examiners were able to appreciate our position, and indicated their desire to approve the program as an official “experiment” of ATS. This experimental status is actually to our benefit. It does not imply any uncertainty or that their decision is provisional. It does acknowledge that what we are doing is unique and that it does exceed the standards as they are currently written. By framing this as an official experiment, ATS has put this program on a much higher profile. The program will be noticed and observed. As we make progress, others will learn the things that we are learning. As we prove results a few years down the road, ATS will be required to build some of what has been learned into the standards that govern every theological school.

In other words, we are literally changing the face of theological education.

The decision of ATS was not guaranteed. In fact there were a number of other schools whose applications for experiments were not granted. When I thanked ATS Executive Director, Dan Aleshire, he said to me, “Well, you didn’t really give us a choice. You were so well prepared and had covered every angle. We had to say yes to you.” While his response was gratifying for its affirmation, it is also encouraging to realize the kind of impact that we are having.

Immerse is jointly owned and was collaboratively developed with David Horita and the team at Fellowship Pacific. The Northwest mission has always been first and foremost about the mission of our churches and so it was important to build this in concert with those churches. Now, however, the effect of what we built is starting to spread.

Currently we have versions of Immerse available to Fellowship Pacific, Fellowship Prairies, Fellowship International, and Baptist Housing. This latter version takes things beyond the world of pastor and church to the world of chaplaincy. We are also now in serious conversation with several other potential partners, schools, and networks all across Canada and into the United States as well. We will share more information when we are able.

On another front, we would encourage you to pray for our developing relationship with SEMBEQ, our Fellowship Baptist related seminary in the province of Quebec. SEMBEQ has been operating successfully for more than 40 years, training great pastoral leaders through their own church-based system, resulting in a strong network of healthy churches and leaders in this very needy place. SEMBEQ, however, does not have a charter, nor do they have accreditation for their programs. Upon their request, we have been working with SEMBEQ to offer their degrees under our charter on their behalf.

In fact, we have made a formal request to the Ministry of Education seeking their permission. We would encourage you to join us in prayer for this matter – particularly for favor with the Quebec government. Recently, Northwest was the subject of an article in the Montreal newspaper La Presse in which the author seemed to have some distress over this supposed incursion of evangelicals into their province. Of course, the Bible is full of instances where God moved the heart of kings and governors who did not acknowledge his sovereignty. We are praying that he will do it yet again.

As we have sought to be faithful with what God has given us, we have begun to see God enlarge our influence. We are grateful for the opportunity. We are deeply aware that this is all for his glory and for his honour.

Thank you for sharing with us in this important task.

Celebration and Thanksgiving to God

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you – 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18.
Birthdays in our home are a great excuse to eat, laugh and share about our year. Taking time to celebrate how God has blessed us helps us to refocus on God’s goodness and to be thankful for all He has accomplished. In Psalm 97:12, we are commanded: “Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise His holy name.”

One of our family birthday traditions is to share a highlight for the year. This year, our daughter was so excited to report her highlight. She was literally bursting to share her good news with us!
Here is my highlight from Northwest’s year and my reason for celebration and for giving thanks to God.

O— Immerse, our church based Ministry Leadership Development program is now fully accredited by ATS and currently  has 35 students involved in churches throughout the Pacific region.  We are blessed and excited to partner with our local churches as we actively extend the love of Jesus to others and impact our communities.

Here is just a small sample of what our churches are saying about our Immerse students:

We started with one Immerse student and within a year, brought on a second. The excitement and passion they bring is expanding and strengthening our ministry here at Central Baptist Church. The Immerse program has exceeded our expectations in its effectiveness… As we train and mentor these men, we expect God to do great things as we partner in building His kingdom.
Steve Edelman, Associate Pastor,
Central Baptist Church, Victoria BC.

As an Immerse intern Wesley has brought more effectiveness to our community outreach, strength to our preaching ministry, assistance in the tasks of my role, wisdom to our pastoral team, and another team member to work alongside of.  I cannot express how much help it is to have him on board.
Barton Priebe, Senior Pastor,
Dunbar Heights Baptist Church Vancouver, BC.

We have the privilege of currently having two Immerse students as part of our staff team.  As a church I know we have benefited greatly from the ministry leaders. While our students are mainly involved in youth and kids ministries, I would guess that you could ask just about anyone at Emmanuel, and they would tell you that the blessing to our church extends far beyond a particular program…our whole church has been blessed by our participation in Immerse.
Don Reeve, Lead Pastor,
Emmanuel  Baptist Church, Vernon, BC.

We are grateful for the role Northwest Baptist Seminary has in extending God’s Kingdom and impacting others at home and abroad.

If you wish to know more about how you can support us with your financial gifts please call me: 1-250-240-3737 or email me directly: ron@nbseminary.ca.

We thank you for all your support and depend on the generosity of our friends like you who wish to see God’s Kingdom grow and prosper. Here is how you can give to Northwest to help sponsor a student. You can give directly online: www.nbseminary.ca/give. Thanks for your investment in the Kingdom of God and for making a difference!

Alumni in Ministry

It is always exciting to hear about alumni who are doing well in the ministries for which they are called. I was amazed to see a picture of Northwest alum, Geordan Rendle on a giant video screen in New York City’s Times Square as he was being announced for this role as president of Youth for Christ International. I congratulated Geordan recently and he spoke very warmly of his time with Northwest.

A former police officer, Geordan brings a tremendous amount of experience to this role. Having spent much of his youth in Colombia, Geordan brings a particular passion for the international side of YFC. I can’t wait to hear what happens as this iconic evangelical ministry responds to Geordan’s creative and energetic leadership. Geordan is only the 7th president of YFC. Billy Graham was the first!

On a different matter, I would like to call you to prayer for a very specific item. I have recently returned from Montreal where our dean, Howard Andersen, and our board chair, Dennis Wasyliw, travelled with me to meet with the leadership of SemBEQ, our Fellowship Baptist seminary in the province of Quebec. The purpose of our visit was to finalize arrangements such that Northwest could assist SemBEQ by granting its degrees under our charter. This will require an “order in council” from the Quebec government cabinet, something which our lawyer believes is possible, but something that will require our prayer.

You may not know that Quebec is one of the most un-evangelized places in the world, with fewer evangelicals per capita than you would find in a country like Japan. Within that environment, our Fellowship has actually done pretty well. We have 89 healthy churches in the region, largely due to the development of a great number of effective leaders through the ministry of SemBEQ. Unfortunately, our friends have had to work without appropriate authority as there is no way by which they will be allowed to continue to grant their own degrees.

We are working to see this negative become a positive. It is exciting to see how we are coming together – east-west, French-English – around a mutual vision for church-based ministry leadership development. We think that this collaboration could result in something even more positive for the Kingdom than what we have so far seen. Please pray with us.

These continue to be exciting times for Northwest as we see increasing numbers of churches and networks get involved in our Immerse program. I can hardly wait to see what God will do through all of us owning together this great work.

Children

Practising Faith in the Home

I don’t anticipate my children will concoct scientific learning labs in the kitchen to reinforce the Bible passage they’ve read for the day. Nor do I expect that one will stack couch cushions to build the walls of Jericho while the other unearths Dad’s trumpet from his ’80s glory days to blow the wall down. As parents, we desire creative ideas for bringing faith into the home; however only the most imaginative thinkers (with similarly gifted children) will have the time or mental energy to do this.

Children need to know that practising faith is often quiet, reflective, and expressive. But parents and mentors need to make it happen.

On Jan. 17/18, 2014, Northwest hosted the Transform Conference, with Awana Canada and FamilyLife Canada joining as title sponsors. Keynote speaker Mark Holmen, of Faith@Home, shared some distressing statistics.

Although teens say by far the greatest spiritual influencers in their life are their parents,

  • only 27% have experienced either family devotions, prayer or Bible reading within the home,
  • only 28% have talked about faith with their mom,
  • and only 13% with their dad.

Deuteronomy 6:1–25 stresses the importance of remembering the loving commands and provision of the Lord, and impressing them on your children. What does that look like with children? Here are some keep-it-simple strategies.

Read the Bible. Devotionals are great, but they often don’t go beyond morals-based teaching. Reading full Bible passages plants the stories into the child’s mind, allowing children to gain an understanding of the narrative of Scripture, and more importantly, the character, actions, and person of God.

Pray. Prayer should be heartfelt and honest. Teach your children ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. When life is far from simple and we don’t know what to pray for, let your child know the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans (Romans 8:26). Demonstrate that you can write your prayers, draw your prayers, walk or dance your prayers, and pray through music or poetry.

Give. Teach children about tithes and offerings. My sister-in-law has three piggy banks for each of her children labelled “God,” “Savings” and “Spending.” For every dollar earned, each jar gets its designated percentage. If you’re grocery shopping with young children, buy something for the sole purpose of putting it in the food bank box after checking out. From your example, children will learn generosity and that everything they have comes from God.

Memorize Scripture. For some this is easy; others break out in hives at the thought of it! My eldest son can memorize after simply reading a verse, but with my youngest, we make up actions or put the words to a familiar melody. Even if the words aren’t learned perfectly, the truth of the passage will stay in the child’s heart and mind (Proverbs 22:6). God will bring these words to mind when the child needs a particular truth in his or her life.

There are many simple ideas. Do what makes sense to the children you love, and don’t burden yourself with guilt. Join the parents who attended the conference and have already implemented strategies to bring faith into the home. Be relieved to know as one mother commented, “That it’s okay if faith talks occur while driving in the car instead of when eating at the dinner table.” As a pastor I once spoke with stated, “The one thing you do this week is better than the nothing you did last week.”

Then watch the Spirit work in the life of your family. Whether life presents joys or tribulations, the value of practicing and teaching faith in the home will be felt as you “soar on wings like eagles” (Is. 40:31) or “take refuge in the shadow of his wings” (Ps. 57:1).

And once you start, you may soon find yourself encouraging another family to likewise bring faith into their home.

A version of this article first appeared in the MB Herald.

governors-award

Northwest Board of Governors Awards

What makes Northwest the special training institution that it is today? Alongside the grace and provision of God – it is the people that God has directed to be involved with the school throughout its 80 year history. Many men and women have faithfully and passionately served the Fellowship and Northwest over the years, and recently two such people were given special recognition.

This past fall Northwest’s current board chair, Dennis Wasyliw, along with the president, Kent Anderson and the dean, Howard Andersen traveled together to make formal presentations of The Board of Governers Award to two longstanding board members. This award states that it is given in recognition of long service to and interest in the work of ministry leadership development through Northwest.

The two recipients of this award were Anne Thompson and David Fairbrother.

David Fairbrother

David FairbrotherDavid knew his calling to ministry early in life and went on to develop a long list of achievements in his service to God and to the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in British Columbia. Over a period of more than 40 years, David’s life and ministry has been unassuming and quiet, faithful and diligent, assertive and effective in his service of the Gospel. During those years he pastored a number of BC churches including Central Baptist in Prince George, Richmond Baptist in Richmond, and Emmanuel Baptist in Vernon. David also served with distinction as President of the Fellowship, giving effective leadership to the entire movement of churches in this region.

David’s direct service to Northwest was also substantive. A distinguished graduate of the school, he served several terms on the Board of Governors beginning in the late 1970’s through to the late 1990’s.

David’s work was also indispensable in the construction of the Northwest building on the Trinity Western University campus. He had a remarkable gift for fundraising and put this to good use on the Interim Capital Fundraising Committee of the Board of Governors, and also as the Director of Development for the college and seminary. This fruitful effort allowed for the accumulation of the capital necessary for the construction of the building. Since the building was sold, the funds David raised now provide the greater portion of the Northwest endowment funds. Those endowments provide substantially for the ongoing ministry of the seminary and its service to students and churches.

David is also known for his love of wife and family. In the last several years especially, Dave and Virginia have spent countless hours with their children and grandchildren in all kinds of family gatherings. They have spent time on excursions and walks, allowing opportunity to admire God’s great handiwork displayed in creation. Even during these latter years, David has displayed a keen interest and ongoing service to the work of our seminary and our Fellowship.

We are grateful to David for his lifetime of labour for the Lord through which the work of the seminary has been able to flourish. By this commendation, we affirm the ongoing blessing of his service to Northwest Baptist Seminary and to the churches that we together serve. We are thankful to God for his dedication and commitment, trusting that his example might inspire others to the same.

Anne Thompson

Anne ThompsonAnne joined the Northwest Board in 1977. This was an exciting, but challenging time for Northwest. The new seminary division was only two-three years old, enrolment challenges were critical, and leadership changes were occurring. Anne was a wonderful proponent for the Preschool training program that Northwest pioneered. She also had a strong commitment to developing well-trained pastoral leaders.

With only a few years of sabbatical, Anne served as a member of the Northwest Board from 1977 – 2007, often contributing to the board executive committee, and specifically as chairperson from 2000 to 2007.

No matter what challenges Northwest faced, Anne encouraged the leaders, praying faithfully for the staff, students and faculty. Anne expressed her heart-commitments with practical actions and in the case of Northwest this included generous gifts of her wisdom, time and professional skill, as well as significant financial support for Northwest’s ministry.

She knew what leadership required, being a teacher and filling various administrative roles in various elementary schools. She was passionate about developing effective ministry leaders who could galvanize congregations around robust Christian vision. She also insisted upon excellence within the board and within the various educational programs.

As chair Anne led the board to connect with In Trust and through their board mentoring programs she oversaw significant internal board development, which in turn gave great strength to Northwest institutionally. She understood the relationship between a strong board and a vital Seminary.

Anne’s contribution to the Northwest board spanned 30 years. By this commendation, we affirm the blessing of her service on behalf of Northwest Baptist Seminary, a service which continues to bear rich fruit today in the Seminary’s life and ministry. We are thankful to God for her faithful, wise leadership.

Professionally Anne taught and served as principal for many years within the Vancouver School system at Queen Mary Elementary, Carnarvon Elementary and Vancouver Hebrew Academy, a Jewish elementary school.

She and her husband Ken serve as volunteer leaders within Oakridge Fellowship Baptist Church. Through their leadership they have developed and overseen many different aspects of that church’s life and ministry in the community.

 

Theology Boot Camps for Christian Growth

As summertime approaches, many people look forward to camping, fishing trips, and hiking excursions. These retreats into the great outdoors can be enjoyable if you have the proper equipment and training. A simple overnight camping trip can turn into a nightmare if you forget the tent (or the coffee for some). Likewise, if your ‘theological gear’ is a little rusty, or you would rather stay indoors, consider coming to an Instructional Seminar. Northwest Baptist Seminary and Fellowship Pacific offer four instructional seminars per year. Each seminar includes two-days of learning, practical teaching, and group interaction. “You get to hear from the best on certain topics” remarks Glory Destura from Burnett Fellowship. Another benefit is the level “of interaction with students and the presenters,” says Wes Parker from Dunbar Heights.

Going on a canoe trip around Bowron Lake is more physically challenging than sitting in class, but don’t let the lack of a physical challenge fool you. These seminars are challenges for the mind and spirit. They are like theological boot camps for Christian growth. Chris Goodall from Sardis Fellowship is “impressed with the depth of knowledge that each of the professors has shown while teaching us. They listen, correct, encourage, and expand on our attempts at answering questions. I have never been made to feel inadequate no matter how long it takes for the light to go on.” Prepare yourself for a journey into the theology of the Trinity (often spoken of, but rarely explored). Embark on an expedition into the world of prophetic literature. Journey to ancient Israel and learn from their wisdom literature.

To register for an upcoming instructional seminar, go to www.nbseminary.ca/grow. Each seminar is $95 or $295 for a four seminar package. Twelve seminars on various topics are offered on a three-year cycle. The next 4 seminars are listed in the poster below.

Learning theology and its application are significant pieces of gear for the journey of life. “Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives,” says J.I. Packer. He aptly notes, “disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction, and no understanding of what surrounds you” (from the book Knowing God). So take your ‘gear’ (flashlight optional) and embark on a two-day theological boot camp and prepare yourself for ministry and personal growth. You will undoubtedly leave a changed person.

 

Interview with an Immerse Student

Two and a half years ago Northwest began a unique way to develop our most promising leaders for the future of our Fellowship, our local churches and for His glory. Currently, we have almost 30 students in Immerse! I had the opportunity to catch up with one of them – Paul Park from Coquitlam, BC. Here is what I discovered…

Tell me a little about yourself…

Paul ParkI was born and raised in a Christian family and my father has been in ministry since before I was born. So, I got to see what ministry looks like from a young age, and I was determined that I would never make that choice. But here I am, in the Immerse program and apprenticing at South Delta Baptist Church to become a pastor! God led me in His typically amazing way and brought me to embrace my calling… or His calling. Before I entered the Immerse program, I was an English teacher teaching both high school students and adults. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching, but now I am embarking on a career path that may be even more rewarding that I ever imagined.

You are one of our current Immerse students and being mentored by several people –  what does that mean to you?

I am currently being mentored by Colin van der Kuur, Larry Perkins, Paul Johnson and Jeremy Johnson. I went through a similar multi-dimensional apprenticeship when I was at UBC in the Bachelor of Education program. While I was out at practicum, I worked alongside three mentors who helped me hone my skills as an English teacher. This experience in Immerse feels very similar. I am extremely thankful for the mentors that I have because they all contribute so much in helping me learn to do ministry with excellence. Ministry itself is so multi-dimensional, so it completely makes sense to have multiple mentors. Each mentor brings something different to the table, and this leads to a more wholesome experience.

You and your local church started a new church with the Tsawwassen First Nations about five and half years ago. That’s exciting! Tell me more about this.

The Korean church (GKMC) where I am originally from began helping people in need on the TFN Reservation about six years ago. We were using the old church building on the reserve that was built in 1904 to distribute food from the South Delta Food Bank. When we saw that the church was no longer being used to house worship services, and that there was a community that needed to hear the gospel, we began to pray for something to happen on the TFN reserve. God graciously led us to plant a Sunday evening service five and a half years ago, and I feel like we’re still in the progress of planting a church.

Currently you are the Pastor Apprentice at South Delta Baptist and involved in our Immerse program. How does this partnership work? Tell me about your current role and duties?

I am grateful to be at South Delta Baptist Church as a Pastor Apprentice. Pastor Paul Johnson and Pastor Jeremy Johnson are my mentors for the Immerse program, so SDBC’s involvement in this partnership with NBS to train me as a ministry leader is quite significant. I currently help with the hospitality part of the church and I teach ESL/Bible Study to the Korean community at South Delta. I also continue to serve as a pastor for the church in Tsawwassen First Nations.

Thank you for your financial support for students like Paul. If you would like more information on giving to Northwest or about Immerse, please contact me:  Ron Sing, Director of Development at: 250-240-3737. You can also give directly online to support our students >> click here.

You can contact Ron via this form:
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2014 Transform Children’s and Parent’s Conference

Photos from the recent Children’s Conference held at Northview Church in Abbotsford.

New (and not so new) faces at Northwest

Howard AndersenDr. Howard Andersen has been hired to be the new Northwest Academic Dean. He describes this hire as being “the two bookends to my career.” Dr. Andersen began his academic career in 1969 as the Assistant Dean to Dr. Pickford who was then Dean of Northwest Baptist Theological College. The next 10 years saw Dr. Andersen replace Dr. Pickford in the role of Dean and then in 1976 be appointed the first president of both the college and the new seminary division. Howard is also no stranger to ACTS Seminaries as he has served in the past as the Academic Dean for Canadian Baptist Seminary and has taught at ACTS many times as an adjunct professor. He summarized his view of ACTS Seminaries as a consortium of seminaries as “great people, great programs and a great idea”!

Howard comes to us with a wealth of experience both in and out of the academic world. He has years of involvement in the business world, having run his own consulting company and years of teaching in various disciplines.

He is married to Anne and they have 3 adult children and 6 grandchildren. He is quite delighted that all of his grandchildren live nearby.

Howard has a keen interest in the training and preparation of pastors. He says, “I got my start in Christian ministry from my pastor at Mission Baptist Church – pastor E.V. Apps. It shows what pastors can do with their young people”. When asked about Immerse Howard’s response was, “For quite a few decades churches and denominations have been looking for a better way to train pastors. …It is talked about everywhere that there needs to be a more “in-situ” way of doing it. … I do have a lot of interest and excitement about the Immerse program.”

One of the things that excites him is the anticipation of working with “great people at Northwest” – people whom he has known for many-many years.

Well, we are excited too, so welcome Dr. Howard Andersen to this new role at Northwest.

Eric and Jill FehrWe welcomed a Northwest alumnus on staff this summer. Eric Fehr, NBTC BRE grad of 1996 and ACTS Seminaries MTS grad of 2009 has joined us as the Executive Assistant to the Dean where he will be filling the role in the Immerse program that Mark Carroll recently left.

Eric’s roots in the Fellowship began back at Sunnybrae Bible Camp where, in 1986, under the ministry of Bill Clem, he came to put his personal trust in Christ. Eric described how he had grown up in a non-Christian home but that in the year following his own conversion experience his brother and both his father and mother also came to know the Lord Jesus. For the first 10 or so years of his Christian life his family attended Cedar Grove Baptist Church but then in 2006 he and his wife joined Brunette Fellowship where he has had opportunity to participate both in music as well as in an eldership capacity.

Eric married Jill in 2005 and they now have a 4 year old daughter, Evangelina. Commenting on how marriage and family have affected him Eric talked about how he felt that Jill has brought a significant degree of stability to his life and that in his role as a dad he has developed a greater appreciation for the depth of his Heavenly Father’s love and grace.

We are delighted to have Eric on board and believe that God brought him to us at this exciting time in the life and ministry of Northwest.

So, welcome Eric and do pray for him as he comes up to speed on all of his new responsibilities.

Changes

It is a wonderful thing to observe how God leads. When Mark Carroll told me he was leaving Northwest my feelings were mixed. On one hand, I was thrilled to see Mark step up to lead one of our great churches. After all, that is why we are doing this work. On the other hand, I knew that he would leave a giant hole in our ministry. Very quickly, however, the Lord led us to the two people that he had in mind for us.

Eric Fehr is a Northwest alumnus with a wealth of experience in administration and human resource management. We are very pleased that he was available to handle the day to day assignments of the Dean’s office. I am also truly pleased to welcome back, Dr. Howard Andersen to the position of Academic Dean. Howard will fill this role part time. Together Howard and Eric offer a powerful team that will allow us to move forward on several fronts.

It is particularly encouraging to me that we now have three presidents on the team. I benefit greatly in my filling of the current role by the presence of Larry Perkins who served as president from 2000-2010, and also by Howard’s participation on the team. Howard was President of Northwest in the late 1970s when I began as an undergraduate. These two men have been mentors to me for most of my life. Now to be working together in this manner it is a tremendous blessing. I think it speaks to the consistency of vision and mission that we have tried to encourage here at Northwest.

I also have some further good news to report regarding our application for ATS accreditation for Northwest and for Immerse. We have just recently been informed by the Association of Theological Schools that our application for Candidate Status has been approved. This is the second of three major steps in the process, so we have just one left to go. We have always held our accreditation through our ACTS partnership, but for Northwest to be accredited in its own right is very significant. Of course, for ATS to approve the innovations of the Immerse program is ground-breaking. We will be working hard on the final stage of the process which we hope to complete by the spring of next year.

It is encouraging to see how positively ATS has been looking at these innovations. “Most schools are looking to make their programs easier,” they said to us. “You are actually trying to make the program more challenging!” I think they are correct in that assessment. This past May I was asked to present what we are doing to a meeting of seminary presidents and deans from across Canada. Now, ATS has asked me to present the program to a group of seminary presidents from across North America in San Antonio this January. People are noticing what we are doing. Our influence is spreading.

Speaking of Immerse, we recently completed our first formal assessment process for potential new students and churches in the program. Eleven men and women, selected by their churches came together for two days of intense testing and evaluation. The assessment was done by a team of fifteen faculty, pastors, and Fellowship staff. In the end, ten students were approved for admission into the program. We now have twenty people and churches engaged in this process, and we are still only just getting started. Imagine the impact this will have on our churches down the road.

Clearly, the Lord does lead and we are excited to be in the stream of what he is doing through church-based ministry leadership development. Thanks for all the ways you serve with us in this mission.

From Immerse to total Imersion

Mark & Stephanie Carroll have left Northwest to take up a new position as lead pastor couple at Whitehorse Baptist Church. Just before they left I caught up with Mark for an interview.

Tell me about your personal and spiritual journey:

Mark_and_Steph_CarrollI think the best summary of my spiritual journey would be running, then submitting, then running, then submitting, and on and on. It’s happened over and over again in my life where I would know what God was asking, but I would run away, then he’d correct me and I’d submit again. Eventually I realized that the “running” part isn’t very good and I needed to do more of the “submitting.” I’ve sensed a call to ministry in my life since I was young, whether it was academic, or pastoral, or whatever else. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to flee in fear of that call because of the sacrifices it requires—I’ve seen lots of pastors get hurt, and I didn’t want to put myself in the position to feel the same hurt. But I’ve realized through failure that running away is worse than submitting to God’s call, and ultimately his call leads directly to my joy.

Tell me a little about your family:

My family is amazing. My wife, Stephanie and I have been married for 11 years now. Theo is 7, Gavin just turned 5 and Amelia is going to be 2 in a month. So our house is busy, exciting, loud, noisy – all of those. I’m learning about the differences between girls and boys: My daughter, for example, loves shoes. She will go to the store, and go to the shoe section and she will start pulling shoes off the rack – trying to get them on her feet. She’ll get mad when she has to leave the shoe section because she has found all these beautiful shoes for herself. It’s so weird! Who taught her that?

You recently completed your master’s degree here at Northwest/ACTS. Tell me a little about your education and what brought you to Northwest.

The background story is that after high school I went to Simon Fraser University, again, as part of my running away. I knew I should be pursuing ministry, but decided instead to do a degree in science because it would open doors for me. But at Simon Fraser I realized that just “wanting to do it” didn’t make me try hard and it ultimately wasn’t where I was supposed to be. God brought me something good through my time there—it’s where Steph and I met—but it became clear pretty quickly that I was in the wrong place, so I left.

For about five years I spent time working in the food industry, working up to a management position, but the call wouldn’t go away, and eventually I decided to listen. I finished my BA at Prairie Bible College, and immediately knew that God was calling me into graduate-level education, but, again, I ran. This time I came up with excuses and rationalizations and ended up in pastoral ministry because I figured that God would like that just as much. Again, though, it became clear pretty quickly that I wasn’t following his direction, even though he did some amazing things in that time in spite of my disobedience.

Eventually I wised up and decided to pursue my MTS at Northwest. I’ve been a ‘Fellowship’ guy my whole life and love to be part of Fellowship Pacific, so coming to Northwest was a pretty natural decision. I did the MTS because I wanted to keep my options open for PhD work. I figured that I’d do my MTS, then move onto PhD, then get a job as a professor so that I could just be an academic and not worry about getting involved in people’s lives. Of course, that’s not an accurate picture of the job, but it’s what I was telling myself. Of course my plan wasn’t the way God had planned, so I worked on my degree for a couple of years until the scholarships and savings ran out, then started working in retail full-time to try to find some way to finish the degree. And that’s when Kent approached me and asked me to come and work at Northwest. I only finished my degree because of the opportunity provided to me in this job.

So much of your time at Northwest you have been deeply involved with Immerse. Tell me a little about that experience. What have you personally learned through the process? What does Immerse mean to you?

The experience of being involved with the designing of Immerse is like nothing I have ever done in my life, ever! I’ve had to play the role of middleman, negotiator, peace-maker, and sometimes even conflict-maker. It was such a unique opportunity to be able to have one foot in the ministry world through the ministry centre and one foot in the academy, but it was great because I realized that we all want the same thing. At the end of the day our mission is the same: we all want healthy churches; we want people to come to know Jesus; we want followers of Jesus trained as disciples; and ultimately we want that to grow and grow. Fellowship Pacific’s mission statement talks about leveraging our collective strengths to see a God-honouring impact in our region, and I feel like that’s what we did with Immerse. That God-honouring impact is more of a reality today than it’s ever been, and I think the process of designing Immerse has played into that.

What have I personally learned? I’ve learned the benefit of what Patrick Lencioni calls “productive ideological conflict.” When you’re all focused on the same mission, disagreement and conflict can be productive because they help you do that mission even better. And the mission that Jesus calls us to is worth conflicting about. A lot has been put on the line in creating this program—relationships have been tested, and friendships have been tried—but the program that’s come out the other side is unique and truly has the potential to transform our region with the gospel.

This is great news for me because I know that this movement that I know and love and these churches that I know and love will be effective well into the future because they’ll be well-led, and my kids and their kids will see the benefit of what we’ve accomplished with God’s help over these past few months.

How did taking a pastoral position come about?

I’ve known ever since I started working on my degree that God was preparing me for something when I was done. I wasn’t sure what that was, and I kept asking God to show me, but his answer was consistently, “no, because you’re going to be a bonehead and try to make it happen yourself, so you’re going to see one step at a time.” As I neared the completion of the program, two opportunities were presenting themselves: to continue into academia or to go back to vocational pastoral ministry. So I investigated both equally—I think I investigated every PhD program in North America and probably most of them in Europe, too—but I didn’t find one that seemed to fit my research interests and my skills. It felt like God was closing the door to the academy, but at the same time he was opening the door into pastoral ministry. And so I took a few tentative steps toward that route, and the doors kept opening, so I kept walking.

I knew from past experience that my next step in vocational ministry was into the role of lead pastor—that was what God had equipped me for and called me to. And I knew that I wanted to go to a place where I could conceive of staying for the rest of my life if that was what God called me to. I had a number of conversations about a number of different places, but none of them seemed to be “the thing.” Then one day, I think at a Fellowship Pacific staff meeting, somebody mentioned Whitehorse Baptist, and I had one of those moments where I knew God was saying, “That’s you!” Why? I’ve never been there! But the more we looked into it, the more God was arranging things to work out for us to go there. In fact, I said to Steph one time, “You know, God could use a 2×4 here and be more subtle.” That’s what I need because I don’t get “subtle” very well. It’s not that the road has been easy—every step along the way has been hard—but we’re settled in our sense of call, and we’ve never regretted it. We’ve never had a moment where we’ve said, “Oh, why did we do this? Now we’re in trouble.” Not once. It’s pretty amazing what happens when you let God work and just get out of the way.

What excites and what scares you about this new venture?

What excites me is the potential that I see in the city of Whitehorse. Young families like us are seeking out Whitehorse for its quality of life, and many of them are Christians who want to be on mission but there hasn’t been a place for them to connect. So I know of people who have been starting their own small groups, using video sermons from Village Church [where Mark previously attended] and the community group discussion questions—that’s how motivated they are! So right now there’s a whole group of people who want to get on mission for Jesus, but they need to be mobilized.

At the same time, many of the people moving to Whitehorse are moving there because they want a fresh start—a new beginning. To be able to step into that environment and to tell people that the thing they’re looking for, the fresh start they crave, is found exclusively in Jesus, that’s pretty exciting. There are 26,000 people Whitehorse, but the church attendance on Sunday morning shows me that thousands of those people will spend eternity apart from Jesus if we don’t tell them about him. That’s a massive opportunity for the gospel. I don’t know what God’s going to do, but if it’s anything like what I sense in my spirit then I think it’s going to be something incredible—I can’t wait to see what God’s going to do.

What scares me on the flip side is that I know how badly I can screw up that opportunity, especially if I start thinking that it’s all about me or the church. If God starts to work and I think it’s because I did something clever or special, that’s not going to go well. I’m also terrified by the significance of the call to preach the Word of God because I know how many ways my sin can get in the way of that. So this is a situation where I absolutely have to rely on God’s strength and God’s action.

How do you feel that your experience here at Northwest and especially your role in Immerse might influence your ministry there in the local church?

I feel like everything I’ve been doing in the past few years has been preparing me specifically for the task of pastoral ministry. Thinking about Immerse especially, I’ve basically had the opportunity to sit down with a lot of very wise, very experienced people and ask them what makes a good pastor so that we could build it into Immerse. I’ve learned so much through those conversations—more than I could learn through my own investigation—and now I feel like I have a blueprint for pastoral ministry effectiveness that I can use to develop my own skill base, whether it’s in preaching, leading, counseling, or whatever else.

I think this opportunity will influence my ministry primarily because I’ve learned that the number one task of a pastor is to lead the church to accomplish her mission. As a pastor, I don’t have to come up with the most clever plan, I don’t need to have all the skills, and I don’t have to single-handedly make mission come about. Instead, we, together as a community, accomplish the mission. This is pretty subtle, but it’s changed a lot in the way that I see the role of the pastor. I also have every intention of bringing an Immerse student onto the team at Whitehorse Baptist—hopefully soon—because I think it’s a great program and I’d love the opportunity to mentor someone through it and see them develop.

Speak also to the outcomes that are outlined in Immerse. How do you see those impacting even your ministry?

Having those outcomes is incredibly helpful. On the one hand, I’m encouraged when I read some of them because I see areas where God has gifted me and I’m grateful for them. On the other hand, some of them focus on areas where I’m not very skilled—at least not yet—and I’m grateful for the opportunity to develop them. The outcomes give me a clear path toward that improvement—they describe what it would look like for me to say that I’ve really understood the outcome, and they give a clear pathway to guide me down the path to greater mastery. I’ll probably even do a bunch of the assignments, even though I’m not going to get grades for them, because they’ll help me work out what these things look like in the specific context of Whitehorse Baptist and among the people there.

 

God Owns it All, Really!

It’s true. I have bought a lot of things over the years. Some things were small items but I have made a number of significant purchases like the wedding ring for my beautiful wife, Natalie. Other shiny things worth mentioning include golf clubs, tools, kitchen gadgets, cars, iPhones and other electronic devices.

You may likely have a similar list. You may have thought that what you bought belonged to you and to you alone. However, in reality, God really owns it all.

Does God really own it all?

What about the home you live in, the car/truck you drive to church, the clothes you wear each day, the funds in your chequing/savings account and in your RRSP?

Yes, God owns it all, indeed.

We are simply stewards for all that God has richly blessed us with. God also owns every  asset we have – including our bank accounts and our retirement savings. God is the owner.  We are the stewards.

This key biblical perspective of God’s ownership and our stewardship has profound eternal impact for the good of the Kingdom. By definition, a steward is someone who manages the possessions of the owner, on his behalf. If 100 per cent of my possessions and resources including my bank account belong to God, and I am God’s steward, it impacts every decision I make.

Throughout the bible, it is clear that God is the owner of everything.

“The earth is The Lords, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”  Psalm 24:1
“The silver is mine and the gold is mine, declares The Lord  Almighty. “  Haggai 2:18

As a steward of God, we need to seek His wisdom: “Lord,  how can I further your Kingdom with the money and possessions you have entrusted to me?”

At Northwest, we are truly thankful for our many generous supporters who give to the work of equipping men and women for ministry leadership. We will be honoured if you would prayerfully consider becoming one of our Student Sponsorship Partners  and giving to our Scholarship Fund which directly support our students. These students are our future Ministry Leaders.

We are grateful that God is using our Ministry Leadership Development at Northwest to enable the Gospel to be proclaimed and communities around the world impacted for Jesus. For online giving or to invest in our Student Scholarship Fund:  >> click here.

We would be happy to share more about our new Immerse Church Based Ministry Leadership program – a unique collaboration between the Fellowship Pacific and Northwest Baptist Seminary to develop the next generation of Ministry Leaders. For more info call:  250-240-3737.

I would love to hear your comments or questions. Drop me a line or or go for coffee with me. Thanks to God for all our faithful supporters and prayers. God bless.

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We Love Our Alumni!

We love our alumni. Most schools do. It is deeply encouraging to learn ways by which those who have studied with us have gone on to apply their education in fruitful ways. I thought I would mention three of our alumni from across the years, who have come to our attention in particular ways these past months…

I just finished reading Rubbing Shoulders in Yemen, a travel memoir written by Peter Twele. Peter and I were Northwest students together in the late 1970s and early 80s. Peter went on from Northwest to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Canada Institute of Linguistics. This book describes his experiences, 30 years ago when he was carrying out socio-linguistic research in the back-country of Yemen. Reading his stories, I found myself impressed with Peter’s courage, his tenacity, and his evident love for the people God had called him to serve. To this day, Peter has a desire to build bridges of understanding between the West and the Middle East. You can find the book on amazon.ca.

I was thrilled to hear about another former Northwest student, Melanie Humphreys, who was recently appointed president of The King’s University College in Edmonton, Alberta. Melanie went on from Northwest to study and serve on staff at Trinity Western. She also held positions at Lithuania Christian College and Wheaton College in Illinois. Bill Diepeveen, chair of King’s Board of Governors said Dr. Humphreys “understands and is excited by King’s vision and mission and has been providing transformational leadership in similar Christian university college environments for years. We are confident she is the strategic and visionary leader and gifted community builder to take us into the next phase of King’s promising future.” King’s serves close to 700 students in Alberta and beyond. We at Northwest are proud to see one of our own have this opportunity to make a difference at this level in Western Canada.

On a different theme, I was saddened to note the death of Northwest alumnus John Affleck. John graduated with a B.Th. in 1983. Along with his wife, Marlene (also an alumnus), John served as a missionary in Pakistan for many years. He also served the poor and disadvantaged in his work with the Union Gospel Mission. At Northwest we are proud of John and of his service to our Lord. He has exemplified everything we have tried to teach and pass along to our students. May many rise up to follow his example.

We are in the business of producing men and women who will have this kind of impact for the glory of our God and for the good of his kingdom. With more than 3,000 such people out there serving, we know that these stories are only representative of the many great things that God is doing through our alumni.

 

Board of Governors Award given to Janet Anderson

The Board of Governors of Northwest Baptist Seminary is pleased to present its first Board of Governors Award to Janet Anderson.

Janet Anderson from PSJanet, it has been said, “was a woman’s woman.” From the time she started her career in nursing until she went home to be with her Lord, Janet never did things in half measures. Her desire to see people come to Christ as well as her conviction that women and men should be treated equal provided the motivation that drove her in the many things that she did. She did these things wholeheartedly and with conviction.

Janet’s life was filled with a variety of experiences. She was a businesswoman, operating a catering business and a gift shop. She received a Master of Christian Studies degree from Regent College and in her last years had begun to work on a Doctor of Ministry degree. Convinced of the importance of lay theology, Janet worked closely with Dr. Paul Stevens in the advancement of “marketplace chaplaincy” as well as assisting in the Vancouver International Airport Chaplaincy program. Janet served as a camp counsellor and program director at Camp Qwanoes for many years. Hundreds of young campers, who knew her as “Thumper,” were exposed to the gospel through her energetic ministry. Later on she expressed this passion by serving for years on the Camp Qwanoes Board of Directors. Throughout her life she was an active and hospitable member of Dunbar Heights Baptist Church.

Of particular interest to Northwest Baptist Seminary was her many years of service on the Northwest Board of Governors, beginning in 1986. She served a number of terms on the board over a span of 20 years. She also served on the Fellowship Pacific Board, serving the larger vision of our Fellowship of Churches. Additionally, Janet served Northwest and its students as the first director of the ACTS Seminaries Chaplaincy program, training and advising many people toward significant careers as hospital, military, and marketplace chaplains.

Long time friend and current Northwest board member, Julia Denis, says, “Janet was a Lydia. Like Lydia the Lord had opened her heart and she served with excellence. She contributed much and we honour her generous gifts of leadership, wisdom, and creative vision.”

Sadly for us, Janet is no longer with us, having gone to be with her Lord on October 14, 2012. Just prior to her death, Northwest Chairman of the Board, Larry Nelson, and President, Kent Anderson were able to be with Janet to pray with her, to thank her for her service and to inform her of her receipt of this award. “I am overwhelmed,” she said repeatedly. “If any of the things I have done have been of use to the Lord, I am grateful.” By this commendation, we are affirming that her life and service has, in fact, been of great use to us and to her Lord. She will be missed.

 

Reflections on 10 Years of Leadership Development

For the last ten years, Lyle Schrag has served on the Northwest faculty and as Director of the Fellowship Center for Leadership Development. Lyle is concluding his full-time service with Northwest, but will continue to be involved with us in a number of ways, including serving as an Immerse faculty mentor. Northwest President, Kent Anderson recently sat down with Lyle to share the following conversation.

Northwest Baptist Seminary FacultyKent: One thing a lot of people won’t know about you is that you continue to serve with the US Coast Guard. What have you learned from your experience that is helpful for thinking about ministry leadership?

Lyle: The Coast Guard is very much like the church in that most of the people involve themselves voluntarily. I recognize the necessity for an organization’s leaders to have tight boundaries around its work with volunteers. There needs to be a distinct set of parameters, different from what you might find when working with professional staff. I have seen a good convergence here in the area of governance and church boards. It is a good idea to describe distinct job descriptions for every position in the church including volunteers so everyone knows what they’re supposed to do and who they are accountable to and how it relates to the mission of the church. For example, what are the required times, the duration of the commitment, is any training required? All of those elements are reinforced in the Coast Guard.

Kent: You have had a big impact helping our churches develop better patterns of governance. What is one thing you would say to churches that might help them in this area?

Lyle: The key discovery is that governance is a critical spiritual ministry. Many churches don’t view governance as spiritual, but more a management concern. But I would say that the church board is the primary spiritual community of the church.

Kent: So governance could be pastoral.

Lyle: It is. The quality of fellowship within the congregation is defined by the quality of fellowship within the leadership. If the board cannot approach their relationship together as a spiritual community it is difficult to assume that the rest of the congregation is experiencing what their board is not experiencing. On the other hand if a church board is able to approach their relationship together as if they are defining what it means to be a spiritual community and approach their work that way, it begins to resound itself out to the rest of the body. I have found that many students and pastors, understand their role as the primary leader of their church, while viewing the board as a competitor to their dreams. They don’t realize that the key spiritual and pastoral relationship in the church is between the pastor and the board chairperson. This is where a lot of the health issues fall apart.

Kent: You spend a lot of time working on student care and it really shows. Students love the impact you’ve had on their lives. What gives you hope for the church as you think about the students who are aspiring to leadership these days?

Lyle: One is their maturity. A lot of the students we have here are experienced and they come out of a working area already with a real sense of focus. They’re doing this because they believe that God is calling them to ministry. I am seeing that sense of calling and momentum more and more. The second thing I see is a growing affection for the church. I’ve been here ten years and I would say that the first five years I was seeing the attitude of “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” That’s shifting and I’m seeing now a number of students determining adamantly to love and serve within the church. I kind of despaired a couple of years ago hearing students talk about doing ministry in any other area but the church, but now they’re saying, “I want to impact the church.”

Kent: You mentioned 10 years. Are there a couple of highlights?

Lyle: Working with the students and being here 10 years means I’ve had a chance to see God work with them and through them over time. I have been able to leverage my experience into their lives, continuing that relationship as they move on and continue in ministry. That has been pretty profound. Alumni contact me consistently so that I feel that I’ve not only made an initial investment but I can continue the relationship with them. The same thing happens with churches. I think particularly of the Best Practices for Church Boards seminars, and through them, the relationship with pastors, similar to the relationship I have with students and alumni. I contact them and pray for them regularly and let them know that I am thinking about them and praying for them. Of course, the teaching opportunity has been great as well. I really thrive in that environment.

Kent: What is something hopeful that you are trusting the Lord for in the future?

Lyle: I would use the word “satisfying” more than “hopeful.” The satisfaction I’m taking now is being able to leverage my experience and skill. I’m doing transitional pastoring, preaching and consulting with churches, having the opportunity of mentoring a new generation of leadership. It’s not a future I’m creating for myself, but a future I’m creating for others.

 

Sowing Seeds for His Kingdom

“You give them something to eat” Luke 9:13

Jesus loves us and takes care of all our needs, both spiritual and physical. He also shows us that if we honour Him with our gifts, He is able to multiply it and use it for good. In Luke 9, the feeding the five thousand we see how Jesus wants us to live. It all begins when He says to His disciples: “ You give them something to eat “.

I love all Asian food. So when we were invited to a large Chinese banquet recently, we agreed to attend. My daughter, naturally asked me questions, including: “ What are they REALLY going to serve there, Dad? “. Over the course of several hours, 180 hungry people talked and ate. Plates of food kept coming and filling our tables. 180 plates of food, 180 pairs of chopsticks, and endless pots of tea later. We came away happy, full and content.

Food for everyone.

The feeding of the five thousand men (plus women and children) shows the unlimited resources of our Lord Jesus. And like our Chinese banquet for 180, the five thousand plus hungry people were well fed.

Take some time to read Luke 9: 10-17.

What can we learn from Jesus?

First, Jesus loves and cares for us and is more than able to supply our current needs. After all, the five thousand ate and there were plenty of leftovers. Twelve full baskets to be exact! Christ is more than sufficient and His provisions overflow.

Secondly, I believe our Lord is reminding us to trust him more with all our resources. Our resources are really His resources. There are times that he may allow us to give five loaves and two fish. At other times, he has blessed us richly and we have baskets of extras to give to others. As Jesus grabs a hold of your heart, allow Him to surprise you with what He can do with your gifts. How amazing that this little boy was willing to give up his lunch for Jesus. With the 5 loaves and 2 fish being multiplied to feed the five thousand hungry men, it must have been quite something to see!

How do you see your gifts being multiplied for Jesus?

How is The Lord directing your loaves and fishes to further His Kingdom?

Want to Give to Northwest? “The Student Sponsorship Fund“ for student scholarships financially supports our students in our Immerse (Church Based Training) program. Call me at (250) 240-3737 or fill out the form below for more informaton. For online giving to invest in our Student Scholarship Fund:  >> click here.

It’s simple and easy to be a Monthly Financial Partner. Call Dianne at Northwest to start today (604) 888-7592!

Many thanks to all our financial partners and sponsors for their consistent and generous gifts to our ministry. Your generosity and prayers enables us to accomplish our mission: “To thoroughly equip and prepare future Pastoral Ministry Leaders for all our Fellowship churches and to impact our communities for His glory”.

“A generous person will prosper. Whoever refreshes others, will be refreshed.” (Proverb 11:25 NIV.)

I would love to hear your comments or questions.

 

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Interview with Larry Nelson

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALarry Nelson has served Northwest for the past five years in the capacity of chair of the Board of Governors. Larry is stepping down from that role this year and Northwest News along with the faculty and staff would like to thank him for his service. We took this opportunity to chat with Larry about his involvement with Northwest:

How did you first get connected with Northwest? Could you describe a little of your history with us?

My familiarity with Northwest goes back to when the school was still in Port Coquitlam and my oldest brother started school there. Eventually both of my older brothers (one 12 years older and one 8 years older than I) graduated from Northwest and so when I completed high school it was natural for me to consider Northwest. At the time the school offered a one-one year program and I enrolled in that.

In later years, when I had my own accounting practice, and a couple of years before Northwest moved to the Trinity Western University Campus, my accounting firm did all the financial accounting and financial management for Northwest. I did that until the school moved here to the TWU campus and so I also did all the accounting for the construction costs for the Northwest building. Then, five years ago I was invited to come onto the Northwest board as the board chair. I have served in that capacity for the past 5 years.

Looking back over your many experiences both in the corporate world as well as in the church, how do you feel God uniquely prepared you for this role?

Over the past number of years I have served on over 10 boards and on at least six of those I have served as the board chair. So I came to the Northwest board with considerable previous board experience. Over the years I have been very interested in what comprises good board governance and good board practices and so I have read extensively and attended a number of workshops on the subject. Currently I do board governance consulting for non profit organizations. So, all of that has given me a good background in preparing to serve as chair the Northwest board.

What are you passionate about?

Well, I am passionate about Northwest. I am also passionate about good governance and I am passionate about training great pastors and leaders for the local church.

What do you believe has been your most significant contribution to Northwest and to the Board over the years you have served there?

One of the reasons I was encouraged to come on to the Northwest board was to transition the board into the policy governance model that it now uses. I had previous experience transitioning three other boards into that model and so that is what we have done with the Northwest board as well. I think that governance model has, and will continue to serve Northwest very well. As a result I think one of my most significant contributions was ensuring that Northwest was well governed and that the board clearly understood its governance role.

When Dr. Perkins retired as president of Northwest, one of the other interesting things I did was to chair the search committee for the new president.

What would you identify as being some highlights of your time on the Board?

Several things come to mind. Board retreats were always great experiences for me. It was also a privilege to honour Dr. Perkins on his retirement. I thought we did a great job of that. Then hiring our new president, Dr. Anderson, and seeing him transition into his role so well has been a significant highlight for me.

What excites you about Northwest’s future?

I think the new Immerse program really positions the school well for the future. It is leading edge. It is a creative and unique approach in training pastors. I am encouraged because I think Immerse actually follows the model of how other professions train their leaders; the medical profession, the legal profession, the accounting profession. It is all about making sure that those new professionals have great practical experience that is combined with the theoretical.

Another thing that excites me is that I think you have a great president in Dr. Anderson and I think Northwest also has an excellent board that will govern the school well going forward.

What concerns might you have that you can share with us?

The current challenge in front of all seminaries is just how to deliver what needs to be done in a manner that is effective, affordable and attractive to students. This will be an on-going challenge for Northwest. How do we ensure that our denominational needs are met in terms of well-trained, godly leaders for the future? I am concerned about our aging donor base. I am also concerned about a denominational school in an era where denominational loyalty is waning. So those would be some of my concerns.

As you ponder the role of an institution like Northwest in the preparation of leaders for the church is there anything unique or particular about Northwest’s sense of mission?

I think we are clearly focused on equipping our Fellowship Baptist churches in Western Canada with a particular emphasis on ensuring that our churches have well-prepared pastors to lead them in their ministries.

What are some of the lessons that you personally have learned about leadership development?

What I have observed is that leadership is a unique gift. Effective leadership is a combination of being born with some natural leadership attributes which are then built upon and developed in a training environment like that provided by Northwest… where people with these natural leadership abilities are equipped with leadership tools and solid theological training so that they are going to be effective in ministry. So I think that leadership can be both taught and learned as well as just having some great DNA to make one a great leader. One way leadership is developed is through students interacting with the faculty and seeing how godly leaders live their lives professionally and personally. I believe this is something that Northwest has done well.

How do you think the Board’s understanding of leadership development has been expanded?

I think the Immerse program is the key answer to that. The board has had to really wrap its head around what it takes to develop leaders and has had to be bold and creative and risk takers in terms of initiating something that is truly unique in North America. What Immerse is attempting to do has not been done before within an accredited seminary context. I think it is a bold move and has been an excellent example of great collaboration between a denominational school and the denominational leadership and the local church. This concept has really challenged the board – and expanded the board’s thinking – and I am really pleased to see what has been accomplished. This has been a new road for all of us.

What sage advice would you have for all of us at Northwest as we move forward?

I just think that the board needs to continue to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. The board; the staff; our supporters; all need to uphold the seminary in prayer. As a school Northwest needs to be constantly aware of utilizing the latest technology, the latest means to deliver its services in an effective way. I think Northwest has to constantly keep in mind that it is a servant of the denomination and so the task of the board is to keep asking how are we serving our FEB Pacific and Western Canada denominational needs most effectively. We also need to keep an eye on the future and the possibility of serving the needs of the denomination nationally.

One of the observations and accusations against seminaries in the past has been that they have very little relevance to where people are on the ground. I think the Immerse program really addresses that. I think having a good cross mix of professions and gifting on the board of governors helps keep the school in the real world. I think the fact that our faculty are active in our churches is good. I am really pleased that our current president is constantly watching and aware of what other schools are doing and keeping on top of what the needs are in seminary education. So I think looking forward we are ahead of the curve in addressing that very specific issue. Our churches want leaders who can lead. So it’s not just what the pastor might know but how he takes what he knows and effectively uses and delivers it to lead the local congregation. Northwest has been bold in trying to address that issue.

I know you are a busy man with many irons in the fire. What are some other Kingdom ventures in which you are currently involved?

I am really excited about what I do now. I’m involved in an executive search firm that focuses on placing senior leaders in faith-based organizations in Canada. This is quite unique within Canada and I take huge pleasure in moving people from success in their current careers to great significance in a faith based not for profit organization. I have never been so busy in the various careers that I have held in the past but I have also never felt that the work that I’ve done as more rewarding!

How can we pray for you?

Pray that I would be able to find and place the right leaders for these key charitable organizations. I have the privilege of being a mentor to a number of younger leaders. Pray that I would be a godly mentor, that I would be an excellent example and that I would finish well!

I am sure there were also challenges that you and the board had to wrestle with. Are there any significant ones that you could share with us? Could you describe for us how such struggles have shaped Northwest’s understanding of and commitment to its mission?

Seminaries in North America have had huge challenges. Seminary attendance nationally is down dramatically – probably 35% from what it was 6 or 7 years ago. It is also an on-going challenge to operate within the ACTS consortium and to satisfy the needs of all the partners there.

Then there is always the great challenge to discern the best methods for training pastors and church leaders – specifically developing lead pastors who will embody great leadership skills. The challenge is also how to do that effectively and affordably. Those I think are significant challenges that the board has had to continually deal with.

Webinars for Church Board Chairs

Board Matters:

Online Webinars for Church Board Chairs

Where does a church board chair find resources to develop his or her leadership abilities in fulfilling this important role? Dr. Larry Perkins is offering a series of three webinars January – March 2013 that will give you significant help in understanding your role and offering practical wisdom to facilitate your service.

The three webinars will be held on January 31, February 28, and March 28, 2013 from 6:30 – 7:30pm (PST).  Each webinar will address a key aspect of the governance world in which a church board chair serves and leads. You can register for these three seminars (they are a package) by going to www.churchboardchair.ca/webinar/, completing the registration and payment.

The focus of these webinars is on the work of the church board chair. The first considers governance within a congregational reality;  the second reviews the constituencies, work domains, and core principles and practices which church board chairs need to understand; and the third investigates the chair’s role as leader of the strategic ministry leadership team within a congregation.

Space is limited to ten participants. The cost for all three webinars is $45. This must be paid to complete registration. You might be advised as board chair to invite your lead pastor to join with you as you participate. There is no additional fee for this.

At www.churchboardchair.ca  you will find information about Dr. Perkins, many resources to help you as church board chair, and a description of the technical requirements your computer must have in order to participate, using Adobe Connect. You are also required to use a head microphone because the built-in microphones pick up too much background noise.

 

 

 

 

 

Immerse – Church-Based Leadership Training

feb_staff_buildingWatching the Olympics was a frustrating experience for my family. Half-way through the games, my son stopped watching any tv coverage because watching Canada’s Olympic team’s performance or lack thereof became too painful. While other countries had former Olympic stars come out of retirement and dominate – ours fell or did not recover properly from injury. Other countries had young rising stars exceed expectations – ours didn’t shine as brightly. Even incredible efforts like the women’s soccer team and decathlete Damian Warner left us longing for so much more. Our athletes seemed to be out-matched, out-funded and conspired against to win at a world stage.

I have these similar feelings as I think about our churches trying to win the spiritual battle within our province. I believe the theological reality that through Christ’s victory we have already won and that the power of the gospel is more than sufficient to change the world. However, from a human perspective there are times or have been times in the history of Fellowship Pacific that our spiritual and cultural adversaries seem to have the strength of the American Dream Team, or the Jamaican relay team and we are the Canadian teams who try hard, do our best but end up short.

We believe that people entering a relationship with Jesus Christ and growing in the image of Jesus are activities rewarded with streets paved with Gold. We believe that the most important victory is seeing people step from death to life and grow into the image of Christ. I believe that as we pray for the spiritual transformation of our province, we must accompany God’s work by doing our best by equipping the next generation of leaders to win through better funding, training and support.

It is with this desire, burden and hope that Fellowship Pacific Church Reproduction has partnered with Northwest Baptist Seminary to design a new program to equip our best to be the best for the sake of Christ.

What Does the Best Look Like?

Planting churches is a significant kingdom investment. In general, a plant will cost at least $250K over the first three years. This financial burden is shared by denominations, core groups and planter families. If a plant is not successful, there are the additional costs of broken dreams, failures and disappointments that can occur.

Because of these costs, those responsible for planting have studied extensively the qualities of an effective church planter. Attributes that many successful planters have in common include: visionary leadership, relating to the unchurched, communication, resilience, enterprising and a spouse who is supportive.

As I reflect on the qualities necessary for planters who can bring the spiritual transformation we long for, I realize that we need to add to the current theological models of training. Seminary has equipped pastors and planters with the skills of theological reflection, exegesis and spiritual leadership principles. But the fact is, unchurched people don’t care how well a graduate is able to exegete, write papers and grasp leadership principles that are taught well in a class room. They want friendship, they need to hear the gospel communicated in a clear compelling way and they want to be inspired. These skills can only be refined through practical experience.

Church planting and pastoral ministry is the combination of skill and knowledge. We don’t place our lives in the hands of surgeons who have only been taught in the classroom. We don’t certify electricians who have memorized the building code, but haven’t demonstrated the ability to work safely. We don’t want our sports teams to be filled with men and women who are stat freaks, know the rules, can quote history, but don’t have the skills and training to win. Neither can we place our future in the hands of pastors who have learned truths of ministry, but haven’t been required to prove competency in the skills of leadership.

In partnership with Northwest Baptist Seminary, we are boldly redefining the outcomes of successful Seminary training.

The Purpose of Immerse

I am excited that the Immerse program will allow the Fellowship Pacific to train future leaders in theology, knowledge and the skill that is necessary for effective ministry.

I have been on the ground floor in the design of this program to ensure that the outcomes that we require from graduates are exactly what we need to have podium level planters and churches. These outcomes will require our future pastors to live on mission to reach people, disciple into the image of Christ and develop leaders who will do the same.

As students are trained by a mentoring team representing the disciplines of academics, local church ministry and professional experience, they will be challenged in the crucial areas of ministry.

Church planters who graduate from Immerse will be effective church planters. This doesn’t mean that every church plant will go on to success, however, every planter who graduates will demonstrate that they have impacted people for Christ and have developed a track record of discipleship. If these things don’t happen, they don’t graduate, and the instructors and mentors haven’t done their job properly.

Even more specifically, the church planter track will guide future planters through the stages of planting including casting a vision, developing a core, creating a strategy, and discerning the community. By the time that a planter has completed the Immerse program, they will have a track record of leading people to Christ, building a core group and having a growing momentum ready to launch.

The Future

I believe that the Immerse program will strategically allow us to launch church plants in three ways.

Churches strategically multiplying – Many churches embrace a desire to plant a church but in reality realize that they do not have the resources (core group, finances and leadership) to generously give to a plant. I have talked to churches who have had plants as part of their vision for years without ever coming to a place of enacting on it. Immerse will give a healthy church an opportunity to mentor a planter who will be guided to reach people, cast vision and grow a core group. The church will still need to be generous, however, the process will be more gradual and if the planter is successful, many of the people who will join the future plant, will be people who have been reached over the four years of training.

South Delta Baptist Church has a vision of planting multiple churches. Billy Clem has come to the church to join the Immerse program and to be trained to be the next church planter that emerges from South Delta.

Training planters in their plants – Dustin Laird is the planter at Parkland. He has a good track record in ministry and was identified with qualities at the church planting assessment centre. However, by joining Immerse, we have the opportunity to press more strategically in Dustin’s life and guide him and shape him for greater effectiveness.

Planting churches with multiplication in their DNA – Chris McKenzie is joining Lindsay Anderson at the Willoughby/Clayton Heights plant that is just starting. Chris adds experience from leading a multi-cultural church in Taiwan that will benefit the plant. During the process, Chris will learn the rigours of planting, assist the plant to grow and allow this brand new plant to participate in a new church through Chris’s leadership as he moves towards graduation.

The Partnership

As we pray and plan to develop the next generation of leaders that will bring tremendous victory we will need to partner together to make it happen. As Northwest Baptist Seminary and the Fellowship Pacific Ministry Centre have worked diligently to design a program we will only be successful with your support as well.

  • We need church pastors who are willing to invest in future ministry leaders in a mentoring role.
  • We need churches that dream of multiplying and starting other churches to reach the lost with the gospel.
  • We need supporters willing to financially invest in the training of these future leaders.

I believe working together we can build upon the faithfulness and strengths our churches currently have and begin dreaming and working for more.

 

Interview with Doug Harris

Reflections of a former Northwest President

Reflecting back on your involvement with Northwest over the years, what are some highlights for you in terms of Northwest’s role in the preparation/development of leaders for the Fellowship?

Doug and Mary HarrisMy relationship with Northwest has covered a span of sixty years. It began when my new bride and I returned from our honeymoon in September of 1952 and continues to this day.

There are numerous highlights in our perception of Northwest’s leadership preparation/development process during those years.

  1. In the early years College ministry teams were sent far and wide across western Canada, providing music and preaching ministries to our churches and developmental opportunities for our students.
  2. Over the years Northwest has provided senior and associate pastors for new and existing Fellowship churches (formerly called “Regular Baptist Churches”). Western Baptist Bible College, the Calgary-based pastoral training school out of which Northwest arose, was started by Rev. Morley Hall because of the deep and desperate need to provide competent, committed Baptist pastors for the new Baptist churches springing up in Western Canada. At one stage of Northwest’s history over fifty percent of Fellowship Baptist Churches in Western Canada were pastored by Northwest grads.
  3. Northwest has made a significant impact in foreign missions and parachurch ministries over the years. It has provided mission teams, short and long term missionaries and mission leaders for Fellowship Missions and for the missionary cause as a whole.
  4. In the near past, Northwest provided a ministry of top quality chorales and quartets which, with accompanying faculty, provided first class inspiration and teaching throughout Western Canada to Fellowship and non-Fellowship churches.
  5. Participation in the Associated Canadian Theological Schools and Northwest’s move to the campus of Trinity Western University were key steps in the leadership preparation/development process. ACTS was unique in that its participating seminaries were controlled by their specific denominations. Practical theology was to become the unique mission of ACTS. The goal of the consortium was to train competent effective pastors and Christian workers within the framework of sound doctrine and academic credibility.
  6. One of Northwest’s key contributions to its leadership preparation/development process has been its ongoing care for and help to its grads after their entrance into ministry. It has been an ongoing resource where grads were welcomed to return to the “nest” and receive sympathetic and understanding care, nurture and practical instruction.

As you reflect on the challenges in the process of discerning and developing leaders are there some valuable principles you have observed/learned that are crucial for us to keep in mind today?

  1. Leadership development is the responsibility of the local church
  2. The role of the College or Seminary is to provide a venue where local churches can cooperate in providing elements in the leadership training process that cannot be adequately provided by a single local church. Local churches are responsible to train local church leaders. Churches need to delegate the more specialized aspects of leadership training by creating institutions that will enable them to do cooperatively what they cannot do individually.
  3. Ministry training institutions should exist to serve the Lord and serve local churches. It is not the other way around. They should be owned and operated by the cooperating churches. Northwest was born through two sponsoring denominations. It owes its continued existence to them. As long as its services are needed by the churches, it has a continuing role and should be generously supported. When its churches no longer require the kind of services it provides, it will be time to phase out what exists and develop a more effective leadership development process.
  4. In order to fulfil its leadership development mandate, Northwest must do far more than simply provide credible theological and practical education. It must be a center for spiritual life and development. This means that the agape principle must become the paramount priority in terms of attitudes and relationships. Students must see faculty, administrators and staff continually modeling this principle in every aspect of their relationship with God, students, each other, churches, other consortium members and other theological educators whoever and wherever they may be.

Looking ahead, what do you see? What excites you and what concerns you? What do you pray when you pray for the Fellowship?

  1. What excites me?

a. I am excited about the ministry of our new President, Kent Anderson. He links the values of the past to the challenges and complexities of the future. Building on the outstanding ministry of his predecessor, Dr. Perkins, he is positioned to lead Northwest to higher heights of ministry effectiveness and deeper depths of spiritual devotion than it or its students have ever known.

b. I am excited about the relationship I see between Northwest and its sponsoring denominations in BC and on the Prairies. It appears that church and denominational leaders are working hand-in-hand and heart-with-heart in leading our churches in fulfilling their respective roles in the fulfilling of our Lord’s Great Commission.

c. I am excited about calibre of students I see in our Seminary and coming from it. The bar of pastoral competency is set much higher today than ever before. Students that I meet seem to manifest potential for extremely significant ministry in the days ahead.

  1. What concerns me?

a. I am concerned that everyone who has anything to do with Northwest will remain true to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It really does matter what we believe. The Convention of Regular Baptists of BC (now our Pacific Fellowship) was formed in 1927 over the issue of truth. It put together a sound and credible doctrinal statement that deals with important issues of faith and practice. Our doctrinal statement is the foundation upon which the ministry of our churches and seminary is built. Any variance or compromise on those key doctrines which have marked us and supported us in years gone by will eventually set in motion a process of deterioration and decay that will mean that neither our seminary nor our churches will be in the future what we have been in the past or are today.

b. I am concerned the Northwest will experience and be known for its true and genuine godliness and spirituality. According to 1 Corinthians 13 the agape principle is the paramount priority of the Christian life. If we maintain cognitive doctrinal orthodoxy and fail in the understanding and manifestation of the agape principle, we will sell our birthright for a mess of pottage.

c. I am concerned that the motto “by prayer” will not simply be another cute Christian cliché, but will be a powerful reality in the lives of faculty, administrators, staff, students, Board members and denominational leaders. May God help us all to actually practice what we profess when we identify with the Apostle Paul when he admonished us to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication”. If this ceases to be a reality, our power will evaporate and our ministry and institution will disintegrate.

  1. How do I pray when I think of Northwest?

a. I praise Him for the things that excite me.

b. I pray over the things that concern me.

Finally, how can we pray for you and Mary?

Please pray that we will fight a good fight, finish well and keep the faith.

 

Sowing Seeds for His Kingdom

In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul encourages giving and generosity:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.2 Corinthians 9:6

Gardening is part of my heritage. My grandfather built a successful greenhouse business growing tomatoes and cucumbers. My Dad was an avid gardener as well. He turned our backyard into an oasis of tomatoes, beans, and yes, zucchinis too! My Dad understood the concept of sowing and reaping. Food was plentiful and there was lots of it!

A few summers ago, my family started a small garden and we had great results. This year, however, was a different story. Our May felt like January so we chose to take a break from planting one. Now, we settle for tomatoes from Costco or our local markets.

Here are some facts:

1.) Without a generous sowing you will never experience a generous harvest.

2.) A successful farmer does not reap the exact amount that he sows. His harvest generally produces proportionately more.

So it is with Christian giving. When we give generously we receive far more in return in proportion to the amount of the gift we have given.

As everything belongs to God ultimately, when we give our time, talents, and money, God promises to “increase the fruit of your righteousness” (verse 10).

Currently, we are sowing the seeds of our new “Immerse” Church Based Training Program in order to bring new ministry leaders for kingdom work. This innovative program will develop Christ centered ministry leaders for our Fellowship Churches in BC, Alberta and the Yukon. We are sowing generously so that we may also reap generously.

Your gifts to Northwest are indeed sowing the seeds for an eternal impact. Thank you for choosing to make a Kingdom difference with your financial gifts to this ministry.

You can contact Ron via this form:
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Share in the Work

Share in the Work of ‘Church-Based’ Ministry Leadership Development

Northwest has a big vision for the future of its ministry. While we are not a large seminary, we have a large sense of what God can do through us as we pioneer innovative ways of pursuing ministry leadership development in partnership with our churches. We are all about developing Christ-centred ministry leaders in the church, for the church, and in partnership with the church.

In our vision, Northwest is preparing significant numbers of students who are committed to their Bible and who know their theology, having forged these commitments in the context of real-time, ground-level ministry in the church under the close scrutiny of seasoned and caring pastoral and academic mentors. We see Northwest, in the fore-front of a new wave of integrated learning structures that ensure we have leaders who not only know their stuff, but who can live it out in relationship with actual people.

To see this vision through, we rely upon our friends. We appreciate that not everyone can join our faculty or staff. We also understand that the passion for this ministry does not exist only among our employees. Many of you are looking for ways by which you can participate meaningfully in this work of Church Based Ministry Leadership Development.

Compelling Reasons to Participate

There are several reasons a person might feel compelled to get involved…

If you are an Alumnus and God has used Northwest to shape you personally, you will want to give back so that Northwest can continue to work to shape the next generation of leaders like yourself.

If you love the Fellowship and you are committed to the work of this particular group of churches, you will want to join us as we own the responsibility for the next generation of leaders for our movement.
Perhaps you are an innovator, and you value creativity. You, then, might want to seed the next great direction in ministry leadership development – our Church-Based Training Program.

It may be that you simply love the gospel and you want to see it preached. If so, you will want to support those whom God is calling to give their lives to this great work.

Opportunities for Involvement

In the desire to develop new teams of people who are willing to get behind this compelling vision, we have identified a number of levels at which you could participate.

If you have received this newsletter, you are a part of The Northwest Network. Members of the Network are alumni and others who have reason to be interested in the work that we are doing.

Many of you have gone beyond simple interest, to participate in some significant way. We call this group The Friends of Northwest. These “Friends” are anyone who has recently given to Northwest, volunteered for Northwest, or demonstrated potential as one who might show commitment to the ministry of the Seminary. We look forward to welcoming our “Friends” to a series of free “Friends of Northwest Barbeques” to be held later in this year.

Some of our “Friends” will want to become Student Sponsorship Partners. These Partners are donors who commit to give on a monthly or annual basis due to their interest in supporting a particular student. For example, if we can find ten people who would give $50 per month, we could completely cover the academic costs of one student in the Church-Based Training program.

We trust that some of you will want to take this to another level, becoming members of The President’s Circle. This Circle is a group of patrons who have given significantly to the ministry of Northwest, demonstrated either through a recent large gift, or a committed pattern of giving, or who have shown significant commitment to the ministry of Northwest as a volunteer, advocate, or student mentor. Members of the President’s Circle will receive a complementary invitation to an annual President’s Circle dinner, and will receive regular e-mail communications from the President, through which they will receive current news items, significant invitations to prayer, and the opportunity to advise the President on questions of significance.

In addition, we will be developing a group of Northwest Advocates, who will serve as volunteer “cheerleaders” for the ministry of the Seminary. Made up largely of alumni, board members, and enthusiastic donors, Advocates will work to support the Development Team within their church and geographic region, identifying and encouraging potential supporters for our ministry.

Finally, some of our Friends will want to become Legacy Partners. These partners are distinguished patrons who have shown an exemplary level of commitment as a Friend of Northwest and/or a member of the President’s Circle, either through making Northwest a part of their estate, by giving a significant financial gift toward some special purpose, or by giving extraordinary service to the work of Northwest over a significant period of time.

Gaining Benefit from your Involvement

People that get involved in this ministry find it extremely beneficial on a personal level. One donor and former board member recently told us that, “being involved with Northwest was one of the most meaningful experiences of his life.” When you consider that this comment came from a former high-ranking business executive in a major Canadian corporation, you can appreciate the significance of what he had to say.

Of course, the primary benefit of participation has more to do with the ministry impact on our students and upon those that they will serve. There are, for example, a number of ways that a financial gift can be of help.

$400    – provides financial aid for one course for a student.
$1,000 – provides the development cost for one church-based training course.
$1,250 – provides financial aid for one full-time student for a full semester.
$2,500 – provides for a faculty member to teach in an international mission site.

These are just some of the possible incentives. Donors with a specific interest should speak to Director of Development, Ron Sing, or to our President, Kent Anderson, about other such possibilities – for example funding the Information Technology needs of the Seminary for a year, or paying the costs involved in holding a faculty-taught seminar within a local church.

Significant Work Requires Significant Involvement

This is significant work – of such consequence that some of us have given our lives to it. Please let us know of any interest that you have.

Romans 10:13-15 reminds us that the gospel can’t be heard if there is no one there to preach it, and there will be no one there if no one has been sent. We consider training to be the critical part in sending. We would encourage you to join us as we seek to raise up significant numbers of highly qualified, ministry and pastoral leaders, for the good of our churches, for the good of God’s Kingdom, and for the good of God’s glory.

Thank you for supporting Northwest and our ministry. To make a donation please call our office directly at 604-888-7592 or Toll Free 1-888-402-3477.

Please send your cheques to

Northwest Baptist Seminary
7600 Glover Road
Langley,  BC, V2Y 1Y1,

Please make your cheque  payable to Northwest Baptist Seminary.

For  online giving please visit our “How to Donate to Northwest” page on this website.

Bequests and Other Gifts

An Investment in Christ-Centred Leadership Development

Spring is almost here! My family can’t wait for sunny days and the promise of hot summer temperatures ahead!  For us, it also means spring cleaning around the house and garden. It is also a great time to do some “financial spring cleaning”. This is an ideal opportunity to review all your investments, update your will and ensure your estate plans are current to reflect your wishes.
A Biblical Perspective
In 1 Chronicles 29, King David leaves his wealth to a trustee to ensure the temple could be built after his death. This is a clear example of “planned giving or deferred giving”.  David bequeaths his entire wealth so that his son Solomon, could build the temple. To guarantee David’s plans and to carry out his wishes, he gave his gifts to Jehiel the Gershonite ( 1 Chronicles 29:8 ). Jehiel became the trustee of the gifts to complete the construction of the temple.
Estate Planning
Estate planning and the preparation of a legal will and/or a charitable bequest, is an opportunity to honour God with our gifts. This enables us to give back a portion of the financial growth He has showered us with during our lifetimes.
Types of Bequests
Cash Bequest:  Northwest receives a specific dollar amount from your estate.
Bequest of Property: Northwest receives specific assets (real estate, securities, or other tangible property – art or antiques etc)
Retirement Plan Bequests:  Northwest is designated as a beneficiary of the remainder of your RRSP/RRIF. This is simple to set up. First talk to your plan administrator and complete a “change of beneficiary “ form.
Tax Planning
Many people pay more tax in the year of death than in any other year during their lifetime. Complete estate planning should always include tax planning. Charitable giving upon death is an excellent way to reduce your tax liability.
In addition to your annual gift to Northwest Baptist Seminary, have you considered leaving a gift to Northwest in your will?
Thank you for your involvement in this ministry. It is through the your generous support and your financial gifts that allow us to pursue our ministry in Christ-Centered Leadership Development.
If you would like to discuss how to become a Legacy partner with Northwest please contact Ron Sing, Director of Development.  Direct: 250-821-3777 or toll free : 1-888-402-3477.

Visit Northwest’s web-page on “How to Donate to Northwest”.

This article is for general information only and does not replace consulting with your professional financial and/or legal advisors about your own situation.  

“Aspects of Islam”

Aspects of Islam by Ron Geaves. London: Darton, Longman and Todd. 2005

Sectarian divisions for any religion tend to occur down the fault lines of the strongest convictions.  Ron Geaves sheds light on fundamental faith issues within Islam by exploring significant religious disagreements that exist between committed Muslims. This is a scholarly work that carefully avoids ideological judgment of Islam and instead compares and contrasts the internal struggles of those topics crucial to the world of Islam.  He portrays Islam as a faith that strives to establish faithfulness, consensus and stability amidst the diversity and challenge of forces both external and internal to the religion.

Geaves begins by providing an enlightening critique of both the rhetoric against Islam as well as those “rosy” affirmative pictures commonly found in the western media and moves on to describe with notable sensitivity the current diversity of faith and practice within the world’s second largest religion.  The fundamental tenet in Islam of the uniqueness and unity of God is explored to reveal two distinct interpretations.  While reforming sects, such as the Wahhabis, emphasize the transcendence of God, other elements, e.g. the more mystical Sufi movement, find its fulfillment in an immanent concept of “oneness” through which the follower becomes one with God.

The author next examines the tensions between the law of God in Islam, Shari’a, and cultural or contextual legal systems.  The following chapter considers the concept of brotherhood, Umma, which provides a monolithic image to the outsider while harboring deep divisions. These divisions are explored in greater detail through the contrasting Sunni view of “manifest success” revealing God’s favor versus the Shi’a doctrine of a remnant remaining faithful in suffering.  The figure of the prophet of Islam is looked at through the eyes of those Muslims who see him as the greatest prophet, albeit human, and those who have attributed almost divine characteristics to him. A holistic view of Jihad is then presented that includes both a personal, internal struggle and a political, external effort that are part of the universal war between God and Satan. It is the military expression of the latter, such as the revolution in Iran, as well as the imposition of Shari’a law to defend Islam against the infiltration of western values that gains the attention of outsiders. He concludes with an examination of the attempt of Muslim women to achieve liberation through the application of Islamic teaching rather than western feminism.

For each of these areas of tension within Islam, Geaves examines the historical roots for the dichotomy of thought and delves into the underlying faith assumptions that perpetuate the diverse practices and thinking current in the world of Islam. Although the author’s secular bias is revealed at times, such as the attempt to “get at the real Muhammad,” p. 144, and in assuming cultural sources for faith positions (e.g., the speculation that the Christian veneration of Christ may have influenced pious Muslims in attributing divine attributes to Muhammad, p. 163), he is exceptionally sensitive to the danger of allowing his assumptions shape the views he wishes to portray and the theological descriptions provided would most likely satisfy their proponents.

Although not an easy read for those unfamiliar with Islam, there are three features that keep the themes clear for the reader and enhance its value as a reference text on Islam:  Each chapter begins with a clear synopsis of the content, each chapter ends with a conclusion that summarizes the points made, and a glossary with helpful definitions of Islamic religious terms is provided.  This well researched and erudite book is highly recommended for those who wish to understand the tensions and struggles within Islam that often find their expression through conflict with western systems and ideals.

CBTL-Header

Inauguration of the Northwest Centre for Biblical and Theological Literacy

Douglas Moo, Ph. D.

Northwest is excited to announce the inauguration of the new Centre for Biblical and Theological Literacy.

The Centre endeavours to enable people to understand and apply scriptural truth (i.e. wisdom) for salvation and shalom individually and collectively in Canadian society. It is an agency of Northwest Baptist Seminary, striving to “give Scripture its voice” within the church, but also within Canadian society. Dr. Larry Perkins, professor of biblical studies and past president of Northwest Baptist Seminary, directs the Centre.

The inauguration was a two-day event held here on the TWU campus and featured Dr. Douglas Moo as the guest speaker. Dr. Moo is the Blanchard Professor of New Testament, Wheaton Graduate School.  He is also the Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV 2011.

Go to the CBTL website for more information and view the videos of the event.

Thursday, November 3

  • 10:00 to 10:45 am – ACTS Chapel Address
  • 12:30 to 1:45 am – ACTS Faculty Reception: (RSVP required)
  • 2:00 to 4:00 pm – Symposium
    Paul’s Universalizing Hermeneutic in Romans : Dr. Douglas Moo
    Respondents:  Dr. Brian Rapske and Dr. Archie Spencer
  • 7:00 to 8:30 pm  –  Public Presentation
    The Bible in English: Translating for the World: Dr. Douglas Moo

Friday, November 4

  • 1:00 to 3:00 pm  –  Symposium
    What I have learned as a Bible Translator : Dr. Douglas Moo
    Respondents: Dr. Mike Walrod and Dr. Larry Perkins

{filelink=5} the event poster.  You can also:

Download a CBTL image file that you can insert into a presentation or bulletin insert (once the file opens in your browser save it to your computer)

Download a CBTL PowerPoint File

 

Why People Don’t Believe

Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith, Baker books, 2011

By Paul Chamberlain, Director of ACTS Seminaries’ Institute of Christian Apologetics (and guest author on this site. Ed.).

Headliner: Those who desire the eradication of Christianity should think carefully about what they wish for.  The beneficial impact of Christianity upon the world is nothing short of breath taking.

Is religion dangerous?  Should it, along with Christianity, be eradicated in order to ensure the very survival of the human race?  A number of influential thinkers today believe so and this is the challenge Dr. Paul Chamberlain, director of the Institute of Christian Apologetics at ACTS seminaries, addresses in his newly released book, Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith, (Baker Books, 2011).

Everyone has heard of the 9/11 attacks, suicide bombings around the world done in the name of religion, and acts of violence done against abortion clinics or providers.  Certain critics of religion, commonly dubbed The New Atheists, have been disturbed by these events and have capitalized on them to develop a passionate case against religion complete with arguments and supporting data.  Their contention is that religion, in its very nature, is the problem.  It allegedly breeds violence, is irrational and anti-scientific, it teaches a dreadful morality, and encourages intolerance.  To make matters worse, thanks to advances in technology in the past fifty years, especially in the art of war, our religious “neighbours” are now armed with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.  As far as American atheist Sam Harris, a key proponent of this line of reasoning is concerned, anyone who is not afraid of the potential harm this represents, simply has not given the matter due attention.  Words like “God” and “Allah” must go the way of “Apollo” and “Baal” lest they destroy us all.

This case has been carried to a very concerned public throughout western culture by means of best-selling books and a host of other media, and it has molded people’s thinking about religion and faith.  Books by British evolutionist Richard Dawkins, Harris, journalist Christopher Hitchens, philosopher Daniel Dennett, and others have sold widely and, due to their authors’ personal standings from past works, many have come to see religion not as the solution to humanity’s problems but as the problem itself.

Many Christians are simply shocked and bewildered when they hear these allegations laid out in sufficient detail, and plenty have had their confidence shaken by what they hear.   Chamberlain became convinced this will be the mother of all apologetic issues for the next decade and, thus, thus felt compelled to research deeply into the issue, target the key questions and challenges, and respond.

This book does three things.  First, it sets out the challenges raised against religious faith, particularly Christianity, in an honest and compelling fashion .  Secondly, it provides responses to each of the main challenges issued by the new critics of religion, and thirdly, it goes the next exciting step and examines the many good and humane contributions Christianity has made to the world throughout the past 2,000 years.  Chamberlain’s contention is that not only is Christianity, properly understood, free of the main allegations leveled against religion by its twenty-first century critics, but it is the source of great good in the world.  In fact, the impact of Christianity for good upon human civilization is nothing short of breath-taking and unless readers have previously inquired into this question, he predicts they will be surprised and deeply encouraged by what they read.  Many of the good things in our world that we, in the west, simply take for granted and could hardly imagine the world without, exist as a direct result of Christian dedication and sacrifice.  He has come to see this as an integral part of replying to the charge that Christianity is a dangerous force for evil and we would be better off without it.

In the end, Chamberlain draws seven conclusions:

1) Both religious and irreligious people commit many acts of violence.

2) When they occur the vast majority of religious people around the world are outraged by them whether they are committed in the name of religion or not.

3) These acts are often driven by deep political and cultural motivations which would remain whether or not religion played a part.

4) Religion is sometimes turned into a tool to help recruit soldiers to fight these political and cultural battles.

5) While this is a horrific abuse of religion, virtually any ideal, including secular ones such as liberty, equality, nationalism and patriotism can and have been abused.

6) Humans will always divide into communities resulting in divisions and binary oppositions which lie at the heart of human conflict.  Some of these divisions are religious in nature (e.g., Protestant vs. Catholic, Shiite vs. Sunni) but most are not (e.g., Tutsi vs. Hutu, Conservative vs. Liberal) and would remain even if religion were eradicated.

7) Christianity, understood as following the teachings of Jesus, is not only free of the main allegations leveled against religion by its twenty-first century critics, but it is the source of great good in the world.  If we demand it be eradicated, we may not know what we are asking for.

This book is intended to operate as a public response to the challenges to religious faith mentioned above and also as a guide for concerned Christians seeking to interact with their friends and neighbors who harbor deep suspicions toward their faith.  Our hope is that not only will those who make the case against religion be given the chance to rethink their position, but also that Christians who read these pages will see how they could engage others around them who launch these charges against their faith.

Does Love Win or God Win? – A Review of “Love Wins”

Rob Bell. Love Wins. A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. New York: HarperOne, 2011. 202 pages.

Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, raises and seeks to answer some tough questions about God’s intention and desire for all of his human creatures and earthly creation. As his title discloses, Bell proposes that because God desires all human beings to be saved, that this desire must in some way be realized. If it does not happen within history, then in some way it must happen beyond history, otherwise God is not the all-powerful, sovereign being that orthodox theology claims. The result is that theoretically all human beings eventually will participate in God’s restored earth.

On pages 102-111 he describes four perspectives that Christians have held through history about the destiny of unbelievers. Some believe we have one life in which to choose Jesus and if we do not, we spend eternity in hell. Or as Bell says, "God in the end doesn’t get what God wants" (103). But in Bell’s view God "doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever" (101). He speculates about a second perspective in which people who choose evil eventually extinguish the image of God within themselves and "given enough time, some people could eventually move into a new state, one in which they were in essence ‘formerly human’ or ‘posthuman’ or even ‘ex-human’" (105-106). Bell does not give this perspective much attention. And then he mentions a third position that holds there are two destinations, but "insist(s) that there must be some kind of ‘second chance’ for those who don’t believe in Jesus in this lifetime" (106). And lastly, he mentions a view in which "there will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God. As long as it takes, in other words" (106-107). If there is enough time, surely everyone will "turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence" (107).1

Bell then cites biblical texts (e.g. Matthew 19; Acts 3; Colossians 1) which talk about God "renewing all things" or "restoring everything" or "reconciling all things." He follows this with reference to past theologians such as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius who affirmed the idea that "love wins." And then he reminds us that Jerome, Basil and Augustine noted that most or many people "believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God" (108). He concludes by asserting that "at the center (sic.) of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God" (109). He insists that "serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions in a number of different ways" (109). And also he asserts that "some [Gospel] stories are better than others" (110), particularly the one which is "everybody enjoys God’s good world" (111). Finally then he says that "whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it….To shun, censor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hundreds of years now" (111).2

It seems then, from the title of his book and from the perspective he develops, Bell desires to be accepted as "orthodox," even though he believes and proclaims the story that says everybody will end up enjoying God’s good world. His brief comments on the last two chapters of Revelation (112-114) underscore his perspective when he asks "How could someone choose another way with a universe of love and joy and peace right in front of them – all of it theirs if they would simply leave behind the old ways and receive the new life of the new city in the new world?" He affirms that people do make that choice. But then he observes that the gates of the city in the new world are "never shut" and interprets this to mean that "if the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go" (115). "Keeping the gates open" for him seems to be a metaphor for God’s openness to reconciliation. Bell wants to keep the options open, i.e. "leave plenty of room for all kinds of those possibilities" (116). We cannot be dogmatic on these issues according to Bell because "no one has been to and then returned with hard, empirical evidence" (116), although here he may be overlooking the unique situation of Jesus, the only one who has seen the Father, as John says, and can "declare him" (John 1:18) and the only one who has experienced resurrection from the dead.

Similarly with respect to the spiritual destiny of those involved in other religions Bell interprets John 14:6 as Jesus’ declaration that "he, and he alone, is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open, creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe" (155). Apart from his lack of clarity as to what this means and how this spiritual inclusivity works, Bell wants to interpret Jesus and his teaching in some rather unusual ways. While affirming baptism and communion (or eucharist), he says that these rituals are true for us, because they are true for everybody. They unite us, because they unite everybody. These are signs, glimpses, and tastes of what is true for all people in all places at all times – we simply name the mystery present in all the world, the gospel already announced to every creature under heaven (157).

Again, I find Bell’s communication here rather opaque. How are these things true for "all people in all places at all times" if there is no conscious understanding of, acceptance of and participation in the very truth they represent? In what ways has the Gospel been announced to every creature under heaven such that they are now participating in the things expressed by baptism and communion? Sure "people come to Jesus in all sorts of ways" (158), but do they do this without knowing him personally, or without knowing his name (159)?

Bell’s last major chapter is entitled "The Good News is Better Than That." Building his ideas from the Parable of the Two Sons in Luke 15, he excoriates a "goat gospel" which describes God as "a cruel mean, vicious tormentor" (174), comparing him to an abusive parent. According to Bell this Gospel means that the God who consigns sinners to hell becomes "somebody totally different the moment you die" (174). Rather Bell argues for a Gospel that tells us that God in his very essence is love. "God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone" (177). It is our refusal of God’s love "which creates what we call hell" (177). He argues that "Jesus invites us into that relationship, the one at the center (sic) of the universe" (178), which is not the same, according to Bell, as "getting into heaven." So according to Bell "Life has never been about just ‘getting in.’ It’s about thriving in God’s good world" (179). For Bell God’s "forgiveness is unilateral. God isn’t waiting for us to get it together, to clean up, shape up, get up – God has already done it" (189). This is true, but the Gospel also talks about our need for repentance and the appropriation of God’s gift of forgiveness. God has done what only God can do; but as Jesus says, we do need to "repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15). Is it true as Bell says that "everyone is already at the party,.." (190)? Is this what Jesus meant in Luke 15?

In my opinion, Bell’s exegesis of key biblical texts fails to convince, his interpretation of terms (e.g. the word "age") incomplete, and his use of biblical data to support his viewpoint very selective.

First, let’s consider some texts that he interprets in support of his thesis that "love wins." Bell builds several of his chapters around the interpretation of stories about Jesus’ interactions with people or parables that he relates. In his second chapter "Here is the New There" Bell focuses upon the question of the rich man in Matthew 19:16 "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (26). Bell notes that Jesus, only in Matthew’s account, responds by saying "if you want to enter life,3 keep the commandments." He notes that in this interchange important words such as "eternal life," "treasure," "heaven" were used, but they "weren’t used in the ways that many Christians use them" (29). We might say, of course not! Jesus was talking to a Jewish person somewhere in Galilee in the early first century before his death and resurrection. We have to understand these words first in that setting before we discern how the Gospel writer, composing his account of Jesus’ ministry, understood them from within a post-resurrection, Christian framework, while remaining true to the essence of Jesus’ message. This approach does not mean that the Christian framework distorts Jesus’ teaching, but it does mean that we have to negotiate carefully the meaning of Jesus’ language in its pre- and post-resurrection setting. Further, Bell ignores that Jesus’ response to the rich man ultimately is "follow me" (19:21; Mark 10:21; Lk. 18:22). The man’s "treasure in heaven" would be not due only to his obedience to the Ten Commandments, but rather primarily to his acceptance of Jesus as authoritative teacher and his willingness to obey him. The specific things Jesus asks him to do are not the most important point, but rather it is Jesus’ insistence that he recognize who he is and follow him. Jesus has not, as Bell proposes, blown "a perfectly good ‘evangelistic’ opportunity" (29). Jesus in fact is expressing the good news if the rich man will hear it. Following Jesus, the only "Good One", i.e. God himself, is the key to "entering life," the kind of life that lasts eternally.

Another text that Bell refers to several times is the story about the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. He affirms that Jesus taught the concept of hell, agreeing that human evil has to be defined in violent, over-the-top, hyperbolic language (73). He talks about "the surreal nature of the stories [Jesus] tells" (74). Now Bell urges his readers to understand the meaning of this story in terms of "whatever the meaning was for Jesus’ first listeners" (75). In the immediate context Jesus has criticized the Pharisees for justifying themselves before people, but ignoring the reality that God is one who "knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight" (Luke 16:15). According to Bell Jesus was warning the religious leaders about the serious consequences "for ignoring the Lazaruses outside their gates. To reject those Lazaruses was to reject God" (76). Bell concludes that this is a "brilliant, surreal, poignant, subversive loaded story" (76). True, but what does it mean? After several pages of comments Bell concludes that Jesus is affirming "there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next" (79). "There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously" (79).

Undoubtedly, Jesus emphasized the reality of human accountability and divine judgment, particularly in reference to the rejection of him and his mission. There would be a resurrection of one who would return to tell the tale, namely Jesus himself, but even so not all would respond in belief and submission. So behaviour in this life has consequences beyond the grave – this surely is a significant part of Jesus’ message to the religious leaders through this story. Did the rich man regard his human life as ‘hell’? We have no evidence in the story that this was the case. If any character in the story experienced human existence in this way, it was Lazarus, even though he had faith in God. These dimensions of the story are not reflected in Bell’s analysis, but they do contribute to our understanding of the relationship between human behaviour in this age and the nature of our existence in the life to come. The use of the expression "great chasm" (16:26) describes the inability of people in the age to come to move from one destination to another, i.e. from the place of agony and torture in Hades to "the side of Abraham" (16:22). In this story Jesus holds out no hope of changed destiny in the age to come. This perspective clashes with Bell’s more restricted reading that Jesus "talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love" (82). While such people may have considered themselves chosen, in fact their refusal to accept God’s covenant-reforming action represented in Jesus demonstrates that their father is the devil (John 8:44). Strong language but it indicates that even Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ view had no privileged status with God outside of a relationship with Jesus, even if they claimed to have Abraham as their father. In this regard Bell’s claim that "people believing the right or wrong things isn’t his [Jesus’] point" (82) is insufficient to describe Jesus’ concern. The only way such people could be transformed into "generous, loving people through whom God could show the world what God’s love looks like in flesh and blood" (83) is by responding to Jesus himself, not just carrying on in their normal religious practices.

Bell uses Jesus’ words about Sodom and Gomorrah to argue that "there is still hope" for these cities that experienced such devastating divine judgment. Jesus said that "it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you" (84). But is Jesus offering hope for those who died in the judgment described in Genesis 19? Is this what Ezekiel prophesied in Ezekiel 16 when he talked about the restoration of these cities?4 So here again we encounter the broader issues of hermeneutics. In Matthew 10 Jesus condemns the residents of Capernaum for refusing to acknowledge his Messianic status and mission. By rejecting him they are doing something more sinister than the sinful actions of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus used the classic device of irony to indicate that if they thought God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah was justified, as horrific as it was, this is nothing compared to God’s response to their rejection of his Messiah Jesus. Sodom and Gomorrah will experience God’s final judgment, but the people of Capernaum who reject the Messiah will experience it even more severely.

On page 87 Bell lists an impressive number of OT texts that speak of God’s promise to restore Israel. He interprets these to demonstrate that God’s goal is not judgment, but correction and reconciliation. What God does for Israel, he will do for all. Again, however, has Bell got it right? Such promises of restoration may be fulfilled in terms of the opportunity offered to Israel in the Messiah, both in his first and second comings. Paul seems to relate these kinds of promises to God’s actions as a result of the Messiah (Romans 11:25-32) and anticipates opportunity for Israel to respond and be forgiven at some future point before God concludes "this age." We have no warrant from these texts to consider these events happening in the "age to come."

Bell attempts to use Paul’s action of handing a person over to Satan for the purpose of spiritual recovery as another piece of evidence that in the end "love wins." How confident is Paul that when he orders churches to turn "over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature" (90, quoting 1 Corinthians 5:5, with reference to 1 Timothy 1:20) that good will result from this? In other words "Paul is convinced, that wrongdoers will become right doers" (91). We do have one case where that result occurs (at least this is how many commentators understand Paul’s reference in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8). However, although Paul may have this intent in mind for all such cases, he cannot predict that in fact this will always be the outcome. If the Alexander of 1 Timothy 1:20 is the same Alexander mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:14, Paul indicates that God will hold him accountable for his opposition to the Gospel. Again the texts do not seem to bear the weight of Bell’s desired exegetical outcome.

In his seventh chapter entitled "The Good News is Better Than That" Bell derives some principles from his interpretation of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:12-32, one of the longest and most developed stories Jesus tells. Bell’s goal in this chapter is to establish a viable story of the Gospel. The point of this story, according to Bell, is that "people get what they don’t deserve" (168). Within this one story he identifies three different stories, one told by each brother and one by the father. The difference between the story the father tells and those recounted by the brothers is "the difference between heaven and hell" (169). Somehow "in this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other" (170). He claims that the older brother is "at the party" but refusing to participate. Because the older son refuses "to trust God’s retelling" of his story, he is experiencing hell (170). Bell concludes that the key message of the father figure in the story is that "we are all going to be fine. Of all of the conceptions of the divine, of all of the language Jesus could put on the lips of the God character in this story he tells, that’s what he has the father say" (172). However, as Bell himself says, the older brother refuses to accept the story his father is telling. We have no sense in the story that he changes his mind and as a result he does not participate in the party, even though it is happening within his father’s house.

How should we respond to such an interpretation of this parable? The insight that three different stories are being recounted in this parable is helpful. The father does function as the God character. But whom do the sons represent? The context of Luke 14-15 involves Jesus’ interactions with Jewish religious leaders, as he responds to their questions and criticisms. In particular Jesus has addressed the question of who will in fact "eat bread in the kingdom" and thus experience "the resurrection of the just." The religious leaders are critical of Jesus’ acceptance of tax-collectors and sinners into his Messianic movement (15:2-3). He tells the parable of the Great Banquet (14:15-24), concluding that "not one of those men invited will taste my banquet" (14:24). He makes it very personal. The nature of discipleship and its personal costs becomes the focus in 14:25-33, with concluding comments about the worthlessness of salt that no longer possesses the properties of salt (14:34-35). "It is thrown away!"

Then in Luke 15 the Pharisees articulate their complaint: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" (15:2). Three parables follow, each focusing upon the fierce determination to find a lost coin, sheep and son and the great rejoicing that happens when the lost is found. So these three parables are a critique of the Pharisees’ evaluation of Jesus’ interaction with sinners and tax-collectors. In the parable of the two sons, Jesus compares the Pharisees and their attitude with that of the older son. They in fact become critics of God in criticizing Jesus, whose invitation is the expression of God’s love for lost people. Their refusal to accept Jesus and his mission means that they snub God and will not participate in the great Messianic banquet, despite their sense of self-assured chosen-ness. I do not think Bell builds his exegesis from Luke’s explicit gospel context.

Bell then moves into a more speculative question. He invites his readers to consider whether a Gospel that portrays God as on the one hand loving and inviting and on the other judging and tormenting is the true Gospel. He puts it this way: "Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?" (174). He claims that this kind of Gospel means that "many people, especially Christians…don’t love God" (174). Rather for Bell the Gospel story is that "God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone" (177). It is our refusal of God’s love that "moves us away from it…and that will, by very definition, be an increasingly unloving, hellish reality" (177). Bell seems to be arguing that people create their own hell because of what they believe. The essence of the Gospel is God’s invitation into a relationship, not entrance into heaven. No one needs to be rescued from God because He is the rescuer (182).

While this speculation may be helpful, does it in fact relate to or derive from the story of the father and the two sons that Jesus has told? We noted that the primary issue Jesus addressed was the criticism by the Pharisees of his social interaction with sinners and tax-collectors, actions they deemed inconsistent with someone claiming to be Messiah. In the character of the father Jesus affirms God’s merciful inclusion of sinners and tax-collectors in his new kingdom action, if they repent and seek God by accepting Jesus’ claims. The oldest son, who represents the Jewish religious leaders, also receives the same invitation based upon the same terms. However, if they refuse the father’s invitation, it is unclear what their future situation will be, because Jesus did not address that in this parable, despite Bell’s speculation.

What generally did Jesus teach about those who refuse to accept God’s will in Jesus? The earlier story in Luke 14 about the person who hosts a banquet focuses upon the theme of invitation and rejection. Jesus stated clearly that "none of those men invited shall taste my banquet" (14:26). So we have an idea about the destiny of the older son, if he persists in rejecting the overtures of his father – he will have no place in the banquet. Now whether we hold the father responsible for this or the older son is perhaps a moot point. The father has set the rules for participating in the party and the older son has refused to accept them. God is rescuer, but he will not change the rules under which rescue is available. The older son could be rescued, but he refuses the invitation.

Secondly, Bell’s analysis of the meaning of specific terms leaves several questions unanswered. Bell argues that this term zōē aiōnios (translated as "eternal life" in the NIV) does not mean "eternal" in the sense of forever, but rather "life in the age to come" in contrast to the current age of space-time history. In Matthew 19 Jesus did not define what life in the age to come would be like or exactly where it would be. Bell argues that the normal Jewish perception of life in the age to come is a continuation of life as it is on the earth, but experienced under God’s righteous rule. This may be, but we read in some Second Temple Jewish documents other visions of what life in the age to come would entail. Some consider the messianic age to be an interim phase between this age and the age to come. Others portray the messianic age to be identified with the age to come. Although the means by which "this age" is destroyed and the transformation of the earth for the "age to come" occurs is not always discussed, a common expectation in Judaism was that it would be annihilation by fire.5 In other words there were various eschatological beliefs in Judaism during Jesus’ day. We cannot tell just from the phrase zōē aiōnios exactly what ideas the rich man held about this future period. Jesus goes on to add some clarification in the passage and elsewhere. We should not assume that Jesus merely adopted Jewish terminology or beliefs without modifying them.  Jesus, for example, does not affirm explicitly where this future life will occur. Bell says that Jewish people in the first century "did not talk about a future life somewhere else, because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth" (40).

Bell insists that the rich man in Matthew 16 or Mark 10 "isn’t asking about how to go to heaven when he dies. This wasn’t a concern for the man or Jesus" (30).  Rather, he wants to be involved in God’s new day, the age to come. Now Bell is correct that the term "heaven" is not used for instance in Mark 10:19. However, as you read through Jesus’ comments and interactions with his disciples following his encounter with the rich man and his failure to respond positively, the disciples seem to understand the man’s concern in precisely those terms. They ask Jesus "who then can be saved" (Mark 10:25) if the rich can’t? Jesus assures them that in the "renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne….everyone who has left houses…for my sake…will inherit eternal life6" (vs.28-30). Note that Jesus used the same phrase as the rich man and refers by this to a future time when the Son of Man is victorious, and seems to understand this as "salvation." While this may not exactly be equivalent to our term heaven, it certainly points to a context very different from this current life and a context which usually is identified with the second coming of Jesus, after which all things are renewed.

Further there is the expression "unto the ages of the ages" used in the New Testament in 1 Peter 4:11 (cf. 1 Peter 5:11; 1 Timothy 1:17; Ephesians 3:21; perhaps Romans 16:27; Hebrews 13:21). Usually this expression occurs as a descriptor of God’s glory or power, emphasizing that these attributes are his possession "unto the ages of the ages." It would seem that this language, building upon the eternality of God’s existence, is expressing clearly the concept of eternity. It is not true that a concept of continuous existence, whether one calls this "eternity" or characterizes it as "eternal", is absent from the New Testament. Jesus promised in Matthew 25:31-46 that his followers will "inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world" (v.34) and this later is characterized as going away "into life eternal" (eis zōēn aiōnion). This is set in the context of end of the world, divine judgment. The use of the phrase "eternal life" in Matthew 25:46 should be understood in a way that is consistent with its occurrence in Matthew 18:16. If Jesus was at all consistent in his use of language, then "eternal life" in Matthew 18:16 cannot refer merely to transformed life in this era.

One strategy that Bell uses to avoid such conclusions is to argue that "Jesus blurs the lines, inviting the rich man, and us, into the merging of heaven and earth, the future and present, here and now" (59). However, as I have sought to argue, Jesus did not do this, at least with respect to the expression zōē aiōnios.

So what was this "life" that Jesus promised this man if he responded and followed him? Bell is correct is saying that Jesus offered the man the possibility of "possessing" eternal life now and beginning to enjoy its blessings to some degree in this age, but fully in the age to come. However, even in John’s Gospel Jesus was not teaching a fully realized eschatology. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to experience life with God in the present. However, this cannot compare with what believers will yet experience, as Paul articulates in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.

Another phrase that Bell comments upon occurs in Matthew 25:46, usually translated as "eternal punishment" or "punishment without ending" (eis kolasin aiōnion) (91-92). Building upon his treatment of the term aiōnion Bell suggests that this refers to "a period of pruning" or "a time of trimming," but does not stipulate something that is without end. However, if he argues this sense for its use in v.46, then he must also argue for a similar sense in v.41 where Jesus defines the destiny of "those on the left" of the Messiah’s throne as "the eternal fire (eis to pur to aiōnion) prepared for the devil and his angels." Is this fire similarly only for a period of time? Some consider Jesus’ comments here to reflect the sentiments in Daniel 12:2-3 (cf. John 5:29).

Bell asks whose version of the story, i.e. Gospel, we will believe and share, and he has asked the right question. However, his version of the Gospel story, I believe, unfortunately is deficient. I would rather seek to grasp and believe the whole of Jesus’ teaching and ground my life in that Gospel.

At the end of the day Bell wants to keep the word ‘hell’ but primarily to refer "to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way" (93). It is an eschatologically realized hell, not one that threatens a person with a destiny in the age to come that is truly horrific and to be avoided at all costs because of sinful rejection of Jesus in this earthly, human context.

The third issue where Bell’s perspective is deficient, in my view, occurs in his selective use of biblical data to support his position. He admits that he has not written a biblical or systematic theological treatment of these issues. However, to raise so many serious and challenging questions, but then not to attempt seriously to respond to them using the whole of the biblical resources available borders on the irresponsible. For example, I do not believe I once read about the concept of God’s righteousness, i.e. his faithful adherence to his covenant arrangements, in his book. Yet, as we know from key Old Testament texts such as Exodus 34:7-7, God in these covenant arrangements defines his response to those who are obedient adherents and those who act wickedly. The guilty he will not hold guiltless. Jesus in his teaching constantly warns Jews that refusal to accept him and his teaching will bring divine judgment, not only in this age but also in the age to come. What did Jesus mean when he said that "the Son of Man would be ashamed" of those who in this age are ashamed of him, "whenever he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). Shame surely carries connotations of judgment and lack of acceptance. In John’s Gospel (3:18) the writer affirms that "the person who has not put faith in the name of the only begotten Son of God" already (ēdē) stands condemned or judged. Jesus’ words will be used to judge those who set aside his teachings (John 12:47-50), because his words are zōē aiōnios (eternal life). Jesus provides no suggestion that the judgment that will come will be limited or overturned in the age to come.

Bell on page 107 describes a church tradition that "God will ultimately restore everything and everybody" and he used texts such as Matthew 19:28 ("the renewal of all things"), Acts 3:21 ("the time for the restoring of all things") and Colossians 1:20 ("reconcile all things to himself") to support this contention. Bell then concludes that "restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t" (108). Those are dogmatic assertions. But are they true and is this the conclusion that Jesus, Peter and Paul wanted Christian disciples to reach based upon these expressions? For example, Jesus achieved glory by triumphing over Satan through the cross and resurrection, preparing for his ultimate judgment (Revelation 19-20). Throughout the Old Testament God’s glory emerges through the destruction of his enemies (cf. Exodus 15). While we may struggle to accept that idea today, it is embedded deeply in Scripture. When human beings identify themselves with Satan’s kingdom, they also become the focus of God’s powerful judgment. As Peter notes (1 Peter 3:10-11; 5:5-7) God resists the proud and his face is against those who do evil. He judges the living and the dead. Restoration and reconciliation are God’s desire, but the New Testament is consistent in its message that human participation in these divine movements are dependent upon our repentance of sin and acceptance of Jesus as Son of God and Saviour.

In the end "God wins," but God is not only characterized as love, but as truth, justice, and light. One of his names is "Jealous" and he will not tolerate sinful opposition. God’s desire is that all of humanity might be rescued, but this desire does not negate his commitment to justice, as Paul indicates clearly in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8. Unless Bell excises such texts from the canon, we have to consider that God’s justice is not contrary to his love, as if he is a schizophrenic deity. Rather the perfection of God enables him to integrate his love and justice with complete integrity. Although Bell understands sin to be a terrible thing, in the end I do not think he is willing to perceive sin as God perceives it and thus does not consider that a human, sinful life deserves eternal punishment according to God’s standard of justice. Further the logic of his preferred position on these matters requires him to also abandon the concept of security in God’s promises. If evil people at some point in the age to come may be wooed by the wonder of God’s love into the heavenly city, then it must also be possible for those present in the heavenly city also to rebel against that love and find themselves in hell, just as Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven. In the end then it is God who does win, but he wins in ways totally consistent with his justice, truth, love, and power.

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.
Professor in Biblical Studies
Northwest Baptist Seminary
April 19, 2011

See also Dr. Perkins’ article in Internet Moments on Rob Bell’s use of the NT Greek word "kolasis, kolazein" – Punishment.

  • 1Bell does not consider the question of whether evil spirits and even Satan himself might eventually be rehabilitated.
  • 2Concepts such as purgatory, saying mass for the dead, etc. are some of the ways that these ideas gain expression in some segments of contemporary Christianity.
  • 3It is interesting that Bell on pages 180-182 will argue that the Gospel is not about entering, but participating, seeming to forget what Jesus has said here about “entering life.”
  • 4In the case of Ezekiel’s prophecy (16:53-58) the point seems to be the humiliation of Jerusalem for its sinful condition. Yahweh “restores the fortunes of Sodom…and the fortunes of Samaria” (53) “in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done" (54). There is no hint that this restoration of Sodom or Samaria will occur in the age to come or represents their positive response to God’s kindness.
  • 5E. Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Volume II, revised and edited by  G. Vermes, F. Millar and M. Black (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1979), 536-539.
  • 6Mark’s Gospel says “in the coming age eternal life.”

NBS – ACTS Graduation 2011

On Saturday, April 16, Northwest and ACTS Seminaries witnessed 58 men and women walk forward and receive their diplomas/degrees of graduation.  We wish to extend our congratulations to each of our graduates.  May you go forward in God’s grace and strength and serve Him well with the tools you have acquired or honed while with us here at Northwest / ACTS.  May God bless you richly in the days and years ahead and make you a blessing to many for His Kingdom’s sake.

In case you missed it, here is a video of the graduation

[flv:2011-04-ACTS_Grad.flv 500 282]

The Arenas of Christian Life

In the process of establishing the community of the “underground” German Confessing Church seminary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of both the nature and the spirit required to enjoy the divine reality of fellowship. As for the spirit, there was a call for humility: He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial … God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious…[1]

Given the nature of western Christian expression, those words sound prophetic. Each year new models of Church life are added to a growing list: house church, missional church, emergent church, mosaic community, satellite church, mega church, meta church … With each addition to the list, there is a subtle subtext: this is the way Christians were intended to meet … this way, and no other.

In balance to that, Bonhoeffer wrote: Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily.[2]

From that call for a spirit of humility, Bonhoeffer was then able to define the direction, order and balance expected of community. The directions embraced a fairly wide bandwidth: Let him who cannot be alone beware of community …  Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.[3]

The “zen-like” nature of those warnings only serve as a challenge for a Christian to provide equal attention and care to all of what I would call “the Arenas of Christian life” or, better yet, the circles that define Christian interaction and fellowship.

During my term as the Pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church in Richmond, British Columbia, our congregation underwent a significant period of transition and growth which included a building program, a move, and in Biblical terms, a season where the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.[4] Among all of the challenges posed by that season, the most significant was the transition from being the “big-little church” to becoming the “little-big” church. Such a transition demands careful attention. [5]

In order to guide the church through the transition, I found it necessary to paint graphic pictures to help orient the congregation to the “new feelings” required by our growing dynamics. In order to do this, I needed to describe the context in which Christians are intended to gather together. I termed this concept “The Arenas of Christian life” or the “Circles of Fellowship” depicting it as five circles, each with a name:

Celebration: the largest conceivable group of people … a mass of humanity gathered together for a single purpose. Here, the title of “arena” fits well to describe a faceless mass of people gathered together in a stadium. It’s a familiar biblical image. The Bible speaks of us, in this life, being “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses”[6] and in the reality of heaven being numbered with “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands”[7] all gathered with one purpose: “to worship the Lamb .. the one who sits on the throne.” In our Church context, this circle of Celebration was to describe the expectations we were to bring to our worship, and view the worship as training for our ultimate heavenly occupation. Because of the nature of Celebration, it was not necessary for everyone to know everyone else by name because only one Name really mattered.

Congregation: a “church-within-the-church”, a “manageable” group of people .. typically more than 15 in number and, in some cases as many as 50. I used this to describe a group of people who gathered together primarily for the purpose of service. Whether it was a choir or a mission’s group or a Sunday school class, the group gathered around a specific task or mission. While they could expect to develop a sense of personal relationship and belonging, the defining purpose of such a group was to accomplish a particular task. If there was to be a Biblical illustration of this, the 72 disciples appointed by Jesus to go out “two by two to every town and place where he was to go”[8] could serve as such a group united by a missional purpose.[9]

Community: the small-group, local home fellowship, a familiar group of people .. typically more than 8 but less than 15 who would meet with regularity. While the conventional image of such a group was that it gathered for Bible Study, the interaction was intended for more personal support and care. Names matter in such a group, and spiritual growth the object of attention. The community of the 12 disciples with Jesus could serve as a picture of such a small group.

Cell: the intentional fellowship with those who are “closer than a brother,” [10] an accountability group, typically no more than 2 or 3 people with whom a bond of trust allows a depth of interaction, confession, and care. The exclusive boundary of such a situation allows for more intimate conversation.  The interaction of Jesus with the three: Peter, James and John[11] could serve as an example.

Communion: the direct relationship that a believer cultivates and enjoys with God in private devotion, and spiritual discipline. Typically. that’s done alone! This circle touches the core of a believer’s heart and serves as the primary resource for life to be lived in all the rest of the circles.

None of the circles exist in exclusive isolation. The picture that we used showed a sense of interaction and flow between each and all. The idea was that to have a healthy fellowship, each member of a church would earnestly, and equally, cultivate and value participation and relationships at each level.

Graph:

Group Type Quick Definition Example Advantages: Needs Met
Celebration Large, encompassing mass gathering,

One purpose – to worship

Typically: innumerable

the Myriads, the heavenly host, worshipping God.

Sunday Morning worship

Corporate worship, augmenting and elevating a shared voice of praise
Congregation A church-within-the-church:

Primary purpose – to serve

Mission oriented

Typically: 15 and up

the 72 Disciples

Sunday School class,

Worship team, choir, Board of Deacons, Mission team

Corporate service: augmenting and strengthening the impact of service
Community A localized group of care

Primary purpose – to support and care – and to know each other by name

Typically: 8-15

the 12 Apostles

Home Growth Groups, House Bible studies

A sense of belonging, ability to serve one another with individual impact
Cell A private circle of accountability, the special few who have earned the right to care in confidence

Typically: 1,2 or 3

John, the beloved Apostle; Peter

Marriage, close friendship,

A sense of knowing, an environment of honesty and accountability
Communion A personal encounter with God, the one-on-one relationship of devotion and spiritual life, typified by a meaningful quiet time, devotional life Jesus [Matthew 14:23]

Personal devotional time

Cultivating an authentic relationship with God

 

As the conditions in the church changed, it was important to focus on how each of the five arenas would be found in the Church experience.  Even more, how each of the five would be expressed and valued. This was especially important during a time of turbulence when the nature of “doing church” began to change, and we entered unfamiliar territory.

Keeping these five circles in focus helped address two particularly troublesome temptations:

Limiting the “Church” to one exclusive definition: As models of ministry compete, I’ve noticed a tendency by some to promote their  experience of fellowship at the expense of others. The assumptions vary: a small church is better than a large church, a home fellowship is more authentic than a church that meets in a building, a mega church is more exciting than a small church. It is possible to violate the spirit of community with the sort of spiritual hubris described by Bonhoeffer:  God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the visionary proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself  .. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure ..  he becomes an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.[12]

Misplacing expectations from one circle to another: While each circle provides an environment for multiple experiences, each has an primary purpose that defines appropriate behavior and expectation. It proved to be quite helpful for people to see the picture of the arenas and circles in order to recalibrate their expressions and expectations. A few examples: Occasionally I would encounter a person who would leave a worship service, disappointed that God hadn’t really spoken to Him. Pressing the issue further, I would discover that they had expected the worship service to provide their personal devotional needs. Occasionally they would “meet God” in a worship service, but it was more an act of serendipity than intention. Cultivating a personal devotional life allowed them to find the sort of spiritual balance that renewed their experience of worship.

Another example: It’s easy to imagine what happens when a person walks into a classroom of a 50-person Sunday school and announces that their marriage has just ended. It happens often, in various ways. At best, a few people may sympathize and pray with the person. But the class goes on, and the person is left to wonder if anyone really cares. Again, the best expressions deserve an appropriate arena, which only enhances the need for “community of care” rather than a “congregation of service.”

Learning these lessons helped our church navigate through the turbulence of change. It helped provide a  plan for us to go beyond building a Church building – to create meaningful Arenas. And it helped people get down to the real business of fellowship and consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.[13]


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Harper and Row, 1954  page 27

[2] Life Together, page 28.

[3] Life Together, page 77

[4] Acts 4:47 [a wonderful phrase that could easily outline the Book of Acts: Acts 2:41, 4:4, 5:14; 6:7; 11:24, cf. 14:1, 16:5, 17:4, 18:8

[5] There is a whole discipline of study given to growth and transition issues. Notable studies include: Gary MacIntosh [One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Taking Your Church to the Next Level], Alice Mann [The In-Between Church, Raising the Roof]

[6] Hebrews 12:1

[7] Revelation 5:11

[8] Luke 10:1

[9] I had to observe some caution in applying Biblical illustrations to the model, realizing that I was drawing principles from descriptions which is based on much softer ground than specific precepts given by command. The one command that did define the effort was that we “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:25]

[10] Proverbs 18:24

[11] Matthew 17:1

[12] Life Together, p. 27-28

[13] Hebrews 10:25

Theologies of Leadership – are they new forms of clericalism?

During the Reformation the assumed, privileged position of clergy came under serious challenge. More radical elements claimed to have eliminated the need for any specific clergy group within their formulation of church. In the early part of the 20th century we heard renewed calls for a “theology of the laity,” which continues to have significant impact in Protestant and Catholic circles. Slogans such as “every member a minister” became rallying cries that promoted further reformation so that “lay-people” in the church might enjoy their full position as part of Christ’s body. Within Evangelical circles a sense of congratulation emerged in the progress made to empower the laity.

In the last twenty-five years the issue of leadership, at least within North American Evangelical churches, has also become dominant. Seminaries seek to develop effective “ministry leaders.” The cry is for “visionary leaders” who can propel congregations to new heights of missional endeavor. Pastors’ shelves or computer memory drives are chock-full of books, papers, and digitized essays, videos, blogs and reports to help them become the leaders they were called to be. In many ways I applaud this focus.

But accompanying this engagement with the essence, competence, and theology of leadership is a serious question – if only some within the church are leaders, what does this say about the rest of us? Is this emphasis upon leadership in ministry and the general belief that only a few are called to exercise such leadership perpetuating clericalism, but under a new guise? Did Jesus intend only a few in his Kingdom to be leaders or was one of his radical changes the opportunity and requirement for every disciple to be both leader and follower, rather than a few being leaders and the rest followers? In my reading about ministry leadership and interactions with denominational, seminary and church leaders, I sense that the prevailing perspective is the first and not the second, i.e. only a few disciples are called to be leaders. It is their vision that dominates, after all they are the visionary leaders!  The incorporation of CEO models of pastoral leadership, particularly in larger churches, as important and useful as this may be, nevertheless also contributes to this perspective.  We all “know” that successful entrepreneurs and business leaders are a select group. This thinking spills over into the way average Christians tend to view the local church organization. Spiritual leaders are few. Only some are called to be spiritual leaders or ministers.

The New Testament offers a different understanding. Pentecost demonstrated that the presence of God’s Spirit among his people enabled each one to evangelize, to proclaim the Good News, and make disciples. Paul’s use of the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 demonstrates that every believer, gifted and empowered by the Spirit, contributes to the well-being of the whole body. Similarly his statement in Ephesians  4:12-16 puts emphasis upon the work of restoring “the holy ones” to do the work of ministry so that “the whole body generates the growth of the whole body” (v.16) as they live connected with Jesus Christ. The concept of mutual submission expressed in Ephesians 5:21 leans in the same direction. And then there is Peter’s concept of the new temple constructed from living stones and each one together forms a priestly community, “a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God through Jesus Messiah” (2:5). Further he asserts that God gifts believers to speak and serve to his glory. Other elements could be referenced, but these may suffice to indicate a general perspective.

These same texts, however, indicate that God provisions his people with gifts so that the whole body can be effective in its service. Some of these gifts include people who can be entrusted with responsibilities to care for, teach, and guide the local expression of the faith community. However, as Jesus himself stated, such roles are essentially serving or “slaving” roles (Mark 10:43-45). Kingdom greatness is centred in humility and available to every believer (Matthew 18:1-8). Parenting serves as a primary metaphor for how “leadership” functions in a local church.

One of the significant benefits that the Theology of Work movement can bring to the understanding of the church today is a renewed sense that every member of the body is indeed called in Christ to exercise Kingdom leadership in their place, i.e. to be a Kingdom agent. This may be through the role of parent, spouse, employee, employer, student, etc.  However, we have to recapture the Kingdom perspective that leadership is not about power, but rather is about serving and thereby demonstrating God’s proper kingship in family, vocation, church, and society. Every believer exercises influence in his or her sphere of relationships towards the accomplishment of God’s will on earth. This is Kingdom leadership – something that the Holy Spirit empowers every believer to accomplish. People who fill functional roles of organizational leadership within a congregation do important spiritual work, but they have to remember that their work serves to enable all believers in the body to be the Kingdom leaders God has called them in Christ and empowered them by his Spirit to be.

Calendar for Church Websites

Have you been looking for a good calendar plugin for your WordPress based church website?  I regularly review lists of calendar offerings and am usually disappointed with what I find. Today I reviewed some more plugins and was delighted with one that looked like it would do what a church website would need.  The plugin is CGM Event Calendar by Ryan Farrell.  The beauty of this plugin is that it is designed to use the new WordPress Custom Post Types.

Here are some of its very cool functions:

  • Completely flexible setting of event dates, recurring dates etc.
  • Events can be assigned categories.  This allows events of a certain grouping can be listed together.
  • The calendar of events can be viewed in a monthly, weekly and print format.
  • The calendar is flexible and expands to accommodate more or less events.

You can view a screen shot of a test that I did of the calendar.

Northwest News Interviews Larry Perkins

Larry Perkins

Larry, you have served as the editor of Northwest News for the past 10 years and in those years you have interviewed a variety of individuals for this publication.  Now it is my privilege to turn the tables and interview you.

  1. Before you began teaching at Northwest back in 1978 how did God use the experiences in your growing up years to prepare you for your many roles here at Northwest and within the Fellowship.  Would you reflect on your early years a little?
    (View Larry’s response)
  2. Looking back to when you were a young scholar just entering the teaching ranks here at Northwest I’m sure you had dreams of what you would like to be and do for the sake of Christ’s kingdom – have you fulfilled those dreams?  How have those dreams matured over the years?
    (View Larry’s response)
  3. Thank you very much! Looking forward, I understand that after a sabbatical you will be returning to Northwest and ACTS Seminaries as a 1/2 time faculty member.  What are the things you would still like to accomplish?  What personal dreams would you yet like to realize?
    (View Larry’s response)
  4. OK! Thank you! The next question I’d like to ask relates to the seminary and the ongoing ministry of the seminary.  As Northwest moves forward in the days ahead, what are some of the things that you are praying that Northwest will accomplish for God’s kingdom?
    (View Larry’s response)
  5. That’s encouraging! As Academic Dean (both at Northwest and ACTS Seminaries) and more recently as President, your life has been often times a flurry of meetings.  Will you miss those?
    (View Larry’s response)
  6. On a more personal note, I have seen you mostly in your public role as president, New Testament Professor and even as my boss.  I (and probably our readers) would like to know a little more about Larry Perkins the person.  Would you reflect on your personal journey as a follower of Jesus, as a Christian man, a husband, dad, grandpa and colleague?
    (View Larry’s response)
  7. Thank you. That’s very encouraging. Yours has been the 6th presidency here at Northwest.  As president you have followed in a significant line-up of personalities within the Fellowship and within evangelical circles.  Would you reflect on the leadership legacy that you have received, have been a part of and are now passing on?
    (View Larry’s response)
  8. Over your years here at Northwest you have taught many different courses, met many different students and worked along side of many different colleagues. As you reflect on these varied experiences are there some landmark life lessons or insights that stand out to you that you could share for our benefit and encouragement?
    (View Larry’s response)
  9. That certainly been my privilege in working with you over these past years.  I understand you will be taking a Sabbatical in January.  Do you have any projects that you will be working on?  What are you hoping to accomplish during your sabbatical?
    (View Larry’s response)
  10. That’s great! Larry, you’ve done many interviews in the past for Northwest News.  You’ve always ended the interview by asking, “How can we pray for you?”  I’d like to turn the tables and ask you the same question!
    (View Larry’s response)

Thank you, Larry, thank you for the privilege of working with you – with Northwest News. It’s been a great privilege. Thank you for this time of interview as well.

You are welcome!

Identifying Critical Issues

It’s taken me a while, but I just finished composing the report from our latest Best Practices for Church Boards workshop held in November. It’s the product of an extensive process, adding reflections from interviews with participants to the compiled comments from the evaluation forms. It’s worth the effort. I always learn something from the effort, and the discoveries certainly help improve the workshop.

As I reflect on this Fall, one discovery stands out above all the others. One of the greatest challenges faced by many boards is the ability to identify the critical issue that deserves their shared attention. During the registration process, churches are asked to identify their key issue prior to the workshop. The expectation is that the lessons learned in the workshop will allow the leaders to gain some immediate and relevant progress with their issue in their working session.

While some churches are able to focus on a shared issue quickly, many stumble in finding their target. In the first working session, the Facilitators present the church boards with the issue that accompanied their registration. The question is then raised: Would you agree that this is the Key Issue that deserves your most conscientious attention?

There are a few boards that respond quickly. They’ve prayerfully discussed the whole range of issues before them and have agreed on the priority and importance of the one Key Issue as it relates to their mission.  That said, off they go.

More often than not, boards will pause as they look at their “key issue” with a degree of uncertainty.  It’s that moment of hesitation that has caught my attention. It illustrates a common challenge for church boards: the ability – or inability –  to identify the critical issue that deserves their shared attention.

TJ Addington, author of High Impact Church Boards, addressed the same issue in his blog this last Fall [http://leadingfromthesandbox.blogspot.com – October, 16, 2010.] One of the reasons why it’s a struggle is that leaders are tempted to become “enmeshed” in issues that are defined by personal agendas. He writes: One of the hallmarks of good emotional intelligence is that we are able to empathize with others without getting enmeshed in their issues. This does not mean that we do not care, provide counsel, pray and support. It does mean that we don’t allow the issues of others to become “our” issues.

It is possible for a Board to be consumed by issues that are more a matter of personal agendas than a shared mandate of mission.

George Bullard recently identified another reason that Boards struggle. Their attention tends to be so focused on past conflicts that it’s hard to identify the issue that will embrace the new thing God is seeking to do in and through him. In his learning article, Transforming Reactionary Church Boards [November 3, 2010, www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org] he wrote: When congregations are getting over a conflict, a less than excellent relationship with a senior or solo pastor who has now moved on, or an empowering vision that has diminished, policies and procedures to create more control are often put into place. Typically these changes are focused on correcting what was perceived as wrong or missing in the past … In other words, [Reactive Boards] move forward into the future by protecting yourself from what went wrong in the past … always looking for where you were rather than where you are going.

Whatever the reason, board leaders struggle with the ongoing frustration in knowing how to identify good targets to discuss. There is a need to recapture the heart of leadership that is capable of moving ministry toward a preferred future with discernment and intention.

One of the main responsibilities of a board, in particular – a board chair and a lead pastor, is to ensure that the most important issues receive the most significant attention. So, what steps could help solve this dilemma?

Any study on discernment, especially the type of spiritual discernment required for a healthy ministry requires a number of ingredients, not the least of which is time and prayerful attention. In his comments on The Art of Thinking Grey, TJ Addington writes: some people think it a skill to make quick decisions and they pride themselves in their ability to do so. The truth is that slow decisions that have had significant input from a variety of sources are usually far better than rapid ones. Embracing the task and setting aside precious time is an absolute necessity.

The second step is a matter of perspective. Stepping aside from personal agendas, a discerning leader always asks important questions. In their book Discerning Your Congregation’s Future: A Strategic and Spiritual Approach, Roy Oswald and Robert Friedrich describe four simple questions that discerning leaders ask throughout the congregation in order to gain a perspective: 1. If our congregation did not continue to ______, I would lose interest in remaining a member; 2. The things that concern me most about our congregation are _______,; 3. If our congregation would ______, I know I would call my friends and tell them what wonderful things they are missing; 4. If, with a stroke of a pen, I could change one thing at our congregation, I would ______.

Questions like that lead to discovery. They take us outside of ourselves and reveal viewpoints and opportunities that would otherwise lie hidden. They expose a variety of concerns that can suggest issues that God wants addressed.

As wise leaders reflect on those answers, the next step is to sort through the issues in order to find THE ISSUE, the one that matters most. And then, with a shared focus, that issue needs to be framed for discussion. Two of the instruments that we recommend for Time Stewardship as a Best Board Practice are forms for a Decision Profile and a Discussion Briefing. Both are one page summaries that present the necessary information to help a board focus on an issue.

In each case, the issue is stated at the very beginning in clear and concise language. Added to the statement is an explanation of its importance, how it relates to the strategic value of the church and its mission. The rest of the outline in each form flows from that point whether it’s relevant questions that will stimulate a meaningful discussion or optional recommendations that will provide a healthy solution. But, the best part, and the hardest part, is to define the issue and put it into context. It’s a skill that takes work and makes a difference.

In the article Transforming Reactionary Church Boards, George Bullard put it well when he said it is easier to state a solution than it is to deliver one. It’s one thing to suggest steps, it’s quite another to put them into practice. However, that shouldn’t stop us from working toward a solution, and as I seek to improve the Best Practices for Church Boards workshop, that’s my next improvement: to develop an aid – and an exercise – that would get the ball rolling. As a note, if you have a helpful suggestion to make, I welcome your comment.

In His Service

In a few days I will be completing my responsibilities as Northwest’s President. Two years ago as I began to plan for this transition, it seemed a long way ahead. Now it is here and God’s grace has enriched the experience. Thank you for the good wishes you have shared recently and for your prayerful support of Northwest’s vision and ministry during my tenure. Whatever God has accomplished through Northwest in these years, your stewardship has been part of it.

In these past few months God has given constant assurance that Northwest’s future is rich with promise. Just this week we received news of a third grant to support the “Theology of Work and Marketplace Ministry” initiatives that we have pursued these past two years. Earlier this Fall we finally were able to implement online, graduate level cross-cultural leadership training for FEBInternational ministry leaders around the world. 10-12 twelve of these leaders are engaged in the first course under the direction of Mark Naylor. And then major plans are being developed for the initiation of a church-based, ministry leadership training process in Fall 2011. This will be a significant development, requiring new financial and educational resources.

Dr. Spencer is leading our preparations for our fourth conference on Baptist Identify and Theology, which we are now calling “ReSourcing the Church Conference”. It will be offered February 25-26, 2011. Dr. Jim Belcher, author of Deep Church. A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, will be our keynote speaker. As well, our next conference supporting Children’s Ministry will be offered in November 2011.

Dr. Kent Anderson, Northwest’s new president, begins his new role January 1 and already is engaging his responsibilities, excited about the new opportunities God is opening for Northwest’s ministry. Please be in prayer for him as 2011 will make very heavy demands upon his energies.

May God’s blessing rest upon you as you continue to serve Him with expectancy and deep gratitude.

Sincerely,

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

President.

ACTS Appreciation Chapel for Dr. Larry Perkins

On December 7, we honored our out-going Northwest Baptist Seminary President, Larry Perkins with a special chapel service at ACTS Seminaries. The service included reflective comments from Dr. Perkins’ longtime friend and colleague, Bill Badke. A highlight was Larry’s brief reflections on his service and particularly upon the significant contribution of his wife, Judy.

A video of the service is available for you to view here.

ACTS Appreciation Chapel for Dr. Larry Perkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northwest Board Appoints New President

Dr. Kent and Karen Anderson appointed next president of Northwest Baptist Seminary

Dr. Kenton Anderson accepted the Northwest Baptist Seminary Board’s offer to become its eighth President, effective January 1, 2011.  The Board’s decision and Dr. Anderson’s acceptance culminate an 18 month process of succession planning and searching.

Dr. Larry Perkins is retiring from the role of president, a position he has held since 2000.  He will be continuing at Northwest in a teaching capacity.

Dr. Kenton Anderson (Kent) holds a Ph.D. with a major in preaching from Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, along with a Bachelor’s degree from Northwest Baptist Theological College and two Master’s degrees from Northwest Baptist Seminary. In 1994 he graduated from Northwest Baptist Seminary /ACTS Seminaries with a Master of Divinity and went on to complete his doctoral degree in 1996. His doctoral dissertation project showed how preaching models have closely followed trends in culture. Kent’s project for that was to develop a new integrative model for preaching. Since then, Kent has published three books on the subject, Preaching with Conviction (Kregel 2001), Preaching with Integrity (Kregel 2003), and Choosing to Preach (Zondervan 2006). Kent’s professional website is www.preaching.org where he blogs on preaching and culture and provides a significant resource for preachers. He also has served as a contributing editor at www.preachingtoday.com and is a past president of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. Kent also contributes courses in spiritual formation in various Northwest/ACTS Seminaries programs. Along with his academic and literary accomplishments Kent also has direct pastoral experience having served for 11 years in local churches in both British Columbia and Alberta. He has also taught and preached in hundreds of churches and ministry centres across North America and the world.

Kent joined the faculty of Northwest and ACTS Seminaries in 1996 and became Dean of Northwest Baptist Seminary in 2001. He is also the director of the Centre for Ministry Excellence at Trinity Western University.

Kent has been married to his wife, Karen, for more than 27 years. Kent and Karen have three adult children. He loves reading, playing golf and hockey, and making music on his guitar.

As he envisions his leadership in this new role, Kent comments:

“I am humbled by the trust I have been given. Previous occupants of this position — Howard Anderson, Doug Harris, and, of course, Larry Perkins, have all been significant and valued personal mentors to me. The thought that I am now following in their train is a daunting, and yet motivating prospect. I believe that Northwest can be a powerful tool by which we raise up significant numbers of well-prepared leaders for the ministries that God has called us to within the Fellowship Baptist movement and beyond.”

“As a graduate of Northwest and former Fellowship Baptist pastor, myself, I appreciate the way my Northwest experiences have shaped me and made it possible for me to fulfill the calling that God has given me. I want to make the same thing possible for many others.”

“Without altering our sense of mission, our future at Northwest will engage fresh innovative methods in direct collaboration with our churches and our Fellowship. I believe that the best training happens in the context for which people are being trained. You can expect, then, that we will be working very closely with our churches, our pastors, and our denominational leadership. Our goal will be to achieve a significant new stage of development in our mutual mandate to equip Spirit-filled people, who are gifted and called for the various ministries and mission of the church.”

 

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

President, Northwest Baptist Seminary

November 1, 2010

John Brand on Expository Preaching

Rev. John Brand runs a website, Encouraging Expository Excellence out of Edinburgh, Scotland. In a recent email conversation, John offered these responses to some interesting questions about expository preaching.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I am utterly and increasingly convinced it has to be the heartbeat and central focus. There are many hallmarks of a true church and many things churches should be doing but none more vital and strategic than the faithful preaching of the Word of God. If the Word of God is not at the heart of its activities then it is no longer a church and simply a religious organisation.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I was born into a Manse, the son and grandson of missionary preachers, and I think to start with it was almost a natural thing to do – to try my hand at preaching. My father’s church – who were not, it has to said, the most spiritually discerning of folk – gave me opportunity in my mid-teens and I was encouraged to persevere as well as sensing a growing burden and joy in my own spirit for this great work.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
To be honest, it takes me longer now than when I started out more than 30 years ago and in the Lords goodness I think that is partly because I take the responsibility much more seriously now than at any other time in my life. I guess these day it takes me anywhere between 12 and 15 hours on average.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I wish I had realised the importance of this in my early days of preaching because I have come to realise how vital this issue is for effective communication. There is a tendency, especially when you are younger, to try and cram too much into one sermon and generally speaking, not only can most folk not cope with that but it can so easily blur the God-intended focus of the passage. In some way I find this the hardest and often most time-consuming aspect of preparation and yet you can’t move forward until you have identified it. For me, I just try writing out ‘the big idea’ again and again and again; restating it until I feel I am doing justice to the Scripture I am working.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
Firstly, it is vital that we are truly ourselves in the pulpit and not try to be somebody or something we are not. Affected tones of voice and imitation of others is for the stage and not the pulpit. Sincerity and integrity are key. Two other vital ingredients for me are earnestness and passion. We live in a day and age of all too often lifeless, take-it-or-leave-it preaching and it’s inconsistent with the message we preach or the one in whose name we claim to speak.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
These days, my notes are much fuller than they used to be, though I have gone through different stages in my ministry. It varies too depending on the nature of the sermon. A more closely reasoned exposition, working through the logic of a passage, for example, will demand more notes than a study in one of the parables. For me, it’s not so much the quantity of the notes but the familiarity with the text and notes and though my notes are fuller I probably refer to them less than I used to.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
I have already referred to things like affectation. We must also studiously avoid disclosing confidences, even by allusion. We must avoid ‘showing off’ the work done in preparation. Perhaps the greatest sin to avoid is saying any less or any more than the text we are preaching says.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
In recent years this has been a special challenge for me, now as a Bible College Principal and before that heading up a Mission agency, rather than in church-based pastoral ministry. It’s really a case of identifying and protecting priorities. I have had to ring fence time slots and tell my colleagues that I am unavailable except in emergencies.

9. What, in your opinion, are the top 5 books on preaching that have been most helpful to you as a preacher, with perhaps a few words by way of comment about them?
-Bryan Chapell’s Christ Centered Preaching is, in my opinion, simply the best there is
-Ramesh Richard’s Preaching Expository Sermons really helped me work on and teach the importance of structure with his very helpful model of the human body
-Arturo Azurdia’s Spirit Empowered Preaching provides the perfect balance between hard work on the part of the exegete and preacher and the empowering of God’s Spirit
-Michael Fabarez’s Preaching that Changes Lives is the most helpful book on application that I have found
-John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching keeps reigniting my passion for preaching and keeps my sights fixed on God

10. Which preachers, living or dead, have had the greatest influence on your own ministry?
During my student days I read many of Spurgeon’s sermons and through Lloyd-Jones sermons on Romans and Ephesians and, albeit largely unconsciously, imbibed a commitment to systematic, verse by verse exposition, though not at the same level of detail as the Doctor! Sinclair Ferguson taught and modelled homiletics as well as systematic theology and made a monumental impact on my life and, humanly speaking, I owe him a unique debt. The inspired passion of men like Steven Lawson and John Piper are also a great example.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
This has always been a joyful privilege and responsibility for me. In my first pastorate I gather a group of 3 men and we met on a monthly basis to encourage one another and I gave them regular opportunities to cut their preaching teeth and try and help them. I am and have been involved in several preachers workshops, seminars and conferences. One of my greatest joys in this area has been an annual workshop in Sudan where I have seen 50 church leaders grow in their confidence in and ability to handle the word of God. I teach homiletics at the College where I serve and also blog on preaching at www.encouraging expositoryexcellence.co.uk where, among other things, I hold a ‘sermon clinic’.

11. What advice would you give to a young man who is wondering whether God is calling him into a preaching ministry, firstly in terms of recognising the genuineness of a call and secondly in acting on it?
Be obedient! Of course, we must take seriously the immense responsibility of such a charge, but if someone senses that God is leading them in this direction – perhaps because as they hear others preach they have a godly sense of ‘I could do that’ – pray that others will prompt you and give you opportunity and look to mature, experienced spiritual leaders to confirm – or otherwise – the gift of a preacher in you.

12. Is good expository preaching something that is ‘caught’ or ‘taught’; where is the balance between the two?
I have no doubts that it is both. There must, of course, be the divine gifting in the first place, but preaching is both an art and a science and skills can be sharpened and honed. One of the neglected responsibilities laid on preachers is to model good preaching to others.

13. What is the secret of perseverance in a preaching ministry?
A constant re-submission to the call of God on your life and an awareness of the fact that there is no greater or more important task on the planet!

14. What is the secret of freshness in a preaching ministry?
Keep close to God and to his Word. The more I read Scripture, the more I want to preach Scripture as I gain new insights. I am more enthusiastic today about preaching than I was over 35 years ago when I started out.

Alpha and Omega – How well does a pastor need to know the Bible?

The Bible comes to us in three languages — Hebrew, Aramaic and Hellenistic Greek. Yet,  most people, including pastoral leaders, explore the scriptures through translation. Traditionally people in the congregation have considered the pastor as equipped to investigate thoroughly the biblical message and communicate it truthfully and persuasively. The pastor opens windows into the text to let people discern its meaning, sometimes with painful starkness and impact. But what competence does a pastor need in order to do that with excellence?

Historically Bible colleges and seminaries have included the study of Greek and sometimes Hebrew within programs that equip people for pastoral leadership. Within Northwest we have a strong tradition of teaching the biblical languages. I think this is rooted in our strong commitment to the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture. What eventually happens if pastoral leaders no longer have competence to interact directly with the Greek and Hebrew Bible?

The argument can be made that good preaching does not depend upon skill in reading the Greek or Hebrew Bibles, and this is true. However, the study of the Greek and Hebrew portions of the Bible is not so much concerned with acquiring language skills, as it is with the more significant question of discerning the Spirit’s voice in scripture. The preaching might be persuasive, but is the message true? When a person engages the Greek Bible, for example, he or she is not just encountering words, but must wrestle with an entirely different way of thinking and expression. The cultural distance between the 21st Century preacher and the biblical text must be admitted and addressed.  The larger questions of meaning, the intent of the human author, and the means chosen to share his ideas become more immediate. But when a person is presenting the eternal words of scripture as God’s authoritative Word, can he or she be content to depend only on the pre-digested message expressed in a translation, as good as it may be. Commentaries help, but to grasp their arguments often requires some language and exegetical competence.

Trends in pastoral training come and go. I have seen a number in my 32 years of seminary experience. Whether it was counselling, church growth, or more latterly leadership development, each pushes its way into the pastoral curriculum, bartering for space with the existing subjects. Pressure is on to shorten the time required for developing pastoral leaders and this requires academic leaders to determine carefully what subjects deserve space in a limited curriculum. And then there is student pressure to ease the requirements or to focus the curriculum on more applied subjects, things that have immediate pay-off. Given the costs of pastoral education and the time restraints that emerging leaders frequently experience, perhaps the space in the curriculum devoted to acquiring capacity to work directly with the Greek and Hebrew Bible might be put to better use?

Can the study of Greek or Hebrew biblical interpretation survive in such a context? If it doesn’t, what does it mean for the proclamation of the Gospel and the discipling of God’s people in the next fifty years? If pastors of the future lack the competence to engage the Scriptures in their Greek and Hebrew forms, will the churches be stronger for it? I doubt it. Providing this kind of education and competence development for new pastoral leaders requires specific investments in people and programs. The immediate returns are not dramatic, but the long term implications for the health of the church will be critical.  These same kinds of arguments compel us also to invest significantly in developing ministry leaders with deep, theological competence.

This article has also been published in the October issue of Northwest News.

Fall 2010 New Student Orientation

This week is orientation week here at Northwest / ACTS Seminaries.

At the New Student Orientation day on Wednesday we had 75 men and women participate. It was a great day of seeing new faces, helping new students find their bearings, enjoying again the story of ACTS Seminaries and sensing among these new students a refreshing inquisitiveness, anticipation and energy. As the various faculty and staff made their presentations to these new students I was reminded again of what an amazing Kingdom enterprise we are part of here at ACTS – five evangelical denominations collaborating to provide current and future leaders with tools that will equip them to be better prepared for the various ministries to which God has called them. I think this year is shaping up to be an exciting adventure.  Here are a few more photos from orientation day.

Laurel Archer with her Student Volunteers

Worshiping together for the first time

Dr. Wendell Phillips, the ACTS Registrar and Ms. Laurel Archer, the ACTS Student Program Advisor leading the students through orientation

Dr. Lyle Schrag introducing the new students to Northwest faculty and staff

Enjoying a BBQ together in beautiful, end of summer, BC weather

Decade of Service

In the sixty-five years following Northwest’s re-establishment after World War II, Northwest has had six presidents.  This is a remarkable story of committed, stable leadership. A decade of service in this role is about the average. I believe it is time for a new leader who can bring fresh vision and vitality to Northwest’s mission.

Almost a decade has passed since the Board of Northwest invited me to serve first as interim president (January 2000) and then to fill the role of president. Some of you know that on July 31, 2011 I will be completing my involvement with Northwest as President. The next few months will be busy, working with the successor the Board will be appointing.

The Board has been working on a succession plan for about a year and the Search Committee will be bringing a recommendation to the Board’s October 2010 meeting. Should the Board accept the recommendation, then the new president will begin serving January 1, 2011.  The Board has graciously granted me a sabbatical that will run from January to July 2011. I believe the Board has this process well in hand and the transition of leadership will proceed well. As opportunity allows, I hope to continue contributing to Northwest in a part-time teaching role for the next few years.

So this Fall semester will be a time of transition. I would ask that you pray specifically:

1. that the Board will know the mind of God in their decision in October;

2. that I will be able to finish well, leaving Northwest in a strong position;

3. that Northwest faculty and staff will work through the transition well;

4. that our students and alumni will view the transition process as a model of Christian leadership;

5. that our financial donors will continue to support the mission of Northwest and the new President;

6. that Northwest’s mission will be carried forward even more effectively because of this change.

Over the past year my prayer has been that God would enable me to finish well. You know too many Christian leaders whose leadership roles have ended in failure. So I do covet your prayers in these next months and look forward to God’s special grace and blessing upon the Northwest family in this time of transition.

In particular it is important that your investment in Northwest remain strong. A leader is important in an institution, but the institution is far bigger and more significant than any one person. I believe this is true of Northwest and the critical nature of its leadership development role in the Kingdom.

Basic Assumptions

It seems as if this has been the month of déjà vu. In four weeks, I’ve had the same conversation with five different pastors. The names may differ, but the complaint is consistent: I can’t seem to get people to volunteer to serve. That one sentence has unfolded into a litany of complaint:

I have to work almost as hard to recruit someone to serve as I do to lead someone to Christ … Forget trying to get someone to agree to be a leader, I can’t even find someone to cut the Church lawn or sit with the babies in the nursery … It’s becoming almost impossible for me to do what I have to do as a Pastor since everything else undone around here ends up on my desk… It doesn’t take a genius to realize that something has gone wrong.

When we first initiated the Fellowship Centre for Leadership Development seven years ago, my focus was centered on Leadership Development as a way to refine leaders who were rising to the challenge of ministry and eager for training.  It’s such an obvious target, and explains why so much effort is invested in developing training products for emerging leaders. But, hearing the complaints over the years, and especially over the last month, has caused me to expand my thinking. My initial fixation on training leaders was as if I were staring at the end of a conveyor belt and wondering why there was only a trickle being produced without realizing that the belt hadn’t been well connected at the beginning … to begin with.

Over the years, my attention has been shifting towards a view of Leadership Creation as a pre-requisite for Leadership Development. And for that, my attention has shifted from leadership as the expression of a high-performance individual … a leader, to leadership as the manifestation of a community that inspires initiative and discovers leaders who emerge from an active body of followers. It’s a theme that’s led me to view Church at large as the culture where leaders are birthed as well as developed. It’s a journey that has taken me past several critical boundaries, past the definition of Leadership Development to Leadership Creation … and on that journey past the definition of the word Leader to a greater appreciation of the words Servant, Disciple, and follower of Christ.

Along the way, I’ve encountered several noteworthy guideposts. The first was the result of research on Leadership in the New Testament and the Early Church. In a wonderfully comprehensive study on what Leadership meant in the early church by Ken Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians1 a few comments captured my attention:

“All the apostolic churches were developing institutions2 for the most part, the origins of the first churches lie in the synagogues, so common throughout Palestine and the Mediterranean world. The patterns of interaction and forms of leadership in the early churches bear some relation to these Jewish antecedents3 … thus a group of Christians meeting in a home as part of an extended family is our starting point for understanding leaders and leadership in the earliest churches4.

From this picture of the Church as an engaged household, Giles turns the focus of leadership away from roles and titles to something much more organic: In fact, Luke [in Acts] consistently implies that leaders arose to meet specific needs on a quite pragmatic basis. Initially the twelve apostles provide leadership to the whole community, but when a special need arises, discussion and prayer leads to the appointment of seven “almoners” [Acts. 6:1-6] …In Paul’s earliest epistles he addresses certain people whom he recognizes as leaders, but gives them no title [I Thess. 5: 12-13; I Cor. 16L15-18.} At the same time, he insists that when the believers assemble for worship they should all minister to one another: no sub-group or person should take preeminence [I cor. 12:4-7; Rom. 12:3-8.]5In the apostolic age, church life was dynamic and fluid. Leaders emerged to meet needs and as the Holy Spirit initiated6. …

With the passage of time the church grew as an institution and more structured forms of social interactions developed, resulting in leadership defined by office and title. This may explain the shift of focus from leader creation to leadership development.

But, I can’t help but sense in the earliest forms of the Church there existed a deeper sense that expectation to serve was spread out over an entire congregation. This expectation seems to be based on an assumption that a spirit of service was logically related to a commitment of discipleship and an obvious consequence of what it meant to be a follower of Christ. If my suspicions are correct, this assumption did not think so much of “leadership” as it did of obedience and availability and service that might end up leading others.

Musing on this history, I encountered a second guidepost in an interview recorded in Leadership Journal with Terry Fullem, the pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut.7 As one of the congregations at the center of renewal in the Anglican fellowship, Terry described a profound moment that redefined the essence of ministry.

In simple terms, he described the consequences of instituting two basic assumptions of the congregation. Both assumptions were based on a  person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. The church will be strong only to the degree that people are committed to Christ. So, in pursuing this goal, we make an interesting assumption: we assume a person does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ unless he is prepared to say he does. The simple fact of being in church in not enough. We don’t argue with people; don’t sit in judgment on their salvation; but neither do we take for granted that they have committed their lives to Christ unless they say so. Thus, those who haven’t professed faith in Christ are graciously and generously treated as seekers.

The second assumption was the one that captured my imagination: In the case of believers – and this will seem like the exact opposite – we assume commitment rather than non-commitment!

I love that simple phrase. It has such a New Testament sound to it: we assume commitment rather than non-commitment. What a contrast to the operating principle at work in our churches where everything, especially those things related to leadership requires a high level of recruitment, and produces a low level of response.

Terry Fullem continued with an illustration of this principled assumption: We have a number of clergy and lay leadership conferences here every year drawing people from all over the world. And we house them in the homes of the parish. For many years, I used to go to the congregation and say, “A conference is coming up, and we need 200 beds; please sign up.” We always got what we needed, but it was a hassle.

Then one day, I realized all that wasn’t necessary. I went before the congregation one Sunday and said, “You have heard me ask for beds for the last time. From now on, we will assume that if you have an extra bed in your house, of course you would let someone use it (we assume commitment rather than non-commitment) Because everything you have belongs to the Lord and you’ve consecrated your life and home to his service, naturally you would make it available to his service. So, we have made up a bed bank for the parish, and we’ll assume yours are available. IF, for some reason, you cannot host a guest, please let us know – otherwise we will assume commitment rather than noncommitment!

What a refreshing thought. Recently, I’ve had a chance to observe a church that operates under the same principle. Lists are posted with names attached for services to be performed. There’s no obvious sense of coercion or pleading, guilt-ridden appeals. In fact, it’s just the opposite. As lists are posted ,gracious announcements are made that if people are unable to fulfill their assignment, they are welcomed to either make arrangements for a substitute – or request help in finding a replacement. No harm, no foul. And, people take it seriously as a matter of honor. They don’t have to search for a way to “make a difference” with their lives.

Terry Fullem continued his example making the point that such an assumption, when made with sincerity and conviction, becomes the prevailing attitude in a congregation. It produces and propels people who follow God’s call in humble obedience. He concluded with a word of conviction: So many clergy pitch the level of their ministry to the least committed members of the congregation, being careful not to offend them. That’s not what we’re called to do (boldface – mine)

I’ve had a chance to observe several congregations who operate according to that assumption. It’s no surprise that they have little problem identifying and engaging leaders.

As I reflect on the conversations of the past month, I wonder if we haven’t made things harder than God intended them to be. I wonder if we, as leaders, may have become our own worst enemies based on false assumptions. And, I wonder what might happen if we changed the rules and shifted our focus.

I shared these thoughts with one of the pastors. His response was revealing. When people become members at my church, I ask them to state their commitment of time, treasure, and talent to the cause of Christ and the fellowship of our church. I suppose it’s time for us to mean what we say … As a result, he took a risk and with the support of his board did the same thing as Terry Fullem. He posted a few lists, told the congregation that he was going to honor their relationship with Christ by assuming commitment rather than noncommitment. To his surprise, the response was “thanks, we can do this…”

I’m eager to find out what more that will mean … not just for that church, but for so many more.

    ____________________ 



  • 1Giles, Ken. Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians, Victoria, Australia, Collins-Dove Publishing, 1989
  • 2Ibid., p. 10
  • 3Ibid., p. 13
  • 4Ibid., p. 14
  • 5Ibid., p. 8
  • 6Ibid., p. 8
  • 7The View From Above, Leadership Journal.

2010- 06-12 Board Summary

The June meeting of the Northwest board marks the beginning of a new year of ministry by these volunteer leaders on behalf of our Seminary and our churches. We extend our thanks to Colin McKenzie for his excellent service during these past three years. Robert Murdock and Dwight Geiger (FEBPacific President’s representative) are initiating their work with our board. We look forward to their contribution.

Part of the work during this first meeting relates to the appointment of board members to specific responsibilities. Larry Nelson continues as chair and Dennis Wasyliw as vice-chair, as well as secretary.

Two major discussions occupied the board’s attention. The board is aware of the discussions occurring in our Fellowship regarding the relationship between the National office and the Regions. Without presupposing the outcome of these discussions, the board did affirm their desire for Northwest to take a more active role in contributing to ministry leadership development nationally. This is well within the scope of our mission and ends policy.

The second discussion concerned our preferred future for the ACTS Consortium and our involvement with it. The board acknowledged the value of this collaborative relationship. However, it also is aware of discussions occurring among the seminary members and Trinity Western University regarding various issues whose resolution probably will re-shape the nature of our collaboration. The board appointed an adhoc committee to work with the President during the next four months and recommend to the October meeting of the board Northwest’s preferred direction for ACTS. One of the key questions to be answered is how ACTS needs to be configured so that Northwest can continue to accomplish its mission well through its involvement in  ACTS. Such discussions are necessary from time to time because theological education, our churches, our families of churches, and our culture constantly are changing.

The board continues to move forward in its process for selecting and appointing a new president for Northwest in 2011.

The board reviewed the Northwest financial picture and were thankful for its good situation. The President also reported on various new leadership training initiatives that were in the works.


Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

President.

Ministry Leaders Entering the Harvest

Summer is soon upon us and I wanted to drop a note to keep you connected with Northwest. Graduation occurred six weeks ago and about 80 men and women received diplomas and degrees through the ministry of Northwest and its partners in the Associated Canadian Theological Schools. Praise God for these new ministry leaders entering “the harvest.”

Jeff Kuhn, Grace Baptist, Hope, Apr 2010

While I am so thankful for the potential each graduate holds for Kingdom advancement, I also realize it’s not enough! No matter how many people we train (and it’s over 3,000 now), it’s never enough! Christ’s church grows, its leaders mature, and new opportunities constantly emerge. The appetite for effective leaders in the Kingdom is insatiable. As Jesus declared, “the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.” 80 is few, 800 is few, 8,000 is few. Until Jesus returns, no matter how many ministry leaders we prepare for the harvest, it is too few. God’s plans for harvest always outstrip our ability to fill the need.

On one level this constant demand for new labourers could make one depressed. We never achieve our quota! God always wants more. But from another perspective, this constant requirement for more labourers indicates the Kingdom’s advancement and aggressive engagement with Satan’s domain. What is more amazing is that God chooses to use human agents in the harvest. Jesus is winning. The ranks of people in his Kingdom are swelling. The harvest is very plentiful.

Jesus puts the equipping of labourers at the very forefront of Kingdom priorities. Sometimes people think that seminary work is not “frontline” work in the Kingdom. I beg to differ. Perhaps the most challenging Kingdom work being done today is equipping effective ministry leaders. This is absolutely frontline stuff. The spiritual warfare that people experience in the context of their ministry preparation can be truly fearsome. When God is at work in people’s lives through the Seminary, Satan is never happy.

If you want to give Satan a bad day, then equip a Kingdom leader! If you want to put Satan’s agenda in total disarray, then invest in producing effective ministry leaders! It’s demanding work and the equipping of a ministry leader never really ends — it just gets more focused as the Spirit refines His work.

Thank you for your continued prayers and financial help. As we begin these summer months, please remember to pray and as God’s provides, make an investment in leadership development. Judy and I will be investing in leader development in Indonesia at the end of June, teaching the book of Romans to pastoral leaders. I have also initiated a new website (www.churchboardchairs.ca) to provide resources for church board chairs.

May God bless you wonderfully in this summer season.

Blessings in “the harvest,”

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

President

Graduation 2010

The Northwest Graduating Class together with all ACTS Seminaries faculty


Significant Interactions in Pakistan

About two times a year I travel to Pakistan to work on the Sindhi Bible translation.  Currently we are preparing a Sindhi New Testament for the Hindu people of the Sindh along with a review of the New Testament that was translated for a Muslim audience.  A few vignettes taken from my most recent trip in February, 2010 are given below.  They help to illuminate the process of Bible translation, provide examples of the significant discussions that occur as the translation team members interact with each other, and reveal the spiritual hunger that is evident among the Sindhi people.

Clarifying the translation

While the first translation of the common Sindhi version of the New Testament is excellent for the most part, there are occasions when the translation has failed to communicate the intended meaning of the original and require correction. These miscommunications become obvious through the interactions with the translation team.  I often ask them to explain a passage to me, and their response sometimes reveals unintended meanings.

A good illustration of this is Jn 4:23 where Jesus says to the Samaritan woman: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (ESV).  The first translation of “in Spirit and Truth” in Sindhi was quite literal, similar to the ESV.  Unfortunately, the natural meaning of this phrase in Sindhi is that true worshipers will worship with “enthusiasm / commitment and with a true (righteous) heart.”  However, the point of the passage is not to discuss the character of the worshipers, but their connection to the truth and reality of who God is.  True worshipers are those who have a spiritual orientation towards God and worship according to the truth and reality of the nature of God. That is, they will live according to his truth.  In order to communicate the right meaning in Sindhi, we translated it as “following the way of the Holy Spirit and truth (or reality).”

Spiritual Hunger

During my trip, I went to the Sindology Institute in Hyderabad to do some research for my PhD thesis.  During my time there, I had a number of invitations for significant conversations that reveal the spiritual openness and hunger of the people of the Sindh.  While riding the bus (free for anyone heading to the university), I sat beside a man who worked at the university who asked me, “What spiritual benefit is there in Christianity?” I explained that the benefit lies in the person of Christ who brings us into a familial relationship with God; we become God’s children.  In Islam the essential relationship is that of master to a servant / slave.

He further asked what constituted “spirituality” and I explained that it was found in relationships, those immeasurable aspects of life that give significance and meaning to our existence.  He gave me his view concerning the universe and how it is a creation that God provided so that people could know about him.  I agreed and took it even farther, explaining that God is an artist; creation reveals his character. I pointed out God’s comment on his work in Genesis 1, “it is good,” and the significance of “separating the light from the darkness” as an expression of God’s goodness in which there is no flaw.

This raised the question of the authenticity of Scripture.  Since his work is in computer science, he gave the example of Windows 3.1 being superceded by Windows 95, then Windows 97, etc.  He suggested that the Bible has been superceded by the Qu’ran in the same way.  I pointed out that this would only be true if God has changed in his essential nature, or if people have changed in their essential need.  If not, then the truth that God spoke in the past is true for us today as well.  The purpose of the Bible is to bring us into a relationship with God, and is as helpful to us today in that task as it was when it was written.

Significant Conversations

The Hindu Sindhi helper on our team talked about his (now deceased) Guru who encouraged people to come and follow his teaching without leaving their own religious duties.  I responded by observing that this is not permissible for those of us who are Christians because of the exclusiveness of Jesus’ claims.  Jesus is the one with whom we have made a covenant and he does not allow his followers to have religious “mistresses”.  He nodded his head and said,  “yes, that is true.”  What we have been studying in the gospels has made that obvious to him.

When translating the difficult play on words used in Jn 3:3;4 – “born again” which also means “from above” – our Hindu helper was disturbed by Nicodemus’ incredulous reply about entering his mother’s womb.  This started a discussion about reincarnation and the lack of the concept within Christianity and Islam.  The message of the gospel speaks clearly to our hope in Jesus as the way to the father, not through an eternal cycle of birth and death.  This message of Jesus as the Savior of the world comes through loud and clear in the Gospels. All are called to respond to this good news, which calls us to faith (see Jn 20:31), on a personal level, not just on the level of comparative religions.


You can read more about the Sindhi people and Bible translation here…

The Board … The Prime Spiritual Community

I found myself amused, two weeks ago, by an article entitled “Good to Great to Godly.”1 After almost a decade of enjoying the influence of Jim Collin’s classic study on successful organizations, Good to Great, I was attracted by the clever turn of phrase. In the subtitle to the article, Mike Bonem2 exposed a bit of the problem that Church leaders have with organizational behavior: “corporate wisdom means ‘getting the right people on the bus,’ but spiritual leadership requires something more…”

For many in Church Leadership, it’s a familiar problem. On one hand you hear phrases like: “we’re a church, not a business … we can’t operate like the corporate world … we are not professionals.” On the other hand, many congregations suffer from a lack of discipline in their conduct and clarity in their operations. Ultimately, it’s not an either/or situation, a choice made between being either spiritual or functional. The challenge is for church leaders to be both great in their stewardship of tasks and Godly in their management of ministry.

Over the last five years, a lot of care has been invested to training Church Boards to observe Best Practices in their work. While attention is given to the dynamics of Church Board leadership … appropriate structures, understanding roles and relationships … one of the central principles that guide the training goes beyond the good management of ministry and into the realm of the Godly: The Church Board is the prime spiritual community of the church.

While that phrase may appear simple, the implications are many. One of the more relevant implications is that the manners, the accepted behavior of the Church Board members, sets the standard of spiritual and ethical behavior for the entire church. If those who serve do so in an ethical, honorable, and decent fashion that could be a very good thing. But, unfortunately that isn’t always the norm.

BAD MANNERS AT PLAY

Ever since we began to drill deeper into Church Board practices with the Best Practices workshop, and expand our discoveries with Church Consultations, I’ve discovered that it’s … how should I put this … possible to find some bad manners at play.

Over the last year, I’ve enjoyed the work of T.J. Addington, the author of the book High Impact Church Boards: Developing Healthy, Intentional and Empowered Leaders for Your Church. As a former pastor, board chair, and church consultant [with the Evangelical Free Church], T.J. has seen it all. I was intrigued that at least twice in the last year, he was bold enough to post his ‘bad manners’ discoveries on his website:3 Two of his postings: 15 Unfortunate things Boards do… and  Dumb things Church Boards do …

The lists include issues that are all too familiar: cave to loud voices … don’t require accountability … don’t make decisions, or stick with decisions … allow a church boss to hold informal veto power … lack transparency … don’t police problem members … don’t police themselves … fail to clarify what is critical for the congregation … allow elephants into the room …

It probably wouldn’t be too hard to add to the list. In an informal survey, I asked a number of denominational leaders, regional directors in British Columbia, to describe some of the leadership issues that had demanded their intervention and attention. It was interesting that very few had to do with theological issues. Instead, the issues were of an ethical and behavioral nature. They were issues where decisions were made on the basis of expediency and convenience at the expense of relationships, where ends justified means.

In pursuing the comments, I asked the regional directors to describe what sort of corrective measures they had observed. At first, their response was that bad behavior tended to be tolerated in churches until it became a critical issue. At that point, church leaders were forced to respond to the problem as it erupted, hoping that their ability to think clearly and pray fervently would carry them through. It is an approach that sometimes works, particularly if there are a few mature, wizened, experienced and well-trained leaders involved. But, more often than not, the reactive nature of responding to a crisis had enough flaws to create what one leader described as “vocational headaches and personal heartaches.”

PROFESSIONAL CODE OF ETHICS

A better solution? The conventional response is to develop a professional code of ethics. Virtually every profession has a written code of ethics to guarantee moral performance in the service, and there are robust examples of such standards set for ministry. In 1948, at the very beginning of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the team gathered in Modesto, California. In his book, Just As I Am, Billy Graham described the event: I called the team together to discuss the problem [of the scornful caricature attached to traveling evangelists, epitomized by the novel Elmer Gantry.] … I asked them to go to their rooms for an hour and list all the problems they could think of that evangelists and evangelism encountered. When they returned, the lists were remarkably similar, and we soon made a series of resolutions that would guide us in our future work. The result became known as the Modesto Manifesto, and it addressed four key issues: Money, Sexual Temptation, Local Churches, and Publicity. In later years, Cliff Barrows reflected on the Manifesto: In reality, it did not mark a radical departure for us; we had always held these principles. It did, however, settle in our hearts and minds, once and for all, the determination that integrity would be the hallmark of our lives and our ministries. And, as Marshall Shelly, editor of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal admits: Countless churches and ministries, including Leadership, have benefited from this model of living integrity set by the Graham team.

Having a code of ethics is helpful. In many cases, such a code is required by Insurance companies that provide liability coverage for ministers. Joe Trull, the editor of Christian Ethics Today and professor of Christian Ethics at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has written a handbook with James Carter for that very purpose.4 In the book, there is a collection of Ministerial Codes of Conduct from a wide variety of denominational ministries, including Baptists. As they do, they raise a very good question: Is a ministerial code of ethics a help or a hindrance?

Their first response is that Conservative pastors [clerics] may fear that a denominational hierarchy will use the code as a club to keep disloyal ministers in line and out of significant churches. Ministers of every stripe are nervous about a document that could threaten their pastoral autonomy?5

When I related this to the group of denominational leaders, they agreed that this was a fair assessment, ministerial reluctance. But, the suggestion was made that there were two additional questions that needed to be addressed. The first was that there was a more comprehensive need to set a standard for Church leadership at large and broaden the focus beyond the pastor. While the impact of a pastor’s behavior in church life is profound, so is that of a church board. In his book Transforming Church Boards into Spiritual Communities6, Charles Olsen writes of the board that it has tremendous power to affect a congregation negatively if it is severely conflicted, internally dysfunctional, or bogged down in a sticky mire of minutiae7. In essence, a Ministerial Code of Ethics should embrace all who serve in ministry.

The second question that was suggested, however, struck me as something a bit more basic and significant. In the broad sense, codes can only tell people how to act. That’s the nature of ethics, to describe acceptable conduct. But, Church ministry and leadership is drawn from a deeper well. We are accountable for behavior not because of practical expectations listed in an external code – but because of an authentic commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  As Joe Trull puts it, Ethical conduct based on Theological convictions is the very soil in which ministers work.

In essence, a code can provide helpful guidance, even a standard for measurement. But, for a Church Board to go from Good to Great to Godly, each member must come to the Board as a disciple of Jesus Christ, a new creature8 setting aside the old, eagerly to embrace the new in order to conduct a ministry of reconciliation worthy of an Ambassador of Jesus Christ.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND MATURITY

It’s been my experience that a sizeable number of Board leaders view their work as common business, only to be surprised by the discovery that it is an opportunity to take spiritual growth and maturity to a whole new level.

Everyone I know is familiar with the phrase WWJD, What would Jesus do? That’s probably the simplest ministerial code of ethics that you can find. I wonder what adjustment might be made if church leaders adopted that code for their conduct. But that’s ethical conduct, and I would suggest something more. Something like: WWJWMTB/HDJWUTGT? I realize that it wouldn’t fit on a bracelet, but the question does pose a deeper challenge: What would Jesus want me to become … How does Jesus want us to grow together? Those are the sort of questions that expose a board member and a board to another dimension of life … and behavior.

If the diagnosis that Charles Olsen made (that a board has tremendous power to affect a congregation negatively) is true, then it’s worth hearing his second diagnosis: a revitalized board owns tremendous potential for good … the level of commitment in a congregation will not rise above that of the “set apart” leaders. The sense of community and care for one another will not rise above that of the consistory [ie. church board] The stewardship practices will not rise above those of the council. The prayer life will not rise above that of the board. The capacity to reflect biblically and theologically will not rise above that of the board. The willingness to take a prophetic position will not rise above that of the board. The hope and excitement for the future of the church will not rise above that of the board…9

So, there is an earnest need in the works. We need to set our standards high and set our records towards a noble and righteous effort. But, the urgency of this appeal goes deeper, into the internal life of individual board members … and into the shared life of the board as a whole … to grow up Godly.

PS: For further reflections on this topic: Dr. David Horita and Dr. Lyle Schrag will address this and similar issues through the Ministry Training Workshops at the annual Convention of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in British Columbia and Yukon, April 23. Three workshops addressing Ethical Leadership:

  • The Sacrificial Nature of Spiritual Leadership – Dr. Lyle Schrag
  • Ethical Realities – Beyond Theoretical Integrity – Dr. David Horita
  • Corporate Integrity in the Church – Dr. David Horita

Participants are welcomed to attend!

    ____________________






  • 1Mike Bonem, “Good to Great to Godly.” Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, April 5, 2010.
  • 2Mike Bonem has a MBA from Harvard, and is the executive pastor of the West University Baptist Church in Houston.
  • 3http://leadingfromthesandbox.blogspot.com/
  • 4Joe Trull and James Carter, Ministerial Ethics: Moral Formation for Church Leaders, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.
  • 5Ministerial Ethics, p. 187.
  • 6Charles Olsen, Transforming Church Boards into Spiritual Communities: Alban Institute, 1995.
  • 7Transforming Church Boards into Spiritual Communities, p. 9
  • 8I Corinthians 5:17
  • 9Transforming Church Boards Into Spiritual Communities, p. 9

Working with Bias — Decision-making In Church Board Meetings

In the midst of every important decision a church board engages lurks a myriad of biases that batter the process like turbulent winds. Every board member brings these biases into the room, including the chair and lead pastor. Biases are human realities, but some can be beneficial, while others have potential for serious harm. How then does a church board chair help the board control or balance out its biases or assumptions? Read the blog here and discover some ways a board chair can help a board work with its biases.

















Equip Today – Impact Tomorrow

What a headline – “Canadian Seminary Enrolments drop by 15 – 20% in five years!” It’s true. In 2005 the total reported enrolment in Canadian Protestant Seminaries was 5751, but in 2009 this has decreased to 4860. The numbers have stabilized in the last year or two.

What does this mean? In the next few years the leadership deficit in our churches will become more serious. Our aging population means that more leaders will be retiring, but there will be fewer younger leaders to replace them. This can only mean that the competition among churches to locate exceptional ministry leaders will increase.

What a challenge!

But the story in Northwest is different. A modest surge in growth is occurring. In Spring 2009 we enrolled 44 students; in Spring 2010 64 students enrolled. We believe this change is due to the innovative work our Northwest team is doing, in collaboration with our Fellowship leadership, to make ministry training more affordable, more accessible, and more responsive to real leadership needs.

Please pray with us for God’s wisdom as we collaborate with our Fellowship leadership and selected lead pastors to consider developing a second path for training pastors. While the outlines of such a process are not yet clear, we recognize the need to engage and involve lead pastors more deeply, consistently and intentionally in identifying and developing candidates being called by God to pastoral ministry. This would parallel the successful work we have done in collaboration with your youth pastors to implement an alternative way to equip new youth pastors. This year we will be graduating another three youth pastors through this system. We believe the same can be done for other kinds of pastoral leaders.

An important forum discussing this second path will be held with selected lead pastors just prior to our April Fellowship Convention.

Thank you for your encouragement, prayers and support in these recent months. Change continues to be our primary challenge. Please pray that God will give us wisdom and Spirit-based courage to know how best to lead Northwest in such times.

Blessings,

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

President

2010-03-16 Board Summary

The Northwest Baptist Seminary Board of Governors met Friday evening and Saturday, March 12 -13, 2010. On Friday, Northwest hosted its third “State of the Seminary” evening for the Board, faculty and staff with spouses, as well as special guests. The theme for the evening was “Equip Today — Impact Tomorrow.”  We were encouraged by increased enrolment, effective alumni, good leadership and sound fiscal management. Yet, we also recognize that much work remains if our mission and vision is to be fulfilled. I believe the conclusion of this year’s work marks 70 years of ministry for Northwest.

Several significant issues were the focus of the Board’s attention. They continue their work in searching for and selecting a new President. Dr. Perkins’ term ends July 31, 2011. The Joint-Audit Committee recommended to the Board that the Auditor’s report be approved, which the Board did. It was a clean audit, showing a surplus in operations for 2009. This represents the fifth year of operations with a balanced budget. Northwest’s investments have recovered fully from the 2008 financial downturn.  The Board reappointed Loewen Kruse as auditors for 2010.  As well the Board approved Northwest’s 2010 budget.

The Board acknowledged the receipt of funds from an estate gift and authorized the President to spend some of those funds to improve Northwest’s educational technology and develop a more effective marketing and grant-writing capacity.

In order to ensure stable academic leadership during the period of presidential transition, the Board appointed Dr. Kent Anderson to another two year term as Northwest’s Dean (May 1, 2010 to April 30, 2012).

The President in his reports to the Board during the past year has highlighted the startling decrease in enrolment among Canadian Seminaries over the last five years. Remarkably, due to our efforts in the Fellowship to collaborate and the initiatives that Northwest has taken to respond to the leadership challenges within our Fellowship, Northwest’s enrolment has shown an increase for this same period. This past year 41 Fellowship people benefited from the Seminary’s formal leadership development programs and many more received assistance through workshops and other informal learning experiences. The President has also kept the Board informed about the challenges that the Associated Canadian Theological Schools, the Consortium, is facing. The Board authorized its Governance committee to recommend to the next Board meeting a process for thinking creatively regarding Northwest’s future.  Our current strategic plan is serving us well, but we need to be governing into the future.

The Board reviewed several policies, including the Ends Policy and made minor changes.

The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, June 12, 2010. Seminary graduation will take place on Sunday, April 25 at Northview Community Church, Abbotsford (the service starts at 4:30pm). Northwest has thirteen graduates and ACTS in total will be graduating around eighty students.  We congratulate especially several Fellowship people in their graduation:  Estera Boldut (Master of Counseling), Andrew Eby (Master of Arts in Christian Studies), Jeffrey Kuhn (Master of Divinity), Jonathan Michael (Master of Arts in Christian Studies), Jeff Thomas (Master of Theological Studies).

If you have questions about any of these matters, please connect with me at perkins@twu.ca.


Respectfully,

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

President.

The Flywheel of Leadership

Since his book Good to Great was published in 2001, the application of Jim Collin’s study on organizational success has extended beyond the business world. Through his research on companies that have excelled in their mission, a number of distinct dynamics emerged. The remarkable by-product of the study was how relevant those dynamics are to the health of Church.

I know that it may seem tiresome to keep returning to the same source for several years. I’ve used Good to Great as a reference in the Leadership Connections before. But, over the last few months I’ve found another of Jim Collin’s dynamics to be a helpful illustration as I’ve been consulting with Churches who are struggling to find a way to create traction for their Leadership Development efforts.

The dynamic is that of “The Flywheel.”1 Beginning with a quote from Igor Stravinsky that “Revolution means turning the wheel,” Collins paints a vivid picture of a:

huge and heavy flywheel – a massive disk mounted horizontally on an axle … Imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete on entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster … a second rotation … Keep pushing in a consistent direction … three turns … four … it builds momentum … eleven … twelve … moving faster with each turn … twenty … fifty … a hundred.

Then, at some point – breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in … hurling the flywheel forward … its own weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster … each turn of the flywheel builds upon the work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort … the huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum. … What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast? … was it the first push, the second, the hundredth? No! It was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction.

The conclusion: “Good to great comes about by a cumulative process – step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel – that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.”

As I carry that image to heart, it has helped me understand the forces and spiritual physics at work in healthy churches – especially those related to Leadership Development. During the first year as the Director of the Fellowship Centre for Leadership Development, I had a chance to finally map out a process of leadership development. Having been a pastor for 25 years, I had a general awareness of the process, but, like most pastors, didn’t have the time to reflect deeply into the dynamics. As a result, the path I cut for new leaders was generally effective, but still rather fuzzy. Having the chance to look deeply into the matter allowed me not only to clarify the process but also identify “handles” that would turn Leadership Development into a flywheel of momentum in the church.

The process that I mapped was one simply expressed in the Bible. Ephesians 4 “to prepare God’s people [and by that, I have to believe it to be all of God’s people] for works of service”2 … and that the expression of their service is a natural outcome of having “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”3[iii] Viewing it through Ephesians, Leadership Development isn’t a niche activity for just a select few. It’s the destiny of every mature believer. In essence, that thought led to a definition that a Biblical Leader is one who: is aware of their God-given personality, reliant upon their God-given resources, willingly accepting their God-given mission, to influence a group of God-chosen people, toward God’s purposes. With that definition at heart, the process that I mapped ran through each of the time honored “steps” toward spiritual maturity recognized by even the earliest Churches: conversion, spiritual disciplines, spiritual formation, and vocational formation.4

That said (and forgive the repetition) I have this imaginative picture in my mind of the process as a Flywheel with handles readily available to start the spin. It’s my experience that healthy churches keep spinning the wheel every time they celebrate a baptism, or new membership, or add new leaders. Making a “big deal” of the progress people make in their spiritual growth becomes a repetitive message that sets the congregation “humming.”

However, I have also experienced a struggle in these healthy churches to equate this momentum toward spiritual growth with leadership development. People know that they are growing in their faith and engaging in a life of service and ministry but somehow don’t see it as journey toward leadership. It’s as if the term “leadership” is assigned to only a small, elite cadre of mystically “called” people (think “priesthood”).

As I’ve pondered the problem with a couple of pastors, the image of the Flywheel returns to mind. Looking at it carefully, it’s missing a very large and important handle. Oh, the handles of baptism and membership and leadership recognition are quite fine, and spinning them consistently once, twice, fifty and a hundred times helps. But the one handle that makes for a “breakthrough” is the one that is specifically known for Leadership Discovery.

I know it sounds like an advertisement, but this image came to mind after talking with a pastor who had used the “Heart for Ministry” materials we had produced five years ago. The first time, four people joined him in the study in response to his challenge for them to “take their service to another level.” Together, they studied through the 12 sessions, defining what leadership is, describing their understanding of what it means to be “called” by God, discovering their gifts and leadership styles, and ultimately writing up their “life purpose” as a declaration of their next step toward a mature ministry.

There was something about the experience that captured their attention, but even more created a sense of curiosity in others. The pastor decided to do it again, this time with a few more people. At this stage, I’m not sure how many times the course has been offered, but it has become an annual event and appears to have become a flywheel of momentum in the church as people are purposefully and intentionally taking on “leadership” at higher levels. I suppose that it’s no mistake that the pastor has now been asking about the Ministry Assessment Process. He’s got a few people no longer curious about what God has got in store for their future. They are now making a move. And, in the terms of the Flywheel – that’s a Breakthrough.

    _________________



  • 1Jim Collins, Good to Great, HarperCollins: 2001, p. 164.
  • 2Ephesians 4:12
  • 3Ephesians 4:13
  • 4Certainly a repetition of a theme that has become my “mantra,” drawn from the study of the early church by Robert Webber, Journey to Jesus

Carrying the Torch in Castlegar

On January 24th, I had the privilege of carrying the Olympic Torch in Castlegar, BC.  Like many of the other 12000 torch bearers across this country, I was selected for this honour because of my involvement in the community.

However, as I carried the torch high, for my 300 meters of fame at 8:12am on a Sunday morning, I realized this honour did not belong to me alone.  This was made very clear to me even before my torch was lit.  As I was waiting for the flame, a mom with two boys at her side saw me, and said, “look it’s Pastor Colin from High Power Soccer Camp.”  They quickly ran to my side, and snapped a few pictures and I let them hold the torch.

Any recognition I received in Castlegar, is really only an extension of the mission of Kinnaird Park Community Church.  KPCC encouraged my involvement as a coach in minor soccer as part of their outreach ministry.  The community recognizes the ministries of Kinnaird Park like High Power Soccer Camp and the children’s programs they run as important contributions to the area.  Finally, Kinnaird Park has welcomed and supported many community groups and organizations by providing space in their facility.

After I was shuttled back to the local Rec Center, the community celebration began as the torch lit the cauldron in Castlegar.  I was unable to stay, because I joined another form of community celebration.  In my torch bearer outfit, I spoke at Kinnaird Park about how God has called us as a Region, local churches and as individuals to be light to the world.  I really do believe that when we are a city on a hill that shares and shows the love of Jesus that we make an eternal difference and people will glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

God’s Provision

God’s done it again – totally exceeded my expectations! I can affirm Paul’s claim in Philippians 4:19 that “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Our goal for the operational and bursary fund this year totaled $99,000 and as of December 31, 2009, God has blessed us with $102,500. Given the dismal financial situation that we experienced during the first half of 2009 in the world economy, this result is surely God’s special provision. Thank you for your part in this.

God is the master of surprise. It’s probably connected with his delight in mystery – letting us in on his plans just when we need to know. His promises and His subsequent supply provide us with ample reason to walk confidently with Him. I have enough experience in my role as President to know that new, unexpected challenges will emerge in the next twelve months that will require me to trust God for the solutions. Since God faithfully has led and provided in each past year, I have no doubt He will supply what is needed in 2010.

So January 1 starts us on another lap of faithful living. What a challenge – to live 365 days for God, prayerfully, passionately trusting and serving Him, and then to model this transparently and authentically before colleagues, students, and supporters. Your prayers will be a significant help, enabling me to provide faithful leadership as President of Northwest.

I have two prayer concerns that I would share with you:

1. that we will see the Holy Spirit work powerfully in the lives of many men and women, leading them to accept God’s call to ministry and the rigorous training that this will require;

2. that God will continue to bless the efforts we are making to work collaboratively with our churches and our denominational leaders to identify, encourage, and equip effective ministry leaders.

Financially, our targets for our operational and bursary funds in 2010 will be $97,000. In April 2010 we anticipate graduating, together with the seminaries in ACTS, about 65 newly-equipped ministry leaders. Your partnership in this task of leadership development remains a critical component.

May God bless you in this New Year.  May his grace “fill your sails” every day.

Canadians don’t talk about religion

By embracing dialogue rather than proclamation as an approach to engage people with our faith, are we selling out to cultural pressures?  By choosing the route of Significant Conversations because it is more comfortable and natural for us in our pluralist society, does this mean we are neglecting our call to proclaim the gospel?  Are we in danger of “watering down the gospel” by presenting it as only one of many beliefs? This article explores the reasons why dialogue represents an appropriate contextualization of evangelism that fits with our cultural “language” and mood, rather than an inappropriate capitulation to societal pressures.

>>View the entire article here


Talking About the Gospel in a Pluralist Society

When faced with expressions of values that clash with biblical perspectives, Christians often resort to either “fight or flight” in response.  They either say nothing and miss an opportunity for a significant conversation, or they challenge the value. Fortunately, there is another way to engage people in conversation that is both rewarding and enjoyable, leaving all partners with their dignity intact and with a desire for further discussion.  Evangelism as dialogue, as opposed to proclamation, is proposed as a culturally sensitive approach through which people can converse about the values and beliefs that shape their lives. This perspective follows the principles of Significant Conversations: Evangelism that resonates with our Canadian context.

>>View the entire article here

The Unique Dynamics of Church Boards

On Saturday, November 7, 63 leaders from 7 Fellowship Baptist churches met for training at the Best Practices for Church Boards workshop. Even though we have been providing this training since 2005, the latest workshop was unique. We are constantly seeking to improve the value of the training, and through careful evaluation and surveys, we decided to reshape the teaching portion of the workshop around two distinct elements.

The first was to create a distinct list of capacities, or competencies, that define the unique responsibility that Church Boards must develop. The fact is that the responsibility of a church board is different than that of other non-profit boards on a number of levels, not the least of which is that a church board is responsible for a Spiritual body as well as a human organization. Identifying the unique list of Church Board competencies helps target training objectives.

The second element was intended to help churches discover the unique dynamics that belong to their specific church culture. It’s a matter of context for leadership. In the past, some churches have felt that the board training didn’t apply to their specific situation. To some degree, they were right, and the fact is that there is probably no single variable that affects congregational life and leadership responsibility as size. As Tim Keller writes, “size has enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a “size culture” that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and how ministers, staff, and governing leaders relate.”

To help get a perspective on the relationship between church size and leadership demands, I developed a chart of four basic sizes of Church: Small (50-150), large-Small (200-350), small-Large (400-650), and Large (800-1,200). With each, the chart identified four general and unique characteristics related to: 1) The type of leadership structure (collective board, working/administrative board, traditional structural board, and a policy board); 2) The role of the Board; 3) The role of a Lead Pastor; 4) The role of a Staff or Ministry Team.

As the Church leaders matched the reality of their church size with their existing roles, they found that having a context helped them discover better ways to approach their work. Some of the comments from the day: Did we achieve clarity? Yes and we hope for a better chemistry and unity among board members … Our leadership team has needed to have a good discussion about our roles and clarifying who we are and what we are all about … the most beneficial thing from this workshop was defining the equally significant and complementary role of the board and the pastor … it has moved us forward.

While there is more work to be done and more applications to be made on the subject of size and an appropriate model of leadership relationships, there was one point that emerged from the discussion that transcended the presentation.

In an after-meeting discussion, one seasoned Board veteran made the comment: I’ve seen Church Boards with bad organizational models still work quite well. And, I’ve also seen Church Boards with great models stumble badly. When I asked him what made the difference, there was no hesitation in the answer: Spirit! Heart! A common Passion!

What a delightful discovery. A number of years ago, Jeffery Sonnenfeld wrote an article in the Harvard Business Journal, “What Makes a Great Board Great.” His conclusion was an echo of the same answer: “What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust effective social systems.” Let me express it in simpler terms: they are people who work well together, who trust one another, who empower each other, and who need each other.

Let me suggest that there are a number of elements that can be found in the Spirit of a Great Church Board:

  1. A common Spiritual passion for their shared mission: They see their work together as a higher calling, and their relationship as a band of disciples centered by a common commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are more attuned to serving Him than they are to promoting a personal agenda. They seem to embody Romans 12:4-5 where they are determined to relate as a Body and not a Business. This perspective is reflected toward a sense of purpose: that their service on a Church Board is a critical spiritual ministry … and reflected toward their relationship with each other: that they need each other to fulfill that ministry.
  2. A tangible agreement to obey and support their shared role: While they tend to be very careful in evaluating their effectiveness and sensitive to “doing things better,” they are deeply committed to honoring their shared commitments and are obedient to the boundaries of their role. And, with their obedience, they are able to express their respect for one another.
  3. A climate of trust and candor: This is one of the five elements related by Sonnenfeld’s study of exemplary boards, and one that relates to the spirit of honesty and confidentiality that defines the integrity of Godly service. Great church boards are able to share difficult information and challenge each other with respect. They are able to, as Sonnenfeld writes, “be strong enough to withstand clashing viewpoints.” Their relationships could be described as “Iron sharpening Iron” and often their ability to disagree serves to provide creative solutions.

There are certainly more elements to be found, and I’ve begun to collect them as I’ve been examining and asking Church Boards to describe their healthiest dynamics. It’s an important task, done with the realization that if a Church Board is to truly fulfill it’s calling, it must go beyond attention to the details of direction and governance and the boundaries of an organizational chart. It must go to the heart of a unique bond of fellowship crafted by the Spirit of God.

Children’s Ministry

1191196_67173144Do you believe in the body of Christ? Somewhat of a ridiculous question to ask those who fully believe in Scripture and the teachings of 1 Corinthians 12. But if the saying ‘we practice what we preach’ is true, then where are all the children? In your ‘body of Christ’ – your congregation – where are all the children? Are they part of the body? Or are they a dismembered limb?

These are challenging questions, and to some, simply offensive, but they need to be asked. I worked in Children’s Ministry for 6 years before the children of my church were part of the ‘main body.’ Too many children had never seen communion or baptism, had never heard a missionary report or a pastoral prayer, had never seen their parents give in tithing, knew not their parents’ songs of worship … in short, ‘adult’ church had no meaning, no context, and no place for them.

Did we believe in the body of Christ? Could be debated.

Scottie May TeachingAt the TRANSFORM: Children’s Ministry Conference, we were posed with a variety of questions such as those above, challenging us to give honest answers. Compelling us to admit that though we believe in theory, our practice is not what we preach.

Dr. Scottie May, Assistant Professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College, and a long time participant in Children’s Ministry, brought us to the foundation of what we do. This was not a ‘cookie cutter conference’ where we took home a program and attempted to implement a program for 250 children with the 25 that attend. This was a challenge for each Children’s Pastor to consider children in light of the Scriptures; to consider their church’s and their leadership’s view of the child; to consider their programming and whether it left a child worshipping the one true God or mesmerized by their Nickelodeon set-up. As one participant wrote, the most beneficial aspect was “being challenged to think … not given too many answers, just more questions.” And as another wrote, “She [Scottie] really pushed people to think outside the norm and I thought that was great.”

Sessions at the Children's Ministry ConferenceBreakout sessions brought more depth and insight to Scottie’s teachings.  She began by stating, “I am not a speaker. I am a teacher and I’m here to teach. So let’s get started!”  Children’s pastors were given tools for practicing the spiritual disciplines with children; given scripture and helps for running a Bible-saturated ministry; and given tips from the ‘Little Blue Church’ on how to build a strong and healthy relationship with their local public school. Our eyes were opened to the needs of ‘special needs’ children and their families, and how the church can support them. Our hearts were drawn to sharing God’s story with hurting and abused children. And this is just a sampling.

So where did we (over 50 churches) go from there? Back to church. We went back to our ministries considering, contemplating and wondering why we do what we do. We were given the tools to biblically and philosophically consider our ministry and its purpose and spiritual effectiveness. We were encouraged to dialogue with church leadership to reconsider their perspective on children. In short, we left transformed.

Now some did not go directly back to church. Eleven of us continued our learning in the class, Transformational Teaching in Children’s Ministry, offered by Northwest Baptist Seminary and ACTS Seminaries. We had the privilege of diving even further into the elements and theory of teaching and learning, into the perspectives on children’s ministry, into curriculum development and assessment, into ministry to special needs children and finally into ministry to pre-teen children. The specialists who taught each component brought much wisdom and knowledge and reaffirmed what others had already taught.

And now we continue our learning. In January Northwest/ACTS will offer the class Biblical Philosophy of Children’s Ministry which will delve into a holistic understanding of Children’s Ministry. It will provide context for contemporary ministry, by looking into the history of Christian Education and the Sunday School movement. It will provide a biblical basis for writing objectives, goals and purpose statements for Children’s Ministry. It will teach Children’s Pastors how to write a Philosophy for Children’s Ministry, develop a Ministry Plan, and intricately assess a Children’s Ministry program. The professor, Melodie Bissell (MDV), brings wisdom, knowledge, passion and over 30 years of experience in Children’s Ministry to share with the students.

For more information on Children’s Ministry courses, and the Executive Certificate in Children’s Ministry of which these are a part, go to: www.nbseminary.com/academic-resources/certificates

“Deep Church”

Deep Church

On my website, preaching.org I posted the following review about Jim Belcher’s new book, Deep Church.  Click on the link below to read it in its entirety.

If you are anything like me, you have found yourself whip-sawed in recent years between the traditional and emerging churches. My recent comments on the Piper/Wright debate are a case in point. As much as I appreciate John Piper’s emphasis upon the legal aspects of the atonement, I find myself compelled by Wright’s concern for the broader implications of justification. As I read these conversations, I get the sense that the various parties are somehow “talking past each other,” as if they were speaking different languages.

For that reason, I was instantly drawn to Jim Belcher’s objective in his new book, Deep Church. Belcher, who has been something of an “insider” to the conversation over many years, is searching for a “third way beyond emerging and traditional.” Utilizing a phrase he found in C.S. Lewis, Belcher describes this third way as “Deep Church,” a way of doing and being church that draws on both sides of the continuum. The result, one hopes, is a church that avoids the excesses of the combatants, while embracing what is good in both.


>>View the entire article here





2009-10-17 Board Summary

Northwest Baptist Seminary

Summary of the Board of Governor’s Meeting

October 17, 2009


Every two years the Board at their October meeting gathers for a two day retreat, that incorporates their business meeting. They defined their theme this year as “learning how to develop leaders collaboratively – a ten year perspective.” So much of what the Seminary does is networked with other entities, such as our Fellowship Ministry Centre, our Seminary partners in ACTS, local churches, other Fellowship Regions, Trinity Western University, etc. The list is growing as networking and collaboration become a way of ministry. So the Board wanted an opportunity to reflect more critically and deeply about the way Northwest should develop such networks for the advancement of its mission. Presenters included David Horita, Laurie Kennedy, Mike Mawhorter, Ken Radant (ACTS Principal/Dean), and various Northwest people. The Board continues to make time to listen to our key stakeholders.

The Board’s Succession Committee presented a series of recommendations to guide the Board in the search for and appointment of a new President, beginning August 1, 2011. The Search Committee will be Larry Nelson (Board Chair), Merv Loewen (Board member), Dale Beckman (Board Member), David Horita (FEBBC/Y Regional Director), Northwest Faculty member. This process will be initiated over the coming months.

During the past two years the Board has reviewed the Northwest Bylaws. A revised set of bylaws was approved for recommendation to the April 2010, FEBBC/Y Convention. These revisions bring the Northwest Bylaws into conformity to the revised FEBBC/Y Bylaws.

At their June meeting the Board approved a revised set of Ends Policies, defining the results that the Board expects Northwest will achieve and holding the President responsible for their achievement. This has meant a revision of the strategic plan, which was tabled for the Board’s review. The Board will discuss the strategic plan again at their March 2010 meeting.

The ACTS 2008-2009 Fiscal Year ended April 30. The Board reviewed the ACTS Audited Statements and approved their acceptance, pending approval by the ACTS Joint Governance Committee. As well the Board approved support of recommendations to deal with the accumulated ACTS deficit.

The Northwest Fiscal Year coincides with calendar year. At the October meeting the Board approved basic parameters for the President to use in establishing the 2010 budget and also authorizing use of investment income to support operations, financial aid and special projects.

Northwest is grateful for the various grants it has received from the Foundation for Fellowship Baptist Ministries. The Board approved the 2009 grant application. The Board also approved the establishment of a Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Worldview Studies (Korean Language) to be done with Trinity Western University, subject to the University’s approval. The program is slated to begin July 2010. Further, the Board supported the administration’s decision to apply for membership in the Association of Theological Schools.

Dr. Rapske’s application of sabbatical in 2010 was supported by the Board.

The Senate approved the new Certificate in Children’s Ministry and the Certificate in Pastoral Formation and Leadership Studies (Korean Language), designed to assist the leadership development of our Korean churches.

If you have questions about any of these items please feel free to contact myself or the Board chair, Larry Nelson, or one of the current Board Members. You will find their names on the Northwest website.

Sincerely,
Larry Perkins, Ph.D.
President.

Navigating Uncertainty

Recently a report came across my desk urging leaders to “master the discipline of uncertainty.” Since they cannot predict the future, leaders must “adopt, adapt, and build” new capabilities to navigate uncertainty.  Sounds severely challenging! But it is no different when it comes to equipping ministry leaders.

Diverse changes occurring in the evangelical church world, cultural swings abroad in society, and drastic adjustments in world economies generate significant uncertainties. Discerning godly direction and staying in step with the Spirit within this dense matrix requires courage, continuous learning, tenacity, and humbleness – deep, persistent listening for God’s voice.

. . . leadership is essential to the development of healthy churches

What I experience as a Seminary President I am sure you are experiencing in your world as well. I know our students sense it keenly and wonder how they will ever manage to step into God’s calling with confidence. Every day they are learning to master the discipline of uncertainty. Hopefully they see it modeled in their ministry and faculty mentors. As one student said, “I’m finally able to respond to a 30-year call to ministry. It’s intimidating, but I’m glad to have a seminary that understands what I’m doing and is committed to helping me.”

I am encouraged that our Northwest enrolment has increased 13%, to 67 students, of which 34 are part of Fellowship Baptist congregations. Northwest is the second largest seminary in the ACTS consortium. Some of these students are enrolled in the new Worship and the Arts Certificate or the Korean language Certificate in Pastoral Formation and Leadership Studies. Our new Children’s Ministry Leadership Training program begins in a few weeks built around a major conference for Children’s Ministry Leaders.

We continue to adopt, adapt and build new leadership training capacity. Be assured that  your investment in Northwest continues to generate Kingdom results. Our mission is to equip effective ministry leaders and the demand for good leaders continues to outstrip our ability to recruit and train them. We thank God for the measure of progress He is helping us achieve. Your prayers remain an instrumental part of our ministry.

But growth also brings some new challenges and one of these is financial. Through the first part of this fiscal year (January – August) our giving has remained on track. Thank you for your faithfulness. We now approach the last few months of 2009 and to accomplish the various leadership projects initiated we will require approximately $60,000. We are trusting God to meet this need through your support. Whether it is $100 or $5,000, each gift will be important. Please remember that  equities can also be gifted to Northwest.

Along with your investment in our current ministry, perhaps you would also consider a planned gift through your estate, so that the ministry of Northwest might grow with greater impact in the future.

You will find information about these various options here on our website. However, we would be pleased to help you directly, if that is more convenient (604-888-7592).

Remember, leadership is essential to the development of healthy churches.


With thanks,

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

President

Measurements for Faithfulness and Accountability

Over the last two months, we have been conducting a thorough review of our training program for Church Boards (better known as Best Practices for Church Boards). For four years, over 50 Churches and over 300 church leaders have participated in our Board training initiatives. Throughout the experience, we have learned more and more about the unique dynamics of Church leadership. This has led us to elevate the training to higher levels. Beginning this Fall at the November 7th Best Practices for Church Boards Basic Workshop we intend to present a comprehensive schedule of Workshops that will address a distinct checklist of Church Board competencies. The Fall workshop will address several of those competencies as it has in the past. But, our intention is to present a cycle of Basic workshops that will engage the full Church Board leadership experience. More on that to come …

But, for now, one of the key issues that emerged in our study is that Church Board leaders often struggle to define their key responsibility. In their book, Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, Richard Chait, William Ryan and Barbara Taylor identify three functions or types of Board governance. The “bedrock” task of a Board, given within Type 1 (Fiduciary mode) is to “ensure that nonprofit organizations are faithful to mission, and accountable for performance…” (p. 7).

To “ensure” faithfulness and accountability calls for a board to be able to measure strategic goals. On the surface, many Church Boards struggle to know how to measure the goals, but there is a deeper issue at stake: to know what goals are to be measured.

In an article entitled Monitoring Your Organization’s Performance: The Dash Board Instrument (Board Matters, Article No. 20, www.governance.com.au), Tom Holland says that Boards must identify the information that they need staff to give them on a regular basis so that they can adequately monitor and evaluate the success of the organizational mission. However, Boards are often frustrated with a myriad of distractions: data overload, inappropriate levels of detail in information, information with an administrative rather than missional perspective … unproductive information which lacks strategic relevance.

Holland continues by presenting the concept of a Dashboard as an analogy of an instrument that a Board creates to monitor the critical measurements that gauge the healthy progress of the core and essential mission at hand. To build an effective “Dashboard” however, the Board must have a clear idea of what constitutes critical measures.

In order to do that, Boards must develop one of the most vital skills they can exercise as a group: the ability to ask strategic questions. There is an old axiom that a person is to be judged by their questions rather than their answers. In his eNewsletter, Leadership Wired, (Questions That Sustain Your Leadership) John Maxwell writes, the willingness to ask questions coupled with the discipline to seek out answers separates leaders from followers … influencers question assumptions, inquire about the environment around them, and probe into the future … they have an insatiable appetite to learn, and they convert their knowledge to action at light speed.

For Church Boards, there are a number of questions that must be asked:

1. What are the top priorities of our mission as a congregation? What is it that God has for us to do?

2. What key aspects of our ministry do we want to monitor that will make a difference in people’s lives and advance the kingdom of God?

3. What are the best ways to display the outcome of our ministry efforts?

4. What will we do with the reports we receive? How will we celebrate the fruit or address the deficiencies of our ministry?

I would imagine that the answers to the first two questions are the most important and deserve the careful and prayerful reflection of Church Leaders. The Great Commission that defines the strategic purpose of the Church is focused on people rather than programs. We are to “make disciples” which means that our task is measured in terms of human life rather than organizational structure. And, the benchmarks of a successful ministry are identified best by naming names and gathering testimonies.

In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal provides an illustration of the sort of measurements that reflect a people, rather than a program, development culture. Some of the items he sets behind the dashboard as a gauge for ministry include (adapted from his list):

  • Number of people reporting improved marriages over time
  • Number of people reporting improved family life over time
  • Number of people engaged in strengths identification and development
  • Number of people who have identified a sense of God’s calling and have created and are following a life development plan
  • Number of people serving other people in some venue
  • Number of people practicing intentional blessing strategies for those around them
  • Number of people being mentored
  • Number of people serving as mentors
  • Number of people able to articulate life mission .. core values
  • Number of people reporting improvements in spiritual life over time
  • Number of people growing in financial giving to kingdom causes
  • Number of people pursuing job skill … ministry skill development
  • Number of people reporting addiction recovery progress

The list Church Boards construct must reflect their church’s mission and vision and be appropriate to both. The consequences of the exercise will determine the measurements within the strategic questions bringing insurance of mission faithfulness and performance accountability. As McNeal writes: to pull this off requires a retooling, a reallocation of every resource the church and church leaders employ … prayer, people (both leaders and ministry constituents), time, finances, facilities and technology. But, once retooled, the Board fulfills its calling to be focused and engaged in the greatest venture of all.


Continuing Education At Its Best

The end of summer encourages us to reflect on the ‘harvest’ that our work in these past months is producing. I do know that 250 pastors, lay people and emerging leaders were involved in various courses and other leadership development opportunities from May to August. This included the Smarter Families Canada workshops.

I think for me one of the most significant offerings was the Addictions and Recovery Ministry Conference we 2009-06-addiction-banner-02co-sponsored June 26-27. Sixty-five people registered and enjoyed two days of high-powered interaction with medical and ministry experts from Canada and the United States. The Liver and Intestinal Research Centre directed by Dr. Frank Anderson provided both financial support and organization leadership.

As I participated in the sessions, the presentations by Dr. Paul Earley, Medical Director at Talbot Recovery Campus, Atlanta, Georgia, gave me a whole new perspective on human addictions. From his twenty years of experience in treating addictive diseases and providing therapy to assist in recovery, he spoke with compassion, realism, and immense professional credibility. When he revealed that 6-7% of people in our society have a genetic disposition that makes them vulnerable to addictive behaviour, it astonished me. As he demonstrated how critical family history is in the development of addictive behaviour, the role of parents in breaking the chain of addiction emerged as a critical element.

One of his colleagues, Woody Roberts, is involved in the spiritual dimension of treatment and recovery. This might surprise you, but both Dr. Earley and Dr. Roberts asserted several times that addictions and recovery are at root a spiritual matter. Without acknowledged dependence upon God, the chances of an addict recovering from this behaviour are rather slim.

About 8% of Canadians wrestle with some kind of addiction – alcohol, drugs, gambling, work, pornography, food, videogames, etc. So within a congregation of 200 people, 10 to 20 of them are probably wrestling with addictive behaviours of some sort. Individuals from all socio-economic sectors are affected.

By offering this conference we assisted pastoral leaders, chaplains, counselors, medical practitioners to understand the nature of addiction, its spiritual dimensions, and the challenge of persistent recovery. This is continuing education at its best.

Already plans are underway to offer a second conference. But we realize that conferences, as helpful as they may be do not provide a sustaining training model. So we are exploring ways and means of offering focused workshops in specific aspects of recovery ministry so that ministry leaders can discern creative ways to initiate these kinds of important spiritual services in their churches and local communities. We desire to impact our society with the Gospel in this way.

Your financial support is helping to implement initiatives like this, ones that make a practical and significant difference. Thank you for your commitment to sustain and increase Northwest’s ministry.

I am sure you are wondering how we are doing financially at this point in our fiscal year (December is our year-end). God is faithful. Our investments continue to generate the income we require for our operating budget. Our gift income is at the same level it was a year ago at this time. During these last four months (September to December) we will require $65,000 in financial gifts from supporters to meet our budget. This is the same amount we raised during this period in 2008. If you can assist, please let me know.

There is another important way that you can invest in our ministry for the long term and that is through an estate gift. As you plan the disposition of your assets, perhaps you would include in those instructions a gift of 2-5% for Northwest. Normally such gifts are placed in our endowment, with the income supporting our annual budget. This is one of the most important investments you could make for Kingdom impact.

Thank you for your prayers. I trust you will enjoy all of God’s wonderful blessing in this Fall season. It will be very busy for us as we engage a new academic year.

The Conundrum of prayer

Recently a friend sent me a link to a blog skeptical of the power of prayer. Some key comments taken from the blog are as follows:

cell-phoneSurely the divines can explain what distinguishes the moments when prayers do save someone from those when they don’t.   Is it the targets of prayers that are distinguishable, or the people doing the praying?  Perhaps someone could keep tabs and analyse the results, in the spirit of scientific inquiry.  Or does God just have priorities wildly different from ours?  But who can possibly imagine a reason why God wouldn’t respond to prayers to save an officer’s life, but would respond to the petitions that we are regularly told have produced a divine affirmative—to get someone out of debt, say, or to cure someone of illness?

I take it that believers do not ascribe such inconsistent results to capriciousness on God’s part, but rather to their own limited capacities to understand God’s ways:  “Thy Will be done.”  But why continue directing any psychic energy to a being so lacking in sympathetic correspondence to human needs and values.  It will not do to say: “God does respond to our prayers, but in ways that we cannot fathom.”  Saving a child from cancer and letting a child die from cancer cannot both be a sympathetic response to prayer; if we had wanted a stricken child to die in order to secure an earlier entry to heaven, we would have said so.  And if premature death from cancer is such a boon, why doesn’t a loving God provide it to one and all?

It is humans who work with passion and commitment every day to try to save their fellows (and a range of other creatures) from suffering and sorrow.  Emergency room medicine is constantly evolving to try to ensure that gun shot victims and people crushed by cars survive.  Doctors and hospital staff work frantically throughout the night to try to revive a failing heart or a shattered brain.  They do so out of love and compassion, while God, who could restart an exhausted heart in an instant, demurs.  The only source of love on earth is human empathy.  Transferring our own admirable traits onto a constructed deity just obscures the real human condition: we are all we have, but that is saying a lot.1

Is God "lacking in sympathetic correspondence to human needs and values"?

These are valid (and common) questions considering the assumptions the author of the blog is making about prayer. However, I believe that her primary assumption is mistaken.  She writes as if the purpose of prayer is to instigate God’s action in our affairs.  Even as a call to 911 stimulates the paramedics into predictable action, so our prayers should result in God acting according to our perceived needs.  Because the act of prayer has uncertain results, God must lack “sympathetic correspondence to human needs and values.”

The assumption being made is that our life and relationships here on this earth are the supreme purpose of existence.  Therefore, any Absolute being who is good would automatically, let alone requiring petitions, respond in order to fulfill that purpose.  But from the Christian perspective, that assumption is incorrect.  The supreme purpose of existence is our relationship to God.  God is reality in the same way that God is love.  Our life here is intended to be an expression of that reality as we work it out in the midst of the dangers and brokenness of this material world.  Even as nature is an expression of God (his artwork), but is not God himself, so our lives on this earth are an expression of reality, but there is something (someone) behind all that we experience which gives meaning to our existence. That ultimate reality is encountered as we live in harmony with God.  Jesus said, “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).

The pain, the danger, the beauty, the development, and the uncertainty of life all play a role in providing the environment in which we can discover what truly makes life worthwhile.  This is eternal (full, whole, perfect, fulfilled) life, to know God and Jesus Christ, the one he has sent (Jn 17:3).

Prayer … is a cry to the father in order to put all things into his hands

Prayer, then, is not a desperate attempt to save someone’s life (like a paramedic), or a tool to fix something broken (like CPR), rather it is a cry to the father in order to put all things into his hands. Prayer coordinates and harmonizes our immediate experience and struggle with the Ultimate Reality in the hope and expectation that he is the source of love who will make all things right, even if our desires of the moment are not met. What we ultimately say when we pray is “I trust you,” and what God ultimately says in his response is “trust me, I love you.”  Whether, like Jesus, we pray for salvation in the garden and wind up on the cross (Luke 22:42), or we are frightened in the boat and cry out, “save me!” resulting in immediate calm (Luke 8:22-24), the point in both cases is the trust in what – or rather, whom – is ultimately true and real.  The story never ends until it ends in God and if Jesus spoke the truth, then he is the God of life, not death (Luke 20:38). 

There are two possibilities for ultimate reality: everything ends in darkness and death or everything ends in light and life.  If the former is true, there is no point in prayer.  If the latter is true, then prayer is the best response possible to any situation.

The author also writes that “the only source of love on earth is human empathy.”  Not so. Human empathy is an essential expression of love, but its source lies elsewhere.  We love because we have first been loved (1 Jn 4:19).  We love because we have been given capacity to express and live out love (1 Jn 4:11).  We love because we have been made for love.  We love because we have been created in the image of love (Gen 1:26,27).  We are “icons” of God, who is love.  That is the source.  The choice is not between a “constructed deity” or limiting love to a human invention.  That is a false dichotomy.  The reality is even better than we imagine: a God who loves us, not to a pain free and grief absent life, but to himself.

    ____________________

  • 1 Mac Donald, Heather. The Conundrum of Prayer. posted June 5th, 2009 at http://secularright.org/wordpress/?p=2102. Accessed July 4, 2009.

 

weights

It’s About the Weights…Not the Mirrors

I have a membership at our local community fitness center near where we live. The community center is a very popular place, being centrally located and right next to one of the larger highschools in our city.

I’ve been going there for a number of years now. My object, beyond general health and fitness, is to keep the “big guy” away. I remember the big guy from the “before” pictures I have of myself. He is the couch potato, seriously overweight and unfit version that used to be me a number of years ago. I don’t want to go back there ever again. It’s a battle and in that battle I have to be committed.

The fitness center is a good facility, with free weights, benches and mats, and a wide assortment of exercise machines of various types and sizes. You can give virtually every muscle in your body from head to toe a great workout.

Like virtually all other such facilities, along one entire wall of our community fitness center there is a large bank of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. The purpose of the mirrors, as I understand them, is to monitor yourself so that you maintain a safe and proper exercise posture and technique.

Its quite a study to watch what actually happens in the fitness center.  Over the years it’s occurred to me that, while most folks come for vigorous and serious exercise, a rather significant minority actually goes to the fitness center as much or more so to admire themselves in the mirrors as they do to lift the weights! In a few cases, the narcisistic grooming and posing are so evident that it’s truly off-putting. But, then, I guess we’re all guilty of it from time to time.

The matter of the weights and the mirrors reminds me of what Paul writes to the Philippians. Paul tells them about the sustained energy and commitment he exerts to gain Christ and be found in him, to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings so that he might attain to the resurrection from the dead. But then, so that no one will mistake what he is saying, Paul clearly and forcefully declares that he has not yet arrived (Philippians 3:12-14).

In fact, Paul advises that “all of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:15) We are not there yet. We are not finished works spiritually in this life. We are all of us still in desparate need of a saviour. To say or give the impression that one has crossed the finish line; to cherish self-congratulatory notions that one is a “good catch” for the kingdom, is actually a deflection from the finish line rather than a crossing of it.

Paul says, the Christian life is about pressing on. It’s all about the weights and not the mirrors.

What Motivates Suicide Bombers

Terrorism as “lashing out”

In one section of a popular book on globalization, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman explores the impact of globalization on the Arab-Muslim world and how this relates to the rise of Muslim based terrorism.

[Arab-Muslim] youth, particularly those living in Europe, can and do look around and see that the Arab-Muslim world, in too many cases, has fallen behind the rest of the planet. It is not living as prosperously or democratically as other civilizations. How can that be? these young Arabs and Muslims must ask themselves. If we have the superior faith, and if our faith is all encompassing of religion, politics, and economics, why are others living so much better?

This is a source of real cognitive dissonance for many Arab-Muslim youth – the sort of dissonance, and loss of self-esteem, that sparks rage, and leads some of them to join violent groups and lash out at the world.1

To read further on Mark’s response to this analysis as well as a proposal to address this dissonance and rage, see the full article in Cross-Cultural Impact

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 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.

The Necessity of Words

I was pleased to see a piece by St. Francis biographer, Mark Galli on Francis’ famous dictum that we "preach the gospel: if necessary use words." This sentence is often used to suggest that the gospel can be preached without recourse to language. For the most part, this is a misunderstanding of Francis who was the kind of hellfire and brimstone preacher that would shock most of us today.

Galli writes, "’Preach the gospel; use words if necessary’ goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets and Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. As blogger Justin Taylor recently put it, the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news."

While I’m strongly in support of actions that prove our preaching, the fact is, it is always necessary to use words.

 

Christian Freedom

A friend recently gave me a copy of Steve Brown’s book A Scandalous Freedom. The Radical Nature of the Gospel. Maybe he thought my life was confined by too many ‘don’ts’ and wanted me to discover afresh the gift of freedom in Christ. 

Brown’s thesis is quite basic — Christians in North America have lost the true sense of Gospel freedom that they possess. Instead, Christianity has become another religious system, using rules and other pressures to provoke its followers to moral living and good deeds. In succombing to this less than Gospel understanding of  Jesus’ message, believers remain "afraid, guilty and bound." Legalism, wrong teaching, abusive leadership, false expectations all conspire to rob believers of their freedom.  "There is so much more to being a Christian than obeying rules, doing religious things, and being ‘nice’."

With considerable wit, insight into ‘churchianity’, personal transparency, pastoral care, and theological acuity, Brown challenges us to be free. His goal is to help Christians recapture true Christian freedom and  become the potent Kingdom force that God intended them to be, living with joy, courage, and peace. They will know God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness and it is deeply liberating.

Brown’s objective is admirable and in many instances needed. It is important to grasp and build into our lives the wonderful liberty that Jesus has purchased for us. Conversely, we have to reject pretense, tradition for the sake of tradition, the paralysis generated by fear, and attempts by some Christians to control. However, I have my reservations about Brown’s presentation.

1. Paul revels in the freedom Jesus provides from sin’s power and the burden of generating our own righteousness. Brown rightly emphasizes this. In Galatians 3 to 5 Paul describes the astonishing transformation — believers are no longer under the power of the Law, the curse of sin, the weak and beggarly cosmic powers. But just as much as he celebrates this significant liberation, he emphasizes that God’s invitation to live in his freedom means "walking in the Spirit," "keeping in step with the Spirit," and recognizing that "I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me." The freedom we have in Christ is not autonomy; it is a freedom to be one of the Messiah’s "Kingdom of Priests", the Messiah who is our Lord. As Paul says in Romans 6:22 that we "have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God." I did not perceive this side of the biblical freedom equation in Brown’s presentation.

2.   Paul also emphasizes that our freedom is exercised in the context of Christian community. Brown places significant emphasis on the believer as individual, but does not seem to balance this with the biblical reality of believer as part of the body of Christ. As a believer I am not free to be me without restraint. The three great commandments — love God, love neighbour, and make disciples — sets each believer in a new relational network that shapes the nature of Christian freedom. God has not purchased through the Cross my freedom so that I can sin and harm Christ’s body, bring disrepute to the Gospel, and advance Satan’s cause. Of course, Christians sin and God still loves us. In his extensive discussion on the boundaries of Christian freedom, Paul concludes "Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible — but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others" (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). For Paul the best way is the way of love and this gets worked out in the community of faith primarily. Jesus warned us about causing one disciple to sin. For him this was an important issue.

3.   Christians are to be and do good. Whether you read 1 Peter or Titus (or the Sermon on the Mount), one of the outcomes of Kingdom living is goodness — expressed in our being and our actions. We do not manufacture this ourselves, but are dependent upon the Holy Spirit for its production (note the imagery Paul used about the "fruit of the Spirit"). However, we also have responsibility, as Jesus put it, "to seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). Peter said that Jesus sacrificed himself "so that having died to sins we might live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24). Brown is right to point out that this should result in a "holier than thou" attitude or a self-righteous, judgmental spirit. Doing good flows out of the love the Spirit gives us for others. Being good arises from the Spirit’s consist guidance and empowerment to resist evil.

There is both spiritual freedom and spiritual discipline in Christ. While believers no longer live under the authority of the law’s tutelage, they are indeed "slaves of Christ."  As a Christian I am born again into God’s family, but He is the Father and as Peter reminds us the "one who judges with impartiality." Peter urges us "as obedient children…to be holy in all that you do" 

More could be said, but space does not allow it. By all means read Brown’s book. However, I do not think his presentation provides an adequate, nuanced biblical understanding of our freedom in Christ"(1 Peter 1:14).

The Pastor’s Role as Spiritual Coach:

See also the  follow-up article: Pastor’s Role as Spiritual Coach II

Helping people trade their lives for significance

Our home church is searching for a senior pastor.  My wife is on the search committee and so we have been discussing the type of pastor we would like to see come and serve in our church.  Our preferences seem to be at odds with some of the accepted and assumed pastoral roles.

Since my church experience has been primarily with the Fellowship, my perspective has developed out of that environment. As I understand the usual practice, formulating the vision and direction of the church is considered to be the responsibility of the church leadership, primarily the pastor. Many hours are spent in meetings talking and praying for God’s leading as they develop a vision that is then presented to the church. Some discussion and minor adjustments are made, a vote is taken and the vision is adopted.

Unfortunately, a positive vote does not necessarily result in commitment to the vision.  A “yes” vote can mean one of four things:

  • Unspoken Dissention (I don’t like it, but I don’t want to be a wet blanket or be viewed as divisive)
  • Permission (not my thing, but go ahead.)
  • Encouragement (I like that, but I can’t be involved) OR
  • Commitment (Count me in, I want to be part)

leadership-developed-vision1The hope of the leadership is that a “yes” vote indicates commitment to a new direction. But I have seen many times when the actual result is frustration, with the pastor trying to convince people to believe and participate in the adopted vision. A key concern is “will enough people support this new vision?”  The pastor has to create “buy-in” so that they will get involved – often with a plea that it will take minimal commitment (“only a couple of hours a week”). Many people will still participate even though the projects do not fit with their vision.  They are willing to cooperate, but the lack of ownership can be detrimental to their sense of connection to the church.  In this paradigm, a church is identified by its overarching vision.

The concept of “church” and the pastor’s role that Karen and I prefer is somewhat different. The pastor and leadership do not develop, create or control the vision.  Instead, they facilitate and network the visions (plural) of the believers.  Based on a conviction that the Holy Spirit indwells and guides each believer, the pastor’s role is not to cast an overarching vision, but to help people integrate their lives with their Christian faith, while guiding them to meaningful engagement in Kingdom service.  The leadership, and primarily the pastor, encourages and facilitates each believer’s desire for service, significance and expression of Christian faith according to the believer’s personal vision.  This requires an ability to relate to people in significant ways in order to discover where God has given them a passion and conviction.  This could be connected to their business or their favorite form of recreation.  It could arise from a concern for their family or from a desire to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.  But it is their vision.

member-developed-visionsThe role of the pastor in this scenario is to cultivate such visions and coordinate their efforts with other people and organizations.  The pastor networks believers who have a common vision and passion and acts as a spiritual coach guiding them to explore how their Christian faith can be intentionally lived out.  The leaders’ key concern is then “how can I help people fulfill their vision?” In this paradigm, the church is identified through the relationships people develop as they minister to others.

According to this view, the essence and vision of the church community is the establishment of each believer in their God-ordained role as intentional Christ followers in all of their day-to-day relationships. The pastor facilitates, coordinates, networks, guides and teaches from a biblical perspective to ensure all believers have the connections and support they need to fulfill their purpose as God’s people.  The pastor initiates, challenges and supports believers to discover and pursue the opportunities God has given them to serve and to fulfill the call of Jesus in their lives.  The pastor’s orientation towards the congregation is to ensure that people feel connected, cared for and that their contribution to the kingdom is valued. Recognition and support for each person’s ministry goals together with the collaboration of others will lead to fulfillment of the congregation as well as significant engagement with the community.

“If you want people’s hearts, they need to know what they are exchanging their lives for.”1 The kind of pastor Karen and I would like to see in our church is one who guides people as they exchange their lives for what is significant to God’s mission.  Rather than being satisfied that people are cooperating with a leadership driven vision, the pastor acts as a midwife to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in the lives of believers and helps bring to reality their vision and passion as the people of God.
_________

1 Rusaw R. & Swanson E. 2004. The Externally Focused Church. Loveland: Group. P. 179.


Saving a World that Doesn’t Want Saving

This past weekend, Rita and I went to see The Soloist (2009), a movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. It is the chronicle of a true story of friendship between LA Times columnist Steve Lopez and street musician Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. The movie is an adaptation of Lopez’ book entitled: The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music.

A Lost Dream

Lopez is transfixed at his first meeting with Ayers in the park at Pershing Square as he listens to the latter playing a violin with only two strings. As the story unfolds, we learn that Ayers had been an immensely talented child prodigy. His talent and determination eventually opened the way for him to study at the famed Juilliard music school in New York. But why was Nathaniel Ayers now living rough on the streets of L.A., all his worldly possessions loaded into a shopping cart, playing a two stringed violin in the park and in the 2nd street tunnel near Hill Street?

Ayers dropped out of Juilliard in his second year because of schizophrenia. In following decades, he experienced the harsh consequences of this disease in severe social dislocation and impoverishment. He battled his mental illness–sometimes with medication, but mostly not–finding consolation and a measure of personal peace in making music on the streets.

An Unlikely Friendship

For Lopez, the combination of Ayers’ brilliant talent and his homelessness and poverty are an absolute contradiction and an offense to what is right. At first, Nathaniel Ayers is a story to be told to the readers of Lopez’ column. But it strikes a chord. Many want to help Ayers, including Lopez himself. A cello is donated for Ayers to play; Lopez arranges to get Ayers an apartment; he presses to get Ayers connected with members of the L.A. music community; and he even explores the possibility of forcing Ayers into a mental health facility so that he can receive medical and psychiatric help. Every effort and attempt by Lopez is frustrated by Ayers, however. Sometimes spectacularly so!

At one point in the movie, Lopez sits on the sofa in his ex-wife and fellow-journalist’s apartment. He laments his consistent failure as protector of his family during the earthquake, committed husband, and helper to Nathaniel Ayers and others like him on the streets of L.A.  Through tears of frustration he declares, "I resign! I resign! I resign!" His ex-wife replies that he is not a savior. Lopez couldn’t stop the earthquake and he can’t save Los Angeles or even Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. But he can be a friend.

The movie is a thoughtful piece and is bound to cause many, and especially Christians, to reflect upon the soaring joys and deep sorrows of human compassion and friendship. Its exploration of the boundary between genuine help and oppressive control and coercion in the actions of Lopez is wise and sensitive.

…and the Redemptive Power of Music?

Which brings me to the movie’s canvas of several avenues of redemption. How does one save people who don’t want to be saved?

Redemption is decidedly not to be found on offer in the hostility and heavy-handedness of the police , in the promises of slickly-portrayed politicians, nor in earlier bullying forms of Lopez’ activism the moviegoer is told.  The character of the director of the Lamp Community in L.A. offers a sensitive counterpoint as he counsels a frustrated Lopez at several points. The consistent advice in every conversation is helpfulness that is intensely personal and practical, respectful, and filled with patience and genuine friendship.

Over and over again, the moviegoer is encouraged to find "redemption" in the music. It leaves Lopez dumbstruck and awed, it soothes and relieves the troubled Ayers, and it deeply affects moviegoers. I would be the first to suggest that the music offers a kind of transport–but redemption? What happens when the music stops, as it always does?

The movie turns a disappointingly jaundiced and hostile eye toward the church in the cliched, objectionable religiosity of one musician character from whom Lopez seeks help. There are certainly places to look in justification of that shot–lamentable examples of empty, shallow, and generally inadequate Christian response to crushing physical, psychological and spiritual need.

Sadly, moviegoers will be tempted to write off the genuine article on the basis of a facile generalization.

In fact, it is Jesus with whom Lopez, in this writer’s opinion, seems most closely to want to identify, though the movie does not trace a connection. It was he who, "while we were yet sinners, … died for us." (Romans 5:8). Jesus is the astonishing demonstration of God’s love because, while desperately needed, he was unwanted; while offered without sham or hypocrisy, he was unforced; and while possessed of a quiet self-assurance and the power of majesty, he astonished the world by engaging in a "buy  back" that was appallingly costly to him. 

Those who have been thoroughly captivated and transformed by that love can be found. And they furnish in their own selfless love and practical helpfulness a foretaste of redemption in present experience which is the respectful context for gospel conversation. It is also a powerful witness to the hope of redemption’s ultimate realization in God’s Son.

A Sense of Expectation

Here’s a quote from my book, Choosing to Preach, pages 250-51…

"We just don’t expect much from God when set to preaching. Many preachers believe that God will speak through his Word but that it will happen in some muted sense. We don’t expect our skin to tingle. We don’t imagine that the hair on the backs of our necks will be raised like Isaiah’s was when he met God in the temple. Perhaps our sense of God is too hypothetical. We have preached too many sermons in which nothing seemed to happen. We no longer anticipate God’s powerful presence. We don’t expect the ground to move or the doorposts to shake."

"This is to our shame. Preachers are far too tentative far too often in our expectation of God and in our expectation that people will actually respond. Ideas are floated and propositions are posited without our ever describing a specific expected result. Or if a result of the sermon is described, it is suggested as a hypothetical possibility of what could happen someday if we ever found ourselves in the situation described by the sermon – one day, maybe, perhaps… It is always about what we will do at some other time – at work or at school – when faced with the problem or the opportunity that the preacher has in mind. It is always about some other time and some other place."

"I keep thinking that if God were truly present, we ought to expect more and see more in the act of the sermon itself. Do we really believe that this sermon could change things? Do we really believe that God is present and will work powerfully even in the moment of the sermon? If we did, we might be a little more aggressive."

"We could afford to be more aggressive in our preaching. Not in a threatening way. Listeners don’t want their preacher to get in their faces and pound on the pulpit. That’s been done, and not so effectively. But listeners do want to be challenged. Listeners love the idea that something critical could happen here and now as we listen to the Word and put it into practice. Could we gain a greater vision for the preaching event? Could we push a little harder and be a little more pointed in directing our objectives?"

Does the Ending Matter? Mark 16

After Mark 16:8 the New International Version adds the bracketed statement "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." But then they print some additional material (vv. 9-20). What are readers to do? Should they ignore what follows and consider Mark 16:8 as the ending of this Gospel? Should they pay some attention to vv. 9-20 but not really regard them as part of the Bible, an interesting but non-scriptural accretion? And have the NIV editors really described the textual evidence regarding these verses appropriately? What’s a pastor to do who’s preaching Mark’s Gospel? How do you explain what all this is about? Tricky stuff!

There is no question that this Gospel’s ending is a textual challenge. But so are other parts of the Bible (e.g. the ending of Romans, the double text in Acts, etc.). We have to deal with the data honestly and carefully.

1. The earliest evidence we have for the ending of Mark’s Gospel comes from the latter half of the second century. In the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus there seems to be allusion and quotation from Mark 16:9-20, suggesting that their copies of this Gospel included the longer ending. It also seems that Justin’s protégé, Tatian, knew the longer ending when he created his Gospel Synopsis (Diatessaron) in this same period. Whether these early church pastor-scholars knew of a short form of Mark’s Gospel cannot be determined. So the earliest references to Mark seem to know a form of this Gospel that ends with 16:20.

2. It is true that two notable and valuable codices dating to the 4th century (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) do not have the longer ending in their current form. It is their evidence primarily that leads the NIV and other modern translations to make the kinds of statements they do after Mark 16:8. However, this is not the whole story.

First, in the case of Vaticanus, the scribe at the end of Mark’s Gospel leaves a column and half empty, beginning Luke’s Gospel on a fresh page. Although the scribes who wrote Vaticanus left gaps at the end of other books, these gaps correspond to the end of sections (i.e. Nehemiah (2 Esdras) and Psalms; Tobit and Hosea). Two scribes produced Vaticanus and these breaks correlate to the division of their labours or the division between the Old and New Testaments (i.e. Daniel and Matthew). However, in the case of Mark’s Gospel, the gap at the end does not correlate to such a division. One scribe copied the New Testament materials in Vaticanus. This gap between Mark and Luke does suggest that the scribe knew something was missing and perhaps left space for it to be added. Although the scribe did not mark this textual alteration in his usual manner, leaving a gap in the text seems to have been the signal that something was omitted.

In the case of Sinaiticus, it is interesting to note that precisely where Mark ends, the pages in the original manuscript has been replaced with different pages produced by another scribe. This scribe is one of those that produced Vaticanus (but not the one that produced the New Testament section of Vaticanus). H.J.M.Milne and T.C.Skeat in their publication Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus  (1938) hypothesize that this replacement occurred because the original scribe "must have duplicated a long passage in the course of writing [Luke]" (p.10).  While they argue against the original scribe’s inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 (because in their view this ending cannot fit in the space available), they still have to conjecture that the original scribe made a massive textual error of some sort that had to be remedied. I would conclude that we cannot tell what ending for Mark Sinaiticus may have had originally. To postulate some massive corruption at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel that has no basis in the textual history of Luke’s Gospel rather then attribute this folio change to known difficulties with the ending of Mark’s Gospel seems odd.

3. Some argue on the basis of language usage that 16:9-20 is by a different hand or that 16:8 forms a very dramatic and suitable ending to the Gospel. There are some linguistic and lexical differences between Mark 1-16:8 and 16:9-20. However, we have to be careful not to exaggerate them. Further whether 16:8 is an appropriate ending depends on how one understands the narrative purpose of the writer. For example, if this Gospel story, which emphasizes discipleship, ends with all Jesus’ followers abandoning him and paralyzed by fear, what hope does this give subsequent believers that they will succeed where others failed? 

 We cannot solve such difficult questions in the short scope of a blog. My point is simply this — let us be careful to state the evidence clearly so that biblical readers can make a truely informed decision. The cryptic statement by the NIV editors after Mark 16:8 fails in my opinion to serve the readers adequately. The ending of Mark’s Gospel is too important and needs more careful consideration.

Strange condition for Church membership

A friend of ours was chatting about his experience attending membership classes at his church.  He mentioned that one part of the statement of faith requires members to affirm that the Genesis story is not to “be accepted allegorically or figuratively.”  He did not have a problem with this, but I find it an odd condition for church membership on a number of levels.  There are, of course, historical reasons for this restriction in the interest of protecting the integrity of the Bible as God’s infallible revelation.  However, because the statement of faith does make it clear that the Bible is God’s infallible word, it seems unhelpful and problematic to demand a particular hermeneutic for a specific passage of Scripture.

To accept these claims about Genesis, the new believer would need to be acquainted with the historical struggle for the integrity of the Bible, as well as an understanding of literary genres.  I suspect that the average believer, let alone a new Christian, does not understand the different genres used in the Bible.  It seems misplaced to demand that people affirm that a passage of Scripture belongs to a particular genre.  The important issue of the integrity of God’s revelation has been obscured by peripheral and unnecessary demands concerning genre.

In his stimulating book, Inspiration and Incarnation, Peter Enns claims that the controversy between theological liberals and conservatives is based on a false dichotomy.  The liberal believes that the first chapters of Genesis do not match modern standards for historical writing and, therefore, are not inspired.  The conservative believes the Bible is God’s inspired word and, therefore, those chapters must live up to modern standards for historical writing.  Enns’ suggestion is that the conservative assumption of inspiration is the correct one, but he questions the assumption of both liberals and conservatives that the genre of modern historical writing should be the standard by which the Bible is viewed. Instead, the Bible needs to be read according to the cultural context within which it was written (p. 49).

Determining the genre of the first chapters of Genesis requires a high level of hermeneutical and exegetical expertise. It is puzzling to me why a church would put such demands on a new Christian seeking baptism and church membership.  I do think that a confession of faith is needed for membership, but it should focus on the essentials while allowing for ignorance about peripheral issues.

I am not asking that the Pandora’s box of revising official statements of faith be opened.  Instead, I would encourage discernment about the use of those statements when dealing with new believers.  I wonder if the reluctance of some to take on church membership is, in part, due to peripheral issues that they do not have the expertise to understand.  If people have become excited about following Jesus, a requirement that they subscribe to one side or another in ongoing controversies could act as a (figurative and allegorical) bucket of cold water on their faith.

 

Pandemics, Patient Zero and a Theological Reflection

 

Pandemic?

Media coverage of the Swine Flu epidemic is about as extensive as fear of catching the disease, though cases worldwide are relatively few at this point and only beginning to present themselves. The media features images of pigs, shots of the Mexican military handing out surgical masks, empty streets, sports stadiums, and restaurants, and hospital emergency rooms filled with long lines of anxious citizens.

Meanwhile, newscasters press upon guest medical experts questions like, "Will this flu burn itself out with relatively few casualties, or will it become another 1918?" "How many might be likely to die worldwide?" "Who’s at greatest risk?" "Should people be traveling abroad?" and "What precautions can one take to keep from becoming a victim?"

In the meantime, reports continue to roll in on the latest numbers of sick and dead in Mexico City and notices of the disease’s spread to various other countries throughout the world.

The virus holds potential to affect us all because its new, so no one’s immune. The world has grown very small through travel and the disease’s progress has outrun most attempts to contain it. It is also personal to me because my elderly mom, brother and sister-in-law are in Mexico just now. They headed off  before the news had broken clearly, hoping to have a relaxing and uneventful holiday.

If the outbreak becomes a pandemic, it won’t be the first. There have been notable pandemics in 1918, 1968 and 1975. Estimates suggest that the 1918 pandemic claimed between 20 and 50 million lives worldwide. 

This is all very unsettling.

Patient Zero

In the past day or so, there has been increasing media talk about "patient zero." Patient zero is the very first documented case of the disease. That person is of great interest to epidemiological investigation as a possible means to discovering the origin of the disease, mapping its spread and pursuing means to its eradication.

Sometimes there is great controversy and infamy attached to patient zero. Mary Mallon is a celebrated instance. She was an apparently healthy carrier of the disease typhoid fever. Many people were infected by her and she had to be quarantined to stop her spreading the deadly  disease. Dubbed "Typhoid Mary," she came to epitomize the carrier or transmitter of anything undesirable, harmful or catastrophic.

In the case of Mexican Swine flu, "patient zero" may be a little boy named Edgar in a small town called La Gloria. He and his family live near large pig farming operations. He had the disease in March.

A Cure?

The development of a vaccination looks to be weeks or even months away. So the world, it seems, is bound to live for the foreseeable future in an attitude of maximum uncertainty and anxiety.

The drug Tamiflu may be helpful at mitigating symptoms, but it is uncertain whether this is just with milder variations of the flu. The Mexican version of the virus may be more robust and so less responsive. A further problem is that a course of this medication costs about $200. It is out of reach to many millions of people the world over.

With about 3,000 official reported cases in Mexico so far,  and some 150 fatalities, the counsel to "Wash your hands" seems a rather meager stratagem.

 A Theological Reflection

I’d be a fool to assert specifically why this has all happened, beyond the general physical and theological observation that the world is broken and dangerous and we occupy our place in it dangerously and brokenly. But there will, no doubt, be those who confidently nominate themselves God’s spokespersons on this whole affair, declaring in most specific terms that Mexico City committed this or that sin and that is why people are getting sick and dying.

I’m neither a prophet nor an apostle. And I’m certainly not God.

Moreover, I’m cautioned by Jesus himself who ruled out the question of moral cause and effect in the specific circumstance when his own disciples asked it about a man born blind (John 9:1-7). Jesus declared the man’s tragic circumstance the opportunity for a demonstration of the miraculous, healing power of God in his life. 

I do, however, see the present worldwide threat as a powerful illustration–an extended metaphor, as it were–of the human predicament of sin before a holy God.

At Romans 5:12-21, Paul identifies Adam as "patient zero." He writes, "sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…" (v. 12) In this case, patient zero was fully culpable and universally infectious. His single action of rebellious independence from God was, has been, and will continue to be the physical and spiritual death of us all. No amount of human hand-washing or isolation is able to contain or neutralize the virulent contagion. The gates are down; the borders have been breached.

Paul continues that there is only one cure for the human predicament … and it was costly.

He writes, "if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (v. 15) As powerful and universally damaging as the "infection" of sin brought into the world by Adam was, God provided through his son Jesus a more powerful and effective "cure." His provision in the death of his son on a Roman cross for our sin is decisively effective and universally available to faith. 

The world desperately needs the cure. It should seize the cure. And it should celebrate the cure.

 

The “Vision” Quest

The pastor read what the church leadership expert wrote — the leader casts the vision! The elders were expecting him to come forward with "the vision". What would they think about his ability to lead if he couldn’t deliver? The weight of this expectation seemed to crush him. Where was he to find "the vision" for his congregation? What process could he follow to insure that he would find the right one at just the right time? What would happen if the vision he articulated turned out to be the wrong one? Where in the Bible could he find instructions about "casting the vision?" Did Paul discuss this or Peter or James or one of the Gospel writers? Of course, Jesus could do it, but he’s God!

How would you advise this pastor? Should he attempt a forty day fast and anticipate in that process that God would reveal the vision for that church? Or maybe he should have a conversation with every ministry leader in his church and seek to distil from their input a vision, a kind of congregational, visional, collage. Perhaps spending several nights in prayer would bring some clarity. Or maybe he could visit the websites of the ten most successfull churches in his area, discover their visions and plagiarize. Possibly the best strategy is to do nothing, hoping that in some serendipitous moment the vision will just come. Probably church leaders have used some or all of the above as means to "cast the vision" for their church. And undoubtedly some of these methods (apart from the plagiarism bit) might be of some help.

Vision-casting is more than an individual activity. There must be a testing of a potential vision’s validity among the faith community’s leaders. They will undoubtedly offer some significant refinements that will improve it. In the process they will come to own it too.

I think vision-casting represents the interaction of the faith community’s history, biblical reflection, wise listening to key leaders,  analysis of the larger community, prayerful search for God’s direction, careful discernment of potential resources, and a humble, sober sense of the leader’s abilities.

  • The vision will have some continuity with the faith community’s story.
  • Centering it within a biblical narrative gives confidence that it reflects biblical values and has coherence with God’s activity — the Great Commandments and the Great Commission.
  • Discerning what other ministry leaders in the congregation have learned about the church’s potential enables you to locate some key boundaries for the vision.
  • The realities of the surrounding community — demographics, needs, aspirations — generates a sense of coherence between the church’s vision and the community’s situation.
  • Vision-casting ultimately must be a spiritual exercise, accomplished in dependence upon God.
  • Take stock of the human, financial and physical resources that might be available to accomplish the vision.
  • Since God has called you to this position of pastoral leadership, you can have confidence that somehow your spiritual gifting will fit the vision, otherwise perhaps your leadership would be better applied in another context.

The outcome should be a simple, understandable, comprehensive statement that defines what this church has the potential to accomplish within this community over the next decade, with God’s help.

Vision-casting is more than an individual activity. There must be a testing of a potential vision’s validity among the faith community’s leaders. They will undoubtedly offer some significant refinements that will improve it. In the process they will come to own it too.

 Discerning the vision for a congregation will be the result of many conversations — with God, with Scripture, with people, with the larger community, with yourself.  It will answer the question — by God’s help we believe that in (___) years through this congregation __________. Some might say that this is merely a statement of desired outcome. My response would be — and is that not vision, a careful discernment of God’s desired future for this congregation? 

Doctrine that Dances

I don’t hear a great deal of doctrinal preaching these days. I hear a lot of pragmatic preaching, a lot of exegetical preaching, a lot of narrative preaching, but not so much preaching that intends to explicate the great doctrines of the Scripture for the edification of the hearers. Perhaps this has something to do with a corresponding ebb in the interest of systematic theological studies in favor of the more emergent-friendly biblical theology movement. Or perhaps it is because not enough of us know how to handle doctrine in a sermon the way that Robert Smith does.

Smith, professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University is the author of Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life. As one who has come from a background that discouraged dancing in the church, I find Smith’s choreographical metaphor to be both illuminating and refreshing. It is probably even biblical. Smith notes the presence of the Greek word "epichoregias" in Philippians 1:19. In this text the Holy Spirit "choreographs" events so that they turn out for Paul’s deliverance. Would not we love for the Spirit to work similarly through our preaching of the doctrines of God’s Word?

Of course, one could wonder whether Smith is talking specifically about good doctrinal preaching, or just good preaching in general. His definition of doctrinal preaching is "the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation." I think that this offers an excellent definition of every kind of preaching, which begs the question whether every kind of preaching ought to be doctrinal, at least to some degree. Throughout my reading of the book I found myself saying, he’s not just describing good doctrinal preaching, he’s just describing good preaching! What I am suggesting is that this book cannot be dismissed as limited to a particular brand of preaching.

That said, the world could use a lot more preaching that was intentional about communicating doctrine. In our attempts to accommodate the listener, we sometimes give the truth something less than what its due. People don’t know enough theology and while I’d love to think that we are addressing this problem through the seminaries, I know that most of this needs to happen in the church. Much of it will need to happen through our preaching. I agree with Smith, that if preachers could awaken a new love for the truth of the Bible, that would be a good thing. "Christians are experiencing spiritual immaturity and spiritual death. One of the reasons for this is that worshippers are being served sermonic snacks instead of the doctrinal meat of the Word of God. if doctrine is presented with joy and accuracy, the hearers will not only stand it, they will crave more of it (6)."

Smith does well to remind us, that such preaching must be both "cranial and cardiological (8)." It must speak both to the listener’s heart as well as its head. Doctrinal preaching need not be boring. Doctrinal preaching, like all preaching, must learn to dance.

The use of the word "escort" in Smith’s definition is not by accident. Smith makes much of two rather provocative metaphors, the "exegetical escort" and the "doxological dancer." Smith admits the sexual overtones of his language (76), but claims to find biblical warrant for their use in texts such as Galatians 3:24. I must say, however, that paidagogos speaks more of the language of the classroom (tutoring and training) than it does of one who ushers or escort. In other words, I think Smith might be guilty of a rather ironic exegetical slip.

That said, I have little difficulty with the concept. "The eschatological escort," Smith writes, "is one who ushers hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation. Once the exegetical escort has ushered hearers into the presence of God and given them the Word, the escort’s job is over. The escort leaves them in the throne room of God and lets God transform them (75)."

This is an important idea. I have used a similar image – that of a ‘host’. No one ought to come to hear me preach. I’m simply hosting an opportunity for my listeners to meet and hear from God. Of course the word "host" would damage the alliterative appeal of Smith’s concept.

The question Smith would like to ask is whether we preachers know how to dance. Though I’m loathe to admit it, my family and I have taken to watching So You Think You Can Dance? every now and again. I have been surprised by my reaction to this television competition. I’ve been impressed by the combination of athleticism and artistry that these dancers are able to exhibit. Many times I have found myself moved to tears, not only by the beauty they portray but also by the message that a particular piece is sometimes able to convey. I have thought that I would love for my preaching to produce a similar kind of impact.

I, like Smith, would love to think that my preaching – even my specifically doctrinal preaching – could somehow actually dance!

Life Transforming Study of God’s Word

For over thirty years I have had the privilege annually to teach in depth some portion of God’s word. This semester my focus was the Gospel of Matthew. What a challenge to lead emerging ministry leaders to engage these vital, authoritative words of Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. And to do this in a way that is obedient to Jesus’ instruction – “you have one Teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:10) – adds to the heavy sense of responsibility.

Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with a man determined to secure for himself eternal life (Matthew 19:16-30). Jesus requires a different obedience – not to the Old Testament Law, but to himself. He will have “treasure in heaven” (21) only if he follows Jesus with full commitment. Jesus requires him to sell his property and give it away, probably because his wealth was too much of an idol for him. The man leaves, filled with sadness “because he had great wealth” (22). The cost Jesus required seemed to outweigh the potential benefits.

One of my students decided to preach on this text at Union Gospel Mission. Our reflection on it in class had stimulated in him some fresh ideas that God’s Spirit was urging him to share. So he did and through this means six people decided that evening to accept Jesus as their Saviour.

I share this to illustrate how powerful the close, detailed study of God’s word can be for effective ministry – even resulting in the salvation of many people.

Sometimes I hear people criticizing seminaries as being too academic or too much of an ‘ivory tower’ and I am sure those complaints have some justification. But there are just as many stories that students tell revealing how life-transforming studying God’s word or theology or church history or missions has been for them, especially the interactions with other students and the faculty. God works within seminary walls too in order to advance his Kingdom in dynamic ways.

In a few days (April 18) Northwest and its partners in ACTS will be graduating about 65 students in eight different degree and diploma programs. Denominational leaders, senior pastors, church planters, Bible translators, counselors, youth pastors, chaplains – all start a new chapter of their ministry life, better trained and hopefully more passionate to serve Jesus. This will mark the conclusion to our 68th year of ministry leadership training. To the Glory of God.

Thank you for your continued prayers and gifts that enable our ministry to flourish and to advance of God’s Kingdom significantly. Your stewardship in this ministry matters.

What’s Sunday For?

The resurrection of Jesus inaugurated one of the most remarkable changes in human religious observance – Sunday became the day of the week for Christian worship. Up to that point in history, Sunday was just another day in the week, a day for work, commerce, and , if you were wealthy enough, pleasure. But Christians made Sunday “the Lord’s Day,” determined to celebrate the Messiah’s resurrection and humanities’ salvation. And this happens first in the Jewish context – something even more astonishing given its commitments to Sabbath and the seventh day of the week.

Naming Sunday “the Lord’s Day” connects it with the “day of the Lord”, an expression found frequently in the Old Testament. The “day of the Lord” marked Yahweh’s incursion into history for salvation or judgment. The resurrection of Jesus Messiah and his ascension demonstrated God’s new action to re-create his people. Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, is a constant reminder of God’s gracious intervention in Christ, a celebration of our new hope in Christ, and an affirmation of our expectation the Christ will return for the final “Day of the Lord.”

When Christians gathered on Sunday, they made a statement about their identity and the nature of their Messianic community. Jesus is Lord, our Lord! We are his people, his church! We are the demonstration plot of God’s Kingdom rule – chosen race, priestly kingdom, holy nation, God’s special people!

But Sunday also marks a fundamental change in the way Christians understand their lives. By making their affirmations about Jesus and their relationship to him on the “first day of the week,” Christians declare that this is the foundation for all of the ensuing days of the week. Sunday sets the stage for the entire week to become the opportunity to worship God and exalt Jesus in all that they do – in the household, in the marketplace, in the civic community. Sunday is not the end of the week, it is the beginning.

Further, by celebrating on this day, Christians declare that God’s Sabbath rest now envelopes their whole lives. Every day is Sabbath because salvation is secure in Christ, God’s Spirit is resident within, and their whole lives become a continual sacrifice to God. All of life is worship. Jesus offered “rest for our souls” and as the author of Hebrews explains, we have entered into our rest in Christ (Hebrew 4).

When believers understand this significant shift created by the resurrection of Jesus, it sets life within an entirely new frame of reference. Monday to Saturday become the setting for our “ministries,” i.e. the opportunity to be Kingdom agents for God in the workplace, our families and our communities. Sunday’s equip us and remind us of our fundamental allegiance to God and the great Kingdom project He has invited us to participate in.

What’s your Sunday for?

Washing the Feet of Betrayers, Deniers and Runaways

The foot washing scene is peculiar to John’s Gospel (chapter 13). Scholars tell us that it was a common practice to wash one’s feet before reclining at table for a meal. Normally, the host would provide guests with basins of water and towels and they would wash their own feet. Rabbinic teaching stipulated that masters could not require their Jewish slaves to wash other people’s feet, although a Gentile slave could be required to do so. Foot washing was something wives did for their husbands and children for their parents out of respect. And disciples would do for their teachers almost anything a slave would do except deal with their feet, which was considered too demeaning for a free person.

But when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he turned the world of social convention upside down to symbolize the full extent of his love for them and to give them a breathtaking example of how they were to love and serve one another.

What strikes me in this passage is everything this passage tells me Jesus knew ahead of time as he washed the disciples’ feet. Such knowledge would have prevented many a disciple from actually doing what Jesus did.

THE COST OF LOVING DID NOT STOP HIM

First, the known cost of loving didn’t stop him. "Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father." (John 13:1). The means of Jesus’ "home going" was an excruciating death on a cross. Where others would avoid the pain and suffering and the cost of loving another, thinking more of themselves, Jesus gave. He knew ahead of time that he would be a suffering and dying messiah. The cross was the expression of his determination to love "to the fullest extent" and "to the very end."

AWARENESS OF HIS IDENTITY DID NOT STOP HIM

The next thing John tells us that Jesus knew was that "the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God." (John 13:3).

Standing and authority are often the biggest road blocks to service. Who we are and what we have relative to others are exemptions from serving because it is beneath our station to serve "downward." There must be a pecking order, we claim.

The fact of a pecking order may be true for chickens, but it shouldn’t be for the saints.

Paul puts the point poetically when he writes at Philippians 2:6-8 that Jesus, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Indeed, his self humbling–symbolized at John 13 by washing others’ feet–was massive. The son of God died on a cross for humanity!

DISAPPOINTMENT DID NOT STOP HIM

The final thing John tells us Jesus knew ahead of time was "who was going to betray him…." (John 13:11) The devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus, John says. 

For most folks it would be exceedingly difficult to find it in their heart to be generous in the face of a deep hurt or betrayal from the one they were pledged to love. After all, if it didn’t actually justify retaliation, couldn’t we claim an exemption from serving another? FOOT WASHING

What did Jesus do? John says Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet–even Judas’! Within hours of the meal, Judas had carried out his betrayal of Jesus to the authorities. But so too, within hours, Peter had denied Jesus several times! And within hours, all the rest of the twelve had run away!

Not only were the disciples, to a man, merely human and not divine like Jesus, but each one in turn had shown themselves less than faithful and entirely unworthy. Yet, Jesus loved them, one and all, to the uttermost.

He washed the feet of the betrayer, the denier and the runaways.

WE LOVE BECAUSE…

What would have stopped others from serving and loving did not stop Jesus. He knew the supreme cost that love would call from him. He knew exactly who he was, but he stooped, nevertheless, to the level of humanity and died in their place on a Roman cross. And he loved against the shocks of human ignorance, ingratitude and hostility.

That kind of love is the pattern we are to imitate. Jesus advised, "now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14, 15)

That kind of love is the proof of our discipleship. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:45)

That kind of love is traceable to its source and therefore a powerful witness to the great Lover of our souls and the Example extraordinaire: "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Gird Thy Loins With Truth – Ephesians 6:14

I’ll freely confess that I had serious hesitation about add this bit of news to the weblog. It’s not as if there isn’t enough bad news circulating around to cultivate a sense of cultural anxiety and spiritual nausea. But, just when I’ve been tempted to just turn off the news, I got the latest survey data from George Barna.

Since 1995, the Barna group has been monitoring the level of "Biblical Worldview" held by adult Americans through an exhaustive nationwide survey. When I read the results of his first survey, I was depressed. The latest results have taken my depression to a new and lower level.

Why? What’s the big deal? The reason, as Barna wrote in 2003 [Think Like Jesus, p. 56] is that "you become what you believe." Expand that axiom to a larger level, and the cultural consequences are staggering. We are becoming what we generally believe, and bit by bit, the data shows that the mind of Believers is being torqued in dangerous directions.

Consider some of the findings [you can read even more at: www.barna.org – March 9, 2009]:

The survey found that:

  • One-third of all adults (34%) believe that moral truth is absolute and unaffected by the circumstances. Slightly less than half of the born again adults (46%) believe in absolute moral truth.
  • Half of all adults firmly believe that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches. That proportion includes the four-fifths of born again adults (79%) who concur.
  • Just one-quarter of adults (27%) are convinced that Satan is a real force. Even a minority of born again adults (40%) adopt that perspective.
  • Similarly, only one-quarter of adults (28%) believe that it is impossible for someone to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior. Not quite half of all born again Christians (47%) strongly reject the notion of earning salvation through their deeds.
  • A minority of American adults (40%) are persuaded that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life while He was on earth. Slightly less than two-thirds of the born again segment (62%) strongly believes that He was sinless.
  • Seven out of ten adults (70%) say that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today. That includes the 93% of born again adults who hold that conviction.

Differences among Demographic Segments

The research data showed that one pattern emerged loud and clear: young adults rarely possess a biblical worldview. The current study found that less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation – i.e., those aged 18 to 23 – have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults.

The challenge facing an authentic, unapologetic, Biblical, Christlike ministry is immense, and imperative. The Gospel is more than a private affection. It is, in Jesus’ words, light and salt. And, I have to believe that it is the only reliable element standing in the way of "the complete demise of our culture, the loss of meaning and purpose in life, and the rejection of all that God holds dear and significant. [Think Like Jesus, p. 57] So, I take those thoughts to heart, and "gird my loins."

Grateful for God’s Protection

The following story, incredible as it sounds, is true. I share it as testimony to the protecting power of God and the tremendous benefit of belonging to a community of God’s people.

Last Friday my wife and I received a disturbing midnight telephone call from our 18-year old son who is temporarily working in London, England. Kirk was in his bed late at night watching a movie on his computer when three masked men broke into his apartment and began to threaten both him and his room-mate. These were serious Eastern European "mafia" type criminals looking to take captive someone named Kevin, presumably a previous tenant of the apartment.

Kirk and his friend had only been in the apartment for about two weeks and had no idea who or what these men were talking about. It took some time for the intruders to realize that the person they were looking for was not in the apartment. At that point the intruders became angry and decided to turn things into a robbery. My son and his friend were bound, gagged, and held in separate rooms while the thieves ransacked the apartment, destroying the carpeting, the furniture, and taking with them everything of value. At one point, they held a knife to Kirk’s throat, demanding the PIN numbers for his bank cards. Eventually, after afflicting a full hour of terror, the intruders left. Kirk was able to work himself and his room-mate free before quickly summoning the police.

After returning from several hours at the police station, Kirk called us on a neighbor’s borrowed computer. Unfortunately, the call was dropped and he was unable to re-establish a connection. All we knew, here in Canada, was a basic summary of the incident and the knowledge that he was physically unharmed. We spent the rest of the night trying to re-establish contact.

We first tried calling the London police but we could not find a number that would allow an overseas connection. We tried the local police here in the hope that they might have a way of connecting us. They suggested calling the Canadian Foreign Affairs department in Ottawa. We did, but given that it was the weekend, they were only willing to take a report. We tried to find Kirk’s employer, but as he works for a very large franchised company, we were unable to find him by that means.

A few hours hours later, my wife noticed a pen from Hillsong, the church that Kirk has been involved with while in London. "We could call the church," she said. We did and were immediately assured that the church knew about the incident and had been actively involved in supporting the boys. Within ten minutes we were talking to our son. Where the government and the police couldn’t help us, it was the church that was able to give us the help that we needed.

Of course the church helped in many further ways. Kirk was given some emergency financial assistance. Church members have helped with the apartment clean-up and restoration. Kirk was able to indefinitely borrow a computer from one church member and a phone from another, making communication possible again. For all this, we are truly grateful to the good people at Hillsong London. The community of God’s people are a tremendous resource in a crisis.

Most of all, we are grateful to God for the courage and the protection that he has given to our son. Kirk is doing reasonably well. He has been able to sleep. He tells us that God gave him the ability to remain calm as he was praying throughout the ordeal. "I always knew that God was with me," he said, "and that I was going to make it through."

I can’t tell you how gratifying it is as a parent, to see one’s son responding with maturity and wisdom in the most trying of experiences. Under severe pressure his faith held up and God proved himself faithful. Praise be to his name.

I want to thank all of you who have been aware of these circumstances and who have been praying. We are grateful to God for all of you.