Tag Archives: Church

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

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.


The Church Transformed

One of the names I have come to trust and respect when it comes to understanding Church dynamics is George Bullard. For years, I have benefited from his analysis of everything from denominational renewal to congregational development. In an age where people seem eager to dismiss the Church, it is refreshing to find a man of wisdom and faith treating the Body of Christ with care. One of the early Church Fathers laid out a profound principle that seems somewhat lost in this generation: "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother" (St Cyprian of Carthage) It seems as if George Bullard has made it a mission to keep the divine family intact.

Over the last few years, I have referred often to the extensive studies conducted by Bullard through the Columbia Partnership. Since the studies are frequently financed by grants and foundations, the results made available to a wide audience. During the Fall of 2008, has recently produced some interesting discoveries: Enduring Principles of Congregational Transformation.

Bullard introduced the issue by saying: Congregational Transformation, by various names, has been a focus for North American churches since the 1950’s. Over more than 50 various approaches and principles for transformation have been offered by numerous individuals and organizations. Some of these approaches and principles are enduring. Others are not.

I bear witness to the truth of this assessment. Due to a number of factors (not the least of which is the success of our Best Practices for Church Boards workshops) we have engaged in a growing interaction with Churches that are engaged in vision renewal and strategic reformation. TheFEBBC/Y Ministry Centre has initiated consultations to help congregations through the process, and I’ve researched and been trained in at least 5 of the 50 numbered by Bullard.

In light of all of that, Bullard’s Columbia Partnership conducted a survey to put the principles to test. They began with a catalog of 21 enduring principles in terms of perceived validity, strength, importance, and enduring nature. Things like: Continual transformation rather than one-time transformation, being both spiritual and strategic, balancing a focus between past and future, Kingdom growth rather than Church growth, vision plus intentionality.

"This research is confirming some very important principles, and also informing us where principles we believe are very important for the transformation of congregations have not yet caught on," wrote George Bullard.

The preliminary results of the survey are beginning to make their way into the public record, and I would commend them as food for thought. Persons interested in a summary of the complete preliminary results and a PowerPoint presentation that contains a presentation of the results may send a request to client.care@thecolumbiapartnership.org.

At the risk of sounding like the shopping channel: But WAIT, there’s MORE! The survey is still open, and I would encourage pastors and church leaders to weigh in with their results to provide a more robust and full picture that would benefit us all. You can access the survey at:
http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal/2009/02/what-is-and-is-not-congregational-transformation.html

Oh, and while you are there, I would encourage you to visit the home page for even more resources and even sign up for the free newsletter.

The Anatomy of Atheistic Slogans

I’m sure some have heard the slogans about to appear on city buses, from Montreal to Vancouver, many times before in their lives. Two of them run as follows; "There’s probably No God", or "There is no God so Stop Worrying". O really? Is this the best that atheistic societies can come up with? Why not use the more forceful and certainly more interesting "God is Dead!" slogan on Frederic Nietzsche. You cannot help but feel for these folk as they attempt to come to grips with their minority status in the realm of ideas today. As for "worrying" what God might mean for our lives, this slogan completely misses the mark. Even avid theists stopped worrying about what God means for them long ago. One might call these people ‘theoretical theists but practical atheists’. They populate the pews of nearly every church in the land, including the most conservative of Evangelical churches. We theologians call this condition the late modern religious malaise. Our lives in the west have been so comfortable and self-sustaining over the last 60 plus years that one only need nod in the direction of the divine, now and then. The rest of the time God can be forgotten. If our times have any distinguishing feature it is not atheism or theism but, as the Germans say, Gottesgewissenheit, or ‘God-forgetfulness.’There is no God poster

We might have seen something of a return to concern about our relation to the divine in the current circumstances, perhaps even a substantial increase in such since 9/11, but by and large the last half of the 20th, and the dawn of the 21st, century in the west was hardly marked by a theistically induced angst, given the socio-economic situation. If there is an overwhelming slogan for what is really going on it would be "God is forgotten" or "forget God and live as you please". This was the condition of Israel as stated at the end of the book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible where it says "everyone did as he saw fit." (Jdg. 21:25) We in the west have not viewed God as a serious threat to our existence since the rumbling guns of WW I & II faded away in the 1950’s.

While we are perhaps headed for another round of questioning our existence in relation to the divine in the not to distant future, we are hardly there yet. A lot more has to happen before the tenuousness of our existence is so forced on our horizon that we are driven to a re-examination of our lives in relation to the possibility of the existence of the divine. The fact is the softness with which these slogans are putting the question may well engender a new and fresh round of clear, unmitigated theism. Perhaps a better slogan might be "Shush! God is Asleep" or "Please Don’t Wake God." Atheists would have better success in furthering their agenda if they promoted this practical atheism then raising the specter of theoretical atheism, which is sure to be met by an equally ardent theism, especially from the serious followers of God in the so-called "monotheistic faiths." C’mon you can do better than that can’t you. Perhaps the problem is the reverse for atheists that it is for theists. Perhaps they have become so accustomed to living life without God that they secretly miss fighting with God and are now bucking for a fresh brew-ha-ha with the divine, and God’s supporters. One cannot help thinking though that their slogans are just as insipid as the practical atheism of the theists. Picture a big yawn from the current writer at this point, and do wake me up when this is over.

As for the slogan "There’s Probably No God", this is said with all the gusto of a politician, testing the waters to see if he/she should venture the "full Monty" and say outright, "there is no God". Perhaps they are awaiting the polling data on this slogan. This slogan will only invite the opposite sentiment, "perhaps there is a God" in the mind of the reader of such a slogan? What then? How should we live even if God is only ever confined to the realm of probability, either way? Perhaps this is the secret angst that sits at the heart of the late modern religious malaise? We cannot seem to break the spell of Kantanian agnosticism. All of our reasoning either for or against leaves us both wanting more and less of the divine? In fact, the slogan really does point to the real struggle the atheists are having. Since their reason militates against the affirmation of God, but does not permit them absolute proof, they are always suspended in (dis)-belief. They exist in a kind of intellectual "no-mans-land" (with due respect to "women" here). The best they can hope for is that we will be reaffirmed in out late modern religious malaise and continue to forget about God. But again they are begging the question when they put it out there is such a public way. What happens if the net result of their advertising issues in a re-affirmation of strong theism in the land generally. How will they spend the next several years in their discussion groups? What ever will they do with the rest of their advertising money? How will they come to grips with the money they wasted? Here’s a slogan for you theists out there, "There Are No Real Atheists so Stop Worrying." I know I already have. God will be God in the Freedom that is God’s to be God and not a wit of whit from theists or atheist will change that! So good night and sleep tight!

Understanding Pages and Posts in WordPress

WordPress is an amazing platform for churches to use for their websites.  A strategic feature in the power and versatility of WordPress is the distinction that is made between WordPress Posts and WordPress Pages.  Understanding this distinction is a vital key to unlocking the potential of using WordPress as a content management system.

When I first started with WordPress I grappled with a considerable amount of confusion as to the usage of Pages versus Posts .  How was I supposed to use these two similar yet different creatures in the world of blogging and CMS application.  In this article I would like to help us better understand what pages and posts do and the distinction between them.  Click between the tabs below to view a description of Pages and Posts and some explanation of what their individual strengths are for designing a church website.

Posts

Posts in WordPress

Posts are the meat n’ potatoes of a typical blog.  Posts are where a person writes the regular series of  "articles", "devotionals", "book reviews", "opinion or advice columns" and so on.  There are so many potential uses for Posts that I will not even try to enumerate more than the few I listed above.  Their value is in their versatility.  They can be sorted, tagged, categorized, searched and dated.  They can be cataloged by author, by date, by category and by tag.  They can be published publicly or privately (with password protection).  An example of this versatility can be found on the Northwest home page in the right-hand side bar under Special Topics.  Several of those links will open a compilation of all the Posts by a particular author that have been designated a specific category.  Church Website Dialogue 101 is one of them.

Posts are dynamic so they can be used in many creative ways to present regularly changing information or a continually growing body of information.  Normally Posts are displayed with the most currently published material appearing first.  This gives Posts their "freshness" and "interest value".  Posts are what users follow via RSS feeds and news readers.

One distinctive of Posts is that their content can eventually become dated.  For example, in this article (which is a Post) the elements I have listed for Posts and Pages will likely change as WordPress evolves and grows.  There will probably be new features and capabilities added in future releases – making some of what I am writing eventually become dated.  This is not as likely to happen with the content typically entered into Pages.

Read this discussion of posts on the WordPress website http://codex.wordpress.org/Writing_Posts

Post Elements

Post Elements in WordPress

A WordPress Post has these components or elements.  I find this list helpful when trying to conceptualize how to design a CMS site using WordPress. The highlighted items are the distinct elements of WordPress Posts.

  1. Title
  2. Post content (body of the page)
  3. Tags
  4. Categories
  5. Password protection
  6. Exerpt
  7. Trackbacks
  8. Posts will allow comments
  9. Post Author
  10. Post revisions
  11. Post status Private or Public
  12. Publish date
  13. Permalink (slug)

Pages

Pages in WordPress

Pages in WordPress are the equivalent of static html pages on a static site – with the exception that they are dynamically generated from the database.  Pages hold information that is constant.  They are for site content such as information pages, history pages, personnel pages, product information pages, ministry description pages and so on.  In WordPress Pages are the substance of a content management site as they can be identified in a menu type of hierarchy.  WordPress Pages can have sub-pages and sub-pages under sub-pages.  This gives great power and flexibility in designing the structure of a website.

One of the more powerful CMS capabilities in WordPress is that one can design individual and distinct templates for Pages.  This can give a website the potential of a new look and feel with each Page that is viewed.  One specific Page and all of its sub-pages can have their own template and create the visual sense of being in a new section of the site or even an entirely different site.  For a CMS this is a valuable capability.

Because Pages are "static" they can be used for navigation.  Pages can be assigned a numerical order within their page level which gives the web programmer the ability to create very sophisticated navigational systems.  WordPress has a template tag [a special WordPress function – wp_list_pages()] designed to display a list of all the page URLs.  The tag has a number of  "arguments" to give it great flexibility.  The drop-down menu on the Northwest web-site is dynamically generated using that single WordPress template tag with a few specific arguments.  That way new Pages can be added very quickly and if they meet the criteria set by the arguments of the template tag they automatically appear in the drop-down menu.

In order to better understand how Pages and Page Templates work in WordPress go to this article on the WordPress website – http://codex.wordpress.org/Pages.

Another feature of Pages and their Page Templates is that certain pages can be designed to be viewable by members only.  In a future article I will address this strategic use of the Users feature built into WordPress

Page Elements

Page Elements in WordPress

A WordPress page has these components or elements.  I find this list helpful when trying to conceptualize how to design a Content Management Site (CMS) such as a church website using WordPress.  The highlighted items are the distinct elements of WordPress Pages.

  1. Title
  2. Page content (body of the page)
  3. Tags
  4. Custom fields
  5. Comments and Pings
  6. Password protection
  7. Page Parent (can have sub-pages as well)
  8. Page Template
  9. Page Order (i.e. 0, 1, 2 …20, 21 etc.  This is very helpful for arranging how page links will appear in a menu.)
  10. Page Author
  11. Page revisions
  12. Page status Private or Public
  13. Publish date
  14. Permalink (slug)
  15. Pages can be listed with a Template Tag


I trust this little description will be helpful for all of us who are trying to use WordPress for more than just a blog.  There is lots of information on the WordPress Codex site.  But maybe this condensation will fill a need.

WordPress is growing up

WordPress gets continually easier to use as a CMS (Content Management System) which is good news for churches who want an easy to use platform for their internet presence.  Yesterday I upgraded the Northwest website to the latest version (WordPress 2.6.2) and the upgrade went very smoothly.  With the size and complexity of our site I was expecting the upgrade to cause a number of serious headaches.  I was pleasantly surprised. There is a video clip prepared by the people at WordPress detailing some of the new features in WordPress. The clip can be accessed here, but it does not work well in Internet Explorer – use Firefox instead.

The following are some of the features that I like in the current version of WordPress (2.6.2).

1. In general the management interface for WordPress is much cleaner and easier to use. The layout is more intelligible, the design is cleaner and the colors are more aesthetically pleasing with lots of white space.

2. Plugin management has been reorganized. Plugins in current use are visually separated from inactive ones. Plugins can be updated directly from the plugin management page (no more uploading them manually via ftp). All this gives the webmaster a much easier time managing plugins: which ones are being used, which ones are in need of updating, doing the updating etc.

More Useful Plugins for WordPress:

Here are several more plugins that I have discovered along the way that help make life easier for the church that wants to use WordPress as a full-featured CMS.

Sermon Browser: One of the features that many churches look for is the ability to place audio and video material on their website for others to access and benefit by. Sermon Browser was designed for just that. It is still in beta form but seems to be working well. Here is a link to the website of a church that is using it http://www.bethel-clydach.co.uk/index.php.

RefTagger: Our friends at Logos Bible Software have also created a plugin for WordPress that allows all Scripture references on one’s site to be linked to the full text of the passage.  Check out John 3:16 (just hover over it).  Here is a quote from their website:

RefTagger is an amazing, free new web tool that instantly makes all the Bible references on your site come alive! Bare links turn into hyperlinks to the full text of the passage at Bible.Logos.com, making it easy for your readers to access the text of Scripture with just a click. Even better, RefTagger brings the text right to your readers by generating a tooltip window that pops up instantly when they hover over the reference. You can also have RefTagger add an logos icon that is hyperlinked to the passage in Libronix—ideal if many of your readers use Logos.”

Simple:Press Forum is a full featured forum application that works as a plugin for WordPress. I have just begun using it on a personal website and it seems to be just what I have been looking for.

CQS Reloaded: This is a powerful little plugin that allows one to determine how many posts will appear at one time in a given WordPress section or category.  For example, if one wants visitors to their site to only see the current article on the home page but multiple articles on an archives page or as many as possible on a search page, this is the plugin to use.  If one has category templates designed for their website they can determine a precise number of posts for each category.

Page restrict: Suppose a website has one (or several) page that you would like only logged-in members to access. This plugin gives that kind of control.

Simple Tags: If a person is into using the new tagging feature in WordPress 2.6.2 this plugin gives a whole bunch of options and features for managing tags.  Both the Northwest website as well as Mark Naylor’s blog use this tagging feature.  See the bottom of this page.

The following two plugins are ones that I use on both Larry Perkin’s and Mark Naylor’s blogs. They are particularly useful if a visitor to the site wants to either email a copy of an article to someone or if they want to print up a hard copy for themselves.
WP-Email: Here is the read-me information.
WP-Print: Here is the read-me information.

WP-DBBackup: This is a valuable plugin for the many management tasks one might want to perform on the site’s database. This plugin, however, must be used with great care. I completely messed up one of my websites by not being careful. Here is the read-me information.

Feel free to interact witn me on this topic.  What have you found helpful for your church website?

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (1-2)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies. This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

2. In order to successfully plug in to a culture, I must spend time to get to know people

bridging a culture is the depth of relationships with people in that culture

This seems obvious. However, I have learned that the deception surrounding this issue can be subtle. Although I spent time around people at the Korean church, I needed to expend more prayer, energy, and intention being with people. My time at this church has connected me more solidly with the principle that success at bridging a culture is the depth of relationships with people in that culture. This means not just spending time doing church ministry together, but spending time together doing other things as well. Lingenfelter states:

We cannot hold office hours for the people to whom Christ has called us to minister. We must adjust our time schedules, meeting them whenever they have need and turning to our own tasks only after we have completed our ministry to them…1

One important key here, I believe, is the discipline it takes to get the work done efficiently and at the times God gives. Thus I have been convicted of the importance of time management. Disciplined time management ensures that the windows needed to spend time with people are available and stress-free. In addition to this, prayer combined with focused intent to build relationships provides the means to dig into culture and become a part of it. I think Paul was quite familiar with all of this. He wrote to the Thessalonians (2:8,11-12):

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us…we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…

and he also said to the Ephesians (5:14-15): “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

1. The most important lessons in cross-cultural ministry are still the most basic lessons.

While knowledge regarding contextualization, cultural practices, and language acquisition skills is essential, the real heart of cross-cultural ministry remains the same in any situation. I would argue that there are 3 interrelated values that form this core. First, we are called to walk by the Spirit, and not by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26). This overcoming of sin and Satan in our lives is fundamental to the effective witness of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:27). Overcoming sin is also essential to the second value: our capacity to love and serve others. Third, as we love and serve others and overcome sin, our obedience to God proceeds towards fullness.

the foundation of missions: Christian unity

Philippians 2:1-8 reveals that this fullness of obedience to Christ characterizes our unity. In turn, Christ emphasized unity is essential to our mission in John 17:21: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” and also in John 13:35: “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Together, these principles of victory over sin, love and submission to each other, and submission to Christ form the foundation of missions: Christian unity. I do not recall encountering teaching that integrated the concepts of missions in this way.2 It was in the absence of emphasis on the connectedness of these topics this semester that prompted me to think about how basic Scriptural teaching impacts the missionary endeavour. This has been very beneficial to me, because I believe that I can now better integrate these concepts with the other missions theology and concepts I am learning.

    ____________________

  • 1Lingenfelter & Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships 88.
  • 2However see A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Darrell L. Guder, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998 and Van Gelder, C. The Essence of the Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Press, 2001

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (3-4)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

4. The Gospel must be contextualized

Just as the messenger of the Gospel must be contextualized, so must the message itself

Just as the messenger of the Gospel must be contextualized, so must the message itself. Dan Gibson observes that while sin is the central problem faced in reconciliation with God, there are three general paradigms through which all world views deal with the fallout of sin: guilt/innocence, shame/honour, and fear/power.1 Gibson argues that each of these paradigms is represented in the Bible, and that the gospel, at its core, must be contextualized accordingly.2

For example, the “four spiritual laws” and “Romans Road” work well in a western “guilt/innocence” context, but do not speak to key issues faced in other cultures. Middle eastern nations are heavily based in a “honour/shame” paradigm due to the influence of Islam. In this case, the parable of the Prodigal Son becomes not a story of a guilty man restored to innocence, but of a man hopelessly trapped in shame who is restored to honour.

All three of these world views are addressed in the Bible in many places. For example, Romans 8:1 and 5:1 address guilt, Romans 8:15 and 1 John 4:18 address fear, and Leviticus 26:13 and 1 Peter 2:6 address shame.

3.  Contextualization, a path between cultural relevance and compromise, can only occur successfully as a result of complete reliance upon God.

[Jesus] often challenged the culture in ways that offended people

Jesus was incarnated into Jewish culture. However, while he adopted Jewish values and customs, he often challenged the culture in ways that offended people. The missionary must do likewise, but cannot depend on his or her own wisdom to determine when contradiction or acquiescence is appropriate. For example, it is not difficult to imagine that not many of us would, of our own volition, allow a prostitute to wash our feet with her hair in front of the local religious authorities, especially knowing the full significance of that event in its context. Similarly, how many of us, if we were able, would turn 6 vats of water into wine for a wedding? Christ stressed the importance of our reliance upon him: “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

The whole concept of contextualization is new to me, and I have not had significant exposure to other cultural contexts. The most significant result of my studies so far has been to ensure that I learn and teach these ideas with an emphasis towards reliance upon Christ.

    ____________________

  • 1Müller, R. The Messenger, the Message, and the Community. 140-143.
  • 2ibid., 129-264.

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (5-6)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

6. Failure to learn and understand a foreign culture can incapacitate the credibility of the missionary

In Islam, the Qur’an itself is considered a Holy Artifact. It is never allowed to rest directly on the ground, but must be placed on a special stand. Western Christianity, on the other hand, often downplays the significance of any object or ritual. This is usually done in order to avoid idolatry, and to place emphasis on the holiness of God. Thus for Westerners, the Bible is often perceived as ‘another book.’ We often have no trouble using the Bible in less than ‘holy’ ways such as placing it on the floor. Should Muslims observe a Christian missionary treating the word of God in our usual fashion, they could consider Christians as having no reverence toward God. The Christian would lose his or her credibility as a messenger of the Gospel.

people from cultures with a high reverence for spiritual things may perceive my prayers as irreverent

I can relate to this experience somewhat. During the semester I developed a relationship with a man from Iran. On one occasion, I offered to pray for his business, which was having trouble hiring an employee. After the prayer I realized that I often use very casual and informal language when praying, especially with those who are not Christians. While this may work in a Canadian context, people from cultures with a high reverence for spiritual things may perceive my prayers as irreverent. This could cause me to lose credibility as a messenger of God. I need to be cautious of this dynamic in cross-cultural ministry situations. Paul noted his own desire to remain credible in 1 Corinthians 19-22.

5. Be aware of the tendency towards ‘cultural imperialism.’

The tendency for missionaries (and humans in general) is to perceive their own culture as the ‘right way’ of doing things .1 There have been many examples of Western missionaries who insisted that planted churches mirror those in from the West. This imposition of Western culture makes evangelism less effective, and limits the relevance of the Gospel message. There is a bigger picture here as well. As noted by Alister E. McGrath, theologies allowed to grow “organically” in a foreign culture add creative insight to the global theological spectrum that Western theology, on its own, cannot produce.2

[There is a] need to discern the interaction between the authority of Scripture and culture

This has made me more aware of the need to discern the interaction between the authority of Scripture and culture. When teaching Biblical principles in a multi-ethnic setting (or any setting for that matter), I need to be conscious of how my own cultural lens may be affecting what I am presenting. Additionally, I will need to be sensitive of my fleshly tendency to judge other culture practices according to my culture, and not according to Scripture.

    ____________________

  • 1Sherwood G. Lingenfelter & Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 22.
  • 2Alister E. McGrath, The Future of Christianity (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002), 140-144.

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (7-8)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

8. Becoming engaged in a foreign culture requires a balance of sensitivity and boldness

Engaging a foreign culture requires courage

Engaging a foreign culture requires courage. Only one who is willing to take risks and try uncomfortable new things will effectively engage a culture. Cowardice results in missed opportunities. However, boldness needs to be balanced with sensitivity. A lack of humility and sensitivity will result in the offense of the other culture and create obstacles to building relationships. I have erred in both extremes. For example, I found myself in appointed to a position of leadership over some of the other young adult leaders after only a short time. I feel that some of my actions and attitudes in this position were too bold. From this experience, I have learned that it is very important to go into such situations humbly and with a servant heart. It takes time and sensitivity to gain the respect of others, especially if I am ‘stepping on their turf.’

In another case, I was not bold enough to follow up on a ministry opportunity. One woman asked, in the first week I was at the church, if I would come to her house for dinner and encourage her kids towards Christ. I hesitated to follow this up, because it seemed like such an unusual request. Several weeks later, the spirit convicted me that I should respond. I did, and the results were fruitful. However, I did miss some opportunity to speak into the women’s son’s lives because of my delay.

A balance of sensitivity and boldness is found throughout the New Testament. Both Jesus and Paul, for example, strongly challenged those around them, but were also very sensitive to personal needs and cultural practice. Paul both engaged Athenian culture and challenged them to repentance in Acts 17. Christ said in Matt 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

7. Raising support for missions is much more than asking for money.

Missionary work requires that the missionary raise financial support. However, I am learning both through personal fund raising experiences, and through my readings, that this process involves much more than just obtaining money. The “Raising and Keeping Ministry Partners” module at Gateway, as well as the “Teamwork and Partnership for World Mission”1 course with Mark Orr have been instrumental in this learning process in several ways.

First, in addition to raising financial support, I have learned it is also important to raise prayer support.

Second, those who become engaged financially or prayerfully in the mission become partners of the ministry. These people do not just provide for the ‘needy’ missionary, but also gain an opportunity to serve the body (3 John 1:8; Phil 4:18), develop their stewardship character (Mark 12:41-44; Matt 6:2-4), worship God (Phil 4:18), and receive blessings from God (Phil 4:17; Matt 6:4). They also (hopefully) become more aware of the greater work that God is doing in the church body to fulfill the great commission through prayer letters, prayer, or hearing teaching about missions theology from the support raiser.

the missionary comes to know God as provider

Lastly, the process of support raising provides an opportunity for the missionary to grow in faith. Through trust in God, the missionary comes to know God as provider as support emerges through providential circumstances (Matt 6:25-34).

Though my fund raising process went reasonably well this time, next time I hope to speak more about the emphasis of missions partnering. I have also learned that fund raising requires much prayer. The process of getting the money from donor to agency can be arduous at times and needs to be covered in prayer.

    ____________________

  • 1Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation, “Funding for Evangelism and Mission,” Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 56 (2004), under “Lausanne committee for World Evangelisation – Lausanne Documents,” http://www.lausanne.org/documents/2004forum/LOP56_IG27.pdf (accessed March 3, 2008).

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (9-10)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

10. Be aware of creating dependencies

In the “Overseas Life Issues” module at Gateway, a story of a church planting project was recounted. The story occurred in a developing country that had little resources. The church building constructed there by outsiders was far more advanced than locals could do using their own resources. Later, it became apparent that the locals were not building any of their own churches. The missionaries realized that this was because the locals felt that their ability to build church buildings was inadequate. The locals believed that the missionaries had constructed an “ideal” church. They felt powerless to meet that standard, since they lacked the resources and supplies necessary. Unable to function on their own, the locals became dependent upon the missionaries.

help in a way that does not create dependent relationships

This concept may find Biblical support from Acts 3:1-10. Peter and John did not give the crippled man money as per his request, but healed him in a way that would allow him to leave his life of dependency.

This has relevance for my local international student ministry. We want to meet the felt needs of students, but we must be careful in how we do so. International students can sensitive about receiving too much support, especially if they belong to a shame/honour based culture. Though these international students are in a position of need because of their newness to our culture, lack of transportation etc., our ministry needs to be very conscious to help in a way that does not create dependent relationships, make students feel ‘needy,’ or otherwise hinder the true spiritual impact that is required.

9. Different cultures have strengths and weaknesses in their expressions of church.

these strengths come from the Korean culture

When I first attended a Korean church I found that it had two strengths over churches that I have been a member of. The first was their hospitality and sense of community. Each Sunday I attend 3 services: a morning service for leadership, a late morning service for the English speaking Koreans, and an afternoon service for young adults. Each of these services is separated by a fellowship time where everyone gathers in the cafeteria. Brunch and Lunch are served. Hospitality was shown as well–several people made efforts to welcome me. The second thing that attracted me to the church was the sheer volume of people involved in serving the church. The number of pastoral staff, Sunday school teachers, worship team members, choir members, kitchen staff, and others is leagues beyond what I remember seeing in my own home churches. Both hospitality and service to the church community seem to be core values, and as far as I can see, these strengths come from the Korean culture.

What appears on the outside as servant hearted idealism is not without is flaws, however. Several young people I talked reported that people are appointed in leadership who are not ready to be in teaching or leadership positions. Additionally, some of the younger leaders seem to be overworked, or very close to it. While member involvement seems to be a strength in the Korean church, there are areas for growth here as well.

Personally, this has opened my eyes to the importance of engaging a different cross cultural context to see different perspectives of church expression. This helps me both to understand my personal church expression, as well as to see ways in which it can improve. I think John S. Leonard made a good point: “[the church in between cultures] would see sin where monocultural churches do not and call for repentance. It could just be the church that is capable of leading God’s people into whatever the future might be.”1

    ____________________

  • 1 John S. Leonard. “The Church in Between Cultures: Rethinking the Church in the Light of the Globalization of Immigration,” EMQ Vol 40 No. 1 (Jan 2004): 70.

Graduation 2008

Graduation this year was held at South Delta Baptist Church. It was a beautiful day for a graduation and the celebration was memorable. Our graduation speaker was our own president, Dr. Larry Perkins. He summarized his address this way:

The theme ACTS has adopted this year is “Come together, Go Further.” By living consciously as part of the body of Christ, we maximize our ministry and together can do great things for God. The metaphor of the great spiritual house God is constructing (1 Peter 2:5,9) illustrates this reality. As God enables us to “come together,” we discover our priesthood and our service. Spiritual formation can only be fully accomplished within the community of Jesus – it is not a solo effort. We cannot mentor ourselves or be a family of one or be a nation of one. Only as we come together can we fulfill the mission God has given to us. As we live and work together “under God’s mighty hand,” He will enable us to do great things to advance the Kingdom. This is why ACTS came into being.

Here are a few photos from the day’s celebration:

[slideshow=9]

Are there hip replacements for limping leaders?

Leading With A LimpDan Allender has provided a provocative look at several serious aspects of ministry leadership in his book “Leading with a Limp.” He writes primarily out of his experience as the founder of Mars Hill Graduate School located near Seattle. His thesis is clear: “to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues” (p.2). He then proceeds to discuss common, unhealthy responses to the challenges of leadership and urges ministry leaders to replace them with more effective responses — courage, depth, gratitude, openness and hope. The leadership challenges he identifies are crisis, complexity, betrayal, loneliness and weariness. The phrase “reluctant leader” seems to capture for him essential aspects of a healthy leadership perspective. Any ministry leader would gain considerable benefit from reading and reflecting on Allender’s ideas.

Allender helps us map the interior contours of Christian leadership, a kind of psychology of leadership, incorporating a realism about a leader’s limitations and dependence. Depravity works wondrously well even in the world of Christian leaders. The story of Jacob’s midnight wrestling match with God and his resulting disability — his limp — provides the overarching metaphor for Allender’s presentation. What struck me, however, was the silence regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in restoring, enabling, and guiding Christian leaders to walk with their limp in God-honouring ways. The result is a rather dark view of Christian leadership, lived in a hostile, dangerous and debilitating context. Periods of joy, satisfaction, thankfulness and redemptive accomplishment seem very rare or extremely intermittent. Allender is right to urge leaders to name their failures and walk with humility, but there is another side to this picture. We do lead as Christians in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Surely this awesome reality makes a difference. Does God ever provide “a hip replacement” and enable us to walk “normally”?

Allender rightly points to examples in Scripture of reluctant leaders — Moses, Jeremiah, etc. Yet, there are also many examples of people–Joseph, Joshua, Samuel, Nehemiah, Daniel, Mary, Paul– who embrace God’s calling, fearfully but willingly. . God’s entry into their lives is surprising and filled with change, but I am not sure from the information Scripture gives us that these people were reluctant leaders. We seem to have various responses to the leadership challenge in Scripture. I wonder how Peter’s encouragement for ministry leaders (1 Peter 5:1-4) fits into this idea of “reluctant leader”?

I found it hard to locate the faith community in the picture of ministry leadership that Allender presents. The community seems to be primarily a hostile place, the place where leaders are undone rather than the Kingdom context where God’s power and love triumphs. Undoubtedly Allender writes out of personal experience and many Christian leaders, unfortunately, would have to agree that churches often fail to live up to God’s ideal for his people. Yet, for every bad leadership experience, one could probably name a good church leadership experience. What Allender does help us realize is that naivete is not helpful. Faith communities can be places of devastating animosity for leaders, but they can also be contexts of wonderful support, love and encouragement. To lead with suspicion may not be the best stance. If Christ “loved the church and gave himself for it”, then some of this perspective must also guide our embrace of ministry leadership. Leadership is fundamentally relational. Ministry leaders are given a trust by the people of God to live and lead within the faith community. How does 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 get lived out in Allender’s perception of ministry leadership?

Allender begins by acknowledging that leadership is something for all of God’s people — every disciple is a leader. However, his focus quickly shifts to what he terms “formal leadership”, by which he means a specific leadership role in terms of organizational leadership in church, seminary, non-profit business, etc. Does the leadership model he presents then apply to all followers of Jesus? I think he probably would agree to this, but this is not his focus. But what difference does it make for a ministry leader to see himself as a “limping leader” serving in the midst of a host of “limping leaders”? One of his recurrent emphases is Paul’s confession that he is “the chief of sinners” and the importance for leaders to own this reality for themselves. Again, there is no argument against this reality. But here again the leader operates in a context where all, as disciples of Christ, are leaders and “chief sinners”. This is not a category exclusive to the formal leader. It is the reality in which all disciples live. Perhaps the challenge for the formal leader is to understand how to exercise Kingdom leadership as a “suffering servant” among a group of “chief sinners”.

Every believer is a flawed person. Scripture makes this clear and this is part of our daily confession. However, in Christ we also are “new creations”. This too is an exciting reality. Paul in Galatians urges Christians to “walk/live in the realm of the Spirit” and as we do this “we shall not let the fleshly nature achieve its goals” (Galatians 5:15-16) (my translations). How does this reality fit into the context of Kingdom leadership? We will never lead perfectly and there obviously are times for confession, repentance and restoration in every ministry leader’s experience. But should this be the overwhelming perspective? If a ministry leader is living in submission to the Holy Spirit daily, will the fleshly temptations towards narcissism, fear and addiction gain control? If a ministry leader repeatedly expresses sinful behaviour, does that person have the spiritual maturity to be in a formal leadership role? How do the characteristics and behaviours Paul identifies in 1 Timothy 3 for formal leadership match the paradigm of leadership that Allender proposes? I wonder whether Allender gives too much room for excusing sinful behaviours and fails to give sufficient challenge to pursue the way of the Spriit, the ways of the Kingdom — and the great potential we have to live it.

Who’s Ready For Change?

When we first began to address the health of church leadership through the Best Practices for Church Boards workshops, it didn’t take long to realize the wide range of potential that existed. Soon after the first workshop, the need to train individuals for board leadership was expressed … answered by the Personal Edition. Immediately, church boards began to express a shared desire to explore critical issues … giving rise to the Advanced Workshop. All along the way, we have been building a toolbox of resources for church leaders. So, it was only natural that churches would propel us to a higher level of response.

One of the more critical requests that emerged was for the sort of personal consultation that a church would receive as help in plotting out a future plan. The Advanced Workshop of 2007 focused on that process. The Role of the Board in Strategic Planning and Vision Development, as prepared by Dr. Horita, helped chart a process that would help church leaders fulfill the first of their two board governing imperatives: To Direct. [The second imperative, as identified by Jim Brown in his book The Imperfect Board Member … is “to protect”, but that’s another topic in itself.]

To Direct … the mandate to sense God’s unique purpose [vision] for a congregation and plot a specific course into that future [strategic plan.] As an initial topic, the advanced workshop only whetted the appetite. Over the last year, we’ve begun to discover just how many churches would ask for help to pursue the process.

For over a year, I have focused my research on various agencies who provide such help: consultation, coaching… At last count, I had reviewed 12 different programmed responses, and received training and certification in 4. These range from Outreach Canada’s Vision Renewal to Christian Swartz’s Natural Church Development … to Church Central’s Church Coaching, George Bullard’s Spiritual Journeys … the list is long. It’s been a fascinating study. I’ve discovered a number of features that are unique to each. I’ve also discovered that each have their own similar outline.

One of the great assets that we have gained as the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches has been the experience of our new president, Dr. John Kaiser. His partnership with Dr. Paul Borden has given us an inside view of  a process [Growing Healthy Churches] that has led to the Church Consultation Process that Dr. Horita has begun to deploy. That, along with the wide variety of resources that we’ve studied has open a repertoire of tools that allows us to address the unique character of each church.

One of the central issues that unlocks the process in any congregation is a readiness to change. I was fascinated to note, in my research, that change is a natural element to institutional life. In one study, it was noted that thirty years ago, churches could expect programs to have a life-cycle of approximately 5 years. It would take one to two years for people to settle on a mission, and a method, and start a ministry – that would remain effective for approximately 5 years before it would lose it’s impact and need to change.

For any number of reasons, the speed of society has shrunk the “shelf-life” of ministry. In 2006, a study posted online with Leadership Journal reported that programs now have a life-cycle of 2 to 3 years. The required time for preparation has remained the same. But, the speed of life has accelerated the need for change.

Several weeks ago, I met with a group of church leaders who have expressed a desire for a Church Consultation. As I sought to expose them to the path that they would face, we began by addressing the word: Change.

In one of the better books I’ve found on the subject, Leading Change in the Congregation [Alban Institute Publications, 2001] Gilbert Rendle writes “Working with congregations in change is not a dispassionate proposition. While working with goals and programs of the congregation, leaders will also be confronted with emotions … It is important for leaders to know what they and their congregation are feeling …The more helpful response of leaders is to wonder and question what message the feelings being expressed carry for the congregation.” [p. 106-107]

I found that it was really helpful to adapt an exercise from Rendle’s book [The Roller Coaster of Change] by asking the leaders to assess their personal attitude toward risk and change. I know it sounds simple, but my suspicion is that when you boil it down, people have one of two fears when it comes to change: They fear that there will be TOO MUCH change … or … they fear that there will be TOO LITTLE change.

We used a simple scale 1 to 5. 1 represented those who tend to fear ANY change as too much: they value stability above all else. The thought of change can be hateful to them. 5, on the other hand, represented those who delight in change and fear that they won’t get enough to satisfy their eagerness: they value creativity and flexibility.

Once we settled on the definitions, I asked the leaders to do three things: Using the scale – a line of 1 to 5 – they were to, each one, put 3 letters: M – where they felt that the majority of the membership in the congregation would land … L – where they felt that the leadership of the church was most comfortable as a group … and I – where they, personal, would identify their own attitude toward change.

The results were fascinating. They discovered that as a group of leaders, they shared more than they had expected – and were “readier” than they had thought to face the challenge. They also discovered, after some conversation, how they would be able to care for the congregation as they began to discuss new directions for the future. It gave them a place to begin.

It’s an assessment, I believe, that every group of leaders should take according to the responsibility to provide direction. As the advertisements say, results may vary … but insight is required as leaders seek to refresh vision, renew commitments, focus with clarity and serve with great effect.

Resolving Intercultural Tensions: Understanding Leadership in High and Low Power Distance Contexts

The Power Distance Contrast

Pir with disciplesIn Pakistan there is a strong tradition of "holy men" who are called Pirs. One day I had a visit from a young man who informed me that he was the Pir of his village. I was puzzled by this because he was dressed in modern clothes and did not have the religious, spiritual air one would expect from a revered holy man. He explained that in the tradition of his tribe, the honor and authority of the Pir was passed on from father to son and his father had recently passed away. For his part, he did not believe that he was able to give blessings to people, nor that his prayers were especially efficacious. In fact, when his father died and the mantle was passed on to him, he tried to refuse it. He told the people that he didn’t believe and that he didn’t want the responsibility. They replied, "It does not matter what you believe. You are the one chosen for this position and no other."

HPD = High Power Distance

Pakistan is a High Power Distance culture (HPD).  It is the role and status of the leader, rather than his or her particular character or ability that is of greatest concern. In this context a high priority is given to maintaining harmonious relationships and affirming the historical traditions and social structures. Rules of conduct are paramount, and anyone who does not function within that protocol is ostracized, no matter how reasonable or beneficial their proposals might be. In HPD cultures, it is assumed that the status quo is the way life is intended to be; the established hierarchy is ordained, competition is bad, and conformity to tradition and roles is good.

LPD = Low Power Distance

Canada, on the other hand, is a Low Power Distance culture (LPD). Titles and status mean little if the person in charge cannot fulfill their responsibilities. Harmonious relationships may be sacrificed in order to pursue a particular goal and the measurement of success is accomplishment. In LPD cultures, it is assumed that reversal of fortunes is a part of life, competition is good and no one has ordained or fated priority.

When I was doing my master’s thesis on Chronological Bible Storying among the Sindhi people on the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13), one aspect that the Sindhis who were interviewed emphasized over and over again was the importance of the disciple to always obey the teacher. They were appalled at Peter’s audacity when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet, and they found Jesus’ stern response, "You will not have any part of me," to be necessary and appropriate. HPD cultures, like Pakistan, consider the student insubordinate and rude who would question or contradict a teacher. Rote learning is the preferred method of learning as it emphasizes the teacher’s status above the student. In contrast, a teacher in a LPD culture like Canada encourages the student to challenge and question. Ideas and the stimulation of the mind are of first importance.

Due to Power Distance, leadership within a LPD context will function differently than within HPD groups. Awareness of this dynamic in interpersonal relationships along with appropriate adjustments can greatly reduce tension in multicultural churches.

Read the complete Cross-Cultural Impact Article

The perception of a loving church depends on where you stand

In the book UnChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), which deals with research from the Barna group, David Kinnaman refers to a survey which asked the participants to agree or disagree with the statement, “Christian churches accept and love people unconditionally, regardless of how people look or what they do” (p. 185). 20% of non church goers (outsiders) agreed strongly, just over 40 % of church goers agreed strongly, but 76% of pastors strongly agreed that this statement described Christian churches.

The discrepancy is intriguing. Do the pastors have a good sense of reality based on personal experience, or is this an expression of their desire for this statement to be true? Have the outsiders been biased by unfair reports, or have they had negative experiences that contradict the statement?

I suspect that part of the discrepancy has to do with the difference between standing inside looking out verses standing outside and looking in. For example, I have a love / hate relationship with hospitals. I think they are wonderful but I am happiest if I don’t have to be inside one. When visiting I feel quite out of place and uncertain about what I am permitted to do and am always relieved to leave. On the other hand, my daughter, Becky, has just completed her nurse’s training. She enjoys the environment, loves to be busy and experiences significance as she helps the patients. The hospital is the same, it is our separate and distinct relationships with and experience of the hospital that is different. It is a matter of perspective.

those of us who are church goers need to learn to speak another language of love

This illustration may parallel the contrasting perspectives between pastors and the outsiders described by Kinnaman. What looks like love to the pastors is seen through another lens by the outsiders and experienced as uncomfortable, judgmental or cold. Most likely the relationships and environment of church speak differently to outsiders. Perhaps their language of love is different from what is normally expressed in church. If this is so, then those of us who are church goers need to learn to speak another language of love, one that is understood by those outside of the church.

This missional stance – becoming like others, as opposed to inviting others to become like us – has even greater urgency when relating cross-culturally. What is considered comfortable, familiar and accepting varies from culture to culture. Cross-cultural experiences tend to be stressful due to the many unfamiliar cues which bombard the person who is not used to the setting, cues that need to be interpreted. In that context even expressions intended to communicate love and acceptance can be misunderstood or judged negatively. On the other hand, when God’s people learn how to make people from another culture feel comfortable and accepted by speaking that people group’s language of love, rather than waiting for others to conform to the church’s way of relating, then the experience of the outsider will correspond to the perspective of the insider.

Helping CHURCHES do MISSIONS better

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“Thank you for the great workshop.  Our missions focus is struggling and we found it to be so helpful and encouraging. The questions and exercises were well thought out and gave us good direction, as well as the prayer focus throughout.  We found it time well spent as it enabled us to focus well right there.  We have a good plan, I think, to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”

This was one of several positive comments received from the participants of the Best Practice for Church Missions Workshops held in Victoria (March 1) and on the TWU campus, Langley (March 8).  While organized and sponsored by Fellowship International Ministries and Northwest Baptist Seminary for our FEBBC/Y churches, the facilitators who participated were from Outreach Canada, Center for World Missions BC, YWAM, Fellowship International Ministries as well as others who represented a wealth of missions experience.  Each of the 13 church groups that participated was provided with a facilitator who guided them through the exercises designed to stimulate conversation and lead to consensus and direction for church missions teams.

One of the facilitators comments:

“These workshops … have exceeded my expectations.  Not that I had low expectations but the level of relational building, prayer, and planning was very good from what I saw.  My time with [the church] leaders was very significant … and some real progress was made. I felt honored to help them through the process.

The number of people that came from the churches was also very significant.  To have 5-10 people from the same church (including pastoral staff) together at the table for 7 hours discussing Global Mission is truly remarkable.”

This one day basic workshop for doing missions in churches focuses on vision, strategy and planning.  Five one hour sessions encourage each group to discuss and shape their missions team in the following areas:

  • Clarifying the ROLE of the missions committee and determining priorities
  • Assessing the HEALTH of the missions in the church
  • Identifying people resources according to GIFTING
  • Setting strategic GOALS
  • PLANNING and assigning tasks

Read about this workshop with more comments from participants

For information concerning further opportunities to participate in this workshop contact Mark via the form below

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Home to Harmony

One of my greater joys comes from time shared with my “A-Team” which I affectionately call the tiny band of brothers and sisters in our CLD Affinity Group. The group has grown over the years to several dozen, each called by God into a wide array of ministry in the church. They study hard. The course material is intense and demanding. But, I guess that my job is make it real. After all, ministry is much more than the formulas taught in books. The reality is that theories dissolve into the fabric of human life.

The subject of study this semester is Power, Change, and Conflict. To be honest, I am impressed with the material that the students are expected to read. But, if it were up to me, I’d add a few books to the list. And, I’d probably start with one – Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley.

Philip is a simple, Quaker pastor in Danville, Indiana – gifted with the grace of story. He has written what has become a series of books about a simple, Quaker pastor in the fictional village of Harmony, Indiana. Some have likened his stories to James Harriott’s All Creatures Great and Small or Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegon tales. will probably never be compared to Lyle Schaller or John Maxwell or any other authority in Leadership studies – but, it’s evident, he knows the life of pastoral leadership with an intimacy that befits ministry.

His stories include an array of characters all too familiar to too many pastors: petty “dictators” like Dale Hinshaw, congregational “queens” like Fern Hampton, wizened saints like Miriam Hodge. There are theories that help discern the dynamics of power, change and conflict – but somehow finding them come alive in a story makes it so much more human. And, I have to believe that when pastoral ministry is seen in humanity, it becomes much more divine.

So, for just a moment, allow me the heresy of suggesting that you set aside Barth’s Theology, or Maxwell’s Leadership or even Anderson’s Preaching [forgive me!] for just a moment – and read what happens when people become church, and pastors become people. For a sample, give it a try: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/151/story_15151_1.html

WordPress Plugins

WordPress is a great CMS (Content Management System) platform for a church website and web design as it is extremely flexible and very easy to use.  Part of this flexibility comes from WordPress’ ability to take advantage of the programming skills of people from around the world who have designed various small add-on applications for WordPress called plugins. There are many hundreds of plugins to be found in the WordPress Plugins Database. A web search for specific plugins will open a long list of possibilities. If you need a particular functionality on your website the chances are that someone has already designed a plugin for it. There are also sites which list the top plugins (here are a couple – Top 50 and Usefull WordPress Plugins )

I have spent considerable numbers of hours researching the net and searching for just the right plugins for the Northwest site. The following is a list of some of my favorites and a short description of their function.

  1. The WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin.
    WordPress is continually being improved both for functionality and security.  This plugin allows the webmaster of a WordPress powered web to easily update to newer versions of WordPress, automatically taking care of backing up the site first and then updating the WordPress code.  This plugin makes the webmaster’s life a whole lot easier.
  2. The Author Image plugin.
    On a website like the Northwest site where we have multiple contributors and authors – it is a valuable feature to have the author’s photo automatically linked to their article or blog.  This plugin facilitates that.
  3. The word processing plugin "Deans FCKEditor".
    The word processing editor that comes packaged with WordPress is a somewhat "bare-bones" editor.  This plugin expands the functionality of the editor so that it acts much like a normal word processor.
  4. The Event Calendar plugin.
    Northwest always has some sort of up-coming event.  This plugin help to keep track of those events via the WordPress web interface.  Adding a new event can be done by any of the regular contributors to the Northwest site by adding an Event Calendar activated post.
  5. The FormBuilder plugin.
    Forms through which people can respond to you (i.e. ask questions, submit prayer requests, comment on items on the site etc.) are a normal part of creating a website.  Forms need to be secure and able to filter out junk and spam.  This plugin allows one to create any number of forms on a site and have them all share the same security features.  This plugin rates special mention as it is designed and maintained by my son who is a web programmer with Power to Change.
  6. The Google Site Map Generator plugin.
    This plugin creates a sitemap for your website and informs search engines of any changes or additions.
  7. The NextGen Image Gallery plugin.
    Putting images on the web in an orderly fashion can be an onerous task and if you want them to be displayed in fancy ways requires knowledge of web scripting languages.  This plugin takes care of the details and allows you to add galleries and albums of photos to your web.  The header on the Northwest site is powered by this plugin.
  8. The Role Manager plugin.
    The Northwest website has a number of people who use the site to post their articles and edit their information on the static pages.  User levels of permission are designed into WordPress and this plugin gives the webmaster greater flexibility in assigning those permissions.
  9. The Simply Exclude plugin.
    Sometimes it is desirable to keep a particular category of posts (articles) from appearing on the front page of the website.  Yet they need to be accessible some other way.  This plugin allows one to designate categories to be excluded from the front page.
  10. The Themed Login plugin.
    The default WordPress login page is very plain and merely displays the WordPress logo.  This plugin allows one to use one’s theme as the login page.  If you click on the login link you can see what it looks like.
  11. The Search Pages plugin
    WordPress uses both ‘Pages’ and ‘Posts’.  Pages are static while ‘Posts’ are the blog part of the site.  WordPress search function only searches posts. This plugin allows one to search both posts and pages.

These are just 10 plugins.  There are many-many more.  There are e-commerce powered plugins which would allow you to add a "shopping cart" to your site.  There are mailing plugins which would allow you to manage users in a mailing list.  The list of possibilities is virtually endless.

Installing and using these plugins is as simple as uploading the plugin folder to the correct spot in your WordPress powered website and then activating it.  Usually each plugin comes with complete instructions as to how to use it.

If you are using WordPress for your church website – let me know – send me a link to your site.  Share what techniques you have learned or what hasn’t worked for you.

If you are interested in this topic don’t forget to read the other articles that I have written on church websites.

 

 

More Prayer

When I had once mentioned that I collected prayers, a friend quickly sent me a copy of the Prayer of Jabez, a book written by Bruce Wilkinson in 2000 based on a prayer found in I Chronicles 4:9-10: And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep from evil that I may not cause pain.” So, God granted him what he requested.

On the surface, the prayer seemed innocent enough. But, I found the instructions that came in the book a bit troubling. It was a word of challenge that Wilkinson gave: I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.

The book became a bestseller, number one on the New York Times non-fiction list, selling over nine million copies. I suppose what troubled me wasn’t the matter of prayer, but the practice it inspired. I quickly became aware of many friends who took it to heart – fully expecting prosperity to break out in all corners of their life. I’m not convinced that the prayer, itself, carried the promise of affluence or success. But for many, that became the aspiration.

Which was why I was attracted to a brief article, written in Christianity Today by Adam Hamilton, a pastor in Leawood, Kansas. As a church-planter, he discovered that church leaders needed to be focused not on themselves and their own personal success, but on the Will of God and the purpose of Christ. As he wrote: Some have found in the Prayer of Jabez a foundation upon which to build their lives. For me and our church family, it is one of John Wesley’s prayers that has shaped us – heart and soul … a prayer often called the “Wesleyan Covenant.”

While I’ve added the Prayer of Jabez to my list of prayers, the Wesleyan Covenant has become a guide in prayer toward to the essence of what it means for me to be a man of God:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it. Amen.

John Wesley

Core Basics for Church Boards

In November of 2005 we held our very first Best Practices for Church Boards workshop. At the time, it seemed to be the right thing to do and the right way to do it. Two years later, what seemed to be right has proven to be monumental. As of November, 2007 we have conducted 5 workshops throughout British Columbia – from the Lower Mainland, to Vancouver Island and into the Interior both in Vernon and Cranbrook. On March 8, 2008 we will return to Vancouver Island for the second time.

During the course of the two years, 30 Churches have sent their leadership teams – both Pastoral Staff and Board members. That represents close to one-third of the leadership of the British Columbia and Yukon Fellowship of churches. From those 30 churches, 240 Church Leaders have been registered as participants. The event in March will add to that number. In order to serve the leadership teams, 13 leaders have been trained and employed as facilitators to provide guidance to train effective Church governing leaders.

It has been a work in progress. After the first workshop, it became evident that more needed to be done. Both the interest and needs of Church Boards demanded a greater response than the Basic workshop could provide. This demand has generated a number of training instruments. Two [presented later in this Quarterly newsletter] have provided special training, first for the personal development and training of a Board member. Best Practices for Church Boards: Personal Edition has been published as a training tool under the title: Now That I’m A Board Member … a five-session course that includes both video instruction and workbook exercises.  Even though it was only introduced in the Fall of 2007, 12 Churches have purchased it and are using it in a number of creative ways.

The second additional instrument, or Edition, of Best Practices for Church Boards has been the Advanced Edition. Each June, a specific issue has been targeted for training. In 2007, 5 Church Board teams met for a one-day workshop led by Dr. David Horita for training in The Board’s Role in Strategic Planning and Vision Development. As advertised, the Advanced Edition workshop on June 23, 2008 will feature Dr. Guy Saffold’s training on the role of the Church in making good decisions. [see below.]

Beyond the formal “Editions” of Best Practices for Church Boards, churches have begun to request Coaching assistance to address a whole array of congregational health issues. This has opened the opportunity for the Ministry Centre, the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, and Northwest Baptist Seminary to focus resources that would elevate the health of local of congregations through consultation and coaching.

With each development, we have learned a number of lessons and confirmed a number of principles. A few of the lessons learned:

  1. Church boards at large have a desperate need for training: At first, I thought that the interest shown by the Fellowship Baptist Churches was unique, something that was felt only by a few congregations. The fact is, the need for training is almost epidemic. As the Best Practices for Church Boards has expanded, interest has increased beyond the boundaries of the Fellowship. Each of our ACTS denominational partners – and more – have been watching us carefully with a high degree of interest. As I talk with the regional directors, it is evident that their church governing bodies are in serious need of the same sort of training. One of the key discoveries that we’ve made is that very few church board leaders are specifically trained for their role and responsibility, and are left to rely on either previous experience or vague intuition to guide them through their work.
  2. The training of a Church Board is unique: There is a growing body of resource agencies that teach “board governance.” The growth of such agencies underlines the general need for such training. Such groups as the Banff Institute for Board Governance, the United Way and their Board governance training, and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities have created wonderful ways to train boards for non-profit, charitable organizations. But, one of the things that they have discovered is that while the Church is technically a non-profit, charitable organization – it is a unique species with a distinct character that possesses its own exclusive application.
  3. Church boards need to see their work as a critical spiritual ministry: One of the standard questions that I ask of Board members is “what is your spiritual ministry in the local church?” More often than not, the answers omit the role of Board governance. They will point to “teaching a Bible Study”, “part of the worship team.” When I say, “but, aren’t you a Board member? Isn’t that a ministry?” they will often respond something to the effect that “no, it’s a necessary evil, someone has to do it.”  

Such a response has reconfirmed two key principles that undergird our passion to elevate the quality of a Church Board. I continue to make this a challenge as Church Board Leaders consider their own level of performance. Two Principles:

  1. Membership on a Church Board is a profoundly Spiritual Ministry: Leadership is listed among the differing gifts of grace listed in Romans 12 [verse 8] as a governing function. The definition of the term applies to practical administration, the type required of Church Board members. The spirit of the challenge is that of diligence [earnest, eager, careful.] …If it is leadership, let him govern diligently.
  2. The Church Board is the Prime Community of the Local Congregation: When Paul outlines the qualities of oversight leaders in the Pastoral Epistles, it is significant to note that he points to character rather than ability, and the type of character that is assessed through community and ultimately builds community. I can’t help but read that and extrapolate a principle: that Board members form the definitive community of a church. The quality of their interaction and the integrity of their relationship has direct bearing on the health of the congregation. This principle can be measured by two corollary statements: 1. If a Church Board is unable to generate a Biblical sense of community – it will be extremely difficult to expect a congregation to enjoy a healthy sense of community; 2. By the same token, if a Church Board is able to generate a sense of Biblical community – the church stands a great chance of building a healthy sense of community throughout its fellowship.

The Church Board, the governing body, has a significant role. And, every possible opportunity to elevate the quality of service is well worth the investment.

We’re Rich?

This Sunday marked the second installment in a four part series that our pastor is preaching through entitled "LO$T." The dollar sign in the title is purposeful. The series is all about the dangers of becoming lost as a result of things and the pursuit of them.

He began with a question, "Why do you have more than you need?" There were a few snickers in the congregation. Many were thinking, "If the pastor only knew how tight things are in our house with finances, he’d know how ludicrous the question is."

What followed was a shock to us all.

The pastor informed us that 92% of the people in the world don’t own a car. Many in our church have one, some two or three cars in the family, and a few have more than that. 

He continued that a billion people don’t have access to clean water. We not only have drinkable water from the tap, we make it more pure by filtering it. We bathe in drinkable water and sprinkle it on our lawns and go to community centers and other facilities to play in it. 

800 million people won’t eat today and 300 million of them are kids. I have a weight problem. All talk of metabolism aside, its because I eat too much. I’m not alone by a long shot.

"The bottom billion plus people in the world live on less than $1 a day." our pastor said.  He then took us for a quick visit to www.globalrichlist.com. You can put your annual wage into a box to get an automatic calculation of what percentile of the population you fall within and how many people have a wage below yours in the world.  An annual wage of $37,500 puts you in the top 5% of the richest people in the world. What we call a low wage and "poverty line" earnings, when scaled this way, is very sobering.

As the pastor brought the message to a conclusion, he invited us to reconsider the question with which he began. His answer to us was this, "The reason we have more than we need is so we can share with those who are in need."

So we are rich beyond the rest of the world’s wildest dreams and imaginations.

Luke 19:1-10 does make it clear that people can be lost when it comes to accumulating stuff. Getting saved, this passage teaches, should reach right down to the depths of my bank book and not just my soul. It was a great sermon: What does "saved" look like for me?

Church Talk: Discerning New Ministry Leaders

In 2007 Amal Henein and Francoise Morissette published Made in Canada Leadership. Wisdom from the Nation’s Best and Brightest on Leadership Practice and Development. They argue that "in each of us rests the potential for leadership, but the response and measure depend on us….We are all called to lead"(58). They discovered that parental influence and leadership identity are linked. Parents can model what leadership looks like — making it visible for their children.

They also discovered the some "have a passion and disposition for leadership early on", but in contrast some individuals "stumble upon leadership by accident"(61).  Those who enter leadership by accident tend to be reluctant participants,  but, motivated by a desire to serve, they step forward, often when things are in crisis and no one else is willing to do it. The innate leader, however, instinctually grasps leadership opportunities. Over time both kinds of experience result in effective leadership.

What I found surprising is that two thirds of current leaders placed themselves in the accidental category and only one third in the innate group.

I think their results have significant implications for our understanding of ministry leadership development in the church. Every believer is called by God to exercise influence for the Gospel, i.e. to be a leader. The Holy Spirit within us empowers us to grasp and accomplish this leadership. Some will exercise leadership in the church as pastors or missionaries or youth directors. Others will express a quieter leadership, mentoring others one on one, parenting their families, leading a small group, being responsible for maintaining good facilities — there are countless ways.

What we need to grasp is that ‘accidental leaders’ must learn "to see themselves as leaders through others’ eyes first"(64). Someone else has to awaken them to their potential and encourage them to try. "For accidentals the challenge is to turn leadership on"(67). If this dynamic is operative within the church setting, then ministry leaders need to understand this reality. If we only respond to innate leaders, those with a surging creativity to express leadership, then we run the risk of ignoring 66% of the potential, gifted leaders that God has placed within the body of Christ, the accidental leaders.

How then do we create the right conditions so that the majority of people who fit the accidental leader category will have the opportunity to respond to God’s calling in their lives? Plainly we have to help them discern their leadership potential, be encouraged to step out and test their ability, and be there to support them in their first tentative steps. We have to help them "see themselves as leaders."

I would suggest that we have a huge untapped resource of potential leadership capacity in our churches because we are quite unaware of the accidental/innate leadership distinction. What could you do within your sphere of ministry leadership to help accidental leaders emerge and discover their potential?

A New Year and a New Web Look

You may have noticed the new look to the Northwest website this month.  Over the past several months I have been testing a number of new possibilities for our site in order to make it more friendly to navigate, more functional in terms of accessing the information and resources we provide here and hopefully more aesthetically pleasing.  I did this by adding some "plugins" and changing the "theme" we were using in WordPress.  I have already written a couple of articles on what a church can use for their web site and this is another to continue discussing the web publishing platform – WordPress.

One of the exciting features of using a platform like WordPress for any web site is how customizable WordPress is.  WordPress has been designed so that third parties can provide add-on features to make a website look just the way one wants it and do exactly what one wants it to do.  This is done through "themes" and "plugins".    Here are some ideas for your site:

Themes

There are hundreds of themes that have been developed for WordPress by third parties.  Many of them are free to use  or to customize to your own liking.  If you are interested, the WordPress website features a page where you can view or download and test hundreds of themes in virtually any configuration one can imagine. (click here to go to that site). Most of these themes require very little additional customization other than to change some graphics or logos etc. 

Some themes, however, provide a greater extensibility to WordPress itself – offering the web developer many more options for customization.  One of these is a theme called K2.  This is what I use here on the Northwest. site.  Here are some of the advantages of using K2: (view the K2 "About" page)

K2 Advantages

  1. One can develop one’s own style.  The K2 theme provides a way to style the site without having to tamper with any of the original coding.
  2. K2 comes with its own sidebar manager which I am using here.  It allows for considerable flexibility.  A number of other plugins provide sidebar modules that work well in the K2 sidebar system.
  3. K2 comes with prepackaged support for a number of popular plugins.
  4.  On the K2 "About" page there is a whole list of features that I won’t duplicate here.

K2 Resources

Here are a few links to sites with resources to work with the K2 theme

  1. The main K2 site. From here you can download the K2 theme.
  2. The K2 support forum
  3. The K2 documentation wiki (lots of good information here)

Plugins

In an upcoming article I will tackle the subject of WordPress and plugins.

 

Divine Hours

There seems to have been a revival of interest in ancient forms of spiritual discipline, notably in the area of prayer. From the early Church, the day was marked by regular hours. As early as the Didache in 60 A.D. Christians were encouraged to pray with regularity – the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, the Psalter throughout the day. By the time of the Church fathers [Clement, Origen, Tertullian] the hours of the day were marked by prayer: the terce, the sext, the none …

There are websites that provide guidance through these hours, mostly from the Orthodox traditions [http://www.agpeya.org/index.html] Over this last year, as I’ve sought to elevate my own discipline of meaningful prayer, I’ve benefitted from the manuals for prayer written by Phyllis Tickle [The Divine Hours.] Written as a Trilogy: Autumn/Winter; Spring; Summer … the books are more than a matter of prayer. They are a guide for the type of worship that is woven through time and space. As she explained: Christians, wherever they practice the discipline of fixed-hour prayer frequently find themselves filled with a conscious awareness that they are handing their worship, at its final “Amen” on to other Christians in the next time zone. Like relay runners passing a lighted torch, those who do the work of fixed-hour prayer create thereby a continuous cascade of praise before the throne of God.

As Christmas approaches, there is an evening [or Compline] prayer that is ending each day. As I pray it in these few remaining days before Christmas, it seems to add more meaning: O God, you have caused the holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light; Grant that I, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with You and the Holy Spirit He lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Everyday Theology

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends
Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, Michael J. Sleasman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. 285 pages, $29.99, paperback.

Most of our churches in the Fellowship are not missional, but communal in orientation.  That is, their primary orientation towards the community in which they are placed is inward focused, seeking to draw people into the programs of the church.  On the other hand, the primary goal of a missional church with respect to their broader context is to seek relevant and impacting involvement outside of the programs of the church.  The communal oriented church addresses the surrounding community with approval, caution or rebuke through the stance of an outsider.  The missional church seeks significant involvement with the community in order to speak as an insider.  Such a church takes a missionary stance of seeking understanding, involvement and acceptance with people outside of the church in order to speak with relevance to them.  

Most of our churches in the Fellowship are not missional, but communal in orientation

A missional stance requires skill to recognize, interpret and respond to the concerns of people who do not believe church is relevant to their lives.  Kevin J. Vanhoozer, a research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Theological Divinity School, has made an important contribution to this end through the recent book, Everyday Theology.  The book is designed to provide guidance on “how to read cultural texts and interpret trends” as the book’s subtitle states.  By “texts” Vanhoozer does not mean merely written texts, but all aspects of culture, including music, art, and architecture, that communicate a message.  By interpreting these messages correctly we gain a window onto the yearnings of the human heart. Vanhoozer provides an introductory essay explaining “the Method” for successful interpretation.  The remaining chapters, which include an analysis of Eminem’s music, the grocery checkout line and mega-church architecture, are products of his students that provide insight into how understanding culture allows us to shape the gospel message in such a way that it speaks to the people who need to hear the message of life.

Click to discover a workshop on how to make missional a part of your church’s agenda

Manly Orthodoxy

Over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself increasingly distressed by the quality of evangelical worship, or lack thereof. It’s gotten to the point where I have to discipline myself from ranting over the loss of the deep symbols of our faith, the absence of holy moments and spiritual drama, and the general illiteracy of our treasury of liturgy. It’s troubling.

But, while I seek to contain my rant, I have to share an article written by Frederica Matthewes-Green published on the internet site Beliefnet.com on November 6, 2007. It’s title: Why Orthodox Men Love Church. It was the product of a study she had conducted due to a unique phenomenon: In a time when churches of every description are faced with Vanishing Male Syndrome, men are showing up at Eastern Orthodox churches in numbers that, if not numerically impressive, are proportionately intriguing. This may be the only church which attracts and holds men in numbers equal to women … rather than quess why this is, I [contacted] several hundred Orthodox men, most of whom joined the church as adults. What do they think makes this church particularly attractive to men? There responses … may spark some ideas for leaders in other churches who are looking for ways to keep guys in the pews.

While Frederica Matthews-Green identified 7 key reasons, there was one specific spirit that emerged from the comments: Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding … I am challenged in a deep way, not to “feel good about myself” but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor, I find liberation. Among the 7 reasons, I was struck by the robust dynamic created by profound worship: It’s easier for guys to express themselves in worship if there are guidelines about how it’s supposed to work … learning clear-cut physical actions that are expected to form character and understanding … learning immediately through ritual and symbolism … the regimen of discipline making one mindful of one’s relation to the Trinity, to the Church, and to everyone he meets..

There is something manly to worship. Matthew-Green reports: the men who wrote me expressed hearty dislike for what they perceive as a soft Western Jesus … a Christianity that has been feminized … presents Jesus as a friend, a lover, someone who walks with me and talks with me … This is fine rapturous imagery for [those] who need a social life … [but] lines like “reaching out for his embrace”, “wanting to touch His face” while “being overwhelmed by the power of his love” are difficult songs for one man to sing to another Man.”

One man said that worship at his … church had been “largely an emotional experience. Feelings, Tears … singing emotional songs, swaying with hands aloft. … from a Deacon, “Evangelical churches call men to be passive and nice [think Mr. Rogers]. Orthodox churches call me to be courageous and act [think BraveHeart.]

The thoughts are well worth pondering. Ideas worth consideration.

New Testament Talk: Defining “Evangelical”

Considerable discussion is occurring about the appropriate way to define an "Evangelical". John Stackhouse (Church and Faith Trends volume 1, issue 1, EFC website) proposes a definition that includes the following elements:  orthodox and orthoprax, crucicentric, biblicist, conversionist, missional, and transdenominational. There is much to commend such a definition, although personally I think it emphasizes the individual aspects of the Christian reality too much and does not express the ecclesial community that marks the Evangelical  reality. Yet, it will serve well for the purposes of historical and sociological study.It is important for us to use terms with understanding, lest we talk past one another.

But trying to define ‘Evangelical’ does raise the question as to which term we might use to most adequately describe a follower of Jesus. The term ‘Evangelical’ may well serve this purpose within intra-Christian discussion and dialogue. However, when we consider the New Testament, particularly the epistle literature, the descriptor most frequently used is "holy ones" (or "saints" as rendered in the King James Version). The focus seems to be not so much on confession of specific Gospel content (i.e. evangelical) which one affirms, but rather on a positional or relational reality (i.e. holy by virtue of position in Christ or relationship with God). In Acts the writer identifies followers of Jesus as "disciples" (e.g. Acts 6:7; 9:19). The emphasis in this term defines the learning that occurs, as a person follows a teacher or philosopher or religious savant  and is mentored in the process. Frequently the New Testament leaders will refer to fellow believers simply as "brothers" (a somewhat generic relational term). In the case of the terms disciple and brothers, again the emphasis is on position (i.e. learner) or relationship. These terms are used by Christians to describe themselves.

When followers of Jesus become sufficiently numerous to be noted, their opponents used diverse terms to describe them. These include "followers of the Way" (Acts 9:2; 24:14); "Adherents to the Christ party" (i.e. "Christianoi", Acts 11:26: 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16); and "the Nazarene sect" (Acts 24:5).

It seems to me that the term ‘Evangelical’ serves to distinguish a certain type of Christian from another kind of Christian. It’s function would be similar to terms Paul used in intra-Christian debate to describe "Judaizers", i.e. Christians who thought Gentile believers should adopt Jewish practices in order to be included within the covenant.  For this reason non-Evangelicals might find it useful to type or categorize a certain segment within Christendom. However, for those within "Evangelicalism" it cannot be a sufficient expression of who we are, because it does not identify sufficiently well our relationship to God and Christ, or our relationship with one another. Here the biblical terms in the first category, i.e. holy ones, disciples, brothers, speak more eloquently and forcefully of our identity in Christ.

Our language reveals the way we think about things. The term "Evangelical" expresses a distinctiveness from other diverse groups. It is exclusive language, in a sense. So when it is used, it separates, it makes divisions. This is sometimes necessary and in certain contexts very helpful.  Within the early church reflected in the New Testament literature,  the language chosen by those within the church to describe followers of Jesus is  positional and relational, emphasizing their oneness in Christ, loyalty to Him as Lord and Saviour, and commitment to fulfilling his mission. As followers of Jesus we may need from time to time to describe ourselves to those without as "Evangelicals" because this term defines us in certain respects. However, when talking among ourselves as followers of Jesus, we might be better served to emphasize the New Testament terms such as disciples, brothers/sisters, holy ones.  It will make us more conscious and aware of our essential relationship with one another in Christ and partnership in Kingdom progress.

Significant Conversations: Onion model of Culture

The Common hunger of Humanity
What we as human beings search for and value in life is the “meaningful” and the “good.”

With regard to the “meaningful,” we are always trying to make sense of our world. Hopelessness, which is what we seek to avoid, is the antithesis of the “meaningful” and happens when the world does not make sense. Children from dysfunctional families, for example, are more prone to be careless of themselves and others – smoking, dangerous activities, lack of respect for boundaries, etc. Their world is not making sense and much of what they do is a cry of despair of the senselessness of it all. They deliberately do what they have been warned against, partly in reaction to the pain that they experience from those aspects of society considered to be places of security and meaning. Ultimately, the lack of meaning leads to suicide, as in the case of the existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre.

the issue for evangelism is no longer (if it ever was) about finding the right delivery system

Tied to this, and which is also a matter of universal human concern, is the search for and desire to experience and center our lives on “good.” We desire and search for that which is conducive to human flourishing. This corresponds with Jesus’ view of humanity. He had pity on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were in need of what is good and they were seeking for it, but they were looking in the wrong places.

what all of us as human beings are seeking are matters of ultimate concern

In other words, what all of us as human beings are seeking are matters of ultimate concern, the questions of human existence: What should I do? Why are we here? What may I hope?

Implications for our post-Christian Environment
Common approaches to evangelism assume that we as Christians have the answers to these questions and look for “delivery systems” whereby these answers can be provided. Church services, evangelistic meetings, tracts, etc., are all designed with the desire to deliver the Christian message. These approaches do work for some, but, if statistics Canada is correct, not for the majority of Canadians.

Read the rest of this entry in Cross-cultural Impact #57

Seeker Becomes Self-Feeder

 
            As full disclosure, I should confess that I’ve been a fan of Willow Creek before Willow Ceek was Willow Creek. In the mid-1970’s the youth pastor of my home church in Park Ridge, Illinois was a Trinity College student named Bill Hybels. I always enjoyed coming home on holidays from Seminary just to see what was happening with Bill and the youth group at South Park Church. In the vocabulary of the ‘70’s, it was a “happening!” High School kids were showing up by the carload, each week more than the last. When I heard one of the elderly people complain, it was the first time I heard a phrase that has since become an evangelical mantra: we are just being sensitive to the seeker.
            The term “seeker-sensitive” has become so much the standard for evangelical style that I was a bit shocked to read the recent confession from Willow Creek reported by Bob Burney in the Baptist Press [November 6, 2007.] As the result of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their philosophy of ministry, the Willow Creek leaders discovered that while they have reached large numbers of people, they have not been producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ.
            The studies, published by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins in a new book entitled “Reveal: Where Are You?”  produced a remarkable confession from my friend, Bill. “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that hey have to take responsibility to become “self-feeders.” We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
            It’s a remarkable moment. And I can’t help but think that we may begin to hear another term added to our vocabulary next to “seeker-sensitive” … “self-feeder.” It will be fascinating to see what that will begin to mean.

WordPress for Churches

WordPress is a web authoring software package that is designed to be easy to use and free for the downloading.  The creators of the software describe WordPress as follows: "WordPress is a state-of-the-art semantic personal publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability. What a mouthful. WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time."

Both large and small websites are run on WordPress.  As I have researched the use of WordPress on the internet I have been amazed to see the number and variety of entities that use WordPress in some way.  Many use it as it comes straight out of the box (so to speak).  Others tailor and customize it to suit their particular business or corporate needs.  WordPress allows the user to be as simple as to require virtually no previous experience or to be as creative as their web programming skills allow.  One example of a large entity that uses WordPress for many of its numerous websites is Power to Change (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ Canda.  View a list of their other sites at TruthMedia).

WordPress was initially designed to be primarily a blogging platform.  However it is so flexible that it can be used in almost any capacity as a Web Content Management System running websites as complicated as a major business might need or as simple as a personal blog.

So what is so great about it for the local church?  Here is a list of things that I particularly appreciate about WordPress:

  1. WordPress  is free!  It is released under what is known as a General Public License.
  2. WordPress  is very easy to use.  Here is how the creators of the program describe what they intend it to be: "We are proud to offer you a freely distributed, standards-compliant, fast, light and free personal publishing platform, with sensible default settings and features, and an extremely customizable core." (Read more here). All of our faculty here at Northwest have become adept at using it.
  3. WordPress  has a significant community of web developers who test it, create additional features for it (called plugins), and use it themselves.
  4. There are a number of web hosting companies that provide the initial installation of WordPress automatically.  There is a page on the WordPress website listing some of them.  These hosting companies will often even assist you with your domain name if needed (for a fee, of course).
  5. WordPress comes with a default theme.  There are, however, hundreds of great themes available to choose from on the internet.  If you have some web programming experience you can create your own theme or customize the default theme.  The main Northwest website (where you are reading this) is based on a version of the default WordPress theme that I customized to suit our needs.  Larry Perkins’ and Mark Naylor’s websites are based on a slightly customized version of a theme called K2.

 So, that gives some of the features of WordPress and why I think it is a great resource for church websites.

Meeting the need for Cross-cultural expertise in our churches

  • Joy’s (1) emotional pain was evident as she related her move from her family’s mono-ethnic Chinese church to a multiethnic congregation.  She felt guilt as if she had somehow betrayed her home church.
  • Bob pastored a multi-ethnic congregation but was frustrated by his inability to recruit leadership from certain groups.
  • Jane enjoyed belonging to a church with ethnic diversity, but was disturbed by the “multi-ethnic” label as it raised the spectre of racism.  “Why don’t we just focus on our oneness in Christ?” she mused.
  • Arif enjoyed the ethnically diverse church he attended, but also often visited a mono-cultural congregation of his ethnic background because of the familiar music and worship style.  “Is it OK to belong to two churches?” he wondered.
  • Pastor Daud was upset and felt betrayed.  After a number of meetings during which all participants affirmed their desire to belong to a multi-cultural congregation, one ethnic group left to form their own church.

Our increasingly multicultural Canadian environment with all its complexity necessitates increased expertise and insight on behalf of church leaders so that they can minister effectively. Cultural competency is required to facilitate healthy relationships and build unified congregations.

  • How does a leader deal with the dynamic of valuing cultural distinctives while integrating people from various backgrounds into a church with one identity and purpose?
  • How can the inevitable tensions that arise from cultural differences be resolved in positive ways?
  • How does a church shift towards an intercultural mindset without losing its missional drive and what form does that take?

Moreover, church leadership who wish to lead their multi-ethnic church into making a relevant gospel impact need to develop the skill to recognize and utilize the strengths of cultural diversity.

  • How is the gospel to be contextualized while maintaining the constant of Christ as Lord and savior?
  • How can significant relationships be developed with communities that have different priorities, values, and history?
  • How can our churches be equipped as confident and competent witnesses to those world representatives who are our fellow Canadians?

How can significant relationships be developed with communities that have different priorities, values, and history?

There is an immense need for committed believers to be trained for effective and relevant service in ethnically diverse contexts both locally and globally.  At Fellowship International Ministries and NBS we believe that training and preparation for the cultural and theological demands of these environments is essential.  Training for effectiveness in cross-cultural ministry needs to occur in real life, real time ministry settings.  This is why the Cross-Cultural Leadership Program (CLTP) was created: a mentored, experienced based training program for cross-cultural ministry in Canada and internationally.

Is there a need in your church for expertise in intercultural (facilitating relationships between ethnic groups) or cross-cultural (focus on reaching out to a particular ethnic group) ministry?  Is there anyone in your church who demonstrates gifting and ability in developing significant cross-cultural relationships? Northwest Baptist Seminary and Fellowship International Ministries are ready to assist in training such individuals through the innovative and flexible CLTP program.  Visit the CLTP website or contact the supervisor of the program, Mark Naylor, via the form below


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  • (1) The names used are fictional, but all examples are based on true situations

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Proof Positive

I seem to have hit a theme this month. My eye keeps catching the flashes of debate being generated by the modern merry band of atheists. In a recent Journal of Religion and Society,  Gregory Paul, a paleontologist, whose specialty appears to be the study of dangerous creatures [Predatory Dinosaurs of the World], decided to apply his analysis to what he identified as the greatest cause of social disintegration: religious belief.

While this theme seems to becoming a snippet of conventional wisdom for our day, I loved the critique penned by Theodore Dalrymple in the October 14, 2005 edition of the Wall Street Journal, So That’s The Reason… One line in particular stood out: …not even Mr. Paul would claim that he was more likely to be mugged in America by believers emerging from a Sunday service at a Baptist church than by drug-taking atheists emerging from a crack den … And yet, the irreligious among us continue to blame societal ills on faith while promising the social benefits of atheism [ignoring, of course, the social benefits of the gulag and concentration camps provided by the great atheistic societies of the 20th century.]

Which all brought to mind an example from the life of the Harry Ironside, a preacher from an earlier time. Gordon MacDonald put me on to his biography ordained of the Lord [E. Schuler English, Louizeaux Brothers, 1976.] A wonderful little snippet from the biography described a moment when Ironside was challenged by a leading British Atheist of the day to a public debate comparing the value of their life philosophies. Ironside agreed with one condition: that each of them “must bring two people whose lives have been powerfully changed by your message, and I will bring 50 people who have been transformed by the gospel I preach.” Within days Ironside had rounded up a list of 50 “specimens” with more requesting to give their testimony. The challenger cancelled the event. As Gordon said, it’s a 75 year old story, but I still get a kick out of it.

Feeding the Preacher

One of the problems I have observed is that some of us think we preach better than we actually do. Truthfully, most of us probably suffer from that problem. If I’m honest, I’d probably have to admit that I have a higher sense of the effectiveness of my own preaching than what the listeners might say (though they do seem to be very complimentary).

The problem shows up when I talk to people about studying preaching more. I heard it again this weekend when a denominational leader told me that his pastors would not take a course in homiletics because they wouldn’t think that they need it. If you asked their churches, he admitted, we would probably get a different answer.

In response, another friend offered this metaphor: If you’re feeding yourself, you might be able to get by with cup-a-noodles, or with Kraft Dinner. If you’re feeding your family, you might want to put a little more effort into preparation. If you are the dietitian at a major hospital, you would need to do some serious work to prepare yourself as well as your meal.

Preachers “feed” a lot more than just themselves and their families. We feed a congregation. We have to do more than just prepare a great meal. We need to prepare ourselves so that we have the knowledge and capacity to feed the multitude that gathers when we preach.

Get Your Church Website Noticed!

You have a message you want to deliver; you have a specific audience that you want to target; you develop a cool website for this purpose and then you do a search – and if it shows up at all, your shiny new church website is buried 20 pages deep into the search engine’s list.  "How will our people find our website?"  You are not the first person to ask this question.  Here are some tips and ideas that you can use.  I have broken them down into several broad topics and included links to some very helpful websites. 

Web Site Design

It is important that the structure of your website accommodates search engines. 

"How will our people find our website?"

  • Searchable text: Search engines need to be able to "read" your site.  So pay careful attention to such things as key words and phrases for which your target audience would likely be searching.  These must appear prominently as part of the text on your home page. Use such terms in text headings (in your HTML <h1>, <h2> <h3> etc.), as opposed to graphics, to maximize how search engines rank them.
  • Page Titles: Each page on your church website must have a unique but relevant title (HTML tags <title>Title Here</title>).  Search engines look for these and they also appear at the top of your browser window.  If you are using web authoring software like WordPress* the titles you give to your posts and pages become the page titles automatically.
  • Meta Tags: This is a little more technical as it requires you to get into the actual HTML code of your website but it is something that search engines look for.  Each page of your site is broken down broadly into a header, body and footer. In the HTML of the header there is a place for Meta Tags.  One of those tags is the KEYWORD tag (HTML <meta name="keywords" content="place your key words here each separated by a comma" />).  Choose good, descriptive keywords including your church name.  For more information on this go to the WC3 website and read their information on page structure.  Scroll down to section 7.4.4 on meta data.
  • Site map: Creating an easy way for people to see the contents of your site at a glance is also good for search engines.  WordPress* has several plugins that do this automatically.

External Links

Search engines look for traffic to your site. This indicates to them that your site is in demand. So get your site listed on site directories (i.e. the denominational web directory) and other similar websites etc.

Submit your URL to the search engines

Be sure that you follow their instructions carefully as submitting your information more than once could be construed as spamming and actually reduce your chances of a good ranking.

  1. Google: http://www.google.com/addurl/?continue=/addurl.
  2. MSN: http://search.msn.com/docs/submit.aspx.
  3. Yahoo: https://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/submit.

Use Other Media

Place your web address on everything you publish – from your weekly church bulletin to your daily email signature; from your letterhead to your note pads! Do you publish a church ad in the local newspaper? Don’t forget to include your web address there too!

Web Ads

One technique that is promoted to increase traffic to a website is the use of web advertizing.  This is probably not an appropriate technique for a church website but I mention it here for interest sake.

Patience

Search engines will eventually find and rank your site.  It may take some time.  Following the tips above will help search engines determine just how valuable your site is to your target audience.

Other Sites on Website Design and/or Promotion**

  1. Google has some good material at http://www.google.com/webmasters/
    Also at http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769
  2. Web Marketing Today has a good checklist at http://www.wilsonweb.com/articles/checklist.htm
  3. Modwest has a good FAQ answer on website promotion.

*I will be writing an article on WordPress at a later date.  It is the software that all of our Northwest sites run on.

**Including a particular website’s url on this site does not imply endorsement of the site or its views.

Scratching the Surface of Non-Belief

In the last few months, I have encountered a number of people who seem “taken” by the current campaign to promote the message of atheism. Such books as God is Not Great, and The God Delusion seem to suggest that there is something solid to the life and belief of the unbelievers. Which is why I was intrigued by the recent findings of George Barna.

The June update of the Barna Report dealt with the impact of the current promotional campaign being waged by Atheists. It was, in part, research for a new book by David Kinnaman entitled unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. On the surface, the issue seems to be formidable to anyone in ministry. But, digging a bit deeper into the data, I was encouraged by the opportunities we have to address people who appear uncomfortable with un-belief. Consider the following, from the Barna research [www.barna.org]:

But atheists and agnostics shouldn’t be too surprised that we would be confused about the issue. After all, this demographic group, which comprises 8% of the U.S. adult population, certainly acts in peculiar ways for religious skeptics. According to surveys conducted by The Barna Group:

  • 1 out of every 2 atheists and agnostics say that every person has a soul
  • 1 out of every 2 atheists and agnostics believes that Heaven and Hell exist
  • 1 out of every 2 atheists and agnostics believes that there is life after death.
  • 1 out of every 3 atheists and agnostics talks about faith-related matters during a typical week. 
  • 1 out of every 3 atheists and agnostics prayed to God, in past 7 days
  • 1 out of every 3 atheists and agnostics want ‘creationism” taught in the public schools
  • 1 out of every 8 atheists and agnostics believe that accepting Jesus Christ as savior probably makes life after death possible.
  • 1 out of every 10 atheists and agnostics believes that absolute moral truth exist
  • 1 out of every 12 atheists and agnostics read from the Bible, other than while at church, in past 7 days
  • 1 out of every 25 atheists and agnostics attended a church service, other than a special event such as a wedding or funeral, in past 7 days

If an atheist reads the bible, goes to church, believes in the existence of the soul, heaven, hell, life after death, teaching creationism, absolute morals, and prayer, are they considered a “heretic” by their fellow non-believers?

I would take it one step further: would they be considered a “lost sheep” looking for a way home?

Everyone’s Talking to the Gun; Who’s Talking to the Hand?

The news in our city about gang wars and violence is deeply disturbing.

Over the past several weeks news articles and reports have been featured regarding a particularly gruesome targeted gang hit on six individuals at a high rise apartment complex. Four of the individuals were young men deeply involved in the drug trade and well known to both the police and our court system; the other two victims were entirely unconnected with these men; they were men whose only mistake was to have been near and to have seen the assailants, and so they were murdered with the rest. One of those innocents was Ed Schellenberg, a good Christian man who was on site doing fireplace maintenance.

In the last week, I awoke to news of another targeted gangland killing  on one of the city’s major streets. Two men were shot dead in their vehicle. This is no more than a couple of blocks from where my two daughters live.

That makes 19 gang-related murders in our city this year.

Responses to this violence have been varied. The police forces of the greater Vancouver region have banded together to form a "Violence Suppression Team" with patrols in local hangouts to surveille and harass known gang members. Op ed pieces in the media are cynical, calling for such things as a revamp of a court system that many claim is entirely lax in its punishment of such offenders, or the government legalization and control of the very drug trade from which the gangs have enriched themselves and over which they’re fighting. The solutions on offer are varied; some touch to mere suppression of the offending behavior, others seek to address systemic issues.

I’ve heard virtually no exploration or address of the deeper human dynamics of all this beyond the mere pronouncements of an offended sense of morality. And where is the involvement that engages for personal transformation?

Everyone is talking to the gun, but no one seems to be talking to the hand.

Where is the voice of the church in all this? I really don’t think I’ve heard it yet. Far from being irrelevant, it is desperately needed.

 

Preaching with Variety

_Preaching with Variety: How to Re-create the Dynamics of Biblical Genres_. By Jeffrey D. Arthurs. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007, 978-0-8254-2019-1, 238 pp., $15.99, paperback.

Several years ago I embarked upon a project. Having been given a short interim preaching opportunity at a nearby church, I decided to choose a different biblical genre for every sermon text. I wondered what might happen if I gave as much attention to the form of the text as I did to its content. The series turned out to be a wonderful exploration of the biblical terrain, but it would have gone a lot better if I had been able to read Jeff Arthurs’ book.

“The form of a text is not simply the husk surrounding the seed;” Arthurs says, “it is the way the authors manage their relationship with their readers (201).” People come from a variety of backgrounds bringing with them an array of preferred learning styles. The biblical writers not only appreciated this fact, but they modeled it, sharing truth by means of an abundance of literary styles. Our preaching should do no less.

This is inarguable. I have long wondered why, in the attempt to exposit faithfully the biblical text, we have felt it necessary to distill the content from the form. It is as if, to use Arthur’s metaphor, the textual form was mere chaff to be blown off as worthless. Sure, we have utilized the form for its interpretive value as a means of getting to the core truth of the text. Yet, should not those of us committed to exposition be just as concerned with the manner of communication used by the biblical text as we are with the content of it’s communication? Would not the attempt to replicate the form of the text in the form of our preaching be even more faithful to the intent of exposition?

Jeff Arthurs thinks so. His book is more than just an argument for a fully “formed” preaching of God’s word. In the tradition of Sidney Greidanus and Thomas Long, the book leads the reader through an exploration of various textual forms, offering guidance and advice to aid in the preaching of those forms. The book, then, serves as more than just a good and helpful read. It is a reference work that can be consulted whenever we move to preach from a different part of the Bible. I, for one, expect to consult it regularly as I move from proverb to epistle to psalm.

The great thing about genre-enriched preaching is that it doesn’t just represent a more faithful approach to exposition. It also makes for more interesting preaching for the listener. Preachers who feel they may be going a little stale will benefit from this reading, perhaps leading to a more holistic and integrated approach to their task.

Arthurs writes well, as one might expect given his subject. He also doesn’t overstate his case. One of his opening “9.5 Theses” is that “some things are more important than the topic of this book (15).” The preacher’s “ethos” or character is more important, as is the “telos” or theological objective of the sermon. This kind of humility plays well to the reader confronted with the many textbooks on preaching that are currently in print.

_Jeff Arthurs, is associate professor of preaching and communication, and dean of the chapel at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary._

Church Web 101

…where does one start when planning a church website?

Today I am launching a series of articles for churches on the topic of church websites. Have you grappled with how to start, develop and maintain a good church website? Have you learned some great secrets that you would be willing to share? I hope to add a number of articles in the future that will provide resources that specifically address the needs of churches in relation to their use of the internet. I may not write all the articles but rather will try to develop a network of people, web-links and other resources that can provide the kind of help needed – particularly  for churches.

In this article I am starting with some fundamentals. In order to have a website you need three basic pieces of the internet and website puzzle.

1. The first piece you need is to own the "domain name" that you will use for your website. The domain name is the address that you type into your internet browser that takes you to a particular website.  The domain name that Northwest owns and uses is nbseminary.com. When you type www.nbseminary.com into the address bar of your internet browser it opens to the Northwest website for you to browse. So an example of a domain name for you might be www.yourchurchname.com.

A domain name is purchased from a domain name registrar and is paid for (usually) on an annual basis. Domain names cost anywhere from $8.75 per year to $34.99 per year depending on the registrar and what they offer beside the domain name registration. On the more expensive end of the range would be a company like www.networksolutions.com and on the cheaper end would be a company like www.mydomain.com – with many in between and a few cheaper and a few more expensive.

You need a "place" to locate your website so that it can be accessed from the internet any time of day or night – a web host.

2. The second piece of the puzzle that you need is a "place" to locate your website so that it can be accessed from the internet any time of day or night. This "place" is usually provided by a web hosting company. For a monthly fee these companies will "host" your website on their web server computers and make sure that your website is both secure and always accessible from the internet. Hosting fees can range from as low as several dollars a month to several dozens of dollars a month – again depending on the services provided. Most church web sites do not need anything more than a basic or basic to mid-range hosting plan.

3. The third piece of the puzzle that you need for your church website is the development of the website itself – i.e. the computer files that hold all the information you want to present about your church. For the basic website these files can be understood in two broad categories. There will be the actual web pages themselves – i.e. what you are reading right now, and there will be the graphic elements of the site. That includes the overall site design, photos, video clips etc. Site designs usually incorporate a top section called a header that identifies who this site is about, the body of the site which holds the information, and finally there usually is a bottom part – called a footer where one might place a copyright notice, some links to important sections of the website and so on. 

– What should a church put on their website?
– Who is going to be responsible for the website?
– What sort of time commitment might be required by a website?

One other element the site will need is some sort of mechanism to navigate from one page to another. Links that do this navigation are often found either in a menu bar across the top of the site or on the side of the site in what is called a sidebar.

I will write more about each of these pieces of the puzzle in future articles. Here are some other questions I would like to address in future articles. Where does one start when thinking about a website? What does one need to create a website? Can just anyone do this or is purely the realm of the specialists – the geeks? What makes a good church website? Is there special software that I need? Are there people who can help me?

I am sure you have your own questions. Why don’t you add a comment to this page? Do you have a particular question that we could address in a future article? Do you have some special solutions your church has discovered? Write and let me know.

Karen’s Sermon Art

Yesterday my wife participated in our pastor’s sermon by illustrating his sermon with a simultaneous sermon painting. What’s that, you ask? Let me try to explain.

Brian Stewart was preaching from Philippians 2:15 about how we are to shine as lights for Christ in the places we’re located. He had a lot to say about light and darkness. For example, most of the service took place in a semi-darkened worship center. As the sermon came to a close, people were invited to light candles, signifying their commitment to live as lights for Christ. The sanctuary brightened noticeably as people came forward to express their commitment.

The whole time Karen was painting at the front of the church. The canvas began as a flat black surface with the outline of a closed door, the handle barely visible, a hint of light coming through the bottom of the door. Karen began painting as the worship team began to lead in singing and she continued through the sermon time, concluding the piece at the end of the service. As she painted, she deliberately moved around the piece, allowing the image to emerge bit by bit.

The image she offered showed a young girl opening her bedroom door so that the light from the hallway began to flood the darkness of her room. You could imagine the comfort of a loving mother or father on the other side of the door. It was fascinating to watch how the door opened as the painting progressed, literally leading the viewer from darkness to light.

This was no small challenge for Karen. She has always believed that her art should communicate something meaningful. She wanted to support the preaching of the sermon and not distract from it, but she also wanted to avoid overly obvious or kitschy images in favor of something that would be interesting and evocative. In this case, she didn’t have the luxury of presenting a finished product, but had to ‘perform’ the art in the presence of the congregation. Wishing to use this as an advantage she tried to bring a sense of motion to the piece, having the door open as she painted, the light growing and spreading as the service progressed.

All this in 45 minutes!

I am proud of my wife and I’m proud of our church. I was thrilled to see Karen have the opportunity to express the gift that God had given her in support of the preaching of God’s word. I think it would be a good thing if other churches could be this open to finding creative ways for people to express their gifting for the glory of God and for the spread of the gospel.

Disillusioned with the Sunday meeting expression of church

The following is a response from my wife, Karen, to a couple of recent blogs found on this site:

In his Oct 17 blog "The Foundation for Hearing God," Loren Warkentin wrote:

We Christians have become acculturated to this [fast-paced] style of living and I believe it has affected our spiritual lives. We are easily bored. If a “worship service” doesn’t entertain us sufficiently we move elsewhere. Long sermons and church services tire us. But maybe more deadly is the effect this lifestyle has on our personal, devotional relationship with God – it has become fragmented, stretched thin, missing even – and so we look for a fix. We still want to hear from Him, but….

YES! We desperately want to hear from Him!! But maybe the problem is not our expectation but the "worship service."

I don’t believe most Christians go to a church service looking to be entertained. We go seeking God. My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit – but when it comes to church services, I have all but given up. Most often I come home from a service knowing that I have (yet again) missed God.

My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit

Music moves me so if the "worship team" is decent and the songs are good (by that I mean there is some substance and content to the lyrics), then I can worship.

But the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me. I recently attended a friend’s very charismatic church. I am not a charismatic by theology, preference, experience, desire, personality or history, but if I lived in that town, that’s the church I would go to.

the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me

Why? Because I met God there. It was clear that the leaders were communicating their heart and more importantly, God’s heart. The sermons (I heard 3 over the weekend) came out of their lives and what God was teaching them, not from a commentary.

I find that in sermons the grand themes in the Bible are often reduced to the bottom line "be nice" and so much of what I hear is the "same, old, same, old." I love the "old, old story," don’t get me wrong. But the way it is presented is like eating dusty, stale crackers.

I have met numerous people who no longer attend church, not because they aren’t entertained, but because they miss God when they go.  Initially they think the problem is with them, that somehow their expectations are out of line. Some of them keep going out of habit, others keep attending because they have kids and others just give up (I have talked to all of the above).

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them

Although evangelicals say we base our lives and beliefs on the Bible, there is little Bible reading. At one service I attended the preacher read 1.5 verses and then told us that even though the verses meant something different, he would still use those verses to preach on his chosen subject. At such services I look around at the people and think – Do they really find these words a life giving message? or is coming to church a habit and good way to see friends?

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them. Most of them start with "yes, I see what you’re saying…but what about this? and this? and this?” Does the preacher not have the same questions? If he (most are men) doesn’t, why not? Am I that off the charts? Do the people around me not have similar questions?

In Kent Anderson’s Oct 19 blog, "Apologetic Preaching," he writes in reference to J.P. Moreland:

People, he said, need more than just to hear what the Bible says and how to apply it, because people don’t actually believe the Bible very strongly. People today are looking for passion and some sense that the preacher knows what she or he is talking about. Pastors need to be brokers of knowledge just like doctors.

[The problem with church services is not] the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance

I believe that passion comes not just from knowing God, but from knowing God this past week; from working through doubts, questions, injustices and opportunities. I don’t think we need to develop a database of God’s miraculous interventions (Moreland’s suggestion as reported in Kent’s blog) because most people don’t live life like that. But we do want to know how to meet God in our ordinary, every day life.

Church services are a prime opportunity to bring people into God’s presence so they can hear from Him. At least the vast majority of resources are geared towards constructing and maintaining very expensive buildings so there can be a corporate gathering. But when that doesn’t happen the discouragement can lead to disillusionment. It is not about the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance.

maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together

 Coincidentally, I am reading about the Veritas Forum, a movement in universities that faces the hard questions of life in the light of who Jesus is. Experts in many different fields offer expertise to students who can respond and interact. Their messages do not reduce the gospel to a trite "be nice," but honestly grapple with the relevance of God’s revelation in the context of a secularized worldview.

I find the Sunday meeting expression of church to be very unsatisfying because it is one dimensional. Much time and effort is put into this one expression and yet it falls short of what it could be: a gathering of people who need and want to meet with God, who have come to worship and to be in God’s presence. Yet week after week some of us leave so frustrated. Eventually we learn that maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together.

 

Church Health Assessment

Quick note, helpful tool: Check out the resources of Leadership Transformations, Inc. Actually, go directly to their ministry resource outlet entitled HealthyChurch.net [just add the www. before the title, and you’re there.]

One of the things that I’ve discovered in the last two years is that most churches wait until a crisis to assess the health of their fellowship, and then struggle to find a way to do it well. Outreach Canada has addressed the issue well with their Vision Renewal process and the Ministry Fitness Check. I’ve also discovered that most healthy churches derive momentum from consistently assessing their health, and making it a standard practice to measure their progress. If you were to put it in physical terms, they put their Body through an annual [or at least “predictable”] physical.

HealthyChurch.Net has produced a helpful tool: Church Health Assessment Tool [also known as CHAT] that is well-worth your inspection. Some may find it to be a bit pricey, but, then again, as the commercial says, some things are priceless, and CHAT may prove to be that for you.

The REAL Examination

It’s that time of the semester once again. The Registrar’s office has asked each professor to indicate whether they are requiring an examination that needs to be scheduled into the examination week for their courses. The schedule is out and professors and students are all now aware of when each examination will need to be sat.

By and large, most of our students do a good to great job in writing their exams. Sometimes, there is a feeling of uncertainty about their answer to this or that question, but generally, there is a sense of satisfaction and relief as they leave the examination hall. They studied hard, retaining much. And during the exam, what was committed to memory was laid out in answers to questions or synthesized and made the basis of responses to cases presented for analysis. With the completion of the examination, they have done their part in the course and all that awaits is the professor’s grading of the work and the formal posting of the student’s final mark for the course.

It is not a new thought, but it occurred to me that most of our exams are not the real examination. Indeed, the real exam is taken when the knowledge is put into practice for the benefit of those who will be served or helped. The real examination occurs after the exam for the course. In the knowledge of that truth, I’ve taken to adding a little note at the bottom of each examination sheet following my Christmas wish to the student. In the hermeneutics exam sheet, for example, it reads, "Remember, the real examination for this course takes place every time you open your Bible to translate, study, preach, teach and counsel." 

 The principle holds not only in the academy, but also in the church and in life generally for the Christian. The real test of what we’ve heard in the sermon, or the Bible study class, or the home group is not that we were in attendance, or even whether we can replicate the content flawlessly. It is, rather, what we’ll do with what we’ve heard. The test is action.

Using the image of building, Jesus taught that hearing his words only and hearing them so as to do them are the difference between the foolish and the wise respectively (Matthew 7:24-27). The book of James puts it even more succinctly, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)

Apologetic Preaching

J. P. Moreland of Talbot Seminary was the keynote speaker at this year’s meetings of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. He took the opportunity to offer a proposal for “apologetic preaching.” While such an approach is not new, Moreland seemed to suggest that apologetics could and should take a much higher place in our thinking about preaching in this highly-secularized period.

This is, he said, the most divided time in American history since the civil war. On the secular side are the media, the universities, and the entertainment industry. On the the other side (according to USA Today) the leaders are the evangelical churches. It scarcely seems a fair fight.

It is out of this millieu, Moreland says, that the current evangelical church has been formed. We have, he said, felt forced to retreat to a largely privatized faith. We have conceived of our beliefs as matters of faith and not of knowledge, thus ceding the realm of knowledge to the scientists. It is the doctors and scientists who are the keepers of empirical knowledge. Truth is no longer adequate. It is knowledge of truth that reigns supreme. Because preachers trade in truths that can’t be known, we have been marginalized to the realm of private belief.

Moreland offered Oprah as an example. She can wax eloquent about theology without any expertise, he said, because she understands that there is no hard knowledge available this kind of truth. She tells people that they can pray in any manner that they want and to any God whom they might see as helpful. Of course, she wouldn’t dream of offering such counsel with respect to something like smallpox, because we have hard scientific knowledge about smallpox. We know that you cannot vaccinate yourself effectively with coffee or with chocolate. When it comes to faith, however, we think that no such conviction is possible and so we relegate it to the realm of individual discernment and desire.

This, Moreland suggests, is unnecessary and ultimately untenable. The Bible, he says, is a source of hard knowledge. Paul, for example, spoke about the power of thinking rightly (Phil. 4:8,9) long before Sigmund Freud ever thought it was a good idea. We need, he said, to build faith in listeners by preaching such that they increase their confidence in the ability to know things about God and about eternity based on the teachings of the Scriptures.

Belief, he said, is a “degreed property,” which is to say that belief happens whenever we are between 51 and 100% certain of the truth of a thing. Belief is like ‘cloudiness’. A dog is a dog is a dog. But cloudiness can exist to a greater or lesser degree. The same is true with beliefs. I believe in my own existence, more strongly than I believe in the existence of God, he said, though the two are very close. The task of the preacher, then, is to bump people up so that they believe the right things and that they hold them more strongly than they previously did. As preachers, we ought to assume that people don’t believe the things they believe with a great deal of strength and that it is our task to help them believe more strongly.

People, he said, need more than just to hear what the Bible says and how to apply it, because people don’t actually believe the Bible very strongly. People today are looking for passion and some sense that the preacher knows what she or he is talking about. Pastors need to be brokers of knowledge just like doctors.

Thus, he said, we need to be developing two skills in preachers: (1) to develop a habit of reading worldview in culture, and (2) to communicate what the Bible has to say on public issues – to show, that the Bible is an intelligent book written by thoughtful people. Specifically, and more controversially, he suggested that we develop a database of experiences of God breaking into the world, like undeniable instances of God speaking in the world, miraculous circumstances, healings, and even encounters with angels and demons.

Personally, I found myself challenged and interested in Moreland’s ideas about working deliberately to build faith in the people who listen to my preaching. I even found myself appreciating the idea that I should catalog the instances in my own experience where God has made himself evident.

That being said, I think that perhaps Moreland underplayed the nature of faith in preaching and in the life of those we speak to. My sense is that we need to integrate both faith and reason such that our experience of God’s working finds its place alongside a reasoned appreciation of the truths that Scripture teaches. I once suggested that this is akin to aligning the two gospel songs, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”, and “you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.

Further, while I appreciate that the Bible is a source of knowledge, I think it also fair to say that as human subjects, our ability to know truth is limited by our finitude and fallenness. We are dependent, then, on God to reveal truth to us by his Spirit. I don’t despair that this overly privatizes my access to faith, because I believe that God is active by his Spirit, throughout the world, to build faith in the people he is reaching. It encourages me that he often uses preachers in that task.

Churchtalk: Responding to the Breakdown of Tolerance

In a recent issue of Mcleans a lead article raised the alarm that our Canadian commitment to multiculturalism may be eroding. The key question that Canadians are debating is this:  what reasonable accommodations should Canadians make to cultural and religious minorities? Where should the limits be drawn? The writer claimed that many in Canada are "utterly conflicted" on this question. Recently violent responses to religious and cultural minorities have occurred in various regions of Canada.

If as followers of Jesus all we can muster is tolerance for those who hold different values and dress differently, then we have not understood Jesus’ teaching.

Many suggest that the answer to these conflicts lies in transforming Canada into a purely secular society. If we accomplish this, we will enthrone tolerance. Apparently religious values or ethnic values cause intolerance. This sounds to me like the argument used in the past that the rape victim was somehow responsible for being raped! If these religious and cultural minorities just stopped being different, then we could tolerate them. A retreat to secular values, however, will not solve the problem, because even within secularism there are many diverse values vying for priority. Where in the world do we find a secular society that is free from intolerance?

Maybe the growing reaction against multiculturalism and intolerance towards religious and ethnic minorities in our Canadian society is presenting Evangelical Christians with a new opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus and show another and better way to live.

For Christians tolerance is an insufficient response to human differences. Jesus challenged his followers to "love your enemies" and to "pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Tolerance is not good enough for kingdom people. If as followers of Jesus all we can muster is tolerance for those who hold different values and dress differently, then we have not understood Jesus’ teaching.  Paul struggled with this issue and declared that in the Messiah Jesus no cultural or economic distinctions count (Galatians 3:28). Paul claims that God is "no respecter of persons", i.e. he does not play favourites. God loves "the world" and expects His people to do the same. Maybe the growing reaction against multiculturalism and intolerance towards religious and ethnic minorities in our Canadian society is presenting Evangelical Christians with a new opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus and show another and better way to live. God’s Kingdom embraces people from all cultures and in our church communities, as we are empowered by God’s Spirit, we can truly "love one another."

Evangelical Christians should note, however, that they are a religious minority in Canada. This means that sooner or later their Christian values will conflict with generally accepted Canadian values. When this happens, the government or courts will judge what ‘reasonable accommodation’ should be in specific cases. Perhaps we already see this happening in the issue of same-sex marriage. How should we respond when our values are regarded as ‘unreasonable’ and accommodation to them will violate Canadian values? Each situation will require great wisdom. However, we should not be surprised that such things happen, because we are different. Jesus has made us new and together we form his "holy nation".

The Foundation for Hearing God

There is, today, a proliferation of articles, books and speakers discussing the topic of “hearing God”.  Several well known evangelical preachers and leaders have weighed in with their contributions. I did a web search on the words “hearing God” and was fascinated by what came up. Page after page listing web sites, books, articles and other links all with some sort of answer to the questions, “Can I hear God?” “Does God speak today?” “If He is speaking today, how does He speak?”, “How do I recognize His voice?”, “How do I discern divine guidance?”

Our society pressures us to live speedy lives. We find all sorts of things to occupy us. Good things or useless things – they all clamor for our time.

I have been researching these questions for my Bible Study/Care Group. The initial study of several popular books and articles caused me to wonder what the stimulus was behind this wave of interest in the topic.  What is driving this quest?  There seems to be a renewed hunger to hear from God. That can be a good thing or it can indicate a problem.   My research has drawn me to ask the question “Is there something lacking in our postmodern, western, evangelical culture? Is there a scarcity of “hearing from God"?  We, as Bible believing Christians, know that God has spoken (Hebrews 1:1,2) so why are we not hearing? Are we not listening? Are we listening to the wrong words? Are there too many other voices?

As I have reflected on these questions and the current buzz about “hearing God” one fact stands clear. God designed us for relationship – relationship, in the first instance,  with Him.  Thus the desire to hear from Him.

Healthy, fulfilling relationships require time and effort to develop. Knowing God, knowing His mind, His ways, His character, His purposes all require spending uninterrupted, quality time with Him – through the Scriptures – as He has already revealed Himself to us.  When we do not take sufficient time to develop that kind of intimacy we are left with a relational void. My read on the current culture-wide hunger to hear from God is that it stems, in part, from a hurried, stunted, shortchanged relationship with Him. The relationship we have begun to experience with our Saviour has informed our spiritual senses that there is more. But here is the rub, that “more” requires more of us.

Our society pressures us to live speedy lives. We find all sorts of things to occupy us. Good things or useless things – they all clamor for our time. We flit from one new experience to the next. We drive through life so fast we have to get our food at drive-through windows. We learn early the value our society places on “multitasking”. The media knows that our individual attention spans are short so we are bombarded with fast-paced “clips”. 

We Christians have become acculturated to this style of living and I believe it has affected our spiritual lives. We are easily bored. If a “worship service” doesn’t entertain us sufficiently we move elsewhere. Long sermons and church services tire us. But maybe more deadly is the effect this lifestyle has on our personal, devotional relationship with God – it has become fragmented, stretched thin, missing even – and so we look for a fix. We still want to hear from Him, but…

As Christians, living in the context of this society, we are just not geared to slowing down and taking the time to build our personal relationship with God. Even the literature that I found on “learning to hear from God” often promoted a certain number of “steps to be followed” in the process, which points again to our cultural need to organize, to be efficient, to “not waste time”. But how do you organize a relationship, a friendship?

Carve out for your self sufficient space in your life to take the time to listen to what God has already said in His written Word.

Are you grappling with these questions? Are you yearning to hear God’s voice? Allow me to recommend something – a practice that I believe will develop in you and me the essential foundation for hearing from God.  This is a time-tested practice based on both biblical teaching and biblical example. It is not a difficult practice but in our culture it can be very challenging.

Carve out for your self sufficient space in your life to take the time to listen to what God has already said in His written Word – the Old and New Testaments.  Make it a priority practice in your life to set aside a significant portion of time each week to spend a leisurely, relationship-developing season with God. Find a location where no one will interrupt and you will not bother anyone. Take your Bible and begin to read out loud (the reason for this is to avoid rushing through your reading). Read in a translation that is designed to be read aloud – where you will not be stumbling over awkward sentence structure. Read an extended passage – a whole book or several (Colossians, Ephesians, Hebrews, a Gospel, several Psalms etc).  Read with understanding and emphasis. Meditate as you read. Be free to pause frequently and ponder what you have read. Read with observing eyes and mind. Read with a questing heart. Read in faith but don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

As you read, allow your heart to be lifted to your Heavenly Father in praise and adoration.  Allow the Spirit of God to illumine His Word to your heart. Shut out the hurry and worry of the pressure cooker lives we live and take the time to grow your relationship with Him.

Guard this time! Don’t allow sermon or Bible lesson preparation encroach upon it. This is holy ground – just between you and God.  This is relationship time.

A few years ago I began to study and memorize Psalm 119. I was intrigued by the great value the psalmist placed on God’s Word. He refers to his delight in it at least 9 times. I took special note of the exclamations and declarations the psalmist makes in response to his delight in God’s Word. “I will obey…I will not neglect…I will meditate…I have set my heart on…I will never forget…I have put my hope in…I stand in awe…they are the joy of my heart.” May this be our response to our practice of meeting God in His already revealed truth – the Scriptures. Then we will truly hear.

Some additional thoughts:

  1. If it seems difficult at first – don’t flit to the next popular book or website – persevere! Don’t be afraid to tell Him what you are struggling with – this is a relationship.
  2. Commit Scripture to memory. If you are just beginning – start with a familiar passage – something you may have memorized in the past. Do not try to take on too much at once – but once you start, be consistent – don’t quit!
  3. This is not primarily a time to bring petitions to God – but He does want to hear from you, so don’t rush back into the fast lane without pausing to speak with Him in prayer.
  4. If you would like to meditate on a passage of Scripture that speaks to this practice that I am recommending go to Psalm 119 and spend some time in it.

Team Blog

Just as I was scratching my head, thinking of what to share as a blog an enewsletter arrived with a feature article entitled ‘The Death of Blogs” [Ted Olson, Christianity Today.] While it sounded like an obituary, I found the comments worth passing on:

… As weblogs proliferated earlier this decade, Andy Warhol’s famous aphorism was modified to read “in the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people.” Thanks to widespread bog burnout, everyone will be famous to 15 people for 15 minutes. Tech researcher Gartner, Inc. reported earlier this year that 200 million people have given up blogging, more than twice as many as are active … given the average lifespan of a blogger and the current growth rate of blogs, Gartner says blogging has probably peaked.”

My first reaction was to set this blog aside and move on to other things. But, as I read further, I changed my mind. Blogs have proved valuable for two reasons: 1. they provide quality insight and resourceful conversation, and 2. they appear with frequency. Remove either factor, and blogs die. With that in mind, Ted Olson revealed a secret: the secret of the top God blogs is that they’re team efforts.” Which is what you get by reading this – and may be the secret for any Church that seeks to keep the Blog alive.

MinistryTalk: “Resourcing the Vision”

According to Robert Quinn in Deep Change a legitimate vision must exceed perceived resources.  If our vision fits neatly within our current resources it is merely a plan, not a vision. Planning is important, but it will not result in "deep change", according to Quinn. Only vision enables an organization to discern a future that moves it from current destruction dilemmas into new, fruitful spaces.

Sounds good! But can our vision outstrip the potential resources? I think we have to say yes. Visions are energizing, captivating, motivating, but they can also be too big for an organization to sustain. In such cases those involved in the enterprise can become discouraged, fatigued, and frustrated because their vision is beyond their reach. How do we measure whether our organization has the capacity to achieve its preferred vision?

    1. Develop clear strategies that demonstrate in a step-by-step fashion how the vision can be achieved. If you cannot conceptualize this in ways that make sense to you and others, then the vision is idealistic but has little chance of being achieved.

   2.  Consult with others who have adopted challenging visions and seen them achieved. Take advantage of their wisdom and experience to gauge whether your vision has similar potential.

   3.  Discern whether there is a deep, independently confirmed consensus within the organization that the preferred vision is the way to proceed. Sometimes leaders have great vision, but no one else in the organization has come to a similar view of the potential. While there may be occasions where such a ‘prophetic’ insight occurs, within church contexts we would believe that the Spirit will confirm the vision’s potential through various voices.

   4.  Ultimately, a church’s decision to embrace and pursue a vision is a matter of faith and trust in God, as well as personal integrity. If the status quo is not enabling the church to achieve its mission, then Christian integrity requires us to step out and grow forward. We will not see every step of the way clearly, but will believe that God will provide wisdom and resources when necessary.

 When we reflect on Paul’s vision to take the Gospel to non-Jewish people, we quickly discern that his vision was astounding, but he was not quite sure how this would work out. He initiated some missionary journeys without knowing where specifically he would be going. He trusted God to guide him on the way and He did, because he was faithful to the vision. At times he did not know where he would find the resources to continue, yet often we discover churches or individuals sending resources to assist at just the right time. Paul helps us discern the fine line between faith, vision, and presumption.

Significant Conversations

Five aspects of evangelism common to our churches that need to change if we are to make a gospel impact in our communities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to suggest a simple grassroots approach to evangelism that relieves the pressure on believers to “present a gospel message” and replaces that with a freedom to enjoy significant conversations with people. This approach creates a conversational space where there are no winners or losers, just people who are able to express what is significant to them.  For the true believer, this is opportunity for Jesus to shine. 

The SISI system is designed to mitigate the weaknesses noted above.

Download the SISI brochure in which the process is explained together with important assumptions and / or contact me at via the form below. 

You are also invited to read the CCI article entitled “Why I don’t do ‘Evangelism’” which chronicles my own spiritual journey in coming to this position of seeking significant conversations.

 

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Middle Adults – Use Them or Lose Them

I posted a note back in July with a bit of a warning – that the Middle-Adult ministry today is not the same as it was 30 years ago, and that if the church doesn’t address the aging Boomer generation, it is missing a huge opportunity [July 5, 2007: Here They Come.] I don’t know if it’s the fact that my birthday has arrived and I am smack dab in the middle of that generation – or it it’s because more research is being published – but I find that my warning is being confirmed.

In a number of studies published by the Leadership Network [www.leadnet.org] top innovations in Older Adult Ministry are being reported. While the standard understanding has been that Youth are the prime target for church ministries, and Youth ministry is the second or third hire on a church staff, the facts are that people “over 65 now outnumber teenagers nearly two to one.” The “graying of society” is now understood as a social revolution. Yet, very few churches have targeted ministries for middle to older adults.

While the focus on youth has been driven by the idea that youth are the most apt to be receptive to the gospel, churches that are targeting Middle-adults are finding that there is even greater spiritual interest and receptivity among the “grey” generation. In fact, people over 50 are living longer and want to make a difference in the second half of their lives. The name “boomer” is being replaced with a new title: “the finisher generation” as the middle-adults have every intention to finish well.

In reporting on this phenomenon, Dr. Amy Hanson, one of the researchers for Leadership Network just published an article with a title that sounds the warning once again: Prime Timers: Older Adults Moving Outside Churches To Serve. On the other hand, Churches who recognize the age explosion are creating strategic, innovative ministries that are well worth attention. I would strongly recommend Amy Hansen’s whole report: Churches Responding to the Age Wave: Top Innovations In Older Adult Ministry … downloaded for free from the Leadership Network resource webpage: www.leadnet.org/resources.asp.

A Father’s Baptism

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Albion Church. The fellowship–an energetic, young congregation of some 70-80 believers–meets in the local community hall on the north bank of the Fraser River. Their pastor who invited me to preach is Dan Ost. My decision to say yes was a ‘no brainer.’

Dan’s emailed invitation was more of a 911 call. I quote: "I received a call last night from my 76 year old father who just became a Christian a little over a year ago–he’s over-the-top excited about his new found faith and is going to be baptized next Sunday…and I don’t want to miss it! So, …I’m looking for a last minute preacher who could fill in here at Albion…."

Who wouldn’t want to be at his own dad’s baptism? 76 years old! That number alone tells me a story. It tells me that the greatest length of the life pathway for Dan’s dad has been filled with incomprehension and not a little resistance to Jesus. Every pathway has measures of those elements. That Dan has been a Christian far longer than his dad I’m sure means that he was both concerned and hopeful for his dad’s eventual conversion to Christ. I don’t doubt that Dan’s daily prayers to God gave good time to ask for a transformed mind for his dad so that he could understand that the good news about a new life in Jesus was good news for him. There have probably been many conversations between father and son regarding what it means to be a Christian in terms of costs and blessings. I’m sure Dan had to balance the urgency to insistently tell with respect for his dad and realization that if anything happened, it would ultimately be God’s doing and in God’s time.

Well, God came through–big time!

It makes me wonder, though. If we imagined everyone we know who needs to hear the good news about salvation in Jesus’ name as a beloved father, mother, or child, would we be more consciously prayerful for their salvation, more available to relate to them, more respectfully insistent in raising the matter about Jesus, and more patient and persistent out of a great hopefulness and confidence to see God come through?

Dan had the joy of seeing his father in his late years come to a whole new life through faith in Jesus and be baptized this past Sunday. It should make us all want to pursue that joy as well.

Don’t Discuss, DO

For the past couple of years I have been leading a Bible study on the theme “touching the robe of Christ.”  This was adopted as a paradigm for the desire to break past misleading interpretations, religious terminology and church traditions and trappings in order to connect with God through Christ, to experience the reality of the Spirit’s power.  As part of the approach towards this, we read through the first six chapters of Mark as if we had never read them before and never heard of Jesus.  We tried for a fresh look at Jesus, who he claimed to be and what he taught.  Through that exercise we gained a number of valuable and enlightening insights.

To begin the fall session, we reviewed our progress.  Are we closer to “touching the robe of Christ”? Have we experienced this?  The answer was unequivocally, “no.”  Some were still puzzled about what that experience would “feel” like, while one person stated, “I think I have touched the robe, but nothing happened.”

Jesus taught us to LIVE the life, not just DISCUSS the life

I came away from the Bible study uncertain of the next step.  However, on the way to a pastors’ breakfast with the pastor of our church, Jared White, we discussed the Bible study and he suggested that perhaps “doing” was the element we were missing. We had been neglecting the reality that the text is given to us for the purpose of FOLLOWING, not discussion. Jesus taught us to LIVE the life, not just DISCUSS the life. So it is no surprise that we had not been able to “grasp the robe,” or in grasping had not experienced any “bells and whistles.”  What Jesus calls us to is obedience, to do what he commands. If we do not, then all discussion is like chasing smoke.  It is like trying to analyze love without living and experiencing love.  It is only by following and obeying that we are transformed into Christ’s image: into the wholeness and perfection, the harmony with God, the fulfillment of what our Father intended in our creation and sees in our potential.

So the question I will be raising in our study is no longer “how can we touch the robe,” for that is now within our grasp. Rather, with the robe in sight, the call is to follow. Will we act upon its implication and thus experience the robe through obedience to his commands?

The Wages of Service

Christianity Today International publishes the result of an annual survey on church salaries. This year’s copy of The 2008 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff has not yet been published, but a few of the results have been reported – as surprises. Senior editor, Kevin Miller, has posted an article in Leadership online entitled 3 Surprises on What Pastors Get Paid. For good or ill, I found two of the surprises to be of interest:

Surprise 1: If you want to earn more, change denominations. Without getting into the details, while Presbyterian Senior Pastors receive the highest average salary, Baptist Senior Pastors average next to last on the salary scale. On the other hand, Baptist Youth Pastors earn near the top, while Presbyterian Youth Pastors are near the bottom. It’s an interesting hint about mission and priorities.

Surprise 3: That additional degree is probably worth it. The issue of whether or not further education is of value to ministry is debatable, at least among the Baptist Churches I know. I don’t know how appropriate it is to add dollars to that debate, but there is some indication that on this side of heaven and from a financial standpoint that education is worth it. As the report reads: roughly stated, moving from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree boosts income from 10 to 20 percent, and getting your doctorate [adds] 15 percent more on top of that … Wondering whether to finish your master’s or doctorate? Even in pastoral ministry, from a financial standpoint, the answer is yes.”

For more information click here.

Searching for a Home Church

My daughters, who’ve recently left home and struck out on their own, are searching for a home church. Sunday they tried out a young congregation meeting at a local movie theater. When we asked them, they described what had gone on that morning during the service. It was great! Earlier in their search they’d found and worshiped with a young, energetic congregation in an old church building that is undergoing a significant physical refit to accommodate all the exciting ministries and growth.

There’s a quite apparent vibrancy and a great excitement in those churches to be God’s communities where they are and to serve the non-Christian community needs which are apparent. We know the churches to have a firm grip upon the faith passed down through the ages and they are both quite passionate about members incarnating the truths of Scripture. There is a positive sense of the congregations’ selves and a fearless sense of mission in them which is refreshing.

How can parents be anything but encouraged when the search turns to such options?

The girls are both keenly aware that there is no such thing as a perfect church–at least not this side of eternity.  But we’re encouraged that they have engaged the search out of a realization of the critical value of being in community.  Paul Tournier wrote, "There are two things we cannot do alone; one is to be married and the other is be a Christian."

Moving from STM to Career

I received a good question from Missions Catalyst e-Magazine.  Shane Bennett writes,

So, how have you seen short-termers transformed into long-termers? I’m thinking of good examples in which sharp people end up in significant, well-fitting roles. I’m imagining non-manipulative methods in which people are invited to recognize their gifts, are provided with proper stepping stones to long-term commitment, and are shepherded into a successful cross-cultural career.

This is an excellent question and one that a lot of missions agencies (including Fellowship International Ministries) have discussed often.  If you have any ideas or experience in this, please let me know.  Do you know someone who went from short term missions to career missions?  If so, how did that transition occur?  Can we discover a pattern or a means for greater impact that would encourage people towards a long term investment in international ministry?  If you have any ideas, drop me a line via the form below.

One concern that I have is that the strong cultural emphasis on individualism in our churches mitigates against the possibility of a communal decision to appoint someone to missions.  We have personal decisions, a personal walk with Christ, personal devotions and a personal calling to ministry.  When pastors decide to move on they make a personal decision and then involve the church in the process.  All major decisions are personal, and while professional advice is often sought, communal involvement in personal decision making (job, spouse, education, etc.) is unusual.  I am not opposed to this system; it is a reflection of our cultural orientation and comfort zone because, as Canadians, we are quite reserved about having direct involvement in those aspects of other people’s lives considered "personal".
 
However, the downside of this is the reticence we have to provide others with direction and insight for a calling into cross-cultural ministry.  As churches we give general invitations, but rarely identify individuals as capable of international service and challenge them in that direction.  Perhaps this lack of input in people’s lives keeps them unaware of their potential to serve God in missions.  The general sense in that anyone can go on a STM trip, but in our context it feels presumptuous to take the initiative in proposing a career in missions for someone else.

Do you agree with this assessment or are there other, more important factors?

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We’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay

The work we’ve been working with Church Boards over the last year has created a number of opportunities to expand our ability to help raise the levels of congregational health on a more personal level. To do that well, I have been getting trained in various Church Coaching systems. Along the way, one of my greatest joys has been developing a partnership with my friend, Cam Taylor – an associate with Outreach Canada. We share the legacy of pastoral ministry. In the September edition of his Connections Newsletter, he offered a review of the book The Toxic Congregation by G. Lloyd Rediger.
 
His review outlined four different categories of congregations in need of care, each with their own stories. It’s like reading a medical casebook of symptoms … and potential cures.
 
I have to admit that reading about toxic congregations depresses me. With all the time and effort that is spent trying to find a cure for congregational ailments, I begin to despair at the thought that Church Health may ever be achieved. In sharing my angst with a friend, the thought hit me. Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong angle. Maybe, just possibly, the natural condition of the church is that ILL is normal. Oh, not that it is acceptable, but that it should be expected.
 
After all, the human condition, no matter how fit a person may be at any given time, is prone to illness. I am reminded of the insight shared by my friend, Dr. Robert Webber, as he enjoyed a brief moment of remission from the cancer that killed him. He learned to add to his daily prayer a word of thanksgiving for “the healing of today.” We often assume that healing is permanent, and that health is expected standard of normal. The fact is, each day has its own set of troubles and none of us are immune from brokenness or the need to live in steady dependence on the God who loves us and keeps giving Himself for us.
 
If we have to live our lives that way, it stands to reason that we should be willing to share our fellowship that way as well. Somehow, I take comfort in that perspective. It eases the mind as I get back to work, serving this fragile and sometimes cracked crucible called the church.
 
For more information regarding the Leadership Network – and to access Cam’s review on Toxic churches: http://en.outreach.ca/WhatWeDo/Networks/tabid/1069/Default.aspx

The Word Must Be Heard

We have a new lead pastor at our church (Parkland Fellowship) and we couldn’t be happier. Yesterday, Brian Stewart offered us a dramatic recitation of the entire book of Philippians, from memory! I had memorized the book of Philippians some years ago, but I had never had the courage (or the wisdom) to offer it in public. My mistake.

Open Bible Brian’s presentation was masterful. He began, early in the service, with a brief setup to the book, helping us appreciate its broad themes. Later in the service he actually recited the book. He was dressed in ordinary casual clothing. His only prop was a heavy chain. His presentation was deeply felt, communicating with conviction, enthusiasm, and sensitivity. Like an actor, he made the ideas in the Scripture come alive for everyone present. It is Brian’s intention to preach through the entire book over the next several weeks and so this was to serve as a kind of introduction, but we found it to be so much more than that. It was as if Paul himself had brought the sermon to us on this Sunday.

I have often thought that sometimes we as preachers get in the way of God’s Word. If we really believe that the Scriptures are the very words of God, then we ought to be able to just read them to the congregation and let the Spirit of God do his thing. Yesterday’s presentation confirmed that line of thinking for me.

I still believe that the preaching of the Word helps people hear the Word, but I guess I’m reflecting on the fact that in so much of our preaching the Bible isn’t heard much at all. We may reflect on the occasional verse or put it on the powerpoint screen, but do we give people time to soak in the Scriptures? Could we let the Scriptures speak for themselves before we get to commenting?

For years now, I’ve made it my practice to read the text in full before getting into the sermon. I like the idea that the people hear the Word itself before I get to messing it up with my stories and ideas. I remember one Sunday many years ago when I was dealing with a particularly long passage, trying to decide whether or not there was time to read the whole thing. I was a little concerned whether people would want to hang with me for such a long time, but in the end decided to go ahead and read it all. After the service, a woman thanked me profusely for taking to time to read the passage. “I’ve always appreciated that about you,” she said. “You’ve always been willing to take the time for us to actually hear the Word of God.” I have taken her comments to heart. I’ve learned that when the Scripture is read well, it has its impact.

The Word of God must not only be talked about. The Word must be heard.

A Call for a Complementary view of Bible Versions

As a missionary involved in Bible translation for the past 18 years, I was disappointed with the tone of the article “‘Packer’s Bible’ now bestseller” appearing in the BC Christian News, August 2007 Vol 27 #8 < http://www.canadianchristianity.com/bc/bccn/0807/01bible>. During the course of celebrating the growth in sales of the English Standard Verson (ESV) – a welcome addition to a number of excellent formal translations such as the NRSV and the NASB – disparaging and unhelpful remarks were made against other translations and translation philosophies (such as the “meaning based” philosophy that lies behind those invaluable translations that provide the spiritually hungry reader with “what was meant”). 

This unfortunate perspective was carried on in a sidebar entitled “’Dueling’ Translations” in which three Bible verses were presented from a variety of Bible versions. This negative and combative attitude not only confuses the average Christian and creates unnecessary divisions over minor issues, but it undermines the benefits we can gain from the multitude of translations available to us. 

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Denominational Relevance

I might as well admit it, I am a fan of George Bullard. I am consistently stimulated by his writings. In fact, it’s been suggested that since I frequently post thoughts from his journal or blog that I should just post his link on my regularly scheduled posting on this blog and have done with it.

Well, George has done it again. This time it’s in a video form. A 7 minute .wpm file was posted on his journal promising a list of 20 things that Denominations must do to thrive in the 21st century. I scribbled furiously as I listened [wishing he had printed up the list]  But, watching it  did add punch to the presentation.

As I reviewed the list, a number of his points connected and confirmed some of the initiatives that I have been worked to provide. Point 1: denominations must see their primary role as servicing their churches; Point 10: denominations must help “perfecting congregations” [congregations that are faithful, healthy, and earnestly cycling through their future] to reach their next level; Point 15 denominations must find a way to make peace with the parachurch world; Point 16: denominations must find ways to become resource brokers for their churches.

Over the last Spring and Summer, my involvement with the Church Development Commission and Best Practices for Church Boards has created an interesting initiative. Because individual congregations have asked for help, and because the Fellowship Baptist churches have become familiar with Outreach Canada’s Ministry Fitness Check – I went ahead and took the training to become a coach for the Outreach Canada Vision Renewal process. One of the things that struck me in the training was the distance that exists between the denominations and an agency like Outreach Canada. That led me to take up a challenge: to find a way for a denomination, like the Fellowship, to broker a valuable tool like Vision Renewal with the fellowship churches. There is a bond that we share that can only be strengthened through partnership. It’s an interesting experiment, and it’s nice to see that if I get all the ingredients to mix well and not explode … we will have provided something substantial for our shared future.
So – go see the video! http://www.bullardjournal.org/ Can Denominations Thrive in the 21st Century? Download george.wmv
 

In Praise of Process

As I’ve been working with church boards over the last year, I’ve noticed how many churches sense the need to refresh their vision, strategy, and mission. They struggle with finding the right structure for their leadership to perform their ministry effectively. They wrestle with finding a simple focus that would galvanize their fellowship. As they grapple with this issue, some have questions as to whether or not strategic planning is a Biblical concept.

In order to address the question, I have studied the Scriptures and collected a number of studies on the subject [Christianity Today has a wonderful article in it’s archives: Is Strategic Planning Biblical? By Mark Marshall] and have come to the conclusion that not only is strategic planning Biblical, it’s a mandate. It’s also hard work. Why? Because it is the product of a process.

Process is defined as “a series of actions directed toward a specific aim.” It consumes time, it demands thought, it requires conversation and it involves viewpoints. It is hard work, and because it is hard work is too often devalued. We want answers, and want them now. We want solutions, and not discussions. I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to promote process as a Biblical value, even more than I have had to endorse planning. The simple statement is that strategic planning is a Biblical concept, and careful process is God’s chosen method.

It’s a principle that I’ve had to endorse when a pastor wants to launch an initiative without having communicated with leaders, or consulted with others. It’s a principle that I’ve had to raise when a church wants to draft a set of ministry goals without having surveyed their people or their community. It’s become such a recurring theme that I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to be a successful pastor – you must be process-oriented, and if you want to have a healthy church – it must be process-friendly.

In his Journal, George Bullard [www.bullardjournal.blogs] asked the question: Just How Important is Process? He begins with a series of questions: In making a decision in a congregation, how important is the process used? On a scale of one to ten with ten being high, how high would you rate the importance of process? How high th e importance of outcome or decision? How high the importance of impact or application of the decision?

He then applies the question to any number of congregational scenarios: the calling of a new pastor, the construction of a new building, the initiation of a new worship service, the launching of a ministry, the statement of a doctrinal stance, the management of a disciplinary issue. None of these are solved by quick solutions or handy edicts. To the contrary. When leaders exercise wisdom by mapping out a deliberate process and follow it with diligent care, not only is God able to guide them to a solution – He is able to build a more mature community.

Bullard draws the conclusion from the scenarios [I add my own bold-font for emphasis]: In many decision-making situations in congregations, process is at least as important as the decision to be made and its resulting actions. Process is not everything, but it is significant. Process is not more important than core values, although healthy process may be a core value. Process is important enough to make sure that even when people ultimately disagree, everyone has been treated as a person of worth created in the Image of God to live and love … Healthy process builds the capacity of a congregation to handle the really tough challenges of life and ministry in community.

He ends with a question that I find myself asking more and more with each church leader I meet: Just how important is process in your congregation? The response answers so many questions.

MinistryTalk: “Leading From the Second Chair”

In their book Leading from the Second Chair Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson have provided an excellent discussion of the challenges and opportunities people in associate ministry leadership roles face on a daily basis. Their goal is to help such individuals thrive and discern good, creative ways to cope with tensions that inevitably define this role. They express their thesis in these terms:

"Being in the second chair is the ultimate leadership paradox. It is the paradox of being a leader and a subordinate, having a deep role and a wide one, and being content with the present while continuing to dream about the future." (page xiii)

Each of the three major sections in the book considers the implications of one of these paradoxes. As well, at the end of each section they also include a word to the lead pastor, intending to help such individuals understand more clearly how to help the second chair flourish in his or her role.

They forcefully address the issue of learning to work productively within the limitations of the role. For example, they stress the importance of keeping the lead pastor informed, lest a hint of insubordination emerge and disrupt the ministry of the church. The priority of the church’s ministry over and above individual wants and desires gets due attention. They also urge second chair leaders to take full advantage of the learning opportunities they have in such roles. And then, they deal frankly with the question of future ministry leadership roles. A second chair leader must learn to give 100% in the current role, even while he or she may be waiting on God’s timing for an opportunity to be a lead pastor.

Two questions were raised as I considered their ideas. First, I am not convinced that the paradoxes they proposed and described are unique to second chair leaders. It seems to me that lead pastors or ‘first chair leaders’ have to struggle equally with these three paradoxes. In some senses the role of lead pastor is more restricted than that of the second chair. Greater responsibility requires greater commitment to serving others. Perhaps that is why second chair leaders need to learn how to thrive in the midst of these paradoxes, if they are going to fill the role of lead pastor.

Second, the authors use the example of Joseph to provide biblical foundation for their advice to second chair leaders. But does Joseph really function in this capacity? He undoubtedly served as a subordinate leader in some periods of his life, particularly when he was the slave in Potiphar’s house. However, when he was the first minister of Egypt under Pharoah, he had all the authority of Pharoah and was not a second chair leader. Perhaps a more pertinent example might be someone such as Timothy or Mark in relation to Paul or Joshua in his relationship to Moses.

However, these are relatively minor issues perhaps. If you are looking for a resource that might strengthen the understanding of the dynamics involved in team ministry and provide opportunity for candid discussion about relationships and roles in such contexts, Bonem and Patterson’s book would be a provocative tool to use.

Stickies!

I might as well admit it. I hate sticky notes. Those little slips of paper with just enough glue on them to stick to your fingers really annoy me. And yet, I might as well admit it, I am addicted to lists! I live by the list and, more often than not, die by the list. I create a list for the work that I must do annually which becomes the source for the list of things that I must do quarterly … which quickly becomes the list of things I must do each week … which grows into the list of the things I must do in a day. I know that there is counseling available for people like me, but since that’s not on my list of things to do, it ain’t going to happen.

So, for what it’s worth, I’d like to share a great little resource that has helped me overcome my annoyance with the paper slips. It’s a free, and I mean free, software item created by an Englishman, Tom Revell, called Stickies. In essence, it creates electronic post-it notes on your computer. Simple and easy, with one click of the mouse, I can create a note as a reminder, or as a memo, or – according to my addiction – a list. Quick and easy, I can even synchronize the list with my pda or email it to others. As a quick way to capture thoughts before I forget them, with one click of the mouse, I can jot things down and keep going.

I know that this blog area is meant to delve into the depths of theological understanding and Biblical wisdom, but for today, I’ll make this an offering as a practical theologian. It’s coming up to Labor Day and the practical beginning of the church year. As a pastor, it’s “game on!” If I were to offer anything that might provide aid and comfort in the rush of urgent events, I would gently suggest a simple little thing like this: Stickies! Use them, before you lose your mind… www.zhornsoftware.co.uk/stickies/.

God’s Economy

Have you ever been bemused by God’s way of doing things?  I have, and in the end have stood in awe of His timing, patience, grace and goodness.

A number of years ago (in another world) I taught at a Bible college deep in the jungles of Kalimantan (formerly known as Borneo).  For several years I had a student who was a source of great consternation to me.  It seemed that no matter what subject I had him for he just could not "get it"!  His academic situation came up repeatedly in our faculty meetings but no one had the heart to say, "Sorry, he just isn’t making it – let him go!"  So from year to year we granted him a provisional pass to the next level of study and every year we wondered.  But he kept pressing on.  Everyone loved him.  His gentleness, humility and transparency captivated all who knew him.

I was responsible for student accounts at the time and one day he came to my office to ask for some money from his account.  I had just reviewed the books and his account was more than empty, so I asked him, "On what basis are you asking me this?" (literal translation).  He pulled himself up straight and declared, "On the basis of the grace of God!"  I could hardly contain myself and found some extra funds that we had for just such an occasion – grace funds!  Total dependence on the grace of God seemed to be the theme of his life.

In his fourth and final year I was assigned to be his practicum supervisor and evaluator.  He was pastoring a church in a nearby village and I went with him several Sundays to evaluate.  I had taught him homiletics but his sermons bore no resemblance to anything we had studied.  I was seriously considering recommending to the school that he was not cut out for the ministry.  However, after the services I went with him as he walked from home to home in that village, praying for people, encouraging them to be strong in their faith, counselling, advising and loving – and the people loved him in return.  The church in that village had never been so healthy and vigorous.  We graduated him that year (with no little sense of misgiving) and that was the last I saw of him for 14 years as my wife and I were denied extensions to our visas and returned to Canada that summer.  In the intervening years we have often wondered.

I had the privilege this summer of returning to Kalimantan and visiting in this same young man’s home and witnessing the amazing grace of God.  He is married with three children.  He and his wife are involved together in a marvelous cross-cultural ministry.  As we spoke I learned that he has already planted a church amongst a very difficult people group. He has turned that church over to another man to continue the pastoral work and is now in the process of building a second work which involves not just a church plant but also a Christian school as well – again, in the midst of a most difficult ethnic group. It defies human explanation.

Oh, the wonderful grace of Jesus!  God’s economy is one of utter grace.

Appreciating the beauty of God

At the beginning of August Karen and I visited the Bridal Veil waterfall outside of Hope. At the foot of the falls there is a fenced off area for observers with a large “CAUTION” sign warning people to keep back and enjoy the falls from a distance. The falls are beautiful – almost mesmerizing – as they continually change while remaining the same and cover the observers with a fine, fresh smelling mist. We noted and complied with the sign and the fence, but we just as quickly dismissed them from our minds as our attention was held captive by the rush of water.

This experience became a metaphor in an ongoing discussion Karen and I have concerning the Bible, the place of the local church and our experience of God’s presence through our daily lives. The Bible and the local church are like the sign and fence. The waterfall is the reality of God’s presence in our lives. We read God’s word and we connect with other believers in our spiritual journey towards conformity to Christ. But the significant issue is our connection to God is our daily lives. Knowledge and instruction, however important, are but “dealers in second hand goods” if we are not enveloped with the wonder of living in God’s presence. The signs and the fence are there in order to ensure a positive experience of the waterfall. We mustn’t get so caught up in studying the wording of the sign or considering the structure of the fence that we neglect the beauty for which they were constructed.

Empower or Delegate?

Among the daily eJournals and newsletters that I value, the one from Easum-Bandy associates provides consistently thought-provoking reflections. The most recent included an article by Bill Tenny-Brittian under the title Developing Leaders Under Your Nose.  His led with a daring first point: Build your leadership base by at least 400%. I’m glad that I kept reading before my cynicism kicked in. His point confirmed something I’ve sensed. The language of leadership that I was familiar with 30 years ago was peppered with the term delegate. That language has changed dramatically in the last decade to the term empower. It may be one of those instinctive signals that I pick up, but as I visit churches I’ve noticed that those who are in distress seem to use the word delegate a lot, while those who are growing in their health seem to revolve around the word empower. Tenny-Brittian’s article adds a few helpful explanations that confirm my suspicions. Interested: read more at http://easumbandy.com/index.php?id=2465.

The Problem with Preaching

Mike Mawhorter sent me a link to this article by David Allis which I found to be one of the more helpful of the current critiques of preaching: CLICK HERE

My response is that much of what he says is truthful. Preaching, for instance, is expensive. Preachers often can’t be trusted. At the same time, I think that what is actually being critiqued is not that we preach, but that we preach monologically in the traditional sense.

I still believe that the monologue works in most settings – especially larger ones. If it didn’t, I can’t imagine so many would keep coming to listen. At the same time, the traditional sermon does not represent all that preaching can or ought to be. What we do in care groups or in classrooms can still be considered preaching if the goal is to understand the word of God and to persuade others of its truth.

I was a little troubled by Allis’ suggestion that biblical preaching was entirely for the evangelization of the non-believer. Clearly, the New Testament encourages the instruction and training of believers as well. To try to distinguish between preaching and teaching for the purpose of dumping on the traditional sermon is not helpful, in my view. The distinction between the two is little more than a differentiation in form.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The “Ministry Leadership Team” – the Best Model?

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

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

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

Summer Reading

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

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

Consider a few of the following quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missional Leadership: Does this Emperor have Clothes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Godliness, Again!

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

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

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

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

Here They Come…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alistair McGrath and the New Atheism

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

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

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

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

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

Relational Spaces

In The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), Joseph R. Myers challenges evangelicals to think creatively about how people belong. He utilizes the work done by Edward Hall explaining that there are four “spaces” or levels of connecting in which people relate and commit: Public, Social, Personal and Intimate. He makes the observation that churches largely function on the “public” and “intimate” levels with the goal of involving all attendees in the “intimate” space of small groups. He then suggests a different approach in which the church legitimizes relationships in all four spaces without attempting to move people to spaces where they are uncomfortable.

If I understand Myers correctly, in public spaces we interact indirectly with and through others. For example, a worship service, a Bible study or the crowd watching a sports event would be a public space. In such contexts we deal with other people indirectly centered on a common interest. In this space there is little vulnerability.

In social spaces we relate our stories to others and hear their stories. This is a sharing of history, experiences and relationships that does not require privacy. Such sharing is an invitation into someone else’s life at a limited and comfortable level of vulnerability.

In personal spaces we share our private hopes and dreams to a few special people. This involves a partnership or commitment towards togetherness and connection. Communication is deeper than merely verbal. Acceptance of others occurs in spite of knowledge of personal shortcomings, which implies a deeper level of vulnerability.

In our intimate spaces we connect deeply and openly. We are “naked and not ashamed”. More than simply physical nearness, this includes vulnerability to the point that betrayal would result in lasting wounds.

This concept of four spaces is a good tool for evaluating relationships in cross-cultural ministry as well. All four spaces are present in other cultures, but they will have different emphases and boundaries. I have never met the wife of one my friends in Pakistan, even though we have known each other for several years and I have been to his house several times. We have a relationship at a social level, and we are both comfortable with the limitations this implies. For the church planter, the relational boundaries people set need to be respected, rather than overcome. The goal becomes one of encouraging spiritual development within the level of relationship where people feel comfortable, rather than moving them on to another “space.”

Imitating The Example

This past week, I’ve been teaching a course on the letter to the Philippians. Written by the apostle Paul out of the troubled circumstances of an imprisonment, it is addressed to one of his most beloved congregations who themselves were going through much trouble and persecution.

Do you know the good and the great embodiments of the Christian life in your church context? Look for them and, when you’ve found them, follow their pattern!

There is a very real risk of the Philippian church’s unraveling under the assault. Paul’s concern is to help them persevere in faith and unity. His strategy is to provide them with a number of life examples of how to move through trouble.

Jesus is the supreme exemplar of self-humbling for the purpose of service to others. Paul says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5) Paul can remind the Philippians that belief and suffering are both a matter of Christian calling and bid them consider his own life as both confirmation and example of that reality. (Phil 1:29-30) As he sends the Philippian helper Epaphroditus back to his home church, he encourages the church to mark the quality of Epaphroditus’ service to Paul on their behalf because he nearly died doing so. PhilippiThey should not only celebrate Epaphroditus but also honor others who are like him. (Phil. 2:29-30) These are not the only exemplars commended—there are others; positive ones to be imitated and negative ones to be avoided.

The church today has been seriously compromised by the notion that solitary Christianity is a viable option. It’s not! We need each other and particularly the consistent pattern of a great example. Paul said, in effect, “Cast your gaze about for great examples of what I’m talking about and then celebrate and emulate them.”

Do you know the good and the great embodiments of the Christian life in your church context? What are their names and for what Christian virtues are they to be admired? Look for them and when you’ve found them, follow their pattern!

Concept Cars and Pioneers

There’s a lot of talk out there about some high profile “emerging” churches. We’re hearing about “progressional dialogue” preaching, worship stations, and other innovations. The implication seems to be that these things will characterize the way we all do church in a few years.

I’m not so sure. I tend to think of these kinds of churches like the concept cars you see at auto shows. We’ll never drive those cars but some of what is in those cars will be in the cars that you and I drive in ten years time.

The trick, of course, is to figure out what of these innovations will endure. But that is what time does for us. I, for one, am grateful for the innovating pastors who are pioneering new forms of ministry on the cutting edges. But, that doesn’t mean that we all have to live there. Pioneers are always small in number. They also tend to suffer a lot. The settlers who come later benefit from the work the pioneers have done. The settlers also have a higher survival rate.

I’m not sure what church will be like for most of us in ten or twenty years, but that’s not the primary challenge for most of us just now. Our job is to offer the most compelling form of ministry for our time here and now.

That is challenge enough for most of us.

Cultural Ways of Belonging

What is the appropriate relationship of a Christian to a local church? How should followers of Christ “belong”? This is an important consideration when ministering cross-culturally, because cultural forms shape the way people understand “belonging”. For example, a helpful, if somewhat simplistic, diagram is provided to demonstrate three levels of relationships in which people experience belonging: Community, Family and Individual. Some cultures, such as most western cultures, give great emphasis to individual relationships. A person is encouraged to develop numerous relationships in a variety of contexts (family, school, sports, church, work, etc.), with the hub of these relationships based on the individual.Community Some cultures, such as many Asian cultures, find their primary identity within the family. Thus all relationships are made with a primary concern for the impact on the family. Marriages are arranged, and jobs are provided through family connections. Other cultures, such as small tribal groups, have a strong community focus. In one African tribal group, when children reach their adolescent years, they are separated from their families. The boys then grow and mature within one house while girls live in another. Thus deep relationships are forged that influence all other decisions in life. Such cultural dynamics shape the way that people will seek to belong in a church setting. In the Asian context where we were involved in church planting, the current church planting goal is to define church life within the household setting, rather than impose a model that encourages individualistic decisions to attend particular meetings or commit to certain relationships. However, this family model would most likely be inappropriate for a Canadian setting in which the individual is responsible for their own network of significant relationships, some of which occur within a single church context, but many are outside of the church. The successful church planter must evaluate and work with the significant relationship networks of his or her community in order to understand how Christian community can be expressed in that context.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Gunproofing the Church

I hadn’t been the Senior Pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church for more than a few weeks when I got a telephone call that put a chill down my spine. At first impressions, it seemed to be the sort of random call that inner-city pastors will get from disturbed people. The caller was rambling, vaguely threatening, somewhat apologetic, but definitely disturbing. When I mentioned the call to my secretary and heard her explanation, the call took on a deeper and darker dimension.

Several years previously, a very disturbed young man had begun to stalk a young lady who had become a Christian and part of the fellowship at Bethany. For whatever reasons that defy sanity, one Sunday afternoon he entered the church, found a room where the young lady was meeting with a Bible study fellowship, and shot her to death. Before he was subdued, he wounded a few others.

The secretary showed me the bullet holes in the room that served as a reminder of the attack. For several years around the anniversary of that day, I would receive a call from the young man. He was incarcerated in a mental health facility. He escaped from the facility several times. Each time I would receive a call from the facility as a “duty-to-warn”, and each time he was apprehended within blocks of the church.

In light of the shootings in public places in recent years, this experience continues to trouble me. The Church is an open and trusting environment. But, it is also not immune to tragedy. And that is probably why an article caught my attention this week: Shooter in the Church.

The article, written by a lieutenant from the San Diego Police department, recommends: four steps you can take to reduce risk “and possibly save lives” at your church. The steps include: 1. Work with the local police, 2. Create a survey of your facility for police, 3. Create a lockdown policy, and 4. Prevent an incident. Each of the steps are explained in detail, and are well-worth your attention. You can access the article at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/leadership/articles/070606.html

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #5

Reason #5.

The fact is, much of what remains of western culture can be traced back to the philosophical and theological roots of the early Church and its encounter with Greeco-Roman culture. To not know the theological aspect of what has been the predominant source of culture is to be only half educated in respect to it. Thus, we need to fill up the missing chunk of our education by reading theology.

CAN YOUR FAITH BE SEEN?

Two weekends back, I reflected upon our church’s process in searching for a new lead pastor and youth minister (“Searching for the New Pastor” NBS Blog). The search culminated in a very busy weekend of meetings as both candidates were interviewed and interacted with us in a variety of contexts. It was exhausting and exhilarating! On Tuesday of last week, our church membership discerned that it was indeed God’s good pleasure that we call both candidates to the respective ministries for which they had been considered. The vote was unanimous! Several days later, both candidates had responded positively, so we now have a new lead pastor and a new youth minister. Praise God! The key issue after considerations of whether these men and our church were a good “fit” in every other respect was, of course, finances. It’s going to be a stretch well beyond the status quo giving of our congregation as our new pastors come to be with us. At one point, someone during the intense but very positive three hour business meeting said, “We have had faith to believe that God will bring the servants of his choosing to our church. Now that we have them, we must show that we can believe God for the finances to bring this off.” I was fascinated by that comment. It sounded so … biblical! The call for and expression of an active and visible faith is everywhere in the Scriptures. True faith has a concrete, material dynamic to it. It’s expressed not only in words but in the fabric of flesh and blood actions. “Show me your faith without deeds,” says James, “and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18 my italics) I’m reminded of the four men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus to be healed. They believed in their hearts he could do it. But this truth about them was not expressed in words. Rather, it was heard and seen in the risky business of tearing through a roof so they could lower their friend to where Jesus was. In the dusty, splintering industry of deconstruction, Mark writes, Jesus “saw their faith” (Mark 2:5). So, when we pray for a new pastor and then commit ourselves to pay for him, it’s all about faith. Faith in God must be heard and seen. It’s highly spiritual and very muscular. It’s expressed from the depths of our souls and out of the inside of our wallets.

Different ways of belonging

GroupMy wife, Karen, and I belong to a Bible study connected with our church with participants who are extremely diverse in their Christian faith. One person saw God as a finite being who came into existence at the Big Bang. Another refers to himself as a “lapsed Catholic” who views God as an impersonal force. A third comes from an atheistic background, but with the conviction that there is a spiritual reality that we need to connect to. Of those with an evangelical faith, some have a modernist mindset (“Start with the historical facts and build your life on that”), while others have a post-modern perspective (“I do not have the capacity to be certain. I will believe and trust”). What we have in common is an admiration for Jesus and the hope that he can guide us into a significant and life giving connection with God.

. . . how can we function within this fluid dynamic to build significant relationships that bring people closer to Christ?

This Spring one of the participants – the “lapsed Catholic” – presented us with the challenge to read the first 6 chapters of Mark as if we had never read them before and did not know about Jesus. We would then share what we understood and experienced with each other. This has led to significant, enlightening and, at times, not altogether comfortable, observations about Jesus. The one with the atheistic background at one point exclaimed that Jesus appeared to be an “arrogant and crazy prophet”! This, however, in the minds of some of us, represented progress past the rather stifling view of Christ as a moral teacher. I present this small group as an example of how people “belong” in our Canadian context. Although some of the group are not qualified to be “members” of the church, all the participants see their connection to the church as significant. None of them are seeking to change their commitment to the church, yet all are involved in developing their understanding and commitment to Christ within one expression of the church. In our Canadian society people are very comfortable to belong to a church with differing levels of commitment (from dedicated member to casual participant) and within a variety of expressions (small groups, worship services or special programs) chosen to meet their current felt needs. With my missionary mindset of exploring ways to make the gospel relevant to specific contexts, I find this intriguing and educational. Rather than motivating people to pledge a long-term commitment to a particular ideal of membership, how can we function within this fluid dynamic to build significant relationships that bring people closer to Christ? In such a context, boundaries and definitions of who is “in” and who is “out” become less important than the direction people are moving in.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Reverse Flow . . .

Over the last four years I’ve been focused on the phenomenon of ’emerging leaders’. It is trend in which the Church is growing future leaders from within. In 2004, the statistics being kept by Church Central under the direction of Thom Rainer revealed the growth of this trend: 1997  4% of people in ministry were ’emerging leaders'; 2003, the number had doubled to 8%, and the projection was that by 2010, over 30% of people in ministry would be second-third-or fourth career people.Thom Rainer has since moved from Church Central to become the president of Lifeway [the former Southern Baptist Sunday School foundation] and the co-author of Simple Church [the book he wrote with Eric Geiger that I have been recommending all year.] The new director of Church Central, Tom Harper, has picked up on the emerging leader research and has just published a new book entitled Career Crossover. According to his research, 44% of senior pastors today came from the marketplace.

While putting the research together can become rather confusing, it is becoming evident that there is a convergence taking place that deserves notice and attention. The Baby-Boomer generation is entering the realm of retirement with ministry in mind. The ‘Twixter’ generation is delaying a commitment to a career until later life. And, now, it appears that the flow of people taking ministry into the marketplace is cycling into a new direction.

As Harper writes, since almost 400,000 U.S. Church leaders have workplace experience, chances are that thousands more are hearing the call. It’s not a surprise that the subtitle of his book Career Crossover is Leaving the Marketplace for Ministry. It’s happening in increased numbers. And, the flow is not just toward conventional ministry. Emerging Leaders who are seeking to adjust a career from the Marketplace into Ministry are not necessarily concerned about becoming Senior Pastors as the numbers may indicate. The fact is they carry with them a burden that is producing any number of creative and innovative ministries into the world. My concern is that the Church would find a way to empower these people and serve as a platform to connect their ministries to the larger impact of a congregation. It was partly because of that concern that I developed the course Heart for Ministry and it’s a confirmation of that concern that I am taking a long, hard look at Career Crossover. I’d invite you to do the same. For further information: www.churchcentral.com

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

SEARCHING FOR THE NEW PASTOR

Our church has just emerged from a very busy weekend. Not one but two search committees have been working simultaneously through past months in pursuit of individuals to serve our church in the respective capacities of Lead Pastor and Youth Associate. The searches culminated for both committees as both the recommended candidates were invited to a process of mutual acquaintance and exploration with the church—on the same weekend!

The proclamation and modeling of the gospel are the calling and ministry of us all! The traits and patterns listed at 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are not merely prerequisites to the ministry, they also are the ministry.

Of course, there was much to explore regarding the specifics of our church and its ministry hopes and aspirations as well as the candidates’ respective histories and how they see their futures under God’s direction. There have been many questions and answers; much talking and listening; and there has been a lot of reflection and prayer.

It has been a time especially to reacquaint ourselves with the Scriptural directions regarding leaders and the leadership task.

The instructions at 1 Timothy 3:1-7 concerning those who aspire to eldership have not been far from our minds through the earlier interviews and in the culminating visits of the candidates. An elder must be “above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

This passage has reminded me again of two things: First, the things mentioned are actually more than a mere list of “qualifications” or “prerequisites” to the ministry. In a very real sense, they are the ministry. That’s because the gospel is both something to be proclaimed and something to be modeled by the church’s leaders. Second, while we look to find these Christian character traits and life patterns in our leaders with peculiar strength and consistency, the traits and patterns are not peculiarly leadership traits. They are, after all, Christian character traits and life patterns to which we should all aspire and grow.

We’ll see where we’ve gotten to in our “search for the new pastor” in not too many days. It’s been a great, if somewhat exhausting, weekend and I’m confident that all is safely in God’s hands. What I’ve learned again through this process is that when the ministries of the new Lead Pastor and Youth Associate begin, ours don’t stop.

The proclamation and modeling of the gospel are the calling and ministry of us all!

When Life Intrudes on Preaching

I received this message from one of my former students, Shawn Barden, last week. Shawn is pastoring a great church in Fernie, BC. His message encouraged me and I thought it might encourage you as well. Hey Kent Just wanted to share a note that might make you smile and feel encouraged. On Wednesday last week a couple in our church was involved in a devastating motorcycle accident. Resulting in a broken neck (C-1) -astoundingly not death (by the doctor’s own admission) and half a foot amputated at the accident scene as well as numerous broken bones etc. The couple are good friends of mine (Jamie was in the C’n’C group I pastored in Regina and we were accountability partners there). EmergencySuddenly I became reacquainted with the reality of living in a fallen world. All of my ministry plans for the week seemed insignificant in the light of what happened. So I spent three days going from hospital to hospital to hospital as their condition grew more serious, ending up in Calgary. So much prayer for them was labored over by many, and we saw answers, I mean jaw-dropping answers to prayer! And I felt shamefully surprised. Surprised, not because I doubt God can answer prayers, but often I doubt he’ll answer my prayers! But He can, and He does, thank you Jesus. Anyway, I rushed back from Calgary with minutes to spare before I had to lead our overnight Alpha retreat. It was so intense and good – seeing all the emotional shrapnel that results when there is a collision between real lives and Jesus. So by Saturday night I was so exhausted. I just wanted the weekend to be over. That Sunday morning, for the first time in my life, I got up to preach without having been able to prepare a sermon. And fittingly the pre-scheduled topic was on the power and work of the Holy Spirit. It was one of the most raw, authentic, powerful Sunday mornings we’ve ever had. There was this weight of presence over us. There was this sense that we weren’t hearing our voices – in song, or prayer, or preaching, we were hearing God’s voice. The thought of it right now chokes me up. I’m am so thankful, that we have a Word that is living, and a Spirit that really does teach and speak and convict and encourage the hearts of men and women. So while I am carefully preparing a sermon for this week on John 14, I feel a renewed humility at where the power of pulpit rests. We can build the alter, but He provides the fire. God bless, and I hope His work here encourages you there!

Visit Kent’s site on preaching? www.preaching.org

Finding the Right Fit

I’ll begin this issue with a confession. It’s been three months since the last issue of the Leadership Connections. The silence is not due to idleness. In fact, it is just the opposite. Over the last three years, as I’ve labored hard to discover how to effectively direct the resources of Leadership Development, I’ve initiated several critical ventures. These ventures have matured to the point where they have given birth to solid products, and over the last few months their delivery has required my full attention.

One of the initiatives, The Best Practices for Church Boards, has proven to be quite fertile in creating further instruments to help strengthen healthy churches. As we’ve opened conversations with Church Boards, I’ve become aware of a number of significant shared issues. A survey of Churches that had attended the Basic Edition of Church Boards revealed that the number one issue that they faced was Vision Development and Strategic Planning. This issue became the focus for our first Advanced Edition of Best Practices for Church Boards and has produced a workshop that will be held later this month.

Running a close second to Vision Renewal and Strategic Planning was the issue of organizational structure: how to find the right structure for a healthy church governance. That struggle is faced by many churches.

There is no guarantee that if a Church finds just the right constitutional structure that it will have an effective ministry. But, having the wrong structure can almost certainly inhibit the ability of a congregation to serve and grow. Sometimes a church outgrows its structure and sometimes a structure outgrows a church. In either case, there are moments where it becomes evident to Church leaders that they are no longer configured in a way to handle to matters of ministry. It’s time for an administrative tune-up.

Gordon MacDonald, wrote of his personal experience with this moment in Leadership Journal [When The Wineskins Start To Rip, January, 1984.] While the Bible doesn’t prescribe a template for a standard Church Constitution and By-law structure, it does illustrate the dilemma. This is revealed in Acts 6 in the words “in those days, when the number of disciples was increasing, there arose a murmuring in the church.” Murmuring…interesting word related to an administrative breakdown. The complaints of the congregation expressed the sort of  friction and irritation that requires the discovery a new organizational system, one that would free people to concentrate on the mission of ministry.

In the course of research for the Best Practices for Church Boards, I have developed a catalog of different governance models. As the United Way of Canada has looked at non-profit agencies, they have identified 4 different types of Board structures: Policy Board, Policy Governance Board, Working/Administrative Board, and Collective Board [www.boarddevelopment.org] An article published by Banff Executive Leadership, Inc. [The Challenge to Govern Well] identifies five different models: Structural [Traditional], Policy [Carver], Outcome [Cortex], Process [Consensus], and Competency [Skill/Practice] Models.

A lot of attention has been given to the Carver – or Policy – model as a clearly defined system, and many churches are finding that – given a few adaptations – the Carver model is quite helpful. But, at the same time, I am finding that many churches – particularly smaller churches – require a different model. They are finding, as Gary McIntosh says, that one size doesn’t fit all. The problem is, it’s hard for them to find a system that fits.

Gary’s book [One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Revell, 1999] is one of the standard texts that we give to the churches that attend Best Practices for Church Boards. His argument is that the size of a congregation creates it’s own unique environmental demands. McIntosh identifies three sizes of congregations: Small [15 – 200], Medium [201 – 400] and Large [400+] Others, like Bob Gilliam [of T-Net International], have identified more distinct size categories [25-45; 75-110; 150-225, 400-450; 700-750; 1000-1200] that represent various levels of congregational character. In essence, being a Church of 700 is much different than being a Church of 225. The dynamics at each level possess their own requirements and a structure that works at one level is not appropriate for another.  In addition, the structure of a congregation is a significant factor that will determine whether or not a church both thrives at it’s level – and/or proceeds to the next. The challenge is to find a structure that would easily flex and adapt to the needs and conditions of growth patterns and leadership styles. Finding the right structure is critical in promoting healthy relationships, effective service and a mandate for mission.

The response that I am getting from the Best Practices for Church Boards churches has led me to expand my study on Church structure and Board models. Over the next year, I would like to create an instrument that would help guide churches to find a Board structure that would fit their needs.

To do that, I need your help. Here are some things I would like to know:

  1. What size is your congregation?
  2. How is the Church structured? Does the structure work well? If you were to change anything about it, what would it be and why would you change it?
  3. Who sets the direction for the congregation? How are decisions made?
  4. Who determines the use of the congregation’s resources?
  5. What is the Pastor’s role? What is the role of staff? How do they relate to Boards and leaders?

These are just a few of the questions that I’d like to know. You may have more. In fact, you may wish to send me a copy of  your church constitution with some sort of commentary: what do you like about it? How does it serve the needs of ministry? What would you like to change in it? Why?

It’s a critical issue, and we are in a position to help each other. I’ll look forward to hearing from you

The First Major Translation Project in History –
the Challenge of Cultural Change

It was the beginning of the third century before Christ. Alexander the Great had died and his empire divided among four generals. Greek language and culture swept through the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine. Large numbers of Jewish people were relocating to the emerging metropolis of Alexandria in Egypt. Caught up in all of this change and ferment Jewish people living in Egypt adopted the Greek language and were losing their ability to read and understand Hebrew, the language in which their sacred scriptures were written. Alexandria was an intellectual centre, containing one of the great libraries in antiquity. The king of Egypt at that time desired to include every major writing in this collection. When he heard about the Hebrew scriptures, he wanted a copy (at least this is how the story emerges in later writers) and mandated the librarian to have a translation made and placed in his collection.

Probably the convergence of various factors stimulated the first major translation project in human history – the translation of the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) from Hebrew into Greek. The impact of this project still affects us today because the names we use to describe these books in our Bibles reflect the Greek names, not the Hebrew names.

This translation project has had influence far beyond the imagination of those who initiated it and actually did it. For example, this translation or later revisions of it was used by the New Testament writers as the biblical text they tended to quote in their letters and Gospels. As the Apostles led the church to implement the Great Commission beyond the borders of Palestine, they used the Greek translation of the Old Testament as their primary scriptures. When Paul talks to Timothy about the scriptures he has known “from infancy” (2 Timothy 3:15), he is probably referring to the Greek translation of the Old Testament because Timothy was a product of the Jewish dispersion in Asia Minor.

When Christians today find themselves living in new cultural situations, translation of the scriptures into the language of that culture becomes a primary means, if not a necessity, for establishing a living church.

One of the more significant decisions made by the translators was the selection of the word LORD to translate God’s proper name Yahweh (Jehovah). In the New Testament Jesus is also described by this same term, i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ. On several occasions where the New Testament writer is quoting from an Old Testament text that describes Yahweh’s (the LORD’s) activity, the context makes it clear that the “Lord Jesus Christ” is in fact being identified as Yahweh. Paul’s message in Romans 10:9-13 blends references from Isaiah 28:16 and Joel 2:32 with the confession that “Jesus is Lord.” However, the “LORD” in Isaiah 28 and Joel 2 is Yahweh, but the “Lord” in Romans 10 is Jesus. The implications for the deity of Jesus are considerable.

When Christians today find themselves living in new cultural situations, translation of the scriptures into the language of that culture becomes a primary means, if not a necessity, for establishing a living church. The initiative taken three centuries before Jesus came continues to serve as a model for contemporary Bible translation. The issues those Jewish translators encountered remain the same issues modern Christians face as they seek to contextualize the Gospel without changing it.

The Septuagint Institute at ACTS Seminaries (Septuagint is the technical name given to the Greek Translation of the Old Testament) seeks to enable research into this translation and its continuing influence within the Christian world today.

How do people belong?

How do people belong? This is an important issue in missions, particularly for a church planting mission such as Fellowship International Ministries: What does it mean to belong to a church? There are many different ways to express and value belonging, and these vary from culture to culture. A college student from Azerbaijan informed me recently that “Canadians are very friendly, but they don’t want to be friends!” In other words, the level of belonging and the expressions of that belonging she was used to in her own culture, were very different in Canada. She expected friendliness to lead to a more intimate relationship, but quickly realized that she was imposing on boundaries they wanted to maintain.

While in Pakistan my wife, Karen, and I had similar experiences. Our concept of ‘friendship’ was different from the expectations in Pakistan. To be invited into a home as a couple to sit with both men and women indicates a level of ongoing commitment that we, as Canadians, reserve for our immediate families!

So what about church relationships? When planting a church, what is the expectation of commitment? One person may view the community in terms of family loyalty, while another may see this particular interaction with other believers as only one avenue of relationships among many, without the need for deeper commitment. Some may consider the church activities as central to their Christian development. Others may be content to participate at one level (e.g., attendance at worship, small group, worship team), while finding fulfillment for other needs (e.g., teaching, guidance, fellowship) in venues outside of one local church.

Should church planters seek to bring all people to a particular level of commitment that fits with one cultural model of church, or should they adjust their expectations to the realities of the connections that people prefer for themselves? If the goal is to help people develop their commitment to Christ within the level of commitment and relationships that they believe are important, then what will Christian community look like?

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Thank You Father for a Grandson!

Last week I held my grandson in my arms for the first time. My heart was lifted up to my heavenly Father in adoration and praise as I gazed down on that tiny, frail, absolutely dependent, but intricately and beautifully formed bit of humanity. I could not help but ponder the fact that in this small child was another reminder of how the Eternal God gave us His ultimate revelation of Himself. This was how Jesus came. What incredible humility, what awesome condescension, what amazing love – that He, the creator and sustainer of all should have taken on this humanity, this utter dependence. My mind struggled with the incomprehensibility of the truths ascribed to Him in the accolade of Colossians 1:15-20.

And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [NASB]

Did He, the One who holds all things together, constrain Himself to the confines of the likes of this newborn infant, who was so totally dependent on my capability to hold him safely? I gazed down at my grandson and watched as his miniature hands and feet flailed and his tiny fingers grasped my thumb reflexively but with no ability to do anything other than to convey the sense of utter helplessness. What wonder is wrapped up in the mystery of the incarnation! Did Jesus come like this? Only a mighty, loving and gracious God could have planned this!

Holding that babe in my arms and pondering the next few words of that glorious hymn from the pen of the Apostle Paul created strong stirrings of adoration and thanksgiving in my heart.

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. [NASB]

Thank you Eternal Father for sending your Son, Jesus. Thank you Loving Father for sending this little grandson! Through him you have reminded me of your awesome love and compassion – of your audacious plan for our redemption.

It’s Not About Bob – It’s all About God

Several weeks ago, I used my assigned blog entry to muse over the death of my mentor and friend, Robert Webber. The way he prepared for death has taught me a lesson on how to prepare for life with an addition to my daily prayer: thank you, Lord, for the healing of yesterday, and I ask your healing power for today.

. . . as someone who has written a multitude of pages and taught innumerable students about worship, Bob insisted that his service focus on the great saving acts of God.

This week, I received a note from one the editors at Christianity Today, David Neff, who participated in Dr. Webber’s funeral. I’ll let his note speak for itself:

Last night I attended (and played the organ for) Bob Webber’s memorial service. The memorial service was wonderful in many ways, but I want to point to one thing in particular. It wasn’t about Bob.

Well, yes, it was about Bob, it couldn’t help being about Bob, but as someone who has written a multitude of pages and taught innumerable students about worship, Bob insisted that his service focus on the great saving acts of God.

Here is part of what he wrote for the worship leaflet:

As a Christian I have always believed in Christ as the Victor over sin and death. I believe that Christ was the Second Adam, sent to this earth as God Incarnate, suffered death, was buried and rose from the dead to restore the entire creation. I believe that it is God who narrates the entire world and creation, from start to finish. Consequently I have no fear of death although I do fear the process.

Today, there are literally hundreds of different styles one can follow … for a funeral. However, historic Christian funerals were always about God. I … truly want [my own funeral] to be about God who created this world, defeated Satan at the cross and rose victorious over death and the grave.

Today we begin with several eulogies, then when those are done, the real funeral begins and it’s all about God. I want my funeral to be a testimony to the God who raises us from hopelessness and blesses us with new life in Him. …

And that is the way it was last night. As a large crowd of mourners packed into Christ Church of Oak Brook, we heard the eulogies first, and then we focused on God, remembering Christ’s death and resurrection and looking forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

This is the way it should be, because there is no greater comfort than the gospel. Too often funerals play down the reality of death with sentimental poetry such as these lines from Shelley: he is not dead, he doth not sleep -/ He hath awakened from the dream of life. We don’t need romanticism, but redemption, especially at funerals.

There’s a whole lot more here than an insight on how to design a meaningful funeral. Once again, the preparation for death has stimulated thoughts on how to prepare for life. I’ve taken that one simple turn of phrase We don’t need romanticism, but redemption to heart. It’s a convicting exercise, especially as I participate in Sunday morning worship [we really don’t need romanticism as much as we need redemption], or as I prepare a Sunday morning sermon [I really shouldn’t aim for romanticism as much as I should redemption], or as I mentor students [they really don’t need romanticism as much as they do redemption.] In essence, it’s NOT about me, it’s not about us, it’s not even about Bob. It’s all about God.

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #6

Reason #6.

Simply put, liturgy lives from its theology and dies for lack of it. With out a solid grounding in theology those who perform and participate in the church’s worship neither are capable of bringing the church fully into the presence of God, nor make participants fully realize the eternal weight of Glory that grounds proper liturgy. As the church, and its participants, learn and recite the church’s theology in song, creed and ordinance it gains a proper sense of the enormous proportions of its witness to the reality of God. Indeed, without theology we worship a mere phantom of our ourselves, unaware!

Can Preachers Have Friends in the Congregation?

I had another interesting conversation with one of our Doctor of Ministry students last week. Robert Campbell is a pastor from Corona, California and is working on the question of whether or not a pastor can have friends in the congregation.

Campbell contends that spiritual formation happens within community and that the pastor needs to be growing as much as anyone else.

Traditionalists would say not, given that a pastor can never escape the pastoral role within the life of the congregation. Playing favorites within the church can be a real problem for the overall health of a church.

But what about the pastor’s own spiritual growth? Campbell contends that spiritual formation happens within community and that the pastor needs to be growing as much as anyone else. If the pastor is not allowed to engage the community in the same way as others, then how is he or she supposed to grow?

It is a problem because the truth is a pastor can never really have the same kind of relationship with other people in the congregation because it is true that he or she can never leave behind the pastoral role. However, is this really all that different from anyone else? Everyone brings their personal identity into relationship. Gender, social standing, race, education, and a myriad of other factors all play into the way that we relate to one another. The pastoral role is just one of those factors that shape the way that people relate.

The answer that Robert and I are coming to is that yes, pastors, need to engage people as friends within the congregation so that the community can do its thing to help in the spiritual formation of the pastor alongside everyone else. At the same time, we understand that the pastor’s relationship with people is always going to be colored and shaped by the fact that she or he is in that role.

This is okay. It is to be celebrated, even. The community of God’s people is a rich tapestry of relationships as we grow together in Christ.

See Robert Campbell’s blog at The Postmodern Pop Pastor.

The Blame Game

In a recent Macleans article (April 16, 2007) Brian Bethune reviews recent writings by several atheists who “blame God for every social problem from Darfur to child abuse.” Strong voices – Hitchens, Onfray, Dawkins, Harris – argue the case for atheism afresh, claiming that religion is purely and only a human creation – toxic in all its forms. The tragic circumstances of 9/11 have generated a new, virulent attack upon all religious expression.

…religion is toxic, because religion cannot and does not deal with human sin. The result is that religion becomes merely another context in which human sinfulness manifests itself.

Christianity comes in for its share of criticism, much of it quite abusive, caustic, and contemptuous. Of course, history offers numerous examples of evil done in the name of Christianity, as well as other religions. Given their location within Western Culture, these apologists for atheism level their most virulent attacks against Christianity, particularly its American versions. Fear that religiously-committed individuals will gain political power and enforce their ideology on all and sundry seems to motivate their stridency.

What does a sincere Christian say in response to such vocal and public attacks? I think one thing that must be said repeatedly is that they conveniently forget the horrors that atheistic systems such as communism perpetrated upon those under its power. The gulags remain constant reminders of terrible abuse – all in the name of atheism. So atheism has no claim to be the answer for a productive human future. Further the claim that we should praise the French Revolution because it turned churches into hospitals is rather naïve in that it conveniently forgets the terrible injustices and murder that this revolution perpetrated, all in its attempt to be free from religion.

Religious hypocrisy still remains the fundamental stumbling-block preventing people from truly hearing the Good News about Jesus.

Further, I would suggest that followers of Jesus would tend to agree that religion is toxic, because religion cannot and does not deal with human sin. The result is that religion becomes merely another context in which human sinfulness manifests itself. Christians are not surprised by this. What humanity needs is not more religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God gets blamed for a lot of things that Satan does. Probably this is a devilish stratagem.

Finally, if atheism is the best way for humans to live, where do we see this demonstrated in any human society in the world today? Many religious persons would claim that the secularists are in charge now in most Western countries, but fail to see how society has improved or is any better for it. How is the abortion of millions of children annually beneficial? How has atheism helped those trapped in addictions or sexual oppression? It seems strange that so few human beings seem to have seen the light of atheism! Is this all due to the ability of religious organizations to dupe human beings, as the atheists claim? What does this say about human ability and intelligence?

What humanity needs is not more religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Perhaps, however, these voices do help us see how important it is for followers of Jesus to walk carefully in the power of God’s Spirit so that God’s name does not get sullied because of our sinful actions. Religious hypocrisy still remains the fundamental stumbling-block preventing people from truly hearing the Good News about Jesus.

In Jesus we discover true freedom from chains of sinful thinking and doctrinaire foolishness of human thinking.

Musings on belonging

Is it just me or has the concept of “belonging” to a church become more fluid lately? I remember growing up in a churched context and it was very obvious who was “in” and who was “out”. Membership was an important concept and there was a sense that unless a person became a “member,” their relationship with God and other believers was not as it should be. Each local church, even if its building was located across the street from another similar church, encouraged a deep level of commitment to their particular communal expression of “church”. Of course, I grew up in a church planter’s home, so that understanding may not reflect the perspective of the average person in the pew.

…it seems that belonging for evangelical believers today has more to do with significant connections with other Christians, than with a commitment or loyalty to one specific expression of Christian community.

However, today, unless it is only my own perception, that view seems to have morphed into a more flexible and complex understanding of belonging. Perhaps it is partly due to the western emphasis on individual rights and responsibilities. Perhaps there is greater tolerance of diverse theological views. Perhaps the perceived need of “a church experience” has changed. Perhaps it is due to the many opportunities that people have to belong to a variety of expressions of Christian community through the radio, TV, small groups, “parachurch” organizations, missions teams, concerts, etc. Whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, it seems that belonging for evangelical believers today has more to do with significant connections with other Christians, than with a commitment or loyalty to one specific expression of Christian community.

As someone who has a missionary mindset, I seek to understand and conform to cultural trends in order to present faith in Christ in a relevant way. Such a change (if I am correct) is neither to be rejected nor unquestioningly embraced. Instead, the question is, what does relevant and impacting Christian community look like in such an environment?

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Why I Hate Meetings

As one whose life is defined by Meetings, it’s no surprise that I found today’s headline article in Inc.com’s Daily Resource for Entrepreneurs so compelling. The title: New Study Reveals Why Meetings Are SO Unbearable. [I added the boldface to the word SO!] The article presented research gathered by Opinion Research USA meant to measure the annoying meeting behaviors that push people past the tolerance threshold at business meetings. While there weren’t any remedies presented in the article, I have to admit the findings were very interesting … and convicting: “…27% ranked disorganized, rambling meetings as their top frustration, followed by 17% who said they were annoyed by peers who interrupt and try to dominate meetings.” There were other fascinating results:“…respondents over the age of 55 considered meetings without a bathroom break a significant issue, and for respondents ages 18 to 24, serving food is a priority at meetings…” hmmm, I just happen to be 55 this year. Interesting, indeed! If anything, the study just reinforced some of the basic principles I’ve been collecting for the Best Practices for Church Boards: “if you are someone calling the meeting, organize it, control everyone during the meeting, and make sure the people there aren’t wasting their time…” Read the whole post here: http://www.inc.com/news/articles/200705/meetings.html

Alternatives for Change

…churches are institutional in the way that they operate, because they are venues for the organization of corporate worship, outreach, and discipling among people. No matter how loose, structures eventually harden and at that point a church has to make some difficult decisions about its long-term validity and relevance.

I had a conversation over lunch with Ken Castor, one of my Doctor of Ministry students, and a pastor at Brentview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta. Ken is beginning work on his dissertation project, trying to think about how to stimulate new directions in an existing, traditional congregation. His frustration is that many emerging young leaders like himself have given up on the traditional church, opting instead to create fresh new expressions of church, in essence writing off these older churches as unredeemable relics of the modern world. The problem with this kind of thinking, Ken suggested, was that these emerging churches were sowing the seeds of their eventual destruction in their way of thinking from the start. No matter what we want to say, churches are institutional in the way that they operate, because they are venues for the organization of corporate worship, outreach, and discipling among people. No matter how loose, structures eventually harden and at that point a church has to make some difficult decisions about its long-term validity and relevance. Ken is looking for ways to frame a church that can reinvent itself over time. The mission of the church would never change, but the way that the vision is expressed and enacted can and ought to vary and adapt. The usual way we deal with this is to establish a new worship service targeted at young people. This approach often creates conflict as the older folks feel threatened, and the younger ones feel patronized. There is no doubt that younger people are going to be more open to change, in general terms, than older people because they have been immersed in a different kind of world than their forebears. Yet, that doesn’t mean that some young people don’t want tradition and that some older people don’t want change. Perhaps it is a mistake to view this as a generational issue. Ken and I talked about the possibility of creating opportunities for young people to contribute to the unleashing of some fresh and alternative ways of pursuing the mission of the church and then opening up those alternatives to people of every age. The challenge would be to nurture something within the traditional church that could eventually flourish and offer a relevant future for the congregation over time. If this kind of thinking could prosper in a church, then we could see a culture of adaptation that would allow for the perpetuation of mission and the stewardship of resources that a local congregation represents. It will be exciting to see how this project develops. Read Ken’s blog at kencastor.com.

The Promise of Matthew 24:14
(en holēi tēi oikoumenēi = in all the Roman Empire)

In his final segment of extended teaching to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus outlined their mission beyond the cross and urges them to be faithful to the end. In response to his prophesy that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed, his disciples asked “When will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and end of the age?” (24:3). What follows in the remainder of Matthew 24-25 is Jesus’ response to their questions.Matthew 24:14 in some sense contains the answer to their second question about “the end of the age” as Jesus declares “and then the end will come.” Until the kingdom mission is completed, i.e. “this Gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed …for a witness to all the ethnesin (nations? or people groups? or Gentiles?)”, the end will not come. Jesus assures his followers that the forces of evil cannot derail or cut short God’s program. Until all the diverse, non-Jewish1 peoples observe the Gospel proclaimed, the end will not occur. Of course, we strive to discern what this proclaiming activity entails and because of this prophesy some urge the church forward in the Great Commission program as a means of hastening the return of the Lord Jesus. However, Jesus probably was not placing in human hands a mechanism to bring about the second coming. In this context Matthew uses the term oikomenos to represent another limitation that Jesus provides in this answer. The Gospel will be proclaimed “en holÄ“i tÄ“i oikoumenÄ“i”, usually translated “in the whole world”. This is the only place in Matthew’s Gospel where this word occurs. Mark does not record it in the parallel passage (Mark 13:10). Even though Luke uses this term eight times in Luke-Acts, he does not use it in the parallel passage (Luke 21:13). So Matthew seems to use this expression for some emphasis within Jesus’ teaching. Before we explore this question, however, we should note that apart from its occurrence in Luke-Acts, this term also is used in Revelation (3:10; 12:9; 16:14), Hebrew (1:6; 2:5) and in a quote from the Old Testament (Psalm 19:5) by Paul in Romans (10:18). It generally refers to the ‘inhabited world’. For example, in Luke 4:5 Satan shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the inhabited world (tÄ“s oikoumenÄ“s).” In Athens Paul proclaimed that God had appointed a day when He would “judge the inhabited world (tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n)” (Acts 17:31). In Revelation 3:10 John reports that he saw in his vision Jesus promising the church in Philadelphia that he would preserve them “from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole inhabited world (epi tÄ“s oikoumenÄ“s holÄ“s).” It can also have a more limited sense and refer to the Roman Empire. We probably find this sense in Luke 2:1 where the writer reports Caesar’s command that “a census should be taken of the entire Roman world (pasan tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n).” Perhaps this is also the sense in Acts 24:5 where Paul is accused of being a troublemaker, “stirring up riots among the Jews all over the Roman world (tois kata tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n).” When we come to Matthew 24:14, we have to ask whether Jesus meant that the Gospel would be proclaimed “in all the Roman world” or “in all the inhabited world.” Jesus also said in this verse that this Gospel would be “for a witness to all the Gentiles.” . . > . . > . . >

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  • 1. There remains a Jewish mission, but normally in Matthew’s Gospel the term ethnÄ“ refers to Gentiles.

Defining the role of a church missions team

Just what is a church missions team expected to do? Because of the way church missions has developed in recent years this question has become increasingly important for those who desire to be effective mission mobilizers. In some churches the missions committee’s primary role consists of passing on the prayer letters of missionaries to the congregation. However, other church missions teams are playing a far more complex and influential role. This is evident in the “Design your Impact” workshops1, in which the role of the missions team is presented as shaping and overseeing the overall missions purpose and strategy of the church, both locally and globally. In addition, the rise of short term missions can make the duties of missions teams quite demanding, often requiring the services of a full time missions pastor.

… the role of the missions team and the parameters within which it is called to function must be clearly defined. Unfulfilled expectations and a lack of clarity concerning the vision and responsibilities of the missions team quickly undermines its effectiveness.

During my interviews with pastors and key missions committee personnel for the purpose of discovering ways church missions can be improved, one pastor shared the parameters that he uses to define the role of the missions team within his church: The missions team is responsible to facilitate all outreach partnerships outside of the local church’s programs. In this perspective short term mission teams or local evangelistic efforts – intra-cultural or cross-cultural – are not the responsibility of the missions committee. Instead, their role is to monitor and facilitate the partnerships of the church with those missionaries and other workers who have a primary responsibility to another organization (such as a missions agency). Whether or not this is the position taken by a church is of secondary concern. What is obvious is that the role of the missions team and the parameters within which it is called to function must be clearly defined. Unfulfilled expectations and a lack of clarity concerning the vision and responsibilities of the missions team quickly undermines its effectiveness. Coming this fall a “Best Practices for Church Missions” workshop will be offered to assist church missions committees as they define their role and purpose within the broader vision of the church. Let me know if you are interested. Have you discovered some creative ways to highlight missions in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team.

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Missions and the Heart of a Dad

I said goodbye to my baby girl this week. Becky and I, along with a number of other friends and relatives saw her off from the Seattle airport in the wee hours of Monday morning as she and her team of 7 began their missions odyssey to Thailand. She is only 23 and from this dad’s perspective “far too young” to have committed herself to a three-year stint involving a year of language study and two years of church related ministry in the Golden Triangle area of Northern Thailand.

Ever since she returned from that first journey to Thailand we knew this day was coming. We had seen it in her eyes, heard it in virtually every conversation. My daughter had lost her heart to her God and to the people of Thailand – and we were delighted. But that did not change the things that were happening to my heart on Monday.

The drive home from the airport was a blur. Fortunately my friend Jon had been tasked with the responsibility of keeping me awake so that I would get us home safely – at which he did a superb job. After an all-too-short sleep, morning came, and with it an odd mixture of thoughts and emotions. I found myself thinking that she was just in the other room. I would walk into the kitchen and half expect to still see her sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the fire place working on her computer or reading a book. When the front door would open my ears half expected to hear her cheery “Hi! I’m home!” It’s not as though she had never been away from home before. At 19 she did a year in Europe and at 21 she spent 9 months in Thailand. But somehow this was different. She had made a specific commitment of time to serve as a “full-time missionary”. Ever since she returned from that first journey to Thailand we knew this day was coming. We had seen it in her eyes, heard it in virtually every conversation. My daughter had lost her heart to her God and to the people of Thailand – and we were delighted. But that did not change the things that were happening to my heart on Monday. In the intervening year, since she had returned from Thailand, we enjoyed a delightful time of getting to know our youngest as she lived at home while preparing herself for this adventure. The three of us shared many delightful evenings together and both Becky and I felt that we got to know our daughter in a whole new way. We took in movies together. We enjoyed meals together along with many cups of coffee. We debriefed the joys and struggles of our days together. We teased each other and grew in love and respect for one another. Now she was gone and a corner of my heart was gone too – I believe it followed her to Thailand. There is another emotion in my heart – deep gratitude to my Heavenly Father. I remember a time when Becky and I wondered and worried what would ever become of our willful youngest child. But God, in His boundless mercy, got hold of that will (and of her heart) and she surrendered her life to Him. Now she was on an adventure with Him – following her Lord where ever He might lead. So we celebrated her departure. There were no regrets. At some point last week we all had a chuckle together as we realized that we probably would not shed any tears at the airport – that is just not how we do it in our family. We might shed them later, privately! But even those tears are not tears of grief over missed opportunities or unfinished business or unforgiven grievances. We were able to see her off with no regrets! We are just plain and simply going to miss her. As I pondered these conflicting emotions in my heart I paused to ask, “I wonder what happened in the heart of the Father when he sent His Son on the ultimate missions trip?” Is it in any way possible for me as a human dad to comprehend the heart of the Heavenly Father? I took a few moments to considered the depths that lie behind the statement “For God so loved that he gave …” (John 3:16) This experience has made me appreciate Galatians 4:4 a little more. “In the fullness of time, God sent his Son …” There is an unfathomable vastness to those simple words. The Eternal Son, who throughout that eternity had never left the Father’s side (John 1:18), was now stepping into time and space and into the human experience to undertake the greatest missionary adventure of all as He “…came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) It is comforting to know that my daughter is following in His footsteps.

Visit my daughter’s blog and read of her adventure with Jesus

It’s Something Else

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a course on the Book of Acts in Seoul, South Korea. When my teaching was done, a couple of the students were charged by my hosts to show me the sites of the city in the few daylight hours that remained that day. They asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to see. I asked to see the Yoido Full Gospel Church. The Yoido church’s claim to fame is that it is arguably the largest church in the world, with over 800,000 members.My guides showed me many sites around and outside the city until well past sunset. After that, we went to a restaurant and I was treated to an absolutely sumptuous meal. My impression was that the lateness of the evening meant that the Yoido church had been struck off the schedule of things to see. We arrived at the Yoido church sometime past 10:30 pm. My thought was, “I guess they’ll drive by the building so I can see how big it is.” We pulled into a massive parking area and made our way into the building. A prayer service was underway. One of my guides apologized that the attendance was less than usual—only about 30,000 people or so were there. I was astonished! It put me in mind of a book I read about this church and its pastor Yonggi Cho. At one point the author reflected on North American Christians’ infatuation with methods and programs as the means to church growth. He related how a group of American pastors came to Pastor Cho, asking what method he followed. Cho replied, “All kinds!” Essentially, he was disclaiming that method had led to the growth. The key was…something else. But what was it?

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) Jesus was the first to help his followers in the matter of the “something else” by which the witness to him, and the community subsequently established, would grow. He told his disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The means of the realization of Jesus’ picture of advance and growth was not human stratagems or schemes; rather, it was the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. Methods can be quite helpful, but they will not ultimately realize a divine plan—for that to occur it takes God himself!