Change: That Other Four-Letter Word

A number of years ago, while serving in a different church, I initiated some changes. However, I made sure that the first year would see no changes within the church; at least none that would cause upheaval. The first year was a time to get to know the people, to develop trust, and to plant the seeds for a possible, positive future and to cast the vision.

The first upheaval came in my second week as pastor, when I moved the old, little table in the foyer out and moved a more accommodating desk in. That way the literature could be neatly spread about rather than placed in heaps where no one took notice. That next Sunday a woman dressed me down like some drill sergeant for “changing everything” in the whole church! What was an insignificant, meaningless “change” was an incredibly large challenge to life as it had always been (at least so she thought).

A week later this same person found me painting my new office.  It hadn’t been painted in fifteen or so years. The carpet was even older and impossible to clean, the venetian blinds were tattered, and the desk had been used by my many predecessors over forty-five years. In fact, I amusingly found notes in that desk dating back to the original pastor, and a few from other previous pastors!

When this woman saw that I was repainting the room she got angry.  “What are you doing!?” she demanded to know.

Not wanting to give in to her rhetorical scolding I answered with the obvious, “I’m painting the office.”

“Well, I can see that! Why are you painting the pastor’s office?”

“It needs refreshing, and I am the pastor, you know?”

She ignored my rebuff.  “Who gave you permission to paint the pastor’s office?” she grumped with her fists dug into her sides.

“I didn’t know I needed permission to paint my office.”

“This is the pastor’s office! You need permission!” she barked with an even more elevated voice.

I kept rolling the paint on the wall while she stood firmly planted in the doorway. It was then that I understood her anger.  This was her church.  The pastor’s office belonged to her as well as everyone else who had been there for years. Even though I was the pastor, I was the new guy making abrupt changes to her little world.  She had not been consulted about those changes.  Of course she had no official role other than the one she appointed herself to as the guardian of all things “the way we’ve always had it.”  Her foot was now tapping the carpeted floor.

Turning my back to her while rolling paint up and down, back and forth on the wall, I loudly declared, “The elders know what I am doing and gave consent.”

At that she did an about-face and proclaimed, “Well, we’ll just see about this!”  and stomped away.

The next day I accidentally knocked a can of paint all over the old carpet. I really did not intentionally do that, even though I was suspected of plotting my next change in the pastor’s office.

Whether intentional or not, making even the slightest deviation to normalcy was a declaration of war.  And no matter what approach I took (ignoring, détente, dialog, or confrontation) that war lasted the entire time we were at the church.

Change is hard.  But change always happens. We can’t stop it from happening. However, some people, for whatever of the myriad of reasons, are terribly affected by change.  To them, change is a four-letter word, a crisis (though way out of proportion to reality); something to fight or grumble about.

It was almost two years later when another woman, sweet as can be, approached me after a sermon that apparently moved her deeply.  It was about how grace overcomes law, and how the grace of Christ is what really causes us to change (oops, there I said it again).  But this kind of change is into Christ-likeness.  She approached me and said, “My family and I have been in this church for almost twenty years. I’ve never heard this kind of preaching before. I’m leaving the church!”

“But why?” I asked.  Her explanation is that what I was doing was causing all sorts of change, nearly all of which she thought positive.  This made no sense to me; but her rationale was that the elders who were in charge had been in charge for too many years and had permitted a lack of grace to exist in the congregation all this time.

“Aren’t the changes being made good?”

“Yes, but they should have been made years ago.  And they are changes, which is causing problems. And now they are just too much for me.”

“Have you considered that if you leave to go to another church how much of a big change that will be?”

She just looked at me with tears creeping down her cheeks.  She said nothing, but turned around and left.  She and her family began searching for another church, and because of her kin relationships they would periodically come to worship and an occasional fellowship meal.  For her, even good change was hard to take.

The phenomena of change and resistance to it has been observed, studied, written and lectured upon for decades. These students of people and their responses to or engagement with change have informed us that there are many reasons why people resist change, even good change.

The first reason is fear. Fear of the unknown. The assumption here is that if change happens, then something bad will happen.  Then there is the fear of failure.  If I or we change what we are doing, maybe we will fail and things will only get worse? Other fears include the fear of personal loss or the fear of the loss of my power or influence. Or it could be the fear of the loss of the status or position I have now.

A second reason, which I have observed all too frequently over the years, is rejecting change because of insecurity. The more insecure the individual or group is the more they will stand against change. Along with insecurity, it is possible they feel overloaded and overstressed in their own lives already, so they cannot add anything they consider additionally stressful.

Thirdly, sometimes the reason people oppose change is because of pride.  This is fairly common with people in power positions, managerial positions or in leadership roles. Their pride has a very difficult time accepting change because the change wasn’t initiated by them.  Rightly so, change could mean  or would mean that somebody is going to lose influence, power or control.

On the flip side it might be that those who refuse to go along with change do so because they simply do not respect or trust the leader(s). John Maxwell speaks to this in his seminars and in his book, Developing the Leader Within You (p. 65).

Any alteration to the status quo disturbs the comfort zone. This is often due to the fact that people are quite satisfied with the way things are.

If the environment isn’t disturbed then perhaps they resist because the routine is disrupted. I recall one time in another church when the elders decided to move the worship service ahead by fifteen minutes.  One would have thought they had violated the 11th commandment and set the new time to Thursday mornings at five o’clock!

Maybe it’s a case that people refuse to accept change is because they don’t understand the purpose of it.  A well thought out and clearly communicated  vision and mission with purposes and goals may help to alleviate the angst or opposition.

However, even if you present good, clear and cogent arguments some will dig in their heels because they do not see the value of change. People will accept and then buy in to something new or different when the value of the new and different is greater than the value they place on the old and familiar. In other words, people will not change until they believe that the rewards of change outweigh the cost for change.

Conversely, there are the “traditionalists” (for lack of a better, more descriptive term) who resist change because they have invested time, talents, energy, money, resources into the established institution. For them change would mean loss. It would mean devaluing their life or work’s investment prior to the proposes changes.

In the case of a local church, resistance comes because the church’s values were not changed before the influencers or leaders introduced or implemented change.

If all these things have been addressed or even carefully attended to, it could come down to the basic fact that some will dig into their trenches and make a stand against change because of sinfully negative attitudes. This goes along with the matter of selfish pride.

Where there is stubborn pride there is a refusal to learn and grow. As the book of Proverbs implies, without humility there is no possibility of teaching and learning.  I believe Socrates also made that observation.

Finally, within churches, especially in established churches, members may not have made a clear distinction between form (unchanging, eternal principles) and function (things that can change). Too often biblical indicatives become equated with methodology.  The functions and methods are all too frequently seen as coequal to God’s law and Word, rather than rightly understanding God’s Word must inform the principles by which things are done.  God leaves open the vast amount of possibilities for implementing those things which are biblically unchangeable. It’s a freedom to be enjoyed even within the difficulty of change.

There are many more reasons why change is such a repugnant thing for some people; why it is a four-letter expletive. Nevertheless, these are the most obvious reasons. And I’m sure, given time, this list will change too.

D. Thomas Owsley

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Change, Conflict and the Church, Pastor & Church Relationship

Jesus the Pastor

This book by John W. Frye, studies the gospels in order to see how Jesus lived and performed as the ultimate pastor of his people.  It’s a book worth looking at.  Here are some quotes from the book:

 

I guard this vital truth [each individual is made in the image of God and, therefore, has worth] each time I receive persons, no matter who they are and where they are, into my life and engage them on their terms in a respectful and hopefully redemptive, but never contrived, conversation.  We must become masters of ordinary “small talk” if we want to be good pastors. Heilsgeschichte (salvation history) comes in talk about simple things like wind and water, not in heady talk about Hebrew scrolls and Greek parchments. p. 30

Did I secretly want to “win” in our discussions about biblical morality more than I wanted my struggling friend to authentically know the life-changing love of an almighty God revealed in the person of Christ? P. 31 

In my valiant attempts at times to “defend the faith,” I have trampled on the lives of those whose struggles are both serious and sinful, yet who may, nonetheless, qualify in Christ to be my fellow worshipers of God.  Jesus didn’t offer the woman a restatement of the Mosaic moral law, he offered himself.  She needed first and foremost a hero and Savior, the Messiah, not moral lessons on the sanctity of marriage.

My friend told me about a Bible study she led for people in the entertainment industry.  She related that these people were not known for either their Bible knowledge or their commendable morality.  The study was based on the Gospel of John. p. 32

Issues are issues.  People are people.  Issues need to be addressed.  People need to be loved.   p. 33

When I think of Jesus the Pastor and crowds, one word comes to mind: story.  Jesus the Pastor was a storyteller who told down-to-earth stories about everyday experiences and ordinary things.  Some pastors are bothered by the fact that Jesus told stories.  I, however, am now intrigued by it.

Storytelling is certainly one practice that might have Jesus ejected from many of our evangelical pulpits.  Why didn’t Jesus spend more time “exegeting Isaiah 53” or expounding the intricacies of Daniel’s seventieth week?  Why didn’t the Son of God, the most brilliant human being to ever live, solve the mysteries of God and evil or at least explain who the “sons of God” were in Genesis 6:1-4?  Why did he spend so much time talking about earthy things like dirt and seed, flowers and birds, fish and nets, pearls and pigs?  He created characters like stubborn judges, rebellious sons, lazy workers, callous religious leaders, compassionate outcasts, and risqué women.  So let’s be frank and just ask it:  Why wasn’t Jesus a good Bible expositor? p. 33

Again, let me emphasize that I’m all for polls and I like and have been influenced by many of the popular, well-known pastors.  I like to read their books and hear them speak.  I am simply insisting that these are insufficient resources for creating a personally compelling and enduring pastoral vocation. p. 41 

The Pharisees believed that education made a rabbi “a somebody,” respected and accepted.  Like us, they held that training gave a person a recognized platform from which to influence others.  Have we—pastors, Christian leaders, the teaching profession, and churches—fallen today into this dangerously faulty pharisaic thinking?

Education has its strategic place, but I believe it is not the place many of us think it has.  Why is our belief in and dependence on a good accredited education an issue blatantly ignored by Jesus, our Chief Shepherd?  Do “smarts” ever replace “heart”?  Was Jesus modeling a truth for us that there is a source more profoundly forceful in shaping a pastoral vision than theological training?   p. 45

To reduce the promises of Jesus’ “manifest presence” to meaning only his omnipresence is to gut any meaning from the yoke metaphor.  Omnipresence, on the one hand, means that Jesus as God is just a much “present” to the sincere Hindu priest, Buddhist monk, New Age guru, Muslim Shiite, Ukrainian atheist, rock, pear, and lizard as he is to his won “brothers and sisters” or with his “undershepherds.”  Taking the yoke, on the other hand, is more than affirming this doctrine of omnipresence.  It is an intentional surrender to him who is ready to impart his life and skills to us, to make himself known in the particulars of our lives and ministries.  We become eager apprentices of his character (who he is) and his ministry (the way he works).  We begin to learn the way he “pulls the load” that we define as pastoral ministry in this world. p. 78                                                      

Pastoring, by contrast, is moving out from behind the pulpit and into the lives of harassed and helpless people, bringing God to them in the ordinary time and space particulars of their lives.  Pastoring, as earlier defined, is bringing God to people.  The pastor, having described the map of the soul in preaching, now serves as an “up close and personal” spiritual guide into that vast inner terrain. P. 91 

The people in Jesus’ day had “good Bible teaching.”  Scripture was valued, studied, and taught in the synagogue.  The people also had plenty of religious leaders and political rulers—Pharisees, Sadducees, the Herods, Roman centurions, Pilate.  Jesus saw what the people had, and he also saw what they did not have–pastors.  In the absence of shepherds, the people, like shepherdless sheep, wandered harassed and helpless.  Feeling compassion for people saved Jesus from the devastating turmoil that many pastors easily fall into: anger, resignation, boredom, condescension, and burnout.

I have heard too many angry men and women passing themselves off as pastors.  Anger, one of the seven deadly sins, creates enemies and then tries to destroy them, but “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (I Tim. 2:24).  Resentful anger emerges and builds in those pastors who realize over time that what they accepted as a mighty calling has turned out to be, at times, a dull, irritating job, a job that is often thankless and underpaid.  “If there is anything that makes ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.”  p.92                                                                                                                                             

Empowered by the compassion of Christ, a pastor is on the prowl to discover how each individual in his or her charge is part of and actually perpetuates God’s fascinating story of exhilarating grace.  Every detail of their lives can be a clue left by the unseen and passionate Lover of their souls.  Pastors are detectives searching for the fingerprints of God on peoples’ lives.  P. 93

Compassion, Christ’s activated love, received and given away to harassed and helpless people, is the heart of empowered pastoral ministry. p. 95 

Jesus Christ defined teaching as training for a way of life, not as transferring information from one mind to another.  “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). P. 116

“Avoid conflict” was my middle name.  I was the pastorally “nice guy” who swept through the church like the old vaudevillian crying, “Is evvvverrrrybody haaaap-PY?”  I thought I was a real peacemaker.  What I really was, however, was a pain-avoider.  While pain-avoiders may look like peacemakers, there is a world of difference between the two.  p. 124

__________________

Frye, John W. Jesus the Pastor. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review and Excerpts, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring

Church Leaders – Lead by Grace!

Perhaps the reason for graceless leadership in so many churches is because so much energy and effort is invested in trying to make the church into something that it is not. On the one hand, there are leaders who are developing their own little kingdom, in the name of Jesus, and therefore attempting to form a community in their image.  On the other hand, there are leaders who know that the local church is called to holiness and perfection. Therefore, they focus on law as both the standard and the method for achieving holiness or perfection.  Maybe it’s a combination of both?

Whatever the case might be, it is a very sad, well actually a disturbing reality that so many influencers, power wielders, deacons, elders or pastors (in other words the leadership) are not gracious.  I dare to make such a statement because I’ve observed and continue to learn about churches where people are beaten up or beaten down, abused or misused by their church leaders.

So, it is with delight to read a book that challenges the model of leadership as law-maker, law-giver and law-enforcer. Grace-Full Leadership by John C. Bowling is one such book.  This is a book I would highly recommend that the local church leadership read and put into practice, because it presents God’s paradigm for true leadership:  grace-filled servitude.  Below are some excerpts from this book to whet your appetite:

 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his celebrated speech to the 1978 graduating class of Harvard College, noted:

A society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take advantage of the full range of human possibilities.  The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society.  Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes men’s noblest impulses….After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the scale and meaning of events.

 

A covenantal relationship rests on shared commitment to ideas, values, and goals.  Such an idea expresses the sacred nature of relationships.  In his book, The Season of Leadership, David Neidert suggests that every covenant is filled with certain obligations and intentions.  Among them are trust, respect, mutual support, accountability, and fidelity.  “The all-encompassing element of covenant relationships is fidelity.  It is probably the most spiritual and passionate of all covenant characteristics.  In a covenantal relationship, fidelity contains the sacred vows that leaders and followers make to each other.”  p. 20                                                                                                                                             

One of the consequences when there is not an atmosphere of trust is that people do not speak up.   They will let leaders make mistakes even when they themselves know better.  Trust is at the heart of a covenantal relationship; its benefits to the leader and the led are immense. p. 22

Grace-full leaders create an environment where individuals accept one another’s weaknesses as well as strengths.  In such a workplace, people are encouraged (and perhaps more importantly, allowed) to change, grow, and develop.  Grace-full leaders resist labeling others.  They refuse to be caught in a web of prejudice or stereotyping that looks for the worst in others rather than the best.   p. 27                                                

Max DePree set a high standard in this area when he said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say ‘thank you.’   In between, he’s a servant and a debtor.”    p. 28                                                           

A good leader is someone who does not monopolize credit.  Grace-full leaders are quick to pass along praise and recognize the contributions made by other people.  They seek to be inclusive by sharing ideas, associations, and benefits as widely as possible.  The grace-full leader is generous.  He or she has no need to manipulate others or practice a kind of leadership by intimidation.  p. 29                                                         

Warren Bennis suggests that empowering people is not only something a leader might do but also an “obligation of leaders to coach people to bring out their potential, to really be people growers.”

Leaders not only accept and have confidence in themselves but also accept and think well of others.  Sincerity and positive regard for others simply cannot be faked, and one needs both to deal with people effectively.  To be a grace-full leader, one must take the words of Jesus’ great commandment to heart: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39).  The guiding principle of this commandment is a simple value and respect for one another. p. 29

Change must not be viewed as the enemy, for only by changing can an organization survive over time and thrive in an environment that is in constant flux.  Change is not the enemy; changing the wrong things is.  It takes grace to know the difference.  p. 32                                                                                                               

Significance comes from working with others who are not only associates but also friends.  Like most things, the joy of success comes from the journey toward it even more than the accomplishment of it.  P. 38 

The temptation for many believers is to center their lives around the activities and programs of the local church rather than seeing their mission to be in the world of work for the glory of God.  Christians must see that it is in the daily labors of their working life that they, “the people of God,” are in the center of the arena where the Church needs to be. P. 41

The hours spent at work can become “Kingdom hours” that provide a powerful witness to the world of the grace and glory of God.  P. 42

Being responsive allows an organization to discontinue practices no longer effective.  Most good ideas and effective methods run their course in time and need to be replaced with other good ideas and effective methods.  The “we’ve always done it that way” attitude is often hard to overcome because the weight of tradition and organizational history supports the tried-and-true ways of the past.  The responsive leader has the ability to recognize when new outcomes are needed and when old methods may not be sufficient. p. 48

It might seem as if it’s supposed to be “natural” to stay in touch with yourself, but sometimes what a leader wants from life is not the same as what he or she is actually experiencing.  Indications of this include burnout, breakdown, depression, and midlife crisis. p. 52

The ultimate goal of understanding leadership is not to produce great or charismatic leaders but to enhance the life and effectiveness of the organization.  The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, but the tone of the body.  “The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.”

Therefore, the mind of a grace-full leader questions, “Is this organization or group healthy and productive?”  “Leadership is a concept of owing certain things to the institution.  It is a way of thinking about institutional heirs, a way of thinking about stewardship as contrasted with ownership.”2 P. 69

Just as the Great Revolution was getting under way in Russia, a rabbi on his way to the synagogue was stopped at gunpoint by a soldier.  With his rifle pointed directly at the rabbi, the soldier said in a gruff voice, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

The rabbi replied with a question of his own: “How much do they pay you for doing this job?”

The soldier replied, “Twenty kopecks.

Then the rabbi said, “I will pay you twenty-five kopecks if every day you stop me right here and ask me those two questions.”

If a leader knows the answer to those two questions, “Who are you?” and “What are you doing here?” all else will follow in good time and good measure. p. 91

Leadership is a three-legged stool—a combination of competence, character and will.  Each leg must be in place if the stool is to stand.  If a person does not have at least some measure of all three, he or she cannot lead.  But having these characteristics alone is not enough—they must be balanced.  P. 103

In controlling your time, a leader need not become enslaved to work or to the ideas, schedules, and designs of other people.  It’s important to schedule prime time for yourself.  That is not selfish or insensitive; it is balance.  Notice in the Gospels how often Jesus withdrew from the crowd and even from His closest disciples so that He might be alone.  If He needed that, how much more do we. P. 105

It’s hard to be joyful when you carry a burden.  It’s hard to love when you are weighted down.  Too often, in fact, we find ourselves throwing stones as well as carrying them.  Each year the baggage gets heavier, so much so that after a while, we either break down under the load or pay dearly for it in some other way, or we find a way to lighten our loads.

Leaders know that they must continually lighten their loads if they are going to continue to lead.  Part of learning to balance is to reduce the load and equalize the remaining pressures.  Jesus has a good word for us.  The good news of the gospel is that we can lay aside our burdens and learn to travel light.   Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).    p. 107                                                      

Without vision, leadership is little more than simple perpetuation of the past instead of predication on the future.  A proper vision builds on the past by allowing room for new ideas and thoughts.  Leaders hold in their minds pictures and ideals of what can be.  They are positive about the future and ardently believe that working together, people can make a difference. p. 109

_______________

Bowling, John C. Grace-Full Leadership. Kansas City: MO: Beacon Hills Press, 2000.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Abuse in the Church, Book Review and Excerpts, Church Leadership, Elders, Pastor & Church Relationship

How does an elder or pastor rule in the church?

The elders in the local church (those who rule and those who teach) have an authority from Jesus Christ to oversee the church. The elders are to govern God’s people well by governing God’s way.  This means they have jurisdiction in three ways:

First, they are  to have a “charge over” God’s people (1 Thess. 5:12f), which also means that they lead (Rom. 12:8), manage (1 Tim.3:4, 5, 12), and rule (1 Tim. 5:17).

Second, they are also to guide God’s sheep (Heb. 13:17). The Greek term for guiding was used for a political ruler or a chief speaker (Acts 14:12 cp. Heb. 13:7, 17, 24) in an ancient town or city.

Finally, they are to have authority over (Tit. 3:1-2), which means the right to govern and to make policy that determines the direction and emphases of the church according to the Word of God, in order to build up the people of God (2 Cor. 13:10).

However, while it is true that the elders (pastor and others) have authoritative rule in the local church, it is not the kind of rule that is common in the world (in business, politics, the military, etc.). And not the kind that is often taken by men who seek power and control in the church. The Bible makes it manifestly clear it is a unique kind of authority, and therefore defines for us the manner in which this authority is to be exercised. The pastor and others in the office of church leadership are to rule:

  • From a motivation of love (John 21:16)
  • By making appeals to the people from love for Christ’s sake (Philemon 8-9)
  • With compassion for distressed sheep (Matt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14)
  • Sacrificially, willing to lay down their lives for the sheep (John 10:11,15)
  • With a humble servant’s heart and through service (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26)
  • With a watchful care for God’s flock (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17)
  • Voluntarily as shepherds under Christ’s sovereign command (1 Pet. 5:2)
  • As models and examples of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 5:3)
  • By guarding themselves and the church in true doctrine and holy living (Acts 20:28)

What is also clear that elders with such jurisdiction must not be characterized by:

  • Uncontrolled homes (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12)
  • Lording it over God’s flock (Lk. 22:25-26; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Pet. 5:3; Matt. 20:25; Mk. 10:42) (see notes on Lording Over the Flock in a previous blog post)
  • Deserting the church in times of church distress (Jn. 10:12)
  • Serving under external pressure or compulsion (1 Pet. 5:2)
  • Serving for greed (1 Peter 5:2ff)

You should also note that this delegated authority is not invested in any man, but in the office. Church members submit to the godly and biblically informed decisions of the elders which are determined when the elders convene for an official administrative and/or judicial meeting.  They come together in a session as an official “court”.  This means that no singular pastor or elder can dictate policy or rule singularly. It is a corporate rule based upon the guiding principles of God’s Word.

The elders in the local church do have an authority from Jesus Christ to oversee the church, but they are to govern God’s people well by governing God’s way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Leadership, Elders, Pastor & Church Relationship

The Minister’s Priorities (according to Scripture)

The Minister’s Priorities (a study) [1]

 

Questions for you to consider:

  • What kinds of things do your elders expect the pastor to do?
  • What kinds of things do church members expect pastor to do?
  • What are the priorities of your life that God expects of the pastor?
  • How do you, pastor, prioritize your God-given duties with people’s expectations for what you should do?
  • How do you, pastor, handle the conflict that comes when you are fulfilling biblical priorities but not people’s personal expectations?

Listed in order of priority, the minister is responsible to God first, secondly to himself and finally to others.  All too often members in a church reverse the order, only to the detriment of their personal and corporate well-being in Christ.

The pastor is responsible to serve the Lord first.

1.  The pastor must possess and exercise a saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (1 Thess. 1:9;  Heb. 9:11-14).

2.  The minister’s first priority is to serve the Lord first and foremost, before he serves people. (Acts 20:19; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:22-24).  He serves God’s people by serving and answering to the Lord first and doing so for the glory of God (Deut. 10:12; Josh. 24:14, 15; 1 Cor. 10:31; 15:58; Eph. 6:7; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).

a.  This was clearly the pattern of God’s true prophets, priests and kings (1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 12:8; 34:33).

b.  This was also the pattern of Jesus Christ who always did His Father’s will (Matt. 4:10; Luke 4:8; John 8:26-28)

c.  This was the pattern of the Apostles (Acts 4:5-21; 27:23; 1 Cor. 15:58; Col. 3:23; 1 Thess. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 12:28).

3. The minister is to live for Christ

a.  He must never to be ashamed of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 1:8-11; 2:11-13).

b.  His focus is to always be upon Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21; 2 Tim 2:8-13).

c.  He should expect to suffer for Christ (Lk. 21:19; 2 Tim. 2:3-7; 3:10-12).

The pastor is responsible to keep his life right in relationship to the Lord.

1.  All believers are called upon to keep their lives right before God (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 4:16; Gal. 5:17-25; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10; Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Thess. 4:1-12; 2 Tim. 2:19-21; 2 Pet. 3:1-11).  They are to be faithful stewards of Christ and are accountable to Him through a biblically balanced  life (1 Cor. 4:1-2; 9:17; Col. 1:25f).

2.  This is all the more true for pastors, as well as for elders and deacons.  The admonition to Timothy is applicable to those who take on the yoke of ministry, that the pastor or elder must guard and maintain his life, piety and gifts (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:14-16; 2 Tim. 2:19-21) so that he might have the proper capacity to serve others through Christ (2 Tim. 2:1, 6, 15; 3:16-17).  Further, he should practice and devote himself to godliness in Christ so that others will see progress in his walk (1 Tim. 4:15).  This is what Thomas Murphy means when he says that “The conversion of souls and the prosperity of the Church depend on the degree of the pastor’s piety” (Murphy, 1996, p. 47).

The purpose of taking care of his life in Christ is not for self-actualization or other self-serving goals but rather so that he may be of greater service to others. While this might seem odd, a properly oriented life that is saturated with God through Christ is a far better blessing to others.  This is because the greater, more expansive capacity one has for God the greater his capacity for a fruitful ministry.

Jesus is a model of one who, though sinless, maintained and nurtured his relationship with the Father, to understand God’s will and to be strengthened from on high in order to accomplish all that God set for him to do.  He always made it a priority to spend time with the Father before serving others.

Challenge:

  • What do you think of the statement: “The purpose of taking care of his life in Christ is…so that he may be of greater service to others. This is because the greater, more  expansive capacity one has for God the greater his capacity for a fruitful ministry”?
  • What do you say to someone when they say that serving him or her is serving the Lord?

3.  The pastor is called to train and discipline himself for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-11) so as to become more and more like Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Tim. 4:14-16; 6:11; Ti. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:4).  After all, the minister is to “incarnate” and model the life of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:18; 1 Thess. 2:10-12; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3).  This is very profitable for him and for others (1 Tim. 6:6).  At minimum this would include the nurture and improvement of the godly character required of him according to 1 Timothy 3:1-9 and Titus 1:5-9.  Yet he should also cultivate and strengthen other qualities God desires of him as Christ’s under-shepherd such as, but not limited to:

a.  Humility (Acts 20:19; 1 Cor. 10:12).

b.  Being free of or fleeing from the love of money (1 Tim. 3:3; 6:7-11)

c.   Being a vessel of honor that is set apart from sin (2 Tim. 2:20-21)

(1) Actively pursuing biblical righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11).

(2)  Fleeing youthful lusts, pursuing righteousness, faith, love (2 Tim 2:22).

d.  Fearing no one or nothing except God (Deut. 10:12; Eccles. 12:13; Psa. 118:6; Isa. 12:2; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17).

e.  Being sober-minded about everything (2 Tim. 4:5).

f.   Maintaining a clear conscience before the Lord (2 Cor. 11:31).

 

Challenge:

  • What does your church do to foster and encourage the pastor to grow in Christ and godliness?
  • Minister, which of the above items is the easiest for you to get a handle on?
  • Which of the above is the hardest to train yourself in?

4.  He is to put to use the good gift(s) God has placed upon him.  In fact, he is called upon to fan the flame or rekindle the gift(s) of God in his life (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).   How do you handle it when people expect you to minister as if you had a special gift(s) they want, but you have not been given?

5.  The pastor or elder is to saturate his life with and properly handle God’s Word (1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 3:14-16).

a. Always growing in grace and truth (2 Pet. 3:18)

b. Holding fast to and be nourished on the Word of God (1 Tim 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:13; 3:14-17; Ti. 1:9)

c. Rightly handling God’s Word so as to be approved (2 Tim. 2:15)

d.  Contending for the truth of God’s Word (1 Tim. 1:18-19)

e.  Guarding the truth (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:12-14).

6.  He should bear fruit (Jn. 15:8; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 2:8-10; Col. 1:10; Ti. 2:7; 3:8, 14).

7.  He is to take care of his physical life (1 Tim 5:23).

8. He should not be concerned about the judgments of others (1 Cor. 4:1-5), neither should he compare himself with others (1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 10:12-16).  At the same time he should defend a biblical and righteous ministry in the cause of Christ against false accusations (1 Cor. 1:6-23; 2:4, 17; 3:6, 12; 4:1-8; 5:14, 21; 1 Tim. 4:12).

Challenge for the minister:

What do you do with judgmental criticism or condemnation from:

a church member?

an elder?

a power player in the church?

 

9.  He must keep his family life in order (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Ti. 1:6).

10.  Finally, the minister and others must understand that his life and ministry is a living sacrifice to God (Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6; 2 Sam. 24:24; Acts 20:24; 21:13; Phil. 3:7-8).

 

It is not even your own estimate of your service that is important.  Feeling good about your ministry may have some limited utility somewhere, but surely it has no ultimate significance. You may think more highly of your service than God does.  But if you are constantly trying to please yourself, to make self-esteem your ultimate goal, then you are forgetting whose servant you are, whom you must strive to please.  So Paul candidly writes, “I do not even judge myself” (4:3). He does not mean that there is no place in his life for self-examination or self-discipline; his own writings contradict any such interpretation (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 13:5).  What he means is that his own judging of himself cannot possibly have ultimate significance.  As he puts it, “My conscience is clear.” (4:4)

(D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry; p. 97)

 

After serving God and attending to his life in Christ the pastor or elder then serves others, particularly God’s people .


[1] This chapter is taken from D. Thomas Owsley, The Perfect Pastor?, pp. 369-371

1 Comment

Filed under Church Leadership, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring

Pastor, You Are a Servant-Slave First and Foremost!

What is the most important role that Scripture has for a teaching and ruling elder?

Robert Greenleaf, in his seminal book, Servant Leadership, makes some perceptive comments that provide a good introduction to the subject and a first-rate commentary on these words of Jesus.  There are, he says, two kinds of leaders.  Firstly, there are the strong natural leaders.  In any situation they are the ones who naturally try to take charge of things, make the decisions, and give the orders.  Generally, they are driven by assertiveness or acquisitiveness or dominance.

Secondly, there are the strong natural servants who assume leadership simply because they see it as a way in which they can serve.  If things are ever going to change for the better in our society, says Greenleaf, only natural servants ought to lead, and we should refuse to be led by anybody who is not a natural servant.  Furthermore, the biggest obstacle to change in society is natural servants who have the capacity to lead but don’t.

The first thing that we have to get clear is that we are dealing with a question of character or nature, not a question of function.  The servant leader is first and foremost a servant by nature; it is what he is, not merely what he does.  Servanthood is the motivation that drives his behavior, and motivation is all-important in a servant.  A person can carry out all the duties or functions of a servant, or do the tasks that a servant has to do, but do it unwillingly or resentfully or just for the money.  The person on the receiving end of what is being done soon becomes aware of the real lack of service. (Tom Marshall, Understanding Leadership; p. 71)


In a previous article I wrote that one of the roles an ordained minister and church elder for that matter, has is that of a servant. He is to be a self-sacrificing servant (Matt. 20:27; John 10:11, 15; Lk. 10:34, 35; 1 Cor. 4:1):

*      Of God (2 Cor. 6:4; Ti. 1:1, 7) and of Christ (Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24)

*      Of God’s people (2 Cor. 4:5)

*      Who serves God and his church with diligence (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15).

It may take years of pastoral service before a man called to ministry understands that his priority is to serve the Lord before serving others (Acts 20:19; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:22-24), and to serve the Lord by serving others.  It may also take that long for him to catch on that he is to serve the Lord’s agenda, but not any other agenda that deviated from his most vital mission.

Brian Dodd’s statement: “Bob Schaper, a seminary professor of mine, taught me a motto that has  helped me keep the balance between obedience to Christ and a servant-like posture towards people:  I  am your servant, but you are not my master” (2003, p. 57) is a potent statement every minister should hold fixed in his mind

Various opinions abound about the nature of pastoral service.  Even scholars, theologians and pastors differ.  Some say the primary role of a pastor is as a priest and worship leader.  That was a predominant view of the medieval church and is a pronounced feature in certain hierarchical churches.  Others declare that the primary role of a pastor is as preacher. The Reformation period emphasized this  role, and various traditions still hold this position.  In the Reformed tradition the pastor is preacher, declaring the will of God to sinners and saints.  In some Baptist or other like churches the pastor is preacher who preaches an evangelistic message of salvation to the sinners sitting in the pews.  Certain  independent Bible churches see the main role of the pastor as a teacher whose purpose is to teach the church solid doctrine whenever it gathers.  Such churches were quite popular in the 1960s to late 1980s, though several exist today.   Their model for church is taken from the classroom.  In the era of             megachurches pastors are perceived as chief executive officers who oversee a large staff who, in turn,  direct and run the many programs.  Recently there have been many books calling for churches and pastors to see the pastoral role as primarily that of a biblical shepherd, which, of course, is the meaning of the term pastor.

However, the overarching model in Scripture for a pastor, which ties all other roles and duties together is that of servant, just like Jesus the grand Servant.

Christ declared that anyone who desired to be great in his kingdom must be a servant, just as he had come not to be served but to serve, even to the point of sacrificial death (Matt. 20:26-28).  That was God’s mission for him – the eternal Son of God came to be a man, and in a radical reversal of  human proclivities became a lowly slave in order to accomplish the high purposes of God (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 12:1-2).  He was and is the perfect prophet, priest and king, the wonderful shepherd, teacher,  healer, and savior; but he executed all those roles through God-ordained, God-directed service!  Jesus was and is the consummate humble servant (Isa. 49:5; Luke 22:27; Heb. 3:1-6), the One who was self-sacrificing (John 10:11, 15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35).

Jesus made it clear that the manner in which his disciples were to function, rule, lead, and shepherd the citizens of God’s kingdom was in the form of a willing servant and a humble slave.  That was the object lesson the Master taught in Luke 22 when he said, while he sat as the premier one at the table – he really sat as servant.  Then, when he wanted to summarily demonstrate what he had been teaching all the while about the nature of his disciples’ role and position in the Kingdom, he dressed down and  acted just like a common slave and washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).

This living parable was punctuated by Christ’s own teaching:  “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am” (Jn. 13:13, ESV).  In other words, they were right to address and treat him as dignified royalty.  Yet though this King of kings and Lord of Lords had every right to claim his place and title he does something dramatically profound – once again a reversal to humanity’s sinful nature – he declares himself an honorable servant: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14)!

And should his disciples be as dense as many of us, he explains exactly why he said and did what he said and did: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:15-17).

“[S]ervant leadership must be humble because proud people serve only for what they get out of it.  Humble people serve for the sake of those being served, not for their own sake” says Bill Lawrence  in Effective Pastoring (1999, p. 88).  Christ’s people are servants, and leaders in Christ’s church are servants of servants.  A reversal  from the natural world.

To understand how radical and also how degrading was Christ’s self-imposed position and the place of his disciples we must understand the nature of the ancient slave.

There were several Greek terms for servant or slave. The first, more common word was doulos which identified the person as being on the opposite  side of the class spectrum of freeman or citizen master-owner. A doulos-slave was owned either by the government or by a personal master.  The public doulos-servant had no rights, but could control a city’s treasury and, as such, wield considerable influence.

The doulos-slave owned by a private master was the more common type of servant.  As a non-person he or she had absolutely no rights: no right to marriage, to children, or to protection as a slave, but merely protection as the master’s property.  The slave existed for the master’s purposes.  The will and desires of the master were to be obeyed and fulfilled. Anything the master wanted of the slave he got – anything!

The Romans had over a dozen different terms which defined the nature of the slave’s  duties: a cook, farmer, footman, gardener, messenger, prostitute, steward, storekeeper, etc.  In other words there could be specialist slaves and those might include the role of teacher or physician.

A doulos-slave could be given the responsibility to oversee the finances and run the household, in which case he was a household steward who had control over the master’s other slaves (Matt. 8:9).

Secondly, there was the pais or paidos, which described someone of a child’s status (Matt.2:16; Luke 8:51).  When these terms referenced an adult it was to identify a servant or slave who would most likely always remain in that status of a “boy” unless some gracious circumstance emancipated him and brought him to the legal status of a man.

Another type of servant was a diakonos who rendered service, help or aid to another, many times voluntarily.  Usually the tasks were of a necessary, but mundane or menial, nature.  The very term itself did not necessarily mean he or she was a slave; but he or she served or ministered in some capacity.  The individual could be a waiter at a special function or a household servant.  The diakonos-servant may or may not have been paid.   In Acts 6, those godly men specially gifted and filled with the Spirit of God whom God called to serve alongside the apostles in order for the apostles to dedicate themselves to the tasks God had ordained for them were called deacons (diakonos) (Acts 6).

One other Greek term the Bible uses is the huperetes-servant. This was an assistant or helper who was given the task of carrying out the expressed will and explicit orders of another.  He could be a court officer (Matt. 5:25), an officer in the Jewish Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:58), a king’s attendant (John 18:36) or an attendant in a synagogue (Luke 4:20).

Of all the types of servants mentioned above the most contemptible, despicable position of that day was that of a doulos-slave.  Yet, it is that very classification Jesus, Lord of the universe, took upon himself (Phil. 2:6-8).   Jesus, was God’s master servant who came to serve and not be served (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27).  He is the glorified paida-servant of God (Acts 3:13; 3:26; 4:27, 30).

Jesus fulfilled the ancient models of God’s type of doulos-slaves: Moses (Deut. 34:5; Ps. 105:26; Mal. 4:4; Rev. 15:3), Joshua (Josh. 24:29) and King David (2 Sam. 3:18; Ps. 78:70; Luke1:69; Acts 4:25).  Jesus came not only as God’s slave but also came to be a diakonos-servant to Israel (Rom. 15:8).  Like a perfect slave, Jesus put his life subordinate to the cause of the Father’s will.

Further, as the steward-slave, Jesus was and is the overseer of God’s other servants or slaves. He told the disciples that if anyone would serve him that person must follow him; and wherever Jesus would go his servant would also be there.  Not only that, those who serve the Christ-Servant will be honored by the Master-Father (John 12:24-26). It is the only true honor and recognition that matters.

Later, Jesus identified another position his disciples have, and that is as his friends (John 15:15-27). His point was not that they were emancipated from serving their Father-God, or Christ, or one another, but that they were now privy to understand the will of the Master in a way similar to Jesus.  But the specific will of God they were to understand was the inevitability of being persecuted and of suffering, just as their fellow doulos-servant Jesus (John 15:20).

All true disciples of Jesus Christ are doulos-slaves of their Master.  And therefore all disciples hold that same level status with all the other doulos-slaves of God.

Jesus, the master servant, orders his subordinate servants to minister just like him (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:11-12; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 22:26-27; John 13:1-20). That means Christ’s disciples, who would be given the Spirit, would be empowered as apostles (royal servant-messengers) to lay the foundation for the New Testament people of God, who had Christ’s delegated mandate and authority, were to administer their positions first and foremost as servants (1 Cor. 4:1-2; Tit. 1:7).

After Christ’s death and resurrection this rag tag group of class-inferior men was elevated to a remarkably high and lofty position in the eternal body of Christ. Nevertheless, they, and all those who immediately followed in their footsteps, had the mind of Christ in them.  That is, since Jesus set aside his rightful place and lived for others as the Servant of servants (Phil. 2:3-7) they did too.  Pastors, if he did, and they did, so should we.

In the New Testament the term that most frequently classifies one in the role of oversight and administrative rule in church government, is not “pastor.”  For that noun is used only once, in Ephesians 4:11, and the verbal form “to shepherd” is used in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2.

The overwhelmingly most popular terms for those in what we have come to know as pastors are the doulos-slave or diakonos-servant. The person in this position is a serving minister.

However, today the word minister tends to pack baggage that escapes the lowly, humble service role of a slave.  Perhaps the pastor should be labeled slave or steward-slave?  Yet again, he is a slave to Christ and of God, whose role is to sacrificially serve others (John 10:11,15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35).  Other slave-disciples are not masters, even over the specially called and ordained minister!

The identities given to the apostles, elders and pastors in the New Testament fully illustrates this.  They are all classified as doulos-slaves or diakonos-servants that do specific ministries (Acts 6:4; 2 Cor. 3:3). For example:

* Peter, James, John, Jude are doulos-slaves of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:1; James 1:1; Rev. 1:1; Jude 1:1).

* Paul refers to himself as doulos-slave and  diakonos-servant at least as often as the title apostle.  This is because more than anything else he is called to serve God, the saints (Rom. 15:25; 2 Cor. 8:19), and even Gentile unbelievers.   He is a doulos-slave in Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; Ti. 1:1, and a diakonos-servant in Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25.  At his conversion, God abruptly called and appointed Paul to be God’s huperete-servant (an attendant who carries out the explicit orders of his master) of the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-18).   Paul labels what he does service or ministry in Acts 20:24, Rom. 11:13, 2 Cor. 3:1-6; 4:1-2, and 1 Tim. 1:12. 20-4.

* Luke later says that he received his information for the Gospel record he wrote from the eyewitnesses and huperete-servants of God’s Word (Luke 1:1-2). These apostles were not the only slaves or servants.

* Paul’s young protégé and fellow-servant Mark, author of the Gospel, was useful for diakonos-service (2 Tim. 4:11), as was Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:5).

* Phoebe, a godly woman and friend of Paul’s was such a slave (Rom. 16:1-2).

* Archippus (Col. 4:17), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), and Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7) who are identified as church planters or pastors were diakonos-servants.

The ways in which God’s minister-servants serve vary:

* They are to serve as slaves to God (2 Cor. 6:4; Tit. 1:1, 7) and of Christ (Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24), first and foremost.

* These ministers must understand that their lives and ministries are living sacrifices to God (2 Sam. 24:24; Acts 20:24; 21:13; Phil 2:7;  3;7-8; 2 Tim. 4:6).

* Through love they serve one another like a doulos-slave (Gal. 5:13), using whatever gift(s) God has given them in order to doulos-serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10).  The Corinthian church, fellow-saints and servants with Paul, did this when they ministered to the saints in Jerusalem through their financial gifts (2 Cor. 9:1, 2, 11, 12).

All believers in Christ are equal as humble slaves (Acts 2:18; 1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6:6; Col. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:24).  They are called to do God’s bidding, serve Christ, and minister to one another.  Yet, as we have seen, some of these slaves have been called, gifted, trained and ordained to be steward-slaves in a special office ordained by Christ (2 Cor. 3:9; 4:6; Eph. 4:11ff).

These stewards administrate and oversee God’s household by means of God’s Word through love (Matt. 28:18-20;  Mark 6:34; Acts 20:20; 1 Cor. 12:28, 31; Col. 1:28; 1 Tim. 1:3;  3:2, 16; 4:11-12; 6:2-5; Jas. 3:1 Rev. 7:17) and serve in the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).  Ministers are to be diligent in performing service in Christ for God’s people (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Cor. 4:5).

The main point of all this is to say that unlike widely circulated notions about church leaders, teaching elders and ruling elders are not primarily characterized in Scripture as pastors or teachers or even as elders.  They certainly do those things. Scripture’s most popular and consistent characterization of these men is that of a lowly slave! When we as teaching or ruling elders come to grips with this title, position and calling, then it will (or should) truly have a profound affect on how we think about ourselves and about how we minister under God and to people.

(c) D. Thomas Owsley

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Leadership, Elders, Pastoring

Finding Common Ground

A recommended book written by Tim Downs

Much of this book by Downs gave quite a bit of food for thought and consideration. Here are many quotes from the book that I found helpful or thought-provoking:

 

[There are postmodern] beliefs that are rapidly dominating post-modern culture.  The average Christian, armed with weapons designed to counter yesterday’s  modernist attack, finds himself frustrated and bewildered as the soil continues to melt away beneath his feet. p. 23

In philosophy, pluralism is “the belief that no single explanation or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life.” By definition, to tolerate someone implies that you do not agree with his views.  You’re simply willing to indulge him. Dr. John Gray of Oxford University makes the point even more strongly”

[Tolerance] is unavoidably and inherently judgmental.  When we tolerate a practice, a belief, or a character trait, we let something be that we judge to be undesirable, false, or at least inferior; our toleration expresses the conviction that despite its badness, the object of toleration should be left alone.  This is in truth the very idea of toleration, as it is practiced in things great and small.  So it is that our tolerance of our friends’ vices makes them no less vices in our eyes: rather, our tolerance presupposes that they are vices. pp. 27-28

In our contemporary culture, Carter says, nothing is worse than an attempt to impose your religious beliefs on someone else.  Why?  Because an attempt to persuade someone else to your position presupposes that you believe his position to be flawed or inferior.  All attempts to persuade are judgmental.  They are, by modern redefinition, intolerant—and greeted with anger.  Samuel Taylor said, “I have seen gross intolerance shown in the support of tolerance.” p. 30

To me the student was only a “target.”  He was there to help me fulfill my obligation and return to my friends with a story to tell.  He was there to serve my ends.  I was communicating a message that could change his life, but it was all about me.   p. 36

Griffin argued that an ethical (and effective) Christian persuader must always seek to balance the requirements of love and justice.      p. 38

Yet in verse 12, Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  You can hear the voices of both love and justice in a single sentence.  “I have many more things to say to you,” said justice, “but you cannot bear them now,” said love.  Jesus said what He could, then backed off.  p. 39

Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen describes modern America as the “Argument Culture.”  In her book by that title she wrote: ‘The argument culture urges us to approach the world—and the people in it—in an adversarial frame of mind.  It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done…The war on drugs, the war on cancer, the battle of the sexes, politicians’ turf battles—in the argument culture, war metaphors pervade our talk and shape our thinking.  Nearly everything is framed as a battle or game in which winning or losing is the main concern.  These all have their uses and their place, but they are not the only way—and often not the best way—to understand and approach our world. p. 41

John Woodbridge, professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, wrote an article entitled “Culture War Casualties: How Warfare Rhetoric Is Hurting the Work of the Church.”  Woodbridge believes that when Christians join the argument culture, when we take on a warlike mind-set and communication style, it creates several problems:

· When we speak in the language of war it makes it harder for us to love our enemies because it inflames our own anger feelings.

· A war mind-set is an “us or them” mentality.  There is no room for middle ground or nuanced positions.

· The language of war makes even the gospel itself sound like angry criticism instead of good news offered in love.

· When we speak in the language of war we create the impression that we are the true enemies—and even the aggressors.

pp. 41-42

Our war mentality leads us to adopt a confrontational style of communication with unbelievers.  We assume their hostility in advance.  The unbeliever is not a seeker to be wooed and won, but an attacker to be repelled.  The Bible is no longer a love letter to the lost; it’s the gospel bomb that destroys the enemy stronghold.  When Christians no longer believe that the unbeliever will even listen, there is nothing left to do but testify.  I’ll say what I’m supposed to say, regardless of the effect it has on you.  p. 43

The church could not retreat from the world to pursue exclusively “sacred” activities because the world would not make the same retreat.  “Good philosophy must exist,” [C.S. Lewis] reminded us, “if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” p. 49

The underlying assumption is clear: If a graduate is saturated in science and briefly exposed to art,  he has everything he needs to make an impact on the world.  p. 55

Information has no power to persuade or transform until it is given art.

The Christian preference for science is strange indeed when you consider that our Sourcebook is a book of art.  Eugene Peterson wrote, “It surprises me when pastor friends are indifferent or hostile to poets.  More than half our Scriptures were written by poets.”  When God wanted to communicate His Word to mankind He packaged His message in every literary form known to man, including poetry, narratives, parables, proverbs, and even songs.  p. 56

The art of the Bible is no accident.  God wrapped His gift to us in magnificent and alluring paper precisely because the power and persuasiveness of language come through art—through the clever, creative, and memorable style of its delivery.  Is it an accident that Psalm 23 is a poem and not a set of propositions?  Is it an accident that almost 80 percent of the words in the Sermon on the Mount have only one syllable?  Is it an accident that the average adult in America knows almost nothing of Jesus but can remember at least one of His parables? pp. 57-58

Indirect communications share three common features.  First, there is no direct attempt to persuade—the real subject in question is often not even mentioned.  Second, the attack is against the line of supply, some underlying belief or attitude that is critical to the support of the primary belief.  Third, the style of the communication is as attractive and enjoyable as possible.  Art is the chief weapon of indirect attack.  pp. 63-64

I see the state of the spiritual battle that surrounds us this way: For the first time in many years, evangelicals have their opponents evenly matched or even outgunned on an intellectual, scientific level.  We have collected impressive weaponry and personnel, and we feel prepared to mount a frontal attack or to repel any direct attack made against us.  Look at these facts.  Read these proofs and evidences.  Listen to our philosophers and scholars.  Argue with us, debate with us, give us your best shot—we’re ready for anything you can throw at us.

But the enemy general, sensing the buildup of forces on our front lines, knows that it’s no longer to his advantage to mount a frontal attack.  If he attempts a major direct offensive and loses, he faces a crushing setback.  But even if he wins a direct attack, he only pushes us back against our reinforcements; he rallies our troops and creates a sense of solidarity and unity. pp. 64-65

The obvious objection to this suggestion is, “We can’t just go out tomorrow and make a film.”  No, we can’t.  Nor did our opponents begin making their film yesterday, nor did they begin learning the craft of filmmaking last week.  Many of them have devoted their entire adult lives to developing a craft that they can now use with great skill to promote whatever worldview they desire.  We will not be able to compete with that kind of artistry without a similar investment of time and energy—an investment that we won’t make, because we don’t value filmmaking.  p. 66

We must lose our fear of art without beginning to worship it.  Art alone is no greater virtue than science alone.  We must always work to strike a balance between the two—clear, scriptural thinking communicated in a powerful and relevant style.  p. 67

The greatest attacks on Christianity now come through art, not science.

The most devastating blows to Christian belief are indirect, not frontal.

The most damaging assaults on the Christian worldview are gradual, not immediate. pp. 70-71

We, too, can learn a lesson from the mole: There is great potential for spiritual impact when a Christian becomes an insider by working his way to a key position of influence and trust. p. 74

From the outside-in perspective, there are two options: (1) you can come out and be trained to harvest, possibly losing valuable influence you once possessed, or (2) you can remain inside and attempt to harvest, muddling by the best you can with competing time demands and no training.  You can harvest as an insider or you can harvest as an outsider.

But there is a third option, an option that has tremendous value—though few Christians currently recognize it as true ministry at all.  It is the philosophy of inside-out, in which insiders are encouraged to stay where they are—and to sow.  p. 81

Imagine, as [C.S.] Lewis would say, if every time a teenager turned on a radio, the music he heard was not proclaiming a Christian message, but was simply consistent with a biblical worldview.   Would that be of any value?  Would it have any effect on the mind-set of the teenager over time?  And could it have any effect on the way that teenager might one day respond to the direct appeal of a harvester?  p. 85

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best-known stories in Western literature.  Like all great stories, it operates on a number of levels.  It’s like an onion; as each layer of truth is removed, another layer is revealed.  On the surface, it’s a story about racism and prejudice.  Near its core, it’s a story about separatism and pride.    p. 91

In our dealings with unbelievers, Jesus said, we are to be both shrewd and innocent.  One commentator described the tension this way: “His followers were to be, not prudent toward outsiders and innocent toward God, but both prudent and innocent in their mission to outsiders…The balance is difficult, but not a little of Jesus’ teaching combines such poles of meaning.”

The strange thing about this tightrope is that evangelicals almost without exception choose to fall off to the same side, as though the other side doesn’t even exist.  What a peculiar anomaly!  The law of averages tells us that roughly half should err to each side, yet some strange suction draws us all irresistibly toward innocence and away from shrewdness.   p. 94

It’s important to take note of the timing of Jesus’ warning to His disciples.  The disciples had watched Jesus teach the multitudes, heal the sick, cast out demons, and even walk on water without any mention of their need for shrewdness.  The disciples had worked, traveled, prayed, and fasted together without any special need for prudence or practical wisdom.  It was not until they were sent out to have personal contact with unbelievers that they were warned of the need to be both innocent and wise.    p. 95

What I discovered after several years of this kind of interaction is that, because of the separatism that exists in the evangelical world, Christians tend to learn the Bible as an isolated topic.  They understand biblical doctrine, but not what it has to do with business or politics or the family.  They understand biblical morality, but not how to apply it to the complexity of modern relationships.  They are superbly prepared to answer questions that non-Christians quit asking two generations ago.

John Wesley once commented that a mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in the Bible and work from that point to the gospel.  That’s an admirable goal, but I would like to suggest another skill that’s needed just as much because of those modern construction techniques: A mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in today’s newspaper and work from that point to the gospel.  Christians today must stop being satisfied with randomly collected biblical data and begin to aggressively pursue wisdom—the ability to apply what they know to their own lives and to the lives of unbelievers around them. pp. 98-99

What can we do to help reverse this dangerous polarization?  What can we do to reach out not only to those who are like us, but also to those who are most unlike us?  We can begin to think in a different way about communicating our faith.  When we think of communicating with those around us, we can begin to use this thought process: I may not be able to harvest yet with the Hindu, the feminist, or the evolutionist.  But what can I say to each of them?  Where can I at least begin?  How can I sow?     p. 107

 

Soil Deficiency 1: Ignorance of All Things Biblical:

The increasing biblical ignorance in America has one very serious consequence.  In more and more cases, when Christians try to witness to non-Christians, the non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about.  Talking to an American about the Bible is now a cross-cultural experience.

The citizens of Cambridge intuitively understood a basic principle of human communication: The less knowledge a person has in common with us, the more carefully and thoroughly we must communicate with him.  Strangely, modern Christians rarely apply that principle when communicating with nonbelievers.  We forget that, when it comes to all things biblical, most Americans are from out-of-town.   pp. 110-111

Soil Deficiency 2: Prejudice:

It seems like almost everyone today has had some encounter with religious “proselytizing,” from a knock at the front door to a request for funds at the local airport.  The image of these encounters portrayed in the media is always negative: a lengthy, boring, irrelevant, unwanted intrusion by a glassy-eyed, too-friendly, Scripture-quoting devotee of some religious sect.  Thanks to these images, even those who have never had the direct experience feel as if they have.

I once asked the students at the Communication Center to describe for me the stereotype of an evangelical Christian in the eyes of the average American.  Here is a part of their list:

· Phony   · Intolerant   · Pushy  · Know-it-alls  · Manipulative   · Out of touch  · Politically conservative  · Out of date  · Socially conservative  · No sense of humor

How is this [the sower breaking the unbeliever’s stereotypes so he will listen] done?  A simple look at the Christian stereotype list above suggests some possibilities:

· Don’t be pushy or manipulative.  Don’t feel that every conversation with your neighbor must be turned to spiritual issues.  Don’t insist on forcing the harvest even when the fruit is not yet ripe.

· Don’t voice all your political viewpoints.  Your co-worker doesn’t have to know how you feel about welfare reform, capital punishment, and Rush Limbaugh.  And maybe it’s better that he doesn’t, if you want to talk about God later.

· Don’t know everything.  On some subjects, withhold your opinion.  Tell him you’re still thinking about it.  Ask him for his.  This shouldn’t be false humility either—you don’t know everything, and he can teach you something.

· Stay in touch.  Who won the World Series this year?  What was on TV last night?  Do you care about anything that he cares about—or are you so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly value?

· Lighten up.  Nothing shatters the stereotype of arrogance and stuffiness as fast as the ability to laugh—especially at yourself.    pp. 114-116

Soil Deficiency 3: Personal Issues   p. 116

Soil Deficiency 4: An Inadequate Worldview:

The goal of the program is simple: To desire repentance you must feel guilt; to feel guilt you must believe something was wrong; to believe something was wrong you must experience the pain you caused.  Each belief is supported by a prior belief.   pp. 117-118

 

Soil Deficiency 5: Cultural Issues:

Books on cultural trends abound, but consider just a few societal attitudes that culture watchers have observed in the last few years that could greatly affect the reception of the gospel.

· Deeply imbedded skepticism

· Insistence on privacy

· Resistance to persuasion

· Relativistic view of truth

· High value on tolerance

· Commitment to diversity  pp. 119-120

 

Soil Deficiency 6: Personal Cost:

The story is told of a chicken and a pig who decided to have breakfast together.  “Why don’t we go out for some bacon and eggs?” suggested the chicken.  “No, thanks,” said the pig.  “For you, bacon and eggs is just a contribution.  For me it’s a total commitment.”    p. 121

The lesson is simply that timing is one important consideration; there are good and bad moments to try to inject the spiritual into a distracted life.  p. 127

An old principle of persuasion says, “The first purpose of a persuasive speech is to show that not much persuasion is needed.”  In other words: A wise communicator seeks to build agreements, not arguments.  We’re not that much different, you and I.  We come from similar backgrounds.  We want a lot of the same things out of life.  We only differ at this one point. p. 133

Many writers have observed that one of the most important elements for an unbeliever considering conversion is his perceived sense of Christian community—or lack thereof.  In other words, “I know the community I would leave behind; is any community waiting for me on the other side?”  People in general have a powerful desire to belong and to be accepted, and these desires are not eliminated by faith in Christ.  An unbeliever considering the gospel is not only asking, “Can I believe this?” but also, “Who would I know there?  Would I belong?” pp. 138-139

We live in a cynical age.  When a stranger is unexpectedly friendly, the first thought that comes to mind is, What does he want?  Is he selling something, or does he want to sign me up for his multi-level marketing scheme?  In the busyness of modern life, we often seek out others only when we want something from them.  Unfortunately, Christians are sometimes guilty of the same fault.  What comes to our neighbor’s mind when our first sign of friendliness is followed by an evangelistic presentation?       p. 139

As Christians we are essentially translators.  Our job is to take complex theological principles, first recorded in ancient Near Eastern texts, and express them in terms so simple and clear that the most uneducated modern listener can understand them.  Translation takes time, and it requires the knowledge of at least two languages: the language of your original text and the language of your listener.  A truly effective translation is faithful to both.   p. 146

Think of the term “Christian movie.”  What does it suggest to you?  How would you characterize it?  Sometimes after seeing a movie we will report to one another, “It was really good, but it wasn’t exactly a Christian film.”  What we mean is either that the movie violated some Biblical norm—there was profanity or illicit sexuality—or that the movie wasn’t blatantly and openly about Christian things.  There was no mention of God or Jesus or heaven or hell.  There were a lot of good questions, but no clear answers.  As I said before, Christians are answer people, and a film that gives no answers can hardly be called Christian.  We reserve the term “Christian movie” for Billy Graham films and the evangelistic videos we use in our youth groups—films that give answers.   p. 149

Psychologists tell us that two of our most compelling needs are the need for love and the need to work.  Sometimes in our hunger for fulfillment we confuse these two longings.  A lonely middle-aged man immerses himself in his career, consciously hoping to find acceptance, appreciation, and admiration—hoping to be loved.  But ultimately he feels unfulfilled in his work and unloved.  His work seems somehow unsatisfying, though his performance is outstanding.  There’s still something missing, a kind of gut-level craving he can’t quite put his finger on, so he pours himself ever more deeply into his profession.  He has made the tragic mistake of seeking to meet his need for love through work, and although the work can be fulfilling and meaningful, it simply cannot substitute for love.   p. 165-166

To put it another way, before the sower can introduce his co-workers to God, he must introduce God into his work.    p. 167

Work, when it truly fits us, may cease to be work at all.  “Find work that you love,” the old adage says, “and you’ll never work a day in your life.”   p. 172

To introduce God into our specific jobs, we need to think deeply about questions like these:

· What does it mean to both be a Christian and hold this job?

· How would I do my job differently if I were not a Christian?

· What biblical principles most apply to my daily responsibilities?

· How should my faith affect the way I relate to my co-workers, superiors, or employees?

· Do I know any experienced or successful Christians in this line of work?  Is there a way

I can benefit from their experience?

· Has anything been written by a Christian in this or a similar field?

· Can I meet with other Christians in my field to continue to explore these questions? p. 174

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Evangelism, Outreach, The Church