Thinking Out Loud

July 6, 2015

Christian Leadership is both Art and Science

The Leadership theme is a big part of the Christian portion of the internet. Podcasts and blogs by names you’d recognize garner a huge following; names such as Michael Hyatt, Rich Birch, Carey Nieuwhof, John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, Tony Morgan, Jenni Catron, Brad Lomenick and Ron Edmondson, just to name a few that I can personally recommend.

One of the challenges faced by leaders is succession plans; when to pass the torch and to whom it should be passed.

This weekend at Christianity 201, we ran this article by someone I consider a statesman among Christian leaders in Canada, Brian StillerBrian Stiller; former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. You can read more about him here.

What makes what follows so interesting is that it was written in 1987. It’s still very timely. It’s a theme that was echoed in an interview that I did as an aspiring Christian journalist with Brian around the same time. He spoke with me about the mavericks who founded many iconic Christian organizations in the post-World War II era, and how in the next generation, the maverick spirit was replaced by managers in maintenance mode.

This is an excerpt of a longer article in an EFC communications piece, The Sundial.

When we fail to pass the torch

As we look at churches and organizations today, we can see that there are many in need of torch passing. But either the senior leader desperately holds on too long with no attempt to train or give opportunity to the younger, or the tension produces so much conflict that the younger leader heads off to some other more flexible opportunity. Out of it all, energy and vision are suppressed. This leads to an increasing loss of touch with reality and a lack of clear goals and effective strategy.

How can the torch be passed?

There is a wonderful example in the Old Testament of the passing of the torch – from Moses to Joshua.

The announcement, “Moses, my servant, is dead”, boomed out across the tents in the valley. What would happen now? many wondered. Fortunately for the people of Israel, Moses had carefully nurtured and developed a younger leader – Joshua.

What Moses did then lends powerful ideas to this generation.

Leadership includes different styles

Moses recognized that leadership emerges out of different styles. Whereas he was a crusader, Joshua was a manager.

Moses was angered by the treatment of his kinsfolk. Later he defended some young women who were being harassed while tending their sheep. Ultimately his crusader instinct led him to say yes to God’s call to lead the people out of Egypt.

How different Joshua was. Right from the beginning we see his obedience. Never is there conflict between himself and Moses. There was no sign of trouble because of a strident spirit or a self-centered personality.

Moses didn’t look for someone identical to himself. A different style was needed. Moses’ and Joshua’s backgrounds, personalities, styles, means of operation and public profiles were vastly different. Yet each was a leader and each, from his base of strength, was used by God in a particular way and particular time.

Different times call for different styles

It’s easy to be trapped into believing in a “best” form of leadership. My generation has grown up thinking its cloth must be cut from a certain model. Since World War II church leadership has been characterized as aggressive, charismatic, individualistic and outgoing. This view of leadership, however, has been typecast from a specific time and culture. It’s time we looked for other models.

Moses was a restless and dominating figure who led his people out of bondage and defined the basis of the community by his special contact with God. How different was Joshua! Learning from his tutor, Moses, he took the patterns and ideas expressed by his predecessor and molded them into a working society. Each leader was competent but their styles were different.

Passing the torch is inevitable

It’s not always easy to make the transition from one generation to the next. My generation has lived with the “long shadow” syndrome. The long shadow occurs when a key senior leader, often a creative and crusading “Moses”, continues for so long that his or her shadow blankets the one who is following. And the up and coming leader never gets an opportunity to nurture his or her own vision. Instead, the potential leader gets trapped by serving the older and never really develops the fine edges of his or her own leadership.

Managing Moses’ ideas

Joshua became the manager of Moses’ ideas. And how necessary it is that crusaders nurture and train managers to put their ideas into order and practice. Joshua succeeded because he refused to succumb to the weakness which plagues all managers: maintaining the status quo. Rather, he nurtured his vision and risked beyond the borders of Moses

July 5, 2015

If It’s Not Working, Check the Connections

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord

If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.

If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.

If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.

If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.

If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

July 4, 2015

Utility Relationships

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

helping out at churchA person can be said to have a utility relationship with their church when they have some task that they perform, and perform well, but 99% of their interactions with other church people are in the context of the performance of that duty.

A person in utility relationship may have a title, but is rarely included in anything resembling a meeting; and they may receive recognition occasionally, but this never extends to being invited to something that might be considered an actual show of appreciation.

A person whose relationship with fellow church people is purely as a utility needed for getting something done may think that some of these associations constitute friendship, but any smiles and pats on the back are basically in aid of volunteer retention.

Eventually, this person may burn out upon realization that their whole basis of connection with the church is task oriented and that people are not really interested in anything meaningful like going out for coffee or sharing a meal in their home.



July 3, 2015

Teens, Twenty-Somethings Looking for More than Church Services, Bible Studies

My oldest son made a comment that has been haunting me now for about a week.

I had asked him on Sunday night if he wanted to join me at the last night of a video seminary we’ve been doing with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. I also asked him Monday night if he was going to a Young Adults Bible study thing that was part of a ministry initiative we had been campaigning for locally.

young adult ministryHe said basically, “Do Christians not ever do anything that isn’t a Church service or a Bible study?”

Well, the answer is yes and no. We live in a small town. In a larger urban center, I am sure there are other places and other contexts (i.e. service projects) for social contact with other Christians. But showing a great lack in creativity, even in large cities things often default to the two aforementioned options: (a) Things resembling a “lets sit in rows” church service, sometimes complete with an offering being taken, and (b) The “lets sit in a circle” Bible study model.

I totally agree with him. There must be something more. Christian concerts bypass our little corner of the world and have gotten pretty danged expensive lately. You need a talent pool to do the coffee-house model. You need lots of people to pull off a good sports night, not to mention a decent gym. Heck, you even need a bigger shopping mall than we have to stage a good scavenger hunt.

At an earlier stage of trying to get interest in this, I did come up with a few possibilities. We have a laboratory of sorts here that tests video games. I thought it would be interesting to open that up for a night to somewhat non-gaming people, and was in talks with the owner. We also have a restaurant that is only open for breakfast and lunch. I got the owner of that one to agree to doing a private, set-price buffet kind of thing, with a limit of 30 people. I was working on some other options as well, but remember that I am not a twenty-something or even thirty-something. Not remotely close. I was trying to get some ideas going for an event that I would, by design, not attend.

But instead, they went with a series of worship nights and Bible studies. Sigh!

I know running this on a Friday (a slow day on the blog, especially on a holiday weekend) may not generate comments, but I’d be open to any ideas you could toss out.

The other option we discussed tonight would involve people simply taking the individual initiative to volunteer for some service projects on their own with existing clubs and charities. That has great ‘salt and light’ potential, though it lacks the direct benefits of social contact with other Christians.

I have to agree with him. We do get offered a lot of services and study events, but as he also said so well, “Don’t Christians ever do anything just for fun?”

July 2, 2015

Family Games Night

Filed under: Christianity, family, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:09 am
Admittedly, I wasn't doing well in last night's game of Settlers of Catan, which meant I had time on my hands to construct this fortress.

Admittedly, I wasn’t doing well in last night’s game of Settlers of Catan, which meant I had time on my hands to construct this fortress.

For some of my US readers, the kids have already been off school for a month now. So… how much time have you spent together as a family?

Trips to the cabin, road trips and similar adventures will often pull parents and children together for a time, but even there, smart phones and personal computers take us into different physical and mental spaces.

The question is no longer, ‘Does the motel have a pool?’ but rather, ‘Does the motel have good wi-fi?’

Much has to do with the ages of your kids. Younger is better when it comes to bonding and creating experiential memories. But as the kids get older, you often have to force the issue, and one way to facilitate that is through what is usually referred to as table games or board games.

Our ‘kids’ are actually now in their 20s, but they’re both home this summer. Most of that time is spent staring at screens. I’ve done everything I can do to break this routine, but not with much success and honestly, I am just as guilty as everyone else on this. I’d love to pack the whole family on an airplane and fly to Europe, but that’s just not in the budget.

I’m also big on the idea of giving children a Christian camping experience, but that’s only one or two weeks out of the summer. What happens when they return? Does everyone just take off to their rooms and switch the devices back on? That’s just not ideal. Movies are an option, but much of what popular culture offers is not helpful to spiritual nurture. Our family DVD of choice last month was episodes from classic television, in this case Green Acres. For some reason, as it did in another season when the kids were in their early teens, it works.

So we play games. Rummikub is a favorite of mine, because it involves numbers, and is not so dependent on luck. Right now the favorite for everyone else is Settlers of Catan. I join in for the aforementioned reasons of family unity, but this one is not my preference, and I’ve only won once. Still, it’s not a video game; and as I don’t bother with such — I get enough adventure driving the freeways — at least we have a lingua franca in discussing Settlers strategy.

We have others, and the camp that my wife and I met at often sees the adults breaking out board games during the evenings in the dining room. Ticket to Ride is one I can enjoy just watching, and we recently purchased Bohnanza, a card game where you buy and sell crops of every type of beans imaginable. (Grammar police: I know that should be ‘every type of bean’ in the singular, but I liked it the other way…)

To jump in, it’s helpful to have a friend who can recommend something or let you sit in as they play, but a good games store (i.e. not a department store or toy store) can usually tell you what might be best for your ages and interests. If your kids are younger, you can get the routine started with classic standbys such as Monopoly and Clue. If your kids have been to a Christian camp, they’ve also probably encountered Dutch Blitz, which is available in Christian bookstores and is now available in an expansion pack for up to eight players.

The time you spend together is priceless, but the kids grow up fast, and the opportunities become fleeting.

Don’t let personal computing and online diversions rob you of simply being a family.

July 1, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Pastor Priest Rabbi

Before we begin, as a public service, here is your horoscope for today:

Your Horoscope

Of the things I clicked this week, here’s what I bookmarked to share this Wednesday:

Coke Name Bottles

June 30, 2015

From the Archives

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

The Wednesday list lynx promises fresh content tomorrow!

June 29, 2015

Changing Views on Gay Marriage


This weekend we ran a series of the all time most-read articles on this blog, so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to respond to the events of Friday. There is no doubt the United States begins the week having entered a whole new era. Something that was once illegal (and still is in many places) and was considered an abberation (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM) is now the law of the land, mandated by a constitutional ruling by the Supreme Court.

Now, I don’t wish to discuss the particular issue here, but rather, I simply want to note that we’ve seen over the last few years leading to this decision has been a huge shift in values — even among some Christian people — and I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I know that among my readers are those who have different feelings on not only the issue of the day, but on many different areas where the sphere of spiritual concerns overlaps the sphere of civic or legal issues. Some are truly rejoicing in the events of yesterday, for many different reasons. I think it’s great if you can see an up-side to all this. My point is simply that through one Supreme Court decision we have witnessed a tectonic shift of huge proportions.

Interestingly, while looking up the above scripture verse when I prepared this originally for Chritianity 201, BibleHub posted a link to Habakkuk 1:14 (NLT)

The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

There are some who would argue that the only thing that changed yesterday is that another court, the court of popular opinion, grew vocal enough to tip the scales of justice.

Unfortunately, there are also a few who have a misunderstanding that if something is legal it is no longer sin. It is important to recognize that there is not a one-to-one correlation between the two. Many things that are legal are still sinful, and many things that the law says are illegal have little to do with the spiritual condition of the heart.

For example, if we take a simple Ten Commandments approach, the 1:1 correspondence will hold more often, since many of our laws derive from Judeo-Christian teaching. But society accepts many other things which would go against Bible teaching. To the contrary, if where you live it is against the law to make a left turn at the corner of Central Blvd. and Main St. during the evening rush hour, that does not derive from scripture. Still we should note that in the second case, the left turn, it can also be argued that the principles of Romans 13 apply:

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The problem is trying to read this in the reverse, and saying that what the law permits, God also is okay with; the logic of that does not hold. The “governing authorities” of verse one are not the ones to whom we hold ultimate accountability.

It’s more to the point to refine our understanding of what sin is and isn’t. The word means ‘missing the mark.’ It connotes an archery image of firing our arrows but not quite hitting the bulls-eye, or worse, not even hitting the target sheet at all.

I believe that knowing God’s best exists means we can’t settle for anything less; we can’t be content with the good or the better knowing there is a best.

When we fail to be concerned with aiming for the best we grieve Father, Son and Spirit.

The ultimate question of the day therefore is the question that should guide the everyday actions of all believers: Can God be trusted?

Do we think that maybe, just perhaps he has his reasons for suggesting we organize our family units in a certain manner and live in a particular way. Is it just, as some suggest, that some laws were given were given to provide Israel with a distinct identity from its neighbors, or is there, to put it one way, a method behind the madness?

I believe God’s best is so not because it’s best for him, but because he knows what’s best for us

We must keep this in mind, especially when the tide of public opinion changes, and the law of the land shifts accordingly.

June 28, 2015

This Blog’s All-Time #1 Post

This weekend we’ve focused on this blog’s top three all-time posts, of which #1 is The Eight Things Destroyed Our Marriage by Justin and Trisha Davis. On Friday and Saturday I re-posted the entire texts of the other two top traffic generators here, but today we’re not doing this because (a) it’s very long, and (b) I’ve always felt guilty about any traffic this might have diverted from the authors’ blog over the years, though it obviously is meeting a real need. Like Friday’s, this one was deemed as special from the very beginning and existed as a page rather than a post. You can read it by clicking here.

Since we already ‘borrowed’ so much from material from Justin and Trisha, I thought we might as well go one step further and share their story in this space instead. But again, we encourage you to read it directly at source, because there’s a video at the end of their story as shared with Cross Point Church (Pete Wilson) in Nashville.

Justin and Trisha DavisHey there. We are Justin and Trish… Here is a little bit about us. Our hope is that as you learn more about us and our story, you allow us to learn more about you as you become a part of the RefineUs community.

Our return to ministry is the result of a victorious battle for our marriage and family. After successfully planting our first church, Justin had an affair with a staff member, who was also Trisha’s best friend.

What followed was a 4-year journey of pain, grief and ultimately the restoration of our relationship by the grace of God. This experience left a watermark on our marriage of what it really means to experience grace, love and redemption firsthand—both individually and as a couple.

In 2009 we founded RefineUs Ministries using their story of failure, loss, and transformation to guide individuals, couples, churches, pastors, pastor’s wives and church planters towards a healthy marriage and family.

We currently wear a lot of hats. We are bloggers, authors, and teachers and we live in Nashville, TN with our three boys.

Justin is on staff part-time as a pastor of Cross Point Church, recently named the 6th fastest growing church in the country.* We both attended Lincoln Christian University in Lincoln, IL where we met and fell in love (with Justin adamantly asking Trisha out twice a week for 6 months before she said yes.)

Justin received his BA degree in Christian Education in Lincoln and Trisha later earned her degree from Indiana University.

With the rare free time that we can scrounge up, you will find us going on walks, eating at PF Changs, or having coffee together; and sometimes all three at once. We believe the resurrection of our marriage to be a great gift and we know it is a privilege to use RefineUs to help others towards that same healing.

Our first book, Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Isn’t Good Enough from Tyndale House Publishers, is available now. You can order from a number of places today. Click here for more info.

We are passionate about sharing all that God has done in our life, marriage and family. If you would like more information about booking us for your event, your church service or a conference, please check out our speaking page… [continues to video introduction]

In preparing this, I have just noticed that the links within the eight sections are broken, if anyone wants to send us updated ones we’ll edit that post. (I know part six exists still.)

Again, I am in awe at the traffic this generates and the needs in marital relationships that probably represents. To J. and T., thank you that we were able to steal borrow the eight individual blog posts that made up this article; I know it is blessing many people.

I want to encourage you to read the authors’ blog,

*Even as we’re publishing this, Justin is completing his time on staff at Cross Point and they are moving on to a new adventure in Indianapolis. Follow them on Twitter @JustinDavis33 and Trisha @TrishaDavis23

Here again is the link to the article as it appears at Thinking Out Loud.

June 27, 2015

The Hallelujah Chorus Tradition


Hallelujah Chorus

This weekend we’re re-posting two of this blog’s all-time most viewed posts, and today’s couldn’t be more different from yesterday’s. It looks at the tradition of audiences standing during the playing of Hallelujah from Messiah by G. F. Handel. Unlike yesterday’s topic, this one also generated a lot of comments. If you want to leave yours, you’ll have to do so at the original posting, so that we keep all the responses together in one place.

Hallelujah Chorus: Should Audiences Still Stand?

We live in a world where many formal traditions are dying out. I was thinking a few days ago how the mug has replaced the cup and saucer. How a generation of North American men don’t know how to tie a tie. How the courtesy of a reply to a letter has gone the way of the dinosaur. So what about this seemingly quaint tradition involving a popular classical choral work?

Wikipedia tells us the origin of the tradition under consideration here:

In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. The tradition is said to have originated with the first London performance of Messiah, which was attended by King George II. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose to his feet and remained standing until the end of the chorus. Royal protocol has always dictated that when the monarch stands, everyone in their presence is also required to stand. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood when the king stood during the performance, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. It is lost to history the exact reason why the King stood at that point, but the most popular explanations include:

  • He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.
  • Out of tribute to the composer.
  • As was and is the custom, one stands in the presence of royalty as a sign of respect. The Hallelujah chorus clearly places Christ as the King of Kings. In standing, King George II accepts that he too is subject to the Lord of Lords.
  • He had been dozing and woke with a start.

But it could be argued that, “that was then and this is now.” I mean, if historians can’t agree as to the why, it really leaves us with a tradition that is somewhat empty.

So, with Handel’s Messiah still being performed frequently — especially at Christmas and Easter — should audiences continue the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus? Turns out this is a very heated topic, now with over 50 responses. Be sure to read the comments and take a moment to add yours.

Comment highlights:

  • Handel’s Messiah has more entertainment value than that of liturgical worship…
  • …even if no one else stood with me, I would stand.
  • No one stood. I could not remain seated! I had to stand out of honor for my King. After several stanzas someone behind me asked me to sit down, they couldn’t see. I was so sad.
  • …we always seem to be dumping wonderful traditions.
  • I now find that it is very disruptive and halts the flow of the music. Not only is the magnificent introduction to the movement often drowned out by the noise of an audience rising, the final bars of the preceding tenor aria are often ruined by the shuffling of people in their seats waiting to stand.
  • It is absolutely nu-American to stand. Why are we still honoring the grandfather of George III? Read the Declaration of Independence.
  • There is nothing to say that we have to stand while the Hallelujah Chorus is sung, but there is nothing that says we have to say when our team scores a touchdown either, but we do.
  • I was told as a youngster that this was sort of the national anthem of music. We always stood. Went to Boston Pops Christmas concert today and no one stood.
  • Tradition and respect are two wonderful things which sadly are being diluted in today’s world
  • …current thinking is that King George II just needed to use the lavatory…
  • Just came from the full performance in one of the great acoustical halls. Disney in Los Angeles. The standing sheep seriously degraded the sound. (I got really mad at that one and suggested that the “standing sheep” are really “informed concert-goers”)

and many more.

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