Thinking Out Loud

January 26, 2019

Preachers and Evangelists: Then and Now

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a long-form medium. It’s not just the 140 vs. 280 character thing, but with the use of threads, writers can present rather extensive essays.

Every once in awhile I find threads which I think are worthy of being preserved somewhere more permanent. The writer may have envisioned something temporary — a kind of Snapchat prose — but the words deserve greater attention. So as we’ve done before — Skye Jethani, Mark Clark, Sheila Wray Gregoire, etc. — we want to introduce you to a voice which is new here.

Dr. Steve Bezner has been the Senior Pastor of Houston Northwest Church (Houston NW) since January 2013. Steve is married to Joy, and they have two teenage sons—Ben and Andrew. This originally appeared on his Twitter account on January 24th.


by Steve Bezner

Here’s a surprising tidbit: Paul apparently was not very impressive in person. His speaking ability was just so-so. His physical appearance was nothing special. And he had some sort of physical ailment. (I’m guessing weak eyes based on context clues.) But it gets worse.

There were other, more dynamic leaders in the ancient church who would speak at the churches Paul started after Paul left town. And the people would be amazed at their abilities–their charisma, smooth words, and physical appearance.

And those churches would abandon Paul.

Paul refers to these individuals sarcastically as “super-apostles” in 2 Corinthians. They apparently also went to Galatia, as they were working to preach a different gospel from the one Paul had brought. Some even tried to follow Peter or Apollos (friends of Paul’s) over Paul.

Paul didn’t have the best appearance. Or speech. Or personality. He was quiet and meek. And the people in the early churches preferred the loud apostle. The strong apostle. The one that could “hold a room.” The one that was impressive.

Sound familiar?

Paul did, however, have principle. He refused to take money when he did not need it. He pushed into new territory to take the gospel, while others simply rode his coattails. He faithfully raised up new leaders like Timothy, Titus and Silvanus. He painstakingly worked on theology.

Many pastors I know are like Paul rather than the (appropriately) unnamed “super-apostles.” They have been called. They grind away in obscurity. They take less money than they could make in the private sector…or work another job. They faithfully disciple. They study Scripture. They do all of this knowing full well that there are other pastors out there who will always gain more notoriety.

Others who are louder.

Others who are more opinionated.

Others who always speak while they are processing.

Others who seem to somehow end up in the spotlight.

These pastors may not be the greatest preachers in the world. They may not know the best leadership practices. They may not have the most clever responses to the latest issues on social media. And, if they are honest, they tire of being overlooked for the “super-pastors.”

But Paul’s letters are encouraging. The man who was not the greatest preacher or leader is read 2000 years later. We do not even know the name of Paul’s “super-apostle” competitors. Faithfulness and skillfulness, over time, bears fruit that some never experience.

So to those “normal” pastors: Take heart. Stay true to the Scripture. Hold fast to your convictions. Teach, love, preach, pastor, and do so knowing that you will reap a harvest of faithfulness that is often unseen. Your ministry is worthwhile, even when it feels pointless.

To sum up pastoral ministry:

  • Loudest is not best.
  • Opinionated is not best.
  • Impressive is not best.

What is best?

  • Faithfulness to Jesus.
  • Skillfulness in the field where you are planted.
  • Raising up followers of Jesus.
  • Teaching Scripture and theology.
  • Playing the long game.

Do not strive for the blessing of the “super-apostle.”

Strive instead for the acclaim of Jesus:

Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

 

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December 21, 2018

When Doctrine Overrides Character

Not everyone is on Twitter, and not everything people post on Twitter is appropriate for the theme of their blog. So as we’ve done before — Skye Jethani, Mark Clark, etc. — when someone has posted a longer string that we feel is of great importance and deserving of a wider readership, I want to give you a chance to read something that author Sheila Wray Gregoire* posted to Twitter two days ago.

by Sheila Wray Gregoire

Why is it that Christians have such a difficult time denouncing pastors who have done horrendous things? I have an off-the-wall theory, and I’d like to share it in this thread.

Two incidences this week: Tim Keller offered George Whitefield, the man largely responsible for the legalization of slavery in 18th Century Georgia, as someone to emulate; and Harvest Bible Chapel elders and members continue to support James MacDonald, despite credible accusations of spiritual abuse.

We are told “we can’t judge” and “we all have our failings.” But most of all “He’s such a great preacher!” We live in an age where preaching and doctrine reign, and anyone who has the correct doctrine must therefore be a staunch Christian. Yet is this biblical? Let’s take a look.

In Jane Austen’s time, the phrase “Christian charity” was common. It was our love that distinguished us from others. In those days, pretty much everybody “believed” the same thing. What showed that you were a true believer was if you actually lived it out.

Things have changed. First, few believe today. But church trends also elevated belief over practice. [Billy] Graham’s crusades, though amazing, gave the impression that if one said the sinner’s prayer, one would always be right with God. Graham himself lamented the lack of discipleship.

Neo-Calvinism elevated doctrine over anything else, and a church’s preaching became key to its reputation. Then politics fused with Christianity. Christianity became synonymous with a certain viewpoint in the world, cementing the idea that it was about beliefs, not practice.

Today, if you were to ask someone what a Christian was, they would echo, “someone who believes X and Y.” The idea of “Christian charity” being our distinguishing characteristic has largely gone by the wayside.

Yet what does the Bible say? Jesus said they would know us by our love. James said faith without works is dead. Works do not save us; but works show that we truly are saved. Many people believe the Christian tenets and preach Christian doctrine for entirely the wrong reasons.

Paul admitted this—some preach Christ out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil. 1:15). James said that even the demons believe—and shudder. A person can preach excellent sermons and write amazing books, but that says little about whether they have the Spirit of Christ in them.

Yes, God saves us through our belief in the saving work of Christ. But what makes our faith REAL is that it changes us. Until the church stops idolizing the person who simply preaches an amazing sermon and teaches the right doctrine, we will never get back to the heart of Christ.

If the gospel does not change how you act—if it does not affect your view of marginalized people; if it does not make it unthinkable to yell at a restaurant server; if it does not compel you to give—then ask yourself if you are believing for the wrong reasons.

And then tremble.

To read reactions and responses from Sheila, click this Twitter link.


*Sheila Wray Gregoire is a published author with Zondervan, Kregel and Waterbrook Press and is a featured speaker at women’s events. Her blog deals with marriage, family and parenting issues and is called To Love Honor and Vaccum.

 

August 13, 2018

Willow Creek: From Bad to Worse, but with Some Hope

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events, leadership — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:07 am

Steve Gillen, interim lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL addresses the church’s weekend services.

Just six days ago I reported on the resignation of teaching co-lead pastor Steve Carter, incorrectly assuming perhaps that the worst was over. Instead, just days later co-lead Heather Larson resigned along with the entire Willow Board of Directors (in graduated steps to ensure some continuity in the very short term.)

I was greatly impacted by Willow in the 1980s, so for me, this is personal. While I’ve only attended 4 or 5 actual services — my wife attended an Arts conference as well — I’ve been a part of an extended Willow culture which preferred lost people over simply doing church for the benefit of the membership. Willow was a model for many of us attempting “seeker sensitive” churches, and when the needs of spiritual seekers was seen to have changed over a decade ago, Willow had the courage to change the model appropriately.

So for me it’s been a time of grieving the damage that has been done to one of the most significant movements of the last century, the loss of reputation for Bill Hybels, and the demise of the succession plan for Willow he worked for years to put into place.

I considered updating that story from last Tuesday but decided to revisit this again today.

Watching the Saturday night service live, new lead pastor Steve Gillen — previously at Willow Creek North Shore — was honest in his reluctance to accept the interim position at the main, South Barrington Campus. (You can read that here, or watch the service yourself.) But at the same time, as a seasoned preacher, he spoke with authority, while at the same time cautioning that the church is not out of the woods yet; more difficulties could follow.

Should they have chosen someone with a 20-year history in the organization or brought in someone completely fresh, from outside, to fill the position? Regrettably, time was not on their side, so they acted decisively and swiftly.

I tweeted that “I feel a small measure of optimism returning.”

I really do. I don’t think that all the families who have kids in Promiseland and youth programs are going to sever those relationships just yet, especially with a new school year commencing. I don’t think the people who are fixing cars and distributing food are going to just walk away from those they serve. Even in the middle of their own sorrow as a church, they rose to the occasion last week and welcomed a deluge of pastors and leaders to the annual Global Leadership Summit.

Willow isn’t the type of church where people stay away when it’s the pastor’s week off. Guest speakers have been common. That, at least, is something they built into their culture which other churches could emulate; especially those congregations in which attendance drops by 25% or more when the teaching pastor is on vacation.

Yet another investigation will commence, with Scot McKnight part of the team, though for many, what’s missing at present is an apology and confession from Bill Hybels.

Screen shot of capacity crowd at last week’s Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church. Despite their internal challenges, church volunteers stepped up to serve pastors and leaders from around the world, and those watching by satellite in over 600 locations.

 

October 21, 2017

Churches Need Servants Not “Captains”

Is the modern church over-emphasizing leadership skill sets?

by Ruth Wilkinson

Somebody at a church told me something once, by way of a dismissal, that has stuck in my introvert brain. It’s gone round and round like a leaf in an eddy of river water.

The statement was this: “I don’t see you as a captain. At least, not yet.” The idea being that I wasn’t fit to fill a certain role in that church.

In the moment, I was disappointed, but also there was something that objectively bothered me. Hence the swirling.

“Captain?” Captains have unassailable authority. Captains give orders. Captains have the best quarters and eat at the best table. Captains wear the fanciest uniform. Captains earn the most money and have the loudest voice and shout “Ten-hut!” and “Everybody look at me!”

Captains serve on the Starship Enterprise. Not in the Church.

The Church is the body of Christ. His hands and feet and speech in the world.

I am a servant of that body. I, like all of us, have one calling: to honor God with our gifts and skills, and to serve each other.

In my case, that service comprises music – “leading worship” as it has come to be called. It also includes leading worship leaders. Seeing the potential in other singers and musicians to join in, encouraging them to contribute to planning and then to step out on their own.

I’ve had the joy of raising up a team to feed, encourage and speak Christ’s love to people on the margins of society – a group which has gone on to become an established charity still doing good work in our area.

I’ve been paid to teach groups how to work together to plan, prepare and execute a Sunday morning. Finding their own giftings and setting them loose.

I’ve built from scratch a band of worship singers and musicians drawn from 6 different churches who played together for 3 years.

And I’ve been effective. All without shouting a single order.

So, no, thank God, I’m not a captain. I’m a servant. A builder of frames, a drawer of shapes. I’m a finder of treasures and an opener of doors. A creator of opportunities and an encourager.

And no, I guess I’ll never receive the formal affirmation – the blessing – of my fellow believers. My ‘salute’ will always be hugs and moments and memories.

I just hope that we’re not heading to a future where “captains” run the church. I might just demob.

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