Thinking Out Loud

October 14, 2017

Walking on Eggshells

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

Guest Essay by Ruth Wilkinson

I have to be very careful, sometimes. Careful who I talk about and how. What’s too private to discuss and what’s OK to share. I use initials that are randomly selected, or mean something to just me. Sometimes I forbear from using he or she, or take creative license, genderwise.

And not only when it’s about something negative. Respecting peoples’ privacy is important, not only because I don’t want to get yelled at or sued or ostracized, but because they’re people, after all, and I like them and care about them.

So this post is something I’ve given some thought to, and even as I’m writing it I’m not sure I’ll put it out there. If you’re reading it, obviously I decided to go for it. Otherwise, it’ll go into the “trying to figure out the world” file.

Our group hosted a ‘meet and greet’ in town for people interested in social and justice issues. We invited a great whack of folks who work for agencies, both government and independent, to come and tell us what they do and why.

Quite a few came, and we had about two hours of information, asking each other questions, explaining our areas of passion and concern and getting to know each other. Very cool.

A few days before the meeting, everybody on the team that planned it got an e-mail (we’re great believers in the Reply-All) from one of the newest members of the team. We’re just getting to know this couple and coming to appreciate their giftings and passions, and to find out how much they have to contribute.

So this e-mail from LA suggested that we should all pray and fast, if possible, on the day before, so we’d be open to whatever God had for us at the meeting. The idea was that maybe God wanted all of these community leaders and servants to get together in one room.

Very cool suggestion, of course. I felt a little badly that I hadn’t come up with it. I thought, after reading the e-mail, that I should have, though my job description as Figurehead is a little vague.

The response to the e-mail was universally positive and some of us said, “Count me in.”

After the meet and greet was over and a few of us were congratulating each other on how well it had gone, one person mentioned the e-mail and said wasn’t that great? How come none of the rest of us thought of it? We’d been planning the meeting for a couple of months and none of the old guard had said, hey, let’s pray.

And I’m like, yeah, really.

The other person said, “I read it and I’m all, yeah, absolutely, completely agree, but I didn’t have a folder to put it in, ya know?”

And I’m like, yeah, totally.

Not because we’d never fasted and prayed before. Not because nobody had suggested anything before.

Because the person who made the suggestion, who had exercised such spiritual vision, showed such leadership, who had reminded us all to pray and depend on God’s leading, is gay.

And for many of us out here, who have been told certain things and taught to see the world through certain lenses, receiving spiritual leadership from someone who is gay is a new thing. We don’t have a folder to put it in.

When I first met this couple, we got together for coffee to talk about what we do and how they might participate.

Around the same time, I ran into someone from a local church who’s been very encouraging and supportive of what we do and I mentioned our new team members.

That person’s response was, “I don’t have a problem with that, as long as they’re not in positions of leadership.”

I responded that we don’t really have that kind of a structure. That we don’t have an authority based org chart.

And, on the ground, we don’t. It’s very hippie-organic. We get together every couple of weeks and talk about what’s happened and what might happen and how we should respond to or proceed with ideas or suggestions or dreams. We function by consensus and it works quite well, since we’re all like-minded. Conflicts are over minor issues or semantics and either resolved quickly, or agreed upon with disagreement.

Everybody has equal opportunity to exercise their gifts, spiritual or practical (except nobody ever asks me to sing. Sigh.) and everybody has the chance to learn from each other and to teach each other out of invaluable experience where to step boldly and where the quicksand is.

For those of us who’ve grown up in and, for some, grown out of, trad evangelical church structures, the way we do things is wonderfully freeing and we don’t begin to understand why everybody doesn’t do it this way.

But it means figuring things out on the way. Like what do you do with the things that don’t fit into folders. Things you don’t have any previous definitions for. Like “gay Christian”.

Problem with chucking the folders is that you have no place to stick the labels anymore. They don’t stick to people. Because they’re, well, people.

They have hearts and hopes and they love and they belong or they don’t. Which mostly depends on how other people decide to react to them.

And all of a sudden, all of the theology and interpretation and shoulds and shouldn’ts aren’t so important and all that matters is “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Because all of a sudden, you’re wondering what it’s like to be a gay Christian, on the fringes of the church, and maybe, on the fringes of the gay community and you start to feel deeply glad to be on the fringes of the church, yourself.

Because otherwise, you might not have had the chance to get to know two very cool and lovable people.

And otherwise, who would have reminded us to pray?


©Ruth Wilkinson

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July 29, 2017

Weekend Link List

Yes, it’s one of those rare occurrences in space and time where we have link list on the weekend. This is Weekend List #33. Before we begin, here’s Judas as quoted by Stephen Colbert this week:

Catholic Church Says No To Gluten-Free Catholics Entering Heaven

A new letter to Catholic bishops this week from the Vatican has sparked outrage from gluten-free Catholics who learned that they cannot attain salvation no matter how holy they are.

The announcement drew criticism from many in the Church, though the letter simply reaffirmed a centuries-old teaching stating that gluten-free Catholics are not in full communion with the Church, and are therefore cut off from the saving grace of the Lord.

Executive Assistant to the Director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship Reverend Toby Townsend said that, though gluten-free Catholics could not in fact attain salvation, that it does not mean they will “necessarily be damned.” …

…Townsend went on to remind Catholics that none of the disciples present at the Last Supper were gluten-free, and that if one of them was, it would’ve most likely have been Judas.

June 22, 2017

Christian Leaders Have Feelings, Too

Have you ever received a letter or an email where you could acutely feel the pain of the person writing? It happened to me about a week ago, and not for the usual reasons that people experience hurt. This person had unexpectedly come out on the wrong side of a business dealing some other Christians. Though the letter wasn’t written particularly to evoke an emotional response, but it really affected me and has stayed with me throughout the week.

Interestingly, if I am to be perfectly honest I don’t particularly like this person. Circumstances necessitate a relationship that would not exist otherwise. Really, that’s how it is in the body of Christ. Look around your church on Sunday morning and ask yourself how likely you would otherwise be to interact with this set of people. Would you have another context to make their acquaintance? Would the ones you count as friends have ended up so through some other means?

Meanwhile, all’s fair in love and business, right? Tough luck. Easy come, easy go.

Ruminating on this continually however, I’ve been reminded that people in Christian leadership are not immune to hurt and pain. Years ago I was at a crossroads where I could have gone into pastoral ministry. “Don’t do it;” a mentor advised; “You’re not thick-skinned enough.”

But who is thick-skinned enough? We’re human. We bleed. Electing to choose a ministry that must be, by definition, compassionate means that pastors may be more sensitive than many of us. We all have different degrees of sensitivity, but I think pastors bear the biggest brunt of this. They are particularly vulnerable on Sundays, especially right after the sermon. If you want to bring someone down a notch or two, that’s the perfect time. As an aspiring Bible teacher, I had just finished a Sunday morning sermon at a Christian conference center that was transitioning into a summer camp; so adults from offsite were still in the habit of driving there for services. I don’t remember the topic, but I felt it had gone reasonably well until the director called me into his office immediately after.

“You really think you’re hot stuff, don’t you?”

I stood there not quite sure how to respond. It turned out later that there was a enormous political power struggle going on in this organization, and he didn’t want me feeling in any way empowered.  The rest of that conversation is a bit of a blur.

Christian leaders have feelings. Some no doubt pursue ministry not realizing the emotional price they will have to pay. This undoubtedly leads to the rather high attrition rate in this profession. But heads of missions, parachurch organizations and other Christian charities could be included in this, as well as lay-leaders who may have a role in the life the church which is quite a contrast to their primary vocation.

It’s important for the rest of us to bear that in mind.

Don’t cause hurt. If you need to confront an individual, do it lovingly. If you think something needs to be done differently, make a suggestion, not an order. If you feel someone is going astray, scripture tells us to lead them gently back.

Watch for leaders who are hurting. They’re all around you. In the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, you can be a pastor’s pastor. They need to talk, too. Remember them in prayer.

Rebuke the person who causes hurt. If you know someone who loves to stir the pot, who loves to be ‘Brother Sandpaper,’ pull them aside and remind them that the Christian leader in question is human just like them.

Bear your own hurts well. If you’ve continued reading this far, perhaps you have some leadership role in the church and need to expect at sometime to have to manage the emotions which arise when the inevitable attack happens, because it probably will.

Make love your rule of life.

 

July 23, 2016

Weekend Link List

  • A 40 year flashback to a 3-part series Sports Illustrated on religion in sports.
  • A must-listen podcast for anyone in business or management: The value of giving value, aka Donald Miller goes to Chick-fil-A.
  • CT visits The Ark Encounter. I loved this quote:

Ark Encounter Review at CT

Flocks by Night

  • There are five ways you can respond to terrorists attacks, and none of them involve hashtags.
  • Reaching the online world: InterVarsity launches Ministry in Digital Spaces.
  • Video of the Week(end): They make choir arrangements of modern worship songs. I already knew that. Just never pictured it included newer bands like Rend Collective:

June 11, 2016

When King Saul Went AWOL

What Christianity 201 readers won’t know when this posts at 5:30 PM (EST) today, is that the whole thing started with a scrap of paper. It was a page from my mother’s church bulletin. There was no date on the section which had been ripped out, just a selection of verses.

It was the second part of verse 22 (below) that got to me. I mentioned it to a couple of family members. One person said it best, “I’ve never heard that verse preached on.” Yet, when I started running the rabbit trail online and with commentaries I own, all the following happened!
1 Samuel 10 22

NIV 1 Samuel 10:17 Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the Lord at Mizpah 18 and said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ 19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans.”

20 When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”

Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

The entire narrative in 1 Samuel 10 contains a number of things that would, each on their own, make for interesting study today. But the second half of verse 22 had somehow eluded me until this week.

Therefore they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?” So the Lord said, “Behold, he is hiding himself by the baggage.” (NASB)

Israel is about to get the king they’ve always wanted. The surrounding nations had kings, but they had the King of Kings. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t stand up to federal peer pressure. In our world, Saul would make for good optics on the international circuit. The story begins in chapter 9 where we learn,

9:2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.

But there was more to it:

9:17 When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

In chapter 10, Saul is formally anointed king, and then there’s an interesting contact with a group of prophets which, as I said, will have to wait for another day. To get us to today’s key verse, here’s a transitional section which appears in The Voice Bible:

Why is Saul chosen as the first king? He is from the tiny tribe of Benjamin, so he seems to be outside the mainstream of political power. But he is a handsome and tall young man, meaning he is appealing in appearance and able to inspire confidence in warriors. At this first appearance, it even seems as if his inner qualities might match his outer qualities—God transforms him and gives him the power to prophesy—but as the story goes on, his insecurities and his jealousy of David are his undoing. (emphasis added)

So Saul, what are you doing in the baggage caravan?

  • This he might do, because he either had, or at least would be thought to have, a modest sense of his own unworthiness, which was a likely way to commend him to the people.(Matthew Poole commentary)
  • … Saul hid himself, hoping that if he was not found they would proceed to another choice, so free from ambition was he, and such was his modesty; nor does this seem to be affected and dissembled, but real; though afterwards, when he was settled in the kingdom, he did not care to part with it, and sought to kill David, whom he looked upon as his rival… (John Gill commentary)
  • …he understood, by what Samuel had said, that the people had sinned in asking for a king. (Matthew Henry)
  • …Because the affairs of Israel were at the time in a bad position [militarily]; the Philistines were strong, the Ammonites threatening; he must be bold indeed who will set sail in a storm (Matthew Henry)

At Chandler Vinson’s blog A Trivial Devotion, a longer explanation which includes consultation with some very detailed writers. This is an exhaustive study of this verse, and I commend the research here to you. You may not finish reading all of this, but it gives insights into one of the Hebrew Bible’s most interesting characters:

Saul’s hiding place is a good one as the Israelites cannot find him without divine intervention.

A more pertinent question than where Saul is hiding is why the nation’s potential leader is lurking among its supplies. Some have speculated that with time to contemplate this life changing event, the future king is getting cold feet. Timidity would be a natural response to such responsibility. A Targum reference claims that Saul slips out for prayer and Bible Study. Most, however, interpret Saul’s absence in one of two polarizing ways: commendable modesty or a flaw in character.

Some have viewed Saul’s action as evidence that he possesses the necessary modesty to be Israel’s king (I Samuel 9:21). Prominent rabbis Rashi (1040-1105) and Radaq (1160-1235) support this theory. Saul’s absence is not necessarily incriminating as David, Israel’s model king and Saul’s successor, will also initially be absent when being chosen (I Samuel 16:10-12). Even so, given the tragic way Saul’s life will unfold, it is difficult for many to see his truancy as a sign of the king’s goodness.

Many have viewed Saul’s concealment as unwillingness to lead. From this perspective, it is Saul’s personal baggage that leads the leader into the nation’s baggage. Reluctant to take the position, Saul’s physical position screams, “Not me!”

If this is the case, Richard D. Phillips (b. 1960) understands Saul’s trepidation:

The context strongly suggests fear instead of humility as the reason that Saul hid himself. And who can blame him, since he was being called to step into God’s place! Perhaps Saul could see that God was angry and that his selection was God’s judgment on the nation. Given the difficulty of the task, we can hardly blame him for trying to get away. Nonetheless, Saul’s selfish neglect of duty foreshadows a pattern that will be repeated during his kingship. The people of Israel had desired a king who would give them the leadership edge enjoyed by the worldly nations, no longer willing to rely simply on God’s saving power. Here, then, is the kind of self-serving cowardice that they will have to get used to under human kings! (Phillips, 1 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary),163)

Robert Alter (b. 1935) critiques:

This detail is virtually a parody of the recurring motif of the prophet-leader’s unwillingness to accept his mission. Saul the diffident farm boy had expressed a sense of unworthiness for the high office Samuel conferred on him. Now, confronted by the assembled tribes and “trapped” by the process of lot drawing, he tries to flee the onus of kingship, farcically hiding in the baggage. (Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 48)

From this perspective, Saul lacks true humility which would include depending on God. This stance is supported as fear fits the paranoia that will characterize Saul’s life. Though his action is highly irregular, it is typical of Saul.

Robert D. Bergen (b. 1954) explains that this inauspicious start is fitting:

Saul’s actions, however off, were consistent with the portrayal of Saul to this point; previously the king-designate had shut out both his servant (I Samuel 9:27) and his uncle (I Samuel 10:16) from any knowledge of his destiny. Saul’s vacancy at his own coronation suitably foreshadows a reign that would vacate responsibilities associated with the exercise of godly rule and perhaps suggest the lack of wisdom of those who preferred such a king to Yahweh. At the same time, divine assistance in the search for Saul reinforced the conclusion that Saul was indeed the Lord’s answer to Israel’s demand for a king “like the other nations.” (Bergen, , 2 Samuel (New American Commentary), 132)

Clinical psychologist David A. Stoop (b. 1937) concurs, characterizing:

Saul’s fearful posture toward life is…seen in his response to being publicly anointed as king. He simply wants to avoid the whole process. The way he attempts to avoid being anointed king in front of all Israel is to hide. (Stoop, What’s He So Angry About?, 80)

Whatever his motives for hiding, when discovered, Saul assumes the crown. Saul’s reluctance is completely ignored and the people accept him as king (I Samuel 10:23-24). On cue, they chant, “Long live the king!” (I Samuel 10:24, NASB).

Despite his awkward discovery, Saul’s impressive stature makes an even more immediate first impression. The only descriptor mentioned is that he stands a head taller than any of his peers: Saul is tall (I Samuel 9:2, 10:23). This detail adds to the story’s humor as the nation’s tallest man is theoretically the most difficult to hide, comparable to 7’6″ Yao Ming attempting to hide in a Chinese national assembly. Aside from Saul, impressive height is a quality reserved for non-covenant people and Saul’s more ideal successor, David, will not share this trait (I Samuel 16:7). In picking Saul, the Israelites receive what they ask for – a king like all the nations (I Samuel 8:5) and his selection foreshadows the typical lack of godly commitment exhibited by most of Israel’s monarchs.

What motivates Saul’s hiding, modesty or timidity? Who is he hiding from? If Saul does not want the position, why does he attend the convention at all? Why would God select a king that did not want the responsibility? Have you ever known anyone to turn down a promotion? Have you ever gotten a position that you didn’t want? Would you follow a leader who did not want her position? Would you want to be a monarch? Are you currently hiding from anything?

Whatever Saul’s reasons, his concealment has a significant consequence: it provides another opportunity for God to demonstrate divine involvement in his selection. It is God, not the Israelites, who finds Saul (I Samuel 10:22). Despite one of the implicit desires in asking for a monarch being independence, once again, the Israelites are reliant upon God. And they have enough access to God to use divine assistance to find the ruler they have chosen instead of God.

Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) comments:

Once chosen, Saul is nowhere to be found! He has gone into hiding. Did that last sermon by Samuel put the fear of God in him? Did he have a premonition that despite all the signs of God’s Spirit in his choosing, the kingship was flawed from the start by the people’s God-rejecting ambitions, and it was going to be a rocky road ahead? The story does not provide us with Saul’s motives for hiding. What it makes quite clear, though, is that this whole king business was going to be a mixed bag, involving both God’s mercy and God’s judgment…And here is a telling detail: They are now forced to pray to God to help them find the king they have just chosen with God’s help, but against God’s will (I Samuel 10:22). God graciously condescends to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. (Peterson, First and Second Samuel (Westminster Bible Companion), 66)

If the Israelites are close enough to God to find the concealed candidate, why do they seek a king? Is your trust in God’s leadership or in human rulers? …

…so all this we get from one verse! But what an interesting study of the reluctant leader who becomes Israel’s first king.

 

 

April 14, 2016

A Call to Keep Christian Organizations Christian

I like to make this space available to other voices on a regular basis and today our guest writer is Steve Clarke, program director for Compassion Canada. This is good reading for anyone who is involved in the overseeing of any Christian enterprise.

Compassion Canada

A Call for Faith-Based Organizations to Maintain Biblical Leadership Principles in an Increasingly Secular Society

by Steve Clarke
Program Manager
Compassion Canada
April 2016

Steve ClarkeI have been thinking about the dangers of mission drift lately. I’m not sure why this theme has surfaced. Maybe it is linked to small group discussions. My wife Dorothy and I are hosting sessions on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. Over the weeks we have been examining the Fruit, as described in the Book of Galatians:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

In these sessions, I have become more convinced than ever that the expression of those Fruit – those Spirit-led actions that serve others and speak powerfully of the love of Christ – can only be accomplished through the strength of a daily prayer and scripture relationship walk with the Holy Spirit. The same is true for faith-based organizations. As individuals within faith-based organizations, we must cling to that relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit … or our Christian mission can falter.

Another powerful passage comes to mind:

“… make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:5-9)

If we do not exemplify these characteristics in the power of the Holy Spirit, then we risk Peter’s caution of becoming “nearsighted and blind” … unmindful of Christ’s redemption in our lives.

In the 1980s consultants encouraged Compassion International’s leaders to “drop the Jesus emphasis” and to instead focus on our poverty-alleviation programming. Rejecting that advice, we devised a ‘plumb-line’ of twelve biblically-driven aspirational Leadership Principles. These principles are posted prominently on the office walls of Compassion 26 two-thirds world countries of activity, and in our 15 funding partner countries.

Recently our Compassion Canada office leaders decided to re-visit them in a series of meetings with our staff. With the luck-of-the-draw, I was chosen to deliver the first address. I was asked to speak on two of the twelve Leadership Principles: “Demonstrate Godly Character” and “Ignite Passion for Ministry.” Whoa! There would be something wrong if you didn’t feel inadequate in tackling such lofty topics. Even so, I discovered it was a rich blessing to explore these principles verbally in a straight-forward manner. The staff warmed to the themes, and the talk prompted some wonderful after-meeting discussions.

At Compassion we partner with local churches and characterize our mission and calling as “Releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” In my nearly 25 years witnessing Compassion’s poverty alleviation work with children, I celebrate creative combinations of income generation, housing, education, primary health care and training/equipping. But these are, at best, sub-sets of the world’s deepest needs. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that ushers-in spiritually transformed lives is the foundation our world craves.

Secular British journalist Matthew Parris agrees, in his breath-taking admission following a trip to Africa:

“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”1

Body, mind, soul and spirit: Our human make-up demands that we must hang-tough in being Christ-centered, regardless of increasing secularization around us. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 (ESV)


1 Greer, Peter and Chris Horst. Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches. Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2014, p. 36.

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

April 18, 2015

Thinking Out Loud after PARSE

Link List - Out of Ur22 Months ago, an email from Skye Jethani changed things around here and forced me to raise the bar on what I was doing with the Wednesday Link Lists. He wrote,

I’m a fan of your Wednesday Link List. Not only is it helpful and concise, but I enjoy some of the wit and whimsy of your comments. I think the readers of Leadership Journal’s blog, Out of Ur, would benefit from what you’ve created. I wanted to explore the possibility of having your weekly link list published on our site in order to give it a wider audience.

Just days later, the first installment appeared at Out of Ur, later renamed PARSE.

I have always had great admiration for Christianity Today, and I wish there were space here to list the great Christian writers and leaders who have had staff positions with its various publications. I actually applied to be a columnist at Leadership Journal (their website is the parent to PARSE) in the days before the internet, and still have the rejection letter from Kevin Miller. If you’re going to be turned down, at least be turned by the best.

Out of UrI will admit that I got carried away at times. One of the lists had 38 links in it. So more recently we transitioned to a new format whereby there would be far fewer stories, much longer excerpts, and a twice weekly format that was originally envisioned as ten on Wednesday five on Saturday, but ended up being close to ten each time. I will admit that I still get carried away at times.

The biggest joy of writing for people at Leadership Journal was knowing that the material I selected was being seen by people in full time vocational ministry. It was, in its own small way, a means whereby an ordinary writer like me could be an influencer.  In an earlier lifetime, I had stepped down from a similar monthly column at Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine with the closing line, “While it’s a fine thing to write the news, I think it’s a better thing to make the news.”  (Actually, it was the dark ages, and italics had not been invented yet.)

Now I’m not so sure that was wise. Certainly, as a frustrated musician, it was hard to write of others’ successes, but this time around, in a world where everyone has a blog and is clamoring for attention, there is some honor in choosing what types of news stories and opinion pieces people see.

Working with people whose opinions and perspective on Christianity and culture resonate with me has been a blast, even if we’ve never met face to face. I can’t thank Skye Jethani enough for the opportunity, and also thank Paul Pastor, Drew Dyck and Tim Gioia for doing the legwork of making what I wrote visible to so many. 

But alas, things change, so last week I was abruptly told by Drew Dyck,

…After many years, first as “Out of Ur” then as PARSE, we will be shutting down our blog.  I’ve been incredibly grateful for the awesome job you’ve done for us. I still don’t know how you manage to track down all the relevant/interesting stories for church leaders around the web—and then do such a great job of setting them up. Anyway, with Paul Pastor gone, maintaining a multi-voice blog has been a challenge…

So as suddenly as it began, it ended.

Ironically, PARSE just won Third Place in the Blog category at an Evangelical Press Association awards night, and is also the #15 blog on the latest Top 300 list from Church Relevance. I’m not sure that dumping a relatively hot internet property like that is wise, especially when blogs are struggling to maintain readership numbers. But that’s their call.

Again, I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with a great team.

…And now we come to where I need your help. The Wednesday Link List will continue. I’m not sure about the Weekend Link List however. The question is, do you like the excerpts or would you prefer the original listing of nothing but bullet points?

Please email me via the contact page, or leave a comment right here or on Twitter.

And if you manage a Christian website that has a budget, use the contact page if you’d like to offer the Wednesday Link List a new home.

April 7, 2015

Now The Student Has Learned More Than The Teacher

In my life I have been privileged to lead people into a prayer of commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It happened at a Christian camp, and at a concert, and I believe in one other church-based setting as well.  I say ‘I believe’ because all these incidents were a long time ago. While I probably have more ‘ministry’ hours in my days than ever before — and have more to offer now than I did back then — I am rarely in or near what would be called ‘the delivery room.’

discipleshipInstead, I connect people and resources, and connect people to other people who can aid them in their Christian walk. While I don’t have any formal mentoring relationships with the people I serve, I try to be an encourager and aid to their spiritual formation and discipleship. My passion for apologetics is far from a passing interest, and I enjoy being on the “front lines” of ministry; yet most of my contacts are people who have already crossed the line of faith.

Sometimes, these people grow in their faith to a point where I have to be totally honest and say they have surpassed me.

There is no particular shame in this. There is nothing wrong with being the middle school math teacher of the kid who grows up to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics. It happens. I suspect there are lots of elementary, middle school and high school teachers who have stories of former pupils who have gone on to greatness.

Still, there is a certain strangeness associated with the point in the relationship where the person just doesn’t need you like they once did.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they pray. You can tell if they’re moving toward the cross. You can tell if they have a faith that is deepening. I’m thinking right now of some people whose background was a mix of various ideas and faith traditions. A sort of leftover soup of doctrines and experiences, or if you prefer an audio metaphor, a theological cacophony. Or maybe just a faith that was swerving all over the road.

I wasn’t the only one in their lives. But I tried to be there to answer questions or correct misunderstandings.

It didn’t take long. I could tell. You can tell a lot about people by listening to them praying in a group setting. They were getting it. Before long, their spiritual identity was more set. I don’t use that word ‘set’ randomly. In The Mind Changers, a classic book on the spiritual decision-making process, Emory Griffin compared the process to candle-making with three distinct phases: Melt, Mold, Make Hard.

Before long these people were stepping up to take leadership positions in the church they attended. And then they didn’t need us anymore…

…Sometimes in church life we have students who surpass their teachers; people who simply flourish spiritually and exceed the ones helping them. That’s a good thing. While gratitude to the ones who helped us take our first spiritual steps is a good thing, I don’t think anyone is expecting the Physicist to return to the middle school teacher for help solving complex equations.

I think at that point, you do what I’ve done, and move on and find the next person who needs your help. Like the clerk at the fast food counter, you can say, “Can I help who’s next?” (My wife and I hate that phrase.) You find someone who needs you. Right now I’m thinking of someone whose walk with the Lord is growing by leaps and bounds, but if anyone is keeping score — and God isn’t — I’m always going to have something to offer simply by being more well-read.

But that doesn’t count for much eternally speaking. If you want a better barometer of how far along people are, I would say for a third time, you can tell a lot about people’s spiritual depth by how they pray.

 

Disclaimer: Today’s post is a mash-up of a couple of things, including an article that was going to appear yesterday but was pulled at the last minute. Some people referenced here are composites of various individuals and situations.

February 26, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Chocolate Pope - NBC News Photo

The link list knows no borders, so you won’t find any gloating about Canada’s Olympic hockey wins here. Click anything below and you’ll be redirected to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, a ministry of Christianity Today; then click each link there.

If you’re not busy this week snapping up Son of God movie tickets, you can check out Paul Wilkinson’s other writing at Thinking Out Loud.

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

“Jonah Leaving the Whale” by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

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