Thinking Out Loud

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.

August 1, 2014

How to Be Humble Like Me

(The title of today’s post is decidedly tongue-in-cheek, okay?)

Some of you know that in the last two or three years my go-to portion of scripture has been the place in Philippians 2 where Paul breaks out into a section that translators set out from the text as poetry, leading many to conclude it was either a creed or something that had been set to music as an early church hymn. This is the passage I mentally recite when I can’t get back to sleep, and if you invite me to speak at your church on less than 72 hours notice, this is the passage I will speak on.

I’ve created my own version of it, but for sake of familiarity, this is the NKJV, not usually my default translation:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who,being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So in practical terms, how do you adopt that mindset, that attitude; or to put it another way, how do you get to be humble?

He took on the role of a servant

Of the four things the text states this is really the only one that is open to us. We have already entered into the human condition, and we will almost certainly taste death, even if it is not the excruciating form that Jesus endured. Since we have no options vis-a-vis three of the four things stated, what we must press into is the idea of adopting the towel and the basin as our personal symbols; to give up the stallion in favor of a donkey; to take a seat at the back, not the front; and to seek not be served, but to serve.

We need to remember our sin

When spiritual pride comes knocking at the door, we need to remember our sinful condition. Like David, our sin is ever before us. If you’ve mastered holiness, good for you; but I still live in the middle of two conditions, in the warfare of two wills, two natures battling for control of my mind and actions. Without making this a confessional, suffice it to say that, like my apostle namesake, I haven’t attained it, but press on to it. Remaining in Christian community will help keeps us transparent and accountable.

It’s a really big planet

We are also humbled when we consider not only our place in the universe, but that we are members of a tribe seven billion strong. No matter how large your Facebook friends list, or whether you take significance in being either a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond; on a global scale sense of personal importance fades dramatically. You may be a superstar in your local church, or your denomination, or you may have won public service awards in your community, but on an international scale you’re probably not such a big deal.

Identifying humility’s opposite

I wrote about this a few days ago and suggested that while we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem. Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility. Timothy spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…” We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’

I have a good example to follow

The whole point of this passage is comparison. Let the attitude or mindset that was in him also be in you. Three months ago, I wrote about the classic CCM song Understudy that uses Hollywood imagery to describe us apprenticing to the one with the starring role. No wonder the early followers of Jesus were called “little Christs.” Or, if you prefer, you can think of the students of who “walk in the dust of the rabbi;” doing everything their teacher does.

What other aspects of Christian living can serve to keep us humble?

April 16, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Pet Blessing Service

I’m writing this assuming everyone survived the prophetic implications of the blood moon, but maybe the April 15 income tax deadline is a form of judgment. 

As we do each Wednesday, clicking anything below will take you to PARSE where the links are live.

Paul Wilkinson writes the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, and edits the daily devotional Christianity 201 page.

Lettuce Pray from _ChristianHumor Twitter

March 22, 2014

Servants and Leaders

This is the third time around for this particular article, but it seems especially fitting for the current spiritual climate. The author is Brant Hansen who wrote this when he was working for WAY-FM, and now works for Air1 Radio.

LeaderMan vs. Servant Leader

I’ve had some people say, effectively, “Dude, you critique leadership, but don’t you think you’re leading people, too? Aren’t you worried about that?”

Nah. Not really. Shoot, I’m honored if I’m allowed to lead somebody, if I have an influential role in someone’s life. We need leadership — properly understood, the Jesus-type of “leadership” — like crazy. What we don’t need is the type of leadership I satirize.

We don’t need any more of “LeaderMan”. What we need are servant leaders, men and women who are gifted for leadership, whom people naturally follow, who point those people toward Jesus alone, our Teacher.

Granted, as always, I may not know what I’m talking about. But below are some off-the-top-of-the-head attempts at distinguishing one from the other.


———–

Servant Leader: Has something to say

LeaderMan: Wants a platform on which to say something

———–

LeaderMan: You almost feel you know his family, because he’s your Leader

Servant Leader: You allow him to influence you, because you know his family

———–

LeaderMan: Wants you to know he’s a Leader

Servant Leader: You’re not sure he knows he’s a leader

———–

LeaderMan: Loves the idea of the Gospel, and the idea of The Church

Servant Leader: Loves God and the actual individual people God brings across his path

———–

LeaderMan: A great speaker, but self-described as, “Not really a people person.”

Servant Leader: Makes himself a people person

———–

LeaderMan: Helps you find where God is leading you in his organization

Servant Leader: Helps you find where God is leading you

———–

LeaderMan: Gets together with you to talk about his vision

Servant Leader: Just gets together with you

———–

LeaderMan: Resents “sheep stealing”

Servant Leader: Doesn’t get the “stealing” part, since he doesn’t own anyone to begin with

———–

LeaderMan: Wants the right people on the bus

Servant Leader: Wants to find the right bus for you, and sit next to you on it

———–

Servant Leader: Shows you his whole heart

LeaderMan: Shows you a flow chart

———–

LeaderMan: A visionary who knows what the future looks like

Servant Leader: Knows what your kitchen looks like

———–

LeaderMan: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with excellence

Servant Leader: Not exactly sure how to even calculate “worth doing”

———–

LeaderMan: Talks about confronting one another in love

Servant Leader: Actually confronts you in love

———–

LeaderMan: Impressed by success and successful people

Servant Leader: Impressed by faithfulness

———–

LeaderMan: Invests time in you, if you are “key people”

Servant Leader: Wastes time with you

———–

LeaderMan: Reveals sins of his past

Servant Leader: Reveals sins of his present

———-

LeaderMan: Gives you things to do

Servant Leader: Gives you freedom

———–

LeaderMan: Leads because of official position

Servant Leader: Leads in spite of position

———–

LeaderMan: Deep down, threatened by other Leaders

Servant Leader: Has nothing to lose

June 15, 2012

Servanthood Symbol: Footwashing

John 13

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

    It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress… Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

I’ve heard of churches where footwashing occupies a very high place in church life, almost ranking up there with communion, but until yesterday I had never washed anyone’s feet before.  Sure, I rubbed and messaged my wife’s feet in a swimming pool last year, but that was more sensual than spiritual.

My mother needed some help following an injury, and while I was aware of the perfunctory nature of her request and was basically following instructions, I couldn’t help but have a sense of the fact that for some Christians, this act is practiced as a reminder of what it means to be a servant, what it means to be humble, what it means to love.  It was all rather surreal.

So what about you?  Have you ever experienced having your feet washed or washing someone else’s feet in a ritual, faith family setting or church service? Do you think this is something we should periodically practice following Jesus’ example?

June 27, 2011

When Christian Leadership is Equated with Privilege

Several years ago I had a recurring gig as a guest speaker with a large international Christian organization.  I got to stay in the “Hospitality Suite,” which represented the finest accommodation this organization had to offer, and was literally treated like a king, which only served to make me want to do an exceptional job as a lecturer.  However, throughout each visit, I was acutely aware and increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that my situation was quite distanced from what the students I was teaching were experiencing in the dorms.

In the years that followed, I would see this played out many times, and find myself on both sides of the great divide.  I think because I’d experienced life in the guest suite, I sort of knew what to look for. I knew it was there; I knew how these things work.

For at least the past decade, I have not found myself staying in the hospitality area, or anything close to it.  Add in my wife’s years working with people who are decidedly economically disadvantaged, and I probably now have a low tolerance for exclusivity or elitism. I like my Christian organizations to operate on a level playing field, with liberty and justice for all.

…This week I got to see the inside of a recently opened facility which is dedicated to fostering Christian leadership.  It incorporates a number of architectural features designed for both form and function.  However, I wasn’t actually tracking the issue of who gets to use this particular place, or who doesn’t, until Mrs. W. pointed out that the facility is so very nice that it is unintentionally — at least we hope it is unintentional — sending the message that leadership equates with privilege.

Don’t get me wrong. I celebrate that the people in charge have put together something creative and unique. But then I read this description of where the users of this facility get to stay:

Each of the … units is equipped with a pair of duvet-covered twin beds, a mini-fridge, a coffeemaker, a kettle, a toaster, a microwave, and dishes, so guests can make themselves at home… All rooms have en suite bathrooms, and we provide all bath and bed linens… Rooms all have cozy throws, chess-sets, and rustic … decor… surrounding trees and lake views. The rooms all overlook a communal campfire where guests come together to roast marshmallows, tell stories, sing songs, or just simply unplug.

I recognize that the people who put this together have to compete with other conference facilities.  I recognize that they are committed to excellence. I recognize that they want their guests to have a memorable experience.  I recognize that — oh my goodness — in the dining area there is a four-slice toaster and a 32″ monitor at every table

If their guests are paying their own way for this, that’s fine.  If their guests’ seminar and conference costs are coming out of the regular budgets of Christian parachurch organizations or churches — representing peoples’ tithes and offerings — I have a problem with that.  If the organization’s internal use of the facility is such that it creates a two-tiered dichotomy between the leadership and the peons in the trenches, then I have a major problem with that.

The Bible I own teaches humility; teaches putting others ahead of yourself; teaches servant leadership. 

All other models are somewhat flawed.

~Paul Wilkinson

Image: From an article at Lamar Hernden’s blog, Are You 21st Century Servant Leadership Literate?

September 5, 2010

Leader Man vs. Servant Leader

Here’s a re-post from two years ago.   Back in the day, WAY-FM morning radio personality Brant Hansen blogged at Letters from Kamp Krusty which was on everyone’s daily reading list.   He tried to start it up again around Christmas last year, but simply has too many media projects on the go.    This article was one of the best pieces on it.   Reminds me of a thing that Maranatha! Music’s Ministry Resource Center put out years ago, Superstars and Servants,  that talks about how some people serve under covenant, while others will only serve under contract.   I think the author was Carl Cronje.   If anyone has that, it should be posted online for all to read.     But Brant’s piece here is equally good at making the point…

LeaderMan vs. Servant Leader

I’ve had some people say, effectively, “Dude, you critique leadership, but don’t you think you’re leading people, too? Aren’t you worried about that?”

Nah. Not really. Shoot, I’m honored if I’m allowed to lead somebody, if I have an influential role in someone’s life. We need leadership — properly understood, the Jesus-type of “leadership” — like crazy. What we don’t need is the type of leadership I satirize.

We don’t need any more of “LeaderMan”. What we need are servant leaders, men and women who are gifted for leadership, whom people naturally follow, who point those people toward Jesus alone, our Teacher.

Granted, as always, I may not know what I’m talking about. But below are some off-the-top-of-the-head attempts at distinguishing one from the other.


———–

Servant Leader: Has something to say

LeaderMan: Wants a platform on which to say something

———–

LeaderMan: You almost feel you know his family, because he’s your Leader

Servant Leader: You allow him to influence you, because you know his family

———–

LeaderMan: Wants you to know he’s a Leader

Servant Leader: You’re not sure he knows he’s a leader

———–

LeaderMan: Loves the idea of the Gospel, and the idea of The Church

Servant Leader: Loves God and the actual individual people God brings across his path

———–

LeaderMan: A great speaker, but self-described as, “Not really a people person.”

Servant Leader: Makes himself a people person

———–

LeaderMan: Helps you find where God is leading you in his organization

Servant Leader: Helps you find where God is leading you

———–

LeaderMan: Gets together with you to talk about his vision

Servant Leader: Just gets together with you

———–

LeaderMan: Resents “sheep stealing”

Servant Leader: Doesn’t get the “stealing” part, since he doesn’t own anyone to begin with

———–

LeaderMan: Wants the right people on the bus

Servant Leader: Wants to find the right bus for you, and sit next to you on it

———–

Servant Leader: Shows you his whole heart

LeaderMan: Shows you a flow chart

———–

LeaderMan: A visionary who knows what the future looks like

Servant Leader: Knows what your kitchen looks like

———–

LeaderMan: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with excellence

Servant Leader: Not exactly sure how to even calculate “worth doing”

———–

LeaderMan: Talks about confronting one another in love

Servant Leader: Actually confronts you in love

———–

LeaderMan: Impressed by success and successful people

Servant Leader: Impressed by faithfulness

———–

LeaderMan: Invests time in you, if you are “key people”

Servant Leader: Wastes time with you

———–

LeaderMan: Reveals sins of his past

Servant Leader: Reveals sins of his present

———-

LeaderMan: Gives you things to do

Servant Leader: Gives you freedom

———–

LeaderMan: Leads because of official position

Servant Leader: Leads in spite of position

———–

LeaderMan: Deep down, threatened by other Leaders

Servant Leader: Has nothing to lose

September 16, 2009

The Links and Depth of the Situation

Deep links.   Links with depth of writing and feeling.   Prepare to be challenged and changed this time around.  Don’t miss these.

  • We start with Jim Upchurch and a story from his past titled I Am Third“This is the motto of the servant. This is the motto of one who places others before himself. This is the motto of those who follow Jesus Christ.”
  • Philip Yancey writes about spending a week visiting his brother in hospital.   “Sadly, some patients had no visitors. Different rules govern wealth and status in a hospital: the currency is not cash, but visitors and love.” The post is entitled Intensive Care Week.
  • Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church tells of visiting his father in hospital.  “…this experience reminds me of the fact that life and the world we live in aren’t what they’re supposed to be. This isn’t the perfect world God created before we filled it with sin…” He quotes a hymn lyric which was new to me but is known to many others, It Is Not Death To Die.
  • Kaybee writes: “The winds of pressure rise and I’m tossed this way and that, until it seems my very being will break under the strain.  The downpour strikes at my heart with icy spears of apprehension and dismay.” What about you?  Dealing with heavy circumstances.  A frequent commenter on this blog, she writes about going through The Storm.
  • Maybe your storms are part of your past, but the thunder still echoes in your mind.  “…one in four young girls and one in six young boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18!… If those numbers of kids got cancer or some other disease that ate away at the body the way sexual abuse eats away at the soul, there would be public outcry like you would not believe.” Read more at Rick Apperson’s Just a Thought Blog as he continues his “Five Questions” series with NFL fullback Heath Evans.
  • Life circumstances can fill us with fear.  A few days ago I reviewed the book Fearless by Max Lucado.  “Imagine your life, wholly untouched by angst. What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to threats?” This is a 60-second commercial the publisher produced and posted on YouTube.
  • Imagine fear replaced by hope.  Hope is the subject of a new book forthcoming from Rick Warren.   Normally that wouldn’t excite people outside the book industry, however, “Published in 2002, Purpose Driven Life became the No. 1 all-time best-selling hardcover nonfiction book in publishing history.” Warren himself adds, “My motivation as an author has always been the message, not the market, and I have been waiting for the right time, until I had something to say that would speak to the personal and societal problems we all face…” Read more here.
  • Maybe we should end with something lighter.   After all,  those are some fairly heavy blog posts.   Brant Hansen is back blogging at Letters to Kamp Krusty.   He tells of being asked to speak at a church in July. “I spoke about some powerful things.  I spoke about some things that really hit home.  I made people laugh, and then cry, laugh again, and then suddenly — quite suddenly — stop and consider their lives.” Read the whole story here.

Feel free to send me URLs for blogs you think have content that may be worth linking to in the future.

August 12, 2009

We Are The People Formerly Known As The Congregation

bill kinnon

Bill Kinnon put this up on his blog in March, 2007; back when I was reading blogs but not writing one.   I rediscovered it while housecleaning e-mails yesterday.   Based on the piece byJay Rosen, it still still stands up well 2.5 years later, and perfectly describes the place in which many find themselves in relation to “church.”   Some have been in this place for awhile, some others are just arriving there now.  The post also produced a lot of follow-up activity including additions composed by other bloggers (for which parts two, four and five are still valid links)  not to mention many, many comments.  I would suspect it’s one of his all-time top posts; so if you want to link directly, which will also give you the full set-up, do so here; otherwise read on:

Let me introduce you to The People formerly known as The Congregation. There are millions of us.

We are people – flesh and blood – image bearers of the Creator – eikons, if you will. We are not numbers.

We are the eikons who once sat in the uncomfortable pews or plush theatre seating of your preaching venues. We sat passively while you proof-texted your way through 3, 4, 5 or no point sermons – attempting to tell us how you and your reading of The Bible had a plan for our lives. Perhaps God does have a plan for us – it just doesn’t seem to jive with yours.

Money was a great concern. And, for a moment, we believed you when you told us God would reward us for our tithes – or curse us if we didn’t. The Law is just so much easier to preach than Grace. My goodness, if you told us that the 1st century church held everything in common – you might be accused of being a socialist – and of course, capitalism is a direct gift from God. Please further note: Malachi 3 is speaking to the priests of Israel. They weren’t the cheerful givers God speaks of loving.

We grew weary from your Edifice Complex pathologies – building projects more important than the people in your neighbourhood…or in your pews. It wasn’t God telling you to “enlarge the place of your tent” – it was your ego. And, by the way, a multi-million dollar, state of the art building is hardly a tent.

We no longer buy your call to be “fastest growing” church in wherever. That is your need. You want a bigger audience. We won’t be part of one.

Our ears are still ringing from the volume, but…Jesus is not our boyfriend – and we will no longer sing your silly love songs that suggest He is. Happy clappy tunes bear no witness to the reality of the world we live in, the powers and principalities we confront, or are worthy of the one we proclaim King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

You offered us a myriad of programs to join – volunteer positions to assuage our desire to be connected. We could be greeters, parking lot attendants, coffee baristas, book store helpers, children’s ministry workers, media ministry drones – whatever you needed to fulfill your dreams of corporate glory. Perhaps you’ve noticed, we aren’t there anymore.

We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We have not stopped loving the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor do we avoid “the assembling of the saints.” We just don’t assemble under your supposed leadership. We meet in coffee shops, around dinner tables, in the parks and on the streets. We connect virtually across space and time – engaged in generative conversations – teaching and being taught.

We live amongst our neighbours, in their homes and they in ours. We laugh and cry and really live – without the need to have you teach us how – by reading your ridiculous books or listening to your supercilious CDs or podcasts.

We don’t deny Paul’s description of APEPT leadership – Ephesians 4:11. We just see it in the light of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10 and Matthew 20 – servant leadership. We truly long for the release of servant leading men and women into our gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We believe in Peter’s words that describe us all as priests. Not just some, not just one gender.

We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We do not hate you. Though some of us bear the wounds you have inflicted. Many of you are our brothers and our sisters, misguided by the systems you inhabit, intoxicated by the power – yet still members of our family. (Though some are truly wolves in sheep’s clothing.)

And, as The People formerly known as The Congregation, we invite you to join us on this great adventure. To boldly go where the Spirit leads us. To marvel at what the Father is doing in the communities where He has placed us. To live the love that Jesus shows us.

Addendum: This is a polemic. The first-person plural pronoun, “We”, is not used as Pluralis Majestatis (the Royal We) but rather is based on the post-charismatic/post-evangelical conversations that are occurring in the blogosphere. I have no more right to speak in this voice than any other person living in the liminal reality of the church in 21st century.

Please note also that I have many good friends who lead within a more traditional church context for whom I have great love, as well as deep respect. They are doing their very best to be missional within their worlds.

~Bill Kinnon, originally posted March 28/07

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