Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (weekend edition)

We generally like to think of ourselves as individuals and appreciate our unique qualities, but when thrown into a group we can become very different people. Ideas and actions can spread like viruses until your individuality is completely wiped away. This is called deindividuation and here’s how it works.

If you are a planter, let me encourage you to think long-term. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on the 7 for a few months and then dropping them. Most of these issues have no quick fix-solution and will have impact on your influence as long as you are planting.

Lazy? Who has time to be lazy? Of course, there are the verses that speak to laziness. By my count, there are fourteen such verses in Proverbs alone, starting with “Go to the ant, you sluggard!” So, can it actually be right to think that laziness is a way to the Lord?

Recently, I wrote about how leaders must learn to handle criticism and overlook offenses. I think this is the number one way that leaders can get derailed and rendered ineffective.

Hard as it may be to believe, one of the things that gives privately-educated children the edge is their knowledge of Latin….I mean there is actually a substantial body of evidence that children who study Latin outperform their peers when it comes to reading, reading comprehension and vocabulary, as well as higher order thinking such as computation, concepts and problem solving.

9 aberrant forms of church leadership

Christian leadership can go wrong in so many different ways – moral failure, destructive relationships, bad theology, etc. But, many people fail at leadership because they started out with a bad model of leadership in the first place.

Michael Jensen addresses this problem and offers 9 forms of aberrant church leadership that we need to avoid. You’ll need to read his post to see what he thinks about each of these, but here are the 9 forms of leadership he addresses.

  1. The Narcissist. The easiest way to spot a narcissist is when they are confronted by criticism.
  2. The Control Freak. The control freak will always want to live in a world in which they are able to be omniscient and omnipotent.
  3. The Wimp. The weak and indecisive leader is often imprisoned by the awareness of their own weakness and so becomes the opposite: authoritarian.
  4. The ‘I don’t do windows’ leader. This leader has isolated their leadership role to one particular gift and doesn’t stray much from it.
  5. The Macho. This leader has a reading of complementarianism that anchors it in a particular reading of maleness and femaleness, and is unaware how culturally bound it is.
  6. The Member of the Guild. The aim of this Christian leader is to match it with his or her peers from college (or wherever).
  7. The Self-legislator. The self-legislator is a child of the revolution.
  8. The Change-averter. The change-averter is deeply conservative and will put the breaks on any change whatsoever as a point of principle.
  9. The Pragmatist. Whatever works is the bottom line here.

What do you think? Which of these nine do you think is the greatest problem of Christian leadership today? Or, do you think Jensen’s missed something and you would argue for a different problem as even more fundamental?

Wandering in the Wilderness: The Impossibility of Theological Education

[This is a slightly altered version of a devotional I recently presented at a dean’s conference (yes, there are conferences for deans) on why the task of raising future leaders for the church is impossible.]

Course evaluations can be fun to read. You probably don’t believe me, but it’s true. Every now and then, you run across a student with something particularly insightful to say. For example, I recently saw one that read something like, “This professor is brilliant. I’m just not sure what he’s talking about.”

Oops. Obviously, there’s a disconnect here between the brilliant insights of the professor and the practical issue of making sure people can actually do something with them.

The same thing can happen with our “core values” and “mission statements.” They sound good, but what exactly do they mean? For example, one of the core values of Western Seminary is “truth.” (I’m pretty sure that was put in there to distinguish us from all those other seminaries who are committed to “deceit.”) That’s nice, but what do you do with it? How does that guide the everyday life and behavior of the institution beyond a minimal commitment not to lie to our students—unless we can present it creatively enough to call it “marketing”.

Sometimes we find ourselves flying at 30,000 feet when the people and issues we’re trying to address are down at sea level.

There are times when I feel like Paul could use some help landing the plane too.

2 TIMOTHY 2:2

I have always loved 1 Timothy 2:2. It’s a classic verse for Christian ministry and a great description of what we’re trying to do as theological educators.

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

What a fabulous verse with a clear principle for effective leadership development: pass along what you have received to others who will do the same. That’s great. But, how do you do this? How will you actualize this? What are your specific learning outcomes? Where’s your strategic plan?

If we continue for a bit in the passage, we’ll find that Paul really never answers these questions.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. (vv. 3-6)

These are all terrific images for Christian ministry. I’ve used all of them in my teaching and preaching many times. But, when it comes to specifics, they’re still not very helpful. Doesn’t Paul have anything more to offer?

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (v. 7)

Gee, thanks. So now I’m either stupid because I haven’t bothered to think about what Paul was saying, or Jesus doesn’t like me and hasn’t given me understanding. Neither of these options is terribly encouraging.

Come on Paul. What’s the plan? Where’s the blueprint? How exactly do you do this thing we call “developing leaders”?

Instead of answering the question, we’re left with this grand vision of preparing the next generation for effectively leading God’s people with little in the way of specific guidance.

Thanks Paul.

OUR CHAOTIC CONTEXT

And, that becomes a real problem when you consider the chaotic context in which we find ourselves trying to carry out this tremendous responsibility.

Look at the challenges that seminaries face: limited finances, increased competition, contrary constituencies, nosy accreditation agencies, and governmental regulation, among other things. And, that’s not even counting issues that arise from our broader cultural context: new technologies, changing educational paradigms, increasingly diverse communities, decreasing biblical literacy for incoming students, and more.

It may just be me, but these all seem pretty daunting. Many times I feel like I’m wandering in the wilderness of theological education. Paul has shown us the promised land—just entrust this message to godly men and women who will take up the mantle of leadership for the next generation. See, the promised land is right there. But I don’t know how to get there. For all my planning, plotting, striving, and strategizing, I still find myself wandering in the chaos and confusion of the wilderness.

I feel like one of the ten spies who have gone into the land and have come back saying that it can’t be done. The obstacles are too great. Go home.

THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE

And then I pause and consider what it must have been like for those who have gone before.

Consider poor Timothy as he reads these words. He’s in a hostile cultural context with no books, no schools, very little money, few churches, and leaders who are still fairly young spiritually themselves. What is he supposed to do with this?

Consider the early church it expanded into new worlds: Greece, Rome, Africa, Gaul, Asia. Imagine how they must have wrestled with what it takes to raise godly leaders in these new contexts with all of their cultural diversity, religious plurality, and philosophical complexity. How hard must that have been?

Consider the church of the Constantinian era as it struggled with training the next generation from a posture of relative affluence and influence, along with growing nominalism and institutionalism. Now how do you raise godly leaders?

Consider the medieval church as they tried to develop new institutional educational structures called “universities” to accomplish this daunting task of training new leaders. Imagine the uncertainty. Will this work? Or, will it just turn pastors into professors, leaders into lecturers?

I could go on. God’s people have always struggled with understanding precisely how to raise the next generation of leaders in the midst of many difficult and daunting circumstances.

And, none of them have gotten it “right.” Although every generation approached the task of leadership development differently, each produced more than its share of broken leaders who led broken churches in a broken world.

There’s a vision, but no blueprint. There’s a plan, but there are always problems.

Apparently the wilderness of theological education has been with us for a while now.

OUR IMPOSSIBLE TASK

So, my happy thought for today is:

1. We’ve been given a grand task with almost no instruction for how to carry it out.

2. Every prior generation found this task to be nearly impossible.

Thanks Paul. Don’t you have anything to offer that might be a little more helpful?

To be fair, I probably should have started in verse 1.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Ah, there it is. That’s what my reflection has been missing. Grace.

For this to work, we need to realize that this story is not about us. If it was, this story would have ended a long time ago. Every generation of Christian leaders laments the difficulties of raising godly leaders in their context. And every generation is right. We’ve been given a seemingly impossible task with no blueprint for success.

And that’s okay because it’s not about us anyway.

We will never build perfect seminaries that produce perfect leaders to lead perfect churches. If that’s your promised land, I hope you enjoy wilderness.

That’s not what we’ve been called to do. Perfection is not our goal, faithfulness is. We will always build broken schools that produce broken people to lead broken churches. But, we serve a glorious God who will always be gracious to his people and faithful to his plans.

Our task may be impossible, but that’s not a problem for God.

This isn’t a call to quietism. The fact that we can’t be perfect doesn’t mean that we stop striving to be as creatively faithful as possible. Maybe Paul didn’t give us a blueprint because there isn’t one. Maybe each generation has to be willing to put its models of leadership development on the table and ask afresh if this is the best way to be faithful to the task in this time, with this people, facing these challenges.

Will we fail? Yes. At least, we will fail at being flawless. But, we need not fail at being faithful – if we can rest in the grace and goodness of God and remember that this is his church, these are his people, this is his story, and he will ensure that our efforts are not in vain.

In the face of our impossible task, Paul invites us to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

And, to that we can only say a humble “amen.”

Are men inherently better leaders?

Many people are going to read the title to this post and dismiss the question as absurd. Of course not. But, I often encounter people who assume that the answer to this question must be “yes” based on their conviction that God has ordained men to be leaders in the church. I’d like to address this latter group.

The question, then, is this: If you are a complementarian – i.e. if you believe that God has ordained men to particular leadership roles in the church – do you need to believe that men are inherently better leaders?

Let me make this easy….no.

The logic that seems to convince complementarians otherwise runs (loosely)  like this:

  1. Being a leader entails having certain qualities/attributes.
  2. God ordained men to be leaders in the church.
  3. God wouldn’t ordain men to be leaders unless he had given them the requisite qualities/attributes.
  4. Therefore, men have the requisite qualities/attributes for being leaders in the church.
  5. God wouldn’t limit these leadership roles to men unless they possessed the necessary qualities/attributes of leadership in unique ways.
  6. Therefore, men inherently possess at least some of the necessary qualities/attributes in a way or to a degree that women do not.
  7. And, therefore, men are inherently better leaders (at least in the church).

This argument, though, has a number of key problems, and several of them arise with the very first statement: “Being a leader entails having certain qualities/attributes.” Right away you’re faced with a number of challenging difficulties:

  • There is no agreed upon set of qualities/attributes necessary for being a leader. Just read the literature. Everyone who studies the question seems to have their own definition of what it means to be a leader.
  • There is no research to support the conclusion that men disproportionately manifest the qualities of being an effective leader (whatever those are). Here you realize that even if you manage to identify the qualities necessary for being a leader, you simply have no evidence for concluding that men possess these qualities any more than women do.
  • Even if you could find research to support the conclusion that men exhibit some leadership quality disproportionately more than women, you would still need to determine why that is the case. For example, let’s say that a study concluded that men are more decisive in decision-making than women. (I’m not aware of any such study, but let’s pretend.) That still would not prove your case because it’s entirely possible that the difference comes from societal expectations of how boys and girls should behave, how they should be raised, the kinds of decisions they should be involved in, etc. So, even a statistical variance would be a far cry from proving your case.
  • Descriptions of “leadership” are often driven more by culture than theology. If we change the picture and focus on the qualities that Jesus exhibited during his earthy ministry – for example, compassion, patient suffering, gratitude, humility, gentleness, nurturing, etc. – would we still be trying to argue that men exhibit these qualities disproportionately more than women? Good luck with that.

I could probably add other arguments, but these seem sufficient to establish that the first step in this argument faces some significant difficulties.

Skipping past the second assertion since I’m only focusing on people who believe this to be true, there are also significant problems with the third assertion: “God wouldn’t ordain men to be leaders unless he had given them the requisite qualities/attributes.”

Really? What would lead us to believe that this is necessarily the case? Throughout the Bible God apparently delights in calling people into positions of leadership who seem obviously unqualified for the position: Moses, David, Saul, etc. These were deeply flawed individuals who often serve as better examples of how to sin effectively than how to lead appropriately. Indeed, God’s grace is often displayed better by accomplishing his plans and purposes through the outcast, the lowly, and the ungifted. Viewed from this perspective, then, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the complementarian to assume that men may actually be less gifted in leadership than women, but that God has called them into leadership anyway and that he will graciously empower them for and support them in this calling? Why presume that people must be gifted before God calls them to a particular task? Did the donkey have the gift of speech before God called it to speak to Balaam? (Yes, I did just compare Christian men to a talking donkey.)

And, once you’ve called into question the first and third assertions, the argument really has nowhere to go. (You could also pick on the fifth assertion if you really felt the need to destroy this argument a bit more.)

Now again, none of this has anything to do with whether it is correct to believe that God has ordained men to specific leadership roles in the church. That is a completely separate issue. I just want to point out that there is no necessary connection between complementarianism and the belief that men inherently possess some quality or qualities that make them better leaders. Leadership is a function, not an attribute. The real question is not whether you have the essential/inherent qualities necessary for being a good leader, as though God depended on our capacities and abilities to accomplish his purposes. The real question is whether God in his grace has called you to be a leader in his church and how you will do so as faithfully as possible with everything that he has given you.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/19)

I’ve noticed in the last few years a real bandwagon of anti-leadership sentiment in some circles. I think it started as a push-back to the “CEO” model/mentality in some, and as such, I’m sympathetic. But from there, it has progressed to where we now have many arguing that any concept of leadership in the church should be avoided.

I’ve noticed that people who do not read the original languages of the Bible sometimes think of those languages as somehow magical, as the key that can open any mystery and answer any question about the Bible. While reading the original languages is tremendously important and helpful and useful, such a reading by itself does not always magically result in clear and simple answers to controversial religious questions. There are limitations inherent in an appeal to an original language for determining the meaning of a text.

As the article indicates, countless PhD students spend years dedicated towards research that will perhaps never posit an actual job in their field. Supply is greater than demand as the article suggets. The future seems depressingly bleak then for doctoral students: They are treated as indentured servants by their superiors. They spend meaningful years that could have been put towards savings, retirement, and even more important—nurturing families.

  • Roger Olson and Michael Horton have had an interesting exchange on the nature of Arminianism (read the comments). In the process, Olson made a very good comment about fairly representing other perspectives:

I urge you, and all non-Arminians who describe our theology, to describe it as we describe it and then go on to explain why you disagree….Fairness is the issue here.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/14)

I feel like I need to put out there why I think leadership in this mode is not Biblical, why we might need to find a new word when we are talking about what leaders do in a church, and why if we are ever going to truly “lead” a community into the Kingdom it requires a skill quite different than what many in the church have come to describe as “leadership.”

Driscoll and Harris probe Francis Chan on his new “calling”

In this interesting interview, Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris probe Francis Chan on his decision to leave his church because he thinks God has called him into a different kind of ministry. I’d be curious to get your reactions to the discussion that ensues. What do you think about the concerns that Driscoll and Harris raise, and what to you think about Chan’s responses?

HT