Category: Leadership (Page 1 of 4)

Journal of Christian Studies

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Christian Studies arrived in my mailbox two weeks ago, the entire issue is now free online, and I’m eager to share it with you today. The Journal is a thrice-yearly publication of the Center for Christian Studies in Austin, of which – full disclosure – my brilliant brother Keith is the Executive Director. In keeping with the long tradition begun by Austin Graduate School of Theology, the Journal of Christian Studies wants to make biblical scholarship accessible and practical for the local church. They’re going to use each issue to focus on a particular topic or theme and unpack it in a way that benefits ministers and lay leaders in their congregations. Keith describes the Journal of Christian Studies as “more accessible than the purely academic journals but more rigorous than the popular-level magazines,” a venue for “thought-provoking writing that instructs and encourages the church at large.”

This vision captures the very essence of the old Austin Graduate School of Theology, where serious scholarship intentionally moved smoothly from the ivory towers into the trenches of church leadership. I remember well my professors at Austin Grad – mainly Michael Weed, Alan McNicol, and Jeff Peterson – after 30-minutes of tough sledding through some complicated theology, taking a deep breath and saying, “Okay, here’s how the Church needs to hear this” or “Okay, here’s why this matters to your church,” then spending the next 30-minutes in very practical and helpful guidance. That’s what Keith and the Center for Christian Studies is attempting to continue, by offering biblical and theological education and training for local churches and church leaders. And this initial edition of the Journal of Christian Studies is a very good sign that they’re really onto something.

This first issue tackles the topic of the Church’s response to COVID-19 and the multiple challenges that lie ahead. It opens with Ed Gallagher’s piece on the local church as a worshiping and serving community of God’s people in which the author reminds us why regularly coming together in the same place at the same time is so important to the formation of Christian character. Relationship, reconciliation, bearing one another’s burdens – God is at work in the hard work of being community together. This is something I believe we have failed to adequately communicate in our churches and the current times demand we step up our teaching.

Keith compares the emergency procedures our churches enacted during the COVID lockdowns to similar emergency situations that forever altered the practice of Christian baptism and the communion meal. He cautions us to engage in serious thought and reflection when it comes to our language and our rituals, especially as it concerns our rapid move into live-streaming our Lord’s Day worship assemblies.

Todd Rester provides some helpful historical reminders that our current day is not the first in which God’s Church has dealt with a global health crisis. It’s almost refreshing to read that church leaders in the Middle Ages also took steps to mitigate the spread of the plague and other horrible diseases, while still maintaining pastoral duties to the flock. At the same time, it’s almost depressing to realize that they were more faithful and brave than we seem to be. There are lessons to be learned from looking at the history.

Todd Hall completes the issue with a focused look at the pandemic’s effect on spiritual formation. How do we recover our spiritual disciplines? How do we deliberately move away from the screens and the earbuds, scrolling through Facebook and binging the latest Netflix drama, isolation and fear of the other, toward more intentional time with God in Word and prayer and with his people in service and worship?

I can’t recommend enough to you this issue of this brand new journal. It’s deep and serious theology of the Church and what our God is doing in and through his gathered people, and how the pandemic has impacted our expectations and experiences. It’s a call to pay closer attention to what we do and why we do it when we come together. Read the whole thing. Start with Keith’s article first.

Peace,

Allan

Able to Teach

This “quality” for a church elder is found in the list in 1 Timothy 3 right after the words “respectable, hospitable” and before the words “not given to drunkenness, not violent.” Because we’re Campbellites and we’re conditioned wrongly to read the Scriptures like the constitution or a list of laws, we’ve sometimes taken this short phrase and disqualified a candidate for elder because he doesn’t teach a Bible class or he’s not a polished speaker.

Well, I’d rather SEE a sermon than HEAR one any day. Yes? What’s the deal with teaching? How necessary is it?

We get a fuller description of what Paul’s talking about when we look at his list of elder qualities in Titus.

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” ~Titus 1:9

The idea in Scripture isn’t so much the ability to teach a Sunday School class as it is the ability to pass the truth of the Gospel on to members of the flock. You know, you can teach a Bible class and still not have a good grasp of the Gospel. I’ve been in classes like that and you have, too. An elder needs to know and pass on that we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, not be any good works of our own. That’s the Gospel. Sound doctrine. The truth.

Elders must uphold that truth, they must defend that truth, they must rebuke those who oppose that truth in order to keep the whole church in that truth.

And when Paul writes “truthful message” or “sound doctrine,” he’s not talking about how to organize a congregation or how to conduct a proper worship service. He’s talking about salvation from God in Christ. In Titus, he’s specifically correcting the errors of the circumcision group and the “sound doctrine” he uses to refute that group and to encourage the others is — are you ready? — more faith, more sacrifice, more reliance on the Spirit, more love. He’s talking to them about expressing more fully the truth of Jesus.

The classroom is just one way, but there are many ways to teach and model and pass on the truth of the Gospel.

I would hate for us to read the Bible passages on church leadership through a legal lens that bogs us down on two or three points and distracts us from the heart of a shepherd that’s actually being described. My recommendation would be to put more focus on words like “respectable,” “hospitable,” “gentle,” “not overbearing,” “not conceited,” “not quarrelsome.” Those words describe our Lord. Those words are characteristic of a Christ-like leader.

Peace,

Allan

Husband of One Wife

For a church elder, WHO he is is much more important than WHAT he is. We respond to our shepherds because of their great Christian character, not because their names are on the back of the bulletin or because they lead the prayers at the end. The New Testament never instructs God’s people to follow a leader because he holds an office or a title. It has everything to do with his character and his life.

That’s what we have in those two lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These are the marks of Christian maturity. These are the distinguishing traits of someone who has grown in Christ and experienced the life-changing power of the Lord. Their character, their consistency, is above reproach. Not perfect — that’s not what this means. If elders had to be perfect, we wouldn’t have any elders. Blameless, above reproach, means that nobody can legitimately accuse them of any conduct which is not fitting a mature disciple of Christ. It means these qualities should exist in a man’s life to such a degree that they should stand out as the kind of man he really is. It’s clear. He’s a model of Christian maturity.

Now, we have a tendency to view these lists as narrow, legalistic qualifications. We use these lists sometimes like a grid, holding it up to each elder candidate to see if he fits, to see if he checks all the boxes. Even then, we’re generally more concerned with two or three of the character traits than we are the others. And I want to specifically address two of these today and tomorrow and attempt to put them in their proper perspectives.

“Husband of one wife.” You find this exact same phrase in both of the lists, both times immediately after the general descriptive term “blameless” and “above reproach.”

The original Greek text in both lists is mias gunaikos aner. Literally translated it’s “of one woman/wife, man/husband.” Yeah, this is weird for us English speakers because gunaikos can mean woman or wife, depending on the context, and aner can mean either man or husband, again, depending on the context. It’s like the German herr can mean man or husband or sir or lord, depending on the situation. Frau can mean wife or woman, depending on when and where and about whom it’s being said. You’re not sure until you understand the context. The only thing I can point to in English that might be close is when we pronounce somebody “man and wife” at a wedding; you know that “man” means “husband” because we’re at a wedding.

For me, “husband of one wife” is the best English translation. But it’s just as possible and just as correct to translate it “man of one woman” or “man with one woman” or “a one-woman man” or just “faithful to his wife.”

See, the verb is present tense. It matches the present tense verbs in both of the passages. They’re all present tense. He is currently right now the man of one woman. He is presently faithful to his wife. The emphasis is on the man’s character, not his marital history. Maybe he’s had a previous divorce. Maybe he’s got sin in his marital past. The concern in these passages is what’s going on with him right now? Is he loyal? Is he sexually pure? Is he faithful to his wife in all things? Is there any indication he might not be faithful to his present wife?

That’s the way many English translations render this:

NIV – “faithful to his wife”
ESV – “husband of one wife” and a footnote: or “man of one woman”
NIRV – “faithful to his wife”
CEV – “faithful in marriage”
NLT – “faithful to his wife”
MSG – “committed to his wife”

For the Central church, this is our understanding and this is how we apply it: is he currently faithful to his present wife? This fits with the Scriptures and with the function of an elder much better. And it fits much more faithfully to the grace and forgiveness of the Gospel of Jesus than saying any divorce, no matter how long ago and no matter the reason, disqualifies a man from being considered as an elder. Divorce is not an unforgiveable sin — it never has been — no more than if a man at one point in his past had an issue with violence or greed. It doesn’t disqualify him from being an elder today.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the circumstances of a man’s past divorce are irrelevant. If he sinned in his marriage, he might fail some other qualities like blameless, loves what is good, self-controlled, holy, disciplined. Maybe. It needs to be vetted. Is the divorce a past sin that’s been confessed, repented of, and forgiven? Are those sins evident in the man’s life today or is he known as living proof of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power? Is his life an evidence and an example of faithfulness, of a heart saved and changed by God in Christ? Those are the concerns.

Marital faithfulness is a virtue. It has little to do with going through a divorce a long time ago. It has nothing to do with being married twice due to divorce or death. Those things do not reflect on the current Christian character of a candidate.

Peace,

Allan

Genuine Authority

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” ~Mark 10:43

We’re in the last stages of the nomination process here at Central as we select additional shepherds to lead our church family. In preparing for this Sunday’s sermon I’ve been reacquainted with some important words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:

“Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. The desire we so often hear expressed today for ‘authoritative personalities’ springs frequently from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.

The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire.

Genuine authority recognizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority. Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the saying of Jesus: ‘You have only one Master and you are all brothers’ (Matthew 23:8). The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. Not in the former, but in the latter is the lack. The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.

Genuine authority is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word.”

Peace,

Allan

Leadership: Love

“We were gentle among you , like a mother caring for her little children.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:7

Is it weird that Paul describes himself as a mother? What does a mother know about leadership? Well, dads, have you ever watched your wife with your kids? Generally speaking, they’ve got a gentleness and a sensitivity that we just don’t. I think children find the most comfort and security with their moms. I remember with our girls — I could play with them for hours, do fun things for them and with them all day long. But when they got hurt, where did they run? Straight to mom. Every time.

Actually, that word “caring” is more correctly translated “nursing.” “Nursing her children” gives us an image of Christian leaders actually feeding and giving nourishment to the congregation.

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:8

A mother teaches her children how to cross the street, how to eat at the table, and how to match pony tail holders with shirts. But she also pours her heart and her soul into her kids. Because she loves them so much. To lead with love is a lot more than just teaching. It means being intimately involved in people’s lives. And it takes time and effort and it leads to disappointment. But, like Paul, our love compels us to do it.

We’re in each other’s homes, we’re praying together, rejoicing and mourning together, genuinely and actively interested and involved in each other’s lives. That kind of love is sacrificial.

Bill Hybels says, “Tell me how to show love without spending time, money, or energy, and I’ll gladly sign up. Tell me that love means sacrifice, however, and I’m reluctant to commit.”

It’s basically following the model of Jesus who did it first and best. Christ’s priority was in giving, not getting; on serving, not being served; on loving, not necessarily being loved.

Peace,

Allan

Leadership: Integrity

“…does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you… We never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.” ~1 Thess. 2:3-5

With Paul, Silas, and Timothy, what you see is what you get. Nobody had to try to figure them out. They hid nothing. They held nothing back. You always knew where Paul stood and you always knew where you stood with Paul (just ask Barnabas).

Integrity. Character. Living right. Doing right. Even when you know nobody’s watching. It’s what’s inside a person that causes her to act the way she does, and the things she does reveal what’s inside.

The manager of a Target store would never shop at Wal-Mart. No way. He doesn’t step inside a Wal-Mart no matter who’s watching — not if he believes in his company and he’s committed to doing everything in his power to help his company and grow his company and make his company better.

When we go to a restaurant, I’ll order a Dr Pepper. If they don’t carry Dr Pepper, I’ll ask for water. I want that waitress to know that if they carried Dr Pepper, I’d pay the $2.89 for it and probably pay more for refills. But since they don’t carry Dr Pepper, she can bring me water. For free. See, I think that’s going to make a difference. I figure if I consistently do that in every restaurant for twenty or thirty years, the restaurants will eventually see the light and change their purchasing strategies. Carrie-Anne will sometimes settle for a Mr. Pibb in those situations. I tell her that’s a lack of integrity.

We all know there’s an integrity void in our society. A character crisis. A lack of integrity causes people to tell lies, to say one thing and mean another, to break commitments to a spouse. Without integrity, you can’t believe what a person’s saying or if they’ll do what they say. Their word begins to mean nothing.

Jesus taught the law that our “yes” should be “yes” and our “no” should be “no.” We tell the truth even when it’ll cost us. We do the right thing even when it’s not the easy thing.

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous, and blameless we were.” ~1 Thess. 2:10

Blameless has to do with their public reputation. Righteous is about their relationship with the people. Holy refers to their relationship with God. Paul, Silas, and Timothy deliberately avoided behavior and actions that might lead people to doubt the integrity of the message or to suspect the sincerity of their preaching. Their own personal integrity is so important because you can’t separate the message from the messenger. In many ways, the medium is the message.

You’ve heard this before: What you’re doing is so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.

You can’t raise money to stamp out the exploitation of women by hosting a car wash at Hooter’s. A dentist can’t publish a brochure about dental health and hygiene with a Snicker’s ad in the back. And we can’t spread the good news of the Kingdom of God if we’re not living lives of integrity.

Peace,

Allan

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