She’s done the impossible

Pastor_Mark_Driscoll

This weekend, Mark Driscoll broke the Internet in half. Again.

It wasn’t because he put his foot in his mouth (this time)—but because of a rather heated interview on The Janet Mefferd Show where the host spent the better part of 15 minutes accusing him of plagiarism due to insufficiently crediting Dr. Peter Jones for his considerable influence on portions of A Call to Resurgence (reviewed here).

And then things got a bit crazy online. Some Driscoll defenders declared Mefferd a liar. Some of his critics seemed ready to form a lynch mob. (Incidentally, probably the most balanced piece of coverage has come from Jonathan Merritt.) I found myself in a weird place listening to the interview. Here’s what I mean:

1. I was glad to hear someone willing to ask a high-profile Christian author challenging questions. Too many interviews I’ve read (and even conducted) have been full of softball questions. They don’t really get to the heart of a concern, but come across as the sanitized questions of someone hoping to start a bromance. Or maybe the questions you’d ask on a first date.

As interviewers, we need to do better—and a big part of that is asking meaningful questions. Let’s stop with the silly platitudes and actually deal with concerns. The benefit is you may give the interviewee an opportunity to correct himself if he’s said something in error, or you might receive beneficial clarification.

There also appears to be a disturbing lack of accountability for some pastors and authors, which desperately needs to change, something Carl Trueman points out well. Regardless of whether or not there’s an issue in their churches (and in some cases I wouldn’t be surprised if there were), those of us on the outside must be careful not to treat high-profile people as untouchable, if for no other reason than it reveals we may have a nasty case of idolatry on our hands.

2. I was surprised Driscoll lasted as long as he did on the call. Mefferd says he hung up. Driscoll says he was still there. Regardless of who is right, if it were me—and I say this as someone who has appeared on Janet’s show and had a very positive experience—I likely wouldn’t have stayed on the call as long as he did. While I get, and even agree to some degree, with Mefferd’s concern in addressing the citation (I think he could have been far more clear than a single footnote), he did something pretty unexpected: he said he’d look into it and correct the error if one was made. In fact, he said he’d do it four times.

After the first time, you’d think they could’ve moved on. Instead, it went on far longer than it should have—and I don’t believe either side will come out looking better as a result.

3. Sometimes it’s just easier to think the worst of Driscoll. This is the thing that was most troubling to me—there are a lot of people out there who, no matter what he did, no matter how sincere his apology, nothing Driscoll could say on anything would ever be enough. Some people just want to see him as the villain.

Driscoll’s done himself no favors in this area. He’s said and done, and continues to say and do, some pretty bone-headed things, even in this book (I noted some of my more significant concerns in my review). But you know what I found myself struggling with listening to this interview? The temptation to write off his comments as mere platitudes, instead of taking his statements as genuine. And that’s not okay. If Driscoll is a brother in the Lord, shouldn’t we be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt?1

At the same time, it’s clear not everyone has this reaction. In fact, I’ve been surprised to see a number of folks, not exactly rush to his defense, but show sympathy toward him. I think Joe Carter summed it up well in one of the many debates I saw (and the only one I engaged in), when he said Janet Mefferd “has done what many people would have thought was impossible: She makes people feel sorry for Driscoll.”2

In the end, I’m not entirely certain the “did he or didn’t he” question is even the right question to be asking in the whole Driscoll/Mefferd dust-up. Instead, maybe our question should really be: how do we fix the problem of “celebrity-ism” that’s seeped into the church?

The terrifying sound of silence

keyboard

The worship gathering is coming to a close. The pastor makes his final comments. “Let’s pray,” he says. Everyone bows their heads and close their eyes, and all feel the movement of the worship team taking their position on stage.

The pastor begins to pray… and before long a soothing “ha-wooh” sound emerges from the keyboard, floating through the room.

The “spirit chords” are at work.

Some of you probably never notice this, and if you’re one of those I apologize for bringing something to your attention you won’t be able to unsee (or rather, unhear). But it is something maybe we should be talking about.

Music, like nothing else, has the ability to signal to us how we should feel. Music filled with major chords and a fast tempo amps us up and gets us excited. Minor chords make us more reflective or, if you’re a fan of the Seattle sound from the early nineties, make you feel sad and drink coffee on a rainy day in a plaid shirt. When you watch a television show or a movie, you’ll notice cliffhanger moments (usually at commercial breaks) are capped by a short piece of music that gradually builds in intensity as the scene reaches its climax. For example:

Sometimes the spirit chords feel like this in a worship gathering. Like they’re intended to manipulate us into feeling a certain way—to bring about a “me and God” moment where the Holy Spirit will impress upon us the key take away from the message.

And yet few, if any, worship leader mean it that way (except those that do).

So why do we do this? I’ve wrestled with this for a while, but it wasn’t until I was speaking with some friends over lunch a few weeks back that I think I landed on an answer:

Silence is terrifying to us.

We live in a world that’s constantly trying to drown out silence. We always have music around us. When we shop, when we drive, at the gym, at the office… It’s like we’ve set life to a soundtrack, hoping that it will make the day-to-day a little more interesting.

Or perhaps it’s just an attempt to hide from what happens in those moments when silence does overtake us. When that happens, when the soundtrack is on pause, we have nothing to drown out our thoughts. We have nothing to distract us from what’s really going on in our hearts and minds. We can’t ignore the voice of our conscience—and we can’t run away from the Holy Spirit Himself.

  • It’s in those moments of silence that conviction comes upon us.
  • It’s in those moments of silence that we most strongly feel our need for repentance.
  • It’s in those moments of silence that we tend to most clearly “hear” the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.

Is it any wonder silence is terrifying to us?

This brings us back to the irony of the spirit chords. When the soothing “ha-wooh” begins, it may be doing the exact opposite of its intended effect—instead of helping us ease into a time of prayer, they drown out the Holy Spirit.

So what can we do?

Brothers and sisters, turn off the music on the commute. Sit in the silence and take note of what you “hear.”

Pastors and worship leaders, take a break from the spirit chords for a few weeks and see what happens.

Let’s let silence terrify us a little, and maybe see conviction and repentance come about.

The lesson we need to learn again and again

pastor

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

What the world dismisses as sheer foolishness, the foolishness of God, proves “wiser than man’s wisdom” (1:25). What the world writes off as hopeless weakness, the weakness of God, proves “stronger than man’s strength” (1:25). This is much more radical than saying that God has more wisdom than human beings, or that he is stronger than human beings—as if we are dealing with mere degrees of wisdom and power. No, we are dealing with polar opposites. Human “wisdom” and “strength” are, from God’s perspective, rebellious folly and moral weakness. And the moment when God most dramatically discloses his own wisdom and strength, the moment when his own dear Son is crucified— although it is laughed out of court by the tawdry “wisdom” of this rebellious world, by the pathetic “strength” of the self-deceived— is nevertheless the moment of divine wisdom and divine power.…

For those of us in any form of Christian ministry, this lesson must constantly be reappropriated. Western evangelicalism tends to run through cycles of fads. At the moment, books are pouring off the presses telling us how to plan for success, how “vision” consists in clearly articulated “ministry goals,” how the knowledge of detailed profiles of our communities constitutes the key to successful outreach. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing to be learned from such studies. But after a while one may perhaps be excused for marveling how many churches were planted by Paul and Whitefield and Wesley and Stanway and Judson without enjoying these advantages. Of course all of us need to understand the people to whom we minister, and all of us can benefit from small doses of such literature. But massive doses sooner or later dilute the gospel. Ever so subtly, we start to think that success more critically depends on thoughtful sociological analysis than on the gospel; Barna becomes more important than the Bible. We depend on plans, programs, vision statements—but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning. Again, I insist, my position is not a thinly veiled plea for obscurantism, for seat-of-the-pants ministry that plans nothing. Rather, I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry.

D.A. Carson, Cross and Christian Ministry, The: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians

Strike a blow against the demonic heart of triumphalism

word-balloons

Sadly, too many leaders consciously or unconsciously link their own careers and reputations with the gospel they proclaim and the people they serve. Slowly, unnoticed by all but the most discerning, defense of the truth slips into self-defense, and the best interest of the congregation becomes identified with the best interest of the leaders. Personal triumphalism strikes again, sometimes with vicious intensity. It is found in the evangelical academic who invests all his opinions with the authority of Scripture, in the pastor whose every word is above contradiction, in the leader transparently more interested in self-promotion and the esteem of the crowd than in the benefit and progress of the Christians allegedly being served. It issues in political maneuvering, temper tantrums, a secular set of values (though never acknowledged as such), a smug and self-serving shepherd and hungry sheep.

We have much to learn from Paul. When in our hearts (and not merely in our verbal piety) our aim before God is to strengthen other believers, not to defend ourselves, we will not only succeed in revitalizing the church by our sacrificial ministry and example, but we shall also strike a powerful blow against the demonic heart of triumphalism, which is self in another guise. And if, with Paul, we sometimes face believers who completely misunderstand our motives, then at least we may be confident, with the apostle, that we have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ, and that the attacks may reveal more about the attackers than anything else. May God raise up many Christian leaders whose passion is to build up the body of Christ.

D.A. Carson, A Model of Christian Maturity

Don’t get chicken legs

dumbell-600px

Whether in ministry or the marketplace, we all love the idea of playing to our strengths. And this isn’t a bad thing, certainly. When someone is doing something that they’re jazzed about, and they’re actually really good at, it’s pretty cool to see.

But here’s the thing: few of us get to work in our areas of strength all the time. In ministry, it’s pretty rad to be the guy preaching with conviction or be a part of the praise band. But chairs still need to be stacked at the end of the day, and kids still need to be discipled in children’s ministry. In business, it might be pretty awesome to make a big sale, but you’ve still got to file your paperwork.

This is one of the many reasons I’m thankful for the counterintuitive nature of our faith. Matt Chandler explains it well in To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain:

I know it’s very popular in the business world and even in the church world to say that we ought to only play to our strengths and spend little time on our weaknesses, but I don’t see that spirit of efficiency too much in the Bible. We don’t get that luxury in our faith. By dwelling in our weaknesses, we can linger with God and rely on His gracious love. And in sorting our strengths from our weaknesses, we can begin to develop the sort of holy discontentment that underlies Paul’s instructions to the Philippians to “press on.” (p. 116)

Here’s the thing I’ve found: our weaknesses make us better.

Imagine you’re a gym rat. You love working your biceps and triceps… basically anything that makes your arms look all beefcake, you’re down with. But you hate doing leg workouts. So you just don’t do them. What happens? You might have 18-inch biceps, but you’ve got skinny little chicken legs!

And that’s kind of a problem.

When we recognize where we are weak, we have to work at it to get stronger. Our weaknesses make us better, not just in the sense that they bring humility, reminding us that we’re never as good as we think we are; they fuel the sort of discontentment that grows us in godliness.

“Is he humble?”

holding-bible-lr

I was speaking with one of our pastors Sunday morning and a church in the Toronto area came up in our discussion. The first question my pastor asked hit me like a ton of bricks:

“Is the senior pastor humble?”

Not “is he a good preacher,” or “how many people attend the church,” or any other metric oriented question you could imagine.

Just, “Is he humble?”

It’s tempting to be a bit taken aback by the idea, but it makes total sense, doesn’t it?

What is the New Testament most concerned with when it comes to leaders in the church? Paul describes elders as being men who need to be able to teach and handle the Word rightly, without a doubt. But that’s not all he’s concerned with. More than anything else, he’s concerned about character:

…an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Tim 3:2-7)

Paul starts and ends with character. An overseer, an elder, a pastor, must be one thing: a man of integrity—which means necessarily that he’s going to be a man with some level of humility. So if this is what Paul starts and ends with, why do so many of us immediately jump to other measures first?

Why do we seem more concerned about how many people show up or how good the sermons are or how big the facility is… but not terribly concerned about character?

A few years ago, a friend gave me an unexpected, but much needed corrective. He told me that, despite my many good qualities, I tended to have the appearance of arrogance about me. It hurt to hear that, but in a good way. It made me realize how much my character makes a difference in how people perceive what I do and say. I’m certainly not perfect (as my wife and my coworkers would attest), but Lord willing, I think I’ve made some progress as a man pursuing humility.

So back to this question—”Is he humble?” We need to have this on our radars at all times, whether we’re in seminary, lay ministry or vocational pastoral ministry. Our character is on display for all to see, and no amount of skill in preaching or leadership can make up for a character defect like pride. So what would people say about you, especially those of you who are in a leadership role:

If someone asked, “Is he humble” about you, what would they say?

How well do the competing philosophies stand up?

cross-trees

In the light of the cross, how well do the raucous appeals of competing public philosophies stand up? What place does the cross have in communism? What place does the cross have in capitalism? Does systematic hedonism lead anyone to the cross? How about dogmatic pluralism? Will secular humanism lead anyone to the most astonishing act of divine self-disclosure that has ever occurred—the cross of Christ?

Does the elevation of the virtues of democracy lead men and women to the cross? In America, the founding fathers conceived of democracy as a way of establishing accountability by restricting power. If the populace as a whole did not like the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of government, the ballot box provided a means of turfing them out. Strangely, modern politicians speak of “the wisdom of the American people,” as if special insight resides in the masses. That was not the perception of the founding fathers; it is certainly not a Christian evaluation. Doubtless, democracy is the best form of government where the populace is reasonably literate and shares many common values, but even under these conditions the majority vote does not always display great wisdom. It is the best way to limit power and make government more or less responsive; it is not the best way of determining right and wrong, truth and falsehood, good and bad. Does democracy itself lead anyone to the cross? Is it not always wrong to equate “the American way,” or, more broadly, any democratic system, with the gospel?

Paul’s point is that no public philosophy, no commonly accepted “wisdom,” can have enduring significance if its center is not the cross. Whatever the merits or the demerits of these various systems, they exhaust their resources on merely superficial levels. They do not reconcile men and women to the living God, and nothing is more important than that. They cannot uncover God’s wisdom in the cross, and if that is hidden all other “wisdom” is foolish.

D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry

Jesus frees you from the tyranny of “success”

bulls-eye

Trying to figure out what makes ministry “successful” is always tricky business. Too often we try to determine our value based on what we would call “fruit”—or more crassly, baptisms and bums in seats. Healthy organisms grow, after all. Which is true… but so do unhealthy things. Cancerous cells spread to overcome their host. Weeds spread beyond our ability to keep up with them.

When we get too focused on the wrong things, particularly a wrong view of success, we risk going off-course. We need to get to where we think we’re “supposed” to go, and it consumes us. For most, it’s less a concern about doctrinal fidelity than about methodological consistency. More simply: we fall prey to the deadly snare of pragmatism.

This is why I so appreciate the corrective Jared Wilson offers in The Pastor’s Justification. He writes:

Don’t settle for the false heaven of a “successful ministry.” Because real success is faithfulness. Big or small church, growing church or declining church, well-known church or obscure church—all churches are epic successes full of the eternal, invincible quality of the kingdom of God when they treasure Jesus’s gospel and follow him. Jesus did not give the keys of the kingdom with the ability to bind and loose on both sids of the veil only to those who reached a certain attendance benchmark. So do well, pursue excellence, and stay faithful. God will give you what you ought to have according to his wisdom and riches. (37-38)

That, friends, is the perspective we need, regardless of our role in ministry or the size of the ministry God has called us to. Jesus frees us from the tyranny of growing attendance and giving, of gaining and maintaining “influence.” God gives you as much as you ought to have according to His wisdom—and that ought to be enough for us.

How do your favorite preachers do sermon prep?

mic-podium

Kevin Halloran is a blogger at KevinHalloran.net and for Unlocking the Bible and loves baseball, coffee, and Spanish. You can follow Kevin on Twitter@KP_Halloran.


One practical way to improve a skill is to study the methods and practices of the skillful and see what they did to become great.
Although preaching is so much more than knowing technique, learning about the sermon writing process from today’s great preachers can be a great help and example for preachers.

Below are videos of some of today’s great preachers explaining their process in writing a sermon:

Tim Keller:

John Piper:

Mark Driscoll:

Alistair Begg:

Bonus: Josh Harris shares how John Stott prepared his sermons.

What makes for a good illustration?

Illustrations are funny things. Some people absolutely hate them. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for example, comes down pretty hard on them in Preaching and Preachers. Others absolutely love them. A number of preachers seem to spend almost more time putting together illustrations than explaining their text.

Personally, I really appreciate good illustrations. A good illustration connects with the hearer; but don’t find it terribly interesting when a message is basically a long series of them that don’t really have a lot to do with the text being preached. They really can make or break people’s understanding of your message.

So what makes for a good illustration?

I’m probably the wrong person to try and answer since I’m not really good at them. It’s taken a lot of effort for me to get halfway decent at illustrations (and even then it’s iffy) and I generally gravitate toward literary references and try to avoid obscure ones.

But not everyone gets them, which leads to awkwardness at times.

Still, there are some pretty good clues that can be picked up from other preachers. For example, one of the best illustrations I’ve heard is one Mark Driscoll shared about six years ago on the power of forgiveness. My paraphrase of the story is this:

Just before a couple from Mars Hill got married, the wife committed adultery. She kept it hidden from her husband for years until finally she couldn’t any longer. When she told him, he left the house, got in the car and left; she wasn’t sure if she’d ever see him again.

A while later, he came home. He asked her to undress and he put on her a white nightgown that he’d gone out to buy for her. And all he said to her was, “I choose to see you the way Jesus does.”

Matt Chandler’s “Debt is Dumb” illustration is genius:

What I love about these illustrations is they’re relatable. We’ve all dealt with struggling to forgive others. We’ve all experienced moralistic preaching that just tells us to go do without connecting us to the gospel. And that seems to be the ticket. We can connect with these stories. We can recognize our own experiences in them. And therefore they “click.”

What makes for a good illustration? Keeping it relatable. If our hearers get it, they’re coming along with us. But if they aren’t connecting, we risk talking to ourselves.

Whether you’re a pastor or lay person, what’s a favorite illustration you’ve used or heard?

3 things pastors should say to their congregations

pastor

Every so often a blogger puts together a list of things they wish a pastor would tell his congregation. And while the lists sometimes have some valid points, they more often than not wind up come across as saying, “I wish my pastor was less knowledgeable and confident in what he says.” Which, while I’m sure it sounds nice, really isn’t all that helpful, unless you’re looking for your pastor to validate an unhelpful lifestyle of being tossed about upon the waves of doctrine.

Nevertheless, there are some things I do believe congregations need to hear from their pastors more often than perhaps they do:

1. “Because I love you, I’m going to tell you the truth.”

We sometimes bristle at statements that don’t make us feel good, and so we assume that our pastors are unloving when they say something we don’t like. Yet, this attitude more often than not finds its root in our sin, not our pastors’ failure to be sensitive.

Pastors should never be afraid to express the truth of Scripture and we in the congregation need to be reminded that it’s because our pastors DO care that they tell us the truth—even if it’s something they know we’re going to reject due to our inability to hear it.

2. “Make sure I’m not wrong.”

This might be the second most important thing a pastor can say to his congregation. It takes true humility to say to your hearers, “Don’t take my word for it. Check what I say against the Scriptures. If what I’m saying doesn’t line up, don’t believe me.” Good pastors want their congregations to be like the Berean Jews of Thessalonica who examined the Scriptures daily to see if what the Apostle Paul taught was true (Acts 17:16).

This is something our pastors do exceptionally well. They work diligently to correctly interpret and apply the text they’re preaching, but they don’t assume they’re beyond making a mistake.

3. “This is the gospel…”

I love it when our pastors just have a gospel explosion in the middle of a sermon—especially when it’s completely unplanned! No Christian can ever hear the gospel too often. None of us move beyond it or out from under it. The gospel is the source of our hope and what we celebrate each Sunday when we gather together.

The gospel has the power to bring death to life, to soften the hardest heart and the “fragrance of life” to those who are being saved (2 Cor. 2:16). If there’s one thing a pastor should never leave out of his message on a Sunday or out of his counselling appointments, it’s the gospel. If it’s truly of first importance, the gospel must be clearly shared.

What are your thoughts on this? What do you pastors need to tell their congregations?

Stop trying so hard

pastor

I don’t consider myself to be naturally all that funny. It takes a lot  of work for me and usually comes across as kind of awkward (my wife can verify this).

Usually I don’t come across well because I’m trying too hard. I want people to laugh, so I spend a lot time fretting over the delivery of a joke and wind up completely butchering it.

Preaching and teaching can be like that, too.

One of the big challenges any communicator faces is holding their audience’s attention. If you’re dry as toast, no one’s going to be able to follow you, no matter how interesting the subject might actually be.

Interesting content isn’t a problem for most preachers. No one who has actually read the Bible could honestly say it’s boring—especially the Old Testament narratives (I know of at least one pastor who made a genealogy riveting, for goodness’ sake!). If the “living and active Word of God” truly does pierce the heart (cf. Heb. 4:12), woe to any of us who present it as dull.

But again, this isn’t a problem for most of us.

The problem is maybe we’re trying too hard to be something we’re not.

Many of us—myself included—spend a massive amount of time crafting a message, making sure it’s just so. We want to carry people along with our thinking and see what God’s Word says.

But here’s where we get messed up: in trying to carry people along with the message, we often wind up trying too hard to be funny, as if humor equals engagement.

John Piper says preachers should to be Bible-oriented, rather than entertainment-oriented. This is a good warning, and one all of us need to keep in mind.

If entertainment is our goal, we can come across as flippant, even disrespectful of the duty we’ve been given (to say nothing of being disrespectful to the text of Scripture). This is how we wind up with hour-long sermons that have perhaps 20 minutes of actual content, by the way; more time is spent getting a laugh than making a point.

It’s not that humor is bad, but it should be natural and textual. If our teaching comes across more like a comedian’s patter than a preacher’s plea, we might be trying too hard.

“Be fit for your work, and you will never be out of it. Do not run about inviting yourselves to preach here and there; be more concerned about your ability than your opportunity and more earnest about your walk with God than about either,” Spurgeon told his students. “The sheep will know the God-sent shepherd; the porter of the fold will open to you, and the flock will know your voice” (Lectures to My Students, p. 32).

All of us who are less-experienced preachers would do well to heed Spurgeon’s warning. Let’s be concerned about our ability—that is, we need to grow in our understanding of the Word of God and how to apply it well. But be much more concerned with our own walk with God than how we deliver a message. Our hearers know the difference. We might not be as entertaining, but we’ll be far more compelling.

The deadly snare of the debtor’s ethic

brothers-piper

“God’s given you so much, He’s done so much for you—now what will you do for Him?”

This is the trap of what John Piper refers to as “the debtor’s ethic,” that although we’re completely incapable of ever paying back our debt to God, there’s an implicit demand that we work at it. And the result is our good deeds and worship serve as interest-only payments on a debt that can never decrease.

Such a notion ought never be uttered among Christians.

And yet it is.

How many of us have been guilty of thinking something like this—or worse, using a tactic like this to motivate a Christian to give or serve?

I understand the tension that exists. When our churches seem to have only a few dozen people who are serving and giving while hundreds seem content to be come, see and take, it can most assuredly be tempting for a pastor to find a way to motivate them, to stir them to action.

And the debtor’s ethic will work, for a little while. People will serve for a few weeks. They’ll give regularly for a few months… and then they won’t.

There has to be a better way—and there is. I really appreciate the corrective Piper offers in Brothers We Are Not Professionals:

God takes pains to motivate us by reminding us that He is now and always will be working for those who follow Him in the obedience of faith. He never stops and waits for us to work for Him “out of gratitude.” He guards us from the mind-set of a debtor by reminding us that all our Christian labor for Him is a gift from Him (Rom. 11:35-36; 15:18) and therefore cannot be conceived as payment of a debt. In fact, the astonishing thing is that every good deed we do in dependence on Him to “pay Him back” does just the opposite; it puts us ever deeper in debt to His grace. “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10 NASB). Let us teach people that is exactly where God wants us to be through all eternity, going ever deeper in debt to grace.

Should we then stop preaching gratitude as a motivation? I leave that for you to answer. But if we go on urging people to obey “out of gratitude” we should at least show them the lurking dangers and describe how gratitude can motivate obedience without succumbing to a debtor’s mentality. (Brothers We Are Not Professionals, 50-51)

How can we motivate ourselves and others without becoming trapped in the snare of the debtor’s ethic? The key is found in 1 Cor 15:10 (cited above): It’s remembering that grace fuels even our gratitude—our salvation is all of grace, and thus our service is all of grace as well. When we recognize this and when it takes root, our mindset shifts away from us—even in our gratitude for the grace of Christand continually back toward Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Faithful leaders, personality and free books for you

What’s one of the greatest challenges a leader—especially a Christian one—faces?

Himself.

Because God has uniquely wired each of us with particular skills, abilities and personality types and traits, every leader tends to look a little different. Some are the super-confident, assertive alpha types. Others are incredibly engaging, leading powerfully through charisma and influence. Others still are a little more reserved, and their leadership shines through in how they relate to others moreso than what they say.

conviction-to-lead-mohler

These are not bad things by any means. However, a leader always needs to be aware of how his personality is influencing the culture of his organization—whether a church, non-profit or corporation. Albert Mohler explains this exceptionally well in one of my favorite new books on leadership, The Conviction to Lead (a book I reviewed not too long ago):

…faithful leaders understand that while they will influence the organization with their personality, they must never allow personality to be the defining mark of leadership.

There are two dangers here. The first is the well-known “cult of personality,” in which the persona of the leader becomes the hallmark of the organization. Personality cults take over the culture of the organization, with the leader sometimes becoming more prominent than the organization itself. The other danger is that the leader will rely on personality as a substitute for conviction or competence. Personality is important, but it will fall flat when conviction wanes or competence is lacking. (108)

These dangers are so important for us to understand.

We can all point to examples of organizations where the personality of the founder or leader has overtaken the organization’s culture. And we can all just as easily enough think of examples of either fairly charismatic leaders or ones who lead through fear and intimidation because they’re simply not very good at their jobs.

The point of saying this (and of course Mohler’s writing it) is not to take an opportunity to point at someone else and say, “I’m glad I’m not like that guy!”

We have to remember that personality needs to be both cultivated and stewarded carefully. A leader’s personality can and should influence an organization’s culture. But leaders must be mindful of the negatives they bring to the table as well—because those will spread through the culture as well (and possibly faster than your positives).


Courtesy of Bethany House, today I’m giving away five copies The Conviction to Lead to readers of this blog. To enter, just use the handy-dandy Punchtab app below and answer the following question in the comments:

Who is the best leader you’ve met? Why?

The giveaway closes tonight at 11:59:59 pm (ET) and winners will be contacted via email shortly thereafter.