The Call by Gabe Posey

Photo by Matthias Wuertemberger

First a word of thanks to Aaron Armstrong for the opportunity to write a guest post here for him. 

And now on to the subject at hand. 

Being called is an interesting concept when it comes to the current church. Having recently spent a considerable amount of time in a fairly traditional Presbyterian church, I’ve found that they have a nearly formal way for determining calling. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a process of their tradition, but it is definitely more exacting than the tradition I was raised in. And I can say I prefer it better. 

Since coming into reform theology (not even knowing that’s what it was until it was far too late), I came to understand that one of the most critical factors is one of proof. Not necessarily dismissing or destroying or denying the power of personal experience, the reformers seek to look harshly at what is within the Bible and decide based upon what information is at hand what is truly there and not add to it based upon such experience for fear of exalting tradition above the scripture and end up in sola ecclesia. 

As I was raised, the primary qualifier for a person going into the ministry was an ability to passionately communicate and enough wit about them to play the political church game so as not to get eviscerated by people more cunning than they. [Read more…]

Watch Me

Photo by Jenny Erickson

In his latest (short) book, From The Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days, D.A. Carson shares a story from his youth on the necessity of one-to-one discipleship. I heard Dr. Carson share this story back in April and it’s stuck with me, so much so that I wanted to share it with you (which seems appropriate in light of yesterday’s post):

As a chemistry undergraduate at McGill University, with another chap I started a Bible study for unbelievers. That fellow was godly but very quiet and a bit withdrawn.

I had the mouth, I fear, so by default it fell on me to lead the study. The two of us did not want to be outnumbered, so initially we invited only three people, hoping that not more than two would come. Unfortunately, the first night all three showed up, so we were outnumbered from the beginning.

By week five we had sixteen people attending, and still only the initial two of us were Christians. I soon found myself out of my depth in trying to work through John’s Gospel with this nest of students. On many occasions the participants asked questions I had no idea how to answer.

But in the grace of God there was a graduate student on campus called Dave Ward. He had been converted quite spectacularly as a young man. He was, I suppose, what you might call a rough jewel. He was slapdash, in your face, with no tact and little polish, but he was aggressively evangelistic, powerful in his apologetics, and winningly bold. He allowed people like me to bring people to him every once in a while so that he could answer their questions. Get them there and Dave would sort them out!

So it was that one night I brought two from my Bible study down to Dave. He bulldozed his way around the room, as he always did. He gave us instant coffee then, turning to the first student, asked, ‘Why have you come?’ The student replied, ‘Well, you know, I think that university is a great time for finding out about different points of view, including different religions. So I’ve been reading some material on Buddhism, I’ve got a Hindu friend I want to question, and I should also study some Islam. When this Bible study started I thought I’d get to know a little more about Christianity—that’s why I’ve come.’

Dave looked at him for a few moments and then said, ‘Sorry, but I don’t have time for you.’ [Read more…]

People Are Imitating You; Are You Worth Imitating?

One of the subjects I enjoy studying is leadership.

What motivates people? What makes a “leader”? How can one become more effective as a leader, versus being a “manager”? These kinds of things.

Recently a group of men and I have been working through a leadership training program with one of our mentors, and one of the questions that came up was on the subject of being an authentic Christian leader. The author’s line of thought led him to Luke 6:40:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Basically, the author’s point in mentioning this verse was this:

We become like the people we follow. Who are we following—and what are people becoming like when they follow us?

In Philippians 3:17-20, Paul addresses this very issue (in the context of spiritual authorities), writing:

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Who is worthy of our imitation?

Is there a person in our lives who we can look at and say, “Yes, I want to be like that”? [Read more…]

A Word for the Next Generation of Church Leaders

John Piper was asked the question, “If at the end of your life you could say one thing to the next generation of church leaders, what might it be?

The edited transcript follows:

This is risky, because I know how it could be misused by people who don’t like me anyway. But I think I’m going to say to them on my death bed, “Make the Bible the supreme intellectual and emotional authority in your life, for the sake of magnifying Christ in the fullness of his person and his work, so that generation after generation preserves the foundation and the capstone of the glory of God in Christ, and the grace that is the apex of that glory.”

I’m a Calvinist, and I’m not going to go there, because I believe I got my Calvinism from the Bible. If I didn’t get it from the Bible, then I don’t want people to be Calvinists. So it seems better to say, “Hold fast to the Bible. Base everything on the Bible. If you are going to criticize somebody, criticize them from the Bible. If you are going to affirm somebody, affirm them from the Bible. If you are going to do a strategy, do it from the Bible. Be a Bible saturated people.” That’s what will make for long term staying power for the gospel.

I know this is going to be called bibliolatry, and people will say, “You worship the Bible, not God.” Bologna on that. People who reject the Bible for God become idolaters. The only God worthy of knowing and loving is the one we meet in and discover through the Bible. I do want him to be everything, and the Bible is secondary compared to him; but if we try to say him or something about him without stressing the foundation of the Bible, then we will lose what we are trying to preserve after a generation.

HT: Desiring God

Future Leaders for a Nation

From left to right: Alexa, the program specialist, Karen, Luis and Maricella

Wednesday night we had dinner with three of Compassion Hondura’s Leadership Development students and the program specialist. These young adults are exceptional graduates from Compassion’s child sponsorship program who have been given the opportunity to get a university education and become Christian leaders in their communities and country.

Karen joined the sponsorship program at nine years old and says it was a place of great blessing. She graduated from the program at 18 and is now studying Psychology at the National University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa.

“[Psychology] lets me serve Christ and talk to people about Him, [and] to tell people how valuable they are to God.”

Luis is 20 years old and is studying to be an industrial engineer. He joined the sponsorship program at 7 and graduated at 18. “The tutors taught us to be clean and healthy, but I may have been coming just for the food. I got to like it and had fun. I only had one sponsor, a Presbyterian Church in California. Many people wrote me often.”

Leaving home to continue in his studies is hard for Luis (to get the courses he needs, he has to move to another school). The church he grew up in was where he learned about Jesus. It was where he was baptized. “But I’mm going to miss my mother and her cooking,” he said with a smile. “My mother is a great cook.”

“I want to graduate and the first thing I’m going to do is buy a house, because ours is in bad shape. When I get my degree I want to work, help my family and build my house.”

Maricella is getting a degree in international commerce. Her story is one of the most tragic; her older brother died two years ago at the age of twenty-one of a degenerative disease; her younger brother is confined to a wheelchair by the same illness. She wants to graduate because she feels that she’s the only hope there is for her family, her church and her community. She wants to own her own business so she can help her family.

What stood out to me the most meeting these students is their commitment to serving Christ, helping their families and loving people. It was inspiring to see these young men and women who had nothing growing up and now have an opportunity to help change the direction of their nation.

I think they can do it.

Pray for them.

Don't Just Lead – Learn to Let Others Minister to You

The following article was originally published at SmallGroupTrader.com


A few months ago, my wife and I made a big decision and left the first church we ever went to and joined another church where we live. Up until that time, we’d been running a small group that, due to a variety of circumstances was coming to an end; and after joining our new church, we found ourselves, for the first time in two years, not leading a group.

In some ways it was refreshing. No study to prepare. No questions to email. No house prep… The first couple months in particular were actually a much needed respite for us individually and as a family.

After about three months of getting settled, I decided to join a new small group—a weekly men’s group. Every Friday mornings, I wake up at a ghastly time and grab some breakfast (although I’m not sure it counts as food) on the way over to the meeting before digging into a discussion of the book we’re reading. And to be a part of a group, for the first time in a long time was equally refreshing (and yes, that can happen at 6:30 AM).

Why? Because I realized I had burnt out a bit. I’d been going at top speed, trying to do as much as I could to help as many as I could…but I wasn’t letting anyone do that for me. It’s really easy for leaders to forget that they need to be ministered to as much as they minister to others.

Because of the responsibilities that often come with leading a group, it can sometimes feel like you’re just not part of the group. Maybe, for whatever reason, you don’t feel like you can be as open as others. I know a number of people in church leadership who have expressed that they feel they can’t be a part of a group unless they’re leading it. It’s “expected” of them. Because of this expectation (legitimate or not), these leaders invest, invest, invest… but aren’t being invested in. It leaves them spiritually dry, sometimes a bit bitter, and more than a little exhausted.

So here’s my encouragement to you: Do not just lead a group—be in one. Learn to let others minister to you. No matter who you are—a pastor, a ministry leader, a small group leader—let other people invest in you, encourage you and build you up in your faith. None of us are not so important, so spiritually mature that we can neglect this aspect of our lives. Talk to your existing one and repent if you’ve been doing this. Join another one if you have to. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Learn to let others minister to you.


Thanks to my friends at SmallGroupTrader.com for giving me a reason to write this.

 

Considering The Year That Was

Yesterday, I mentioned that Michael Hyatt challenged readers to consider several questions about 2009. I figured I’d give the exercise a shot. I found the exercise to be really helpful and I’m glad to have done it.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my answers:

1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be? Drama, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy, or a combination?

This year’s been a combination of things. Some tragedy, lots of drama, a bit of comedy… but a lot of joy at the end of it all.  We shared with our families this year that while it’s been a crazy one, we wouldn’t trade it for anything because of how much more aware we’ve become of God through our difficulties.

2. What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring? These can be single words or phrases. For me, they were:

  • Humility (my need for and lack of)
  • Patience (my need to grow in)
  • Repentance (continuing to build a lifestyle of)

3. What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of? These can be in any area of your life—spiritual, relational, vocational physical, etc. Be as specific as possible.

  • Being a part of developing The Difference is Jesus.com and having the opportunity to craft gospel-centered communication for an organization I love.
  • Starting this blog has allowed me to improve as a writer and find a channel for much of what’s rattling around my head
  • Read through the entirety of the Bible
  • Preached my first sermon

4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t?

There’s a few things that come to mind, but the majority relate to my being prideful. A few are legitimate, but not appropriate to be shared publicly.

5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year? As leaders, we naturally have high expectations of ourselves and others. Where did you let yourself down? Where did you let others down?

  • Being too quick to speak and lacking grace in my language
  • Inconsistency in prayer

6. What was missing from last year as you look back? Again, look at each major area of your life. Don’t focus now on having to do anything about it. For now, just list each item.

  • Gentleness in speech when I would have been better served to speak gently
  • Patience
  • More time in prayer individually and within groups about life and work

7. What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year? Boil this down to a few short, pithy statements.

  • God is sometimes most obviously present in the midst of suffering
  • God may have good things in store for us, but we might have to go through hell to get them

2009 is done. That chapter is closed.

On to the next one.

Book Review: Leading with Love

Title: Leading with Love
Author: Alexander Strauch
Publisher: Lewis & Roth Publishers

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have a prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:1-7)

We’ve all been to a wedding where the apostle Paul’s exposition on love has been the Scripture passage of choice (in fact, I’m pretty sure it was read at ours). But as often as it’s used in that context, pastor & author Alexander Strauch reminds us in Leading with Love that these words are not simply poetry:

They are divine commands.

In this book, Strauch shows readers the “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31b), as he reminds us that we can do all things, but if they are done without love, they are worthless. “Love is indispensible to you and your ministry,” he writes on page 3. Love for God and love for people are to be our motivation. [Read more…]

What do you appreciate about your pastor?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how undervalued pastors can be.

Pastors have a hard job. A packed schedule of family obligations, weddings, funerals, couseling and all the other things that come with shepherding the flock God has entrusted to them.

On top of that, they have to deal with a disheartening number of books & speakers who suggest the office of elder/pastor is unbiblical. People taking offense to something they say (perhaps because it points out their sin or it’s a legitimately poor choice of words) and trash them, and on and on it goes…

It’s easy to see why Paul wrote, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17, emphasis mine).

There’s the big issue: Elders who rule well (in short, leading people in the example of our ultimate leader, Jesus) are worthy of “double honor.” In the context of the passage, it is talking about financial compensation—but it’s also talking about respect.

And that’s something I wonder if we’d do well to think about for a few minutes.

What do you appreciate about your pastor?

Have you ever had an opportunity to think about it? Honestly, it’s not something that’s often at the top of my things to consider list, but it really is important.

But it’s really worth considering. [Read more…]

Book Review-It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It

Title: It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It
Author: Craig Groeschel
Publisher: Zondervan

Have you ever seen a church or a ministry that just seemed to have “it?” There’s huge numerical growth, lots of people becoming Christians, crazy innovation… Whatever the reasons, there’s something really special going on.

And you may not know what “it” is, but you know it when you see it.

Craig Groeschel doesn’t try to tell the readers of his latest book, It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It, what “it” is—he readily admits that he doesn’t know. But he does offers some practical insight into what it means to be a ministry with “it” primarily from his experience as the pastor of LifeChurch.tv.

The Good

There’s a lot to like in this book, particularly Groeschel’s  candor. He’s extremely open about his failures in ministry,  particularly when it comes to getting distracted by the things that really don’t matter.

I believed we needed our own building and all the other things real churches have—like a sports ministry, concerts, conferences and our own church van. I thought those important elements would give us it. Then we’d be a real church. Little did I realize, we already had it. God was doing something very special. Lost people were being found. Found people were growing. The church was spiritually vibrant. All without any of the things I thought necessary (pp. 61-62).

He goes on to say that eventually the church accumulated all those things he dreamed of—the building, the sports ministry, the conferences & concerts. Even the church van! “Then one day I realized that everything I’d always wanted was slowing killing everything we already had. Our church had it and we didn’t know it,” he writes on page 62. Programming that didn’t align with the vision of the church nearly ended it.

The Great

Perhaps my favorite chapter in the book is all about a kingdom-mindset. Too often, there’s a temptation to see other ministries and churches as competition, and rather than rejoice in their success, we make snarky comments (and sometimes accuse them of not being “real” Christians because they don’t do things like we do). It’s a divisive and heartbreaking attitude. [Read more…]

God likes Leaders and Preaching

define-church

Yesterday I started working on a definition of the church. After working through a popular passage that’s gained a popular understanding as being about fellowship, we came to the following partial definition:

A church is a community of disciples who practice church discipline, guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Because it’s incomplete, let’s take a look at another couple aspects that will flesh out this definition:

Leadership and Preaching.

Leadership is not popular—and yet a lot of people kind of want to be one. A great many of us (including yours truly) have authority issues… unless we’re the folks in authority. There are also other folks who simply refuse to submit to any authority whatsoever; who want a “flat” church where ever opinion is equally valid and valuable and no one can really hold you accountable for any sin.

But did you know God really likes leaders? He likes authority in His Church, shepherding His people into holiness.

And He gave them to us as a gift.

Check out Ephesians 4:11-14: [Read more…]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Chip and Dan Heath

Willow-Creek

heath_brosIn the final post summarizing my take-aways from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, I want to take a quick look at Chip & Dan Heath’s session: Switch.

The Heaths, authors of Made to Stick and the upcoming Switch (available in early 2010!), address the question, “Why is change sometimes so hard, and other times so easy?”

Any sort of successful change, say the Heaths, “requires convincing the organization that change is the right thing.” Once we’ve done that, we move on to the next issue: Identifying what is working. The Heaths suggest that we first “look for the bright spots—the things that show that success is possible. Find what works and duplicate those things… Bright spots are proof that people are capable of solving their problems.” [Read more…]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Kiva, Coffee, and Bono

Willow-Creek

jessicaflannery_2_smallJessica Jackley, Kiva

The micro-lending phenomenon that is Kiva.org intrigues me a great deal, because I’ve honestly never been sure how exactly it works and if it’s really making a difference in the lives of people. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that it’s cofounder, Jessica Jackley, was part of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. If you don’t know, Kiva‘s mission is connecting people through lending to aleviate poverty. By providing microfinancing to entrepreneurs in developing nations, those entrepreneurs have the funding they need to make their business a success.

It’s a very interesting concept, because it’s very different from what we typically see. It’s not about aleviating poverty for people, it’s equipping people to do it themselves. I am very much a believer in development vs. aid (in the sense that we just throw cash at a problem and hope it goes away), and it’s refreshing to see that, so far in Kiva‘s case, it’s working really well. To date, more than 48 million dollars have been loaned through Kiva by ordinary people, and so far, 98.6% of this has been paid back in full. The secret, Jackley believes, is trust. “When you’re trust-based, you can get a lot more done. We believe if people are treated like we trust them, they most likely will [follow through.]” What Kivaand Jackley have seen so far is that entrepreneurs really are following through. Parents, now with a thriving small business, can buy clothes and pay their childrens’ school fees. It’s lead to improved health and better living conditions. It’s very exciting stuff.

Jackley is definitely a young lady who believes in the innate goodness of people—and that people actually want to give sacrificially (“It’s where a lot of our joy comes from,” says Jackley). I really have no comment on that point, sufficed to say that she has a very charitable attitude, and that it’s wonderful that Kiva‘s experiencing such phenomenal success.

What I see in something like Kiva is a great potential for those of us here in the developed world to love our neighbor in an exceedingly practical way, and one that we might not have otherwise.

andrew-rugasiraAndrew Rugasira, Good African Coffee

Andrew Rugasira’s session was Thinking Forward: Aid vs. Trade. The Founder and CEO of Good African Coffee, Rugasira, a graduate of the University of London (where he received an honors degree in Law & Economics from the School of Oriental and African studies), is incredibly passionate about seeing Africa taking a strong position in the world economy. He wants to change the perspective the world holds about Africa. And that means ending changing our mindset from aid to trade. Because, as Rugasira believes, handouts don’t develop people and nations.

“There is no country in the world that was developed by handouts—so why is Africa different? Africans are looking for the same opportunities as an American, English [or] Indian entrepreneur. [We’re] not looking for a handout.”

The statistics are startling. Between 1970 and 2000, Africa received $400 billion in aid. And during that time, the GDP dropped and conditions worsened. Rather than making the situation better, it actually made it worse. 

“[Aid] creates a culture of dependency. It undermines the  integrity and dignity of recipient countries,” says Rugasira.

“Integrity is being truthful about what you need to do to get out of a situation.” Aid (in the sense that Rugasira is speaking of) completely undermines this. “People have lost faith in themselves. [They believe] that they can’t do anything. That help only comes from outside… [And we want] the opportunity to bring quality products to the market and help Africans help themselves.”

Rugasira’s message is refreshing. I often struggle with the question of how much good are we really doing by doling out billions of dollars a year in foreign aid. When some countries have as much as 40 percent of their budget coming from aid, you know there’s something wrong with the system. I think aid in the sense of emergency, life saving assistance is incredibly important and necessary, which is why I’m grateful for organizations like the Red Cross, World Vision and several others. But I think it’s necessary that we look to assisting the poor around the world develop the skills required to not only aleviate poverty, but transform their society. That’s why it’s good that organizations like Good African Coffee and even Compassion exist.

bonoBono

We all know who Bono is, love him or hate him. And depending on the church, you won’t be the least bit surprised to hear at least one or two U2 songs in the worship set.

Honestly, for Bono’s part of the Summit, I’m not sure even how necessary it was. It didn’t really add anything except a bit of Bono. There was one great line thrown out in his interview with Bill Hybels, though, so perhaps that’s the reason he was there. In speaking about the Church’s sudden ramp up to assist the poor, particularly with HIV/AIDS treatment, Bono said, “As a person who’s really giving off about the Church, you have completely ruined it for me, because the Church has done incredible things, and… I’m taken aback. I think we referred to it [the Church] as the sleeping giant, but I didn’t know the giant could run that fast. And there’s no doubt in my mind that had the church not woken up on the issue of AIDS, we would not have two million Africans on retro-viral drugs. That simply would not have happened.”

That was a nice, albeit backhanded, encouragement, I suppose. It was enjoyable to see Bill Hybels get a few digs in at Bono for not being involved in a local church.

And that is my big take-away from Bono’s session at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Up the (Willow) Creek: Wess Stafford

Willow-Creek
wess-staffordWess Stafford is the president of Compassion International. For those who don’t know, Compassion works through the local church in developing countries to share the gospel while providing for the needs of children living in poverty. It’s also an organization I’m privileged to work for (out of the Canadian office). For literally the entire time I’ve been at Compassion, I’ve always heard people tell me how much I need to hear Wess speak, and how I really need to read his book. So for me, it was very interesting to see Wess speak at Willow Creek during his session, Leveraging Your Past.

In this session, Wess addressed the question of how do we leverage the pain and hurt in our lives for the ministry?

If anyone’s not heard his story before, it’s heartbreaking. The son of missionaries serving in Africa, Stafford, along with the children of several other missionaries serving on the continent, suffered horrific physical, mental, and spiritual abuse. As he put it, “We were little sinners in the hands of an angry god.” [Read more…]