Shepherd the Flock of God

I’ve been thinking a lot about Peter’s exhortation to church leaders in his first letter. Partly because I taught on the passage (1 Peter 5:1-4) almost exactly two years ago and partly because I’ve used it several times since as a passage to help teach young leaders how to study and preach through the scriptures. These four verses hold simple (albeit deep) exhortation for Christian leaders. Exhortations that are still as important and needed as they were nearly 2,000 years ago when they were written.

One of the values of the Calvary Chapel (the family of churches I grew up in) for the last five decades has been that of ‘servant leadership.’ This passage drills down into the topic in a great way and brings to the surface helpful points on how to lead well. Contained in this short paragraph are potentially dozens of helpful observations and correlations, but there are seven that I keep coming back to. None of them is earth-shattering or new. Each of them you may think, “Yeah, I knew that.” But if you meditate on them, and aim at putting them into practice, I think you’ll find them to be personally challenging.

Leaders Are Not Lords

“The elders who are among you I exhort

Both the words “among” and “exhort” are a simple and important reminder of this key value for leadership. Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you” (Mark 10:42-43). For decades the well known former pastor and leadership guru, John Maxwell has taught that “Leadership is influence.” In many ways that may be true. But one of the problems is that the word “influence” can be defined in several different ways. When I read “influence” I often think of an influential example. But I do so because I filter the word through the concept of servant leadership, as revealed in the scriptures. I define it in light of Peter’s later exhortation in this same passage to shepherd the flock of God, not “as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples.” The problem is that the top synonyms of “influence” in my computer’s dictionary and thesaurus are the following: “impact; control, sway, hold, power, authority, mastery, domination, supremacy; guidance, direction; pressure.” Yes, those who are considered leaders in this world do use influence in that way. But it shall not be so among you.

In Peter’s mind, the Christian leader is to be among the people they are serving. And they are not lords, but examples. Peter himself exercises this concept of leadership by saying to the church elders, “I exhort you.” The word “exhort” is the Greek word παρακαλέω (parakaleō). It’s a compound of the Greek preposition “para” and verb “kaleō.” Para means to be “by, beside or near,” and kaleō is the verb “to call.” So the concept is that of a coach or even a trainer. The trainer comes alongside the one they’re training and calls them to press on, follow or move ahead. This is not a power play, but an influential example. And looking at the landscape of the current cultural moment in the West, I’d say that this point alone could be really helpful. We’re living in a time at which almost weekly a new leader, be it in the political, academic, the arts, business or even the church sphere, is being brought down because of their inordinate use domination, pressure, and control over those that are under their authority. There’s entirely too much influence as lords, and it’s sadly evident in the church. How can the climate change? I suggest we learn the next important value from the text.

Leaders Must Maintain Humility

“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder

Peter was “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed.” He spent more than three years with Jesus. He walked on water (Matthew 14:29). He saw Jesus glorified (Matthew 17:1-2). He witnessed the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He was appointed as an apostle and commissioned to carry the Gospel to the uttermost parts. Be that as it may, he self-identified as a “fellow elder.” In Jesus’ exhortation to leaders quoted above, He went on to teach, whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). The culmination of the teaching would come one verse later when He would say, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” That all requires humility.

Humility seems to be a lost concept in our 21st-century American climate. It is certainly not highly valued in our day. The current leader of our own nation is a lot of things; humble does not appear to be one of them. In fact, I would say that a lot of his appeal, among his supporters during the 2016 campaign, was his pomposity. The way up in American culture over the last half-century (and probably much longer) has been to be the loudest, self-promoter in the crowd. The way up in the Kingdom of Christ is down. Jesus not only taught this, He lived it. Paul highlights this truth when he writes:

Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.”

– Philippians 2:5-9

Paul gave this example to illustrate his own exhortation, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). The early apostles all agreed; the way up is down. James wrote, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). Therefore would Jesus say, “whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant;” which leads to the next important value from 1 Peter 5.

The Greatest Leaders are Great Servants

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers”

As if this weren’t already clear from the previously quoted exhortation and example of Jesus in Mark 10, Peter picks up the theme again. Here we are given three important keys of service in these twelve words.

First, we serve in this work as overseers. The New International Version (NIV) speaks of taking care of this ministry, by “watching over” it.

Second, we serve as stewards. This ministry we are given to care for by oversight is entrusted to us as stewards. We are watching over a work and ministry that is not ultimately ours. Leaders (especially Christian leaders within a church context) must take care not to be ensnared by the trap of thinking that the work entrusted to them is their own personal possession. Those snared in this trap quickly find themselves in danger of seeking dishonest gains from the work under their care.

Third, our service is to steward and watch over God’s flock, as shepherds. The word “shepherds” here is the verb form of the noun translated “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11. This is why so many Christian leaders have opted to use the title Pastor in the work they are appointed to. But where did Peter come up with such an idea or concept of service as shepherds over God’s flock? That’s exactly what Christ commissioned him to.

Even a hurried reading of the Gospels makes clear that Peter was all but overcome by shame after his three-time denial of Christ on the night of His arrest. But after His resurrection, Jesus sought Peter out to restore and commission him for service. In John 21 we are invited to witness the restoration and reappointment. Three times Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?” To which Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Following Peter’s three responses Jesus says, “Feed My lambs,” “Tend My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.”

Now though there is disagreement among some scholars and commentators, I think the dialog in the original (Greek) text is truly enlightening. The first two times Jesus asks Peter “do you love me with a self-sacrificing devotion” (Greek agapaō)? Peter basically responds, “Yes Lord, I love you like a brother” (Greek phileō). The third time Jesus seems to come down to Peter’s level asking him, “Do you love me like a brother” (Greek phileō)? Peter is grieved by the third inquiry. I may be reading into the passage, but it is almost as if Jesus says, “Do you really phileō Me? And it’s the third time! Previously Peter had denied Jesus in response to three different inquiries. But the nuance of the language isn’t what is actually interesting to me about the passage.

What is striking to me is that the level of your devotion—total self-sacrificing devotion verses strong affection—it doesn’t matter where the call and commission of Jesus is concerned. Perhaps you’re not completely ready to give up all to follow and serve Christ, but you are a committed follower. The assignment is the same: Feed and tend My lambs! This leads to a very simple conclusion.

The greatest leadership qualification and quality is love

Of course, Jesus’ ideal, as revealed by His inquisition of Peter, is that agapē love would be at the heart of a leader. This is the love described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. It is a love that is patient, kind, humble, honoring of others, selfless, mild and forgiving. I don’t care if you’re a leader in business, government, a classroom, the church or just your home. If your leadership is characterized by this kind of love, then you will grow in influence and stature as a leader. And I think it is absolutely true, if you are a loving leader, you will be a loved leader. Moreover, if you this important quality is at the heart of your leadership then the next important point in this text.

Leaders are compelled by love to serve willingly

Peter writes:

“not by compulsion but willingly”

We are not drafted or forced into this service. Though some of the apostles referred to themselves as “slaves of Christ,” they were actually bondservants. That is, they were servants by choice, not by force. In one of his letters, Paul writes, “For the love of Christ compels us.” His love is that which was demonstrated by His death on the cross. And that love, when properly understood, should increase our love for Him, which in turn should compel our love for others in very practical and Christlike ways.

In 1 Peter 5, the apostle goes on to say, “not for dishonest gain.” Another English translation says, “not for filthy lucre.” The Christian leader does not occupy the role for what they can get out of it. Though sadly it is clear that some have. The Christian leader is compelled by love to serve willingly. And those that fill the office of leader should do so recognizing the next truth in the passage.

Leadership is a stewardship

“nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”

Jesus said “Feed My lambs,” “Tend My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.” The “flock” is God’s flock; the sheep of His pasture. Any role of oversight and leadership that the Christian leader holds is as a manager and steward of another’s possession. We quickly find ourselves drifting into dangerous territory when we begin to see the position as our possession. As stated previously, leaders are not lords. Those who rule as barons over their plot have forgotten the exhortation to shepherd the flock of God which is among them as servants. But those who recognize the importance of leadership as a stewardship will be good examples to the flock, and they will realize the final point of the passage.

Faithful stewards will be rewarded

“when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”

Though we’re exhorted to serve willingly and not for dishonest gain, there is no problem with serving to obtain the honest gain of the eternal crown of glory. Paul wrote, “Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize.” And this text makes very clear that we should lead in such a way that we receive the reward in glory.

As I said previously, none of these things is earth-shatteringly new. Each is rather clearly presented in the Scripture. But when applied as a whole, they produce leaders and organizations that are

Thoughts in Response to John Piper

Pastor John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John” podcast this week discussed the question posed by Arminian Professor Roger Olson “Where’s the Arminian John Piper?” Upon listening to John’s response I asked my friend, Pastor Tim Brown, for his reactions. I found them very thought provoking and worth consideration.

Here is Piper’s podcast…

Here is Tim’s response…

I think it is self-serving and borders on intellectual dishonesty to recognize man’s role as opposed to God’s role as being the core of Arminian theology.

  1. I don’t know of any theologians who actually teach this or would recognize it as such.
  2. Man can do nothing unless God has done something. What rule of theology makes the responder superior to the initiator? What metric makes the final move the crucial move? One could argue that the move which makes possible the final move is the crucial move.
  3. If you were to give me $1 million, for me to walk away praising myself for having the presence of mind to extend my hand and take it from you flies in the face of psychology and history.
    1. Psychology – no one does this, i.e., walks away and focuses on their cleverness rather than the generosity of the giver. Everyone would walk away and say to others, “Wow, did you see what that guy just did? That’s amazing! Who is he!?” The focus would be on the giver and not the receiver and anything he did to position himself to receive.
    2. History – we don’t see what Piper asserts even in our most recent history. I am sure that Piper would consider Pastor Chuck an Arminian, or at least Arminianism would be a more dominant note than the principles of Calvinism. We see in our own quasi-Arminian movement a God-honoring focus on Jesus Christ. Our non-Calvinistic soteriology doesn’t produce the praise of man, but the praise of Jesus Christ. Our soteriology can bear the weight of worship and wonder.
    3. Isn’t it interesting that the man-at-the-core theology of Pastor Chuck birthed the Jesus movement and Piper’s God-at-the-center theology birthed the neo-Calvinist movement. The longer I think about it, the more Piper’s little clip strikes me as being self-serving and not well thought out.

In addition, for someone to take up Olson’s challenge to become the darling and champion of Arminian theology would be to betray the very gospel they preach. Pastor Chuck would have no interest in taking up this challenge. He wanted to promote Jesus, not a system. I’m sure that Piper sees Billy Graham as an Arminian. Billy wants to preach Christ and Him crucified – he doesn’t want to promote a system. Greg Laurie would be seen as an Arminian by Piper (no doubt), but Greg wants to preach Jesus and not argue system. It seems like the ones who are accused of being man-focused are more Christ-focused than the ones who say they are the ones who are most God-focused and God-honoring.

Piper’s contentions in his podcast don’t ring true theologically, psychologically, or historically.

[Furthermore] it’s amazing to me in the light of Piper’s contentions, that the Arminian theology of Pastor Chuck got the nation talking about Jesus and the Calvinism of Piper gets people talking about Calvin and Calvinism. You shall know them by their fruits. (struck through per Tim’s comment/retraction below)

Food for Thought

I was flipping through an old book on my bookshelf the other day and stumbled upon this section dealing with maintaining a middle-ground position on divisive theological points.  Personally I appreciate such a humble orthodoxy.

Some people object because they feel that I gloss over certain passages of Scripture, and they’re correct. But glossing over controversial issues is often deliberate because there are usually two sides. And I have found that it’s important not to be divisive and not to allow people to become polarized on issues, because the moment they are polarized, there’s division.

 

A classic example is the problem in our understanding of the Scriptures that refer to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The Bible actually teaches both, but in our human understanding they’re mutually exclusive. People who become divisive on this issue claim that we can’t believe both, because if you carry the sovereignty of God to an extreme, it eliminates the responsibility of man. Likewise, if you carry the responsibilities of man to the extreme, it eliminates the sovereignty of God. This mistake is made when a person takes the doctrine and carries it out to its logical conclusion. Using human logic and carrying divine sovereignty out to its logical conclusion leaves man with no choices.

 

So, how are we to deal with rightly dividing the Word on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man? We need to believe both of them through faith, because I can’t keep them in balance by my understanding. I don’t understand how they come together. But I do believe them both. I believe that God is sovereign, and I also believe that I’m responsible and that God holds me responsible for the choices that I make. I simply trust God that both assertions of Scripture are true.

 

 

Don’t get polarized. Don’t let the people get polarized. The minute you do, you’ve lost half your congregation because people are split pretty evenly on this issue. So if you take a polarized position you’ll lose half of your congregation. Do you really want to lose 50% of your congregation?

 

– Chuck Smith

Millennials and Eschatology

For many Evangelical Baby Boomers the word Millennial is connected to the “End Times.” This is largely due to the fact that one of the hallmarks of American evangelicalism in the last 50 years has been a vivid end times discourse. But in our 21st century American Lexicon, Millennial has a greater connection to the up-and-coming, and now largest Generation in American history than it does Eschatology. Millennials, those born [approximately] between 1980 and 2000 are beginning to come into their own; and as they are, it is creating an interesting dichotomy in the landscape of American Christianity. And the discussion of eschatology is one sphere that is sure to cause a stir.

I came late to the eschatology party. Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” came 10 years before I was born. My introduction to the “End Times” came while I was in High School when Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ fictional thriller series “Left Behind” hit the scene. In fact I remember very well being introduced to the series while on a family vacation the summer after I graduated from high school. I read the first 3 books in 3 days, which for a dyslexic who just graduated from high school vowing to never read another book, was a near miracle. Admittedly, the whole thing read like fiction, as that’s what “Left Behind” is. But the thought of what it presented actually happening blew my mind. I had been taught during the several years preceding my reading that these sort of things were soon coming to the planet nearest you… i.e. this one.

Before I continue, let me affirm my belief in the rapture of the Church. I absolutely hold a futurist position on Bible Prophecy. I, like virtually all orthodox Christians, look forward with hopeful expectation to the second coming of Christ. But as one who lives on the bridge between GenX and Millennials (decidedly closer in identification to the later) I find that interest in these things, both in myself and among my peers, is not as it is among Boomers. The lack of interest is evidenced by the fact that prophecy conferences and updates are not greatly attended by 20 and 30-something’s. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered a concern among our Baby Boomer brothers, that our lack of interest indicates a departure from the teaching. It doesn’t, not necessarily. In conversations with peers I think there are a number of reasons for this change.

First, there is a concern for what appears to be a hyper-escapist bent in many Christians when discussion of the rapture comes up. The view that seems all to common is one that says, “The world is sinful and getting more evil. America is not as Christian as it once was. Tribulation is coming. I can’t wait for Jesus to come so we can get out of here!” This view also seems to carry with it a glee over the [apparent] worsing conditions in the world, as these somehow hasten the “end.” Right or wrong, these are the [anecdotal] observations I’ve encountered.

It is true, in the last days perilous times will come; the love of many will grow cold and wickedness will abound. But Millennial Christians are unwilling to sit as idle spectators watching with little to no engagement. The words of the lepers in 2 Kings 7 come to mind.

“Why sit we here till we die”

2 Kings 7:3

Secondly, the teaching that is sometimes presented in support of pre-tribulational rapture doctrine highlights and amplifies the cataclysmic doom and gloom that will come post-rapture, with very little concern for the billions of lost who will be left behind to suffer that doom. In other words, evangelistic fervor does not appear to be the immediate bi-product of the teaching. If it is truly believed that these things will soon come to pass, then our response ought to be overwhelmingly evangelistic.

Furthermore, the question arises, “If it is supposed that pre-tribulational rapture teaching produces a greater awareness of the imminent return of Christ, and therefore a more acute righteousness, then why aren’t followers of this view living more righteously?” It is clearly taught in scripture that expectation of Christ’s appearance should inspire righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13). But if such is not evident in many that affirm the teaching, then it is only right to ask, do they truly believe what they affirm?

Thirdly, many Millennials want to know what the proper (i.e. biblical) response should be to the current conditions of the world in light of the rapture and ultimate second coming of Christ? What does it mean for us as the body of Christ, today? Beyond pursuing personal righteousness, how should we respond to sin and suffering, pre-rapture? Questions such as this are the driving force behind initiatives that push for social justice, equality and modern abolitionist movements. Responses that only highlight the increase of wickedness as the end draws near are inadequate.

Fourthly, Millennials are tired of modern predictions as to the timing of the rapture. If Jesus said, “It’s not for you to know,” (Acts 1:7) then Millennials are fine with not knowing. In fact the mysterious nature of such things adds to their intrigue. Insistence upon perfect knowledge or understanding of things that are clearly mysterious (interesting concept, right?) is the height of arrogance. Millennials greatly respect a humble orthodoxy concerning things that are unknowable or where there is considerable disagreement.

Finally, Millennials are concerned by what appears to be a blind and blanket support for National Israel by many American Evangelical leaders. While pre-millennial Millennials recognize God’s future plan for His people under the Abrahamic Covenant, they question uncritical or unilateral support, which is sometimes financial, of the Israeli Government and Military. Such support often turns a blind eye to Israel’s open rejection of Jesus and is typically justified by the use of Genesis 12:3. At hand is not a question of whether or not God has a future plan for Israel, but rather does Genesis 12:3 mean the wholesale support of all things Israel? Or, is blessing/cursing Abraham more oriented toward Messiah and not National Israel? Let me be clear, these questions do not mean that I do not support Israel’s right to defend herself when threatened or assaulted; nor do I deny the holocaust or condone the terrorist actions of Hamas, Hezbollah, or others against her.

I highlight these issues so as to point out that millennials do not necessarily have a problem with the idea of the rapture itself, rather the over-emphasis of it, the way it is often presented and the implications of the teaching. Millennials have more of a Matthew 24:36-25:46 focus when it comes to the end times than do many of their Boomer counterparts. What do I mean? Boomers have often focused on the conditions preceding the rapture, the rapture event itself and the tribulation post rapture; whereas Millennials are more interested in our response to the teaching of the rapture and the conditions of suffering and sin in the world now. Essentially, millennials are more interested on ecclesiology over eschatology.

The ramifications of this reality are clear. The only prophecy update necessary for Millennials is “Jesus promised that He would return, He has yet to do so, there remains much work to do till He does, how shall we then live?”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:

– Psalm 50:14

 

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.

– Psalm 69:30

 

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.

– Psalm 95:2

 

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, [and] into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, [and] bless his name.

– Psalm 100:4

 

What are you thankful for?

hint… leave your’s below!

Vision – Part 2: Developing Vision

In my last post I ventured into the topic of vision and discussed the first of five important aspects of it for pastors, that of receiving vision.  I explained how that receiving vision is as easy as desire.  But, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage is that they’re not always entirely clear.  Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out what it is that we’d like to eat.  The specifics of the desire are often indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us this time to the second aspect of vision.

2. Developing Vision

I’m sure you’ve experienced the aforementioned scenario before?  For my wife and I it seems to be a regular occurrence that looks something like this…

I’m really hungry”
“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t know?”
“Do you want Italian?”
“No…”
“Mexican?”
“No…”
“Chinese?”
“Maybe.”
“Indian?”
“Definitely not.”

So it goes as we hone the desire from the general to the specific. This is the refining stage of visionary desire and is a very important aspect of developing vision.

As I mentioned previously, vision is not always entirely clear.  In this development phase it is important for visionary leaders to gather around themselves others with whom the can explain and cast the vision so as to refine the raw materials of it.  Such sounding boards must be comprised of the kind of individuals that are able to handle the abstract and not be bothered by initial ambiguity.  In this process the visionary desire is pared down from a wide 90° spread to 80°, then 60° and 45°, on down to a fairly focused visionary plan.  Most often is takes place through a prayerful interrogative process.

I find that this development phase can be easily overlooked or under-engaged.  If either one happens a vision can be wholly short circuited at this point.  Refining a vision is a must, but many times leaders that are uncertain or lack confidence will not allow themselves or their vision to be scrutinized.  It is important to recognize that as you subject your vision to the interrogation and scrutiny of others, you may not necessarily have perfect answers for every question.  It is the question itself and the process of discovering an answer to it — with the help of your team — that will rein in and refine the vision.

At the close of every calendar year  I begin proactively seeking The Lord’s vision for our church in the new year.  Sometimes that vision is drawn from a verse or passage of scripture, at other times (like this coming year) it is as simple as one word.  For 2012 our vision was “Enjoying God’s Grace and Extending His Glory.” My desire and vision for our church in the new year is simply “Reflect.” In many conversations with pastors and leaders in our fellowship I share the desire (i.e. vision) of reflecting God in both local and global contexts, and we ask the question, “what would it look like to be reflections of Christ in the context of local outreach, or men’s ministry, youth, young adults or foreign missions? As we do so the vision is reduced from general to specific.

Ultimately our pastoral team gathers for a 2 to 3 day getaway in the end of every year at which we pull together the specific details of our vision and plan for the new year.  It is through this process of vision development that we are able to write the vision making it plain and essentially ready for the next step, impartation/communication.

A few more key considerations are helpful at this point.  First, know your rhythms. Each of us have a different cadence or pulse. This is true as it relates to how we approach our day, week or year. As a result there are times throughout these cycles where we are more apt to catch creative current. By recognizing what our rhythms are we can take full advantage of them more effectively.

Secondly, know and understand your strengths and weaknesses. I highly recommend Gallup’s Strengthsfinder for this. If your strong in the areas of Stretgic and Ideation, then make sure you make time for solitary idea development. But, also make sure that you work to your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. Surround yourself with co-leaders who complement your abilities and you theirs. People like myself that are strong with strategic ideas need Arrangers, Activators and Deliberative Developers around them. Never feel threatened by co-leaders who are strong where you are weak, rather strive for effective communication coordination of tasks to best suit strengths.

Finally, vision often seems bigger than our capacity or ability to facilitate it. Don’t be discouraged by big vision or expansive obstacles.  It can be frustrating to have such vision, until you recognize God’s timing and abundant resources.  Be faithful to develop the vision you receive of Him and He will supply what is lacking.

Vision – Part 1

Over the last several years I’ve given much thought to the subject of vision and have written a few times of it here on Cross Connection. Verses like Proverbs 29:18 regularly come to my mind — “Where there is no vision, the people perish” — and keep me cognizant of the fact that vision is important. It is however strange to me that discussion on the topic of vision seems, for some, to cause a problem. I’m not entirely sure what the problem is, but often when I speak on the subject, people (especially pastors) will, almost aggressively respond with things like, “Well, I’m not a visionary leader,” or “I’ve never seen a vision,” or my all-time favorite, “I haven’t had any visions since I became a Christian and stopped taking psychotropic drugs.” With that in mind let me begin by saying, I too have yet to “see a vision” and have never tried psychotropic drugs. Furthermore, I’m not sure I’d account myself as a “visionary leader.” But I do recognize the importance of vision, especially from Christian leaders and for Christian churches.

I greatly appreciate that the New Living Translation translates “vision” in Proverbs 29:18 as “divine guidance.” This translation sheds light on the fact that Christian leaders need to be led. Most Christian leaders (i.e. pastors) can accord with that. They fully recognize the need to be following the Lord in their leading of others, thus we seek the Lord for His guidance. His vision.

So as I’ve contemplated the question of vision I’ve concluded that there are five important aspects of vision that pastors and leaders should be aware of. Over the next several weeks I’ll be developing them here.

1. Receiving Vision

More than a few pastors have confessed to me “I am not a visionary leader.” I don’t necessarily believe them when they say so, because I am not convinced that they’d be leading if they weren’t. One of the problems is that we tend to look at those doing extraordinarily cutting edge things in ministry as the “visionaries” of the bunch. But I’d suggest that those leading edge pioneers are not the only ones, and that if we allow ourselves to think that only they are, then we will in some way fail to lay hold of the vision for which Christ has laid hold of us for. Well then how do we lay hold of, or receive the vision that God has for us? It’s actually easier than you might think.

In considering my personal ministry experience and the observations I’ve had of other’s, I’m more convinced than ever that divinely guided vision is as easy as a wish. In other words, vision begins as a desire. Thus, if you are to receive divinely guided vision you should delight yourself in the Lord. Yes, I’m referring to Psalm 37:4, in the sense that those who delight in the Lord will find their will (read, desire) subdued to God’s will. For, it is God who works in us to desire (Philippians 2:13).

This, I believe, is one of the “signs of life” for a Christian, new desires. Just as at physical birth a newborn baby experiences new desires it has never experienced before (to breath, to eat, etc.), a newborn babe in Christ does as well. This is almost instantaneous. How many times have we encountered new believers that say things like, “I just don’t want to do the things I use to want to do”? Why is that? Because the Spirit that dwells in us yearns jealously (James 4:5). His Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are in fact newborn children of our Father in heaven. And as we delight ourselves in the Lord He imparts to us new desires (i.e. visions) to do things that we would not have other wise done.

Although it’s something of an aside, I think that it is important to highlight that there are a number of things that can aid in receiving vision. Since vision, in the context in which we’re speaking of it, is divine guidance, I believe that it is important (especially as a leader) to place yourself in the places in which God has told us that He will be. For your consideration I’ll give a few.

a. Jesus told us that He is with us when we are “going” on behalf of his name and kingdom.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

– Matthew 28:19-20

b. God has revealed that He is present when His people praise Him.

But thou are holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

– Psalm 22:3

c. Jesus revealed that He is in the midst of those gather in His name (i.e. fellowship).

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

– Matthew 18:20

Now, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage, they’re not always entirely clear. Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out just what it is that we’d like to eat. The specifics of the desire are indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us to where we’ll be heading next time with the second aspect of vision.

Taking Steps of Faith

“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. — But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. — (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)— But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. — For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? — O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? — ..for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Romans 1:17 • Hebrews 11:6 • 2 Corinthians 5:7 • Matthew 6:33 • Matthew 16:25-26 • Matthew 14:31 • Romans 14:23

Comfort is the enemy of growth. Yet we live in a society that works overtime at eliminate any and all discomforts. Certainly, I know no one that enjoys being uncomfortable, least of all myself. I’ll readily admit my own aversion to discomfort, but at the same time I recognize the absolute and total necessity of living and walking by faith, which is tremendously uncomfortable.

It was nearly 10 years ago that the Lord impressed upon me a very simple, but an important truth of pastoral leadership. As I prepared to step away from a ministry I loved and knew well to serve in a country I’d never visited, with people I’d never met, in a church I knew little about, I realized that I can never expect those I lead to take discomfiting steps of faith if I am unwilling to be a pattern of doing so myself. As I’m sure many of our readers are acutely aware of — or can imagine — it is extremely easy to become excessively comfortable in church ministry. Especially in an established church. To step away from that is, well, uncomfortable.

I am truly grateful for the wonderful examples of faith that are all around us. I’m thankful that the Hall of Faith doesn’t end at Hebrews 11:40. I thank God for individuals, whom I am blessed to call my friends, of whom the world is still not worthy of. Ones who leave the comforts of home or the shelter of “established ministry” to heed the call “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Those that leave family and friends to plant churches in the Philippines, to bring the Word to Mozambique or healing hands to Israel. Those that live by faith, trusting God for provision and in so doing observe firsthand that God is indeed worthy of our complete confidence and devotion.

With each passing year my conviction fortifies. The church must observe in her leaders a willingness to take a risk. Calculated as they may be, risks (i.e. steps of faith) always involve some level of hesitation or fear, and present the possibility of failure. Be that as it may, God is still able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that is at work in us.

So, get out of the boat… what’s the worst that could happen?

Israel – Part 2

I received several great responses to the questions I posed in my last post; exactly what I was hoping for when I posted them. So with this post I’d like to give some of my own answers.

What should be the response of the church to National Israel in the last days?

I think it should stir us to be keenly aware of what God is doing [prophetically] in our day. As I see it the Nation of Israel’s regathering and existence in these days is fulfillment of both Old and New Testament prophecies. I do recognize that my amillennial brothers (Daniel) will not agree, but you will one day 😉 (sorry I had to). Therefore, I think that the church should respond by doing just what Matthew 24 and 25 say in parable, be watching, waiting and continue working for the glory of Christ’s kingdom.

That said, I’m concerned that we (the evangelical church in America) sometimes turn a blind eye to certain unethical dealings of National Israel because, “Well, they’re ISRAEL.” Israel is an incredibly secular society filled with sinful people who need Jesus and therefore we ought to respond evangelistically. Yeah, I know, that’s a given.

How should we interpret and apply Paul’s words “To the Jew first” in the context of 21st century Christianity?

Let me preface my remark by saying, James Class, I totally respect your desire to serve among the Jewish People in Israel. I believe your heart for this was developed in prayer and by seeking God’s direction. Therefore, if any leader comes to the same conclusion by seeking the Lord for missions strategies, I applaud them.

That said, I don’t believe, as a general rule of missiology that the church should begin all missions endeavors by beginning with “the Jew first.” Furthermore, Jesus commission to His disciples, to begin at Jerusalem, move to Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts, should not be held over all that we do in fulfilling the commission. In other words, a church in New Mexico doesn’t need to send missionaries to Jerusalem or Jews before they go to Africa or China. I think the principle has more to do with doing at home and in your own sphere first what you plan to do else where in missions.

How should we interpret and apply Paul’s words “To the Jew first” then? Just as they were intended to be when Paul wrote them. The gospel, by order of who it came by, came first to the Jewish people, but was never God’s intent to stay only with them. The power and magnitude of the gospel is not only for Jews. Praise God, it’s for us non-Jew gentiles too.

Should the evangelization of lost Israel take precedent over other lost peoples?

In line with the last answer, I don’t believe so. Lost peoples are lost peoples and there are a lot more lost non-Jews than there are lost Jews. Fact is we need more people fulfilling the great commission everywhere.

Does the promise of Genesis 12:3 (i.e. “I will bless those who bless you…”) mean that we—the church—should seek to bless, monetarily, the nation of Israel to receive a blessing ourselves?

So I’ll admit, this is kind of a trick question. If you read carefully you’ll note that I said “seek to bless… to receive a blessing.” I point this out because I believe the worst form of giving is giving that gives for the purpose of getting. This is akin to prosperity teaching that says, “You give to the Lord and you’re sowing a seed, you’re going to get tenfold, maybe even a hundredfold in return.” I am [personally] bothered when I hear people encourage physical or monetary blessing to the nation or people of Israel so that we can get a blessing in return.

Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? Do Muslims?

This may be the toughest question of the lot. It is, however, a relevant question to ask in light of discussion this past month  prompted by some articles surrounding Pastor Rick Warren and Saddleback Church’s reported associations with Muslims in Orange County, CA.  I’m not sure I have the best answer for this, my own question, but I do have a few thoughts.

True worship of God must be offered through Jesus Christ as He is God, and [is] the way by which we are given access to God. Some could argue that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but I’d say that only worship offered in Christ is acceptable to God. Therefore, worship of the right God in the wrong way is [essentially] idolatry and therefore sinful. To this I would add that Muslims have a far greater respect for Jesus than Jews (twice in the last 6 months I’ve had Jewish Rabbi’s make rather condescending/mocking remarks about Jesus to me, that wouldn’t happen from a Muslim), which is, at least, an interesting thought for consideration.

Like the scribe of Mark 12, I think there are many Muslims in the world who are “not far from the kingdom of God.”

Israel

At this time in world history there doesn’t seem to be a day that passes where the State of Israel is not in the news in some way. It is my conviction that this is exactly as scripture foretold (Zechariah 12:2), and is key to the belief of many evangelicals—including myself—that we may be living in the very last of the last days. But convictions such as these and recent correspondence with other evangelical leaders has caused several questions to come to my mind.

[list style=”list1″ color=”grey”]

  • What should be the response of the church to National Israel in the last days?
  • How should we interpret and apply Paul’s words “To the Jew first” in the context of 21st century Christianity?
  • Should the evangelization of lost Israel take precedent over other lost peoples?
  • Does the promise of Genesis 12:3 (i.e. “I will bless those who bless you…”) mean that we—the church—should seek to bless, monetarily, the nation of Israel to receive a blessing ourselves?
  • Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? Do Muslims?

[/list]

I would love your thoughts, add your’s below. (click here to comment)