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

Vision – Part 3: Impartation

I love how imaginative my kids are. Ethan (4 years old) and Addie (soon to be 3) have super vivid imaginations (I’m sure Eva does too, but she’s only just turned 1).

The other day while driving home from Costco we had one of their movies playing in the back seat. During the “moral of the story” wrap-up the main character told the kids, “You see you don’t have to be a superhero to help people.” Without a second thought Ethan quietly responded, “Yes you do.” In his mind you do, and in his world we are all superheroes. In fact, if you were to ask him which superheroes we are… I’m Mr. Incredible (he’s a smart boy), Andrea is Firestar (he made that one up), he is Spider-Man (or Ironman, or Captain America), Addie is Elastagirl and Evangeline is Dash. Ethan has a vision. He lives his vision and he loves to bring others into it. Bringing others into your vision is what impartation is all about.

In my last post on developing vision I spoke of casting the vision to those leaders closest to you for the purpose of moving it from the general to the specific. Although some aspects of development carry over into impartation, impartation is the real incarnation of vision in the hearts of others. At this stage the more specifically formulated vision that has been developed in step two is now imparted to the larger body so as to make the idea a reality. At this point there are three important steps in birthing the vision in the hearts and minds of the body.

REMIND the people of what God has done previously. At the beginning of each year at CCEsco I spend 2 to 3 weeks imparting vision for what is on the horizon and I always begin first by reminding the body of what has happened in the previous year. I share how the Lord has provided for the work and opened new doors of opportunity. I remind the body of what they gave in support of the work and how that has practically impacted our community and the world; and we take time to remember some of the lessons we’ve learned as a result of what we’ve seen and been apart of.

Once we’ve taken some time to rehearse what God has done and is doing, I then ARTICULATE the vision of what God has called upon us to do in the new year. This articulation is not an in-depth treatise on every detail of the vision, but rather a simple overview of what we’re desiring to accomplish by God’s grace. As much as possible I believe that it is important to be as concise and precise in communicating the vision as the details of it can be expressed more fully later. Think of impartation as a form of inception.

As you rehearse what God has done and articulate what He is preparing to do it is essential that you then ELICIT a response from your hearers. In so doing it is important that you provide easy on-ramps for them to step into the process of making the vision a reality. Don’t just paint an abstract picture of what could potentially be, but provide practical ways in which the body can participate.

In Exodus 25, as Moses was still receiving the vision for the tabernacle, he began to impart the vision to Israel and prompted their involvement by requesting an offering. This offering was the initial spark that involved and employed their participation in making the tabernacle a reality. It [the offering] gave the people a practical way in which they could be a part of the birthing of the vision.

 

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?

A Second Wind

There arose another generation after them, which knew not the “Jesus People,” nor yet the works which they had done…

My three and a half year-old son, Ethan, is nearly four feet tall. Over the last month his voracious appetite has returned and he’s been in need of an afternoon nap again too. Last week he woke up complaining of pain in his legs; he refused to walk and wanted to be carried for much of the day. It’s not easy lugging a 50 pounder up and down stairs, nor explaining to him that he’s experiencing growing pains. Every Christian movement (denomination) has growing pains too. As a matter of fact, every organization experiences transitional tension.

I was completely unaware, when I stepped into the ministry 14 years ago, that the movement with which I’m associated was entering the throes of just such a time. In actuality, it’s unavoidable. Growth, in life, is inevitable; and if vitality is to be maintained, it must be welcomed. But in such times, when pains begin to emerge, the initial reaction of those at the top is the impulse to engage restricting mechanisms. They are tempted to employ means to moderate the discomfort of change, but if they are not careful they will effectively amputate the budding new growth of future life. Practically speaking, they will force the new life to find fertile ground for growth elsewhere. This happens both in the microcosm of a local church as well as on the larger scale of an entire denomination (In fact, this is how our movement got it’s start).

At this moment in church history, this is a fresh reality for the Calvary Chapel Movement. We are confronted with the difficult truth that the man whom God elected as the forebearer of this movement will, at some point, be called home to glory. It is absolutely certain that he has run the race well, and that there is now laid up for him a crown of righteousness as well as a “well done thou good and faithful servant” from the Lord. But it is also certain that those that have been called at this point to administrate this transition find themselves in a difficult position that requires delicate handling.

The temptation to “bronze the movement” and take this opportunity to identify, clarify and codify just what it means to “be Calvary” is very apparent. Steps have been taken in the last months to forestall such a move, but there are many questions that remain — and perhaps rightly so — unanswered. But in the midst of all this is the present reality that there is a significant demographic in the ranks of Calvary Chapel that do not share the common history of the Jesus Movement, nor the exciting things that defined it. They’ve grown up in an established church, with established structures (bible colleges, radio ministries, conference centers, youth camps, etc…). They, myself included, know nothing of a time before “The Word For Today,” “A New Beginning,” “Harvest Crusades,” “Murrieta Hot Springs” and “Chuck Tracks” vs. “Chuck Tapes.”

We want to see in our generation what we hear of only as anecdotal accounts of yesteryear from others. We desperately desire to run our leg of the relay, but feel hindered by those who began doing so at 18 and now in their 60’s look at us in our 30’s and question whether or not we’re ready to do so. The great oaks of our movement are in danger of stifling the life of those under them.

I’ll readily admit that we may seem a bit brash. Indeed, at times we may completely drive our older brothers crazy. We might come across irreverent or disrespectful. Please understand, we — perhaps I should say “I” — mean no disrespect and truly do esteem those that have pioneered the paths of pastoral ministry in our movement.

Yes, there may be some among our ranks that are “reformed friendly.” We may question the apparent fear of Calvin, but that does not in any way mean that hold a reformed soteriology. True, we may not speak as often of the rapture or hold prophecy conferences and end-times updates, but that does not represent a departure from a traditional Calvary Chapel eschatological position. Indeed, we “do ministry” differently than perhaps has been done over the last 30 years, but if it wasn’t emergent to be barefoot, in a tent, listening to Lonnie Frisbee, then neither are we.

I’ve been told I’m controversial. I recognize that I’ve ruffled a few feathers. My desire is not mere controversy; my intent is not to be critical; my only aim is to stir my brothers up to further love and good works. Should the Lord tarry, I pray that Calvary Chapel continues it’s run. But as an inside observer, I think we’re in need of a second wind.

When Your Heroes Don’t Measure Up

It’s standard fare for superhero movies. Hero (whoever he/she is, Ironman, Thor, Captain America, Spiderman, etc…) discovers great power, uses it effectively, rendering him/her a super hero. But then the phenomenally super hero experiences a crisis wherein his superhero status is challenged by someone or something for which his powers prove ineffective. Hero, to gain super status once again, must overcome said challenge by digging deep and finding unrealized super ingenious workaround to the challenge for which his powers have been inoperable.

We love these things. Over the last decade plus, Marvel has done a marvelous job capitalizing on our fondness for such epics. Avengers alone grossed nearly a billion and a half dollars. We long for heroes. There are certainly times in life in which we wish an Ironman could appear on the scene to mop up a horrific situation. Furthermore, who wouldn’t want the superhuman ability to fly around in that trick suit? In fact — no lie — my 3 1/2 year-old son just came up to tell me, “Dad, my name is Superman!” which is a change, since for the last two weeks we’ve been unable to call him Ethan, as his name has been Captain America.

 

Yes, we recognize that such superheroes are fictional fare. Frankly, I’m fine with that. If the superheroes were real, then their counterparts, super-villians, would be also, and life is bad enough without Frost Giants. This doesn’t however diminish the desire for heroes.

The scriptures present a long list of individuals to look up to. Men, and women, who did phenomenal things. Certainly Hebrews 11 exhibits an exceptional list of names. Church history over the last 2 millennia has supplied many individuals for consideration. Secular histories too. The reality is, I find myself often looking for figures who’s lives are visible now; heroes with skin, if you will. For me, such heroes would be individuals that have trod a well worn path of service to God, and done so with excellence.

Over the last 15 years or so, there have been a number of individuals that have occupied that space for me. For one reason or another I’ve allowed these persons an elevated place in my mind; yes, a pedestal. Often they have been individuals that have been successful in ministry, having taken steps of faith that  [apparently] involved a level of risk. But the fact is, the closer you come to anyone, the more you see their inconsistencies, perhaps even their failures. I mean, isn’t that one of the downsides to HD TV? Who really wants to see virtually every blemished pore of the anchors on the news or the actors on TV?

I must confess, there have been times, even recently, in which I feel almost let down by the fact that such individuals are… well, only human. That, in actuality, the “superpower” that they “possessed,” I observed or even esteemed in them, seems to disappear in the face of [somewhat] unexceptional humanity.  Truth is, such “power” had very little to do with them. What I was actually in awe of, amazed by or respected in these heroes was Christ in them, in spite of the earthiness of the earthen vessel.

Realizations such as these are reminders to remain humble. They are a reminder for me — a pastor — to live at the level of those I lead. As leaders we cannot completely prevent others from placing us upon a pedestal, but we can determine to not cater to it. Pretentiousness is sin, and the more transparent that I become, the more of Christ people will see.

Thoughts From The Road

My wife and I have been traveling for the last 24 hours and have finally arrived in Westport, Ireland. A friend of ours flew us out so that I could perform his wedding ceremony tomorrow afternoon. The time of non-connected reflection that the flight afforded me and the wonderful generosity of a friend has caused some thoughtful contemplation (as I’m a “contemplative pastor”). Two things are consuming my thoughts.

1. The importance of uninterrupted solitude
2. The difficulty — perhaps because of pride — of receiving gracious blessings/gifts.

Uninterrupted solitude is hard for us, in fact we’ve not made it very easy. Newsweek’s cover-story this week — “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?” — is worth the read. It highlights what is no longer just a trend, but a fully matured reality, that it is increasingly difficult for us to “unplug” and that our plugged-in existence is not necessarily healthy or helpful. I’ll be the first to admit (as I type this on my iPhone) that I have a hard time unplugging.

With all the discussion here over the last couple of weeks about the importance of planning and optimally using the 168 hours we have each week, I’m wondering how myself and many other Christians (especially pastors) might be well served by scheduling uninterrupted silence for the bulk of a 168 hour period. I wonder what “times of refreshing from the presence of The Lord” the church would receive from such a move. I think that one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy overseas trips, most specifically our short-term trips to Africa, is that I’m unable to be connected.

Pastors are notorious for being hesitant in receiving from others. Or at least many of the pastors that I know personally, myself included. We, by our nature and training are givers. Servant leadership is central to the stream of Christianity that I grew up in, and we exalt highly the principle revealed in Mark 10.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

But those are the words of Jesus. Last time I checked “Son of Man” was a messianic title. And giving ones life as a ransom for many was His task, which He finished. I don’t mean to say that we are not to be servants, Jesus clearly taught the importance of becoming and being servants of all. But over the last couple of years, and particularly through this trip, God has been challenging my thought process in this area.

Why is it that some of us don’t like to receive from others? At least for me, there are two key reasons. First, it’s humbling to receive superfluous blessings from someone. Second, I find that I feel guilty for accepting them, as if doing so is taking advantage of the giver. Yet I think that is important that while we are learning to be gracious givers/servants we learn to be a gracious recipients too.

Get S.M.A.R.T.

About a month ago a friend challenged me with the question, “How do you gauge your spiritual growth?” This friend is an associate pastor within a very large church that requires their staff to chart out spiritual growth goals every 6 months. And these goals are not ambiguous or undefined. In fact, each pastor is accountable to someone within the pastoral team as to how well they are accomplishing their growth goals. To be very honest, it’s been awhile since I wrote out specific goals for growth. Unfortunately we [pastors] sometimes assume growth as a given, as if it were growth by osmosis via proximity to the “Church.”

The numbers don’t lie. Both Barna and the Schaeffer Institute have found that more than 70% of pastors only study the Bible when they are preparing for sermons or lessons. Only 26% “of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality.” Not only do the numbers not lie, they’re incredibly challenging. Perhaps such apathy and atrophy in the pastorate is why the profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman.”

I certainly didn’t realize it when I stepped into the pastorate, but this is a profession that chews up and spits out many who occupy it. The average pastor lasts only five yeas, which is startling, considering that I just began—last week—my 5th year pastoring Cross Connection Escondido. Peter Drucker once stated that the four hardest jobs in America are the President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and… a pastor. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that if you are to survive in pastoral ministry, you’d better be proactive about your spiritual life, which I believe holistically involves every other aspect of your being too (i.e. physical, mental, emotional, etc…).

When I first began in the ministry as a youth pastor, the theme verse for our youth group was 1 Timothy 4:12…

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

Over the last several months I’ve been brought back to 1 Timothy 4 a number of times. Another verse of the same chapter says…

For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

– 1 Timothy 4:8

This verse is often jokingly put forth as a reason to abandon physical exercise, which is an obvious misapplication. But the glibness with which it is often thrown about in some ways lessens the impact and importance of what is being said. We need to be physically and spiritually well exercised, especially pastors.  Most certainly spiritual exercise, or godliness, has longer lasting benefits (in this life and eternity).  If we are to be exemplary in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith and purity, then we need to make sure that we exercise ourselves toward godliness. Thus, I’ve been challenged to more diligently set some S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific • Measurable • Achievable • Reliable/Realistic • Timely) about my spiritual and physical disciplines; because there are far too many in my “profession” that do not finish well.

Busy…

Having small children, as I do, ensures that I have a steady diet of Veggie Tales.  If you’ve never seen a Veggie Tales episode you are definitely missing out.  Bob and Larry are something of a staple in our home, which means that I regularly hear, and often cannot get out of my head, the little veggie ditties (i.e. songs; many of which are actually quite funny).  One of the songs that I recently heard (for the millionth time) says at one point…

We’re busy, busy, dreadfully busy
You’ve no idea what we have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you.

It is an interesting thing when a song written for 3-6 year-olds challenges you to think and question whether or not you’re doing what you should be doing.

We live in an dizzyingly busy society, and I find myself so often caught up in the busyness of it all.  Words like “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and “Come aside… and rest a while” (Mark 6:31) are challenges that I often fail at.  It is staggering just how fast days and weeks fly by.  With seemingly endless things to “get done” I frequently find myself flying from one task to the next.  Sadly, with my mind on the 3, 4, 5 or 10 other things I “must” get done, I just mechanically process the tasks.  It’s like when you’re driving somewhere, with your mind elsewhere, and when you get to your destination you realize that you don’t remember any of the drive and wonder how you made it without an accident.

A few of months ago, while thinking on the story of Jesus at Lazarus’ house as Martha served and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet I was struck by Jesus’ word to Martha…

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled  about many things: but one thing is needful.”

Luke 10:41-42

There are a number of different ways to apply the passage, but as I meditated upon it I found myself confronted with the reality that I am often so absorbed with the “many things” that I need to do that I miss the opportunity to worship the Lord in the “one thing” that I’m doing at that moment.  The Apostle Paul said, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) And “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).  I’ve been challenged since that meditation to seek to worship the Lord with whatever “one thing” I am doing from moment to moment.  Whether it’s writing an email, answering a phone call, reading a Psalm or driving to an appointment; whatever I do, even eating and drinking, can be done as worship for the glory of God.

Trust me, it’s hard.  Especially since I keep finding myself distracted by the 12 other things I need to do when this post is done… 😉

 

For further consideration I recommend a post from my friend Mickey Stonier at The Rock Church, San Diego, Pastor’s Blog

 

Legalize Marijuana?

During the Q&A following our service last night the following question was texted in…

Sorry if this is off topic but with it being in the news so often its hard not to notice, with pat robertson endorsing decriminalization of cannabis what should our position as christians on medical cannabis and cannabis in general?

I didn’t take time last night to answer it as I hadn’t heard or read about Pat Robertson’s statements and I wanted to make sure that I understood his position. That said, I do have some thoughts on this issue and having had a chance to look at what Robertson actually said, I figured I’d post an answer here.

The discussion of marijuana legalization is an interesting one, and I’m fairly certain that within a generation it will be legalized in the US. Public opinion on the subject is shifting and the younger demographic (i.e. Millennials) is largely in favor of the move. So, whether or not Christians and the Church agree with the move, we will very likely see a legislative shift within 10-15 years, or sooner.

Add to the discussion Pat Robertson’s remarks from earlier this month. Although they flew under my radar (which isn’t terribly hard to do), Robertson’s views are not new. He’s been advocating this stance for a couple of years, and primarily for pragmatic reasons.

“I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance, the whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.”

On this point, I basically agree.

Robertson also said, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.” Again, I don’t necessarily disagree on this point either. My primary concern is that many of the politicians I’ve read or heard on this subject have come at it from a totally different angle that concerns me. The reasoning goes something like this, “The war on drugs is costing us billions and is not working, we could legalize and regulate the marijuana industry in such a way that it generates great revenue for the government.” If we’re going to legalize and regulate marijuana solely to make money for the government, then why not prostitution or other controlled substances? Do we really cast aside morals for profit? What precedent does this set and what are the other unintended consequences of doing so with marijuana?

I am not against the lawful use of alcohol as the Bible allows for it’s use; as long as such use is not in excess, which the bible defines as drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). There is however a lot of unlawful and excessive use in America, which has grave and costly consequences; such as the human cost… This year upwards of 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes – one every 50 minutes. There will be huge economic and human costs associated with marijuana legalization too; many of which will not be realized until after it’s legalization. The questions abound; how do employers deal with marijuana smoking employees? How does the military? Is there a “legal limit” that can be smoked, or how does law enforcement enforce such a DUI charge for Marijuana? etc…

I could certainly go on, but ultimately this begs the question, how should the church respond when such a shift takes place? When it is no longer against the law and is as prevalent as cigarettes and alcohol, what does the church say when Joe Parishioner smokes a bowl in the church parking-lot before each service? I think the answer lies [again] in Ephesians 5:18. Although alcohol is the direct focal point of the verse, [I believe] the principle still stands for any controlled substance. When you come under the influence of said substance and are essential “drunken” you have partaken unto excess. I’ve never smoked marijuana, and do not intend to, but by observation and interaction with people who have, I’m just not sure that you can take a hit of marijuana and not be “under the influence.” Therefore, I believe that it will still be an issue of sinful excess to partake.

The immediate rebuttal or followup question will be, “Is it then sinful to use a controlled substance for medicinal use if it brings you under it’s influence?” I think that this too has a Biblical answer.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

– Proverbs 31:6-7

Thoughts/Comments?

 

 

On Pat Robertson’s position

NYT

Washington Post

Anti Rights?

One of the hot political topics over the last several years has been the issue of marriage as it relates to the LGBT or homosexual community. With the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today and 2012 being a major election year, we’re certainly going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric surrounding this topic once again.

This has become a major rallying point for many in the conservative community, especially the [incredibly] influential evangelical movement in America. The standard position among Evangelical Christians has been one against the redefining of marriage. Thus many conservatives have funded campaigns to legally define marriage as being between a man and a women. At the outset I want to make it very clear that I believe and agree with the conservative position on this issue.

This is a theological issue. God ordained marriage as being between a man and a woman. Every culture has a basic framework for this family relationship because every culture grew out of God’s initial creation as described in the book of Genesis. The question I seek to tackle here is how we, the church, ought to engage in this discussion as we move forward into the 21st century.

This is a divisive issue. As a result of its divisiveness, it is used (like abortion and immigration) as a political weapon in campaigns to pit groups against one another and influence votes. Other than division, very little ever results from the political campaign rhetoric.

Losing the war of words

This debate has shifted, and although some “battles” have been won on the conservative side, the momentum has begun to slide to the other side, because the phraseology of the debate has changed. Such as in the debate over abortion, where we, conservatives, are now deemed “anti-abortion”, whereas they are “pro-choice”. Likewise, an ever so slight wording change has shifted the discussion over marriage. The discourse has moved from that of marriage to civil rights. We are now the “anti-rights” camp, and they, “pro-rights.” As a result, the generation called “Millennials” (those born between 1980 and 2000) are now moving into voting age and are largely pro gay marriage. Millennials will be the largest voting demographic for the next generation, therefore, as it stands now, within the next 20 years we will see the legalization of homosexual marriage in America (as well as the likely legalization of marijuana). This presents us, the church, with an incredibly difficult situation. Or is it actually an opportunity?

Changing the debate

I do believe that there is a better way wherein we can turn this discussion around, while maintaining a footing from which the church can speak into our culture in the years to come.

I do not know a single American Christian who does not love his/her civil liberties. That being the case, we should agree with the LGBT community that they should not in any way be denied civil liberties. This is not a religious issue, it’s constitutional. We are quick to cry foul when we think our rights are being infringed upon but not so quick to do so when the rights of others are endangered. We must be consistent in our position, therefore we ought to be pro rights in this area also. The question is, how can we be pro rights while maintaining a biblical position?

Yes, we believe that homosexual behavior is sin. We do not think that the institution of marriage can be redefined, for it was ordained and defined by God. Therefore, since marriage is a religious institution, and the public sector of our nation desires to maintain a separation of church and state, we the church, ought to petition our government to remove themselves from the discussion of marriage, by having them refuse to continue in providing marriage licenses. In the place of marriage licenses the government should grant civil unions only. They would determine who receives such unions and the rights associated with them. (As a side note, the government needs to clearly define who should receive such rights, as we are quickly moving in a direction wherein we have no ability to draw a line between who receives rights and who does not. In such a case we would have no ground from which to say that polygamist, pedophile or incestuous unions could not be valid).

If the church would spearhead this move, we would carry the discussion in a whole new direction. Marriage would maintain its religious definition as being a God ordained union between a man and a woman. Churches would continue to preform marriages under God’s ordered institution, while requiring those being married to also receive a legal civil union through the state, and then, we would no longer be portrayed as those taking rights from those seeking them.  Additionally, I think such a move by the church would bring to light that many within the LGBT community have a deeper motivation than the legal redefinition of marriage.

This is, by the way, not a new or original idea; Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz wrote on the subject in an LA Times op-ed in December of 2003, and many others have weighed in since that time.  There may be a number of issues I am overlooking as I open this discussion, but at the very least I think it is a discussion we need to have.

Thoughts?

Willing to Change

“Nobody changes until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

– Ed Stetzer

It is hardly debatable that we are creatures of habit. This is proved to me every Sunday as I look out upon the congregation. Almost without fail I know where certain people will be seated. It is as if we have assigned season ticket seating in the sanctuary. Regular routines help ensure a certain level of comfort, and we like comfort. There is of course inevitable conflict; someone is bound to [uneittingly] take your seat. But if there is one thing we can be sure of in this life it is change. Change decreases our comfort and increases our stress, so it is not uncommon to find that we generally resist it.

Our church, Calvary Escondido, has been in a transitional period, experiencing many changes over the last 6+ years. The biggest of those changes has certainly been transition in senior leadership that took place when I began pastoring the church 4 years ago. It was a huge change for all involved; a change that definitely brought about some stress and times of discomfort. By God’s grace and faithfulness it has proven to be a great transition. In my observations and interactions over the last 4 years I’ve come to see that much of the stress of this change has proven to be “eustress” or good stress.

Yes, there is such a thing as good stress. Think of finishing your degree, taking a new job, getting married, going on vacation, buying a house or having a baby. At some level each of these bring about stress, most of which is healthy and enjoyable, but it’s stress nonetheless. In a normal life such things are [essentially] unavoidable. To go a step further, I think that it is important to recognize that in the normal life of a healthy church transitional changes are necessary and good. Such transitional changes are about to become a far more regular and normal occurrence. The overwhelming majority of Calvary Chapel Pastors are among the Baby Boomer generation which, as of last year, has now hit retirement age.

I recognize and understand that retirement for Boomer’s looks quite a bit different than it did for those of the “Builder” generation. This is all the more true for Christians (especially pastors) who find no biblical support for retirement as we [currently] know it in America. That said, I think we all recognize that many of our pastors and churches are in transition, whether we were planning for it or not. Such transition does not mean a rocking chair on a porch retirement, but it may mean a life that looks radically different than the previous 25-30 years has.

Embracing Change

As I set now, 4 years into our [very successful] transition at Calvary Escondido, I am incredibly grateful that, although it was difficult at first, my pastor embraced this transition and change. Pat Kenney had pastored CCEsco for 27 years. He had seen the church grow from 25 to over 500, and move from a school, to rented spaces, to the purchase and buildout of our very own facility. Under his leadership CCEsco had seen great leaders raised up, missionaries and church planters sent out, and new para-church ministries established. When God began to bring the initial winds of change, Pat did not fight against it. I know for certain that he was not planning such a move, nor did he actively set out for transition. If God had so willed, Pat would have continued pastoring this church for many years into the future. But when God began to direct in new paths, Pat was willing and open to what God was doing.

It is very easy for us to hold on to the status quo, and find ourselves kicking against the goads of God’s will. But being lead by His Spirit means being open to His moving, even if we are not initially desiring the change.

Mitigating Change

One of the reasons that our transition has gone so smoothly is that many years before it happened our Elders, in recognize the call God had placed upon my life, began allowing me the opportunity to preach and teach before the larger body. To that point I had been a youth pastor, with very little interaction with the adult congregation, but at 22 I was given the responsibility of leading our Saturday night service and regularly rotated in on Sunday’s and Wednesdays. A year before our transition in 2008, I began teaching nearly all of our Sunday services. This teaching schedule was not the product of a transitional plan, as much as it was out of necessity. Pat’s wife was undergoing treatment for cancer – which ultimately took her life – and Pat was facing health problems of his own that precluded him from taking a regular preaching schedule. Even so Pat was willing to allow the bulk of the teaching responsibilities to fall to his 27 year-old assistant. This openness greatly mitigated the ultimate transition; so much so that when it was announced in April of 2008, there were many newcomers to CCEsco who already knew me as their pastor.

Maintaining Consistency

Sure, we’d like things to stay the same, but they rarely do.  It is however important to maintain a level of consistency in whatever areas possible.  Thankfully we have a great team of elders, leaders and staff at CCEsco.  If it weren’t for the consistent leadership team, I’m fairly certain we would not have had as successful a transition as we have.  There is no way that everything will remain the same when new leadership steps in, but maintaining consistency of core values and mission is critical.  Furthermore, I believe it is important to make changes strategically and slowly in a church with a well established culture.  Even if they are big changes, they should be presented clearly and sometimes implemented incrementally.

After almost 6 years being married and 4 years as a head pastor (it’s hard for me at 32 to use the word senior :)) I’m more convinced now than ever that a church is like a bride; not my bride, but a bride nonetheless.  My bride [Andrea] desires security and consistency.  If I were sporadic or fickle she would have a very difficult time following or being submissive.  Although the church is not the bride of the pastor (some pastors sure live like it is, but that is perhaps a future article), she still desires security and consistency.  Sporadic and fickle leadership will scatter the sheep; thus maintaining consistency wherever possible during periods of change is important.  But resistance to change is not an option.

As the winds of change fill the air among many of the churches in our movement, it is vital that we face them with reasonable thoughtfulness.

Vision

By this time you might be beginning to recover from yesterday’s food coma.  Hopefully.  We (my family) are waiting for the arrival of our 3rd little baby.  She should be here any day; I hope we’re ready.

This time of year always brings me great joy.  I love the fall and winter; and preparing for the end of the year always brings great anticipation for what God will do in the new year.  Each year in early November our pastoral team goes away for a few days to plan and pray for the upcoming year.  As the result of a very full schedule this year we had to bump our meeting up a month to mid-October, but I’m pretty sure that everyone on our team is expecting good things in 2012, although it is supposed to be the end of the world.

After nearly 13 years in vocational ministry and almost 4 as a senior pastor, I’m more convinced than ever that one of the major roles for a lead pastor is vision seeking and vision casting.

In the early spring of 2001 I began teaching through the book of Exodus as a Jr. High pastor at Calvary Escondido.  At that time I was also working closely with Joey Buran and Worship Generation at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.  Joey was (and is) a pastor with great prophetic vision.  God used his discipleship and influence in 2000 and 2001, as well as my personal study and teaching of Exodus, to plant in my heart some important realities about vision seeking and casting.

In Exodus 25 God commands Moses to take up an offering from the Children of Israel, so that they might build a sanctuary for the Lord, which would be a tabernacle of meeting for the people and God.

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.

– Exodus 25:8-9

With God’s command to build the tabernacle came a vision, from God, for that which was to be constructed.  As I studied and taught through this section of scripture over 10 years ago, the Lord spoke very clearly to my heart that as I sought Him, He would give me vision also.  It is incredibly important that those in leadership positions be actively seeking the Lord for direction and vision.  This should be a given for all Christians, but especially those in leadership, for where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint (Proverbs 29:18).

Vision from God primarily springs out of our devotional time with the Lord.  Moses was on the mountain-top, alone with God when he received the vision from the Lord.  This patter has held true in my life as well.  Dedicated time away to seek the Lord for vision is essential.  If we trust Him for this, He will certainly prove Himself faithful.  God’s word must always be the foundation of vision; the core values that govern what you do and how you do it, but I have found that God uses many [extra-Biblical] ways to reveal vision.

Conversations with friends, family and co-laborers; articles and books I read; videos I stumble upon online; stray thoughts I have running through my mind (especially as I’m about to fall asleep).  All of these things God has used over the years to develop and reveal vision.  There is rarely a day that goes by that I do not have a half-dozen or more inspirations for myself and my family personally and/or the church that I pastor.  Thus it’s crucial that I’m ready with a note pad – or the notes app on my iPhone (my current default) – to take down the ideas, because stray thoughts vanish quickly.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember that it was a Wednesday night in the fall of 2001 that God spoke very clearly to me about casting or imparting vision to others.  I was walking to the main office at our church to get the teaching notes I’d just printed on Exodus 31; the first 11 verses of which read…

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.

“And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you:  the tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle—  the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base— the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do.”

– Exodus 31:1-11

After meditating upon the passage and prepping my message I had a conversation in my mind that went something like this, “Miles, I’m going to give you vision just like I did with Moses.  But the vision that I’m going to give to you is something that you will not be able – by yourself – to accomplish.  So I am going to gather people around you that I have gifted to accomplish the vision I’ve given you.  You will have to impart the vision to those I’ve gifted, and then the work will get done.”

A vision is just a dream until it is shared with others.  Only then can you, by God’s grace and power, step out to make it a reality. But many dreams are not [completely] clear when we initially have them.  So I have found that it is important to develop the idea, make it clear and then share and impart it to others.  Some people will probably think that your idea is crazy, foolish or “out there,” but those that God has gifted and called will lay hold of the vision and run with it.

Be seeking the Lord for vision.  Be ready for when it comes.  Be diligent to clarify and cast it to others.  For…

The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
– Habakkuk 2:3

Senior Boomers, Meet the Millennials

For many years I’ve been a student of culture. I blame Jeff Jackson. As a 15 year-old I found myself a pupil in a missions class he taught for Calvary Escondido; I’d like to think I’ve never been the same since. Full disclosure (or confession), I remember very little from the class (extend some grace, it’s been 16 years). But one thing I’ve never lost, remains as profound to me now as it did then; “You don’t recognize your own culture until it’s been stepped on by another culture.” Many times in the years that have followed I have found myself consciously aware of my cultural toes being stepped on and have become far more cognizant of the culture in which I live.

There has been quite a bit written recently about the cultural shift taking place in our nation as Baby Boomers head into retirement (or so they thought) and their Millennial children step into adulthood. I, as an interested observer of culture, am fascinated by this shift and am very much intrigued its implications for our nation, and especially the church.

I was born November 28, 1979, at the very beginning of this “Millennial” generation. Nearly 4 years ago, the church I grew up in experienced a leadership transition from a Boomer, Pat kenney, to a Millennial… me. Such transitions (not only within churches) are going to become commonplace over the next several years. Officially 2011 is the first year the “silver tsunami” has come ashore, as boomers are now reaching the magic retirement age of 65. But the economic downturn has brought a major wrinkle.

In June of this year National Journal published an article by Ron Brownstein entitled “Upside Down: Why millennials can’t start their careers and baby boomers can’t end theirs.” Brownstein highlighted this new strain within our society…

It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.

Students now finishing their schooling—the class of 2011—are confronting a youth unemployment rate above 17 percent. The problem is compounding itself as those collecting high school or college degrees jostle for jobs with recent graduates still lacking steady work. “The biggest problem they face is, they are still competing with the class of 2010, 2009, and 2008,” says Matthew Segal, cofounder of Our Time, an advocacy group for young people.

At the other end, millions of graying baby boomers—the class of 1967—are working longer than they intended because the financial meltdown vaporized the value of their homes and 401(k) plans. For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can’t start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can’t end one.

This cultural tremor is interesting. The governments of the world are doing everything within their power to jumpstart economies, tackle unemployment and reinvigorate industry. The markets yo-yo through peaks and valleys that make even the most ardent adrenaline junkies beg for a reprieve. All these things were bouncing around in my head a couple of months ago as my wife and I took a short vacation in Santa Barbara.

While wandering around State St. one evening we stepped into a touristy T-shirt shop. The shopkeeper’s radio was tuned to some AM talk show, on which a caller was recounting her story. Her family was struggling to make ends meet; work had slowed for her husband, which caused her to consider going back to work. Her Boomer parents were experiencing similar difficulties as they had lost their home and much of their savings. The answer was clear, “Mom and dad will move in with us, help take care of our kids, I’ll go back to work and we’ll pool our resources to take care of one another.” The talk-show host chimed in, “You know, that’s really what America was like 60-80 years ago.”

When you consider the history of man it’s very easy to see that man is oriented toward community; God created us that way. But for a number of years our modern American culture has opted for a rogue individualism. As a result we are constantly trying to “create a sense of community” because there is a recognition that something has been missing. I believe that we have been experiencing an abnormality, and thankfully mutated anomalies don’t survive. All of a sudden we are being forced to live in community. Although this feels uncomfortable (as abnormal has become normal), it’s a good thing.

As we move forward I think it is important that those who have influence (i.e. pastors) need to help people see that this new reality is a good thing. We need to encourage people to live in community this way. At the moment it is counterculture. We’ve been bred to see such community as an anti-American socialism or a failure of our success, but our culture has lied to us.

For the last month and a half I’ve been teaching through the book of Jeremiah at a local bible college. As Judah faced the Babylonian captivity the prophet Jeremiah called to the people to submit to the Babylonian rule. If Judah would surrender, they’d survive. If they would resist, they’d die. Essentially, whoever would lose his life would save it, and he that would seek to save his life would lose it. We’re living under a similar situation. Business as usual is untenable. It’s time for a change… and yes, we can. 😉

The importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship

Last month Tim wrote a great article on worship entitled “Toddler Worship.” His observations are, I believe, truly important for maturing believers. It is certain that we should not aim at the lowest common denominator when leading our churches, therefore it is foolish to craft a worship service to meet the immature in their immaturity and cater to it in such a way that they never grow.

Early in my pastoral ministry, as a youth pastor, I sought to set the bar high for the 50 or so Jr. High students I ministered to. The level of teaching they received during my 4 year tenure, was likely over their heads. Or at least the adults visiting my services told me so. I was actually not surprised that many of them grasped far more of what was taught than most adults gave them credit for. I set this purely as a qualifier for what I am about to say, especially since I do not really disagree with that Tim wrote. I’m not one to water things down for the sake of attracting people.

Several years ago, while preaching and teaching 8 to 10 hours a week for an extended period, I came down with a virus, which resulted in the loss of my voice. After healing from the illness I found that my ability to speak had drastically been affected. For several months I preached with what felt like an incredibly weak voice. By the end of Sunday services I’d be very near losing my voice. I also found that I was completely unable to engage in musical worship prior to preaching; in some ways this was a bit of an existential crises.

I’m almost sorry to admit it [now]; to that point worship to me had been inextricably linked to music. Not being able to sing caused me to rethink the paradigm of worship I’d come to know within modern evangelicalism. In my rethinking process I’ve come to recognize a number of important truths.

1. Music is not worship, but God created music to be the fastest onramp to genuine worship in spirit and truth.

2. God created music to stir our emotions, which informs us that worship should be emotional.

Genuine worship does not need music, but is greatly aided by it. One can just as easily enter into emotionally engaging worship by meditating upon God and His word while standing before the Grand Canyon, Bridalveil Falls, or merely considering His greatness.

* The affect of music upon our emotions can be for good or for bad. God did not dictate that music would only affect us in a positive or happy way. Music played at a faster tempo with major chords generally stirs happy emotions, whereas music played at a slower tempo with minors evokes sad emotions. Dissonance in music stirs negative anxiety and fear (maybe Fusco can produce some dissonant fear conjuring worship for us). 

3. Worship music that only engages the emotions is severely lacking and creates worshipers of worship as a means to emotional euphoria (ie emotionalism).

This point has been regularly reconfirmed for me over the last 10 years in working with youth and college students.

4. The theologically correct lyrics of emotionally stirring worship songs will engage the mind with the emotions to produce “heart worship.”

The engagement of the mind is essential. The emotions conjured up by the greatness of the Grand Canyon causes one to be in wonder (or worship) of the awesomeness of the Colorado River, whereas another is brought into honorable worship by seeing the same sight, while rehearsing God’s word in their mind or setting their affections upon Him.

5. Theologically correct lyrics attached to emotionally unengaging music shortchanges genuine worship.

6. Since worship music should effect us at an emotional level, style of music is important and varies from culture to culture, and across generational lines.

This time last year we were blessed to offer The Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at CCEsco. One of our instructors, Ron Binder, brought this issue of style in musical worship home for me.

Ron is a Wycliffe missionary and an expert in Ethnomusicology. during a portion of his lecture he spoke on the importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship, and explained that just as individuals have a “heart language,” they also have a “heart music.” This “heart music” is the style or musical form that will most engage their emotions and draw them into “heart worship.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we ought to honestly consider this as we are seeking to disciple our fellowships in worship, especially when we consider that the Father is seeking those that will worship Him in spirit and truth. So, I do agree with Tim that we should not cater to people’s immaturity, and that we should do our best to separate the music from the worship.  But at the same time I continue to find that I need to think through the realities of style in worship far more than I ever did before.

7. Worship in spirit and truth is responsive, thus we cannot expect a person to “experience” heart worship immediately at the open of a corporate worship service. 

8.  A musical worship service, or corporate worship time should [therefore] be progressive (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs…).  It [the worship service] should lead people into worship.

Since my introduction to Calvary Chapel at age 11, my primary experience of a musical worship has been that which is engaged in for approximately 30 minutes prior to the sermon, and/or what is practiced at many of our believers meetings, camps and retreats.  These are, in our movement, commonly call “Afterglows.”

In my (purely personal, non-scientific) observation of these meetings, there seems [at times] to be very little intentionality in our worship and something of a “storm the throne room” approach.  In the last several years I’ve heard many a worship leader and/or pastor lament the fact that their people are “not worshiping,” which is generally gauged by the lack of participation (i.e. singing) by the gathered assembly.  In considering this complaint, I’ve developed a theory that a worship service that draws the worshipers into heart worship should progress from psalms to hymns, which results in spiritual songs.

Psalms are – generally speaking – scripture put to music.  John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.  I don’t know if I’d go that far.   But, such singing of the scriptures sets our minds upon God’s word and aids us in taking God’s word into our hearts, as music is a tremendously powerful mnemonic device.

Hymns are doctrinal and theological in nature; they exalt the attributes of God’s character and nature; they give intellectual and theological expression to our faith.  Martin Luther said, “Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith.”

Spiritual Songs are adorations, supplications, petitions, confessions, thanksgivings, etc…  They are spiritually inspired from man to God or God to man and tend to be prophetic in nature and spontaneous.  Such songs are the overflow of our heart in devotion to God.

 I believe that the lack of participation many observe in worship today is related to the fact that much of our modern worship tends to be “spiritual song” dominant.  If one does not properly, and progressively, lead the body into worship, they will likely not engage in worship as their heart has not been properly prepared to sing devotional confessions of praise or petition (e.g. “You [God] are the air I breath,” “You are all I want, you are all I need,” “Lord my one request, my only aim, Lord reign in me again.”).

I am, however, encouraged by many of the new hymns being developed by individuals like Keith Getty and groups such as  Sovereign Grace and Indelible Grace Music.

Ultimately worship is God’s idea.  He created us to worship and is seeking such who will worship Him.  John Piper is right, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” God is worthy of our worship and our greatest experiences of pleasurable joy are rooted in our worship of Him.  He inhabits the praises of His people and in His presence is fullness of joy.  These truths have challenged me over the last several years to more seriously consider the theology of worship.  Perhaps it’s a good challenge for the church as a whole?