Archive | Leadership

More Young Foolish Leaders Please

AndrewBurkhartIs the pastor of your church a young foolish leader? Does that frustrate you? Maybe you are older. Maybe you are wiser. Does that make you secretly despise young foolish leaders? People who really think they can face any problem and keep advancing forward.

Martin Luther spoke into the “young foolish leader” phase as a 57 year old man. First, a little bit of back story to appreciate Luther.

Martin Luther was born in 1483. At the age of 34 he confidently nailed 95 theses to the castle doors in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was outraged at the practices of the institutional church of his day. His greatest frustration culminated with the practice of indulgences.

Here’s how indulgences worked. Would you like to have your grandmother expedited through Purgatory? She’s been suffering in Purgatory for a little while but will probably be there for several thousand more years of purging before entering heaven. If you purchase an indulgence, however, your granny will stop gnashing her teeth and the church leadership will ensure her time is sped up.

Martin Luther despised indulgences. At the age of 34 he refused to remain silent. His 95 complaints were meant to be an internal discussion trying to reform the church of his day. Complaint #82 captures the essence of Luther’s angst:

Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter’s church, a very minor purpose.

Luther was too young and foolish to keep his mouth shut. If the pope was powerful enough to free someone from Purgatory why does he need money? Out of love shouldn’t he just free everyone so they can worship God in heaven? Luther had visited Rome and he knew they were trying to raise $2 billion to build St. Peter’s Basilica. The money was raised for a building project. Yet heaven is forever, wouldn’t the pope choose the eternal over the temporary? Luther was too young and foolish to keep his mouth shut.

At the age of 57, 23 years later, Martin Luther was having dinner with his family and students. On this day in 1540 he reflected on those crazy years in his mid-30’s. He specifically reflected on his time at the Diet of Worms. Luther’s students loved hearing all the dinner table side stories. They would secretly go back home after dinner and write down all the funny, strange and profound things Luther mentioned at the dinner table. These have become known as “Table Talks.” Hundreds of them survive to this day.

Before I share Luther’s story over dinner in 1540 you need to have a little bit of background about the Diet of Worms. Luther’s writings were grabbed by friends and unknowingly the Printing Press spread his 95 theses all over the world. His ideas were a spark getting ready to light the whole world on fire. Luther, the German monk, was summoned to the town of Worms in Germany. The institutional church had expected to get this young monk to recant of all his writings.

Luther was brought into a room full of church officials looking over all his writings on a table. They simply asked Luther if these were his writings. He said yes. Now was the golden moment. The leaders would tell Luther to recant. He would recant under the pressure of his leaders. Word would quickly spread that Luther had recanted of all his writings. The uprising would be over and life would go back to normal. If Luther didn’t recant, however, he would simply be burned at the stake.

The Diet of Worms did not go as the leaders planned. Luther refused to recant of all his writings. His writings were full of quoted Scripture. He argued that he couldn’t just recant of all his writings carte blanche because he would inadvertently be recanting of all the Scripture mentioned in his writings. Luther required the leaders to show him all the areas he was wrong and then he would consider if he should recant of each individual idea. The leaders refused, they wanted him to recant of everything in his books. Luther, the young foolish punk leader, refused saying:
Continue Reading →

Should We Abandon Structured Leadership?

(Lisa Robinson)

Increasingly, I am encountering a definition of the priesthood of the believer to mean a rejection of structured leadership in our local assemblies. Because we are priests with direct access to God, we minister to each other and do not need special offices (pastor/elder) that separate clergy from the rest of Christians, aka lay people. I know that many have been hurt by the local church and especially her leaders. I get that some fear any kind of hierarchical structure for for whatever reason. That may contribute to this form of polity.

For clarification, the term was coined by the Reformers to distinguish the direct access believers have to Christ vs. their access to through clergy. This of course was in repudiation to the papists who claimed that they alone provided access contrary to Hebrews 4:14. Through this direct access, we serve as ministers of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18) and minister to one another (Colossians 3:15-16). In this regard, we don’t need structured leadership to minister to one another.

But I will argue that we do need structured leadership for local church. Now, I’m not framing the discussion in terms of congregationalism because I think this is something different (good article on 9Marks here).  Also, I confess that I hold to a presbyterian polity that is somewhat shaping my thesis. But even so, I’m want to be fair to alternate forms of church structure and acknowledge where there is consistency with Scripture.  I question if this egalitarian type of structure is faithful.

If we think just gathering by itself is sufficient and reject the idea of structured leadership, consider Ephesians 4:4-16. There is one body who is to walk according to its purpose, growing up together in Christ through specific means – “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (vs 11)”

Now there is a diversity of interpretation of the five classifications mentioned.

1) They are offices representing the means through which God has chosen to work through

2) They are gifts representing the means through which God has chosen to work through

3) They refer to specific people that God has chosen to work through

For the sake of brevity, I’ll just provide what I think makes the most sense, which is  definition #1 though I can see some validity for #2. I also think its important to consider prophets and apostles in light of what Paul said earlier in Ephesians 2:20. The very foundation of what Christ built is grounded in the prophetic and apostolic witness, which is transmitted through Scripture. Continue Reading →

Fourteen Characteristics of Theological Legalism

Without question, one of the most disturbing trends in the world of theology is that, far too often, grace is eclipsed by theological legalism.

Twice today I encountered this in its most blatant forms by two very different types of people. Both were very passionate about theology and both, undoubtedly, believe that their attitude toward me or my teaching is justified and honoring to the Lord. However, I believe both of these men sacrificed the major issue – grace – in defense of minor issues in theology.

The first, whose name I will not share as he is undoubtedly well-known to most of you, caught me very much off guard (and it is not really easy to catch me off guard, as I receive dozens of “hate” emails every day from those who believe it is their job to put me back on the path of theological correctness). This man, a significant figure in the world of reformation theology, does not believe I take theology seriously enough. Of course, his reasons come (I imagine) from the fact that I don’t agree with him. And obviously, if I took theology seriously, I would agree with him! Ironically, this lack of grace often comes from those who believe most strongly in the reformed “doctrines of grace.” But this man sent me one of the most ungracious emails I have ever received. And, yes, it did hurt my feelings. But more than that, sensing that this man’s criticism of me comes from his general disdain for the “heresy” of Evangelical Calvinism – it discouraged me that someone who believes he is so right theologically could be so graceless personally.

The second came from a Fundamentalist who was quite disturbed that I would suggest that Catholics could be saved. To be fair, I remember in the mid-nineties when Billy Graham suggested the same on national television. I was so angry and confused. I could not believe that Billy Graham would be so theologically inept as to make such a suggestion. In order for me to retain the belief that Billy Graham was saved, I had to convince myself that he had just gone senile in his old age. But this came from someone who has been a believer for quite some time and is a leader in his local church. This one statement (“Catholics can be saved”) has served to disqualify me and all of my teachings. To him, I will forever be one of the many who has compromised my faith for the glory of acceptance among men. Continue Reading →

How to Preach a Sermon Even When You Are Not Sure What the Passage Means

Convictionless churches are empty churches. Sure, it may be cool these days to be noncommittal. Sure, backing off and saying that you “could be wrong” is transparent and will gain you some respect among a skeptical audience. Of course, giving all the possible interpretations of a passage of Scripture or a theological position is educational and disarming. But there is something different about preaching that requires the preacher to present a more anchoring hope. Standing behind the pulpit meant something to the Reformers. It mean much more than, “I am going to stand behind this block of wood and give you some options about what to believe.” Simply put, that lacks conviction. And even if you are a diehard pragmatist who is only about getting the numbers in your pews to go up, this is not the way to go about it. Because, frankly, if you have little or  no definite convictions, then you are neither a preacher nor a pastor.

“Give them something to believe.” I am told that every time Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, ended his theology classes, he would say, “Men, give them something to believe.” People are looking for something to believe. They want to rest the weight of their anxiety upon something stable. They have enough instability in their lives. They don’t want to go to church to hear the preacher teach. They want him to preach. What do I mean by that? Well, teaching and preaching are not the same thing. They share quite a bit in the semantic domain of discipleship, but they also are very distinct and need to be used very intentionally. How are they distinct? Let me give you a few ways:

Preaching is exhortation; teaching is education.

Preaching is the discharge of the Gospel of hope; teaching is discipleship of the Gospel of hope.

Preaching puts wind in the sails; teaching put an anchor in the ground.

Preaching raises our eyes to the things we know with great conviction; teaching helps us to understand what things we can have legitimate conviction about.

Preaching tells you which option is correct; teaching gives you all the options.

Of course, there is overlap, but it is important to see the distinction so that you can follow what I am about to say.

If this is true and preaching is about giving people something to believe, rather than giving them the options of what they can believe, what do you do when you come to a passage of Scripture and you are unsure about what it means? And, let’s be honest here – this happens quite often. You are preaching through a book of the Bible and you come to a place where the commentaries are not in agreement, there seem to be multiple legitimate options concerning its interpretation, and you are left scratching your head.  You don’t know how to preach this passage. You don’t want to be dishonest and just choose an option. And you don’t want to turn this into a drawn-out sermon on, “This is what the Calvinists believe, and why”…”This is what the Methodists believe, and why”… “This is what Lutherans believe, and why.” “In the end folks, you are going to have to make up your own minds. Now let us pray. Dear God thanks for this lesson, whatever it was . . .” This does not really make for a good sermon and it does not give your hearers anything to believe. Continue Reading →

Why So Many Preachers Annoy So Many Christians

[Please welcome with me Clinton C. Roberts. Clint is becoming a good friend of mine. He lives here in Edmond Oklahoma is a member of the Credo House. He has a Ph.D. from the University of South Africa, he is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma and Liberty, and he served as a missionary in Utah to the Mormons for some time. While in Utah, they set up a coffee shop to serve their cause (sound familiar?). Clinton has an increadible personality and have a life with many deep and sometimes complex issues that will benefit our readers here on the blog. You can find him on Facebook here. I am very excited to introduce him to you. The following is his first blog. Give him some trouble but welcome him with me!]

Maybe this is due in part to having simply grown older and having heard so many sermons from so many preachers over the years – in person, online, by television, etc. – but I find myself increasingly annoyed by things preachers say and how they say it.  Maybe it’s the repetition of all of those preacherly terms & phrases, or the pulpit personas that preachers adopt. Maybe I’m just cynical & unfair in my overall perspective on the subject.

Or maybe T. David Gordon was onto something when he wrote a book a few years ago arguing that “preaching today is ordinarily poor”[1] as a result, more or less, of our culture.  His book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (the title being an intentional knockoff of the widely read Why Johnny Can’t Read of the mid-1960s), points out that society has shifted dramatically and speedily from being text-based to being image-based. That, and a few other elements of the media and entertainment dominated landscape, has made everyone, including ministers, less able to deal with an ancient text, less adept at language in general & careful exegesis in particular, less skilled rhetorically, & frankly too distracted to spend much time caring about these shortcomings.

Since I spend a lot of my time trying to get people to grasp the principles of critical thinking, to follow the steps of logical argument, and to gain some level of appreciation for things well expressed, I fully understand and agree with Gordon’s observations. You can’t read the papers that college students submit these days and conclude anything else. But when it comes to the specified communication known as preaching, there is something more than this that seems to bother me.

This far into the American experiment it is no surprise that unfettered freedom of religion has spurned a thousand varieties of Christian preaching. And while there is unquestionably a very impressive and praiseworthy subgroup among that vast lot, there is another tragically large and perhaps growing subgroup of preachers who have a knack for wasting precious breath & either boring us with the banal or butchering the airwaves with a Benny-Hinnish clown act. Whether they ambush me on TV or online, too many painful pulpit atrocities make my ears bleed, even as they cause me to realize afresh the double-edged perversity of the situation, which is that some of the worst examples attract the largest crowds. Why is that? Why do the biggest throngs clamor for the most inane sermonic drivel? I can think of possible avenues of explanation, but I’ll leave that part of the discussion to one side. Continue Reading →

When You Are Sick of Theology


Theological Avoidance fallacy: n. Thinking theology is impractical for true Christian living.

This is very common in our world. It is also, to some degree, understandable. People are tired of “searching” for answers and have decided to just enjoy the journey. While it may not be called “emerging” anymore, the mood is still present and represents a large portion of our culture and church.

For these, the search has brought them nothing but confusion and disillusionment. There are so many things they used to believe—used to passionately believe—that they no longer believe. They are embarrassed about their former commitments. Because of this, the best approach to theological issues is a sort of “soft agnosticism.” In other words, people are not saying that truth does not exist, they are simply saying that they don’t know what it is and they don’t think you do either.

As a coping mechanism, theology is distanced from “practical” (Christian) living. Orthodoxy (right thinking) is disassociated with orthopraxy (right living).

A few words of advice for those who find themselves here or heading here:

1. There is no way to distance yourself from theology. Even the belief that theology is impractical for Christian living is a theological belief. One would have to assume quite a bit about theology in order to make such an assertion. Agnosticism is a theological stance, and quite a complex one at that. You are a theologian, whether you like it or not. The question is, can you give sufficient warrant for your beliefs?

2. No one can live rightly without believing rightly. Most fundamentally, people act according to what they believe. As the old saying goes, “You are what  you eat.”  A better version of this is, “You are what you believe.” Just because there is the possibility that you could be wrong, this does not justify an apathetic attitude toward theology. I appreciate people’s timidity, and I wish that some people had more. We dare not take the Lord’s name in vain. Silence is often better than speaking. But to harden oneself into such a philosophy is the most dangerous proposition of all. When our practice is devoid of foundational beliefs, we will be carried about by every wave and current of thought, simply ascribing to that which seems most pragmatic at the time. Today, it is faddish to be apathetic toward theology. But this is not Christian. The Christian worldview is about theology first. It is about who Christ is. It is about what God has done. It is about following a definite person – one we can point to and distinguish from all others. It is about a definite hope. If you were to take these away, the who? what? why? and where? of our practice is void. Therefore, our practice is void. Continue Reading →

Fight Club for Christians

When I was young, I loved to talk about fight stories. I was really scared of fighting, but I knew I needed a few under my belt in order to have some cred among my friends. I have always worked out quite a bit, could normally lift more than anyone I knew, and had a boxing bag in my garage that I often pummeled to submission in front of my gawking friends. The first fight I got into was in sixth grade. It was an accident, but it did the trick. One fellow, who had a history of bullying, decided to bully me. He instigated a confrontation and the tension grew. As we were at a standoff, he flinched like he was about to hit me. My reflexes kicked in and I accidentally slugged him in the jaw. I felt for him as tears welled up in his eyes before he ran off.

In high school I got into a rather serious fight. I was driving to a party with four of my buddies. We were all drunk and out of our minds. Driving down the road, someone had the gall to pass us and honk their horn (yeah, I know…can you believe the nerve?). Well, we would have none of that. We chased them down to a stop light. While waiting at the light, I jumped out of the car to chase them down (note: when drunk, for some reason you think you can chase someone better on foot than in a car). By the time I got to their window, they took off. My friends, still in the car, chased after them, leaving me behind at the corner, so I decided to walk to the convenience store fifty feet away. As I walked through the parking lot, a group of six gangster-looking guys surrounded me. I stopped. They said, “Give us your money.” I don’t remember much, but I do remember my idiotic response: “No. You give me your money.” The next thing I felt was a hard slug in my jaw. Now, being a “boxer” (if having a punching bag in my garage qualifies me as such!), I decided to start dancing around and trading punches with six guys. And you know what? I held my own. After a few minutes, my friends came back to pick me up. All of them tell the story of pulling up to me dancing in a parking lot with six hooded guys surrounding me. They jumped out of the car to come to my aid and eventually all the guys ran. I later came to find out that this group of guys were members of one of the most feared gangs around. When word about what happened got out, I was revered and honored among men. There were not too many people who would mess with me after that. Over the next few years, there were many more bar fights. I took a guy down just for talking to my girlfriend. Another time I fought for my sister’s honor. One time I had to step in as some random girl was getting hurt by her boyfriend. I was not necessarily a fighter, but I was always ready for a fight. I am just lucky no one ever had a gun or knife.

I often look back on those days and laugh. Who did I think I was? Though it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell, I still work out and I still have my bag in my garage. But it would be a rare circumstance today in which I would ever fight anyone. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a pacifist. If I am truly threatened (like I was about two years ago – another really weird story), I will protect myself and my family. But I am never looking for confrontation like I did twenty years ago. Who did I think I was?

(One more story.) One of the fights I remember most vividly happened when I was downtown leaving a bar with my buds. Some guys bumped into my friend. You just don’t do that. We all turned around. We stood there and stared at each other for about ten seconds. Then, without warning, I looked at one of the guys and clocked him as hard as I could in the face. It was the hardest and cleanest hit I ever had. The guy fell to the ground and did not move. Who in the world did I think I was? Who am I to hit someone? Continue Reading →

The Easy Belief of Dogmatic Speculation

(Lisa Robinson)

A few mornings ago was one of the those mornings nobody likes.  Everything is going normal…until you turn the ignition key to get nothing in return but a ticking sound.  Ok, so I don’t know much about cars and had no idea what it could be.  I thought it wasn’t that long ago that I replaced my battery (I can hardly keep track of such things) so I figured it must be something else.  After a few tries, I figured it was time to call AAA.  As I waited, and walked around a bit, one of my neighbors who had been observing the whole thing, approached me and thought he should give me his assessment of the situation.  “It was my starter”, he said affirming that it had to be based on the sound the car was making.  He even had me turn the lights on so that he could see if it was my battery.  Nope, had to be the starter.

Well, that’s just great.  How much is that going to cost? I wondered.  So in response to my neighbors emphatic assessment, I got on the phone with my mechanic to let them know there was a high probability that I would have to have my car towed.  I had them give me an estimate based on this assessment of needing a starter.  Almost $400 bucks!?!?  I was two days away from payday and already had expenses earmarked.  I immediately started re-organizing things in my head to accommodate this unexpected expense.

Finally, the guy from AAA shows up.  Upon hearing the sound that replaced the engine noise, he immediately asserted “it’s your battery”.   I thought surely this AAA battery I got from the last time this happened should not have such a short shelf life.  But I figured that AAA had more credibility than the neighbor, who could only offer an emphatic statement based on his speculation.    I find out from the AAA guy that the battery only lasts a couple of years anyway.   And this is the business of AAA, right?    The guy actually knew what he was talking about.  Sure enough, after locating the receipt I discover that it had been 23 months since the last battery replacement.  Within 15 minutes, I was on the road again.  Whew! Continue Reading →