Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Narrow Road Between Arrogance and Obscurity in Leadership

Whenever a leader falls publicly because of sin, there is a deafening chorus of criticism, judgment, and "I told you so" declarations. This time it is Darrin Patrick, who was lead pastor of The Journey church in St. Louis and vice-president of Acts 29 church planting network (he has now been removed from both roles, and has been removed from The Gospel Coalition council webpage). This is a time to mourn and grieve over the brokenness that has been caused in The Journey church community and in Patrick's family. Our prayers for them all should outstrip our comments and judgments by at least 10 to 1.

We do want to know what went wrong. Being respectful and mourning with those who mourn doesn't mean we don't learn anything. The main reason I am posting anything is that Scot McKnight has set us a gracious example in how to reflect on what happened. More on this below. I understand that a lot of the anger and disgust in the comments that surge up at a time like this comes from past experiences of seeing church leadership act too slowly in restraining and correcting a leader who is abusing his office or the trust of his congregation. This multiplies the tragedy for the leader and his family and for the people he has betrayed. There is a swell of frustration from people who feel they have watched those with a responsibility to act do nothing, and the comments give vent to that.

Yesterday I was engaged on Twitter by some people about this news. I tried to respond with moderation. My main concern is that when a church does act to remove a leader who is abusing his office, this storm of comments and criticisms has an unintended consequence: the more intense and explosive we make it when a leader is removed, the more hesitant and reluctant churches and ministries will be to actually take action. When we slam churches and their leadership over and over on social media when they announce a leader's removal, we are encouraging exactly the opposite of what we want. We encourage them to avoid such controversy and humiliation for their church and the person they are removing by keeping things quiet and private. If you want public accountability in the church, don't make doing it such a fierce and angry experience.

Accountability: What Went Wrong

Before public accountability, however, there should be private accountability among leaders to prevent things from getting this far. We want to mourn over this now, but also learn how to prevent more of this in the ministries we love. I don't think it could be done more wisely than Scot McKnight's analysis here. I'm sharing some excerpts that I hope will encourage you to read it all. McKnight does three things that make this article worth saving and using: 1) he gets the facts and doesn't hide from the realities of what has been going on, but he also doesn't get detoured by spending a lot of time criticizing; 2) he chooses a positive and compelling example of how to be a servant leader and do accountability right, using the contrasts to make his point (instead of just talking about what someone else did wrong); and 3) he gives us a very wise and solid model summarized from Kent Keith for what kind of heart and development a leader must have in order to faithfully and humbly serve the church.

As McKnight observes, the problem is not simply that people around a leader should be paying more attention or should have acted sooner. The problem is a fundamental difference in the whole pattern and philosophy of leadership. That's what has to change. This is core training for any leader. Bookmark it. Keith's Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership at the end are also brilliant.

McKnight identifies the style of leadership that led to Patrick's crash this way:
In one simple term, authoritarianism. The solution to this requires ... a gradual growth into a leader who fosters the life of others instead of himself. This isn’t something that can be fixed by reading a new book, nor can it be learned over a weekend retreat. It requires working under a skilled servant leader who can supervise the development of new patterns.
People enter into leadership for a variety of reasons, including passion and skills and gifts and a desire to lead and a desire to control and — here comes our theme — a desire to serve. I believe many today who are leaders have gifts and skills and passion but too often are dominated by a desire to control and lead and not a desire to serve and lead through empowering others.
Gospel-shaped leadership is servant leadership, not control leadership and not dominating leadership.
Comparing servant leadership with authoritarianism (or the "power model"):
The servant model of leadership counters the power model, which is focused on “how to accumulate and wield power, how to make people do things, how to attack and win. It is about clever strategies, applying pressure, and manipulating people to get what you want” (19). That is, it is realpolitik — a theory that is distant from a theory of ethics. Servant leadership theory is first established in ethics and then works out that ethic through leadership.
Here are the key practices of servant leadership?
1. Self-awareness.
2. Listening
3. Changing the pyramid.
4. Developing your colleagues.
5. Coaching, not controlling.
6. Unleashing the energy and intelligence of others.
7. Foresight.
McKnight is quoting principles that have been tried and tested over many decades. The crux of servant leadership is that it doesn't try to control or manipulate the outcomes. It isn't about getting what you want by getting everyone to do it your way. It is about serving the people around you, investing in them, setting an example of humble submission to Christ, and helping others reach their greatest potential. The glorious truth is that when you lead like this, you encourage more success and growth from everyone around you and you often reach the right goals as well.

This makes many leaders uncomfortable because it seems like a loss of control. They associate success with having enough power to make things the way they believe they should be. Being a servant leader seems like putting all the power in other people's hands, and ending up following their needs instead of charting the course. In short, it feels like surrendering the power to lead and sinking into obscurity.

The truth is that leaders who serve this way are often the most successful. People support them and follow them because they are supporting and investing in others. People will work much harder with you if they know you care about them and support them than they will if you just order them around and use power to control and direct them. This is how Jesus led His disciples, straight out of Mark 10 and John 13. It is how Paul and the other Apostles served and led. It is even recognized in the secular business world as being the solid road to success. That's the lesson of books like Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... And Others Don't. Some of the most successful leaders - in terms of the health and prosperity of their businesses - are some of the humblest and most unassuming.

The model of power and control appears to many to be the quicker and easier way to achieve their goals, but like most things that appear that way, it ends up being a more unstable and ultimately destructive path. Shortcuts taken at the beginning result in a foundation of sand.

Built-in Accountability

Just as importantly, the path of servant leadership is a path of accountability and cooperation with others. People who lead this way are much more open to correction and to having people look at their lives and decisions and offer input. They value and listen to the advice of others, following the repeated theme of Proverbs: "Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war." (Proverbs 20:18) and "in abundance of counselors there is victory." (Proverbs 24:6). And they heed the warning: "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." (Proverbs 18:1). They determine to get the most out of being challenged or corrected, believing that they grow wiser and stronger by listening. (Proverbs 13:18; 15:32).

This style of leadership comes with built in accountability. People don't have to chase after you and press you to get you to let them take a look at what's going on in your life. Servant leaders are wise enough to invite that kind of attention and input. For that reason, they often last a long time as successful leaders instead of rising high and then suddenly crashing. What McKnight has pointed out is that this model is not only biblical and effective for leadership, it is also the model best designed to prevent disasters like what happened to Darrin Patrick. In a multiplicity of counselors, there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Relax: You Are Not What the World Needs

Sometimes looking around at a group of people, each with their own wounds and troubles, is overwhelming. If you have compassion for them and want to ease their burdens, the sheer magnitude of all of their needs combined feels like drowning in the middle of the ocean. You may even feel like there are too many needs to pray for them all.

At one of those moments, this thought comforted me immensely: standing in a room full of people, I remembered that I am there with Jesus. He's looking around at them right alongside of me. It's easy to look at all of those people and feel weak and unequal to meeting their needs - if you're thinking you have to meet those needs yourself. But you're not there alone. If you're in Christ, then wherever you go, Jesus is right there. In fact, it's not just that He's available to help; in truth, He's there to handle it all. You came in with Him. He went in first, and you're just following His lead. What these people need is not your desperate efforts to try to solve as many of their problems as possible before you drop from exhaustion. They need Christ.

If you think of your role in helping people as simply taking orders from Jesus and going to the people He sends you to, it takes enormous pressure off your shoulders. You aren't responsible for that whole group of people. Jesus is in command, standing there directing who goes to care for each need. You just go to the ones He indicates. One person at a time, one need at a time, and all you are doing is taking what Jesus gives you and passing it out.

Isn't this exactly what we see in the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus? Too often we seem to take this example from Scripture as a lesson that says: "You can keep giving as long as there's a need. God can multiply all you have in order to be able to do it all." I think that may be missing the point - or one of the points. There is a lot going on here about Jesus revealing who He is. But for now, just look at who meets the need in this story:
When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:14-18)

The disciples didn't do anything except bring the simple meal to Jesus. He did all the work. And all the disciples did afterwards was pass out what Jesus had provided.

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. (Matthew 14:19-20)

We do not meet people's heaviest needs out of what we ourselves possess. We aren't meant to be the solution to people's problems. What we are called to do is to bring the people and their problems to Christ. We take people in need, and we bring them to Christ. We take what Christ gives us, and we go and share it among people.

One of the lessons common in biblical counseling is that the counselor's job is not to be a problem solver. The counselor's job is to get people to God. Their greatest need is not for someone to come in and take a problem and sort it out for them. Their greatest need is for God, and our greatest work of ministry is to bring people to God through Christ so that long after we have turned to another need, they will still be receiving grace and mercy and strength from God directly. We must not shortchange that need by trying to fix them up ourselves. God is the one who solves problems. As Ralph Erskine (Scottish pastor, 1685 –1752) said: "All your work is to put the work in His hand." That will serve them much better than us substituting ourselves for God, trying to take it all on our own shoulders.

Realizing that we aren't the solution to the world's problems should increase our compassion significantly. When loving others and caring for them doesn't mean having to drain yourself dry for endless needs, then you are free to give without hesitation. If all you have to do is bring them to God and take back to them what God provides, then He's carrying the load. You're just helping distribute it. May this kind of grace from our Provider make us bold and confident in going to care for those around us.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Great Explanation of "You Are What You Love"

This review by Derek Rishmawy of James K.A. Smith's book, which I strongly recommended yesterday, is outstanding. Rishmawy captured the main message of the book with a clever title: Reading This Book Will Not Change Your Life.

What he meant is just what Smith argues in the book: it is not learning and knowledge and beliefs that change your life; it is how those things change or affect what you love and care about. If you simply read a book and it doesn't help you correct or reshape what you love and desire, you will still continue to follow the same habits and the same affections you did before you read the book, with the same results.

This is certainly not a new idea, and if you're a frequent reader of sites like you are familiar with this truism. What makes Smith's book compelling is that he is uncommonly insightful and helpful in identifying and revealing the unconscious patterns and habits that keep us in love with the wrong things, and demonstrating how to form habits and practices that build desire and love for God and the right things. You can see that from the first part of Rishmawy's review (but I really recommend the whole thing):

"My title’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, but it cuts to the heart of James K.A. Smith’s thesis in his new book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Over a number of works, especially his Cultural Liturgies series (Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom), Smith has argued that modern, Western Christians (especially Evangelicals) have been held captive by a false picture of the human person as “thinking thing.”
On this view, you are what you think and there’s something of a simple correlation between what you believe and the way you live. Discipleship, then, is mostly a matter of proper spiritual data input.
But we’re not just thinking things. No, following Augustine (and the Scriptures), Smith argues that we’re worshipers. We’re desirers. We’re lovers who are shaped by those things we love most.
The hitch is that our deepest loves aren’t necessarily those things we consciously think we want most, but those drives that reside within us at an almost unconscious level. And they show up in our habits, our basic patterns of life.
If that’s the case, then, discipleship is not mostly a matter of data input, or simply reading the right book, but about the long, arduous path of having your desires transformed through the power of habit. Yes, our loves show up in our habits, but it’s also the case that our habits and practices give testimony to and shape our loves.
And so, we are constantly being shaped in one way or another by the various practices (liturgies) we’re engaged in, whether it’s checking our smart phones, visiting the local mall, eating fast food, or consuming varieties of ideologically-loaded pop cultural artifacts.
For this reason, the transformation of desire isn’t simply going to happen by rearranging some of our beliefs, but by adopting the sorts of practices that shape our loves to conform to the Kingdom of God. These liturgies train our hearts, sort of like batting practice trains our arms or training wheels our stabilizer muscles, in the way they should go."
Click through for the rest of his review...

Friday, April 8, 2016

You Are More Defined by What You Love than What You Believe

That's the idea behind James K.A. Smith's book that has just been released, You Are What You Love. Smith explains the ideas behind the book in this interview with Justin Taylor, which gives you a good summary of what he means and why it's helpful.

I have looked forward to this book, more than any other, for many months. I wrote about this book in December before its release, and compared it with the approach of worldview training: What Drives You? Does Christianity Capture Your Head But Not Your Heart? Both are valuable. The very important insights in Smith's book are especially important because they point out what worldview training often overlooks or underestimates. In Smith's words: “The Augustinian point is that you are defined by what you love. It’s your loves that govern your action and pursuits. Indeed, you are more defined by what you love than what you think or know or believe.”

In other words, when faced with a dilemma between what you desire and what you believe, you are likely to follow what you desire. That's one reason that raising kids with the right Christian doctrine or consistent worldview teaching just isn't enough to keep them involved in church. If we don't shape their hearts and desires so that they love and delight in the worship of God, then their hearts will lead them elsewhere. It's not as if beliefs and doctrine are irrelevant; what you think does influence what you do. It's just that your beliefs must penetrate to your heart and be matched by what you enjoy and love. If they aren't, then what you enjoy and love will work against what you believe and often overrule it. Like a car that always pulls to the right on the road because it's out of alignment, as long as your heart is drawn away by loving something other than Christ, you will have to do a lot of extra work and show constant attention simply to keep the vehicle going straight. Imagine what a joy it would be if the wheels were in alignment and your heart went straight for Christ on its own.

So Smith's book is exciting and valuable because it helps replace the missing pieces in much of Christian teaching and worldview training. For those who have been struggling to make progress in directing their lives toward God, this book may be the thing that helps you lay aside every weight and run freely.

Smith makes another very important observation that every Christian should consider: whether we know it or not, there are habits and practices in our lives that are shaping our desires and defining what we love. We don't just come with the wrong desires built in - there is plenty of that, but we also build the wrong desires up and give them power by what we feed them. You can be working very hard to study the Bible and to develop a Christian worldview, and at the same time you may be surrounded by habits and social patterns that are making your desire for things other than God very strong. Spending a lot of time studying and learning about God isn't going to change you if at the same time your daily life is building and strengthening a love for something other than God. Like an alcoholic sitting in a bar surrounded by people drinking (my illustration, not Smith's), it really doesn't matter how much you believe your alcoholism is lethal or how much you believe it is wrong to drink. If you are immersed in an environment that is saturating you with the aroma and temptation of something you want very much, and you are choosing to keep inhabiting that environment, you are likely to give in. Beliefs and knowledge alone will not usually stop you unless you also love what you believe in more than you love what you are tempted by.

A lot of the value in Smith's work is his detection of these different practices and habits in our lives, and his explanation of how we can develop practices that will feed good desires and grow our love for God. You Are What You Love is a good manual for figuring out what is hindering your love for God and learning how to reshape that and stoke the fires of good desires for godly things. Shaping your heart, and the hearts of your children, is a crucial part of Christian discipleship. I hope this book will be a powerful encouragement and help to many people.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

What You Make of God's Glory Is the Test of Whether You Really Worship Him

I've been reading through Tim Keller and Kathy Keller's devotional on the Psalms, The Songs of Jesus. This description of God's glory struck me:

"What is God's glory? It is his infinite weight, his supreme importance. To glorify God is to obey him unconditionally. To ever say, 'I'll obey if . . .' is to give something else more importance or glory than God." (The Songs of Jesus, p. 43).

The glory of God is our supreme value and treasure. It is what we recognize as representing God's infinite worth, His being deserving of our complete worship and devotion. If we make our worship or obedience to God conditional, meaning we will only give it if God meets our desire or expectation for something else, then we aren't really worshiping God or treasuring Him. We are using Him as a means to what we really want. Which means we value it more than God. That is how you know when you have made an idol or false god out of something: you want it so much that you aren't satisfied with God unless He also gives this other thing to you. Truly worshiping God above all means that you don't need anything else along with Him. He is your ultimate desire. He may give you other things to enjoy too, and He does, but they aren't nearly as important as Him. That is giving God His true glory.

The Kellers make another good observation about worship as well:

"But while glorifying God is never less than obedience, it is more. God's glory also means his inexpressible beauty and perfection. It does not glorify him, then, if we only ever obey God simply out of duty. We must give him not only our will but also our heart, as we adore and enjoy him, as we find him infinitely attractive. And there is no greater beauty than to see the Son of God laying aside his glory and dying for us (Philippians 2:5-11)." (The Songs of Jesus, p. 43).

Worship isn't just submitting to God and obeying Him because we have to. It is enjoying God. Even when you don't feel this (and it is often difficult for most of us - often there are other things we feel we want more than God), what you should pursue in worship and prayer is that very feeling. You can worship God even when you don't feel it if you pray for the right feelings of devotion and affection and ask God to make you desire what you should. Desire for God should be heartfelt and genuine, but it also honors Him to say you know you should desire Him - that He is worth that much - but you don't right now, and you need His help. Never hesitate to come to God in prayer just because you don't feel what you should. Asking Him to fix that honors Him too.