Friday, July 29, 2011

Shaping And Sustaining Servant Leaders With The Gospel

Guest Post by Michael Allen (read more about Mike here)

It is worth reflecting on how a seminary, or local churches for that matter, can shape and sustain servant leaders. We know that it is God’s grace that calls, saves, commissions, enables, and blesses a minister. But we are also told that God normally works through means, especially the fellowship of saints in the local church. How does this happen?

What is servant leadership?

We need to reflect on this clichéd term: servant leadership. Many think servant leadership can be easily identified: picture a person in authority doing some menial task, some thankless duty, and there you have it—a leader serving. Yet this is not a biblical definition of servant leadership. In the Bible, the term servant more often than not really means slave—some slaves run the household, others plow the soil, but all do so at the behest of their master. The underlying point of servant leadership, then, is not a matter of what tasks you do, but of who owns you. Murray Harris sees this evident in the writing, indeed in the very self-identification of the apostle Paul:

The book of Romans is the flagship of the Pauline fleet. Flying proudly at the top of the mast of this ship is a flag bearing the words, ‘Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus’ (Romans 1:1). This flag is two-toned, its white indicating complete freedom yet total surrender, and its purple symbolizing royal ownership and therefore incomparable privilege. The slave of Christ is the emancipated dependent of Christ as well as the willing bondservant of Christ, the exclusive property of Christ as well as the honored representative of Christ.

The apostle knew he was God’s property.

Servant leaders are those who know they are bought by God at a great price; they are his possession, and they do whatever he calls them to do. Oftentimes, yes, this involves the fulfillment of menial or lowly tasks. But slavish fulfillment of tasks is not the essence of servant leadership—it is only a presenting symptom, an outward sign of an inward reality. Real servant leadership involves the continual submission of one’s ministerial agenda to your master’s wishes. Servant leadership is an implication of being Christ-centered.

In a day and age where pastors are frequently called to be managers, therapists, and bureaucrats, surely we need more servant leaders in the biblical sense. We need pastors who see themselves as God’s people, subject to his will. These pastors will do whatever he says—preaching in grand pulpits and praying with diseased inpatients, counseling the despondent and designing the educational curriculum. We need pastors willing to address the prince and the pauper, able to purify the liturgy and the latrine. We need pastors willing to suffer for the gospel when necessary. Chiefly, we need our pastors to join in the ministry of Christ on his terms and in his strength.

Who are the servant leaders?

If servant leadership involves attitudes and action, we must then ask: what kind of person will lead in this way? What qualities and characteristics make up the servant leader? Above all else, the servant leader is someone who has appropriated the glory of the gospel and been freed to care for the good of others.

The gospel tells us that all our needs are provided in Christ Jesus; indeed, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). We must know that God intends our good, and that he is able and willing to deliver. We see this evident in the sending and sacrifice of his Son. Remember Romans 8:32—“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him give us all other things?” God has already given the greatest gift, surely our daily needs will be met too. The gospel promises life in Christ for eternity as well as for this very day. Every promise is yes in Christ.

The gospel not only tells us that we are provided for. It also empowers our obedience and service to others. Assured of our future in Christ, we are free to give ourselves away in service in the present. We need not fret and frenzy ourselves in pursuit of our security and status, but we can pour ourselves out to those in need. By refusing to justify ourselves, instead resting on the merits of Christ, we can work on behalf of others. This dynamic leads to what is called regularly “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26)—loving service that flows out of those who trust their future to Christ. It is not merely that those who believe also happen to obey: trust and obey. Rather, it is that trust enables and empowers obedience: trust and, therefore, obey. Christian leaders who savor the satisfying power of Christ’s work will be willing to follow wherever he leads—their faith will work itself out in love (Galatians 5:6).

Savoring all that Jesus is for us in the gospel enables our faithful action. Knowing the exalted glory of the gospel sustains our journey through humiliation. Seeing our identity fully in Christ enables us to endure anything for him and to give ourselves to bless others. Put it all together, then, and we see that servant leaders are gospel-saturated believers.

How do we shape and sustain servant leaders?

Servant leadership goes against the grain of our culture and our own selfish tendencies. It simply will not come naturally to those who fashion themselves autonomous or self-made. Therefore, we must be intentional if we wish to cultivate a culture of servant leadership. At Knox Seminary and in local churches, we must ask: how can we shape and sustain servant leaders over the long haul?

We must remind each other regularly of the gospel, its beauty and its power. John Murray said that “Faith is forced consent. . . . In common parlance we say a man commands confidence. We do not trust a man simply because we have willed to, or even because we desire to. And we cannot distrust a man simply because we wish or will to do so. We trust a man because we have evidence that to us appears sufficient, evidence of trustworthiness.” If leaders are to be bold in service, they must be convinced that the God who promises to meet all their needs in Christ is able and willing to do so. We must portray the trustworthiness of God, so that their faith is sustained. Sermons proclaim this; sacraments portray it. Regular study of the Scriptures emboldens leaders by reminding them that God has preserved his people time and again, even in the most adverse situations. All of us need reminders of the wondrous works of God, so that we might cling all the more to his promises and be freed for self-sacrificing ministry.

The gospel sustains Christians and ministries, so we speak the good news to each other daily and reflect carefully on the promises and works of God. In so doing, we fulfill the exhortation of Hebrews 10:23-25—“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” God is faithful—all of us, even leaders, need to be reminded regularly of this truth. We “stir up one another to love and good works” by “encouraging one another” with words of God’s grace and recitals of the gospel message. Going deeper together into the gospel actually propels us outward in love and witness. Thus, we fight for each other’s faith, even the faith of students in seminary and pastors in their parishes, and thus we make possible one another’s service. We pray that you will join us in doing so, thereby shaping and sustaining a counter-culture of servant leadership.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Most Risky Profession

-- by Mark Galli
Why you need to pray desperately for your pastor.

It's refreshing news to hear of pastors taking a leave of absence not over sexual or financial misconduct, but over pride. Such was the case with John Piper last year, and this week with C. J. Mahaney. Mahaney has been president of the church planting network Sovereign Grace Ministries, which according to its website now includes "about 95 churches," mostly on the East Coast. He is the founder of the megachurch Covenant Life Church, which he handed over to Joshua Harris after pastoring there for 27 years. He is also one of the leaders of the Together for the Gospel Conferences, and one of the most popular speakers in the neo-Reformed circuit.

The story behind his leave of absence is still unraveling. But he has publicly acknowledged that he has succumbed to "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy."

It's an interesting list of sins—ones that pastors all over America commit week in and week out. This is not to excuse Mahaney or to take such sins lightly. It is to suggest that the state of the modern American pastorate has been shaped so that these sins—especially pride and hypocrisy—are impossible to escape. For this reason, our pastors need not our condemnation, but our prayers. They are in a profession that is about as morally risky as they come.

Bigger and Better
The modern American church is very much a product of its culture—we're an optimistic, world-reforming, busy, and ambitious lot, we Americans. In business, that means creating a better widget, and lots of them, and thus growing larger and larger corporations. In religion, that means helping more souls, and along the way, building bigger and better churches. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled in the 1830s how American Christians seemed so blasé about doctrine compared to their enthusiasm for good works. Religious busyness will be with us always, it seems.

Translate that into church life, and we find that American churches exalt and isolate their leaders almost by design. Our ambitious churches lust after size—American churches don't feel good about themselves unless they are growing. We justify church growth with spiritual language—concern for the lost and so forth. But much of the time, it's American institutional self-esteem that is on the line. This is an audacious and unprovable statement, I grant, but given human nature (the way motives become terribly mixed in that desperately wicked human heart) and personal experience, I will stick to it.

With this addiction to growth comes a host of behavioral tics, such as a fascination with numbers. The larger the church, the more those who attend become stats, "attenders" to be counted and measured against previous weeks. Pastoral leaders are judged mostly on their ability to enlarge their ministries. It's not long before we have to rely on "systems" to track and follow newcomers. It is the rare church now that can depend on members naturally noticing newcomers, or on their reaching out to them with simple hospitality. That has become the job of a committee, which is overseen by a staff member. With increasing size comes an increasing temptation to confuse evangelism with marketing, the remarkably efficient and effective if impersonal science of getting people in the doors.

With the longing for size comes a commitment to efficiency. No longer is it a good use of the head pastor's time to visit the sick or give spiritual counsel to individuals. Better for him to make use of his "gift mix," which usually has little to do with the word pastor—or shepherd, the biblical word for this position. Instead, he has been hired for his ability to manage the workings of large and complex institutions. The bigger the church, the less he works with common members and mostly with staff and the church board. To successfully manage a large church, one must be on top of all the details of that institution. This doesn't necessarily mean directly micromanaging things, but it certainly means to do so indirectly. The large church pastor may not personally tell the nursery volunteers to repaint the 2–3 year-old room, but when he notices a spot of peeling paint as he passes by, the pastor will tell someone who will tell someone, and it will get done in short order.

This is not because the senior pastor is a control freak—or if he is, the church wants him to be. Churches on their way up the growth curve like to know that someone is in charge, that someone is attending to the details, that someone is getting things done. That's why they've hired this dynamic, forward looking, administratively savvy leader. They enjoy being a part of a humming, efficient organization. It reminds them of the other humming, efficient organizations our culture admires, from Google to Apple to Disneyland. It makes them proud to be a part of such a church. That the pastor has to take a heavy hand now and then—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly—is a small price to pay.

(I use the masculine pronoun to talk about pastors precisely because the vast majority are males, and men are particularly vulnerable to these realities. I also speak autobiographically here, having been a pastor for ten years.)

What makes the pastor's job even more spiritually vulnerable is the expectation that he also be the cathartic head of the church—someone with whom members can identify and live through vicariously. Someone who articulates their fears and hopes, someone to whom they can relate—at a distance. This is key, because the pastor has time to relate to very, very few members. Thus it is all the more important that he be able to communicate in public settings the personable, humble, vulnerable, and likable human being he is.

Thus, preaching in the modern church has devolved into the pastor telling stories from his own life. The sermon is still grounded in some biblical text, and there is an attempt to articulate what that text means today. But more and more, pastors begin their sermons and illustrate their points repeatedly from their own lives. Next time you listen to your pastor, count the number of illustrations that come from his life, and you'll see what I mean. The idea is to show how this biblical truth meets daily life, and that the pastor has a daily life. All well and good. But when personal illustrations become as ubiquitous as they have, and when they are crafted with pathos and humor as they so often are, they naturally become the emotional cornerstone of the sermon. The pastor's life, and not the biblical teaching, is what becomes memorable week after week.

Again, this is not because the pastor is egotistical. It's because, again, we demand this of our preachers. Preachers who don't reveal their personal lives are considered, well, impersonal and aloof. Share a couple of cute stories about your family, or a time in college when you acted less than Christian, and people will come up to you weeks and months later to thank you for your "wonderful, vulnerable sermons." Preachers are not dummies, and they want approval like everyone else. You soon learn that if you want those affirmative comments—and if you want people to listen to you!—you need to include a few personal and, if possible, humorous stories in your sermon.

The inadvertent effect of all this is that most pastors have become heads of personality cults. Churches become identified more with the pastor—this is Such-and-Such's church—than with anything larger. When that pastor leaves, or is forced to leave, it's devastating. It feels a like a divorce, or a death in the family, so symbiotic is today's relationship between pastor and people.

No wonder pastors complain about how lonely and isolated they feel. The success and health of a very demanding institution have been put squarely on their shoulders. They love the adrenaline rush of success—who doesn't? But they also live in dread that they may fail. Wise pastors recognize that unique temptations will assault them, and some set up accountability structures to guard their moral and spiritual lives. They try to have people around them who can speak truth to their power. But in reality, since this is an accountability structure that they have set up and whose membership they determine, in the end it can only have limited effectiveness.

And so we have a system in which pride and hypocrisy are inevitable. The situation for the pastor is impossible. He retains his biblical vision, but the system he finds himself in makes him waver between humility and arrogance, hope and cynicism, patience and anger, love and hate. The pastor has to increasingly downplay these tensions or any serious shortcomings, moral or administrative, to play the part that is expected of him. He must learn to doubt his moral instincts, so he starts believing that efficiently running a large, bureaucratic institution is "ministry" or "service" rather than what it often is: mostly managing and controlling people. He and his congregation justify his heavy-handed leadership and his lack of time for individuals—the very antithesis of his title, pastor or shepherd. His sermons are increasingly peppered with himself as much as the gospel, and even his self-deprecating humor turns against him. Now people praise him for his humility, which only goes to his head, as it does for any human being.

The morally serious pastor will be aware of much of this—even if he can't admit it to anyone—and he will strive to keep himself in check. But he will find that his left hand always—always—knows what his right hand is doing. He has become incapable of carrying out his ministry in simple freedom and trust in God's grace. He began running the race of ministry with holy ambition, but he now finds himself on a treadmill of "various expressions of pride."

Every profession has its secret sins and habitual vices—believe me, we have plenty in journalism. We all need prayer in our callings. And no more so than pastors, whose spiritual leadership makes them most vulnerable to the sins that Jesus most severely condemned: hypocrisy and pride.

Is there hope? Of course. Pastors aren't the only people who find themselves trapped in a social milieu where it is impossible not to succumb to sin. It is for habitual and trapped sinners—like pastors, like us—that Jesus died. The hope is not that we can find a perfect church environment in which we can eradicate pastoral pride. The hope is that Jesus loves and uses repentant sinners despite our pride.

This does not mean Jesus doesn't want us to change the way we do church. I sometimes wonder if he's allowing us to reap the fruit of our churchly ambitions—with many pastors burning out or becoming cynical, or resigning in one form of "disgrace" or another—so we will discover anew why the word pastor or shepherd is the name he gives to the church's leaders. That very name suggests that perhaps the church should not be about growth and efficiency, but care and concern, not so much an organization but a community, not something that mimics our high-tech culture but something that incarnates a high-touch fellowship. By God's grace, there is a remnant of such churches alive and well today, with leaders who really are pastors.

In the meantime, do not condemn your pastor when he succumbs to pride and hypocrisy. He's stuck in a religious system from which few escape unscathed. Pray for him. And remind him that grace covers a multitude of sins, and that neither life nor death, nor angels nor principalities, nor the contemporary North American church can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the church.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Speaking Love's Languages

The Basics

The heart of the book is a description of 5 ways in which people tend to be wired or ways in which they tend to want to have love expressed to them: affirming words, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time and acts of service. Chapman believes that each of us has tendencies toward some of these and away from others. Each of us can probably take a look at the list and order them from 1 to 5. Some of us love being served while others of us love receiving gifts. But for others acts of service and receiving gifts are nearly meaningless. In his wisdom and kindness, God has made us to be very different even in the ways we give love and receive love.

There is no doubt that Chapman touches upon something real here. I need only look to my own marriage to see that Aileen and I both have our own “language.” The ways I can best express love to her are through quality time and acts of service while the way I love to receive love from her is through physical affection and quality time. Chapman’s idea, of course, is that I find out from Aileen how she likes to be loved and then begin to love her just like that. If quality time is at the top of her list, I will be sure to give her a lot of quality time. Implicit in this is that she will return the favor—she will learn my love language and love me that way in return. When we follow the model, a happy marriage will ensue. In this way, then, Chapman gives us a helpful way to describe the different ways we are wired and gives a realistic way of putting these love languages into action.

But. But the book also has some very notable weaknesses. David Powlison has written a fantastic review of the book and I commend it to you (download it here). I am going to track with him for the next few paragraphs before returning to my own thoughts below.

5 Lust Languages

After affirming some of the book’s strengths, Powlison looks to the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do to you”) and offers this commentary:

Obviously, the most basic violations of the Golden Rule occur when we simply mistreat others, doing and saying malicious things we’d hate to have done and said to us. But perhaps the most commonmisunderstanding of the Golden Rule is that even in attempting to love others we do what we would want. It’s a less heinous form of self-centeredness, more clumsy and ignorant than hateful.

This is important to see in the context of love languages. If I respond best to physical touch, then the way I will tend to express love to my wife is through physical touch. However, physical touch may mean nothing to her. My expressions of love, then, are actually selfish—I am only giving what I long to receive. At its best The Five Love Languages can correct this. But the reality tends to be a little bit different. The foundation of the book is that as I give my wife the kind of love she wants, she will reciprocate with the kind of love I most want. Powlison says, “What is Chapman working with here? Unwittingly, he exalts the observation that ‘even tax collectors, gentiles and sinners love those who love them into his guiding principle for human relationships.’” Do you see it? “Identify the felt need and meet it, and, odds are, your relationships will go pretty well.” This sounds pragmatically useful, but it doesn’t sound much like Christian living.

There is another big concern. “Love me as I long to be loved” is in a certain way a fair request. But it can also begin to sound like, “Scratch my itch” or, worse, “Bow before my idol.” Powlison says, “Part of considering the interests of others is to do them tangible good. But then to really love them, you usually need to help them see their itch as idolatrous, and to awaken in them a far more serious itch! That’s basic Christianity. 5LL will never teach you to love at this deeper, more life-and-death level.” In demanding or expecting that Aileen love me as I long to be loved, or in loving her in the way she longs to be loved, I may be bowing before idols.

What The Five Love Languages can actually do is teach us that the desires we feel within—desires that may truly belusts—are actually needs. And as soon as we see them as needs, we have deviated from biblical Christianity to human psychology. “Chapman’s model is premised on a give-to-get economy: ‘I will give to fill your love tank. But in the back of my mind I’m always considering whether and when I’ll get my own tank filled.” In Powlison’s words, “5LLreplaces naked self-interest with civilized self-interest. ‘I give, hoping to get.’”

So now we’ve got 2 big concerns: that there is an inherent selfishness with the love languages and that they may at heart be a form of idolatry.

Where, fundamentally, does Chapman go wrong? I think it is in this: He assumes that what we feel as needs are fundamentally good. “He never deals with the fact that people can desire evil. … Chapman never deals with the fact that even desires for good things can still be evil desires in God’s analysis of what makes us tick. Your ‘love language’ … is a curious mix of creation and fall.’” At the heart of The Five Love Languages is a fundamental misunderstanding of the fallenness of man. We are sinful to such an extent that even our deepest desires, things we may consider needs, may be inherently sinful.

When we understand our natural depravity we are prepared to look at God’s love for us and see that Christ’s love language is one that none of us desire. “We might say that the itch itself (an ear for God’s language) has to be created, because we live in such a stupor of self-centered itchiness. The love language model does not highlight those exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak your language. … The greatest love ever shown does not speak the instinctively self-centered language of the recipients of such love.” Do you see this? The saving love of God, expressed in the death of Christ, does not speak anyone’s natural love language. And yet it is the greatest love and our most desperate need. In this way Christ fails the love language test! We wanted to be loved in all sorts of ways—but none of us wanted to be loved in the way Christ has loved us, by dying for us, sending his Spirit to indwell us, and being Lord over us. And yet this is what we have needed more than anything in all the world.

My Language

Powlison has offered some tough critiques, but this should not cause us to miss what truly is valuable in the book. So let me return to a couple of the ways I have found The Five Love Languages to be useful.

In the first place, I have found it helpful to categorize the ways people want to be loved. This has opened to me the panorama of ways in which it is possible to love another person. Though Chapman offers only 5 categories, they are sufficiently broad that they offer endless ways to express affection. I have found it beneficial to look at Aileen through those languages and to seek to love her well. At the same time, it has been valuable to see ways in which she may make a desire a need, a lust or an idol. And, of course, it has done the same for me. I’ve been amazed to see how the language I speak best can be the language of idolatry. As Powlison says, “I’ve found that one acid test of my heart is how I handle being misunderstood, caricatured, reviled, dissed—not how I handle being accurately known and loved! It’s when someone doesn’t speak my ‘love language’ that I find out what I’m made of, and by God’s grace begin to change what I live for.”

Second, and probably most importantly, I have found it helpful to see the ways in which Aileen longs to be loved because it has taught me how she is most likely to express love to me. She and I speak very different languages and that can leave both of us feeling unloved. But once I came to understand that our languages are different, it began to open my ears to a whole new language. It turns out that it was not that she wasn’t loving me, but that she was loving me in her own language. This had closed my ears (or heart—metaphors are getting mangled!) to those expressions of love. But once I understood her better, then I was prepared to receive love in different and unexpected ways. Now I am learning to understand new languages and to respond to them. And this has brought about far more benefit, I believe, than demanding (or even hoping) that she will learn to speak mine.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Display of The Outrageousness of Sin

"Every time we see something horrific, some horrible accident, a devastating disaster, our thoughts should be about the outrage of sin, not the injustice of God. instead of calling God into question, we should see them as evidences in our lives of the outrage of our sin and the horrific evil and repugnance of sin to a holy God. And God is displaying to us the outrage of our sin in the only way that we can see it, because we don’t get upset about our sinning. We only get upset about the hurt." -RC Sproul