I get the occasional question from pastors and others on how one goes about writing a book, and what to do if by the grace of God a publisher actually wants to scoop up said book and run with it. It’s a tricky business for sure, and if one is a pastor and writes books there are some particular weirdnesses that come along with that combo. Kevin deYoung has a great post on navigating those weirdnesses. Main points posted below, full article here.
1. Writing for others is a privilege.
2. Writing should be in service of others.
3. Writing should be kept in proportion.
4. Writing should be kept in perspective.
5. Writing should be overseen with accountability.
6. Writing should be done by the person whose name is on the cover.
7. Writing should be done humbly.
One of my frustrations with the new generation of churches (of which ours is a part) is the coupling of (a) the denouncement of the last generation of churches for being uncritically beholden to the political right, whilst (b) simultaneously we ourselves are far too often uncritically beholden to the political left. For many of our churches, I’m not sure we’ve so much gotten free from the unhealthy political alliances of yesterday so much as simply exchanged one set of masters for another.
And when I scratch a little deeper, I realize I’m frustrated with myself too, because I’m not always sure just what healthy engagement should look like. I feel strongly that we are to create a church culture where we are able to biblically address social ills which concern both right and left – not because they are right or left but because they are biblical concerns – yet without necessarily endorsing (baptizing?) either side’s set of political solutions to those problems. My problem is that this is so often easier said than done.
A friend sent me some nice encouragement along these lines, and with it, this hopeful and insightful article by Russell Moore. Enjoy . . .
“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.”
Challenging, moving piece on a topic near and dear to our hearts: church where people actually do life together.
“Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained it well: "It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian." You cannot have intimacy with Christ and remain aloof from his body. We cannot worship God the Father and still assert—in word or deed—"I am not my brother’s keeper."
Full article here.
In pastorland, what is success? Should we measure it more in faithfulness, result, or some combination of the two?
Great reflections on these questions from Paul Pastor.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
[thanks to Fuller’s Burner Blog for posting this as well]
Great nugget the other day from 2 Chronicles 19:11 – “Act with courage, and may the Lord be with the upright!”
So concludes King Jehosophat’s speech to the newly appointed leaders who would be administering justice in Jerusalem and in the surrounding cities of Judah. His instructions are undiluted wisdom for any of us who lead in the church as well.
As a freshly minted pastor I was shocked how frequently I was required to wade into messy situations and render a judgment of some sort (was I the only one who missed the “Pastor as Old Testament Judge” class in seminary?). Interpersonal conflicts, marital disharmony, workplace ethics, theological issues – those who lead in the church are required at times to make uncomfortable calls and to serve as arbiters in thorny situations.
I always imagined such situations would require wisdom, but I didn’t expect that acting justly required so much courage as well. We want to please people. We want to be liked. We like when people are happy with the church and happy with us. Yet we are sometimes required to make a hard call or to say hard things, even to treasured friends or trusted partners in ministry. We learn early that such action comes with a cost. People leave, people lash out, people take shots at our reputations.
The easy thing is to determine to not rock the boat. To shield oneself from pain by honing one’s diplomatic skills and learning the art of speaking without truly saying anything or appeasing without ever taking a stand.
The courageous thing to do is to speak the truth in love. To prayerfully discern which hills are in fact worth dying on, and then to die there. To do the right thing, even when it hurts (Ps 15). These moments are the spaces where a congregation’s values and ethos are forged, and where we find the Lord shaping us from polite pew-sitting worshipers into dangerous men and women whose presence threatens the darkness and brings light to the world.
At the end of my life and ministry I don’t want to look around and see the faces of people I managed not to piss off, but people who actually experienced the transforming presence of Christ and were used by him to transform the world around us. They and I will have lived and led with courage, and we’ll have the scars to prove it. When I am in touch with this desire and strong enough to act on it, I can remember that the consequences of inaction are what I really should fear.
The rest of Jehosophat’s counsel to his leaders guides us as well:
“Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for mere mortals but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict” (v. 6). Whether we like it or not, our words, actions, attitudes and decisions carry enormous weight, either to build up or to tear down. Not just because of title or position, but because God has chosen (risky though it would seem!) to use us as his instruments in making things right, and he himself is working through us. (Paul expresses a similar sentiment to the church in Corinth when their leaders failed to address a grave moral failing in the church: “When you are assembled . . . and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan . . .” (1 Cor 5:4)).
“Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery” (v. 7). It’s hard to be impartial, even when we want to be. For me, this is one more factor that highlights the necessity of leading as a team.
“You must serve faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the Lord” (v. 9). No half measures – we must be all in, for we serve God and his precious people.
“In every case that comes before you . . . you are to warn them not to sin against the Lord” (v. 10). My job is not to make people happy, but to help make them holy. If I am dispensing comfort without leading people deeper into Jesus, I am doing a disservice to them and to Him.
“They answered, ‘Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven.” (John 6:30-32)
Sometimes we as leaders want to get credit for the manna.
Not that we shouldn’t receive people’s appreciation for our efforts (we all need encouragement like plants needs water, and people need to know they can offer words of appreciation that will truly be received), but we dare not conflate our efforts to faithfully minister with the fruit that ministry produces. As Paul said to the Corinthians, one person’s job may be to sow a seed and another’s to water that seed, but it is God who brings the growth (1 Cor 3:5-8).
At the end of the day, our job is to do what is within our power to help people come close to Jesus, the true bread from heaven. Any beauty that springs from that is God’s doing, and our privilege as leaders is to help people see his hand in their lives and further adore him as a result.
“These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that endanger the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesmen.”
Abigail Adams to her son, John Quincy Adams.
(hat tip John Notehelfer)
Check out this piece by Kevin Emmert, The Church is a Harlot but I Love Her. It got me thinking . . .
Critique is a necessary practice and there is much to critique in the contemporary church, but am I the only one who wonders if our generation has elevated critique to an art form while simultaneously degrading our ability to be part of needed change? Are we better at tearing down than at building? When I look at myself and those around me, is it unfair to say we have a love affair with complaining that betrays our collective sense of entitlement?
I think of this whenever I read Jude and note among his list of heinous sins that “these people are grumblers and faultfinders” (v. 16). Is there anyone who can’t see our generation in that phrase? I was puzzled at first to see these on a list of gnarly sins, but after a bit of reflection it makes good sense. The one who sees life through a critical eye and complains about how everyone else is doing it wrong not only stunts their own growth, but become sowers of discontent, damage community, undermine acceptance of others, and feed our collective sense of entitlement. As Bonhoeffer said, the one who loves their dream of community more than the actual community becomes a destroyer of the latter.
We are a generation that needs to hear this. I’m not sure what the totality of repentance looks like in this, but I don’t think it means silence. Perhaps it means that what critique does come comes differently – in a spirit of love, without the bite of sarcasm or of self-righteousness disguised as irony, in being a change agent, as part of a commitment to be all-in rather than as an observer with one foot out the door. Maybe it means that when we critique, we do so for the good of the Church, not so it better fits who I want her to be.
Christ loves his bride, the church. Even in critique, we need to too.