Make Disciples

At least five times in the Bible Jesus puts his disciples on mission to proclaim the gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:46-48, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8).  The text in Matthew gives us an interesting instruction:  Make disciples and teach them all that Jesus commanded.  This suggests that making disciples in about inviting a lost person to be a Kingdom citizen and then teaching him or her the Kingdom ethic in which we are called to live.  

Over the past few months, Jared Jenkins, Brett Ricley, and I have been discussing both sides of the Great Commission coin.  This discussion resulted in a Salty Believer Unscripted series called, "Make Disciples" and will likely be the seeds of another series called, "Grow Disciples."  

In this series, we stick to the evangelism side of making disciples and deal with six spheres of evangelism as Joel Southerland teaches.  We fully recognize that it would be gross negligence to see someone saved and then just abandoned them to learn and grown alone; however, we kept this series to the first part of making disciples--sharing the gospel and introducing lost people to Jesus. 

All three of us grew in area of evangelism during this series and we've shared our journey along the way.  I learned how necessary a wide variety of methods is when we live in a world so full of diverse thinking and attitudes.  We have and are trying all of these methods at Redeeming Life Church to find out what works for us in our context.  It's been extremely interesting and informative.  But through it all, I've really come to see the importance of simply being faithful. 

You can find Salty Believer Unscripted on iTunes, subscribe to the non-iTunes feed, or listen here: 

Make Disciples
-- Part 1, An Introduction audio
-- Part 2, Snatching Some From the Fire audio
-- Part 3, A Biblical Relational for Missions and Evangelism audio
-- Part 4, 6 Spheres of Evangelism audio
-- Part 5, Prayer audio
-- Part 6, Personal Evangelism audio
-- Part 7, Revival audio
-- Part 8, Event Evangelism audio
-- Part 9, Service-Driven Evangelism audio
-- Part 10, Sunday Service Excellence audio
-- Part 11, A Mission to the Nations audio

Apostolic Church Planting By J. D. Payne

Dr. J. D. Payne was our guest on "Salty Believer Unscripted" when he publicly announced a forthcoming book titled Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers.  Naturally, I was interested so I was thrilled when  Payne's print publicist, Alisse Wissman sent me a pre-published manuscript of the book for review.  (It's a 8.5x11" printed manuscript bound in a presentation-style thermal binding.)  

Payne, J. D. Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers. Downers Grove, Illi: InterVarsity Press, 2015.  

In his book, Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers, Dr. J. D. Payne sets out complement his larger textbook, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting with this much shorter book.  Payne also tries to answer additional questions and further mature ideas that were not as developed in the larger textbook.  "Naturally," writes Payne, "there is some overlap between the two.  If there weren't, you would be wise to question an author who writes two books on a subject with no continuity and much divergence in thought" (9).  Found throughout Apostolic Church Planting is the statement, "For more on _______ see chapter _______ in Discovering Church Planting."  Clearly the two books are highly tied, although both stand alone on the topic of church planting.  However, Apostolic Church Planting's illustrations are current, as to be expected; not that Discovering Church Planting is out of date.  In addition, Apostolic Church Planting better address the need for apostolic planting in North America.

Like every other book on church planting, Payne starts with the question, what is church planting?  Often, a person picking up a title that deals with church planting will already understand the answer to this question; but it seems appropriate that Payne address this issue.  Given the slightly different approach, size, and nature of this book, it is possible that this title could be the first book a future planter or planting team reads on the topic.  

Payne writes, "Throughout the Bible, we read of the birth of churches--after disciples are made.  Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches" (15).  Right upfront, Payne defines planting as making disciples of those who did not previously have a relationship with Jesus, gathering them together, and then birthing a new church from this group.  Outside of his definition is the mission that takes a large group of believers and starts an instant church in another location (although he does not condemn this kind of work).  "Churches," Payne states, "are supposed to be birthed from disciple making" (16).  

Next, Payne addresses a biblical rationale for what a local church is and is not.  Having previously served as a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this is where his professor cap comes out.  And Dr. Payne wears it well.  As the book progresses, it becomes more and more practical, eventually concluding with some extremely applicable chapters.  Each chapter concludes with a summary, offering a concise snapshot of the primary points of the chapter.  At only 121 pages, this is a quick read.  

Apostolic Church Planting is easy to read but it is not an 'easy read.'  Church planting is hard work and Payne does not sugarcoat it.  It is clear that Payne is passionate about helping apostolic planters do the hard work of planting churches that actually advance the Kingdom of God.  Like his other books, Payne's style is a little dry.  You won't find witty anecdotes or clever writing, but you will find grounded, informative thinking, paragraph after paragraph.     

A potential weakness of the book is the lack of perspective from the church in Antioch.  Payne appears to use Paul as his primary source for apostolic planting, but Paul did not plant the church in Antioch.  In fact, other than knowing they were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, we have no idea the names of the men who planted this church!  While an argument from silence is not appropriate, it does seem as if disciples were made by these man who spoke to the Hellenists and preached Jesus. According to the text, some believed.  When Barnabas was sent to check it out, he determined that he and Saul could be of service teaching in Antioch.  Verse 26 calls this group a church (Acts 11:19-25).  It is difficult to know the timeline, but this example seems rather appropriate and a discussion from this perspective would bolster Payne's argument for apostolic planting rather than hiving off a group of disciples and transplanting them elsewhere.  But this is such a minor weakness it is almost not worth mentioning.  

Apostolic Church Planting makes a great book for would-be plant teams.  It's short, divided into easy sections, and offers a great deal of information worth discussing.  In addition, as the team has more questions or would like to work through a particular section in greater detail, they could consult Discovering Church Planting (and Payne tells them right where to look).  This book would also make a good introductory book for a Bible college or seminary course on church planting or missions (although it should be partnered with an additional textbook).  And Apostolic Church Planting is a must read for anyone considering church planting.  

As a church planter in a tough place, I highly recommend this book!  

You can order your copy of Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers at Amazon.com.   

Dr. J. D. Payne is the pastor of multiplication for the Church at Brook Hills.  In addition, he's one of our favorite guests on Salty Believer Unscripted. Some of his other books include Roland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous ExpansionMissional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel; Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Churchand Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission, among others.  You can also download three free ebooks at www.JDPayne.org.  

 

The Case for Antioch by Jeff Irog

Iorg, Jeff.  The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Books on church planting and building healthy churches are many.  Too many.  But The Case for Antioch is different.   Most the books on church planting are a story about a specific plant, in a specific time, by a specific planter.  After the church is planted, the planter thinks everybody should do the same thing he did.  The same is true of healthy, thriving churches.  Models and methods are promoted and then everybody tries to copy the book.  Jeff Irog did plant a church, but this book is about a plant that happened long before Iorg set out to plant a healthy church.  This book looks at a church plant called Antioch. Maybe you've heard of the Church in Antioch?  It's discussed in the book of Acts.

Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and the author or many other books, including, Is God Calling Me? and Seasons of a Leader's Life.  In this book, Iorg examines clues from the book of Acts and extracts timeless lessons for planting churches and building healthy, transformational churches.

The book is laid out in three parts.  The first is a biblical case study.  It is helpful that in this case study, Iorg defines a transformational church.  Part 2, which is the bulk of the book, is where the lessons learned from Antioch are found.  And the book concludes with a single chapter that encourages the reader to look toward the future.

Iorg's writing style is easy and enjoyable to read.  The information is not watered down, but it is smooth.  If the reader is looking to learn about Antioch he or she will be pleased.  If however, a reader is looking for leadership lessons, he or she will find that too.

At times the book feels repetitive, as if Iorg was trying to fill a word count.  But this is minor and not too distracting.  That being said, I highly recommend The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church

Purchase The Case for Antioch from Amazon here.

Redeeming Life Church Public Launch (Or "The Funny Language of Church Planting")

April 28, 2015.

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In February of 2014, I packed a church van full of young people and set off for Missions Week on the Golden Gate Seminary campus.  It was a pivotal trip.  We attended workshops and sessions.  We helped a church plant and we slept in a poor part of San Francisco.  I met Dr. Richard Johnston and Pastor James Soy.  Dr. Irog and Dr. Wilson encouraged me to apply for the Doctorate of Ministry program, and I did. (Dr. Iorg also tried to convince an intern on my staff to transfer to Golden Gate; but so, far that hasn't happened.) A young man in our group demonstrated that he can lead worship.  We discussed the missional nature of church planting and Risen Life's role in that. And we prayed a lot.

The group was from Risen Life Church.   I was on staff.  My job was to learn and grow in preparation to plant a church.

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Upon our return, we started a Bible study group in my home with the purpose of examining what it might take to plant a church in another part of Salt Lake City. The Barnabas House Fellowship was the name of our study. We journeyed through the book of Acts with Elmer Town's book,  Churches that Multiply as a supplement.

The group grew as people came and went.  Some were simply not called to church planting.  Others were only in it for the excitement of the newest, shinny thing.  But some were there in the beginning and are still a part of our core team today. (More than I expected, actually!)

Eventually we outgrew our house and it became apparent that God was calling this group to plant a church.  We worked through all kinds of details.  Eventually we settle on the name, Redeeming Life Church.  ([R] for short.)

We started meeting on Sunday afternoons in the Risen Life Church building.  It was a special time because we saw God do some amazing things.  People were saved.  Believers were baptized.  And our core team grew stronger and stronger. 

Then something happened. God brought people from the Rose Park area all the way across the valley to worship with us.  We knew what was coming.  God was calling us to the Rose Park area of Salt Lake.  It was time to move out of the Risen Life building.

Risen Life released me from their staff and commissioned me as the pastor of this new church.  My family, as well as other families of the core team moved into the neighborhood. We started doing evangelism in our target area to include a campaign that resulted in us hanging 5,000 door hangers. We invited the neighborhood to our Easter Sunrise service. 

We've spend the past three weeks meeting in the Northwest Community Center in preparation for our 'public launch.' It's funny because in church planting language, this point is thought of as the day the church plant starts.  But we've been a church seedling for a while and we feel more like May 3rd is the day we stop saying 'plant' and just say 'church,' Redeeming Life Church. 

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I'm thrilled to see what God might do with this little church in Rose Park.  If you live in the area, we'd love it if you'd be our guest.  Our Sunday Gathering starts at 11am. We're praying that God is calling you to join us in this mission. Or maybe you don't live in the area but he's calling you to help us in some other way. And please, keep us in your prayers.   

Soli Deo gloria!

Bryan Catherman

Salty Believer and Pastor of Redeeming Life Church

David Platt on Local Church Membership

March 10, 2015.

Church membership is a sticky thing in our overly-individualistic society.  'Sticky' might even be too soft a word.  'Hot' could be a better word.  'Controversial' is another one.   Polarizing.  Offensive.  Idol-smashing.  Abrasive to our pride.  These are words that may describe attitudes toward membership in the local church; but these are not the feelings of every believer.  In all my time as a pastor I've never seen a new believer freak out over membership.  It's the opposite in fact.

The leadership at Redeeming Life Church is exploring a form of membership called covenant membership.  Names are somewhat arbitrary here, but we want to enter into a covenant with one another as a local extension of the Church, to be the Church and to make Christ known.

We're a church plant just getting started and church plants initially have a tendency of attracting jaded Christians who have been hurt by other congregations.  As a defense, pride runs high.  I've found that membership--dare I say, even commitment to a local body of believers--can be a tremendous struggle for these Christians who come with a little more baggage than others.  (Just mentioning the idea of a commitment in a sermon once earned me a barrage of emails about how membership is heretical and pastors who would even dare consider such a thing are abusing the flock.)

From the very early days of meeting as a study in my home, we've always known we'd have some form of covenant membership.  We know it's important, jadedness, hurt, and baggage aside.  Recently, I have been discussing how we might go about this with a group of our committed folks at Redeeming Life.  I've been studying this topic from the Bible.  I read a 9Marks book on the topic. And I've been praying.  (Thankfully, our team of committed brothers and sisters have absolutely no issues with entering into a simple covenant to be committed to one another as a local church.)

In addition, I've run across a video featuring David Platt.  Platt is speaking on local church membership and I've found it rather helpful.  It's short and worth a look.


Redeeming Life Launches

September 9, 2014

As we greeted our first guest and handed him a colorful bulletin, he walked into the lobby area and saw the muffins and coffee. Surprised, he proclaimed, "Whoa, a bulletin AND coffee.  This is a real church!"

By no means are coffee and bulletins the mark of Christian church.  Neither are seats, curtains, logos, and a good sound system.  The second chapter of Acts suggests that a church must at least be dedicated to the Word of God, break bread together (AKA take the Lord's Supper), be dedicated to the fellowship (another way to say membership?), and be about prayer.  Mark Dever suggests that the nine indicators of a healthy church are biblical preaching, biblical theology and strong doctrine, it lives the gospel, see conversions, is about evangelism, has membership, is disciplined, is growing disciples of Jesus, and has a plurality of elders.  

Despite the debate of exactly how a local church is defined, Redeeming Life Church is off to a good start.  We're serious about the Word of God.  We break bread together every week, we are dedicated to the fellowship (although we have not yet instituted a covenant membership, but it's coming), and we pray together.  We've baptized someone and will baptize another in a couple weeks.  I believe our theology is sound.  We are presently under the oversight of borrowed elders until we can raise up a plurality of  our own elders.  We pray that we'll have many opportunities to proclaim the gospel in the Salt Lake valley and beyond.  We are seeking to grow closer to Jesus every day.  And we really, really love Jesus.

A small group of us have been meeting for months to think about, study, and pray about planting a church.  Risen Life Church is our supporting church.  In fact, we were commissioned by this church to plant another church somewhere else in the valley.  And just this last Sunday, we hosted our first evening service.

We are certainly a work in progress, but that's how we'll always be as a local church because a work in progress is what we are in Christ.  Redeeming Life Church has a great team of men and women seeking to serve the Lord and grow closer to him in the process.  Our lead pastor (that's me) is completely incapable of shepherding God's people without the daily help of Jesus.  So I hold fast to Christ!  Our House Fellowship leaders are learning and growing, but along the way they are serving like tour guides in a place they are only just becoming familiar with themselves.   We're not cool.  We're not well funded, although we are greatly loved and supported by Risen Life Church.  We are not following the latests trends of the newest church plating book.  From the outside, we probably don't look like we have it all together (because you can see from the inside, we really don't).  We are a bunch of people who love Jesus, growing more like him.  We want to be disciples of Jesus who make more disciples of Jesus.  In fact, our goal is to simply know God better and love him more.  We hope and pray that we become so filled by Christ that we spill Jesus out everywhere we go.

If you're in the Salt Lake area and don't have a home church, are unsure about Jesus, or are just curious, we'd love to have you join us.  We meet Sunday nights at 6:30pm in the Fellowship Hall of the Risen Life Church building (2780 E. 3900 S., SLC, UT 84124).  Or you can find more information at www.RedeemingLifeUtah.org.  I've love to have you be our guest!


             Soli Deo Gloria!
             Pastor Bryan

Living Your Strengths by Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld


Introduction
            In the introduction of their book Living Your Strengths: Discover your God-given talents and inspire your Community, Dr. Albert Winseman, Dr. Donald Clifton, and Curt Liesveld argue that a spiritual leader will be more fruitful if he or she focuses on his or her existing natural strengths rather than on present weaknesses or even a potential God-given future strength(1). The implication is that an essential quality of a leader is the ability to keep his or her focus on, and lead out of, his or her strengths. “You will be most successful in whatever you do,” they write, “by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses”(2).  Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld’s concept from this Gallup Press project and others like it(3) have found their way into Christian leadership books and articles; but are they right?  This is an important question for the faithful minister seeking a fruitful ministry.  Is there a time or an event that necessitates that the minister need be more than merely aware of a personal weakness and instead expend energy shoring it up?  Is there a possibility that one could, through various means, develop a ministry strength that is not presently manifested within the minister?  Or might God call a minister to a task in which the minister will receive the talent, skills, knowledge, and ability to fulfill this calling at a later time?  If Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld are correct, the answer is clearly no.

            This review will examine Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis.  In doing so, differing contemporary works on this leadership concept will be surveyed.  The Bible will also be consulted to examine the texts Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to for support. Furthermore, this review will conclude that while there are convincing reasons to avoid expending too much energy on one’s weaknesses, there are indeed times to address weakness.  In addition, it is possible that present natural abilities will not necessarily determine the path to the greatest success and present natural strengths may not be the best tools to fulfill God’s call upon one’s life. While focusing on one’s strengths is a leadership quality, understanding the right focus is essential of any leader.

Understanding Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld
            To open their case, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld go on the offensive against what they call the ‘weakness prevention’ model.  This model, according to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, dictates, “to become strong, successful, or truly serve God and the world, you must ‘fix’ your weaknesses” (4).  They go on to explain that the weakness prevention model demands that one is not ready to serve God until he or she has better developed his or her areas of personal non-talent.  Their conclusion: “That thinking is just plain wrong” (5).  Instead, 30 years of Gallup’s research is consulted.  Drawing from the interviews of more than two million people, they resolve, as previously stated above, “Your will be most successful in whatever you do by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses.  Your talents should be your primary focus!”(6).  This echoes a similar line of thinking from a book Clifton wrote with Marcus Buckingham titled, Now, Discover Your Strengths, which states, “Each person’s greatest room from growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength”(7).
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld define strength as, “the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity. This ability is a powerful, productive combination of talent, skill, and knowledge”(8).  In addition, they have developed 34 themes of talent and offer the Gallop Clifton StrengthFinder test to help individuals identify which themes best represent their personal, natural talents.  These 34 themes are the various strengths they argue one should remained focused upon and an inability in any of these talent themes is the implied definition of weaknesses.   “The key to building strength,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue, “is first to identify your dominant themes of talent, then delve into those themes to discover your greatest talents, and finally produce a strength by complementing those talents with knowledge and skill related to the task” (9).  Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld define talent as, “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.  Unlike skills and knowledge, talents naturally exist within you and cannot be acquired.  They are your inborn predispositions” (10).
“Your talents are a precious gift from God,” write Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “They influence how you see, experience, and make your contribution to the world” (11).  Preaching, teaching, apologetics, musical or artistic ability, athletic tendencies, or showing hospitality with joy for example, are not the kind of talents or strengths Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld are getting at.  Instead, the StrenghtFinder test identifies the talent or strength themes as achiever, activator, adaptability, analytical, arranger, belief, command, communication, competition, connectedness, consistency, context, deliberative, developer, discipline, empathy, focus, futuristic, harmony, ideation, includer, individualization, input, intellection, learner, maximizer, positivity, relator, responsibility, restorative, self-assurance, significance, strategic, and woo (12).
            It is clear from Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s definitions, that talents are fixed throughout life and are not subject to change.  If one were to develop a talent later in life, it might actually be suggested that he or she merely discovered a talent held from birth that had not previously been explored. “From a spiritual viewpoint,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld write, “when we deny our talents and instead focus on our weaknesses, on some level, we are telling God that we know best and that God somehow made a mistake in gracing us with our unique mix of talents” (13).  It is unclear how Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld might explain those talents (or personality traits) that are developed or lost through a dramatic life event, such as a disability instigated by a physical accident or illness, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is clear however, how Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld feel about engaging in areas that do not reside in one’s list of greatest talents.  They coach, “Whenever possible, avoid using your areas of lesser talent.  A lesser talent becomes a weakness only when you try to use it” (14).  Instead of attempting to use any lesser talents, one should find ways to manage these weaknesses through support systems, much like a person might depend upon eyeglasses for sight, or through complementary partnerships with others (15).
A final method Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer to deal with weaknesses is to leverage talents over weaknesses.  They provide a case study taken from a man named Robert.  Robert volunteered as a counselor although he was not talented in the theme area of Empathy.  “But his talents in the Restorative and Strategic themes make up for this and enable him to be involved in a ministry he is really is passionate about,” write Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld (16).  This case study is troubling, however.  They express that Robert was not a touchy-feely type of guy.  It seemed that counseling would not be a good fit but Robert jumped in and really enjoyed it.  He received positive feedback and is passionate about it.  The implication presented here is that Robert is counseling from other talents and that Robert can develop a counseling skill but cannot ever hold or demonstrate a talent in the theme of Empathy if he was not naturally born with Empathy.  According to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, it is impossible to learn how to or become naturally talented in the theme of Empathy, regardless of time or outside circumstances.

An Examination of Other Work in the Field
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld are not the only ones to argue that the minister should focus on his or her strengths rather than weaknesses. It may be helpful to examine of those who have differing views of this essential leadership quality.  Dr. Peter Drucker, a managing consultant and writer for example, developed a system for feedback analysis.  Based on the results, he suggests the most valuable thing a person can do is to, “concentrate on your strengths.  Put yourself where your strengths can produce results” (17).  He further encourages his readers to, “work on improving your strengths” (18).  Drucker, unlike Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld however, does not suggest that zero effort of any kind should be invested into weaker areas.  Instead, he suggests that a person identify those areas where there is little to no chance of even becoming mediocre.  In these circumstances he encourages that, “One should waste as little effort as possible improving areas of low competence.  It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. […] Energy, resources, and time should go instead to making a competent person into a star performer” (19).  While Drucker appears to be in agreement with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld about focusing on strengths, he is not as ridged on the ability to grow and improve.  Drucker simply argues that energy should be used effectively to produce the greatest results, which is not the case when energy is invested into serious weakness.  In addition, Drucker provides room for adjustment when one’s greatest strengths or talents are not inline with his or her values.  In this case, one should seek to develop and improve strengths that work in tandem with held values (20).  And finally, Drucker does not identify a ridged list of strengths or talents but seems to leave that determination up to the individual.   
            John Maxwell, a respected leader in the area of leadership development is in close agreement with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, even citing the work of Buckingham and Clifton.  In his book, The 360̊ Leader, Maxwell argues, “Every job required a particular set of skills that employees must possess in order to be really successful.  Even someone with great personal strengths and a great ‘fit’ will not truly be working in his strength zone if he doesn’t have all these skills.  As a leader, it is your job to make sure your people acquire what they need to win” (21).  This argument centers on a leader’s role in best positioning the strengths of a person within an organization, but when assisting the leader to find his or her focus, Maxwell looks at some specific questions that differ from Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s approach.   Maxwell first asks, “What is required of me?” (22).  The answer to this question should help the leader identify what only he or she can do in the organization.  This does not necessary come out of the leader’s strengths or even a list of 34 talent themes.  It may simply have to do with the requirements of the leader’s role within the organization.  The second question Maxwell asks is, “What gives me the greatest return?” (23).  Here the end, not the means is the focus.  One may be extremely talented or skilled in a particular area or talent theme but if it is not producing the most fruit, than focus should be placed elsewhere, even if it is not the leader’s strongest ability, skill, or talent.  And Maxwell’s third question is, “What is the most rewarding?” (24).  While it is reasonable to think most people gain the most reward by doing something they are good at, this may not necessarily always be the case.  Maxwell believes, “Our best work takes place when we enjoy it” (25).
            Some Christian authors on leadership take a slightly different approach.  They see the ministry calling from God as the source of strength rather than solely on natural gifting or personality traits.  Dr. Reggie McNeal writes, “Spiritual leaders cannot be understood apart from their call because it tells them what game they are playing and keeps them in the game, even when they are discouraged” (26).  He goes on to say, “Unlike many people and leaders who are naïve about their talent, self-aware leaders know what they are good at.  They know what they bring to the table (and what they don’t).  This gives them permission to be intentional with their energies and time, always playing toward their talent” (27).  McNeal’s statement is within a broader conversation regarding God-given talent and gifting above mere talent traits.  While McNeal seems to agree with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, he offers far more credit to God for the leader’s source of strength and talent than they do and he appears open to a wider range of talents.  
Dr. J. Oswald Sanders also greatly credits God in regard to spiritual leadership, stating, “Spiritual leadership requires superior spiritual power, which can never be generated by the self.  There is no such thing as a self-made spiritual leader.  A true leader influences others spiritually only because the Spirit works in and through him to a greater degree than in those he leads” (28).  Sanders, unlike Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggest that the Christian minister’s strengths are not his or her own, but instead made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is a tremendous difference between the strengths of the secular leader and the pastor serving the Lord as an ambassador. According to Sanders, “[S]piritual leadership transcends the power of the personality and all other natural gifts.  The personality of the spiritual leader influences others because it is penetrated, saturated, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  As the leader gives control of his life to the Spirit, the Spirit’s power flows through him to others” (29).  
Dr. Dave Earley likewise sees calling as the indicator of where a pastoral leader should place his or her primary focus.  Regardless of natural strength, talent, or even personality, Earley argues that the majority of the pastor’s energy and effort should be put into the three things a pastor must do: pray, teach the Word, and equip and mentor leaders (30).  Obviously, Earley would draw a clear distinction between the pastor as a leader and the secular leader and his argument suggests that if a pastor is called to ministry as a leader, these three things must either be his or her strengths or become his or her strengths.
            Some secular thinkers in the field of leadership disagree with part or all of Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s premise.  For example, Jim Clemmer argues for improving leadership ability by taking the talents one is good at and becoming great in that talent area.  “And it doesn’t matter which competencies we choose;” writes Clemmer, “So we can pick those that are natural strengths, are most relevant to our job, and we’re most energized about developing further” (31).  Crammer’s argument stands in sharp contrast to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggestion that by focusing on weaknesses, even if trying to improve upon it, one is telling God that He made a mistake. He also suggests that one can pick a talent area based on the requirements of the job or personal interest.  This stands in sharp contrast to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s example of Robert, the man who served as a counselor but would never learn how to be more empathetic.
Dr. Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser stand in disagreement with Buckingham and Clifton, saying, “This approach is associated with the book Now, Discover Your Strengths and its self-diagnostic tool, the StrengthsFinder.  Like any successful movement however, the strengths movement drove a single issue and inevitably left out a lot” (32).  Kaplan and Kaiser do concede however, that Buckingham and Clifton’s idea, the same one championed by Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld is reasonable in light of the “unhealthy fixation on weakness when it came to performance reviews;” but they further argue that “it turns out you can take strengths too far” (33).  Kaplan and Kaiser developed the Leadership Versatility Index and used it in a great deal of research that measured vitality, in which they include team morale, engagement, and cohesion, and they measured productivity in areas of both quality and quantity.  “We found that taking a strength to an extreme,” writes Kaplan and Kaiser, “is always detrimental to performance, but even a mild tendency to over do it can be harmful.  Be a little too forceful, for instance, and your team’s output may improve some – but vitality will take a hit, and weakened morale will eventually undercut productivity. Be a little too enabling, and you may shore up vitality – but productivity will suffer over time, which will in turn erode moral”(34).  According to Kaplan and Kaiser, it appears that building ones life entirely around strengths and functioning too much from these strengths may be detrimental to working with, or building strong teams.  Kaplan and Kaiser further conclude, “There is power in focusing on your strengths, but it derives from acknowledging them in their totality, from having a keen, finely-tuned awareness of both the good and the harm they can do.  Becoming a better leader, then, is not a matter of indiscriminately playing to your strengths, but of continually adjusting their volume to just the right setting for every situation” (35). 
            Finally, Dr. Jack Zenger examined 6,000 leaders’ strengths and weaknesses and developed a scheme for when a leader should or should not work on a weakness.  If the leader’s weakness is a “fatal flaw” Zenger says, “This leader should not spend time working on developing strengths at this time but first correct the obvious flaw.  Only then is it useful for this person to work on developing a strength” (36).  Zenger conducted an experiment at a packaged food company and found that those who were instructed to focus on their weaknesses made a 12 percent improvement; however, those instructed to further develop their strengths improved by 36 percent.  This clearly demonstrates the value of focusing on strengths, but Zenger also found that, “In general, fixing weaknesses is harder than building strengths; but motivated people with low scores need only do a few new things to begin to change those perceptions into positive territory” (37).   The key to this may be found in the level of fun to be had in improving strengths rather than correcting weaknesses.  Zenger did not engage further into this specific detail but he did notice “people smile when they think about [working on strengths] and frown when they think about working on weakness” (38).

An Examination of the Bible
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s intended readers are Christians.  The subtitle of their book is “Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community” (39).   Their thesis seeks to apply to Christian leadership; therefore, the contemporary writers in the field are not enough—the Bible must be consulted.  If Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld are correct, one should hope to find various examples of strength-focused leadership in God’s Word.  In addition, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue that a person’s strengths and talents are found within the 34 talent themes and those strengths and talents are God-given.  If this is true, it is reasonable to seek biblical support for the 34 talent themes as well as biblical support that one cannot acquire strengths from additional themes outside of those granted at birth.  
Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer Moses’s discussion with God about his inability to speak well to Pharaoh as an example of strength-focused leadership.  The Apostles’ solution to a disparity in the distribution of bread serves as a case study for strength-focused leadership.  And Paul’s discussion on both the Spiritual gifts and his teaching on the diversity among the Body are intended to serve as support for strength-focused leadership as well.  To better understand Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s position, these texts and how they are used in support of the leadership quality of strength-focus will be examined.  Unfortunately, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer no biblical support for the list of 34 talent themes and one would be hard pressed to find much biblical support that these specific talents or personality traits are fixed for life.

Moses and Aaron (Exodus 4)
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld look to Moses as an example of a leader who built a team in order to cover his weaknesses.  They cite Exodus 4:10, which reads, “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue’” (Exod. 4:10, English Standard Version).  On its own, this verse may support Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s assessment of Moses. “So,” they argue, “God found Moses a partner—Moses’ brother Aaron” (40).  This fact is correct, but their appraisal of the Moses’ motivation and God’s intention seems slightly off when taken into the appropriate context.  They conclude, “Moses had the talent for leading and for devising strategy, but he couldn’t wow a crowd with his oratory or stand before kings and summon the appropriate words.  Aaron could.  And together, Moses and Aaron made a great team” (41).  Had Moses taken the StrengthsFinder, he would most likely not score high in Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s theme of Communication.
Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld fail to continue reading the narrative.  In verse 11, the Lord responds to Moses, rhetorically asking, “‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the LORD’ Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak’” (Exod. 4:11-12).  God’s response seems to suggest that God will provide the words and the skill to Moses.  Moses, however, continues to plead with God saying, “‘Oh, My Lord, please send someone else’” (Exod. 4:13).  God’s response should not leave the reader thinking that Moses was wisely focusing on his strengths and getting someone else to fill in for his weaknesses.  Had this been wisdom on the part of Moses, it is unlikely that God’s ager would have been kindled against Moses (Exod. 4:14).  Cyprian points out, “It is not difficult for God to open the mouth of a man devoted to him and to inspire constancy and confidence to in speaking in one who confesses him, who in the book of Numbers made even a female ass speak against Balaam the prophet” (42).  Not only does this text fail to support Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis, it also suggests that God can give a man a skill or talent that he previously does not possess.

The Twelve Apostles and the Deacons (Acts 6)
            Another biblical situation Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to comes from Acts 6:1-7.  A complaint is raised claiming that the daily bread given to the widows was being unfairly distributed.  The twelve apostles opted to raise up seven wise, Spirit-filled men of good repute to distribute the bread fairly.  In doing so, the apostles said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. […] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2, 4).  This seems to suggest that the apostles remained true to their task as Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld propose, but it does not clearly insinuate that the apostles’ greatest natural strengths were prayer or the ministry of the word.  But prayer and ministry of the word were not what Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld see as talents, but rather their leadership and administration.  “At first, the apostles tried to lead andmanage,” argue Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “which is how they found themselves in this predicament in the first place” (43).  However, there is little in this text to suggest that the apostles had anything to do with the distribution of bread or its administration prior to this event. In addition, the apostles were fishermen and tax collectors.  Their natural strengths and talents were not likely prayer or the ministry of the word.  A survey of the Gospels leaves one thinking the twelve apostles did not understand the Word well and Jesus even pointed out the natural inability of Peter, James, and John to stay awake to remain devoted to prayer (44).  Some of the apostles might have been rather skilled at accounting, especially those who where previously tax collectors.  Twice the twelve took part in serving bread to large numbers of people, even accounting for the collected bread afterward (45).  In addition, if the apostles were acting out of a talent theme of Connectedness, Empathy, Maximer, Restorative, or Strategic all along, there is no picture of forgoing a weakness and focusing on a strength as Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggest is the case. 
            It seems more likely that those in the office of apostle were expected to fulfill their calling by remaining devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word.  In this case, it is much more about their calling than their natural strengths and talents.  In addition, these strengths and talents, that is, prayer and the ministry of the Word, may have been God-given when the apostles received their calling.  In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus said to the apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  It may be that the power mentioned has something to do with ability, skill, talent, and strength but at a future time as Jesus said, “you will.”  When Jesus gave this instruction they might not have had what they would eventually receive. 

Paul, the Spiritual Gifts, and the Body (1 Corinthians 12)
            Perhaps the strongest biblical support for Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis comes from Paul’s analogy of the diverse body (46).  Here Paul reasons that the Church, like a physical human body, needs many parts to function well.  The various parts do not function in the same way and it would be wrong for a foot to say it does not belong because it does not function like a hand.  The foot however, should be a productive foot and function well within the body. However, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld do not use this text to demonstrate the need for strength-based functioning in leadership. Nor do they use this text to provide support that the 34 talent themes are God-given. Instead they use the text, to press on the need for a strengths-based congregation where each member works from his or her talent themes among a unified but diverse body.
            Paul’s body analogy is sandwiched between a discussion of the bestowing of gifts from the Holy Spirit and the giving of offices for the Church.  Strangely, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld ignore the end caps and instead draw a distinction between one’s Spiritual gifts and his or her strengths and talents.  “Identifying your talents isn’t intended to take the place of identifying your Spiritual Gifts,” write Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “but rather, it can be a powerful way to enhance your Gifts and calling.  Spiritual Gifts help you find what the ministry is that God wants to see you accomplish; your talents are God’s way of showing you how you will accomplish it” (47).  It seems however, that their statement may be more appropriate for the Church offices rather than the Spiritual gifts.  For example, how is the Spiritual gift of wisdom intended to help a minister determine to which ministry he or she is called?  Spiritual gifts seem to serve the church as well as to assist the individuals who are fulfilling the offices.  On the other hand, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s 34 talent themes seem to be more like personality traits that may be used righteously or sinfully, and for nearly any purpose, to include benefiting the Church, or not.
In drawing this distinction between the Holy Spirit’s bestowing of gifts upon the believer and the 34 talent themes, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld seem to weaken their claim that God provides his creation one or more of 34 talent themes. They attempt to argue that the concept of talents and strengths is correct because it just “feels right.”  They claim that this truth resonates deep within the individual.  “It is as if our spirits react to this discovery,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue, “with a resounding, ‘Yes! This is the way it is supposed to be – this is who I was created to be’” (48).  Unfortunately, this argument greatly breaks down within our society when men and women use the same argument for such things as selfishness, arrogance, violence, sexual lust, or homosexuality. Paul, who penned the same text Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to, likely believed that it felt right that he was an aggressive, violent, Pharisee.  Jesus, however, greatly changed Paul, from his attitudes and desires to his personality and talents.  Paul still kept some personal traits, skills, and knowledge, but he was given additional traits, skills, and power from the Holy Spirit and other traits seem to have been taken from him.

Conclusion
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld ‘s claim, “You will be most successful in whatever you do by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses” is both true and false (49).  Actually, true and false do not accurately describe what is going on here any better than right and wrong or correct and incorrect.  After examining the work of contemporary thinkers as well as the biblical claims, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis appears simply to be mis-qualified.  The drive to focus on, and lead from strengths in ministry has great support and is a very reasonable idea; however, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld have incorrectly defined strengths and talents. Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s biblical arguments do not offer enough support to conclude that the list of 34 talent themes is a sufficient understanding of God-given strength.  And they have provided no biblical support to suggest that one cannot change or grow in weaker talents.  However, with an adjustment to these definitions, and a shifting of the focus, their premise serves to articulate an essential leadership quality.
The various contemporary thinkers agree, but not to the extent that one should build his or her entire life around a strength or talent, and not to the point that one cannot learn or grow in lesser strength or talent areas.  Zenger’s research is convincing.  Growth is more efficient when energy is expended in our areas of strength rather than weakness.  However, it is clear that Clemmer is right in that a minister must deal with fetal flaws first if he or she is to have any chance of ministry success and growth.  There is indeed a time when weakness needs to be addressed. Maxwell and Earley are convincing in their respective positions that there are indeed times when the God-given task will dictate the necessary God-given strengths needed to achieve such a task.  Likewise, Jesus statement in Acts 1:8 suggests this to be true.  
            Finding the correct focus is the essential key.  Had Moses trusted that God would provide him with the necessary skill and instead kept his focus on trusting God and faithfully following his calling, he would certainly have been successful, regardless of his weaknesses. The apostles kept the right focus when they installed seven men to serve bread so they could remain true to their calling of prayer and the ministry of the Word.  And Paul’s teaching on the various Spiritual gifts keeps the focus on the One who empowers the worker for the work rather than on the gift (or strength, talent, or skill) itself.  Although Paul does encourage his readers to further develop their gifts, his primary argument is to keep the focus right. 
            When we remove Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s strict definition of strengths and talents and simply allow them to be identified as the gifts God has granted to his people for the work of the ministry, statements like Dr. Jeff Irog’s become more helpful.  Iorg writes to the future minister: “You can also have confidence in God’s call because your abilities are suitable for the job he assigns.  Most leaders are aware of their inadequacies.  […] Instead of focusing on your shortcoming, focus on your strengths and the contribution you can make by answering God’s call” (50).  
            The essential leadership quality that leaders need to demonstrate is the ability to identify and live by the right focus.  Rather than building one’s life around his or her greatest natural abilities, one will have the most ministry success if he or she centers his or her life around the right focus: God’s calling and the God-given gifts given to achieve that call.


End Notes
[1] Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld draw a distinction between the Spiritual gifts and 34 natural temperaments or talents that they identify as God-given strengths.
[2] Albert L. Winseman, Donald O. Clifton, and Curt Liesveld, Living Your Strengths: Discover your God-given talents and inspire your Community (New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2008), 2.    
[3] A similar idea is often quoted in leadership books comes from the companion book, Now, Discover Your Strengths (Free Press, 2001) by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton.
[4] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 1.
[5] Ibid., 2.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths (New York, NY, Free Press), 2001, 8.
[8] Ibid., 7.
[9]Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., 152.
[12] Ibid., 153-220.
[13] Ibid., 12.
[14]Ibid., 25.
[15] Ibid., 28.
[16] Ibid., 28-29.
[17] Peter F. Drucker, “Managing Oneself,” Harvard Business Review 77, no. 2 (March 1999): 64-74, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 66
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid., 66.
[20] Ibid., 69-70.
[21] John Maxwell, The 360̊ Leader: Developing your influence from anywhere in the Organization (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2011, 240.
[22] John Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 1993, 25.
[23] Ibid., 26
[24] Ibid., 27.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness: 7 disciplines of extraordinary spiritual Leaders (San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass), 2006, 26.
[27] Ibid., 26-27.
[28] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership: Principles of excellence for every Believer (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers), 2007, 28.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Dave Earley, Pastoral Leadership Is. . . : How to shepherd God’s people with passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing), 2012, 9-10.
[31] Jim Clemmer, “Leadership Competency Models: Why many fall short and how to make them Flourish,” Leadership Excellence 31, no. 2 (February 2014): 28-29, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 28.  
[32] Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser, “Fear Your Strengths: Strength can become Weakness,” Leadership Excellence 30, no 5 (May 2013): 17-18, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSOhost, 17.
[33] Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser, “Stop Overdoing Your Strengths,” Harvard Business Review 87, no. 2 (February 2009): 100-103, August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSOhost, 100.
[34] Ibid.,” 101.
[35] Kaplan and Kaiser, “Fear Your Strengths,” 18.
[36] Jack Zenger, “Strengths or Weaknesses: Resisting the lure of the wrong Choice,” Leadership Excellence 26, no. 5 (May 2009): 14-15, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 14.
[37] Ibid., 14.
[38] Ibid., 15
[39] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, dust jacket cover.
[40] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 26.
[41] Ibid., 26-27.
[42] Joseph T. Lienhard, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament vol. 3, ed. Thomas C. Oden, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press), 2001, 27.
[43] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 42.
[44] See Matt. 26:36-45. 
[45] See Matt. 14, and 15.
[46] See 1 Cor. 12.
[47] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 30.
[48] Ibid., 10-11.
[49] Ibid., 2.
[50] Jeff Iorg, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the question every believer Asks (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing), 2009, 73.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website. ** Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet"  -- William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's character, Juliet, asks a good question: "What's in a name?"  Would Romeo be any different to her if his name were Steve?  Would she love him less?  When we think about church names, we really ought to ask that question.  
Biblically churches were identified by a lose nomenclature.  For example, in Acts 13:1 the church meeting in Antioch is called the church in Antioch.  In Paul's letter to the Romans he mentions Phoebe who was a servant of the church at Cenchreae.  This is simple.  Many churches still name themselves by their general location.  Maybe the name of the church is the street their building is located on.  Or maybe it's a regional thing.

The Bible doesn't dictate that names have to be geographical, however.  In some cases, this would be really difficult.  So some churches take names from other significance.  Living Stones Church is an example that comes from 1 Peter 2:4-5.  A friend of mine named the church he planted Taproot Church because the taproot is the strong root that grows deep down and anchors the tree.  Some churches just select catchy words like Velocity or Amazing or some other buzzword.  Some churches go with Greek or Latin names.  Or maybe the church is named after a saint of the past. 

Theology often makes an appearance in church names.  Many churches attempt to draw distinctions by including theological words like grace or faith or free will.  Or if it's not a theological distinction, it may be a practical one.  To indicate something about a church they may add Bible or community or evangelical to their name.  And of course many churches at one time held the denominational distinction in their name.  First Baptist.  Some Church Presbyterian.

A lot goes into a name, but in the end, the church may actually be the same if it's called the Romeo Church or Steve Church.  The local church is a gathered group of disciples who have covenanted together to be a local church.  Who they are will say much more about the church than the name.  A bad name can be problematic, but a good name really will only be a good church if the people are good, Jesus loving people in strong unity.

Jared Jenkins and I discuss this in greater detail as well as give some examples, make jokes, and share personal naming stories on this episode of Salty Believer Unscripted


*Photo taken by Romana Klee is registered under a creative commons license.

Don't Hate Your Job

Most people have a season at some point in life where they really don't like going to work.  In fact, some people even hate their jobs.  They don't get along with their employer, or if they are the employer they don't like their employees.  But the Bible teaches that this ought not be the case for Christians.

Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City, Utah has been journeying through the book of Ephesians and I was called upon to preach from Ephesians 6:5-9.

Ephesians 6:5-9 is often a text that gets skimmed over because readers think that the slave or the bondservant relationship to an earthy master is outdated in not relevant to life today.  They couldn't be more wrong.  In my sermon, I deal with the instructions to employees and employers.  Then I journey into what the text demonstrates as the larger Master-slave relationship we as believers have as Christians. Everybody is a slave to something, either sin or righteousness.  If Jesus is our Master than we are slaves who are truly free.  I explain this in greater detail in the sermon and you can listen by clicking on the link below.


You get the opportunity to serve Christ when you go to work.  What a grand opportunity!  Remember this as you head into work and have joy in your workplace because of what Christ has done for you.


*I opened my sermon with a very brief discussion of our efforts to plant a church in the Salt Lake valley.  Risen Life is our sending church and a core team is meeting in my home as we seek God's vision for how we are to begin this new work.  My name is Bryan Catherman and if you are interested in learning more about our efforts, praying for us, financially supporting us, or joining our mission, I would love to hear from you.  You can contact me here.

The Forgotten Mission Field

Missions and evangelism--really one in the same--are important.  At least five times Christ called his people to reach the world with the gospel (John 20:21, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:46-48, and Acts 1:8).  This means we should be reaching the world around us as well as collectively reaching every corner of the globe.  Some have taken up this call and faithfully dedicated their lives to this purpose.  Others use their vacation time to serve missions a couple weeks of their year; while still others use missions as a "religious cover" for a vacation. Whether in our communities and at the work place, or around the world, the life of the Christian should include some kind of answer to this call. (This however is not the entirety on the Christian life as some passionately argue.)

Many of us in American gravely overlook, even forget an obvious mission field.  It's the ministry to children in our local churches. The Bible clearly shows that parents have a responsibility to teach their children, but this is not to say that the local church can't be there to help.  And what about the families where parents aren't Christian but may attend a local Christian church?  I went to church as a child but wasn't a believer until I was 25. What about guests?

Working with children can be difficult, but not always. 

A teacher or servant-hearted volunteer working with children could have an impact on the next generation and maybe many generations to come.  He or she may also impact this generation because the child could potentially be how God reaches the parents.

If you feel called to teaching, preaching, missions, or evangelism, deeply consider a ministry that reaches children.  I'm sure there's a children's ministry that could use your help.


*Photo by Cosey Tutti is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

J.D. Payne on Church Planting

Dr. J.D. Payne visited Utah recently to discuss sharing Christ, starting churches, and strengthening churches (the mission of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Association).  I had the privilege of hearing him speak on these matters as well as interviewing Dr. Payne, Russ Robinson, AdamMadden, and Dr. Travis Kerns on the topic of church planting after the conference.  Dr. Payne serves as the Pastor of Multiplication at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.  He also served on staff with the North American Mission Board and was an Associate Professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's been an editor of missional magazines and journals, served on missional boards and associations, served as a pastor of five churches, worked to plant four churches, and has written books to include Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel, The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting, Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today’s QuestionsStrangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and MissionRoland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous ExpansionKingdom Expressions: Trends Influencing the Advancement of the Gospel, and Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church." The more complex a church," argued Payne, "the less it will be reproducible."  Unlike many church planting books, Payne didn't argue for one specific model or one specific level of complexity, but instead challenged his listeners to think about the starting point.  He took his audience through the biblical picture of planting churches; that is, making disciples and then gathering them together to be the church.   Instead of criticizing big, complex church that takes millions of dollars and lots of people to reproduce somewhere else as 'instant church,' he pointed out that while that's biblically permissible, it is difficult and really not normative.  But neither did he advocate that the only way to start churches is in homes with nothing but new believers and a pastor recently raised up from among them.

"Before we can discuss church planting," Dr. Payne opened with, "we need to understand what it is we are planting."  His starting point was extremely refreshing.  He spent nearly an hour simply looking at what Jesus meant when he said 'Church.'  We examined at what the local church looked like in Acts and the Epistles.  And it wasn't the process of planting or entering an unchurched community that we explored, but simply church.  What is church?  What is local church? What is the big C Church?  "How we answer these questions determines how and what we plant," said Dr. Payne.  I believe he is absolutely correct. 

Dr. Payne sat down with a pastor from First Baptist Provo, a pastor from Christ Fellowship, the Salt Lake City SEND City Coordinator, and me to record a Salty Believer Unscripted podcast on the topic of church planting.  He was extremely informative, and really, just an easy going guy.  We laughed and joked and he was extremely gracious when I got his name wrong. (Thanks J.D., that was really embarrassing but you were much easier on me than I deserved! )

If you're interested in starting churches and making disciples (or if you just want to hear me make a boob of myself), I highly encourage you to check it out here:

A Discussion on Reproducible Church Planting with Dr. J.D. Payne

Learn more about J.D. Payne, download free books, and keep up with what he's doing at www.JDPayne.org.  Also, you can find this podcast and many others like it as well as many other resources at www.SaltyBeliever.com in the Resources section and you can subscribe to Salty Believer Unscripted on iTunes.

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A Discussion with Dr. Albert Mohler: Church Planting in a Changing Culture

The culture of America is changing at a rapid pace and in the cross hairs is cultural-Christianity.  "This is a pretty expensive turn," said Dr. Albert Mohler in a discussion for Salty Believer Unscripted; "but it really doesn't help us to argue as to whether it's good or bad because we don't get to choose our times." 

Mohler spoke at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and then addressed area pastors at First Baptist Church of Provo.  Preaching from the first chapter of First Peter, Mohler made a strong case that we are seeing some major cultural shifts which will impact the American church but the elect exiles need not be surprised. "The question is," he later told Jared Jenkins and I, "is now what do we do?  What does faithfulness require us to do?"   

Dr. Mohler took some time to sit down with Jared and I to discuss and record a podcast dealing with the question: What does church planting look like in light of the coming cultural shifts? 

We discussed the need for less infrastructure, more flexibility, and a willingness to take less for granted.  He also argues for a little different approach by dropping the expectations on the other side of our present models.  Stained-glassed windows, pipe organs, paid staff, and programs (among many other things) may have to change.  Things may look a bit different in the future.  In addition, I was encouraged and concerned by his charge that Christians in the Pacific North-West may have a responsibility to help other Christians around the nation as the "iceberg melts."  It seems that we're closer to the front edge of these changes (especially Seattle and in the heart of Moromdom) than are believers in other parts of the nation. 

"You are on the cutting edge of what America is going to look more like," Mohler stated.  He continued,
"The fact the evangelicals are in a minority and have been for a very long time, virtually from the beginning of Utah as a territory, means you're on the cutting edge as a laboratory of what Christians in the rest of America are going to wake up and find.   I'm not asking you to rejoice in every particular; I am asking you to consider the fact that the Lord has giving you the stewardship here to help the rest of the Church to figure these things out."
I'm extremely thankful for the time Dr. Mohler gave us to discuss church planting on the front edge of these changes.  If you'd like to listen to our Salty Believer Unscripted discussion with him, you can find it here.  And I'd like to encourage visit AlbertMohler.com.

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Redeeming the Barnabas House

My family recently moved into the parsonage of the church where I'm on staff.  We don't hear the term, "parsonage" much anymore so I'll explain.  A parsonage is defined as a house owned by a church that is provided to a member of the clergy.  They are typically located next to the building where the church meets.

For the past few years, this particular parsonage was loaned to a para-church ministry as a sort of halfway house for families coming out of extremely difficult situations more commonly associated with Utah.  The residents were overwhelmed with life, had little understanding of property maintenance, and were afraid of outsiders who might have been equipped to help.  In the end, the old the parsonage didn't receive the care it needed.

My wife cried when we first inspected the house.  "How could anybody live here?" she questioned.; "How are we going to live here?"  The place was a mess.  Missing tile in the bathroom allowed water to feed mold behind the bathroom walls.  The jammed garbage disposal housed food from weeks before. Many drawers and cabinet doors were falling apart and the hardware was missing.  The sewer was flooding into the basement.  The carpets hadn't been vacuumed in months, maybe years.  The stove didn't work.  And as we peeled back one layer of mess, we would discover even more brokenness, even more stains, even more stench.  We tried to open the blinds, but most were inoperative, keeping the house in a continual state of darkness.  One friend who helped us clean suggested a solution:  "Light a match.  Drop it.  Walk away."

As we got to work, we witnessed the Body of Christ in action.  People came to help us clean.  A brother who works for Behr commanded an army from the church as we painted the entire house with paint God provided.  A believer is creating a stained-glass window for the front door and still another brother who installs glass is going to put it in.  Mold removal and carpet cleaning were offered by another member of the body.  People have helped remove trash and move appliances.  The bathroom was ripped out by a guy who occasionally attends our Sunday services and many among our church family are praying for him as we hope to see his life radically transformed by Christ. Two brothers from another local church rebuilt the bathroom and another guy from a neighboring church is looking at replacing part of the flooded carpet, and maybe patch some stains in another room. God provided us with nearly new appliances and the church purchased another.

When I cut down the blinds light flooded into the house.  "Just having light shining in here makes a huge difference," my wife proclaimed.  So it is with us.  Our natural state is worse than this house.  In our sin, we are broken, messy, and stinky.  The stuck blinds of our life keep the Light out.  And just as the parsonage couldn't fix itself, we too are deteriorating more and more as time marches on, unable to restore ourselves.  As layers of our life are peeled back, more messes are exposed, more brokenness discovered.  Enter the gospel.

It's recorded in John 14:16-17 that Jesus said, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you" (ESV).  A common thought among the world is that before the Holy Spirit is willing to dwell in us, we have to fix ourselves up.  That's not what the Bible says, but many try anyway.  Others think they are beyond hope.  "Light a match," they cry.  But hope is found in Christ.  He alone is the carpenter of our salvation.  In our brokenness we are able to see the gospel for what it is! 

As we watched the parsonage be redeemed by God, through his grace, at the hands of his people, we noticed an iron "B" on the chimney.  (I've learned is was there when the church bought the house over 50 years ago.)  Around the dinner table we talked about the redemption of the parsonage, the gospel, and our desire to use this gift from God to shine Christ's Light into dark places.  I decided we should name the parsonage, and we remembered the "B."  Feeling very encouraged, we shared some ideas.

In the book of Acts is the account of a man who traveled with Paul to plant churches and shine the Light of Christ in dark places.  It is said that he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and many were added to the Lord because of his faithfulness (Acts 11:24).  He equipped Paul for ministry (Acts 11:25-26).  His name means son of encouragement (Acts 4:36).   And his name starts with a B.  We had our name: The Barnabas House.  May our season in the parsonage live up to such a name!

Churches that Multiply by Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter


Towns, Elmer L., and Douglas Porter. Churches That Multiply: A Bible Study on Church Planting. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2003. 


Dr. Elmer Towns, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Douglas Porter, pastor of Napanee Baptist Church until his death in 2011, set out to examine church planting through the lessons taught in the books of Acts.  But unlike many other church-planting books, this is not simply a book to encourage people to copy the lessons of Paul's journeys recorded in Acts.  It is not a book that dictates a single model to follow, as some denominations attempt.  Instead, this is a book that sets out to equip and encourage the average church, full of regular people to plant churches through whatever God calls them to do.  Towns and Porter write, "this book suggests a bubble up strategy, which means average Christians get a burden to begin a new church" (7).  They conceded that a top down method (they call trickle down) and the bottom up method (they call bubble up) are both biblical and may get churches planted, "but this book," write Towns and Porter, "is aimed at getting you and many other members in your Bible study group a vision of how your church can start a new church" (7).

The format implemented by Towns and Porter is straight forward.  They simply move through the book of Acts as their chapters progress.  Starting with Jesus' post resurrection ministry, they deal with the education of the disciples and the Great Commission and the disciple's role.  From this point, everything is driven out of what Towns and Porter see in the various churches in Acts.  From the Church in Jerusalem they discuss the importance of saturating a place and a people with the gospel through evangelism.  The Church in Samaria becomes a platform for discussing the ministry of the layperson.  Antioch is about cross-culture planting and evangelism while Galatia is about overcoming great problems.  The Church in Philippi is used to look at relationships, Thessalonica about compassion for people, and the Berean Church is about being rooted in the Scriptures.  Understanding a culture is discussed through the lens of the Athens Church, Corinth becomes the setting to examine spiritual gifts in the church, and the Ephesian Church allows Towns and Porter to close with a chapter on leadership training.

Another aspect of each chapter is the many project options that follow.  After each chapter, the reader will find sections called "Personal Lessons to Take Away" and "Church Lessons to Take Away."  These sections provide additional opportunity for through and discussion, making them ideal for a group study.  In addition, these two sections provide different perspectives for the various readers who may be journeying through this book.  A pastor or prospective church-planter may be thinking about a larger vision and context for an entire church or church-planting team while the individual may just be thinking about planting in general or a specific role on a team.  Having these two sections broke out makes it easy to get to specifics based on personal circumstances.  In addition, there are two more post-chapter sections called "Personal Project" and "Church Project."  These sections provide many ideas and 'assignments' for individuals thinking about planting or joining a plant as well as Bible study group projects and even church-wide projects related to planting.

One would be disappointed if he or she were looking for the complete 'how-to' of church-planting, if such a book even exists.  Churches that Multiply is not written with many specifics, other than what might be extrapolated from the Lessons to Take Away and Project sections.   However, Towns and Porter do not claim this is a how-to book.  They call this book "A Bible Study on Church Planting" (cover).  The set out to ignite a planting vision for a Bible study group, individual, or church.  If a group where to work together through this book and engage in the projects, it is likely that they would indeed gain a vision to plant.  That being said, Towns and Porter achieved what they set out to do.

A weakness of Churches that Multiply might be found in its format.  Using each church in Acts to examine one thing begins to look a bit contrived as the reader moves from chapter to chapter.  It almost seems as if the authors first created a list of things they wanted to cover and then assigned those topics to a single church.  Actually contrasting these churches with one another may have been more informative.  I wonder how relationships differed and what could be learned in the differences and similarities.  How did each church deal with their respective culture (because they all did)?  Instead, Athens is the only example of dealing with culture.  How did the various churches train up leaders, because surely the Ephesians are not the only ones that provide examples?   How did these various churches spread the gospel, do evangelism, and stand in the face of opposition? 

A strength of Churches that Multiply might also be found in its format.  Having simple sections that cover divided sections of the Book of Acts means it is easy to handle a chapter per week or every two weeks.  The projects and lesson take aways provide a simple task for a group leader.  This book might be a great place for a church planting team to journey for a season.  The projects could unite the group around a common theological vision and purpose as well as allow them to learn and grow together.  Spending 6 months in this book would greatly help a team develop a plan for their specific church-plant.

While there are many books on church-planting available, Churches that Multiply is great for a group study.  Although I have not used it with a study group or to develop a vision for planting, I believe it would make a good resource to do so.

Purchase this book at Amazon.com by clicking here.


* This book was recommended to me along with a few other books by a NAMB Send City Church-Planting Coordinator, and for that, I'm thankful. 
** Purchases made through the links on this website help financially support this ministry. 
   

Angels

Angels are a source of great fascination.  Speculation, personal desire, and artists' renderings seem to dictate most of what society thinks about angelic beings.  The Bible offers us some insight, but not much.  Many ask why the Bible doesn't give us a better idea on the topic of angels; however, it's important to see that the Bible is the story of God's redemptive history of fallen man.  The Bible is the revelation of God and shows his desire to be in relationship with us.  In this story, angels are just the extras, the bit parts. They play a supporting role in God's plan and what we need to learn from the Bible is not necessarily everything about angels, but as much as we can about the God who loves us and sent is only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die so all who believe in him will have life rather than death.

That being said, Angels are in the Bible and there is an entire field of biblical study on the topic of angels called angelology.  (Much of angelology is spent knocking down misconceptions held by society.)  While most of what the Bible says about angels could be handled in a single post, this post will only deal with a couple questions.

What, or who are angels?

Angels are beings created by God.  Often they are unseen, but when seen they look like lightning or fire, or they seem to have the ability to look like humans (2 Kings 6:15-17, Genesis 18:2-19:22; John 20:10; and Acts 12:7-10 for example).   Hebrews 13:2 even suggests that they can blend in and be completely mistaken for humans.  In these cases, it seems that angels don't have wings; however, we must also remember verses like Isaiah 6:2 where an angelic being called a seraphim is said to have six wings.  In other accounts we see an angelic being called a cherubim.  This is the being that's waiving a flaming sword back and forth to prohibit man's reentry to the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24).  The cherubim is also the same creature God commanded the Hebrews to sculpt on top of the Ark of the Covenant. These cherubim had wings that touched each other (Exodus 25:17-22).   Demons are fallen angels, cast out of heaven and waiting for the final judgment and not granted forgiveness or salvation through repentance (see 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that angels were ever human.  We do not become angels when we die and our deceased loved ones are not angels looking over us.  In addition, angels do not become humans; they are not our future family members in some kind of preexistence waiting for a body on earth.  The Bible does not speak of angels or humans in this way and there's nothing suggesting that humans were in a preexistence with God.  These ideas are simply creations of human thinking.  The Bible teaches that humans are the pinnacle of God's creation, not angels (to see this, start reading in Genesis 1 and stop after Revelation 22).

What do angels do; this is, what is their purpose?

Just as is the purpose of man, angels were created to glorify God.  We often see angels worshiping God (Psalm 103:20-21, Psalm 148:2, and Isaiah 6:1-7 for example).  Sometimes they act as God's messengers such as in Daniel 8-9 and Luke 1. They protect God's people (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 91:11,  and Acts 12 for example).  Matthew 18:10 seems to suggest that children have an angel watching over them and Luke 16:22 might suggest that angels have a responsibility at the time of a believer's death.  And most importantly, angels usher in and proclaim Christ at his birth, resurrection, and return.  Angels don't die and they they do not marry (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35-36).

Too often, people get hung up on the work of angels.  In doing so, they completely miss the bigger work of God as he is redeeming his creation.  Looking to angels, they do not look upon Christ.  In order to see angels rightly, it is best to first see Christ for who he is.  (If you have questions, I am happy to answer them and chat more about this with you.  You may contact me here.)   


* Photo of mourning angel at the churchyard of San Miniato al Monte (Firenze) in Firenze, Italy was taken by Mark Voorendt, April 2001 and is registered under a creative commons license.

Measuring Community Depth

Over the past few decades, it seems there is more and more "community" competing for the Christian's involvement.  Community (at least at some level) is available at nearly every turn.  Where it was once found primarily in the neighborhood, workplace, and the local church, opportunities for community are ever more abundant. Be it professional associations or groups centered around hobbies, gangs of all shapes and sizes, political caucuses, sports teams, outdoor groups, or on-line communities, when connection with others is sought after it can be easily found.  Or at least the group is found, community itself may be another matter. And even more complex is the Christian community.

As more people were seeking and finding community apart from the Church, the local churches responded.  Over the past century the small group Bible Study known as 'Sunday School' became popular.  It then transitioned to some other kind of community group, be it called the small group, community group, home group, gospel gathering, prayer group, home study, life group, missional community, accountability group, house church, power team, mid-week group, koinonia, redeemer family, connect group, spirit team, discipleship community, soma group, or any other variety of nomenclature.  These groups tend to consider them selves as "community" and draw their purpose from biblical reasoning.  The most common argument comes from Acts 2:42-47, which reads,
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed where together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (ESV).
Interestingly, this text appears to be explaining the entirety of the local church, not a single "community group" but by no means is there anything wrong with a smaller group seeking this kind of community.  But how do we know if we're reaching this level of community?  What's its depth?  Do we have a 1 inch blanket of snow or 35 feet?  It can be difficult to tell when we only examine the surface.

The first thing we need to come to grips with is how we define community.  What is the purpose for our community groups?  What makes Christian community different from all the other communities we find in the world?  This is a hot topic today as evidenced by all the how-to books filling the shelves with all kinds of different ideas. Articles are written arguing that community groups are about studying the Word while other articles say community groups are about being missional and reaching the lost while still other articles will say it's about taking care of one another.  (And they all most always cite portions of Acts 2:42-47.)  Local churches have also registered their ideas by implementing a cornucopia of different kinds of organized small groups.

Once we define our purpose we can better take measurements.  Once we understand why we gather, we can check the depth.  If the purpose for community groups is to reach the lost, then our measurements should reflect how many lost people are being reached.  If our groups are about study and growth, then when we plunge the measuring stick in, we should see how much the participants are growing.  Or maybe we should see if anyone is in need and examine how well we're meeting needs.  Or maybe we just count attendance and commitment level.  But as we examine one aspect of community, we seem to neglect other aspects. 

I would like to propose that Christian community--be it some kind of study, a group that meets in a home, an informal group of believing friends, a formal organized association, or the gathering that meets on Sunday mornings--should reflect gospel community which is much deeper than many of the single purposes proposed by so many articles.  The Christian community should be a shadow of heaven and offer the hope of salvation as well as the better things to come. Christian community should be viewed as the bride of Christ and those in the community should be in a growing, loving relationship with Christ.  We often call this Church, but Church, that is, the Body of Christ, aught to be synonymous with Christian or gospel-centered community. I believe this is what differentiates Christian community from all other forms of community the world offers.

And as we begin to measure depth in our community groups, it becomes a much more complicated matter.  Is there love among the brothers and sisters?  Is there joy and hope in Jesus?  Is there growth?  Is this a community centered around loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then loving our neighbors as ourselves?  Are we about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?  Is there grace for one another?  Does our community reflect Jesus and lift him up?  Is the Holy Spirit present among us?  Do we see the Fruit of the Spirit?  Is there real life transformation found within our community?  Is there this much depth or is our community only as shallow as the single issue we've built our community around?  Has Christ build the community or is it a product of our own design?  Is our community about God's kingdom or is our community about fulfilling our selfish, worldly needs?


* Photo of Theo Donk and Eric Kuovolo measuring the snow depth was taken by Washington State Department of Transpiration and is registered under a Creative Commons License.  

Team Ministry and the Shared Pulpit

In his book, Love Your God With All Your Mind, J.P. Moreland argues, "No one person has enough gifts, perspective, and maturity to be given the opportunity disproportionately to shape the personality and texture of the local church.  If Christ is actually the head of the church, our church structures ought to reflect that fact, and a group of undershepherds, not a senior pastor, should collectively seek His guidance in leading the congregation" (Moreland, 191).  Yet in many churches today, we have a very strong senior pastor model with very little vision, preaching, or leadership coming from anywhere else.    

The Bible however, seems to suggest that the local church should be lead from a plurality of elders with a leader among leaders.  In Paul's letter to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town and then proceeds to instruct Titus in the method of selecting men of character to fulfill this role.  Only a couple verses later, Paul refers to these elders as overseers or bishops, translated from the word ἐπίσκοπον.  In Acts 20:18, Paul assembles all the elders (plural) in the Church of Ephesus, where Timothy pastors and later (verse 28) calls them overseers or bishops taken from the plural Greek word, ἐπίσκοπους. This, however, is not to say that every pastor is an elder and every elder is a pastor, nor is it so say that all the elders and overseers are gifted in the same way, if we understand Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 correctly. It does seem likely that Timothy was a leader among a leaders in the Church in Ephesus.  It was probably the same for Titus.  We see this model of a leader among leaders with the Apostles so it does stand to reason the same should hold true for elders.  While Moreland disagrees that there should be a leader among the leaders, the Bible does appear to present this picture.  It does not however suggest that the leader among leaders is the only one to provide vision, preaching, teaching, or leadership for the local church.  This should come from a team.

Furthermore, the biblical picture of ministry is in teams.  Moses was teamed with Aaron (Exodus 4), Jesus sent the 70 (or 72) out in teams of two, or ministry pairs (Luke 10), Peter and John appear to be a strong ministry team in the Book of Acts, as do Barnabas and Paul.  And think about the differences in giftings, skills, and personalities that each man brought to the team!  For example, think about that first mission trip and church planting excursion by Barnabas the encourager and Paul, the hard hitting theologian. I discuss the biblical picture of team ministry in the following video that I recorded some time ago as part of a community group leader's training process:



 So it stands to reason that the ministry of the pulpit, that is, the preaching should be shared among a team of gifted preachers.  Moreland argues for this as well, saying, "[F]or two reasons I do not think a single individual ought to preach more than half (twenty-six) of the Sundays during the year" (Moreland, 194).  His first support is that "no one person ought to have a disproportionate influence through the pulpit because, inevitably, the church will take on that person's strengths, weaknesses, and emphases" (ibid).  How easy it is to find churches that demonstrate his point!  He continues: "By rotating speakers, the body gets exposure to God's truth being poured through a number of different personalities, that is more healthy" (ibid).  One objection that may come up is that the ability to preach among those preaching is not of comparable skill, but Moreland argues that this presents an opportunity for the one of higher quality to train the one of lower quality which will actually produce a spirit of training up preachers and teachers. But this is not to say that every preacher must preach the same way and in the same style, for that would attempt to trump the calling and gifting of God upon each individual preacher.

Moreland's second argument for a shared pulpit has to do with capability.  He says, "no one who preaches week after week can do adequate study for a message or deeply process and internalize the sermon topic spiritually.  What inevitably happens is that a pastor will rely on his speaking ability and skills at putting together a message" Moreland, 194).  The sermon will actually be stronger, sturdier, and more sound because the preacher will have more time.  The result for the congregation is a well prepared sermon every week of the year that doesn't fall into the trap made in Moreland's first support.  Additionally, each preaching pastor will have ample time to minister to the flock through visitation, counseling, teaching, prayer, and personal devotion because he will not be responsible for preparing every sermon.  And the preacher can take time off to rest, rather than burn out from being in the pulpit 52 weeks of the year along with all of his other responsibilities.

I am blessed to have personal experience with a shared pulpit.  I serve on the pastoral staff at Risen Life Church where we highly value team ministry.   We have a shared pulpit between two preaching elders.  On occasion, two other pastors--myself and Jared Jenkins--have been afforded the opportunity to preach.  This summer, we are actually engaging in a four-preacher rotation as an experiment to see how we work together and how it is received by the congregation.  (At the time of this writing, I have already preached the opening sermon in the series.)  Not only has this arrangement been instrumental in the post-seminary training of Jared and I, it has allowed us to learn and grow well under two other gifted preachers.  The sermons are indeed well prepared and the variety of a two-preacher rotation lends itself as a support of Moreland's argument.  I suspect a four-preacher rotation will have a similar effect.  I can see firsthand how much a shared pulpit has allowed the primary preachers to have time to minister throughout the week as well as train up future leaders, teachers, and ministers.  Rest and time off is often not too challenging as we work in teams.  Support for one another may also be stronger.  Additionally, for the most part Risen Life Church is not built around a single pastor. If any one of us left, it would not be a serious blow to the local church, and really, that is how it should be.      
 

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1. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress. 1997.

* Photo of the USA Lightweight 2003 World Champions is in the public domain.

More on Ordination

Some time ago, I wrote on ordination.  Recent events and additional study has afforded me more opportunity to think about the topic and add some additional comments.

Although the practice of commissioning, setting apart, or ordaining is found in both the Old and New Testaments, I believe that the best understanding for Church operation today is found in the New Testament. There is a long tradition of ordination within many Christian denominations, yet the Bible must be our authority above tradition.  And interestingly enough, I don't think many of our traditions hold closely to what we find in the Bible, which is why I can use commissioning, setting apart, and ordaining as interchangeable words, whereas many traditions cannot. 

In Mark 3:13-19, Jesus choose and appointed twelve servants to do a number of tasks including preaching and casting out demons. Acts chapter 6 shows that seven servants were chosen to minister to the Church as deacons. Once identified, they were presented to the Apostles. The Apostles then “prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6, ESV). An event recorded in Acts 13 shows that after worshiping and fasting, the Apostles were instructed by the Holy Spirit to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2, ESV). Here, God called and set apart two individuals for His appointed tasks. The Acts 13 passage continues, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3, ESV). We see that prayer and fasting came after God’s call but before sending Barnabas and Saul off to do the work for which they were called. A picture of submission to God’s call for Barnabas and Saul, unity among the body, and communal support, prayer, and encouragement is presented as the leaders laid hands on those called to a specific God-appointed task.

Therefore, it seems that a commissioning, setting apart, or ordination of a team or individual is a public recognition of God’s choice and calling for a specific ministry purpose, varying in qualifications, scope, duration, and authority. As we find in the Bible, this purpose may be as diverse as going ahead of Jesus and proclaiming the gospel in every town, leading as an elder, distributing bread, or embarking upon a missionary-church planting journey. Each of these callings served the church in different ways, for differing periods of times, requiring different qualifications, with different levels of necessary authority. And each of these tasks, some being more specifically defined while others less so, held criteria and qualifications that were to be met within the individual, primarily dealing with character. However, in every case, it is clear that ordination is nothing more than acknowledging a calling already set by God.

We often seek a single qualification for the role of ordination.  We ask questions like, "Who can be ordained?"  Often conversation turns toward the question, "Does this church or that church ordain women?"  The difficulty with these single issue questions is how much broad-brush thinking they require.  We need to take a deeper look at our definitions and the qualifications set for the various callings.  And within the proper definitions and qualifications, understand the reasons necessary for ordination.

The ministry of a deacon, for example, greatly varies from that of the elder, as does the ministry of many other ministers within specific Church related service. By God’s design, the qualifications and responsibilities are as equally diverse as the various callings. It is my understanding that called men and women of godly character may serve as commissioned ministers within the Church, still working under the leadership of the elders. Godly men and women who meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 may serve the Church as deacons. And called, godly men who meet the qualifications 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-16 may serve in the leadership office of elder. All of the Lord’s faithful servants are equal in value, regardless calling, although he or she may be called to different ministries for the benefit of the Church and glory of God.  And when we view ordination in this light, it helps us solidly answer many of the questions that seem so divisive lately.


* The photo of "Ordination of a Bishop" was taken by M. Bastien is registered under a creative commons license and is used by permission.



Prayer is Partnering with God



God asks us to ask him for the things we need, yet he already knows what we need before we ask him. (James 4:2, Matthew 6:8 for example.)  This seems paradoxical.  Yet, God's desire is for us to partner with him; not because he needs us, but because we need him. 

When we pray, we are partnering with God. Prayer helps us join in God's mission and will. We see this in Genesis with guys like Noah, Abraham, and others.  How about the partnership with Moses in Exodus? Nehemiah? The disciples in the Acts?  God brought his people into his plan for their own good even though he did not need to.  Even today, God brings you into his plans as a partnership for your good. But it is important to remember that this is the most unequal partnership we could imagine.  We bring nothing to the table and God brings everything.  It's almost shocking that we hesitate to partner with God.  

Prayer is entering into a partnership with God. Be praying!

How Does the Kingdom Grow?

Books on missions and evangelism could fill libraries and bookstores, pastor's shelves and recycle bins.  Many of these books are very good, but I've found most the ones that I've read are more focused on a new plan.  Do we need a new plan?  These books talk a lot about Kingdom growth, but how does God's Kingdom grow?  The Jesus often discussed Kingdom growth and used illustration like light, seeds, and yeast.  He seemed to teach that the Kingdom grows one person at a time as God's people bring the light into dark places.



The above example is how the Kingdom could grow in Salt Lake City, Utah, but the idea applies everywhere in the world.  We are called to be light in dark places.  Our relationship with Christ should be spilling over everywhere we go.  Be filled with Christ and let your relationship with him overflow into all the places you go and wherever you find yourself.