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

You May be a Barnabas if. . .

paul%2Band%2Bbarnabas.jpg

By guest writers Dave Earley and Tom Swanner.

Dave Early says you may be a Barnabas if...

... you get more excited about the ministry success of someone else whom you have helped than you do about your own success.

... you are content to do most of your ministry behind the scenes and off the radar.

... ministries that you have started tend to fizzle.

... you would rather listen quietly to the struggles of a young leader than lead an evangelistic rally.

... you get your greatest joy from watching the individuals that you have discipled become movers and shakers in the kingdom.

... you are awakened often in the night with an urgency to lift up your senior leader in intercessory prayer.

... you are more about what other leaders are doing than about what you are doing.

... you are often tempted to see the needs and inadequacies in senior Christian leaders and think of ways you can help.

Tom Swanner explains what it is to be a "Barnabas" in ministry: 

Most of my life I struggled with thoughts of inadequacy and self-doubt. I was sure that I was supposed to be in some kind of ministry; however, I did not feel that I was supposed to be the lead in any Christian organization. I knew what it took to be a leader, and many times I found myself in leadership roles, but I never felt entirely comfortable.

One day I was studying the life of Paul. I realized that there was a person who was not only humanly responsible for Paul being in the ministry, but there was also a person responsible for keeping him effective at ministry for an extended period of time. His name was Barnabas.

Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

Barnabas was really a nickname that Joseph (his real name) picked up after the early believers learned what kind of person he was. The name “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement.” The longer I spend in ministry, the more I am convinced that this type of leader is vital for the sustainment of our campaign against the darkness. While we may see the need for real men and women of God to lead the masses, the often-overlooked need of the son and daughter of encouragement is just as fundamental.

The problem with being a Barnabas is that there is often very little recognition in the modern Christian economy for someone who is a second leader. People tend to ask, “Who is in charge here?” People want to get that guy’s attention so that they can get what they want. They do not ask for the guy who is not in charge of something, because that guy cannot give them what they want.”

“Jesus said that whoever would be great in God’s kingdom would be the servant of all (Matthew 20:25-28). As a Barnabas, you have a great responsibility. Your job is to keep the “Paul” in your ministry encouraged and on track. They do not need your criticism from the sidelines. They need your encouragement.

* Dave Earley and Tom Swanner serve at Grace City Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Dave is the author of more than 20 books.  Both hold Doctorates of Ministry. 

** This post originally on published on Dave Earley's website in a slightly different form.  

You can find it here.

 It is reposted here with permission. 

A Look at End Times, AKA: "An Overview of Eschatology"

A part of the ministry of SaltyBeliever.com is a podcast called Salty Believer Unscripted.  You can find our podcasts on our Resources Page or subscribe to it on iTunes.  (A selection of them are also available at EntrustedWithTheGospel.com.)

If you've never listened to "Salty Believer Unscripted," it's basically an unscripted, unedited 20 to 30 minute conversation between pastors that's recorded so you can join in.  We typically select a series topic (but not always) and chat over coffee.  We just finished a series called "An Overview of Eschatology" which takes a look at what the Bible has to say about the end times.  (At the time of this post, we're recording a series of podcast with other church planters and pastors, getting a feel for what's happening in the ministry of church planting across the country.)

Eschatology is kind of a funny thing. Either people are excessively into it and it dictates how they think about everything or they really don't have an opinion or thought about it at all.  This, I think, is primarily because people are so influenced by how they've seen others behave rather than what the Bible says.  So Jared Jenkins, Benjamin Pierce, Brett Ricely, and I set out to introduce and discuss some of the ideas contained in the study of Eschatology.  And in case you're wondering, we start with "What does Eschatology mean?"

Through this discussion, we cover topics like how we should interpret prophecy, where to find end times stuff in the Bible, why is studying eschatology important, the millenium, the tribulation, and the state of both heaven and hell.  Hopefully this will help you on your journey to better understand eschatology.  Are you a premillennialist, amillennialist, or postmillennialist?  How do you understand books like Revelation, Matthew, Daniel, and Isaiah; and what are they saying about the end?  What's your view on the tribulation and rapture?  Are you a litterlisist, historicists, or something else?  What is the New Heavens and New Earth like?  What's going to happen to this earth?  Why should we care?  We hope to help you answer these and many other questions.  However, we only offer a brief overview.  We don't get too bogged down.

Whether you have an interest in the end times or if you've never thought about it, I hope you'll consider checking out our Salty Believer Unscripted series, "An Overview of Eschatology."


Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

Or listen here:

An Overview of Eschatology
-- An Intro of the Terms audio
-- Prophecy: A Difficult Task audio
-- The Near-Far Views of Prophecy audio
-- Scripture, Not Man's Ideas audio
-- Definitions: How We See Prophecy audio
-- Understanding the Millennium audio
-- Why We Should Study for Ourselves audio
-- The Tribulation and Rapture audio
-- The The Glory and Wonder of Heaven audio
-- Hell is for Real audio


*Artwork by flickr.com user, "Rich" is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission. 

Overview of Eschatology

Salt Believer Unscripted has embarked into the future, that is, we've started a series that looks at eschatology.  This is not to say that we're going to start wearing sandwich boards that read, "The end is near."  We're not going to scream through a bullhorn.  And we don't need to identify The Anti-Christ because the Apostle John already has (in 1 John 2:22 he says he's anybody who denies the Father and the Son).  No, we're simply walking through an overview of eschatology.

If we're not going to get over-excited about end times symbolism and preach every sermon about our view of the end, why are we doing it?  Well, because we want to do our best to understand Scripture.  Avoiding specific Scriptural teaching just because people get crazy about it and it's kind of strange is not a sound practice for a student of the Bible.  Also, because Revelation 1:3 says, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near."  If people are blessed to read the book of Revelation, that is stands to reason that we probably ought to study it.  I suspect the same is true of Isaiah, Matthew, Daniel, the letters of the Paul, and all the other books of the Canon.  And finally, because a listener asked after seeing a trailer for a Hollywood's attempt to explain it.

If you'd like to join us for this series, subscribe to our podcast or find the series on the resource page of Saltybeliever.com.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

*Artwork by Phillip Medhurst is registered under a Creative Commons Licence. 

Playing the Bride

Many little girls fantasize about their future wedding day.  They dream of an amazing dress, flowers, a big beautiful cake, and dancing.  In their aspirations all eyes are on the bride.  Everybody is saying, "isn't she beautiful!"

Many little girls strive to achieve this fantasy as they grow into women.  They design their big day around the plan they've been brewing for a lifetime. It's a lot of work with little chance of living up to the expectation.  But something serious is missing--the groom.

How easy is it find a bride-to-be tasting cake, picking flowers, and planning the ceremony with the groom-to-be simply in tow?  How often do we hear, "this is the bride's day?"  I've been know to say those very words to stressed out grooms.  It seems exhausting on the bride and taxing on the groom.

As I've been 'playing at church,' or rather, working to build a core team to start another Christian congregation in the Salt Lake valley, I've felt as though our little baby church plant is like the little girl dreaming of her wedding day.  Our team is 'trying it on' with ambition and aspiration, but often what we're looking to is the trappings of the local church, not the Groom who calls the Church his bride.

It's so easy to be busy.  It's easy to chase after the 'stuff' of the local church.  Growing leaders desire to have people fellowshipping in their homes with little understanding the fellowship the Bible actually calls for.  We want to build systems that get people connected to our congregation but we don't fully grasp the necessary connection to God's Kingdom.  We want to be heard as wise but are unsure about our willingness to truly get into the messiness of real lives.  We (certainly myself included) get excited about graphics and colors and chair arrangements and sound systems and forget that none of these things have eternal significance.  Potential preachers want to stand in the pulpit and preach a good sermon with little thought of the shepherding and care that the pulpit demands.  All of this is because we hold to a worldly view of the marriage we have with Jesus.  At times we're putting the dream before the reality; we're assembling a wedding day without the Groom.

The Bible provides us with a picture of a bride and a groom.  We are the bride and Jesus is the Groom.

Ephesians 5:25-27 charges the husband to love his wife, but it also gives us a beautiful picture of Christ's love for his bride.  It reads, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (ESV).

Jesus makes his bride beautiful!

How much more joy might the Bride of Christ have if we would get our priorities right?  How much more beautiful would the local church be if Christ were truly our passion and the 'stuff' came second or third or somewhere else down the line?  The stuff is so tempting because we often want all eyes on us as we desire the community around us to look at our local congregations and say, "isn't it beautiful" or "isn't this church cool."  Too often church leaders and preachers (myself included) want people to say, "Wow, great sermon" or "yes, I really like the _________ here" (fill in the blank with your favorite 'stuff').

While it is so easy to say and so hard to do, I believe it's critical that we dump our dreams and fantasies of what the local church should be and look to Jesus because he is not only the groom, he is the Head of the Church.  Jesus is our senior pastor.  And the Senior Pastor cares little for the 'stuff' and much for you and me, his bride.


(If you'd like to see more about what God's Word says about Christ and the Bride, here are some chapters to get you started: Psalm 45; Isaiah 62; Matthew 25; Mark 2; Revelation 19, 21, and 22.) 

*Photo by Amy Ann Brockmeyer is used with permission. 

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. 

Taking Your Church to the Next Level by Gary McIntosh

McIntosh, Gary. Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.

Gary McIntosh, author of Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There states that his book is, “about cycles of fruitfulness and the importance of continual improvement to diminish destructive forces that keep a congregation from focusing attention on its mission” (16). That statement is loaded and could mean a great number of things, but it, according to McIntosh, “is not to help you build a church larger than the one down the street. It is, however meant to assist you in understanding what is blocking the growth of your church and what you can do to see it reach a new level of impact” (191-192). McIntosh’s argument appears to assume two things: first, that size is the greatest measurement of the health of a local church, and second, that pastors should desire to grow through the life stages of a church, which, incidentally are measured only by the number of congregants in attendance and years of existence. No attention or thought is given to the church that determines to remain at or under a specific size by continually planting more area churches, nor is any thought offered to the small-town church that simply will not grow into most of the church sizes mentioned in this book. ‘Fruitfulness’ and a church’s ‘mission’ in the statement above both appear to hold a definition that places a greater emphases on numerical growth over spiritual growth. Yet, even if one disagrees with these two assumptions (as I do), there is still a great deal of helpful, thought-provoking material in Taking Your Church to the Next Level.

McIntosh offers some tools that the pastor should have in his leadership toolbox. These tools, if utilized in conjunction with many other pastoral tools—something McIntosh seems not to suggest—should provide many pastors with helpful ways of thinking about numerical growth.

The first helpful tool is the church life cycle, or St. John’s Syndrome. Utilizing ideas from the business world as well as research from a number of scholars who have studied church growth, McIntosh identifies distinct stages most churches grow through based on size and age. While the specific size or age boundaries are disputed, thinking about the social constructs and communication methods within each stage is extremely helpful. These stages explain why some people enjoy the smaller churches while others are more comfortable in much larger churches. Looking through the lens of the St. John’s Syndrome also helps us understand why some pastors are more successful in different stages of numerical growth.

Another useful tool related to the church life cycle is McIntosh’s different categories of the church leader. The Catalyzer is the one who is an entrepreneurial type who can start church groups from scratch (90-91). The Organizer is one who takes the assembled pieces and introduces organization that maximizes resources (91-92). The Operator “keeps and organization going by improving its general procedures and systems (92). A Reorganizer is a turnaround leader who takes a church from a declining to a new direction, and a Super-Reorganizer brings about radical redirection, often saving a church from death (93-96).

Finally, McIntosh’s chapters on moving through various stages in the church growth life cycle are thought provoking. These chapters may serve to help pastors who are relatively weak in the area organizational structure. “The bottom line,” according to McIntosh, “is it takes different skills to lead a church during each stage of its life” (89). By providing examples of the garden-variety church at each stage along the way and then providing practical suggestions, the pastor has a framework on which to hang his ideas.

All of McIntosh’s guidance appears to be backed by a great deal of research and practical experience. It is helpful. This however, must be seen through the assumption that numerical growth is the desired outcome. Of course, churches should hope and pray to grow numerically (alongside the more important areas of spiritual growth and growth in faithfulness), just as the early New Testament church in Jerusalem was adding large numbers day by day, but McIntosh’s tools are really only designed to help with numerical growth.

If the pastor’s primary goal is numerical growth, McIntosh’s book should be among his top resources. This book is well thought out and supported by a great deal of research. However, while McIntosh’s work is highly practical, it is lacking in theological support. There are very few paragraphs dedicated to spiritual growth (if any) and almost no biblical references among his sited sources. For a book written to pastors for the purpose of growing churches the Bible aught to be the primary guide, which only further demonstrates McIntosh’s high value placed on numerical growth. Taking Your Church to the Next Level can easily be applied to para-church and non-profit organizations as well as non-Christian faith systems and cults.

In addition, Christ says he will build his Church (Matthew 16). Men can and should draw plans and strategies through prayer and submission to the Lord’s will regarding the assembling and managing of a local church, but in the end, God determines if a local church will or will not grow. The best plans of men still come with absolutely no guarantees. However, McIntosh’s tone is as if these methods are sure to bring numerical growth. Indeed, pastors should seek ways to grow as well as remove those things that are stopping numerical growth such as “the lack of adequate seating, parking, and classroom meeting space” (139); but pastors should first be men of character seeking to serve faithfully and trusting the results to the Lord.

I personally found the information and tools of Taking Your Church to the Next Level helpful but my experience and the scores of other similar books on the topic left me feeling that McIntosh’s goals are misguided. There’s nothing wrong with seeking growth—I know I certainly would like to see more people involved in the church were I serve as well as the church I am planting—but my first preference would be to see healthy growth. Therefore, this book should be paired with at least one more on the topic of spiritual growth in order for it to be more effective and avoid such a business tone that is absent of an apparent faithfulness toward the mysteries of God.

Purchase this book from Amazon here.

* 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 the links on this website help support the ministry of SaltyBeliever.com. 

Surviving Church with Children

Anybody who has been a part of a church that has children within its congregation knows children can be difficult.  Often we find ourselves feeling like we "survive" church with children.  And this feeling flies in from multiple directions. 

There's No-Kids-Ken.  He is the person who doesn't have children.  He hates being asked to help in the children's ministry and he is easily agitated with even the slightest noise made by a child during the sermon.  

Then there's Exhausted-Ed. He  is the parent who struggles Sunday to Sunday because his child may be in a difficult season.  It seems like getting to church is a ridiculous struggle.  He hasn't sat through an entire sermon in over a year because his child has some kind of need every week.  He can't go to any community groups in the middle of the week because they end too late or don't have much grace for his children.  Exhausted-Ed spends a great deal of time in the lobby and wonders why he even bothers coming to church.

Don't overlook Forgetful-Fran.  She is a little older now and has raised her children.  Yet somehow she seems to have forgotten the challenges that come with children.  She has all kinds of insights that rather than being an encouragement, just leave parents feeling bad about themselves.  She often finds herself in agreement with No-Kids-Ken.  Parents let their guard down only to get blindsided by a snarky comment about their children.

And how many Children's-Ministry-Michelles are out there?  She's the director of the children's ministry that many parents treat as a babysitter so they can go do their thing on Sunday mornings.  She's hardworking and deeply wants the kids to love Jesus but most of the time parents forget to say thank you because they're too busy criticizing her for something they're unwilling do to themselves.   She's often short on help and hasn't attended in the adult worship service in years.

Church, it seems, would be so much easier with all the kids running around.  At one point, it appears Jesus' disciples agreed.  People were trying to bring their kids to see Jesus and have him pray for their children.  The disciples rebuked them, trying to keep the kids away.  Jesus was not happy about this and said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14, ESV).

Children are a part of the Church.  We have an obligation not only to train them up in the way of the Lord, but to include them in the fellowship.  So while it might be difficult, we are indeed called to "survive" church with children.

Jared Jenkins and I recently recorded a series on Salty Believer Unscripted about this topic.  And because we don't have many answers in this area, we called in Kerryn Talbot and Dr. Randy Stinson to help us understand a little better.

Surviving Church With Children
-- An Introduction to the Issue audio
-- A Correct Attitude Toward Children audio
-- Teaching in Terms They Can Understand audio
-- Behinds the Scene of Children's Ministry with Kerryn Talbot audio
-- Teaching and Preaching "R Rated" Texts audio
-- Training Up Your Adolescent Children with Dr. Randy Stinson  audio
-- Training Up Your Teenage Children with Dr. Randy Stinson audio



*Photo take by Aaron Gilson is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

What is the Church... or is it who?

Ask nearly anybody for a definition of "church" and chances are good that before they think through an answer, they'll have images of buildings in their head.  Some may define church as a building used for religious worship or a place where religious people meet.  This answer wouldn't be socially wrong, but it's not how the Bible defines church.  Others may say that church is in the mountains or wherever they commune with God.  This definition also stands in opposition to God's Word, unless when they say this they mean a location where they fellowship with other believers, that is.

The 27 books of the New Testament provide a good picture of God's intention for his Church.  The Greek work behind the word Church (transliterated, ekklesia) appears 114 times in the New Testament.  The ESV translation team translated 106 of those uses as church and 8 as something else such as assembly or congregation.  The Septuagint (or LXX) has nearly 100 uses from the Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament.  

Interestingly, the Greek word behind church only appears three times in the Gospels, and only in Matthew for that matter.  One usage appears in Matthew 16:13-20.  The specific verse, Matthew 16:18, reads, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (ESV).  The other two uses are found in Matthew 18:15-20 which reads,
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed* in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (ESV).
In the first usage, Jesus provides some specific information.  Jesus will (not maybe or might) build it.  It will be built on either Peter's confession or the revelation of the Father or Peter himself or some kind of apostolic succession depending on your theological persuasion.  And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Trying plugging our definition of church in here.  It doesn't work.  It's strange.  

The second and third uses of the word, church, are in context to sin and the proclamation of the gospel.  If  a brother sins against you, you are to point out his sin and hope that as a brother he would repent and see the gospel living and active in his life.  If the brother does not hear this from you, you bring another believer and try again.  If again this person refuses to repent of his sin and accept the truth of the gospel in his life, then you bring it to the church.  Here the larger body of believers makes every attempt to restore this brother to the gospel, but if no headway is made, than the church is to assume this man is not a believer.  They are to treat him like an unbeliever, continuing to preach the gospel to him hoping he may one day repent, be baptized, and profess an actual trust in Christ.  Try out the definitions here and you'll find they just don't work.

Either of the above mentioned definitions of church are really strange if applied in these Scriptures.  So it stands to reason that our definition of church as a building or a place where we commune with God is not exactly right. 

The disciples probably didn't fully understand what Jesus was talking about in Matthew until they were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and Christ started building his church through his people.  It may have been unclear to Peter when Christ first mentioned it, but he seems to have a good grasp of the Church later in his life.  In a letter to the elect exiles he wrote, "As you come to him [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the light of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV).

Peter, it seems, is stating that the Church is made up of believers.  Each one is like a living stone.  So the Church is not so much a 'what' as it is a 'who.'  If you're a believer, you don't go to Church, you are the Church.  But you alone are not the entire Church; you are simply a stone among the many who to together are the Church.


*Photo by flickr.com user, "mlhradio" is registered under a creative commons license and use by permission.

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.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

On Grieving

February 11, 2014

"Blessed are those who mourn," Jesus said, "for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4, ESV).  For the one mourning, this can be an odd statement.  Confusing in a difficult time.  But truly, there is something amazing in these words.

"Blessed?" might the grieving mother ask.  You can almost hear the pain in the question of a daughter who lost here father, "How am I blessed?" It's difficult to see a person mourning the loss of friend or family member.  From within this perspective, it's hard to see the blessing.  Blessed?  It certainly seems like a fair question.    

In November of 2013, my wife and I lost our baby.  We mourn, but we've also been comforted.  Blessed, actually. The comfort comes from God, often through others.  There are times in our grieving and sadness when we directly feel the hand of God and experience his peace There are also times when we are comforted and blessed by God's people.  Obviously I would prefer not to have lost my son and I certainly wish my heart was not grieved, but without this sadness, I wouldn't have this opportunity to experience Jesus' promise or feel drawn to God as I do in this way, at this time.  The comfort would not likely be as sweet without the mourning, just as the joy of the day's first light is greater after enduring a difficult dark night (Psalm 30).

While it can be a challenge to see the blessing from within the clutches of a grieving season, that does not change the truth that it is a gift.  For those who mourn, there is grace from God, a blessing.  This gift may be easier to understand in eternity, when our views are not clouded by our fallen nature, but blessed are those who are comforted now. 

At the moment I wish Lisa and I were grieving less and our feelings of comfort more, but we realize this is a journey that is often traveled slowly.  The road feels long, but Christ is with us.  "Blessed are those who mourn."

Shortly into our mourning, I sad down with Tina Pelton and recorded a two part podcast series for Salty Believer Unscripted on the topic of grieving.  If you are grieving or in a position to comfort or bless someone who is, these podcasts may be helpful.

Grieving: A Conversation with Tina Pelton
-- Grieving (Part 1) audio
-- Grieving (Part 2) audio 

  *The painting of "Old Man Grieving" is by Vincent van Gogh and is in the public domain.

Christmas Decoration Theology

Just after Thanksgiving, at least in America, people start putting nativity sets on their coffee tables and fireplace mantels. My neighbor even puts a life-size lighted set in his front yard. The angel stands on the roof of his house. I think the idea is to create a visual story of the birth of Jesus, our Lord.

The set we had when I was growing up was very much like the sets most people have, and they certainly tell a story. In fact, the typical nativity set has shaped the story most Americans know as Jesus' birth story. Like the idea that there were only three wise men, for example. This idea likely comes about because there were three gifts (gold, myrrh, and frankincense) , but it is widely reinforced by the fact that the typical nativity set usually only includes three wise men. (And the one I had growing up had two pasty-white dudes and one very black guy, which seems kind of odd if you think about it.)

Matthew 2:1 simply calls this band of wise men, "Magi from the East." There is nothing that indicates a number other than a plurality. It could have been two or two hundred; we really don't know. And there's nothing that precludes women from this mysterious group.

Another interesting picture we get from our nativity sets is the presence of the Magi while Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were still staying in the stable or animal cave below the living quarters or wherever the manger was. In fact, the birthday story itself is primarily recorded in Luke but the account of the Magi is told in Matthew. The Magi narrative in Matthew suggests a much broader time line. They visit the house where the child was (Matthew 2:9-10), which may not have been an animal stable. And even if that house was in Bethlehem, it could be at the "inn" now that there's room with extended family as some scholars have guessed. Herod set out to kill all the children two years and younger, suggesting that at the point he realized he had been tricked by the Magi, the child Jesus could have been us much as two years old.

When you look at your nativity set this year, think about what shapes your understanding of the Christmas story. Is it your porcelain figurines or the Scripture? If it's not the Scripture, take some time to read through the Christmas story this Christmas season. Read slowly, savor it, let it sink in and become the picture you have in your mind as you celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas!


* Photo by Chiot's Run and is registered under a creative commons license.

Beloved: A Love Letter From God

Reading the book of 2 Peter--a letter from God, through Peter, to Christians everywhere--one word should pop out.  Beloved.  Agapetos or agapetoi in the Greek are the words that are often translated into the English word, beloved.  In 2 Peter 1:17, Peter uses this word quoting the Father's words at Jesus' transfiguration.  At 2 Peter 3:15, Peter uses beloved to describe our brother Paul.  In the other four uses, it is a term of endearment toward the reader.  But is it Peter who loves reader?  Maybe.  Peter did have a great love for Christians; however, it is God who calls Christians everywhere 'beloved.'

Some may dispute that 2 Peter is a letter to Christians everywhere specifically from God, especially when 2 Peter 1:1 says, "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (ESV).  But in this very letter Peter says,"For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21, ESV).  If 2 Peter is Scripture, than it is prophecy and therefore not written by the will of Peter, but by God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit."  This is a letter from God and it is written to Christians everywhere.

The use of 'beloved' in 2 Peter 3:14 is especially encouraging.  God (through Peter, carried by the Holy Spirit) says, "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (ESV).  When we look at this verse in light of what the rest of the Bible says, we know it is impossible to be without spot or blemish apart from Christ, the only one who is without spots or blemishes (1 Peter 1:17-21).  We trade our sin for Jesus' righteousness.  We trade our lies and likes of the false prophets for the Truth of the gospel of Jesus.  He takes our sins, dies for them, and gives us a perfection we will one day share with Jesus in his glory.  And the same is true for peace.  Apart from the knowledge that our Lord is coming back and believers will live in eternity with God, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be at true peace.  We trade our waring soul for one that is at peace with Christ.

When we see that we are beloved, we really ought to see that we not only traded our spots and blemishes and our worry, doubt, and rage for salvation, we are now seen with love by the Father.

In the four Gospels, the word beloved is used in some interesting ways.  In Matthew 3 and Luke 3 the word appears at Christ's baptism.  Here there is an audible voice that says "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."  At the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 an audible voice again introduces Jesus, saying, "This is my beloved son, listen to him."  Matthew quotes Isaiah in Matthew 12 showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the coming messiah and beloved son.  And even Jesus uses this word about himself when he uses a parable in Mark 12 and Luke 12 about a vineyard owner who has bad tenants.  Eventually this owner sends his beloved son.

God's people, that is, those who have repented and accepted Jesus as Lord become children of God, being loved as Jesus is loved.  Romans 9:25-26 is a quotation of Hosea 2:23 and Isaiah 10:22-23.  It reads, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God'" (ESV).  In Christ, we become children of God, sharing in Christ's inheritance and we gain entry into the "kingdom of his beloved son" (see Colossians 1:11-14).  By no means did we earn this love because as it is said in Romans 5:8: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (ESV).     

If you are a Christian, repentant and calling on Jesus as Savior and Lord, then 2 Peter is a letter to you, from God.  As you read this letter, do not see it as anything other than a message from a loving father to a son or daughter.  Beloved, God loves you! 

 


* Photo by flickr.com user Pimthida is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Prayer is Relational



The Bible is full of prayers. Herbert Lockyer says, "Exclusive of the Psalms, which form a prayer-book on their own, the Bible records no fewer than 650 definite prayers, of which no less than 450 have recorded answers."[1] As early as Genesis 4:26 we read that "people began to call upon the name of the LORD." Recorded prayers allow the student of the Bible a glimpse of the prayers of others, at times providing the specific words and at other times only demonstrating that the individual engaged in prayer of some sort. Even communication between the Godhead—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is made available to us in the written Word. Biblical instructions include praying often (without ceasing in fact), with faithfulness and hope, for others and ourselves, in line with God's will, with and without words, and by divine help. We're given specifics for which to pray. The prayers of the Pharisees are condemned, and we hear warnings about wrongful prayer. We even read about disciples learning directly from our Savior specifically about how to pray. Yet in a book loaded with prayers, there is no clear and obvious definition of what prayer actually is.

For centuries theologians have attempted to define prayer. They diligently examine the various prayers contained within the Canon as well as the instruction and teaching on prayer. Through their findings, they've come to an understanding of prayer and attempt a definition. For example, Wayne Grudem says, "Prayer is personal communication with God."[2] Millard Erickson argues that "Prayer is in large part, a matter of creating in ourselves a right attitude with respect to God’s will."[3] Appealing to Psalm 27:8, John Mueller suggests the definition is, "the communion of a believing heart with God."[4] And John Calvin, while not providing a clear definition of prayer, still says it is, "a kind of intercourse between God and men."[5] As varied as all of these definitions are, they all seem to get at the same thing: a relationship between God and man.

God desires to be in relationship with his creation. Nothing in the Bible could be clearer. In fact, the Bible itself—God's Word—is a merciful revelation intended as a mechanism of communication that draws us into a relationship with its divine Author. God is reaching out to us, calling us into a relationship with himself. Prayer is an important aspect of this relationship.

Jesus teaching was purposed to draw all men into a salvific relationship with the Trinity. Notice that Jesus proclaims, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8); but James 4:2 says, "You do not have, because you do not ask" and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs that we should "pray without ceasing." Is this some kind of contradiction? Why would God want us to pray if he already knows our needs? Because he wants a relationship with us! Jesus paints a beautiful picture of this relationship in Luke 11:9-13:
"And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Do you see the relational factors in Jesus' plea? “Ask!” he says, as if almost begging. And look at the question and answer that follows. Father, children, good gifts. Jesus desperately wants his disciples to enter into this relationship and he wants them to pray.

Prayer is about a relationship with God.

__
1. Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible: A Devotional and Expositional Classic (Grand Rapids: Mich, Zondervan, 1959), Publisher’s Forward.  
2. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Mich, Zondervan, 1994), 376. 
3. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Mich, Baker Academics, 1998), 431.
4. John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Miss, Concordia, 1934), 428-429.
5. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody: Mass, Hendrickson, 2008), 564.

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!

Christian Suffering 1 Peter 4:12-19

The Christian life is no bed of roses.  From time to time, followers of Jesus Christ face fiery trials and in these trials we sometimes find ourselves confused.  We ask questions like, "How can God let me suffer like this?" or, "Doesn't God even care that I'm suffering?" or maybe even, "Am I suffering because God is punishing me for something?"  In our times of difficulty, these questions become more than questions, they often become our way of inditing God.  But before we throw down accusations, we really aught to re-think Christian suffering.  

What often troubles us is why Christians suffer.  It's a serious questions and one worth wrestling through.  1 Peter 4:12-19 is one of the great texts that helps us come to a better understanding of God's will and purpose in our fiery trials. 

I recently preached on this topic at Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City.  If you're a Christian, you've likely suffered, are suffering right now, or will suffer sometime in your future.  If this is you, it is my hope that this sermon may be helpful to you. 

Christian Suffering -- 1 Peter 4:12-19

Post Church?

Revisiting a group of writer-friends and their affiliated publication, I was reminded of the growing group of jaded Christians who no longer worship in any kind of church setting.  They call themselves "post-Church" as if they have somehow evolved beyond Christ's institution for his people.  "The Nones" is another name they like, taking it from the check box they would self-identify to the question of religious affiliation on a census questionnaire-- None. 

This post-Church crowd will argue that they just weren't getting what they wanted or needed from their local church community.  It wasn't a satisfying experience and the church leaders weren't providing them with the faith journey they desired.  So, they divorced their community for a different mistress, maybe a group who shares their affinity for popular issues of social justice, artistic expression, politics, dietary fads, some kind of on-line connection, or a gang with similar level of anger toward Christ's Bride.  Interestingly, these post-Christians don't seek a different local church community where they might find opportunities to connect with, grow in, and serve Christ, but instead cast off Church, big-C Church all together.  They would argue that they are still part of the Church but just hate local church.  They "love Jesus, just hate Christians."  But the truth is Jesus indwells his people and the local church is a part of the big-C Church; therefore, Jesus and his Church get tossed out too.

I've read of these new post-church communities meeting in coffee shops or homes for shared meals where a communal fellowship is touted but there is decidedly a void of any worship, teaching, Bible reading, or anything that may look like "church."  Jesus is typically intentionally or unintentionally uninvited.  Some of these gatherings will pray, but that's often the extent of it. (I wonder how God might receive the prayer of those who reject God's people as well as the institution he set up for them?)  I am familiar with a single group that sits on the post-church precipice which does, on occasion, discuss Scripture, but generally is void of any deeper study or application because in fact, they are lacking any kind of shepherd.

Indeed there is a time to divorce a fellowship.  When irreconcilable differences surface in the essential theological matters one should talk with the leaders to consider if finding a different local church, breaking fellowship, or some kind of further study may be appropriate.  Cases of egregious unrepentant sin among the leadership may also be a time to break fellowship, after the appropriate course of action has taken place.  (See Matthew 18:15-18.)    False teaching too.  But to toss up your hands and say your are done with any kind of Christian gathering only to trade it in for a cult community of your own making because you don't prefer what's offered is a very different thing.

Nowhere does the Bible speak of a Christian who rejects Christ's Bride, the Church.  It's quite the opposite in fact.

For example, Paul opens his letter to the Philippians as follows: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons" (Philippians 1:1b, ESV, italics added for emphasis.) Paul says these saints are with the leaders and servants, not consumers of the goods and services the leaders provide or members of their social club.  The saints are in community together.  Many of Paul's letters open with this picture of community centered around the gospel called the local church.  He also talks about the necessity of being part of the body, one body with many parts.  His explanation of communion and his rebuke for the local church that shows favoritism toward the rich show Paul's concern and care for community within the local church.  John's third letter is to an individual and yet it still seems to suggest that Gaius is part of a larger community.  John's second letter is also to an individual and here he's calling this lady to hold fast to the teaching of Christ.  Christ didn't ever tell anybody to be a solitary loaner or gather in a community that is held together with bonds other than the love of Christ.  Christ is building his Church and the local churches are a part if they hold to Christ and his teachings.  Christ is so serious about the Church that we often see the Church called the Bride of Christ, that is, Christ's special love.  Men are called to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, the Church Jesus died for (Ephesians 5:25).  There are many accounts of the believers eating and praying together, and being sanctified into Christ's likeness through those with whom they are in community.  And these groups don't appear to be splinter groups rejecting the Church.  

This post-Church movement raises a number of questions. 

Were these disgruntled individuals actually Christians, or were they simply members of a social club for social reasons?  Or maybe they were moralists and what they walked away from is not what they think they rejected because they were never truly a part of the Body in the first place?

Do these "post-Church" gatherings bring about sanctification and Christ-likeness or are these groups more about filling the community void?

How much does a member of the Nones hear from God and speak to him, read from his Word, worship, and grow?  The Bible is the only book that reads us.  From within it's pages we should experience transformation and sometimes that transformation is difficult and even painful.  Is the post-Church experience bringing about gospel-centered change or is it all just a happy bed of roses that eventually leads to self-worship?

Is the exodus from the local church about pride?  Is there a lack of humility?  Is there fear to talk with with leadership about a problem?  If the leadership did not listen, was there any self-reflection to see if personal repentance was necessary? And if personal repentance or pride are not the issue and it may be a legitimate time to break fellowship, is there a fear or laziness or cowardice to find the healthy local church body God may be calling them to?

What is the end result of the post-Church movement?  Is it drawing people closer to Christ or further away?

If you are reading this because you are post-Church, call yourself a None, or are concerned about a friend or family member, I know that there are local churches that hurt people, and that is tragic!  If you have been hurt by fellow Christians, I'd like to recommend a book called The Exquisite Agony (originally titled Crucified by Christians) by Gene Edwards.  I hope that at some point you can find healing from this pain as well as find a fantastic body of believers with which to fellowship and grow.  If it is not about a hurt, might it be about pride?  If so, is this pride really helping you or is it self destructive?  If you do still call yourself a Christian but struggle with the local church, pray about where to connect.  Ask Jesus to show you his Bride in a new way.  And by all means, don't give up!  God has a great fellowship of believers out there for you.  Hang in there and keep praying!


If this article connected with you in any way, encouraged you, or made you angry, you are more than welcome to contact me to share your story, ask questions, complain, or seek help finding a local body.  Or if you don't call yourself a Christian but would like to find out more about becoming one, you can contact me too.  Click here

Interconnectedness of the Bible: 1 Chronicles 28:9

"It's clear that the Bible is too superintended to be a random collection of books," a pastor friend once said to me.  I agree.  Like watching a good flick, reading the Bible a few times opens up a fascinating realm of things missed on a first or second pass.  This exploration can continue for a life time if you just keep reading the Bible.  It's a supernatural interconnected single story, woven together through the merciful revelation of God to his creation over the course of about 2,000 years through forty or so human authors.  (More technically, the Bible is God's divinely authored revelation of himself to his people, written through his people.  It's a complex dual authorship!)  And it is the Holy Spirit who illuminates new things as you read, learn, and grow; therefore,  as you keep reading you grow more and more convinced of the truth of God's Word, the Bible.

Evidence of the Bible's interconnectedness abounds.  I've not done a formal study or count, but I'd venture a guess that there are thousands of passages that point to other passages in one way or another and they all point toward Christ.  We'll use 1 Chronicles 28:9 as an example.

Chapter 28 of 1 Chronicles opens with David, the king of Israel, giving a speech to the officials assembled in Jerusalem.  He tells them that he had a heart to build a temple for God but God had not allowed him to do so.  He also expressed that Solomon, his son, was chosen by God to be his successor and it will be Solomon who will build the temple.  At verse 9 David shifts his speech directory toward Solomon.  He gives him a charge and some instruction.  "And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever" (ESV).

I found well over 100 cross references for the various aspects of this passage, but for the sake of this post, I'll only deal with a couple parts of this very loaded verse, and even in that, I'll only provide a small sample of interconnected verses. 

First, much of the Old Testament talks about God in terms of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, or in other terms--the God of our fathers.  Many times the God of one's father becomes one's own God, as if there's a transition from one to another or a personal acceptance or relationship as the son grows and begins to know the God of his father for himself.  God is no longer the God of someone else, but personal.  This talk of the God of our fathers as well as the transition can be seen in verses like Genesis 28:13, Exodus 3:16, and Exodus 15:2.  In 2 Kings 21:22 Amon walks away from the God of his fathers, whereas Josiah does walk in the way of the God of David, that is, the God of his fathers (1 Kings 22:2). This language is found over and over again until Christ walks among his people and actually calls God his Father! No longer is the worship and service to the God of our fathers, but the Heavenly Father himself. Then, because of Jesus, we too are able to call God our Father because we are adopted into his family (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5).  

Next, as early as Genesis 6:5, the Bible indicates that God knows the thoughts and intentions of man.  1 Samuel 16:7, at the time when they boy David was being identified as Israel's king, it is said that God does not look at the outward appearance, but at man's heart.  Psalm 7:9 identifies God as one who tests minds and hearts. Psalm 139:2 says that God can even discern these thoughts from a distance.  The idea of testing thoughts and intentions is present again in Jeremiah 11:20 and again in Jeremiah 17:10.  So it should help us see that Jesus is God when he has this very ability.  In John 1:47 Jesus looks into the deep of Nathanael. Repeatidly, Jesus knew what the Pharases were thinking as well as his disciples (see: Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25; Luke 1:51; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8; and Luke 11:17).  And the disciples new and believed that God searches the heart as is evident in Acts 1:24.  Paul also writes about it in Romans 8:27.

Jeremiah 29:13 says that seekers of God find him.  Jesus, as the Messiah and God, repeats the same seek and you will find  theme in Matthew 7:7-8, and in Revelation 3:20 he extends an invitation for a relationship.  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are repeated invitations to enter into a relationship with God, no longer serving the God of our fathers but the Heavenly Father himself.

It is because of the interconnectedness that we use the Bible to interpret the Bible.  The more plain passages help us understand the more complex ones.  The connections between the books, the players, and various smaller stories help us understand the larger story of God's redemption.  It's all interconnected.  It's one story woven together like a beautiful basket.

*Photo of weaved basket by Damian Gadal is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Tough Texts on Salty Believer Unscripted

January 1, 2013

Jared Jenkins and I are working through a series on Salty Believer Unscripted called "Tough Texts."  Inspired somewhat by the guys at Credo House as well as our desire to diligently keep our exegetical work sharp, we identified some biblical texts that are difficult to interpret, confusing, shocking, or greatly misunderstood without a little labor.  On the whole, the Bible is written in simple language and is easy to understand, but that does not mean that we don't at times find its words difficult.  Our listeners helped us out by e-mailing us some passages they've struggled with over the years and we selected some of our own to add to the list.

Examples include Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 where he talks about women being saved through childbearing.  Genesis 6:1-5 has this strange thing with the Nephilim.  Can people be baptized on behalf of the dead or does 1 Corinthians 15:29 get at something different?  Does Paul suggest that parts of his Epistle are not inspired by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 7:12?   1 Samuel 28 contains a shocking story of Saul consulting a witch-like medium and raising Samuel to talk with him.  Uzzah is struck dead for touching the ark in 2 Samuel 6:5-7. How in the world can the psalmist write about smashing babies on the rocks in Psalms 137:9?  Romans 1:26-27 discusses unnatural relations and something about God giving these people up to their own desires.  Is total genocide to include even the animals what 1 Samuel 5:13 is getting at?  Peter is the rock has many meanings in the Church today based on how people understand Matthew 16:18.  1 Corinthians 11:27-30 seems to suggest that some believers have died for taking the Lord's Supper incorrectly.  And 1 Peter 3:21 has at times been taken to mean that baptism is an act that actually brings about salvation; how can this be?  We're dealing with all of these and we're still open to add some to the list if we get more tough texts before the end of the series. (You can contact us with a difficult passage you'd like us to address by using this contact form.) 

Jared and I believe that if it's in the Bible, we need to be able to deal with it, understand it, and allow it to change us no matter how difficult or shocking.  It absolutely cannot be that students of the Bible simply skip over parts of God's Word because it's tough, and it is for this reason that we want to discuss the tough texts and help those who truly seek the whole counsel of God.

You can find these podcasts as well as many other resources on the Resources pages of SaltyBeliever.com and EntrustedWithTheGospel.com or you can subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted podcast.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same.  


*The picture use in this post is in the public domain.