A New Approach to New Year's Goals

Every year at this time, I take time to review the goals I set the previous year and make new ones for the coming year. I typically set goals in five categories: Professional, Financial, Physical, Personal/family, and Spiritual goals. In addition to goals in those categories for the coming year, I also set three-year, five-year, and lifetime goals.

But this year, I decided to try something different. I wondered what it might look like if my goals were focused on partnering with God to cultivate more of the fruit of the Spirit in my life. What would that look like?

First and foremost, I know I must be faithful in prayer, and ask God daily to produce this fruit in my life. So that's pretty much goal number one, the overarching goal. In addition, I outlined in my journal at least one (and in several cases, three or four) tangible goal for 2010 that would, by God's grace and with his help, increase my:
I thank God--and it is only by his grace--that this fruit is already present in my life because of the Holy Spirit's presence in my life. But I'm excited to follow Christ this year in purposeful, focused, conscious ways to see if I can bear more fruit in 2010. It's gonna be a great year!

Best Books Read in 2009

One of the things I enjoy about each year's end and a new year's beginning is the opportunity to look back on the previous year's reading, and plan the coming year's reading. I'll blog in a day or two about my reading plan for 2010, but first I want to reflect on my favorite books of 2009, of the 69 I read throughout the year. Just to give an idea of what that literary journey was like, it included thirteen leadership (and ministry) books, five classics (by Wells, Dumas, Shakespeare, and Verne), one history, three memoirs, eight children's books, seven contemplative or devotional books, and one collection of poems, among other classifications.

And so, here are the ten I enjoyed most. The list is led by a surprise discovery, one that I absolutely adored, exploring the mystical meanings of each letter in the Hebrew alphabet, according to Lawrence Kushner. And, for anyone who would like to know more about why a particular book is on the list, those marked with a † have been reviewed on this blog. Simply search for the title, or go to the category sidebar and click on "Book of the Week" to display all the book reviews and just scroll down until you find the one you're looking for. Also, each book's title is linked to the Amazon or Christianbook. com listing for that title, so you can learn more, read reviews, or purchase the book online.

1. The Book of Letters (A Mystical Alef Bait) (Kushner)

2. In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (Batterson)

3. Life is Mostly Edges (Miller)

4. The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas)

5. If God Is Good (Alcorn)

6. Axiom (Hybels)

7. The Way of the Lord (Wright)

8. The Bookman’s Promise (Dunning)

9. The Sign of the Book (Dunning)

10. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer)

Praying with Beads

I love trying new prayer practices. Not all strike a chord with me and draw me closer to the heart of God...but many do, and my prayer life has been enriched in recent years by the discovery of fixed-hour prayer, prayer labyrinths, chant, and more. It's almost as if praying saints of past generations actually knew a thing or two.

I was, therefore, intrigued to discover the book, Praying with Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year, by Nan Lewis Doerr and Virginia Stem Owens. It consists of a compelling and instructive introduction, followed by morning, noon, and evening prayers for use with a string of prayer beads. The prayers follow the Christian calendar throughout the liturgical year.

I purchased an inexpensive string of 34 beads and used the Advent prayers throughout that season, and was wonderfully helped by the practice (the "Additional Sources and Materials" section at the back of the book offers helpful guidance for pricing and purchasing prayer beads). I heartily agree with Phyllis Tickle's endorsement on the back of the book, when she says, "Protestant Christians, whether liturgical or not, will find here not only a missing part of their heritage, but also much counsel and instruction for their future practice of the faith."

(This book was provided for review by the publisher, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

Christmas Weekend

What a wonderful Advent and Christmas this has been! The Advent Conspiracy has been a miraculous blessing (and I'll report on the final results next Sunday in church and Monday on this blog), and the Christmas Eve celebration at The Loft and yesterday's Sunday celebrations were all glorious.

Like last year, the house was packed...

And the children came in pj's, full of excitement....and gathered in the "Kids' Zone" and entertained us all!

Beautiful music, a well-planned flow of music and video and speaking....

All came to a conclusion with the celebration of communion and a candlelight service, by which time it seemed we were all about to jump out of our skins from the joy of the Lord....

What a blessing. What a wonderful weekend. What a joy to serve God with such people.

And, finally, joy of joys, my grandson Miles sat on my lap in his new Thomas the Train pj's, transfixed while his father led us in "Song to the King," and then said he wanted to go onstage with me when I went back up for the benediction. So I kept my mic muted until the two of us got into place at center stage and I was ready to pray....but at the moment the mic came live, Miles looked down at the luminaries lining the platform and said, "There's fire in the candles!" But then he just looked around at the beautiful candlelit scene while I pronounced the benediction. It's a beautiful thing to share such moments with the family of God.

Church of the Week: St. Gabriel, Nazareth

St. Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church is located in the center of Nazareth, on the main road, near the well that has served Nazareth for millenia. According to tradition, this was the site of the angel Gabriel's annunciation to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus.

In the third Century AD a church was built over the springs, following the tradition that the spring was the place of the annunciation. It was later destroyed by the Arab conquest of the 7th C, and rebuilt by the Crusaders in the 12th C. Then it was destroyed again after their defeat (1263). In 1767, St. Gabriel Church was rebuilt on top of the ruins of the Crusader Church. The Crusader's stones around the spring were left intact. The spring is located in the crypt of the church.

Pilgrims today can still drink from the spring that Mary would have used, by means of a cup supplied by the church, as our niece Elissa is doing in the picture above, taken on our 2001 trip to Israel.

10 Quick Tips for Doing Leadership as Jesus Led

From the blog of Ron Edmondson:
Jesus was an excellent leader. If I want to really be successful, I need to learn to lead the Jesus way. Here are 10 quick tips for doing leadership as Jesus led:

1. Recruit with big asks
2. Hold followers accountable
3. Challenge the status quo
4. Love the spectacular
5. Lead by example
6. Keep a few tricks up your sleeve
7. Use teachable moments
8. Invest trust into followers and release them to explore
9. Accomplish the mission at any costs
10. Finish Well

I decided not to unpack them for you, but let you think through them yourself. Someday I may share some more thoughts.
Interesting points. He doesn't go for the obvious, like "serve," "love," "forgive," etc., but his points easily suggest scenes from the life of Jesus.

A Christmas Prayer by Peter Marshall

We yearn, our Father, for the simple beauty of Christmas -- for all the old famliar melodies and words that remind us of that great miracle when He who had made all things was one night to come as a babe, to lie in the crook of a woman's arm.
Before such mystery we kneel, as we follow the shepherds and Wise Men to bring Thee the gift of our love -- a love we confess has not always been as warm or sincere or real as it should have been. But now, on this Christmas Day, that love would find its Beloved, and from Thee receive the grace to make it pure again, warm and real.

We bring Thee our gratitude for every token of Thy love, for all the ways Thou hast heaped blessings upon us during the years that have gone.

And we do pray, Lord Jesus, that as we celebrate Thy birthday, we may do it in a manner well pleasing to Thee. May all we do and say, every tribute of our hearts, bring honor to Thy name, that we, Thy people, may remember Thy birth and feel Thy presence among us even yet.

May the loving kindness of Christmas not only creep into our hearts, but there abide, so that not even the return to earthly cares and responsibilities, not all the festivities of our own devising may cause it to creep away weeping. May the joy and spirit of Christmas stay with us now and forever.

In the name of Jesus, who came to save His people from their sins, even in that lovely name we pray. Amen.

Got Yer Bible Reading Plan for 2010?

Check out this video of YouVersion's recently launched Reading Plans, a new feature to their online Bible service and mobile app (which is my iPhone Bible of choice):

Amo Dei

Mark Batterson has become one of my favorite writers, though his outre is just three books. His In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day was among the best books I've read in a very long time. His newest offering, Primal (A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity) is as readable and entertaining as the one about the lion and the pit.

Primal asks, "What would your Christianity look like if it was stripped down to the simplest, rawest, purest faith possible?" It issues "an invitation to rediscover the compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy that turned the world upside down two thousand years ago." It prescribes a return to the Great Commandment as the new reformation our world--and the Church--needs.

Batterson's style is fluid and persuasive. Like In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day, this book contains nearly as many quotable lines as it does pages, like,
"We dissect scripture instead of letting scripture dissect us,"

"Learning isn't a luxury; it's a stewardship issue,"

"The church ought to be the most curious place on the planet,"

"There is an awful lot of sideways energy in the kingdom of God,"

"Lack of faith is not a failure of logic. It's a failure of imagination,"

"Prayer turns us into first-class noticers. It helps us see what God wants us to notice. The more you pray, the more you notice,"

"God loves the smell of your sweat,"

"You have to think and rethink, but you cannot overthink....overanalysis always results in spiritual paralysis,"

"In God's economy, breaking even is a total loss,"

"Everything you see was once a sound wave in the vocal cords of God,"

"All of us love miracles. We just don't like being in situations where we need one," and,

"Everything minus God equals nothing. God plus nothing equals everything."
While Primal wasn't as compelling a read to me as In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day, it is still some of the best I've read this year, and a unique and timely perspective on the Biblical command to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength." It will not fail to inform and inspire any reader.

(Click here to view options for finding, ordering, and/or downloading Primal)

This book was provided for review by the publisher, Multnomah Books.

Church of the Week: Church of the Nativity

This week's church is among the oldest in Christendom, because it rests atop the grotto that has been revered since the first century by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus. It's the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem.

In 326, Constantine and his mother St. Helena commisioned a church to be built over the cave where Jesus was born. This first church, dedicated on May 31, 339, had an octagonal floor plan and was placed directly above the cave. In the center, a 4-meter-wide hole surrounded by a railing provided a view of the cave. Portions of the floor mosaic survive from this period. St. Jerome lived and worked in Bethlehem from 384 AD, and he was buried in a cave beneath the Church of the Nativity.

The Constantinian church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, who built the much larger church that remains today. In 1852, shared custody of the church was granted to the Roman Catholic, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox churches. The Greeks care for the Grotto of the Nativity, pictured below, where a silver star marks the birthplace of Jesus.

Below, my kids, Aubrey and Aaron, prepare to enter the church (behind their cousin, Elissa) through the Door of Humility, a small rectangular entrance to the church which was created in Ottoman times to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as he entered the holy place. The doorway was reduced from an earlier Crusader doorway, the pointed arch of which can still be seen above the current door. The outline of the Justinian square entrance can also be seen above the door.

Don't Fight

Perry Noble on responding to critics (bloggers, passive-aggressive comments in public, etc.):

Signs Money Is Our Idol

I've become keenly aware lately of the pervasive idolatry in the church--in MY church....in ME! Not that it's anything new, but even among us who would NEVER consciously worship money, there still exists a soft idolatry (if any idolatry can be called soft) that is revealed in the following ways:

* The preacher can preach about hell, abortion, adultery--any number of sensitive issues--without offending me, but when the subject of money comes up every so often, I grow concerned that "we're emphasizing money too much."

* I assume, in tough economic times, that Christmas can't possibly be as good this year, because money is too tight.

* I can have faith that God will heal, that God will save, that God can do anything....but when it comes to budgets and finances, I think faith in the face of cold, hard financial facts is irresponsible.

* I wait for the money--rather than waiting on God--before doing the things I or we could do "if we just had the money."

There are more, of course. But man, oh man, it's insidious and pervasive, isn't it?

7 Reasons Church Plants Fail

Another fine post from Perry Noble. I should just let HIM write this blog:
Church planters are a RARE breed…no one in their right mind would EVER choose to do it…it MUST be a calling. AND…no one WANTS their church plant to fail…yet here are seven reasons I’ve seen that some have…

#1 – The Church Is Planted Out Of Bitterness Rather Than A Divine Calling From God!

What some people call a church plant…God actually calls a church split. When a group of bitter, angry, self serving people with a lot of money find a hirling who will do all that they want him to do…that isn’t necessarily a church plant. AND…usually within two or three years it goes REALLY bad. Let me be VERY CLEAR here…when bitterness and anger are the root of the plant…then the church is in deep trouble right at the beginning.

#2 – The Leadership Has A Desire For Imitation Rather Than Seeking Revelation!

We’ve seen it before…a group of guys go to a conference and see a church…and then come back to their community and try to be just like the church they saw at the conference. There is NOTHING wrong with receiving inspiration and ideas at a conference…but when one church tries to be just like another one in every area…then I believe the leaders are spending way too much time studying methods rather than the Scriptures. God calls every church to be unique in some sort of way…and that will never be found if the leadership isn’t desperately seeking God for His direction.

#3 – The Pastor Has A Desire To Be Known Way More Than He Desires To Fulfill The Great Commission!

When a leader is more obsessed with how many hits he is getting on his blog…or how many people follow him on twitter…and because of those things loses sight of reaching people for Christ–it’s over.

#4 – When The Leadership Allows The Vision To Get Hijacked In Order To Keep Everyone Happy!

EVERY church planter WILL experience SOMEONE trying to hijack the vision of the church…MOST of the time before the church ever officially launches. Pastor..BEG God for HIS vision, let Him BURN it in your heart…and then go for it and don’t let anyone talk you out of what God has clearly spoken into you.

#5 – The Pastor Isn’t Willing To Call People To Commit.

The last thing we need in the body of Christ is a room full of people who are more commited to watching their favorite TV shows every week than they are to following Christ. Pastors…you can’t be afraid to ask people to commit to Christ, to volunteer, to give and to read their Bibles. If you back down from this then you will do nothing more than raise a co-dependent group of people who learn to depend on you rather than Jesus.

#6 – The Pastor Lacks Courage!

This sort of goes along with #5. I believe that every church planter will be tested early in the process…usually within the first six months…and also usually it will relate to finances. A big giver will begin to list out his or her demands…and then the leader must decide whether or not he is a prositiute (paid for a service) or a prophet (someone who belongs to God.) Pastor…leadership requires courage. People WILL take shots at you. People WILL take what you say out of context. People WILL lie about you. You are NOT going to be loved by everyone…and to face that reality takes courage. If you lack it then you won’t make it.

#7 – The Pastor Tries To Do It All By Himself!

Dear pastor…you are NOT that good! You can’t do it all (even though some will expect you to.) You’ve GOT to delegate ministry to others. You’ve GOT to listen to the people God intentionally places around you. You’ve GOT to admit when the load is too heavy so those who care about you can take things off your plate. You’ve GOT to understand that Jesus cares WAY more about the church than you do…and He will send the right people along side of you to make sure HIS vision becomes reality. We are NOT called to do it alone!!!

A Campaign I Can Get Behind

Kevin Hester, pastor of The Sanctuary Baptist Church in Coloma, Michigan, launched a campaign in 2008 that I can really get behind:

He challenged his church to go without gossiping for eight days. The church took it further than that, and the challenge soon snowballed far beyond the church and attracted national media attention.

The effort's websites (www.gossipfree.org and www.gossipfree.net) are unimpressive, but the idea is golden.

Not Quite Middle Ground

The God Who Smokes, Scandalous Meditations on Faith by Timothy J. Stoner is a good book, perhaps very good. But it's not the book the subtitle and back cover copy advertise.

The book is written in a conversational, story-telling style, consistent with the author's stated goal of finding a middle ground between emergent theology and more conventional theology. The author's background and story is compelling, perhaps the best parts of the book for this reader. The people he cites (Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Chesterton, Sayers, and more) are always apt and compelling. But as I read, I couldn't escape the sensation that here was no new, insightful, middle ground. I found nothing scandalous in his meditations on faith. I sometimes lost sight of the point he might be trying to make. And I consistently suspected that this would feel like middle ground only to those who have a highly fragmentary view of emergent theology.

In any case, The God Who Smokes is highly readable and could be helpful to those who want, not a middle ground between emergent theology and conventional theology, but a solidly biblical, evangelical vision of God and faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Church of the Week: Chapel of the Holy Child, Children's Hospital (Cinti.)

This week's "church of the week" is the second hospital chapel in a row, and the third to be featured as church of the week on this blog. It's the Chapel of the Holy Child, in Cincinnati's Children's Hospital. I had occasion to visit this chapel last week, while my granddaughter Calleigh was being tested in the Testing Referral area right next to the chapel.

It actually contains two chapels, a multi-faith sanctuary (see above photo, note the open doors to the left of the corridor).

With a contemporary interior design by the Schickel Design Company, the Chapel of the Holy Child includes the altar and twelve original stained glass windows from the 1926 chapel (see the altar and two of the original stained glass windows, below).

New custom-designed stained glass windows are also included in the contemporary design, as well as a baptismal font with gently flowing water and creative lighting.

The Comforting Deception

From the Soul City blog:
Overheard a great quote from Mike Michalowicz today that is so true for life and SOOOO true for the Start Up phase that Soul City is in right now.

“Anyone can do anything with money. What can YOU do without?

What a brilliant reminder for us personally and for whatever Business or Church Endeavor you find yourself in. The comforting deception is that “If we just had more (or some) money we could…”

…Reach more people in our city.
…Hire more people to do more work.
…Get out of all this debt.
…Be able to give more as a family.
…No longer worry about NOT having money.

You fill in the blank.

But the nagging question remains – “What can you do without?” What can you do without money that people with money can’t do? What kinda faith and creativity and ingenuity might God be trying to squeeze out of you in the absence of having all that you think you need?

Money is nothing to God. He could give you all that you need and then some. So money is not the point. Faithfulness. Obedience. Dependence. Sacrifice. Creativity. That's the stuff that is priceless. And all the money in the world can’t get you that. But not having it…that may be the only thing in this season that affords you the things that God desires most.

Stop Doing Ministry

Great post from Tony Morgan's excellent blog:
I’m guessing you’re familiar with the story from Acts 6 where the widows in the church were not getting fed. That’s a bad situation. I know how grumpy I get when I’m hungry. I can’t imagine how grumpy a group of hungry, older women can be. That can’t be good.

The grumpy, old women weren’t getting fed because the apostles weren’t getting the job done. These leaders were supposed to be focusing on prayer and teaching God’s Word (see Acts 6:4), but instead they were stuck trying to pull off a not very effective food distribution effort.

So who’s at fault? It could be the people in the church who are just showing up for services on Sunday morning but not engaging in ministry. Maybe they haven’t studied the Bible enough to learn that it’s not biblical to pay pastors to do all the ministry of the church.

It could be the fault of the leaders. Maybe they’ve fallen into the “I can do it better” trap. Maybe they aren’t really leaders, so they aren’t spiritually gifted to empower other people in ministry.

Either way, here’s what strikes me about this passage in Acts. The apostles were engaged in ministry. In that day, food distribution was just as much a part of the ministry of the church as praying and teaching. They were doing ministry; they just weren’t doing the right ministry. In other words…

It’s possible to do the work of God without doing the work God has called you to do.

That should be alarming for us. Because as the church grows, it requires us to prayerfully consider questions like this:

Am I encouraging people to serve in ministry?
Am I helping people determine their gifts?
Am I empowering new leaders?
Am I a leader, or am I just in a leadership position?
Am I doing what God designed me to do?
Fortunately, the apostles decided to empower seven other leaders to take responsibility for the food distribution. That allowed the apostles to get back to focusing on prayer and the teaching of God’s Word. I guess you could say they stopped doing ministry, and encouraged others to do it instead. As a result of that, “God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too,” (Act 6:7).

People pay me to figure this out for them, but let me share this advice for free. If you’re doing all the ministry, you’re probably going to lead a small, ineffective ministry that’s not consistent with God’s plan for your life. So what are you going to do? Are you going to continue to do the work of God, or…

Are you going to do the work God called you to do?

Nothing to Prove, No One to Impress

Larry Osborne is lead pastor with North Coast Church in Vista, CA and author of Sticky Church.

Catalyst Voices - Larry Osborne on West Coast Church from Catalyst on Vimeo.

The Beauty of Christ in the Church

Blogging has been light the past few days, because the lovely Robin and I have been giving as much support as possible to our firstborn, Aubrey, and her husband Kevin, and their newborn Calleigh. They were told last Wednesday that the doctor thought it was possible Calleigh could have cystic fibrosis (based on her newborn tests), and therefore further testing was called for.

At such times, the church really reflects the beauty of Christ. Calleigh was a subject of prayer at last Friday's House of Prayer in The Loft, scores of our brothers and sisters from literally around the world have pledged their prayers, folks have reached out to Aubrey and Kevin with meals and other support, and on Sunday after our 10 a.m. celebration at Cobblestone Community Church, a time of anointed and Spirit-led prayer was held for Calleigh and her parents. It was not only a ministry to the McCane and Hostetler families but, as tends to happen at such times, it was also a testimony to some who were new to the church.

To make a long story short, Aubrey and Kevin took Calleigh to Children's Hospital in Cincinnati for a "sweat test" yesterday morning, but we learned later that day that the test was unsuccessful...Calleigh just didn't sweat enough to produce a result, one way or the other. So, yesterday afternoon, I accompanied Aubrey and Calleigh to the Children's Hospital in West Chester for blood to be taken and tested. That means, in 10-14 days, I believe we will have further and final confirmation of Calleigh's deliverance (we've already had a great many confirmations; God's hand has been all over this situation, and as a father I rejoice to see the faith, wisdom, submission, and maturity of my daughter and son-in-law).

Thanks to all who have been and still are praying, and much honor and glory to God for his gentle care during this time...through his Spirit and through his Church.

Church of the Week: Chapel of Mercy (Fairfield) Hospital, Cincinnati

I've had more than one occasion to stop in briefly at this hospital chapel, in Farifield, Ohio (a suburb of Cincinnati), for prayer...most recently on the occasion of my granddaughter Calleigh's birth the day before Thanksgiving. Mercy is a Roman Catholic hospital, so of course, the chapel is a Catholic chapel.

The private prayer bench, visible in the photo above, faces the ostensorium, the vessel that contains the host, just inches away on a small altar (behind the translucent partition).

Though I usually like to kneel in a prayer chapel, my preference in this one has been to sit in one of the seats provided.

On the whole, the chapel is far from one of my favorites. Its spare modern decor doesn't seem to show the attention to detail and conduciveness to meditation that is usually found in Catholic chapels. But, on the bright side, maybe that's why I've yet to find it occupied when I go there to pray.

Let's Forgive

Just watch. All of it. To the end.

Ministry Idolatry and Unhealthy Obsessions

I quote Perry Noble a lot on this blog. And so far, he hasn't paid me a dime! In spite of that, I just had to relay his post today, in which he once more hits the nail on the head:
One of my frustrations in church world has always been that leaders seem to always be seeking a plan rather than a person.

We want to know “how” to make things grow! We come up with cool series titles. We brainstorm how to increase attendance. We come up with strategies for success in regards to seeing the charts go up and to the right…

AND…let me be VERY CLEAR…NOTHING is wrong with the above.

NOTHING is wrong with wanting to see more people attend church!
NOTHING is wrong with wanting to teach something that is interesting, not boring.
NOTHING is wrong with having strategies and systems in place to make sure that things hit on all cylinders.

HOWEVER…before seeking a PROCESS I believe we must seek a PERSON!!! Because…only through a clearer view of Jesus will we see a clearer view of all that He desires. (By the way…I think when we seek Him He will reveal the “what” and the “how!”

I don’t really think we need a lot more INFORMATION if we are not going to allow the TRANSFORMATION of God’s Holy Spirit to IMPACT how we do ministry.

In Isaiah 6 God ROCKED Isaiah’s world…and the result was Isaiah saying, “Here am I!” Translation…when we see Jesus for WHO HE IS there isn’t a risk wer’re not willing to take in order to see HIS vision fulfilled. Before Isaiah saw “what” he was supposed to do…he saw “WHO” he was supposed to be doing it for…and that made the difference.

In Matthew 16:13-19 Peter GOT IT…He confessed Jesus Christ as Lord…and Jesus, in return, confirmed leadership and responsibility to Peter. Peter was the main speaker for the church in Acts 2. God used Peter to accomplish great things…but before Peter saw the “what” he was supposed to do…he saw “WHO” he was supposed to be doing it for…and that made the difference.

In Acts 9 we see the Apostle Paul…who already had a successful “ministry” going. He was a rising star…everyone was talking about Paul and all that he was accomplishing. It is the classic example of having a “successful” ministry without Jesus.

BUT…God had other plans for Paul, and so he knocked him off his horse and revealed Himself to him in an undeniable way. THEN…God unleashed the Apostle Paul to do ministry that literally set the world on fire!!! Before Paul saw the “what” he was supposed to do…he saw the “WHO he was supposed to be doing it for…and that made the difference.

Focusing on the “what” without the “Who” leads to ministry idolatry and unhealthy obsessions…and CAN cause us to call ourselves successful when God hasn’t done so.

Jesus should be our obsession! Jesus should be our vision…when the leaders mentioned above saw HIM, HE then showed them HOW to do what it was that He called them to do.

PLEASE don’t misunderstand me…I am NOT against having plans/strategies and such…heck, Nehemiah had it all planned out and was just waiting on the opportunity to share his vision. (But…in Nehemiah 1 it is clear that his desire to do something great was out of being broken!)

Maybe we don’t need another planning meeting…maybe we need a prayer meeting that results in the revelation of His plan!

November's Top Ten

November's most popular posts here on the Desperate Pastor blog:

1. Five Characteristics of Weak Leaders
2. Even Shepherds Need Shelter
3. Wow. Just Wow.
4. Embrace Discomfort
5. Your Pastor Wants to Quit
6. Love Was Here First
7. Advent Conspiracy
8. If You Like It Then You Better Put a Ring On It
9. Six Things A Leader Should Always Apologize For
10. Reserves

Interestingly enough, three of these pages (#5, 6, and 9) were posted in October (and #5 and 6 were on October's Top Ten), so they were still drawing page views very well this past month. And our most popular page in November was posted on November 28, so its Number One ranking is based on only three days of visits!

Neglected Apologetics

J. D. Greear posted a guest blog a couple days ago from Josh Shank today. Josh has planted a church in Youngstown, Ohio (where the lovely Robin and I ministered with The Salvation Army in 1991 and 1992). Josh mentions an often neglected apologetic, more powerful, perhaps, than all our rational arguments for the faith:
I recently had a conversation with a vocal advocate of a worldview that is diametrically opposed to Jesus and the gospel. Since I knew this person had a background in philosophy, I began to probe into his belief system with all the apologetic tools in my tool belt. To be honest, I thought I was winning the argument. I was pulling out all kinds of phrases that were making me sound rather intelligent. Nevertheless, as our discussion continued I became very frustrated at the way he could easily write off my well crafted logic. I was getting hammered, but not because he was actually answering my arguments.

After a couple of hours of talking, I began to give up and change the subject. We began discussing life. Soon the discussion landed on our church plant (Youngstown Metro Church) and our location in the city. A major part of our story is how we purchased a multi-million dollar cathedral in the city for $52,500. As the story goes, the owners of the building agreed to the amount above which made us overcome with joy. We were quickly brought down to earth when we realized that no one would loan the money outright to our fledgling church plant. After talking to several banks, we felt completely discouraged. They told us that they would approve a loan on one condition. We had to raise half the money in cash or pledges before we could proceed.

This seemed quite crazy at the time because we only had three weeks to raise the money. To be honest, I questioned whether or not we could make it. For the next two weeks we talked with our people about the special offering and collected it on the third week. We took the offering at the beginning of the gathering and at the end the offering counters gave me the paper with the final number. I was completely shocked to see how generously and sacrificially our people gave. The total given was $107,000 and a little over $70,000 was cash. It was an amazing night.

After hearing this story, the guy I was speaking with said he was blown away by the generosity of our people and that he wanted to come by and check us out. He easily blew off all of my well crafted reasoning, but he couldn’t blow off the generosity of the church. That conversation woke me up to the fact that, though well-crafted arguments have their place, a greater testimony to the gospel is the generosity of the church. Give generously. Give sacrificially. Be a light for the gospel.

Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

I learned of the book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin H. Friedman, from one of the blogs I read regularly. The blogger's recommendation was so strong, I made it one of the few new books I've bought this year.

Friedman, who draws on experience as a rabbi, organizational consultant, family therapist, and community relations specialist, looks at leadership as an emotional process, describes the dynamics that sabotage or paralyze leaders, and prescribes a solution: what he calls "well-differentiated leaders."

Weaving most of the book around Christopher Columbus and others whose leadership changed the course of European and world history, Friedman identifies four dynamics that are at the heart of the problem in contemporary America's view of leadership:
Regression, a trend in which "the most dependent members of an organization set the agendas, where adaptation is constantly toward weakness rather than strength, thus leveraging power to the recalcitrant, the passive-aggressive, and the most anxious members of an institution, rather than toward the energetic, the visionary, the imaginative, and the motivated."

Individuation, or rather the devaluation of it, "so that leaders tend to rely more on expertise than on their own capacity to be decisive."

Information, particularly an obsession with data and technique, prompting leaders to deny the realities of emotional processes in their organizations as contributors to decision-making, becoming obsessed instead with information-seeking and gathering endless data in the expectation that more information=better decisions.

Ignorance of "the relational nature of destructive processes" in organizations. This ignorance prompts leaders to assume "that toxic forces can be regulated through reasonableness, love, insight, role-modeling, inculcation of values, and striving for consensus. It prevents them from taking the kind of stands that set limits to the invasiveness of those who lack self-regulation."
What this situation calls for, Friedman argues, is a "well-differentiated leader"--that is, "someone who has clarity about his or her life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about....who can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence....who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing."

While far from the most riveting book I've read this year, Friedman's perspective is refreshing and stimulating. It is especially crucial reading for pastors, who probably as much or more than any leaders as a group, tend to reflect all four of those dynamics in our leadership. And, while I could wish that a rabbi would have drawn at least occasional parallels to Moses and Samuel and Nathan and other Biblical examples, those standards are at times easy to see in his portrait of a well-differentiated leader.