Monday, January 16, 2012

Victory over the Demonic

Victory Over the Demonic

Matthew 8:28-34

When Harrison Ford was thrown into a pit full of venomous snakes in a Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, I almost had to turn it off. For me, that has to be listed among the ultimate horrors. I heard a true story about someone falling out of a boat into the middle of a gang of water moccasins. The fury of the snakes churned the water. There was no hope for survival. The anger of the snakes and the poison of their venom is horrifying.

I imagine the fury of the demons taking residence in the two men in Matthew 8 to be something like that. The Bible describes them as so violent that no one wanted to pass their direction. And when Jesus did, they ran out to oppose him.

“‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’” they shouted. ‘Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?’” (v.29) There is a time appointed for their eventual destruction, and they seem to know that. That time will be when God brings his kingdom in power and destroys all evil. What bothers them is that Jesus has come now, before they perceive the end time to be here.

The demons seem to assume that until the end of time when they will be subdued, they have free reign to wreck havoc and destruction. Thomas Long wrote, “They mistakenly believe that, until that last day, they have unfettered license to wreck destruction. They can torment as many souls as they can inhabit, wreck as many institutions as they can infiltrate, cause as much pain and sorry as they can imagine.” (Matthew, 97)

How surprised they are that Jesus shows up before the expected time. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. They didn’t just ask. They shouted. They are in rebellion. They are disrespectful. They recognize Jesus as the Son of God, but they don’t honor him for it. They yell at him. Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs who rush into the water and drown. The shocked pig herders run into town and report what Jesus has done to the pigs and the demon-possessed men. The towns people come out to get a look for themselves, and then they ask Jesus to leave.

Three things stand out in this story as particularly significant. One, very little detail is spent on the demon-possessed men. Mark describes only one demon-possessed man, but explains how he used to cut himself and break the chains that had been used to bind him. He was a crazy man totally out of control. He had no peace. But after the demons were cast out, the man was calm, he got dressed, and he conversed calmly with Jesus (Mark 5). No such details are given in this story about the men. The focus is not on what Jesus can do for them or us. The focus is on the incredible power of Jesus to conquer even demonic forces.

Two, the story shows Jesus power over the dark realms. We have seen Jesus’ miraculous power at work all through this chapter. He heals a man with leprosy, so he has power over physical ailments. He heals bodies. Secondly, he healed the servant of centurion, showing his interest in and concern for those outside of Israel. Next, he healed Peter’s mother-in-law and a host of others who came to him for care. After the healings, Jesus’ miraculous powers are turned upon nature when he stills the watery tempest. Then, lest anyone think the span of Jesus authority and power has been exhausted, he shows his complete mastery over the demonic. He casts out the innumerable demons.

Three, the people of the region reject Jesus. They don’t really even know who he is. This is Gentile territory so there is no way they can really know him. But, even in Israel the people are uncertain about Jesus. Interestingly, the evil spirits know who Jesus is! The Son of God! The identity of Jesus was revealed first by demonic forces. But, sadly, instead of getting to know Christ, the people cast him out. “Like many communities before and since, this town prefers the demons they know to the power of God they do not know.” (Long, Matthew, 98)

Four, the time of God’s defeat of evil is NOW! The Kingdom of God has already been revealed in power. We can take comfort and confidence in knowing that the kingdom is with us already.

Warren Baldwin

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I Know the Plans I Have For You

I Know the Plans I Have For You
Jeremiah 29:11

Here are some actual headlines I read on Friday, December 29, 2011:

A Controversial Year: Health Issues in 2011: Concerns over PSA screenings, mammograms, multivitamins, birth control & much more.

The 10 Dirtiest Foods You're Eating.

N. Korea: No changes to come.

Man, 99, Divorces Wife of 77 Years.

2011 scandals: Phone hacking, lewd photo tweets & celebrity meltdowns top the list of 2011 scandals

Sears lists the stores it will close: Here are the 79 locations the company plans to shutter, with more likely to be announced.

Stocks off to weak start on year’s final trading session: Fitch slashes Sear’s credit rating. Oil declines, while gold surges.

The article about scandals revisited some of the horrid scenes we witnessed this year in the lives of some prominent people. Among them were Representative Anthony Weaver with his texting of improper pictures, Jerry Sandusky of Penn State with his abuse of authority over teenagers, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF and his abusive treatment of women.

This is some cap to the wonderful Christmas season we just celebrated, isn’t it? During the Christmas season we talked a lot about, or at least heard a lot of talk about, peace, joy, happiness, new life. Then we have to read the news.

You know, I’m not surprised that some people don’t read the news! Spending an hour or two reading these kinds of articles doesn’t set you up for an energized day!

Why read them? I was actually reading them for this sermon. My key text is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Can you think of a verse that excites more hope? A verse that promises more happiness? A verse that energizes our spirits more? “I have plans to prosper you,” God promises.

That is a popular verse in America. On Facebook, on blogs, in religious articles, you will see this verse a lot. It helps us forget the problems we have as a nation. As a church. As individuals. I want to turn the news off and this verse on. I want to forget there is a financial crisis. Cancer. Car wrecks. I want to think about being prospe
red. I want to be happy. I want to retire young, live long, and die in my sleep. I love this verse.

But, in preparation for this lesson, I read Jeremiah 29:11 in context. Context means you read the verses before and after it. Here is what I found: God’s promise to prosper Israel occurred in a context of pain, abandonment and deeper sorrow than I ever want to swim in.

Here is the story in 3 short briefs:
1) Israel prospered
2) Israel got real proud
3) Israel got thumped by God.

Being thumped by God meant she was conquered by the Babylonians and carted off to a foreign country. This was actually a process that took place over several years. Some Israelites were carted off in 597 B.C. The rest were carted off in 587 B.C. It took several trips to get all the Israelites from Israel to Babylon.

This, verse was likely written in 594 B.C. That means, it was written after Israel was conquered by a foreign nation, and when some of the Israelites were in captivity, and others were about to go. Did you catch that? Jeremiah 29:11 was written during a ten year period of crisis for Israel.

Look at some verses. Jeremiah 29:1 provides the setting: “This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

We know it is about exile. About shattered hopes and dashed dreams. Babylon came across the desert, conquered Israel and carried the Israelites back to Babylon. The Israelites were held in captivity for about 70 years. When Jeremiah 29:11 was proclaimed, some of the people were already there, and in a few years even more would be there.

I read some grim news stories from American newspapers. What if we could see some news headlines from Israel in 594 B.C.? This is what we might read in the Jerusalem Times.

Israelites in Babylon hoping to be Home Soon. Will they be disappointed?

Prophets say: “Israelites to come home.” Jeremiah counters with: “Not so soon. More are going!”

God Voices Displeasure With Our Country.

Priests Make Further Departures from the Law.

King Forgets his Vows. Harem Grows with Three more Girls.

Jeremiah Threatens: Economic Condition Looks Bleak. Babylon to take all our gold.

How would you encourage a faithful Israelite in those days? They were hoping doom wouldn’t come, but it did, in the form of the enemy. It was God’s punishment. God offered hope by saying, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That promise is followed with another promise in v.14: “I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

In the context of exile and promise God gives the Israelites three charges:
1) Do not despair. In verses 5 & 6 he says, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there (Babylon); do not decrease.”

2) Seek the welfare of the environment in which you live. Verse 7 says, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

3) Call upon the Lord. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.” (Verses 13-14).

This gives me hope! As bad as our news headlines are, they aren’t nearly as grim as that of the Jerusalem times. So I can have even more confidence to not despair, seek the welfare of the environment in which I live, and seek the Lord.

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

America's Religious Heritage #2

America’s Religious Heritage #2

I mentioned yesterday that America is losing awareness of its religious heritage. That is a shame, because the Christian faith has played an incredibly important part of our founding and our development as a people. Through every step of America’s progress, Christian faith has been right there, providing guidance and sustenance.

A second reason it is a shame is because our religious history is so interesting, even a bit humorous at times.

George Whitefield was a British actor who became a preacher. He followed the great British preacher, John Wesley, to Georgia where he started an orphanage. Whitefiled then returned to England to preach and raise money for the children back in Georgia. His sermons spoke of the “new birth,” emphasizing the necessity of a religious conversion. Other ministers and churches banned him, so he preached in open fields. (Liberty, Equality, Power, 106)

In 1739 Whitefield returned to America where thousands heard him preach. Preached in Philadephia, NYC, Chesapeake colonies, SC. Benjamin Franklin went out to hear him in Philadelphia, intrigued by what he heard about Whitefield’s booming voice. He was impressed, and estimated that Whitefield’s voice was so powerful an audience 30,000 could hear him. In 1740 he toured New England. Whitefield drew upon his acting skills, imitating Christ on the cross. He was so effective t hat when he shed tears for sinners, his audience wept with him. When he condemned sinners in the audience, they fell to the ground in agony.

Other preachers tried to follow Whitefield’s style. A South Carolina preacher named Hugh Bryan began preaching to his slaves. In 1742 he declared slavery a sin. He also proclaimed himself a modern Moses and tried to part the Savannah River to lead the slaves to freedom in Georgia. Unfortunately there was some kind of mishap and Moses, I mean, Hugh Bryan, almost drowned. He later confessed he had been deluded. Due to some over-the-top performances like this Evangelicalism was discredited in the south for years, but it took root among African Americans.

Another notable preacher of the 18 century was Gilbert Tennent. Gilbert practiced a “Holy Laughter,” apparently mimicking what he imagined to be the laughter of God at sinners stumbling into hell. In imitation of John the Baptist he grew his hair long and wore a long robe and sandals. He also declared himself the new John the Baptist.

James Davenport, a successor to Gilbert Tennet, would act out a wrestling scenario with Satan. Davenport would wrestle Satan back into hell. He started an outdoor school to train ministers, encouraged book burning, and once threw his pants into the fire, declaring them a mark of vanity. They may have been, but the perception of the times is they were also a mark of modesty, and the lack of them was considered immodesty. Davenport was arrested and declared insane. He later repented. (Liberty, Equality, Power, 107)

These are some of the sensational stories of our religious past, and maybe some we are not so proud of. That’s ok. I’m sure we all also have some eccentric aunts or uncles in our family tree, but we recognize they are still part of who and what we are.

Some of our early preachers may be like those aunts or uncles, but they still factor in our tree. Their attempts to preach the Gospel as they understood it at the time convicted thousands of listeners and kept America on the high moral road. We can be comfortable acknowledging them. And we can pray that God will continue to send us men and women who are equally committed to preaching the Gospel forcefully and energetically in our time.

Warren Baldwin

Friday, October 28, 2011

America's Religious Heritage #1

America’s Religious Heritage #1

Passing from the public consciousness is America’s religious heritage. That is a shame, for a couple of reasons. One, Americans should be aware that the Christian faith has played an incredibly important part of our founding and our development as a people. Through every step of America’s progress, Christian faith has been there, providing guidance and sustenance.

For example, the 1730s to1740s was a time of great revival in the Protestant world, on this side of the Atlantic and the other side as well. England, Scotland, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic colonies were all experiencing spiritual renewal.

One of the earliest revivals took place among the Dutch immigrants in New Jersey. Guiliam Bertholf, was a farmer, barrel maker, and a lay reader in his church. He felt the call and took up preaching, winning many followers to Christ. (Liberty, Equality, Power, 105)

William Tennent, Sr. was a Presbyterian minister. Seeing the need for more evangelists trained with a revival mind set, he established a school in Pennsylvania. It became known as the “Log College,” and it was dedicated to training evangelical ministers.

Evangelical in this context refers to “A style of Christian ministry that includes much zeal and enthusiasm. Evangelical ministers emphasized personal conversion and faith rather than religious ritual.” (Liberty, Equality, Power, 106). Tennent sent his trained ministers to other congregations, even other presbyteries. But, this angered the Synod, the governing body of the Presbyterian church. Most of their ministers emphasized orthodoxy, that is, correct practice and ritual, over personal conversion experience. Tennent emphasized just the opposite, causing considerable friction.

In 1740 Gilbert Tennent, William’s son, preached a sermon entitled, The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry. Gilbert denounced those preachers who emphasize ritual over conversion and piety. He accused such preachers of leading their listeners to hell. His attack led to the church splitting, and Gilbert started his own Synod of New York.

In New England Solomon Stoddard led six revivals between 1670 and 1729. Stoddard was the grandfather of the great revival preacher, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards kicked off a revival in 1734 that electrified Connecticut. His sermon, “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God” (1737) described a revival as an emotional response to God’s Word that brought sudden conversions to dozens of people. His most famous sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In his “Sinners” sermon, Edwards described in vivid detail the awful destiny of the unconverted who refused to follow God. He described their fate much like that of a spider that is caught by a little boy, tied to a string and held menacingly over the flames. Such a cruel fate awaited those who refused God’s goodness and mercy.

Jonathan Edwards was reportedly near sighted and had to hold his manuscript close to his face. He couldn’t look his audience in the eye and establish rapport with them. He stood and read, with his face covered by the pages of his notes. Yet, so vivid were his descriptions and so compelling was his message, that audience members reportedly screamed and fell to the floor. Edwards sparked a religious movement that swept New England and went to other parts of the Colonies.

A great result of his work is countless numbers of people were made to reassess their lives in light of the Gospel.

Jonathan Edwards and these other early preachers in our history helped to form and shape the moral conscience of America, something we might benefit from even today.

Warren Baldwin

Friday, September 9, 2011

Producing Positive Change

Producing Positive Change

In Appreciative Inquiry Mark Lau Branson says health and dysfunction live side-by-side in every system. We want health to prevail, but it doesn’t always. Sometimes negative attitudes and behaviors overwhelm the positive, and a spirit of doubt, suspicion, and anger prevails.

Branson says it is possible for a church to get back on a more positive course, and how it is done has to do with how an organization perceives itself. It’s self-perception is it’s sense of how things are and how they are supposed to be, it’s reality. Branson mentions ten factors that influence how the members of a system create it’s sense of reality. I’ll discuss three here.

One, what we focus on becomes our reality. The standard approach to solving difficulties and to promoting growth and change in most systems is problem solving. The trouble with this approach is we focus on problems. We identify them, study them, and contemplate solutions for them. During all this time we are focusing on the problems, granting them our time and energies and thus, by default, making them the object of our focus.

This can be seen in someone in a system (business, church or family) becoming unhappy with the leadership or an activity. They talk to other members of the system about it, making it an issue for them. News of the dissatisfaction spreads through the system, eventually reaching the leadership. Management meets to discuss the dissatisfaction and related problems issuing from the original one, namely, gossip and its negative consequences, spreading discontent, loss of respect for leadership, and the rising popularity of the one who started the whole process. The focus of the entire company is now concentrated on the problem and “problem” personality, elevating the dysfunction of the organization to the level of reality.

The second factor is related to the first one: our language becomes our reality. Our words and speech express what we are focusing on. If our focus is on problems, our speech will give expression to our thoughts. Without intending to, without even being aware of the dynamic, our language continues to feed the perception that the overriding issue in our system is burgeoning problems. And problems continue to compound.

Leadership now feels the pressure of member dissatisfaction and growing negativism in the system. Meetings are characterized by stress over the problems and the press of needing to find solutions. Anxiety overwhelms everyone present. Without a doubt, the focus and language of this group is creating their sense of reality: problems.

Another factor is that organizations are heliotropic. Heliotropic is a botanical term referring to a plant’s inclination to grow toward the sun, it’s energy source. People in groups are the same way. They gravitate toward whoever or whatever produces heat or energy. A disgruntled member of the system who is actively promoting discontent is a definite source of energy. It doesn’t matter if the energy he is producing is negative, unproductive, unethical or even wrong. The fact that he is generating heat means he is going to get attention, and his behavior will help shape the sense of reality for the organization. Everyone, both those in his corner and those who oppose his opinions and behavior, can all become consumed by the negativism of this person.

By the time leadership can begin to address the initial complaint, a pessimistic undercurrent has permeated the whole group. Suspicions soar. Everyone becomes judgmental and edgy. Small groups develop in opposition to each other. Workers are discouraged. This is not a healthy environment. But it is the reality.

A biblical example of this problem occurring in the spiritual community can be seen in the wilderness wanderings of Israel, where complaints against God’s provisions and Mosaic leadership resulted in the rebellion led by Korah, Dothan and Abiram. By the time the festering wound of complaint became public, these men led a contingent of 250 people against Moses. (Numbers 16).

The same factors that produce a toxic atmosphere in a family, church or business where members are unhappy and critical can also produce a healthy environment. The leaders cannot allow the current negative spirit to determine the organizational reality. They must rise above the current spirit, envision something more beneficial, and use focus and language positively, allowing these heliotropic factors to produce the new sense of reality they desire.

First, the leaders must refocus the attention of the members from the negative to the positive, from dysfunction to health. This can often be accomplished by using a system called “Appreciative Inquiry,” that is, a series of questions leaders ask of members that draws out their image of when and how the organization was operating at its best. “What are your best memories of this organization? Who was involved? What did we do? How did we do it? What were the feelings and the emotions of everyone involved? Just the asking of the questions may be enough to alter the focus of the people from the negative to the positive and cause them to start imagining a more congenial working environment again.

Next, the language of the leadership must reflect the positive focus they are trying to instill. To dream of a more positive environment but continuing to use defeating speech (talking about all the things that are wrong) is counterproductive. Leaders must speak of the desired outcome as if it is a current reality.

If leaders of a church ask members about a time they remember the body functioning well, and they hear talk about mission emphasis and youth devotionals encouraging faith, they might do well to think about reviving these activities. Members who recall these past functions might even be involved in the planning and reorganizing of them. The organizational stage will be a time for continued positive recall and discussion, allowing language to continue the healthy focus. Newer and younger members also involved in the planning will ‘catch’ the rebirth of the positive feelings. Announcements can continue to use language to promote a healthy atmosphere.

The combination of focus and language will hopefully (prayerfully!) promote a heliotropic response, with people leaning toward the source of energy. If the negative energy (grumbling, complaining, criticism) is replaced with something healthier (positive recall, working together toward a common goal, wider member participation and planning), members will be drawn toward that energy, and will get caught up in that spirit.

Jesus used such focus and language to create the reality he desired for his followers. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. (You are) a city on a hill. Let your light shine before men” (Matthew 5:13-16). Such powerful metaphors redirected the theological and social expectations of fishermen, tax collectors and other ordinary men to envision and actually produce a spiritual revolution. The power source they produced by their commitment to Jesus and submission to the Holy Spirit shook the earth with new hope, possibility and reality, the aftershock of which is still felt today in all of us who confess, “Jesus is Lord.”

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Six Leadership Functions for Ministers/Church Leaders

Six Leadership Functions

According to Israel Galindo (in The Hidden Lives of Congregations), there are six leadership functions of a minister or pastor. These functions may play out differently in a church where there is a strong pastoral leader than in a congregation that has a minister serving under an eldership.

The first function is providing vision. Vision is the sense of purpose a congregation has for it’s existence and function. “Vision is a blueprint of a desired future state ... an image of that state of being and living that the congregation will work to achieve in the future” (140). Vision is developed after a congregation has a sense of its identity, meaning it knows what it believes and stands for, has a sense of values, and honors it’s past (144). When a church clearly knows who and what it is, it then has the understanding of itself to pursue it’s vision and fulfill it’s mission. Mission is what God wants all churches and Christians to pursue: preaching, teaching, and ministering to the hurts of the community. Vision is the direction of a congregation to fulfill that mission in a manner uniquely suited to its identity and make-up. Is the congregation an inner city church with a large homeless population? Then that congregation’s vision might be to focus its greatest energies and resources in ministering in Jesus’ name to that segment of the population. Is the congregation a rural or small town church with a number of teen pregnancies in it’s community, but little or no resources to assist them? Then the vision of that church might be to function in Jesus’ name by focusing attention, maternal and paternal mentoring, care and financial resources to those teenage boys and girls about to become parents. The mission of every church is to minister in Jesus’ name; the vision of each church is to decide, based upon it’s identity, nature and abilities, how to best fulfill that mission. One function of the minister is to study his congregation and community and help identify a clear and compelling vision for ministry.

Managing crisis is a second important function for a minister. Crisis is created by change that lacks purpose or focus and thus “introduces disequilibrium, uncertainty, and makes day-today life chaotic and unpredictable” (150). Changes in leadership, the perceived direction of the church, or corporate structures and functions, such as worship, can all create this disequilibrium for the members, especially if they cannot discern a purpose for it. They feel “threatened and out of control” because the personalities, processes and structures that have provided their spiritual security are gone (150). When disequilibrium or systemic anxiety hits a church, the following responses, as identified by Rabbi Edwin Friedman, can be discerned. One, reaction. Members may be scared, frustrated, angry, or nervous, all indicative of chaos. Two, blame-casting. No one immediately assumes they are responsible for the confusion, so they look to others to lay the blame on. Leaders become primary targets and, if they initiated the changes, they may be legitimate targets. Three, herding. People of like mind begin to group together, finding equilibrium and comfort in solidarity. Grouping together means there is an “us versus them” mentality and should signal to the leaders that there is a real problem in the congregational unity. Four, a demand for a quick fix. The inner turmoil caused by the chaos can become unbearable, and the sufferers demand an immediate remedy. It may be going back to an old practice, firing a staff member or insisting on the resignation of an elder or other congregational leader. At this point, the leaders can experience what Friedman calls failure of nerve. A failure of nerve is when the minster or leaders get caught up in the anxiety of the system and become part of the chaos by giving in to unrealistic demands or by participating in any of the members’ chaotic behaviors (reacting, blaming, herding or seeking a quick fix; Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 54-55). Leaders must stay engaged and continue to function with the aim of helping to regulate the system (discussed in #3 below).

Thirdly, ministers exercise leadership by staying connected. This is especially critical during periods of conflict and upheaval. The best response of the leadership is to remain differentiated from (calm and above the chaos of) the members while at the same time staying connected to (visiting with and listening closely to) them (152). The calmness of the leaders allows the members to know leadership is still in place, and remaining emotionally engaged and connected with them helps regulate the anxiety. The tendency of leaders to “hunker down and fly under the radar”(151) during crisis and conflict to avoid attacks opens the door for greater systemic dysfunction and for others to vie for positions of power and influence. It is my experience that some people intentionally incite conflict in a family, business or church to disorient the leadership and open the way for the initiator to step in and begin to function as the leader, as invariably happens if the existing leadership is disengaged from the members of the system. Not all conflict is started purposely by someone to wrest control for himself; it is often the result of changes leadership tries to make for the health of the congregation, or changes that are inevitable, such as the aging or passing of older leaders. Whatever the cause of the crisis and chaos, effective visionary leadership means the minister (and elders) remain engaged. Leaders must understand that “effectiveness depends more on relationships (with the members) than on official status or in the office they hold” (152). Remaining connected means listening to the members to understand their perspectives, showing concern, and challenging them to responsible behavior (152).
Fourthly, ministers function as the resident theologian of the congregation. Without a strong orientation to scripture and what it teaches for the life of Christians and the church, many members will base decisions and actions on expediency. It is particularly important during times of crisis for theology (biblical teaching) to inform peoples’ viewpoints and behavior, since during chaotic times people are more prone to act out of intense emotions than reasoned and biblical thinking. Congregational peace can be sacrificed to a desire by competing sides to win. To challenge leaders to thinking more theologically, Galindo asks them how theology informs their decisions. He finds that even many ministers make church decisions based more on expediency than theology. One role of the resident theologian is to help people fit their story into God’s story. How does the life of the congregation and individual members fit into God’s ongoing story of redemption for his people? Most people don’t think in those terms: it is the theologian’s job to train them to. All of our lives must be interpreted in light of the Gospel and God’s claim upon us. Ministers continue the ancient biblical narrative into the life of the congregation by use of: 1) speech (terms for our redemption and relationship); 2) themes (key ideas, doctrines and dreams); 3) conflict (helping the congregation interpret and process fears, tensions and challenges); 4) rituals (worship, meals, and a sense of belonging) and 5) issues and stories of belonging (what it means to be part of this community) (156).

A fifth function of ministers or leaders is management. Some understand leadership to be relational (connected to and leading people) and others for leadership to be the management of an organization (“through process, procedures, organization, and the control of resources,” 158). Both approaches are actually necessary. To be a successful leader/manager, a minister must understand the congregation’s purpose, and have a vision to achieve it’s mission. In smaller churches, leadership/management is more relational than administrative. “Relationship management means being attuned to people’s emotions, and practicing influence with a purpose in order to move people in the right direction” (159). This requires being emotionally connected to and involved with the congregation.

The sixth and final leadership function according to Galindo is influence. More critical than any skill or ability is for the church leader to earn the trust of the congregation and thus be able to exercise influence. Leadership means influencing others in a way that “believers will trust and respond to the Head of the church for themselves, in order to accomplish the Lord’s purposes for God’s people in the world” (Galindo, 160; Stevens and Collins, The Equipping Pastor, 109). Influence in Christian circles is not charisma, manipulation or personal power; it is the proper exercise of positional and personal leadership within the church. If one is granted a position of leadership within the body (minister, elder, deacon, teacher, etc.), he or she has a degree of positional leadership. Personal leadership is relational: “influence is the result of the leaders ability to stay connected in significant relationships with the members” (160). The aim and direction of the minister’s leadership is to influence the people to live out God’s claim on their lives, submitting to his will, obeying, and engaging in mission to lost and needy souls.

These six leadership functions identified by Israel Galindo are a huge challenge for today’s minister or elders. Most of today’s ministers were trained to work within the church culture, meeting the needs of the members. Because of changing church and cultural circumstances, many churches today are in serious decline, and congregations are anxious about their church dying. It is imperative that ministers, elders, and other church leaders realize that ministry within the church is never to be an end in itself, but it is to prepare the people to engage the world with the Gospel (Eph. 2:10; 4:11-13). Leaders must exercise their influence to lead members out of the comfort and safety of the closed church environment out into the world where ministry must be done today. Kennon L. Callahan wrote, “The day of the churched culture is over. The day of the mission field has come” (Effective Church Leadership, 13). Galindo’s six points can help ministers and elders navigate the changes that will be necessary to posture the church for the future, by moving it from an inward to an outward focus.

Warren Baldwin
August 31, 2011

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Three-Legged Stool of Spiritual Growth

Three-Legged Stool of a Spiritual Life

You’ll never sit on a three-legged stool that wobbles. If the legs are disproportionate lengths you may sit a little sideways, but you will still sit securely. A four-legged stool might wobble on you, though, because if one leg is short, it won’t touch the floor until you lean that way. Then, as you shift your weight and the stool leans with you, you may fall right off the seat. A three-legged stool is more secure because all three legs will reach the floor.

A vibrant spiritual life rests on a three-legged stool of spiritual disciplines. Roy Oswald and Barry Johnson describe such a stool in their book, Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys for Thriving Faith Communities. A healthy spiritual life needs an environment that encourages people to pursue faith through asking questions about God, encountering people of compassion who manifest the fruit of the spirit in their lives, and who are taught about submission and obedience to Jesus (55-56). In such an environment, such a church, people can practice the three-legged stool disciplines and grow in the grace and mercy of the savior.

The first leg of the stool is home rituals. Such rituals would include praying in various occasions, such as at meals, for family and friends who are sick, and in private. They would also include observing seasonal religious dates, such as Christmas, and being free to discuss biblical issues around the dinner table. Such discussions would not be negative, as in criticizing the theological views of other people at church, but would be positive discussions of biblical texts, possible interpretations, and applying God’s truths to our lives.

The second leg is membership and active participation in a small group. The function of the small group is to study and discuss biblical issues, pray, and share faith stories. Faith stories are simply the experiences of people that have impacted their faith and their life journey in someway. They may share about the death of a loved one and the hole they still feel in their life; an abusive situation that leaves them suspicious and distrustful of everyone; or a school teacher that loved them through that difficult time and planted the seeds of faith that are just now beginning to sprout, and has them in this small group. Members of this group will need to be open, loving and non-judgmental to give the seeker plenty of room to question, experience love, and grow.

Corporate worship is the third leg of a healthy spiritual life. People of all ages, theological perspectives and faith development will be able to function together in a church if they can “come together to worship God, united in their common offering of praise and thanksgiving” (57). Participation in the Lord’s Supper is the chief symbol of their unity together. (Discussion of these three legs is found on page 57).

Too often churches rely on only the third leg, corporate worship, to develop the faith and spiritual vitality of young Christians. That is only one-third of what a new believer needs to root him in deeply. Some of them may attend Bible classes, but if the function of the class is primarily to teach and not share faith stories, younger Christians may not feel comfortable being vulnerable about their past. Or, if they do share sensitive and embarrassing episodes from their history, members of the class who may not be as open and accepting might offer judgment in response to what is shared rather than the affirmation and support the new Christian so desperately needs. Or, if the class discussion turns heated, sensitive new members may decline to attend in the future. I saw a newly baptized Christian quit church after attending his first Bible class, a class where a heated discussion erupted over a question of church management of money. “If that is what following Christ is about, I don’t need it,” he said as he walked away, never to return.

Churches can’t make anyone participate in these three activities, but they can teach about the importance of faithful involvement. They can also offer basic training in home devotionals and small group leadership. The goal of this three-legged stool is to encourage the faith and growth of everyone in the orbit of the church, from the seeker just beginning to explore faith, to the mature Christian still seeking to grow in the grace and favor of God.

Warren Baldwin