February 2018 E-news from the Siburt Institute

Courageous leadership begins with me

We all want the best for the congregations, communities and organizations we serve. However, we may not often reflect deeply about how our own self-awareness plays a crucial role in the capacity to lead in our various settings. In a newly released book, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, Dr. Nancy Koehn, Harvard Business School historian, offers a fascinating exploration of how a leader’s internal life shapes the leader’s external action and influence.1

Koehn’s book unfolds simply. She tells the story of five remarkable persons who faced challenging contexts and found ways to exert meaningful leadership. The stories of Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rachel Carson create a rich backdrop to draw the lines and shapes characterizing the inner life of leaders. These stories offer an impressive set of dynamics for those of us who desire to be faithful to God and to our true selves in the practice of leadership.

Although the five persons whom Koehn studied were very different and possessed distinct missions, she traces common characteristics among her subjects. Each person was quite human; they had experienced great pain in life, yet still led through their humanity. They were curious people who sought to understand what was happening around them. They experienced failure and great disappointment.

Each person Koehn chronicles had great ambition, yet their ambition grew to serve some larger mission in the world. All of them were willing to work on themselves and eagerly sought out opportunities to learn and grow. They were committed to remaining emotionally aware of themselves and of others. They assessed their own feelings and insights into what was happening around them, and they used their insights to bring about constructive change within their sphere of influence.

In particular, Koehn notes three perspectives common to these leaders:

  1. Each of them utilized and valued solitude and reflection. They recognized the need to slow down and to refrain from reactionary responses – to the point of being content to do nothing at all for a time.
  2. Each of them committed to a deep and worthy goal much bigger than themselves. The mission was big, but the path to that goal was flexible. They demonstrated adaptability in accomplishing their mission.
  3. Each of them demonstrated great resilience. Each faced crisis and calamity, but those seasons created opportunity for personal growth and learning. Bonhoeffer would call such places “boundary situations.” It is often in those times that personal and spiritual growth can best occur!

I commend Koehn’s book – it’s amazing to see a secular leadership book speak so overtly about Christian faith and commitment, especially as it plays out in Bonhoeffer’s story. My hope for you is to find time and space this week to reflect on your own journey of leadership. How are you learning and growing? How big is your mission and task in life? And how are you moving forward in and through your own very human struggles?

Blessings,
Carson


1. Nancy Koehn, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times (Scribner, 2017).

NEWS

Looney, Bouchelle author informative book on cross-cultural ministry

In their recently published book, Mosaic: A Ministry Handbook for a Globalizing World, ACU alumni Jared Looney (’96) and Seth Bouchelle (’13) draw on life experiences to provide practical wisdom for navigating the issues of cross-cultural ministry and evangelism. Looney and Bouchelle, both part of the Global City Mission Initiative, merge practice and theology to provide an insightful guide for church leaders wishing to reach out to multiethnic communities and ethnic enclaves in North American cities. Bouchelle also hosts the Global City Mission Podcast.

Hospitality Ministry: As Old as Pentecost

In a recent CHARIS article, Eric Gentry (’09 M.Div.) stresses the importance of helping guests at our churches feel welcome, drawing inspiration from the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost. Though Gentry acknowledges that it can be a hassle to arrange for people to serve as greeters, ushers and coffee makers, he reminds us how vital it is to have people visible and intentionally striving to “speak visitors’ language” and help them feel at home. Eric ministers at the Highland Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee.

Early bird registration deadline for ElderLink Dallas

ElderLink Dallas is coming up on Saturday, March 3. We hope you’ll join us as we spend the day with Reggie McNeal, who brings extensive experience in congregational leadership, coaching and consulting church leaders. This is a great opportunity for you and your leadership team to focus on kingdom leadership, learning how to missionally impact your community and the world. Check out our registration and event page for more details and to register. We hope we’ll see you and your leadership team at the North Davis Church of Christ!

2018 Ministers’ Salary Survey underway

You may already have received an invitation to take the 2018 Ministers’ Salary Survey. To those who have completed the survey and/or forwarded it to ministers in Churches of Christ, thank you! If you are planning to participate, please complete the survey between now and March 5. The survey is not long, and the secure link protects your privacy by avoiding the need for your email address or other identifying information. Results will be published on our website by May 1.

Summit 2018 Discipleship Pathway hosted by McKinney, Pickett

This year, we are restructuring Summit classes into 12 unique Pathways, all-day tracks serving as focused mini-conferences within Summit. The Discipleship Pathway at Summit will center on the book of Ephesians, exploring how to find wholeness through discipleship, in ourselves and in our communities. In our brokenness, we need others to come alongside us and encourage us. Join us to explore ways in which to grow into spiritual maturity as disciples of Jesus Christ, in every way, into the fullness and wholeness of God.

Your hosts for this Pathway are Dr. Phil McKinney (left) of Fairfax (Virginia) Church of Christ and Dr. Ben Pickett (’13 D.Min.) (right) of Highland Church of Christ (Abilene, Texas). They have invited Dr. Shannon McAlister of Fordham University and Dr. Jackie (Straker ’87 M.M.F.T.) Halstead of Abilene Christian University to present in this Pathway with them.

We hope to see you in September for the 112th annual Summit!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

“The top question of the day for American churches is not whether we are right, rational, or biblically accurate, whether we have a progressive worship service on Sunday or whether we are on the cutting edge in our particular tribe. The top question for the church is, ‘Do we understand who God is and the way he understands worship?’ More than the songs we sing, our very lives are worship.” – Joshua Graves, The Feast: How to Serve Jesus in a Famished World

“Church leaders sometimes think of themselves primarily as problem solvers. Solving other people’s problems provides an undeniable sense of usefulness and even power … Defining pastoral relationships in terms of “fixing” others leaves the door open for abuses of relational power. It is one thing to work with people, still another thing to work on them.” – Dr. Mark Love, “The Care of Souls: Pastoral Prayer,” in Like a Shepherd Lead Us: Guidance for the Gentle Art of Pastoring (Dr. David Fleer and Dr. Charles Siburt, Editors)

When you have a Love-Hate relationship with “The” church

It’s been nearly seven years since I’ve preached in a church of Christ.  And on certain nights I lose sleep, suffering through the nightmares that occasionally haunt me as scenes play out from old elder’s meetings, and the negativity cranky members spewed out.  So, I’m really not sure why I still engage in conversations surrounding the churches of Christ, in person or on social media.

While I was saved worshiping in a mainline church of Christ, and I preached for about 15 years in churches of Christ, presently I’m preaching in a “non denominational” congregation.  It seems weird, nearly sacrilegious, saying I have a love-hate relationship with the C of C, but that sums it up for me.  

I love many of the people and the core ideals that are foundational to the acappella branch of the Restoration Movement, but I’m emotionally exhausted and repulsed by the latent legalism and judgmentalism that is corroding her.  It seems like I can’t shake off my past completely, since apparently I still care.  

Someone recently asked me in a Facebook thread after I pointed out Paul’s practices, why the “brethren” in the C of C ignore Paul’s continued ties to his judaistic roots as Luke records in the book of Acts, and it struck me, if you pull one thread too much, the whole fabric unravels.  In other words, if we accept that Paul worshiped with instruments (thus offering an “example or inference” of New Testament believers worshiping with instrumental music), then maybe we are wrong about our acappella stance, and if we are wrong about that, what else might we have been mistaken about?  It’s too scary to even contemplate for some.  

No matter how firm the foundation is, a house of cards is doomed to failure.  The fragile-faith of many of the well-intending but ever so fearful members of the C of C is the crux of the issue.  If one gray area can hold complete sway over us, then we are in trouble.  There I go, using “we” when most of the folks I know wouldn’t consider me as part of the fold, based on my understanding of the non-essentials.  

It’s unhealthy to claim “who’s in and who’s out” because of doctrines that are argued mainly through the silence of the Bible on those topics.  To come back from the brink, it’s time to reassess how “we” will deal with gray issues.  Simply quoting, “In the essentials unity, the non-essentials liberty, and in all things love” isn’t enough and it has to become more than a platitude, if people are going to grow and mature.   

Jesus didn’t say all men would know we were His disciples, if only we would understood every doctrine correctly.  He said love was the ultimate testimony.  Therefore a good starting point in interpreting and applying the Bible would be to focus on developing love, instead of attempting to prove we are the only ones who are right.  Love is the only way to build on the firm foundation.  

A Call to Worship in the Face of Fear

I drove my seventeen year old to school the other morning. I haven’t been able to do that since she got her driver’s license so it was a nice reminder of how life used to be. About a mile from the school we saw the banners reminding us that going to school is not a casual event for us anymore. It’s a blessing we will no longer take for granted.

Dozens of signs on long stretches of highway lined the road reminding us we are strong. Marshall Strong. We need to see and hear that because there have been many times over the past several weeks when we certainly haven’t felt it. I pulled in and slowed down, not at the usual spot I had for her freshman and sophomore years, but at the place where all students will now be entering for bag searches and metal detections. As I drove away, I prayed for her and every person whose life has been terribly changed just by going to school.

A few miles later, I parked at another school. This time for work. I turned the music down and thought back over the last couple of weeks. The frantic phone call from my oldest child, trying to process the words “active shooter”, the call to my youngest child and the terror at the realization that it could make her phone ring and let a gunman know where she was hiding, the flood of tears at that moment (and this moment as I type that and remember the feeling), the sleepless nights that came later, the traumatized faces both young and old as we tried to make sense of something impossible to comprehend, the questions, the guilt, the grief over losing friends, and the fear. Not your average, run of the mill fear, but a fear I had never come face to face with before. A fear that, if given too much space and power, could ruin my life. I thought of the school administrators, teachers, and staff who, out of concern for the children they worked with, ran toward the gunfire not stopping to consider that they could be running to their own death. I thought about the great love they had for these children. For my child. I thought about the things they saw and heard and how they entered a chaos so dark and unknown to help, console, and save and then I realized this is how every Christian is to live. We are called to run into darkness and terror and help even when we’re terrified. And then I cried. Just sobbed tears of grief, exhaustion, and the reality that this is our life now and this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

I dried my tears, grabbed my things, and jumped out of the car. And then as I made my way across the parking lot I heard the church bells ringing throughout the city. I hear them every time they are played but today was different. This morning they sounded clearer. More intentional than ever and I was reminded of something better. Something eternal. Something strong enough to get us through the nightmare in which we were living. A call to worship in the very face of fear and grief.

I wish there was an easy explanation for why our society seems to be crumbling and a quick fix for it, as well. I don’t have a perfect answer but maybe it has to do with the fact that we glamorize violence and drama. Our nation, including our children (even our young children) are drug addicted and dependent. Mental illness is rampant. Family values are on the extinction list. We say we’re a Christian Nation, but we don’t take care of our poor or oppressed. We aren’t a champion for the least of these, either. We put more faith in Washington, DC than we do Jesus Christ. Our church pews aren’t filled and even if they are on Sunday mornings, our neighbors aren’t being served or loved the rest of the week. Just ask the local waiter or waitress on Sunday afternoon if we’re really the people we claim to be on the pew. We’re mean to each other on social media. Read the comments on news stories and bullies are the ones speaking the loudest. Comments on religious articles show another group of bullies. Church bullies. They’re the worst and they’re raising children to treat others just the same. We have problems. We have a society problem, a mental illness problem, a heart problem, a gun problem, a discipline problem, a government problem, a drug problem, and a respect problem. Our culture is diluted with problems. But God has not left us. If we would turn down the noise of our hectic lives we might hear the faint call to worship playing as a soundtrack to our lives.

Church, it’s time to step up. I know you’re struggling with life. I agree that it is ridiculously hard and at times, terrifying. I know some of you are stressed over your finances or with your marriages. Maybe you’re struggling as a single parent with the ex, with visitation, with child support, or the lack thereof. Maybe you’re totally completely on your own and feel so alone.

I know we all want to be loved and accepted. I know we are broken and hurt and sometimes don’t even feel like we are worthy to call on the name of Jesus let alone understand and believe it when we’re told we are the temple of God. I know we’re wrestling with the sins we’ve committed in the past and the sins we’re in the middle of right now. I know there are days we don’t even want to get out of our own beds. I know we’re busier than we’ve ever been and feel like we get nothing accomplished. I know we struggle with feelings of worthlessness, with insecurity, and with doubts. I know our children, parents, jobs, and churches can be exhausting. I know we wrestle with pride, selfishness, and gossip. I know there are times when we just want Jesus to come back so all this hurt will be over. But I know and believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that we love the children deeply and will do anything for them. So I challenge us all today to be the spiritual leaders they need. To encourage them to love God and love their neighbors. To rise above the drama and darkness that plagues us on social media platforms and in our communities. To turn off the news and open our Bibles. To return to God and commit our children to him. To encourage them to join youth groups and to get back into a church group ourselves.

Please quit believing that the government can fix all of our problems. And please quit arguing about it on Facebook. Refuse to listen to a world that tells you you’re not worthy to follow the Christ. Believe the God of Heaven and Earth when he calls you holy, chosen, and dearly loved. Shock people with your compassion and grace. Realize your neighbors need you. Your church needs you. Your children need you. They need you to speak words of light and love. They need you to model forgiveness. They need your peace and joy.

We need our people on the pews of our churches and we need our people on the curbs of our communities. We are missionaries. We are ambassadors. We are servants of the Christ. Our children need to see men and women of honesty and integrity who are preaching the name of Jesus. They need you. Yes, you! Stressed out, run down, overwhelmed, fed up, messy, broken you. Be the spiritual leaders that the children deserve. Show them that even when we’re tired and afraid, we can still be active in the work of the Lord. Rise up, bow down, and worship.

The next time someone tells you God isn’t allowed in schools, remind them of the men and women who ran towards the gunfire.

The next time someone says love can’t fix this world, remind them it already did. Now, it’s our move.

The next time someone wants to argue on Facebook, pray for them, and move on. You have better things to do with your life.

The next time someone grieves over this world, grieve with them but tell them about hope.

The next time life terrifies you, remember that it’s normal to be afraid but fear doesn’t get the final word. It doesn’t get to direct our path.

Regardless of this life and it’s trials we will refuse to let fear have the upper hand. In faith, we will radically love our families, our communities, our churches, and our enemies. We will rise above the terror. We will speak love and grace into the fire. We will refuse to stir the flames of drama and discord. We will humbly accept the mission to proclaim the name of the one who has called us out of darkness even when darkness arrives on our doorstep.

Evil may have its moments but its days are numbered. It may consume our nights but it will not win our hearts. Our God is faithful. Our God is redeemer. He is our strength, our King, and our comforter. We will endure. We will believe. We will worship.  

 

What #metoo and Mass Shootings Have in Common and a Solution

It is no coincidence that we are hearing about the #metoo movement at the same time we are dealing with another school shooting. It isn’t a coincidence because the root is the same – objectification. The same way you touch a person inappropriately is the same way you shoot a person with ease – objectification. Once you turn a human being into an object that person is to be used rather than to be loved. We have fed a culture of objectification for decades. Hollywood glorifies it and our parents and churches have abdicated their roles leaving kids to fend for themselves and communities without the Gospel. We are reaping what we have sown.

The great irony in this is that the objectification even becomes part of proposed solutions. When we leverage these events and movements for our political gain and agenda we further the objectification – the victims becomes tools to be used for political power plays. Same song, second verse. The problem continues on. Once anyone starts to think they finally found the moment to advance themselves they too are objectifying in the worst sort of way – using victims for selfish gain…no matter what political party you are a part of.

What is the solution? Is it better mental health coverage? Is it better screening? More laws? Enforcing the laws on the books? We might find a path through some of those things but three things happen if we aren’t careful. The first is that many of the solutions “distance” us from the problem. Too many of the solutions embrace the classic move of hoping Washington will solve it for us but they can’t. It is hoping Washington will do what the church should have been doing – changing hearts. You cannot legislate the heart but Jesus can change the heart. The second thing that can happen is we fail to recognize our role in both the problem and the solution. As long as we think it is someone else’s problem we fail to see the ways we participate in it. If you are addicted to pornography you have bought the culture of objectification, for instance. But few people make the connection that the underlying issue between these things is all the same. Third we deal with symptoms rather than the underlying problem, which is the heart. Until we address the heart you can pass all the laws you want. People will just keep breaking the rules. The Gospel is the greatest criminal preventative measure the world has ever known.

What is the solution? The solution is the Gospel. I know that can sound trite but imagine if Christians actually converted non-believers. Sexual abuse and mass shootings are mutually exclusive to following Jesus. If we can instill in our world the Judeo-Christian idea of the image of God being embedded in the lives of others we re-humanize rather than de-humanize. We begin re-distinguishing between objects (to be used) and people (to be loved). It is harder to shoot a person to be loved than an object to be used. The church needs to get back to doing its job if this is ever going to change. Unfortunately I believe we,  Christians, have lost our will to impact the world as we were called to do it. We are all paying for our being asleep at the wheel. Hopefully we can reclaim that. If we can we should see a revival in our culture of valuing things appropriately. Now is the time for Christians to step forward with meaningful solutions and one place to start is to stop objectifying each other when we talk about these issues. If that is too hard for us to do we are already doomed.

A Tribute to Edward Fudge

Words are simply inadequate. How does one even begin to put into words the tremendous, life-altering impact of a man like Edward William Fudge? A humble, quiet, unassuming man, always ready with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, yet blessed with a depth of insight into the marvelous grace of God and the hope that is ours through faith in Christ Jesus that has led countless believers to a greater hope and appreciation with respect to the Father’s redemptive gift of life in the Son.  Only at the great reunion of that longed for Resurrection Day will his impact on his fellow life-travelers be fully realized and appreciated.

So many disciples of Jesus are far more qualified than I to attempt a tribute to such a man. They could easily enumerate his many and varied accomplishments during his earthly journey better than I.  I am merely one lone voice in the vast crowd of appreciative spiritual sojourners who can testify to how deeply Edward touched my heart and opened my eyes to a greater grasp of God’s grace and our hope of immortality.

I love how his beloved wife Sara Faye eulogized him in a message to his “gracEmail family” on November 26, 2017:  “It is with a heart of profound sadness and triumphant hope that I write to inform you that our precious Edward has been released from his mortal body and rests in the sheltering arms of His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whom he loved and served all his life.  Saturday morning, November 25, 2017, God granted him the gift of an easy passing with his loved ones beside him. … Edward was a remarkable man whose gifts were many.  A brilliant thinker who could engage any scholar on that level, a consummate professional writer who could pack more into three paragraphs than anyone I ever knew. … But most of all, he was a Jesus man, as he termed it, who loved God with all his heart, believed even through the most difficult of times and circumstances, and loved to spread the good news of God’s redeeming grace far and wide.  He gave glory to God for every good thing in his life, aware that he was a sinner saved by grace, and prayed often for Jesus to come quickly.  He was confident in his salvation through the blood of Jesus, and sure of Jesus’ triumphant return on that great Resurrection Day.”

Sara Faye and Edward enjoyed a loving relationship that had lasted over half a century, and they were a true example of a man and woman who were “fellow heirs of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).  Just a few weeks before his death, Sara Faye wrote to me saying that she and Edward had been discussing one of my most recent “Reflections” articles, and Edward had some insights he wanted her to pass along to me. I always treasured such times when I could tap into his vast reservoir of biblical understanding. I was especially blessed to be able to spend some quality time with him a few years back at “The Tulsa Workshop” where he and I were both speakers. A photo was taken during that meeting that I will always cherish (Edward and I are with a mutual friend: Rob Ford, an elder from Edmond, Oklahoma).


Perhaps Edward’s greatest contribution to the cause of Christ, apart from his powerful personal example of daily devotion to the Lord, was his work in the area of eschatological and soteriological understanding known as “Conditionalism,” which was a very logical and biblical alternative to, and refutation of, the more traditional view of the nature of man and his ultimate, eternal destiny. It was here that I first encountered Edward, and it was here that he helped facilitate the transformation of my own thinking.

Every now and then something occurs in a person’s life that has a lasting impact upon them; having the potential to alter the course of their lives.  For me, one of those momentous events took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1986.  I was the minister for a little congregation of about 150 members.  It was a great group, and my family and I stayed there for eight years (1984-1992).  One morning, as I was studying in my office, Dave England, one of the members, walked in, placed a book on my desk, and said, “Would you read this and tell me what you think?”  He then turned and walked out, giving me no indication as to his own views of the book.  I picked up the book and looked at the cover.  It was by Edward Fudge, someone I had never heard of, and the title was “The Fire That Consumes.”  I set it aside and continued with what I had previously been doing.

Some time later I noticed the book on my desk and picked it up again.  As I flipped through it I realized this was a presentation of a position on the nature of man and his eternal destiny with which I was completely unfamiliar, and, frankly, somewhat skeptical.  It seemed radically different from what I had always been taught to believe, although I must admit that I had never been completely comfortable with the traditional teaching on this subject, especially the view that God would torture people endlessly and find some satisfaction therein.

Over the next few days I read the book.  Then I read it again, this time much more carefully.  After that, I picked up my Bible and literally went through every verse, from cover to cover, over the next several months, examining the Scriptures to determine if “these things be true” (as did the Bereans in Acts 17:11 with the astounding teachings of Paul).  To make a long story short, I could not refute this view of the nature of man and his eternal destiny.  Indeed, the more I studied it over the coming years (and I studied it extensively and in great depth), the more convicted I became that Conditionalism (the view that man was by nature mortal, and that immortality was a promised gift conditioned upon being “in Christ Jesus,” and that eternal punishment was an everlasting loss of life itself, not just a “life of loss”) was a powerful Truth our traditional teaching had tragically subverted.

In the decades that followed that encounter in my office in Santa Fe, I have become increasingly vocal in my support of what I am convinced is the biblical teaching on the nature of man and his eternal destiny: an understanding for which I am forever grateful to Edward Fudge.  I have done considerable writing and teaching on this subject, and have always shared with those I taught just how significant an impact Edward had on my thinking. Over the years, Edward’s ministry and my own somewhat paralleled one another, and he was even gracious enough to make reference to my work in his third edition of “The Fire That Consumes” (p. 352-353). In 2014, I compiled my own writings and teachings on this topic into a 308 page book titled “From Ruin To Resurrection,” and Edward honored me by agreeing to write the Foreword to this book, even stating in that Foreword that “Al Maxey is perhaps the most influential popular presenter of this ‘Conditionalist’ (biblical) understanding in the Churches of Christ today.”


How does one properly say “Thank you” to another disciple of Christ for the impact he or she has had on their life?  Again, words seem so inadequate to express the depth of love and appreciation felt.  Maybe Edward expressed it best in the obituary that he wrote for himself, and which Sara Faye shared with his many friends:  “Always trust God – He is real, although invisible, and that is the most important thing you can do. Be nice to each other and support each other.  I love you and will see you on Resurrection Morning!  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  When Edward sent me a copy of his third edition of “The Fire That Consumes,” he wrote this in the front of the book:  “To my friend and fellow servant of Jesus Christ our life, Al Maxey, with appreciation for your faithful ministry of the Word, and in hope of immortality at the last day.”  Perhaps, then, our greatest tribute to this beloved brother is to always trust our God, to be nice to each other and support each other, and to share with others the gift of God’s grace: life everlasting in the Son, which will be fully realized on that great Resurrection Morning!  Until we meet again on that Day, my friend, rest in blessed peace!