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Archives for June, 2018

The Way of Wise Leadership

It’s June – one of my favorite times of the year! Abilene has not yet hit the full blistering heat of August, and our Doctor of Ministry students were here this month for classes. These men and women are usually mid-career ministers and leaders from across the nation. They arrive with thoughtful questions, eager to engage with each other and with faculty to grow in the practice of mission-oriented leadership.

One word that speaks to the sort of leadership that congregational leaders seek is phronesis, or practical wisdom. This term, handed down from Greek philosophers and baptized by Paul in his Philippian letter, speaks to a way of being, thinking and feeling that leads to proper action. Phronesis is the wisdom drawn from experience, knowledge and insight to do the good and right thing in any particular context and moment.

Who doesn’t want to develop that capacity?

To be a person who possesses phronesis, or practical wisdom, may I suggest attending to the many sources that give life to practice? Practical wisdom is rooted in:

  1. Situated awareness – noticing and interpreting the particular context in which you are located at any given time.

  2. Emotional attunement – identifying and remaining aware of your emotions and the emotions of others.

  3. Critical thinking – developing the capacity to analyze and evaluate concepts, ideas and actions in a disinterested way to pursue what is true.

  4. Relational connectedness – nurturing a web of relationships as a mentor, as a mentee, with your peers and with trusted friends.

  5. Theological imagination – working with the narratives of Scripture to draw out God’s wisdom and empathy to shape Christian responses.

  6. Pastoral imagination – practicing a sometimes risky but always grace-filled engagement to partner with God’s redemptive purposes.

  7. Spiritual discernment – perceiving what is of God and what is not of God by spending time with Him.

  8. Communal wisdom – recognizing that you’re not the first person to wrestle with this – you’re part of a community.

All of these ways to engage require practice and attention. Whether you are formally studying ministry and theology like the doctoral students on our campus earlier this month or whether you are deeply embedded in congregational life and leadership, the quest to be a person of practical wisdom is a real one. Perhaps one way to deepen the hunger for that quest is to suggest another look at the apostle Paul’s use of the word phronesis in the Philippian letter, when he encourages the Philippians to model their thinking, feeling and action on Jesus. The word isn’t obvious in English, but in Greek it is crystal clear. Paul says, “Let the same phronesis be in you as was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Wisdom, practical wisdom, indeed!




Siburt offers a glance at 2017-18

We are excited to release the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry’s 2017-18 Year in Review. This publication traces our team’s pursuit of the institute’s mission through four major practices: formation, resourcing, networking and reflection. Take a look with us at some of the past year’s highlights, including a sampling of trends revealed by the 2018 Ministers’ Salary Survey, heartfelt stories from participants in the Contemplative Ministers’ Initiative and the fostering of important lines of communication through the CHARIS blog.

We continue to cherish the many opportunities to serve, work with and learn from congregational leaders from across the nation. Click here to read the review online.

Explore ‘Why Preaching Matters!’ with Rick Atchley, Aug. 30

The Siburt Institute for Church Ministry invites you to bring your appetite for great food and great teaching to our “Why Preaching Matters!” Lunch and Learn event with Rick Atchley (’78) on Thursday, Aug. 30.

Each week, countless ministers stand in pulpits across the world to proclaim a Gospel message. Some people think preaching is a dying art, but “Why Preaching Matters!” will examine why preaching remains at the core of the Christian experience. Atchley, senior teaching minister at The Hills Church in North Richland Hills (Texas), will bring his passion for the verbal witness of the kingship and lordship of Christ to the conversation.

Atchley began his preaching career at the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene nearly 40 years ago. He is widely known for his ministry to ministers and pouring himself into the development of preachers for the next generation.

Register today. The event will take place at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Aug. 30, in ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center. Ministers, church staff, elders and the general public are invited to attend. The cost is $15 per person and the deadline to register is Aug. 23.

McLaughlin-Sheasby encourages: ‘Don’t check your wounds at the door’

In a time when social media and other outlets allow us to create customized, flattering public images for ourselves, Amy McLaughlin-Sheasby (’15 M.Div.) invites us to explore the power of faith communities to make space for our most authentic selves, wounds and all. Her latest CHARIS blog post, “Don’t Check Your Wounds at the Door,” offers a fresh perspective on the choice to engage, rather than avoid, the realities of woundedness among church-goers. McLaughlin-Sheasby is a doctoral student at Boston University and adjunct instructor for ACU’s Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry.

Still time to register for Summer Seminar with Randy Harris, Aug. 3-4

Randy Harris and Dr. Royce Money (’64) extend a special video invitation to the upcoming Summer Seminar on ACU’s campus, Aug. 3-4! Harris and Money will be joined by several colleagues in this weekend intensive Bible course to explore the topic, “The Gospel and Culture: What’s a Christian to Do?” The event will provide tools to help participants respond more reflectively and intentionally to the constantly changing culture that surrounds them. Registration is $60 per person, which covers meals, snacks and handout materials. Register by July 26.

Join us for ‘Fight Night’ with Les Parrott, Sept. 16

Recent research reveals that “practical help in marriage” is among the top needs that people seek from their local church and that “resolving conflict” is the most important skill-set for boosting marital success. It relates to every couple – after all, even the most loving couples still have conflict.

Summit is teaming up with local churches in Abilene to provide the ultimate relationship experience, Fight Night with Dr. Les Parrott, at the Abilene Civic Center on Sunday, Sept. 16. The evening is supported by the Abilene Association of Congregations and ACU’s Family First initiative. Under Parrott’s guidance, Fight Night will provide a time of growth for couples throughout the entire community. It’s a fresh, humorous, authentic and practical way to minister to couples. And did we mention it’s fun as well?

Parrott is a professor of psychology at Northwest University and one of the founders of the Center for Healthy Relationships on the campus of Olivet University. He and his wife, Leslie, have been featured in USA Today and The New York Times, as well as on CNN, The Today Show and Oprah. The couple is known widely for their effective marriage advice.

For any age or relationship stage, Fight Night will provide tools to improve relationships immediately. Join us for an evening of finding wholeness in our relationships! Registration details to be announced.

Find more information about speakers, times and locations at! See you in September!



  • “When we find ourselves more and more on the margins, faced with the status of strangers and exiles, out of power and out of favor, it begins to dawn on us that we truly need the power of God’s Spirit to live on God’s mission.” – Dr. Leonard Allen, Poured Out
  • “On the road to maturity, there are no shortcuts. No secret paths. No hidden portal to transport you from one end to the other … No, when it comes to maturity, the only way out is through. Sometimes, when you ask God to help you move the mountain, he gives you a shovel and a wheelbarrow.” – John Alan Turner, Still Me

This year, Abilene Christian University’s Summit attendees are invited to join the staff and faculty of ACU in reading a book selected by the Summit team to prepare for the event. The team chose Alan Jacobs’ How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. Jacobs wrote the book as he struggled to connect the people he loved with the beliefs he held. On every side of the political spectrum, in religion and in academia, people are torn apart by the beliefs that identify them. Jacobs believes that these differences divide us because we do not approach each other correctly.

Jacobs describes positive modes of thought that allow us to communicate effectively and love each other through our differences. Key themes include the dangers of thinking against others, the need to find the best people to think with, the error of believing that we can think for ourselves, the conflict between thinking and belonging and the dangers of words that do our thinking for us.

Jacobs is a distinguished professor of humanities in the Honors Program of Baylor University, and taught for many years at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has written five other books and frequently writes for different magazines.

Jacobs will speak on campus several times in September and will present at Summit at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 17, in Cullen Auditorium. Don’t miss this opportunity to find new ways to think together at Summit 2018: Wholeness in a Broken World

Summit, a Conversation Where Life and Faith Converge in Christ, is an annual three day conference hosted by Abilene Christian University and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. In 2018, Summit marks it’s 112th year. Make plans today to join us in this annual time of renewal and restoration.

Another Father’s Day is upon us and I can’t help but think of my dad and his rebellious lifestyle:

  • As a popular high-school football player he decided to spend his life telling others about Jesus.
  • As a young preacher he switched pulpits with one of his close friends, a young, African American preacher. In the early 1970s not many churches were doing that. I’ll never forget dad taking me to this congregation and finding a sweet, older lady for me to sit beside while he preached. I loved the joy and excitement that came from those faithful Christians. Dad taught me that it didn’t matter what color someone’s skin was. We were all family.
  • When faced with the news of having a terminal illness as a young twenty something, dad continued to preach the hope of Jesus even when he could no longer speak. He turned his diagnosis into a way to bless others.

I hope you had a rebellious father. One who looked at his world and refused to let the darkness win. One who knew Jesus and wasn’t afraid to practice what he preached.

I hope you are a rebellious father. I hope you will continue to love God and love others even in a world that doesn’t. I hope you ask God to stand guard over your mouth, your eyes, and your actions. I hope you tell your children in words and deeds that nothing matters more than following the Christ and encouraging his church. I hope you fiercefully love your wife and children and fight for them. And if you need to, I hope you will forgive your own dad for his faults.

Here’s to all the rebellious dads! Happy Father’s Day!

Listening is a discipline. It isn’t a skill that comes naturally to many of us. Talking is much easier and often much less thoughtful.

Listening is a discipline. Listening takes security. It is difficult for an insecure person to be a good listener because an insecure person is always testing the waters of how others see them and this isn’t easy to gauge as a listener as much as it is a talker.

Listening is a discipline. It requires taking a genuine interest in others and that doesn’t come easily for many of us.

What makes someone a good interviewer? Is it curiosity? Is it that they have a genuine interest in the person they are talking to. A good interviewer has to be interested in the person they are talking with because they have to say just enough of the right things or ask just enough of the right questions to spark the interviewee to say things the audience really wants to know and then get out of the way and listen. They have to listen well enough to what is being said live to integrate into where they think they want the interview to go to make sure they are hearing the person accurately enough to continue to get to the good stuff and not miss something important. They aren’t stuck to their script because they are a good listener.

Good interviewers have to be good listeners. It is a discipline and that is why good interviewers are few and far between because not many of us are: 1) interested enough in other people or 2) good enough at asking the right questions.

I suggest you begin disciplining your mouth and your ears. Begin asking more questions and making less statements. Take time to consider what is being said and try to understand it. If you are an insecure person, the counterintuitive truth is this, the more you learn to listen the more secure you will feel because you will not constantly feel the pressure to prove yourself because you will be so wrapped up in other people that you will forget about yourself for a change.

The world needs more listeners and less talkers. The world needs more people concerned about others more than themselves. The world needs more people who take a genuine interest in others over themselves. So discipline yourself to be a good listener and watch it transform not just yourself but also the people around you. Enjoy the small things you never noticed before because you were too busy filling the airwaves with noise and distraction. You will find the world of listening is wide and open and expansive and liberating. So come on in and bask in it! You will never be the same again.

James makes a connection in James 1:19 that I have not only missed in the text but failed to notice in my own life. Here is what James wrote,

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

It makes sense that James would connect listening and speaking. But he also connects listening with becoming angry. Why does James link listening and anger. Those who are quick to listen are people who have humility. Those who struggle to listen are also likely to struggle with being angry.

I think entitlement also has something to do with it. If I expect you to listen to me but me not listen to you that is entitlement. It also lacks humility. Good listeners aren’t entitled people but often, at least for myself, I realize that anger comes out of entitlement. I am angry because I didn’t get my needs met or what I expected to happen didn’t – entitlement. Those who believe everyone should listen to them and not be good listeners themselves are entitled people. They are not humble people. Good listeners don’t tend to be angry people because they believe other people have a seat at the table and their power doesn’t feel challenged if they listen to someone other than themselves. That is because humble people aren’t interested in who has the power.

I would encourage you to try to become a better listener. You can start with James’ own word – be quick. Always look for an opportunity to listen. Don’t feel the pressure to interject yourself or your opinion. Ask people for clarification and more information. When we begin seeking people to listen to rather than seek people to tell things to, we will start to see real progress. And I bet the byproduct you will begin to find in your life on a positive side is the growth of humility and a smaller and smaller propensity to be angry.

I’ve spent a lot of my Christian life trying to “find” the Holy Spirit. I’ve tried many methods and read several books to help teach me how to “engage with” the Holy Spirit.  I now see how foolish that was.  I suppose it was more out of longing to be closer to God, but even longings can mislead a person.

In my walk with Christ I am learning something incredible about the Spirit.  I hope it will bless you and help you “draw near to God” that “He may draw near to you” (James 4:8). My life overflows with incessant noise.  Cell phones, social media notifications, music, white noise, and busyness.  Our screens are always on, our volume is always up, and our ears never rest.

Noise has a purpose:  to distract. Distract from what?  Ourselves.  Here’s what I mean: When we find ourselves in a silent place (yes, that can be subjective), we sometimes panic.  We get anxious because there’s nothing to distract us.  From my experience there is a deeper issue at work.  We don’t want to be alone with ourselves! That is why we must recapture the spiritual discipline of silence.

Thomas Merton wrote, “In silence God ceases to be an object and becomes an experience.” What did Merton mean?  That when we are silent, we move from knowing about God and into knowing God.  We move from classroom instruction and into “hands on” learning. Silence is a place most of us never dare venture.  In silence – true silence – we face our own thoughts and the overwhelming Presence of God.

The moment we are alone, with no other people around to chat with, no blogs to read, Netflix to stream, ringing phones, or to-do lists, a wave of anxiety floods over us.  This anxiety – perhaps disturbance is a better word – becomes so overwhelming and confusing until we cannot stand it any more. We can’t wait to get back to the noise and busyness. Despite that, we must get back into the consistent, intentional discipline of silence and solitude.

When we enter total silence, we face ourselves. Bad memories, conflicts, anger, impulsive desires, doubts and fears. It is as if silence puts a mirror in front of us that not only shows our physical appearance but also the condition our soul. With that list, it isn’t hard to understand why we fight being alone in silence. It can be painful. But with God, painful introspection can be necessary. James uses the illustration: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:22-24). We are our worst critic, and so we avoid the unpleasantness of our inner-self.

How can I expect the Spirit to speak through me, and in me, if I cannot let Him chisel away at the things that may keep me from hearing Him in the first place? As uncomfortable and gut-wrenching as it might be, it is necessary to hear the Spirit. We often pray and sing in our assemblies the words of David, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Ps. 139:23). If we seek this relationship, we must take time to be silent. Daily.

Often I’ve tried to find God in the noise.  I’ve even gone into a quasi-silent place to sit and say, “Here I am, Lord!  I’m ready to listen,” as if God is a cosmic genie.  I’m not suggesting God doesn’t speak in those places. I believe God speaks everywhere. I’m suggesting that my intentions aren’t in the right place.  I expected God to talk.  I was ready to hear, but I wasn’t ready to listen.

God is always speaking. What if by our constant busyness and addiction to noise we miss it?  What if we’re looking for God only in the grandiose instead of the ordinary?  What if we’re looking for the miracle and missing the miracle of the present?  I suggest to you that to find the ever-speaking Spirit, we must learn to be ever-listening and silent. We have to go off the grid every day bringing only ourselves and our thoughts with us.  It has been my experience that when I do that; when I bring myself into the silence seeking the ever-elusive Spirit – there I find that He’s always been right there.  I wasn’t listening. I was too busy to hear.

The Spirit speaks in silence.. When you are uncomfortable in the silence; when you wrestle with sin and doubt in the quiet, and when you feel God isn’t listening.  Those thoughts are being recalled because the Spirit is speaking!  He’s bringing things to your mind He sees need addressing in your life! Whether we find it uncomfortable if we want to grow closer to God we must be silent before Him.  If we desire our churches to be vibrant faith-filled communities led by the Spirit, we must enter silence together and hear from the Spirit.

In the crushing weight of silence before God, we will understand the place of Elijah’s climb up Mount Carmel in the tapestry of Scripture.  He sought God amid chaos, noise, and busyness. Out of arrogance of his triumph over the prophets of Baal, he assumed God would speak in the bedlam of the elements. Instead, we see him finding the voice of God not to be in fire and flames, but in “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12b).  May we be like Elijah Listen to the silence.  The Spirit is speaking. Will we listen?

The Bible is full of reminders on the importance of listening to God but how often do we intentionally do so? There are many stories in the Bible where the people failed in their plans because their plans were not initiated by listening to and for God. This happened in Joshua 7 when they entered the promised land and first took Jericho with no problem but second tackled Ai and were defeated. They hadn’t inquired of the Lord. They hadn’t listened and so they failed.

It is important that we learn to listen to the Lord. That is a difficult subject if you think God has chosen not to speak but it isn’t so hard if you are open to the idea that God is intimately involved in the affairs of His world. If you pray for God’s guidance, then I suggest you are praying for something that you should be able to tune yourself in to pick up on.

This is a mystery. I cannot say that I have it all nailed down but I am convinced that we can and should pray for guidance and that God can and will answer that prayer. I am also, then, convinced that we should learn to listen for God’s calling and direction. We prayed “guide, guard and direct us” for years – what if God really did and what if we really could pick up on it to know what on earth we were supposed to be doing!?!

What would our lives look like if we didn’t take any significant step in life without waiting on God’s lead? Let’s tune our hearts and our ears in to be in tune with God’s will and the guidance God is giving us.