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Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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There are a lot of Christian leaders who experience extreme insecurity. Two ways you will notice it is that they either tend to downplay themselves or overplay themselves. They will either take themselves out of the picture as much as possible or they will make themselves the center of attention as much as possible. Both of those actions can come from insecurity. One is trying to make sure they have nothing to prove. The other is making sure that they are constantly proving themselves.

There are a few reasons Christian ministers struggle with insecurity. Here three:

  1. You can feel like you have as many bosses as there are members of the congregation as each person has a different expectation of what your job should look like.
  2. Your family, job, friends, and church are all wrapped up in the same group of people. When a person in secular work loses their job they don’t lose their church. They can just get a new job, often in the same town without a move, and keep their church home. When a minister loses their job they lose it all and have to uproot everything and start fresh. The family, friends, job, and church are all the same people.
  3. Often people who get into ministry are people pleasers. This is why they wanted to do ministry because they like making people happy. You learn very quickly in ministry this is impossible and so those who feel this way are constantly under pressure and feelings of guilt.

We live in a fearful and anxious society. Comparisons are constantly made and what is more we are constantly comparing the worst version of ourselves to the best Instagram, 1000 selfies until you get the “perfect” one, versions of others. That is all we know to compare because we don’t get to see the worst side, the 999 selfies in the garbage bin, of those we compare ourselves against. We know what we see when we look in the mirror in the morning but we never get to see that of anyone else. We compare our reality with someone else’s fantasy and we will always lose that one in our our own minds.

It turns out we are all messed up. But our security isn’t found in not being messed up. Our security isn’t found in coming out ahead on comparing ourselves with others. No. Our security is found in Christ and his faithfulness. As we have seen in recent news even preachers at megachurches can have some very dark sides to them. But for all these years these people were held up as the standard few could ever measure up to.

We can fool ourselves into thinking that we can compare ourselves with other fallible people. If we look around hard enough we can always find someone, in our most prideful moments, that we think we are better than. Then we can feel “good” about ourselves, secure. But isn’t that a nasty way to find “security”? The truth is, it is just one more dark way to feed our inner insecurity as we reflect on how many people we had to pass up before we found someone we could win out against.

Here is my point. Jesus won’t have any of that. We know that game doesn’t work with Him because when we compare ourselves against Jesus it isn’t us comparing the worst version of ourselves with the seeming best version of someone else. Jesus was and is perfect. He is incomparable. That is exactly why we need to compare ourselves to Him and not to anyone else.

We find our security in losing the comparison game not in winning it. Here is why. When we compare ourselves with others we can fake security through securing victory by rigging the game and coming out on top. But you can’t rig the game with Jesus because He really is perfect. When you finally lose that game…and I mean really lose it…you will have to humble yourself in that reality (no more room for fantasy) and accept the security that Jesus provides rather than the pretend security I have been manufacturing my whole life. Only then will you and I truly be secure and only then will we be in a position to truly lead others who struggle with these same things.

AUGUST 2018 E-NEWS

Believe or Belong: Which Comes First?

Many of us grew up in churches that emphasized knowing and believing the Bible as the single most important thing to being on God’s good side. We are not alone! Indeed, many church traditions hold a legacy that honored knowledge and respected belief in the right things as an essential way of assurance in one’s relationship with God. There is much merit in such a set of convictions. Knowing about Jesus Christ matters!

Yet there exists another way of understanding our relationship with God that is particularly valuable to today’s contexts in many of our churches. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson picks up this line of thought in his book Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century.1

Rather than holding to a set of convictions that properly constitute a faithful Christian, Granberg-Michaelson suggests that Christianity is more about an orientation toward following Jesus Christ. For those of us who are associated with the Stone-Campbell Movement, we may see similarities between Granberg-Michaelson’s proposal and Thomas Campbell’s famous statement in the Declaration and Address, that the one church is made up of people who “profess their faith in Christ” and seek to be obedient to Christ. In other words, it is not correct doctrine that determines faithfulness; it is the movement of faithfulness as a disciple that matters.

Not only is this idea a useful and constructive theological truth, but it also helps us understand the ways that many unchurched people approach faith. Simply put, the deep hunger in the cities and towns where we live is the hunger to belong. People may not say it, but they deeply desire to be loved, accepted and trusted.

If our congregational culture is one declaring that people must have their doctrine together before they enter, then we shouldn’t be surprised at their lack of interest. But if our congregational culture exudes openness and welcome, if our message is to come and join us as we learn to follow Jesus together, then people may well show up because they will have found a place to belong.

The believing part? Well, that is what discipleship is all about. And just like the persons in our cities and towns who long to belong, we too have much to learn about what it means to believe and to be obedient to Jesus. So cultivate warm and welcoming places in your cities and towns. Create freedom for persons to belong. Then together, learn more fully what it means to be a disciple!

Blessings,

Carson


[1] Published by Fortress Press, 2018. This book was the subject of last month’s essay as well.

NEWS

ElderLink heads to North Carolina, Nov. 16-17

The Siburt Institute is pleased to announce a new ElderLink seminar in Greensboro, North Carolina! The event will feature Randy Harris (pictured at left), ACU Bible instructor and spiritual director for the Siburt Institute and the College of Biblical Studies, and Dr. Jerry Taylor (pictured at right), associate professor in the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry, and founding director of the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action.

Offering numerous presentations and breakout sessions pertinent to local church leadership, this seminar will be relevant for any adult engaged in congregational ministry, whether as elder/shepherd, minister, deacon, ministry leader or spouse.

Mark your calendars for Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16-17, and check out the registration and event page for more information. We hope to see you there!

Dahlman discusses ‘tension at the threshold’

“Few words reverberate more in our churches than immigrant,” writes Tiffany Dahlman, a minister at the Courtyard Church of Christ in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as she opens her CHARIS series titled “Tension at the Threshold: Hospitality and Immigration.” Her article invites the reader beyond the Mexico-Texas border, and the surrounding partisan politics, into the deeper waters of biblical witness, kingdom citizenship and the relationships within the walls of our church buildings.

Dahlman thoughtfully embraces the tension between boundaries and hospitality, insisting that any conversation about one must include the other. The series concludes with an exploration of “characteristics of hospitality revealed in the creation narrative in Eden that help the church navigate the tension as they relearn the culture of hospitality toward immigrants.”

Deadline extended for ‘Why Preaching Matters!’ with Rick Atchley

There’s still time to register for the “Why Preaching Matters!” Lunch and Learn event with Rick Atchley (’78) on Thursday, Aug. 30, at 11:30 a.m. in ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center. The cost is $15 per person. Final deadline: Register by Aug. 26.

Tuesday, Sept. 18 is a big day for Summit 2018

Eddie Sharp, a minister of the University Avenue Church of Christ in Austin, Texas, will host the Preaching Wholeness Pathway on Tuesday, Sept. 18, as part of Summit 2018. Exploring how the preaching of Ephesians offers a clear path to wholeness in Christ, Sharp will be joined by an impressive lineup of speakers (pictured from left: Dr. Stephen Fowl, Dr. Amy Bost Henegar, Sam Gonzales and Don McLaughlin).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lays out, in a wonderful way, God’s eternal plan to bring us into life to the praise of God’s glory. Dr. Stephen Fowl, New Testament scholar and author, will provide an overview of the structure and message of Paul’s letter. Don McLaughlin, a minister at the North Atlanta (Georgia) Church of Christ, will describe how Ephesians gives us ample encouragement for the church to find unity and peace through the power of the cross and the blood of Jesus. Dr. Amy Bost Henegar, a minister at the Manhattan (New York) Church of Christ focused on children and families, will explore how the pressures of society tend to distort essential human relationships away from God’s intent as revealed in Ephesians. Sam Gonzales, a campus minister for Oak Hills Church (San Antonio, Texas), will challenge participants to seriously embrace the Christian walk described by Paul in the epistle. These distinguished presenters will round out the day with a panel discussion and address any questions raised by the audience.

Dr. Jerry Taylor, associate professor in the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry and founding director of ACU’s Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action, will speak in Chapel on Tuesday in a session entitled, God Imagines Our Future: Being Filled With the Spirit.

The same day, Taylor and his colleague, Curtis King, will host the Racial Wholeness Pathway. A special presentation of the stage production The Mountaintop by Katori Hall will be presented that evening at 7 p.m. in conjunction with the opening of the new Carl Spain Center.

Make your plans today to join us for these powerful conversations and experiences at the 112th annual Summit at ACU. Find more information about speakers, times and locations at acu.edu/summit.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

  • “A major factor in the disintegration of teamwork is a breakdown in open, informative, complete, and effective communication. Team members immediately feel unwanted, detached from the process, and unappreciated when they detect that they have been left out of the communication loop. Suspicions of manipulation surface, and any effective team dynamic is destroyed.” – Dr. Ian Fair, Leadership in the Kingdom: Sensitive Strategies for the Church in a Changing World
  • “In spite of the complexity of the concept of integrity, it is possible to identify certain qualities that form the ‘grid’ through which we ‘sift’ integrity. Personal values such as honesty, sincerity, fairness, trust, loyalty, consistency in thought and behavior, a well-identified ethical system, a consistent standard of morality, sincere desire for the well-being of others, and a lack of malice and manipulation, seem to be those qualities that surface most when integrity is discussed.” – Dr. Ian Fair, Leadership in the Kingdom: Sensitive Strategies for the Church in a Changing World

One of the primary metaphors for a spiritual leaders in the Bible is a shepherd. In the Old Testament, even the highest executive office in the land (the king) is supposed to shepherd the people (2 Sam 5:2). Shepherds don’t lead by proxy (through others – a hired hand). Shepherds don’t lead from far out front. Shepherds lead the sheep by being with the sheep and knowing the sheep.

For being such a biblically minded group of people in Churches of Christ, we have not always done well when it comes to how elders operate from a biblical perspective. We are big on scriptural elder qualifications but put almost no emphasis on what the New Testament says elders are actually supposed to be doing and how they are supposed to do it. It is like our view on salvation – we spend far more time talking about how to “get in” than how to live once you are in and yet the second part is at least as important as the first.

There are several things that the Bible says elders (from here on I will most frequently refer to elders as shepherds) are supposed to do.

Eph 4:11-12 – Shepherds are to be equippers that will result in the unity of the body.

1 Tim 3:2 – Shepherds must be able to teach. Although this is in the list of elder qualifications it seems to not be a strong consideration in many instances when elders are appointed. I have been around many, many elders who were remarkable teachers. I have also been around some who really didn’t meet this qualification at all.

1 Peter 5:1-4 – Shepherds are directly instructed to shepherd. This is more than being decision makers. This is about leading as you walk alongside the congregation. They are instructed to watch over the flock. Again, this is shepherding language. An elder must be in tune with the people. Bauer (BDAG) defines “watch over” as “to accept responsibility for the care of someone.” Being a shepherd is about far more than being the ultimate decision maker. Being a shepherd is about people. Peter also says shepherds must be eager to serve…not serving only because they think they must. They also must not lord it over (domineer) the flock but instead must live as an example of mature faith to the congregation.

If elders would follow the instructions of how to act as a shepherd after they are appointed rather than just be interested in the qualifications to be appointed many of our churches would be far healthier than they are today. Our churches don’t need executives. They don’t need a board of directors. Our churches need shepherds. In our attempt to be biblical in all areas of faith and practice this is one area we could be more biblical in for many congregations.

If the congregation is nervous any time an elder takes the mic, the elders aren’t shepherding.

If the elders have never been in the homes of their people or don’t visit them in the hospital, the elders aren’t shepherding.

If the elders don’t talk about and pray for real people, they aren’t shepherding.

But if the elders will seek out the voice of their sheep and truly listen, they are shepherding.

If the elders are present in people’s moments of deepest trouble, they are shepherding.

If the elders are seen as a blessing to the congregation and not a hindrance to the movement of the flock, they are shepherding.

If those hurting in the congregation desire to see an elder in their time of need, chances are…they are shepherding.

How have you seen elders shepherd?

Imagine being a mechanic where someone brings you their car because it is having problems. You identify several issues and bring them to the owner’s attention, offering to repair it. They don’t give you permission to fix it but they hold you responsible for when the car breaks down the following week, sending you the bill for the repairs they need done.

Or think about being a doctor. A patient comes in with severe migraines. You run some tests and determine they have a massive brain tumor. As much as you offer your help they refuse. A few months later you find yourself on trial for their death.

In both of these instances a person finds themselves being held responsible for an outcome where they weren’t given authority to change the situation. People expected them to make a difference but the rug was pulled out from under them, keeping them from doing what needed to be done and they are the one left holding the bag.

One of the most common and difficult problems in ministry and Christian leadership is being given responsibility without the authority to carry out one’s duty. This happens from volunteers and deacons to ministers of all kinds. It is so important that anyone who is given responsibility is given the commensurate level of authority to get the job down and make appropriate decisions along the way.

In churches we don’t just have volunteer workers. We have volunteer leaders. In fact our highest level leaders (those with the most authority) are a volunteer bunch. This is a natural part of our model of local leadership and congregational autonomy (which I am a proponent of). It seems to me that elders have all the authority but have far less responsibility for the outcome than the ministers. A minister has a tremendous amount of responsibility. For the minister, all their social and spiritual circles are one and the same. Your family, church, friends and career are all in the same circle. For most people, losing a job still allows you to stay in your town, not have to sell your home, and you can keep your friends and your church while you look for a new job. Not so for a minister. Consider what happens if things don’t go well in their ministry – loss of job, loss of friends, and usually the inevitable move. That is a lot of responsibility and consequence for goofing up. On the other hand if things fall apart under an eldership the level of responsibility and consequence they bear is usually minimal. There are no procedures for letting them go. There is no move, loss of friends, etc if things go south. This inversion of responsibility and authority in our leadership structures isn’t healthy.

It is important that we have elderships who empower those who have responsibility. They need to empower their ministers, deacons and volunteers and part of that empowering is trusting them with authority. Part of their empowering is delegating not just a job but the necessary authority to get the job done properly. Without this everyone is watching their back and the level of trust is minimal. It makes no sense that we would trust the spiritual well being and biblical teaching of the congregation to a minister but not allow them as little authority as is needed to make small, simple every day decisions.

In what ways have you encountered this? How have you seen churches do this well? What does it take on the elders’ and ministers’ part to make this work well?

We have a leadership crisis in Christianity today. I don’t want to get too specific in this theme introducing post but instead will open it up for discussion. Do you believe we have a leadership crisis? How does our autonomy help or hurt this? How do our leadership structures help or hinder leadership development that isn’t hitched to corporate business mentality? What resources have you found helpful on helping develop spiritually minded Christian leaders? What do you think we can do to fix this? Last, what are we doing right?

It”s been awhile since I ventured to share anything here, but the following has been used in the Clarion Ledger as well as part of a message given this past May at Pepperdine… LFjr.

There was a time when my own story of heartache and pain was a raw, open wound. I don’t make reference to it as much these days because God has seen fit to bring an outpouring of immense beauty and hope into my life.

Do I ever have moments when grief and pain, fear and doubt still assail? Yes, I do. When America celebrates Mother’s Day, I am much more cognizant of the pain experienced by many (including some of my children) during this time of celebration and honor.

Although I am grateful that a story like mine is not the norm, there is a need to identify with each other: Every one of us knows some degree of pain, heartache, and difficulties—those are often the human condition.

As the book of faith for Christians everywhere, the Bible has any number of stories that evidence the pain and brokenness of humanity.  I’d like to share with you three stories of broken women that offer an amazing hope of redemption for all…

First up is Tamar–her crazy narrative is found in Genesis 38. It’s a story of family tragedy and loss, of evil wicked men and exploitation. Before the whole disgraceful mess is through, Tamar is thoroughly used, dishonored, devalued, and discounted. Since this is a family newspaper, that’s the G-rated version of the story and about as deep into it as we are going to go. I trust you can read Genesis 38 on your own.

The second story is that of Rahab in Joshua 2. Honestly? I couldn’t find a single version that uses a socially tolerable word to describe her. Euphemistically, we might refer to her as a “madam” or “lady of the evening.” Let me hasten to add that I do not believe for a single moment that this “profession” was her life’s ambition.

Again, I am going to trust that you know more of the story than what is acceptable to talk about at the family dinner table. I am also going to trust that you can read between the lines enough to see that both Tamar and Rahab were the victims of sexual exploitation.

So, there’s Tamar and Rahab, neither innocent of their own sin, but yet both victims of exploitation.

Hold on to the word victim for a bit as we also consider the story of Bathsheba as found in 2 Samuel 11. This story especially could be lifted out of the headlines of today. In short, a powerful man had an affair with a beautiful woman and in the process of trying to cover it up, murder was committed.

The difference in stories is found in the time and culture of Bathsheba. In her time, she would have had very little voice or power with which to deny the king what the king wanted. Was she a victim too? I’ll let you read the story and think through it yourself.

However, I am firmly convinced that all three of these ladies were victims of wicked men and ugly power trips. And I guess if we wanted to, we could use this as a stepping stone to talk about basic human dignity. We could talk about true justice or equality. We could make this about the #metooheadlines and accusations of today.

And maybe we ought to take the time to encourage men and women alike to have a high view of the value and worth of others, that people are not possessions! But in the meantime, I want you to journey forward in time from those three stories all the way to the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel where we read of the genealogy of Jesus…

If you are reading this passage at home, there’s a chance you will be discouraged by all the hard to pronounce names. There is a tendency to think of this as a bit rote and dry. But as you read, you’ll not only find Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, you’ll also see two of the men who exploited them as well.

The older I get, the more fascinated I am by the study of genealogy. I recently sent off my DNA to Ancestry.com—and I am looking forward to learning more and exploring my family tree. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a connection to some historical person or setting, but what I have learned from the genealogy of Jesus is both fascinating and hopeful.

Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba are each an example of a broken, messed up, exploited life! All three of their stories tell me that no matter how bad it gets, no matter where we end up, not matter how deep the hole might be, none of us are unredeemable for the purposes of God!

I hope you are reading this loud and clear. Not a single person is unredeemable for the purposes of God! Say it out loud with me and don’t worry if anybody looks at you strange: “My life can be redeemed!”

In a funny serendipity, for me, it took being broken hard to understand I have always been broken! But whatever my story was, whatever my story might yet be, God can and does work through all of it!

Broken, but redeemed! If God can redeem their stories and mine, then God can redeem yours!

Psalms 147:2–6,The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers Israel’s exiled people. He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; he gives names to all of them. Our Lord is great, vast in power; his understanding is infinite. The LORD helps the oppressed but brings the wicked to the ground.