Servants or Leaders?

You have likely heard the term, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way.’ While meant to encourage leadership I believe it merely demonstrates a lack of understanding of what an actual leader is like. We are all called to lead, which sometimes is demonstrated by following and at other times leading by not obstructing good leadership. Getting out of the way as it were. A good leader is first a good follower and analogous to this is the idea that to exercise authority well you need to have had some experience being under authority. To lead well we need an understanding of the impact of our behaviour on others from having been in their shoes. Wherever you are in your journey through life and in your walk with Jesus you are called to lead. Whether that is leading by example, influencing others or having authority over others, you need to lead. So, let’s look at how we do just that.

We can better understand our call to lead by looking at positional and relational authority. We don’t all have positional authority; we all have the opportunity to develop relational authority. Many times, over my years in leadership at work I made this comment, “If all you have is positional authority you don’t have any.” I would then go on to explain the need for relational authority. I people who follow my lead because they freely choose to, not due to forced compliance. I found in my career that when I developed meaningful working relationships with those over who I had positional authority they were more willing to follow my lead and support me in whatever tasks we needed to accomplish. In most leadership roles we need relational authority to accomplish tasks through others.

A great example of relational authority is friendship. I have friends who can ask me for things or ask me to do things and I do those things because we have a relationship and I trust their judgment. In those cases, they are leading me.

We see this in Jesus leadership style. He gathered His followers and demonstrated and taught many things. He coerced no one to follow Him. He often said hard and difficult things and yet they still followed. They followed because they valued the relationship Jesus had developed with them. Jesus presented it to the apostles this way just as they were vying for positional authority over one another.

24 Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. Luke 22:24–27 (NKJV)

Here Jesus contrasts positional authority with relational authority without using the exact words. I suspect my relationship with Him is what led me to begin using the terms many years ago, they described His servant leadership approach. If we believe Jesus, the best way to lead others is to learn to serve them. Which answers the question inherent in my title, are we servants or leaders? Neither really, we are called to be servant leaders so let’s lead by serving others and His kingdom. Whether in practical matters or in the place of prayer, let’s serve.

The Path

As we journey through life each of us leaves a path for others to follow. One thing that got me thinking about the path we leave is a quote I read a couple of years ago by Scott Rodin. You may have never heard of him but he teaches and focuses on our responsibilities as stewards of God’s gifts and grace. A saying of his that I saved in my prayer list is, “It is not whom you are leading but who is leading you that will determine your legacy.” Implicit in this expression is the idea that we are all walking a path following someone. The other thing that got me thinking about the path we leave is the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. Implicit in both is the idea that our path is the fruit of our choices. Jesus highlighted this issue of our path choices as well.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13–14 (NKJV)

Clearly our choice of path as Jesus presented it in The Sermon on the Mount is one with eternal consequences. Yet beyond that choice we also make daily choices in our walk with Jesus. Below we see some things that the scriptures have to say about the path we take as trumpeted forth by Jeremiah and highlighted by Job.

16 Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16 (NKJV)

7 That path no bird knows, Nor has the falcon’s eye seen it. 8 The proud lions have not trodden it, Nor has the fierce lion passed over it. Job 28:7–8 (NKJV)

These scriptures point to paths not well trodden but important. Yet scripture tells us not only how to find the right path, it also tells us how to stay on it. When we look to Him for guidance and seek His presence, we can be confident He will guide us on the path of life.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5–6 (NKJV)

11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11 (NKJV)

Thus, I leave you with these thoughts. While we all leave a path for others if we continually look to Him for guidance our path will be marked with signposts like truth, integrity, faithfulness, prayer and meaningful fellowship with others. While there will be failures on our path, we all have them, they can be marked by signposts of repentance. We can leave a path that others will want to follow.

Presence Centred Repose

As a follow up to my last post I want to touch on a phrase from my regular prayer list. In recent years I wrote down this phrase, an aspirational goal really, of how I want to live. The phrase was generated when a friend presented three questions to me as an assessment tool. You will find them further down. The first question was, “What does my ideal day look like?” After reflection I wrote this down for myself, ‘Walking in Presence Centred repose throughout the day.’ What I mean by that is having my heart at rest in His presence and my thoughts centred on Him in my thoughts and actions. I believe that is how Jesus walked with His Father and it is how I desire to walk. I haven’t ever achieved it for an entire day but I have had varying periods of time throughout days that I have walked this way. Even reflecting on the idea brings a sense of rest.

One of my favourite verses from Proverbs is below.

33 Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, But what is in the heart of fools is made known. Proverbs 14:33 (NKJV)

My focus is on the first phrase, wisdom resting in an understanding heart. Proverbs 14:33 is what led me to write the phrase, “walking in Presence Centred repose throughout the day” in my prayer list. The three questions are below, and because I have a tendency to take on too much, I added the fourth. The idea of Presence Centred repose is similar to an expression I came across many years ago, ‘Live from a great depth of being.’  The questions are below.

What does my ideal day look like? 

What gives me life?

Who do I need to talk to?

What do I need to stop doing?

            These questions are a tool we can use to anchor our days, which anchor our weeks, which anchor our months – you get the picture. We can build a life of our hearts resting in Jesus and Jesus in us because He is wisdom (Proverbs 8, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Colossians 2:3).

            I believe scripture points us in this direction because Jesus told us how He lived.

19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19 (NKJV)

30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. John 5:30 (NKJV)

In these verses I see that Jesus lived in and from ‘presence centred repose’ because His focus was always on the Father’s heart. Thus, I believe that we can live like this if our focus is on Jesus’ heart, seeking to see and hear what He would have us do and how He would have us respond in the many interactions we have throughout the day.

Revival, Awakening and Reformation Part 2

Following my last post that referenced Revival, Awakening and Reformation I am here focusing on reformation. The reason being that wisdom points to the need to pursue reformation as both a means and an end for revival or awakening. Now, I confess this post has been a struggle to write. Partly because it is a broad subject that requires focus and partly because I need things to settle in my heart to write about them. So here we go.

            To reform something implies that we have the constituent parts but need to make them into a new shape. Obviously Jesus is the most important part. If we remake church structures that He doesn’t fill we have merely wasted our energy. That being said, a thought has persisted in my mind for some time. I have been thinking about Choice Architecture. I came across the term and included it in my Dissertation. The basic idea of Choice Architecture is that we can structure environments to influence behaviour.

            I have been thinking about this in terms of how the average Sunday church service is structured. There are two aspects, the physical space and the relational space. I will go a bit deeper, but first some scripture followed by some thoughts on leadership.

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; Ephesians 4:11–13 (NKJV)

These passages focus on having the body engaged in ministry. The first one referencing the need to make space for body sharing and ministry. The second looking at the role of leadership.

            Leadership isn’t about power and control. It is about drawing out the gifts and callings in people and releasing them into their gifts. When I lead teams at work in my various roles I believed that my responsibility as a leader was to create an environment that freed my staff to function most effectively in their gifts and calling. I have long believed the same thing about church leadership. Whether in small or large groups I believe leaders need to create space to release the gifs in others (there are some great example of this in the article by Craig Keener at the link below).

            When we think of creating physical space, we may have limitations but consider the focus of the average church building. The focus tends to be on the sanctuary and the pulpit. Just as the frame and matting are designed to draw our eyes to certain aspects of a painting, so too, our physical spaces are designed (or default to) drawing our focus to certain places. In considering this I invite you to think of ways to make the physical space about Jesus and about creating opportunities for the body to minister to one another as Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 14:26.   

            Relationally, how is the church body structured. Is the default mode power and control or relationships. For decades I have been personally opposed to using the term pastor as a title. I have no issue with the term, I simply recognize that the terms apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher in Ephesians 4 are job descriptions not titles. Thus, I think we need to relate to people as people to build relationships and titles, in the church or elsewhere confer something but also create barriers (Choice Architecture). I could say, ‘that is pastor Fred’ or I could say, ‘that is Fred, he is a pastor. His focus is on nurturing and feeding the body.’ The latter creates a different expectation.

            As this is getting long, allow me to draw a conclusion. I think if we reform our churches to be more relational and to release the many gifts among us, we will see more revival and awakening. Conversely, if we persist in intercession for prayer and revival and awakening, we have an opportunity to reform our churches. Either way, we have before us the opportunity to build something that looks like the church Jesus said He would build and see it spread into the broader culture. As we become a place where those who become part of us are released fully into who they are called to be they will affect those around us in the culture with truth and life.

Unscriptural or Unfamiliar

Continuing on the theme of discernment here is a discernment tool the Lord gave to me years ago. I was helping to lead a small group and two friends were going to share with the group that evening on journaling as a way to hear the Lord’s voice. Personally, I have used a journal off and on over the years to record my thoughts. However, I had not used it in the way it was presented that evening nor after the presentation. I did however see it as a useful tool many had used to great effective in their relationship with Jesus.

Having a measure of responsibility for the group I was reflecting on what would be taught as I was driving there with a friend. On the way the Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit and gave me a question to ask the group as an introduction to the teaching. He prompted me to ask the group to reflect on whether what they were about to hear was ‘unscriptural or unfamiliar.’

In the subsequent years I have applied this test regularly and it highlights for me where many run into difficulties. People resist change and new ideas because they like the familiarity of routine, structure and shared worldviews. Routine and structure are good things that help us to organize our lives and move through our days in a somewhat predictable manner. The problem crops up in how we think. In my book, Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture, an idea I highlighted is that we tend to think with instead of about our worldview. Thinking with is fine for our daily activities. Not for more significant issues. Here thinking about needs to be brought into play.

To illustrate the issue, I am part of more than one theological debate group on Facebook. More than once the topic of cessationism (the idea that the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 ceased with the completion of scripture) has come up in opposition to continuationism (the idea that the spiritual gifts are still active in the church today). I have always been a continuationist and in decades of debating the subject, in person or online, I have never heard a sound scriptural argument for cessationism. Yet in my experience few people change their position. There have been prominent examples like Jack Deere or Sam Storms, both well known theologians and both graduates of the famed Dallas Theological Seminary, which is thoroughly cessationist. Over time they re-examined their views and became continuationists, promoting the use of spiritual gifts.

This leads to the need to look at why others do not make the shift, even in the face of strong evidence that undermines their viewpoint. It comes back to thinking with instead of about our worldview. We all hold what are termed plausibility structures, ideas about what is or is not plausible. For example, treating anything that is unfamiliar in relation to our view of scripture as unscriptural is a plausibility structure. Paul referred to them as strongholds, ways of thinking in 2 Corinthians 10:4-6. If we believe that what we have been taught is correct, whether it is from a trusted teacher or elsewhere, we need to make a conscious decision to examine it to shift it.

In this process questions are useful and I am prone to asking people questions around why they believe what they do or whether they are open to change or seeing things differently. A few are able to explore new perspectives while others are so entrenched in their view that even though they may acknowledge they are unable to defend their position from scripture, they continue to hold to it because it is what they ‘believe.’   

 To make a shift in our thinking, to examine whether something is unscriptural or unfamiliar, we need to be reflective. This requires making a conscious choice to step back from our regular practices and thinking and reflect on what has led us to our present beliefs in order to determine whether they align with scripture.

Though we may find the idea daunting, consider those who followed Jesus in the gospels. They had to stand against the familiar beliefs of their culture and embrace beliefs at odds with how the majority of their culture understood scripture. Personally, I am thankful that they didn’t treat the unfamiliar as unscriptural because they followed Jesus and laid the foundation for the faith that I follow. Let’s seek to emulate them.   

New Wineskins Part 1

Over the decades I have heard a great deal of talk about the need for new wineskins. Yet there has been little accompanying explanation of how they are made and the purpose they serve. I believe we are in a season where we need clear and sound explanations accompanied by spiritual strategies and right actions. 

Jesus introduced us to the concept of new wineskins when He said the following.

21  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. 22  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22 (NKJV)

The difference between new and old wineskins is their flexibility. New wine expands and will burst hard inflexible wineskins. I’m not sure how many of us see that in the three and a half years that Jesus walked with His followers teaching about and demonstrating the kingdom of God He was forming a new wineskin to hold the wine that was to be poured out on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

A concept I have come across over the years is the idea of plausibility structures, presented here by professor and philosopher J. P. Moreland, a committed evangelical, “The lesson here is that culture, which has a set of background assumptions – or, a plausibility structure – set a framework for what people think, which affects how they are willing to listen, evaluate, feel, and behave. The framework shapes what people consider plausible or implausible.” I believe plausibility structures are akin to wineskins. They are a filter or way of viewing the world that determines what we accept or reject. We tend to think with rather than about our wineskins while they sit in the background influencing our thoughts and actions.

I see in Jesus life that He spent His ministry time here teaching, demonstrating and sharing parables that were designed to help people actually look at how they viewed the world and what they believed was or was not possible. Jesus demonstrated over and over that many things people thought implausible were in fact not only plausible, they could happen right in front of them – healings, the dead being raised, the religious leaders being silenced. Jesus released hope for something new and better, a kingdom that cared about and ministered to people. He publicly declared His kingdom charter when He began His ministry.

18  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19  To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Luke 4:18-19 (NKJV)

This kingdom charter was a new wineskin that embodied freedom and hope because the kingdom of God had drawn near. In our lives let’s allow Jesus to help us take a look at the wineskins that are guiding our thinking, what we think is plausible or implausible. We can start by reflecting on whether we have a wineskin that is alive with hope, expectation and confidence in Jesus.

I leave you with those thoughts for now – more to come as we seek new wineskins and new wine.  

A New Year

We are a week into a new year, 2020, when many are expecting new or improved vision. At the same time it is easy for our resolutions to fade in the light of the reality of the day to day tasks of the post holiday season. Given that the scriptures encourage us to embrace one primary resolution.  

18  But the path of the just is like the shining sun, That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. Proverbs 4:18 (NKJV)

Our calling is to continually seek to get closer to Him, to draw near to His heart. In the process something I think we need to reflect on is our corporate rather than individual calling. Our culture encourages a great deal of focus on self, and while we need an awareness of our purpose and calling, the context is always as part of a body.

The New Testament places great value on the individual soul but not in isolation. In our calling to walk deeper into Him we are called to the following.

15  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NKJV)

We are to speak the truth, be motivated by love and seek to see each one of us take our place in the body and see the whole body strengthened and each member effectively doing their part. The context is that we are together being built into His dwelling place.

19  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20  having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, 21  in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22  in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22 (NKJV)

It is a joined together body that Jesus is building for His dwelling place. This past week. A friend sent a note asking what I sensed the Spirit was saying for this year. I prayed and what He spoke to my heart was, “We need to find our voice.” My understanding of this is that ‘we’ the church as a corporate body need to understand and embrace our authority and discern His strategy in speaking into our culture.

In conclusion, my prayer is that this year we would resolve to find our place in His body and see it strengthened to accomplish His corporate purposes.