Two cautions for Christian leaders

Prominent Christian leaders have a great privilege; they also have a great responsibility. Because they have been given the privilege of speaking in the name of the Lord to a wide audience, of guiding and of influencing many of God’s people, their words are especially watched by the Lord and will be more strictly judged by Him (James 3:1). God requires much greater verbal carefulness from those to whom He has given the privilege of a national profile or platform.

There are two areas in particular that all Christian leaders, but especially national Christian leaders, need to bear in mind.

Leaning tower of Pisa

1. Remember that some of your followers will take your emphasis further than you wish.
When we come into a congregational situation or a particular context that requires we “over-emphasize” a certain theme or direction to re-balance a previous ministry or cultural emphasis, we must remember that people (especially young people) who grow up under such teaching will themselves be unbalanced unless there is very careful explanation of what we are doing and why, with suitable and clear qualifications. Without such, those who follow us will not only be un-balanced but will usually go much further in the direction we titled towards.

2. Remember that your influence extends far beyond your own immediate context.
Some of the recent blog posts about the imperative/indicative debate have argued that: “Well, the context I’m ministering in requires overemphasis of the indicatives to re-balance previous teaching and misunderstanding of the Gospel.” Others might argue: “Because my congregation have over-dosed on theology and doctrine, I need to call them to faith and action more.”

Our particular contexts will, of course, impact our choice of texts and the unique emphases of our sermons. However, well-known preachers and teachers must also remember that, with modern technology, their sermons are going much further afield than their own congregation and context. Within minutes or hours their sermons are being heard by Christians in very different situations. That calls for a much greater and wider sense of responsibility.

I know a pastor who was accused by someone in his congregation of “preaching to his SermonAudio.com audience more than the people right in front of him.”  Well, if online listeners are more important to a preacher than the flesh and blood preachers in front of him, then obviously there’s something very wrong. But, if a preacher who broadcasts his sermons online takes no account of listeners who are facing exactly the opposite danger he’s addressing, and provides at least some careful qualification and nuancing of his message, then he is being irresponsible.

And, of course, when Christian leaders blog on such subjects, and blog without thinking about how their words will be read by people in a very different context, that’s not only irresponsible, it’s also extremely frustrating and demoralizing for local pastors who are battling the opposite problem.


Children’s Bible Reading Plan (46)

Here’s this week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s this week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

And for those who want to start at the beginning, here’s six months of the morning and evening in pdf, and here’s six months of the single reading plan in pdf.


Pastoral Picks (8/28)

The annual Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary conference started yesterday and continues until Saturday. The subject is “The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit,” and you can follow by live webcast here. Staying with the seminary, Steve McCoy has a nice plug for the Puritan Reformed Journal. You can subscribe here.

I’ve been privileged to get to know Pastor Al Martin since he moved near to Grand Rapids a couple of years ago. From the little he’s shared with me on the subject, I’m sure his new book about the lessons he learned from the death of his first wife will be well worth reading for anyone going through the experience of having lost a loved one who died in Christ.

Tim Challies put me on to this post on moving towards noteless preaching.

Joe Rigney at Desiring God has some helpful material from Jonathan Edwards on preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

As someone who has experienced too many of the negatives of Presbyterianism, this is a refreshing post from James Faris on the benefits of being in a presbytery.

Bob Kellemen’s six part series on The Law and Church counseling is required reading for anyone involved in counseling ministry.

Jeremy Walker has a delightful post full of quotes from The Inimitable Mr Delves. Who’s he? Read and find out.

If you are interested in ministering to the disabled, may I highly recommend John Knight’s blog, The Works of God. Here’s a video John put together recently.


7 easy steps to much faster sermon prep

I read this post about Seven easy steps to much faster writing and immediately saw the obvious transferability to preaching.

Speedometer

Before you go and read it  though, let me say that our motive should not be so much about preparing our sermons faster, but rather more efficiently. In some ways some of us need to slow down sermon preparation – to give time for prayer, meditation, and also divine promptings.

So my approval of these principles is not so much about getting out of the study quicker, but about using time in the study better – freeing up time for the deeper and more spiritual dimensions of sermon preparation. With that caveat in place, here are Ali’s main points with my summaries:

  1. Find your best writing time: Not all hours are equal. Find out when you are most productive.
  2. Minimize the risk of interruptions: Turn phone off. I repeat, turn phone off.
  3. Cut out distractions: Turn email off. I repeat, turn email off.
  4. Write an outline: Get this as early as possible in the process.
  5. Set a timer: Focuses and concentrates the mind
  6. Start wherever you want: Just get going – beginning, middle, or end. Wherever you have some thoughts, start there.
  7. Don’t edit while you write: Don’t keep stopping to craft the perfect sentence. Write lots….then edit.

Read the whole article here. It could save you (or free up) a lot of time.


What’s the difference between Islamic and Christian extremists?

What’s the difference between Islamic extremists and Christian extremists?

Picture of Extremist

Islamic extremists take something false and go so far with it that they damage themselves and others.

Christian extremists (and I find myself among them at times) take something true and go so far with it that they can also end up damaging themselves and others (NB. though, of course, never with such evil motivations nor such deadly consequences).

And most of us have this tendency to extremism. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

1. Nouthetic counseling: Jay Adams identified the problem of so many sinful behaviors being psychologized away. His solution was nouthetic counseling, a counseling methodology that confronted people with their sin and called them to change. But some took this truth to such an extreme that everything became sin and all psychology and physical dimensions to problems were dismissed or even demonized. (Confession time: I’ve got a tendency to react to that extreme by going to the other!)

2. Redemptive-historical preaching: Advocates of this kind of preaching identified the problem of “practical” or “topical” preaching which tended to preach purely applicatory sermons from small bits of Scripture without connecting it to the original context or the larger picture. Their remedy connects every text with the broad sweep of redemptive history. But does every sermon on every kind of biblical literature need to follow this pattern? Is breadth always better than depth? Is practical application never to be the main emphasis of the sermon?

3. Consecutive expository preaching: I referred to the pros and cons of this increasingly popular preaching model yesterday. Again, it identifies a problem, and proposes a good solution. But it can create another problem if it is taken to the extreme of making every sermon conform to this pattern.

4. Christian hedonism: There’s no question that John Piper has been used of God to recover a vital truth for the church. (His book, The Pleasures of God, revolutionized my own ministry about 10 years ago.) But problems arise when that truth becomes the only truth, or the main truth. Interestingly, Piper has since published two extremely helpful books, When I don’t desire God and When the darkness won’t lift, both of which bring a much greater balance to his important message.

5. Gospel-centeredness: I’ve expressed some concerns about this before (Less Gospel, More Christ please). Dane Ortland helped me understand the context of this movement better in a comment to that post and also here. However, again, the danger is that in a well-motivated desire to move away from moralism, even away from a Christ-as-example moralism, we lose Christ and Christ-empowered morality. Joe Thorn put it well:

There is more in God’s word than the gospel. God has given us his law to show us the way, uncover our corruption and condemnation, and point us to our need of redemption. There are commands to be obeyed, there is wisdom to learn and practice, and affections to feel and be moved by. But, the law itself is unable to create within us new hearts, or empower us to obey its demands. So let me say it this way: The gospel is the main thing, it is not the only thing. However, it is the only thing that brings life, power, and transformation. The gospel isn’t everything, but it does connect to everything, and preachers and teachers in the church must be able to show that connection lest we allow the church to drift (or even be lead) into various kinds of hopeless, powerless legalism.

6. Indicatives v Imperatives: This is related to #5. Yes, there has been too much “imperative-style” preaching, especially imperative-style preaching (you do this) that’s not rooted in the indicative (Christ has done it). However, as Kevin DeYoung has warned, although unintended, an over-emphasis on the indicatives may result in us losing the moral imperatives altogether, and in leaving people with only the duty to believe rather than to “trust and obey” as the old chorus goes.

7. Family Integrated Church: It’s great that so many leaders and churches are moving away from separate church services for different age groups, and the multiplying of ministries tailored to different ages that split churches into so many age-segregated cells. However, in the commendable desire to unite families and churches, is there not a danger of going to the extreme of having no age-appropriate teaching and activities?

8. The Full-quiver Movement: Again, it’s wonderful that Christians are swimming against the current of the age in fulfilling the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply above 2.3 children. However, there’s another side to that mandate that is often forgotten: “Subdue, have dominion, and rule.” But, in the worthy desire to fill the earth, some are physically, intellectually, and emotionally unable to provide for their families and have a controlled, disciplined, and orderly home and family life.

 9. Technology: I’m so glad that I’m living through the digital revolution. I’m so enthusiastic about how Christians are using technology to reach out with the Gospel via blogs, videos, mp3′s, etc. However, in our enthusiasm for this good gift of God, we are prone to trust in technology rather than the Holy Spirit, to substitute Facebook for face-to-face, and to have more fellowship in Twitter than in the local church.

10. Personalities: Again, I’m so thankful to have such unprecedented daily access to the blogging, tweeting, writing and preaching ministries of well-known Christian teachers. But our extremist hearts so easily and quickly turn them into Popes and substitute them for our Pastors.

All these things are good things; but if carried too far (often done more by the followers than the leaders), they carry us over the cliff to our hurt (and others).

As I’ve got my own extremist tendencies, especially in the things I’m most passionate about (maybe even in this post?), I want to keep praying: “Lord, I am such an extremist. I can take true things and good things, and take them so far that I end up turning them into falsehoods and sins. Please save me from my extremist heart; help me to live a life of biblical balance; and help me to stop running off the cliff with good and true things in my hand.”


Don’t spiritualize your management problems: Fix them!

In this post Maurilio Amorim argues that way too many churches and Christian ministries blame God or Satan for mismanagement rather than take right and decisive action.

Problems

Maurilio says:

Borrowing more money than you should, hiring the wrong person for the job, mismanaging people, failing to do due diligence on a deal, are not spiritual issues. They are management and leadership problems.

We don’t need to pray about firing an employee who has stolen from the organization, but leaders often agonize about letting people go who don’t perform, are not loyal, and who steal from the ministry by constantly robbing everyone by their lack of contribution or negative attitude. There’s a big difference between being ruthless and uncaring and being passive, fearful or disengaged.

But it’s not just churches, ministries, or companies that do this, is it! We’re all prone to this over-spiritualization of problems in our personal and family lives too.

And, in fact, I’d have to disagree with Maurilio that “these are not spiritual issues. They are management and leadership problems.”

They are definitely management and leadership problems. But they are also reveal deeper spiritual problems. What such fearful and fatalistic passivity reveals is a lack of true spirituality.  And a lack of true prayer.