church pastoring theology

The Church and The Surprising Offense of God’s Love

I’ve been reading The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love by Jonathan Leeman, and although I’ve had some disagreements with the book, it has been an excellent read.   I wanted to share a few quotes that have been particularly challenging for me.

Below is a good challenge to teaching “community” as the solution to our problems in the church rather than the gospel:

When the theologian or pastor talks the talk of relationship and community rather than the talk of obedience and holiness, he just might be hawking a postmodern prosperity gospel. The poor man’s prosperity gospel is: “Never mind all that stuff about obedience and holiness; Jesus wants to make you rich and happy!” But many of us today in the West are rich. We don’t need the poor man’s prosperity gospel. Rather, we suffer from ennui, angst, and media overload. The relationships we do have are shallow and unsatisfying, so the intellectual sophisticate offers a postmodern prosperity gospel instead: “Never mind all that stuff about obedience and holiness; Jesus will give you relationships, purpose, community.

Next, some thoughts regarding the degradation of external authority, and the true problem of individualism:

I do not believe that the communitarian proposal provides any true antidote to individualism and its corollaries such as consumerism. They argue that community is the antidote to individualism. It’s not, which brings us to one of the central themes of this book: the real problem is anti-authority-ism. At the risk of sounding like the late modernist Friedrich Nietzsche or the radical postmodernist Michel Foucault, it’s all about power. At the risk of sounding like a fundamentalist Sunday school teacher, it’s all about disobedience. Some contemporary writers get this; others don’t. It’s not quite enough to say that the problem of modernity was individualism, because the term is too vague. The problem bequeathed by Descartes and everyone of his ilk is more accurately described as autonomous individualism—auto-nomos meaning “self law”—where we’re letting the adjective, not the noun, do the real work of making our point. The solution to individualism is not community. The solution—one fears to say it without pages of qualifications—is to reintroduce a conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church. The campaign that Western culture has been waging for several centuries for the individual has been a campaign waged against all forms of authority. From elementary school through graduate school, Western educators have taught us to question authority: the authority of the church because of what it did to Galileo; the authority of the king because of his usurpations; the authority of the majority because of its tyrannies; the authority of males because of their exercise of brute strength and acts of oppression; the authority of the Bible because of its alleged contradictions; the authority of science because of its paradigm shifts; the authority of philosophy because of its language games; the authority of language because it has been deconstructed; the authority of parents because they’re not cool; the authority of the market because of its extravagant inequalities; the authority of the police because of their fire hoses and night sticks; the authority of religious leaders because they’ll make us drink the Kool-Aid; the authority of the media because of its biases; the authority of superpowers because of their imperialism. Are there any authorities left to question? When it comes to what we should believe and how we should live, a ubiquitous suspicion of authority lurks in the minds of most Westerners today, in part because we’re familiar with authority’s savage history of abuses.

With respect the previous thoughts, below is the solution Leeman proposes:

The solution to individualism is not community. The solution—one fears to say it without pages of qualifications—is to reintroduce a conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church.

His basic argument is that submission the the local church is essential to the nature of biblical community which rightly reflects God’s glory in the world.  We simply cannot reject authority in favor of egalitarian community because it undercuts the very nature and character of God.  This book has been an excellent balance to many of the other books I have been reading as of late.

Finally, in an unrelated note, I found this quote to be helpful in articulating a God-centered view of the value of human life:

What’s interesting to notice in the Genesis 9 passage cited above is why human life is described as “precious”: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (v. 6). The preciousness of human life, it seems, is found entirely in the fact that humans image God. Our worth is derivative. It’s derived from the one we image. Killing a human is wrong not because God loves us more than anything, but because he loves his own glory more than anything.


Being a Pastor – Fun Sunday Questions

Here’s a rundown of some of the questions I was asked today from a variety of different people:

  • Are you a young earth or old earth creationist?
  • Can you tell me where the bathroom is?
  • Can you find some people to pass the offering baskets?
  • Why did God require a sacrifice for sin?
  • What role does confession play in our salvation?
  • Do you know of someone who could sublease my apartment?
  • As a college student who makes no income, how can I tithe?
  • What’s the most difficult question you’ve been asked about marriage?

Needless to say, that makes for a fun and exhausting day of conversation…feel free to fill in the answers you think I answered in the comments.

austin stone pastoring

Avoiding the Bureaucratic Death Spiral | What’s Best Next

Matt Perman pulled a great quote from a book that I love, Good to Great by Jim Collins, over at What’s Best Next.  The basic gist (for those who won’t read below), is that bureaucracy kills entrepreneurial spirit, while discipline sustains it.

Entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity, imagination, bold moves into uncharted waters, and visionary zeal. [Then] as a company grows and becomes more complex, it begins to trip over its own success — too many new people, too many new customers, too many new orders, too many new products.

What was once great fun becomes an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff. Lack of planning, lack of accounting, lack of systems, and lack of hiring creates constant friction. Problems surface — with customers, with cash flow, with schedules.

The professional managers finally rein in the mess. They create order out of chaos, but they also kill the entrepreneurial spirit [emphasis added]…

The creative magic begins to wane as some of the most innovative people leave, disgusted by the burgeoning bureaucracy and hierarchy. The exciting start-up transforms into just another company, with nothing special to recommend it. The cancer of mediocrity begins to grow in earnest.

Here’s why this quote scares me: my current role on our staff is to create some order out of chaos.  We are in a season of transition as a church, and I am spearheading the effort to create some order.  So the real question is, how do I honor those who have innovated and created and create systems which still allow entrepreneurial freedom?

Collins’ answer is below:

Most people build their bureaucratic rules to manage the small percentage of wrong people on the bus, which in turn drives away the right people on the bus, which then increases the percentage of wrong people on the bus, which increases the need for more bureaucracy to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which then further drives the right people away, and so forth.… An alternative exists: Avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a culture of discipline. When you put these two complementary forces together — a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship — you get the magical alchemy of superior performance and sustained results.

So the answer is to create a culture of discipline…excellent.  Next question: how?

And this is what I’m spending most of my time thinking on.  How do I create a culture of discipline, which stays true to our vision and builds a structure for endurance, while also leaving room for innovation?  When do I say yes to great ideas? When do I say no?

I’d love your thoughts…drop me a comment!

discipleship pastoring

Discipleship and Ministry | Part 2

For my initial thoughts on the challenges of remaining faithful to discipleship in the midst of ministry, go here.  I’d like to expand a little more fully on my thoughts from the last post.

In brief, I’ve found that it can be extremely difficult to continually cultivate the centrality of discipleship, or the process of selectively investing a small number of individuals in order to teach obedience to what Jesus taught (Matthew 28:18-20), in the face of increasing demands of ministry, or meeting the immediate physical and spiritual needs of individuals as you encounter them.

The question to ask, I think, is why is it difficult?  Why is it so tough to remain faithful to the model of discipleship which Jesus demonstrates?  Here’s a couple reasons:

  1. Ministry often times leads to immediate results and draws crowds (for examples from Luke, see Jesus casting out demons, Jesus healing people, and Jesus’ miracles).
  2. Discipleship often is painstakingly slow and difficult with one step forward and two steps back (Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, then immediately denies him, and the disciples making mistakes).
  3. Ministry tends to involve a much lower level of relational investment, and for both parties there is a relative degree of anonymity (crowds don’t know who Jesus is).
  4. Discipleship requires a high degree of vulnerability for both parties (Jesus weeps in front of his disciples).

Both types of investment in people are important (see Pauls discussion about he and Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3), but the two are designed for the purpose creating multiplying disciples who participate in the Great Commission.

Ministry needs to have an end in discipleship (the public ministry of Jesus reaches its pinnacle in Luke with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ), and discipleship utilizes ministry for teaching (Jesus had his disciples observing most of his public ministry) and as an entry point into relational investment for discipleship (Jesus teaches and performs miracles before calling his disciples).

I find in myself, however, that the design of what I am calling ministry often is easiest to default because it offers quick successes and I can remain fairly distant from those to whom I am ministering.  The process of discipleship is exhausting, inconvenient, and difficult, which make it so much easier to simply enjoy the fruits of ministry (just like the seventy-two after returning from Jesus assigned task) rather than labor with love toward replication.

I am thankful, however, that Jesus did not simply minister to the crowds, but instead remained faithful to the twelve, because the movement of the Gospel hinged so much on their faithfulness to replicating disciples.  You don’t hear much throughout the rest of the New Testament about the crowds or those whom Jesus did something miraculous, but the disciples were at the epicenter of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Let us remain faithful to a few, while ministering to many, in hopes that God would redeem and renew all things!


People Work and Task Work

I’m learning a lot this week about the similarities and differences of people work and task work.  My role has been shifting into a managerial and oversight role over a significant number of people, and this has required much more personal interaction and meeting than I have had in the past.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned in no particular order:

  • I can say without a shadow of a doubt that people work is equally as exhausting, if not more so, than task work
  • People work requires as much planning, and more care, than task work
  • It’s much easier to feel a sense of accomplishment in task work
  • Great ideas come from dialogue, but action requires tasks
  • Delegating tasks works better when you’ve done effective people work
  • It’s much easier to manage tasks than people
  • Task work gives me time to process people

Sorry for the stream of consciousness post, but I’m fairly brain-dead…forgot to mention that people work is incredibly mentally taxing.

Anything I missed?