Tag Archives: gospel

Plan C

It was the opportunity all second chair pastors dream of: to step into the pulpit on the biggest Sunday of the year and preach to the largest crowd of the year! Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe you have bigger crowds on Super Bowl Sunday.

This time last week all of our staff was doing well. No one complained of illness. Everyone was looking forward to our Good Friday and Easter services. Plan A was a go.

Then there was Wednesday.

That was the day that the sr pastor called in sick. Later he texted that he had “walking pneumonia!’ At this point we were still sticking with Plan A. I started popping Vitamin C.

On Thursday the sr pastor waved off his participation in the Good Friday service. I met with our Worship Pastor to find out the direction for both Good Friday and Easter (just to be safe). Then the Youth Pastor and I hatched Plan B: I would speak at the Good Friday service and he would be prepared to speak Easter Sunday if needed. Almost as an afterthought he added that he was not feeling real well, either. Our children’s director was also sick! More Vitamin C. Lot’s more.

On Friday we were told that our sr pastor would not be able to preach on Easter Sunday! When I contacted the youth pastor to give him the news it became clear that his health was declining and he was in no condition to begin preparing for Sunday. Plan C (me speaking at both Good Friday and Easter) became the working plan!

As it turned out, neither the sr pastor nor the youth pastor was able to attend either Good Friday or Easter. Our musicians, technicians, performers, greeters, ushers, and other volunteers rose to the challenge and all of the  services came off without a hitch! Easter was our biggest Sunday in the past year.

For me, it was the first Easter Sunday I had preached in nine years. I don’t expect to ever get another opportunity to do so. I enjoy preaching but I don’t enjoy the preparation. Preaching weekly is not something that I want to do again right now. I like my role as a second chair leader. I have much more freedom and flexibility to develop ministries with men, discipleship coaching, and community outreach. This role fits my strengths and personality quite well and is the role I have filled for 14 of my 29 years in ministry.

My one word of advice to all second chair leaders is to keep a Plan B and a Plan C filed away. Don’t wait until the day before the most important day in your organization’s year to hatch a back-up plan. Do it today! And keep it fresh so that you can implement that new plan with out much effort. I didn’t do that. So in the middle of two event-filled days I had to prepare to pinch hit twice. Oh, and be sure to take lots of Vitamin C!

(My thanks to Ryan Johnsen for the photo!)

When have you been called on to step in as a second chair leader?

When have you been unable to go on and had to call on a second chair leader?

God-Imaging Christ Followers

In his book, Disciple, (Crossway) pastor and author Bill Clem plows new ground for those of us who seek to fulfill Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. Clem begins with the premise that we have all been created by God to his image-bearers: “…God created man both to image God and to be in relationship with others (with both God and humans).” (p. 17)  That may not be a new idea to most. Clem continues: “A person who is spiritually dead, separated by sin from oneness with God, is a distorted image bearer, and though there may be ways in which God is seen, the image portrayed will be seriously impaired and distorted.” (p. 18) Still haven’t seen anything new? Keep reading!

“To see Jesus on the story of God means that we look at everything God has done, including every person God has put into his script, and we discover how all image God like Jesus did.” (p. 38) “Our value in God’s eyes is not determined by what we can do above and beyond his design for us but in the inherent nature of how we function in relationship to him, to others, and his creation. It is our relationships that truly bear the image of God.” (p. 60) “We started by saying everyone images God on mission to one degree of distortion or another. If this is true, then being on mission may not be about what help you can offer as much as about partnering with unbelieving image bearers already imaging (although distorted) the God they don’t know.” (p. 72).

I take that to mean that as I serve on committees in my community, interact with city leaders and officials, or join community service groups (that may or may not be connected to my church) that the members of all of these groups were created as image bearers of God (even if they don’t acknowledge it) and they are carrying out God’s mission even if their image-bearing is distorted. So when I join them in what God is already doing through them in my community, the labor of my efforts bear the image of God and so do my relationships with these fellow image-bearers! That was new to me.

From this starting point Clem explores several implications for the Christ-follower. Here are several chapter headings:

4. Identity distortions

5. Worship

6. Worship Distortions

7. Community

8. Community Distortions

9. Mission

10. Mission Distortions

The final two chapters (11. The Plan & 12. Multiplication) are the nuts and bolts of establishing transformational discipleship relationships in your life and in your church. It’s an extremely helpful book. One that has challenged me to re-tool my worn and weary method of discipleship for something much more profound and foundational. I found this statement on pp. 65-66 to be extremely challenging for me personally: “…if someone is oriented toward imaging God, then the disciple-making process will be more transformational than an informational set of verses and lessons.” “…I don’t see how teaching people that they are image bearers of God and asking the question, “How will this action or attitude image or distort the God of the Bible?” could be more basic to the nature of living as followers of Jesus. This perspective has tone our baseline (1 John 2.6).”

Second Chair leaders: If you lead a men’s ministry or small group ministry I would encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Clem’s book and explore ways that you can implement these concepts in your ministry. If you do, let me know about your plans. It would be great to dialogue with you. If you are a small group leader this book could be helpful for you although the average small group may find the content and the assignment sections following each chapter to be deeper than most other small group materials. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing!)

Josh Harris’ “Dug Down Deep!”

Quick – what comes to mind when you hear the word “theology?” For most of us we think of academic, complicated, dry, commentary. You won’t think of any of those words while reading “Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris. In fact, it may take you a little while to realize that you are actually reading a theology book.

“Dug Down Deep” is a systematic theology for a new generation of Christ-followers. This is no Berkhoff, or Erickson, or even Grudem-like book (nothing wrong with any of those three – I actually own and use systematics by all three). Harris approaches theology as a narrative. As you learn more about the author’s life, his father’s life, and even the church where he serves you will also learn about salvation, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, justification, atonement, and much more.

Harris states theological concepts in very clear and understandable terms:

“When we study the doctrine of God, there should be a sense of awe in our hearts. We should be like children with a telescope under a starry night sky. Then we will be filled with amazement that Someone so great – so transcendant can be known and seen by us. We will rightly feel small and insignificant as we realize how great and powerful the God we’re beholding really is. The more you learn of who God truly is, the more incredible his invitation to know him becomes.” (p. 51)

As a second chair leader with responsibilities for small groups, discipleship,  and adult ministries I found  the Reflection and Study Guide found in the back of each copy of “Dug Gown Deep” to be a great feature. It’s a resource that could be very useful for personal or small group study. I’m considering using it with a men’s small group that I am currently forming.

I especially recommend “Dug Down Deep” for those who think they have no interest in theology or those who think that theology is too difficult (or uninteresting) for them. “Dug Down Deep” will challenge that thinking and open up a new world of appreciation for biblical theology. Along the way the reader will come to know and love God in a richer and fuller way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I Am A Follower

It is rare when a book comes along that is truly transformational. Leonard Sweet’s I Am A Follower is one such book.

Sweet is part prophet (both foretelling and forthtelling), part annoying eccentric, part wise sage, and part poet. You can’t read Sweet without a reaction and that is certainly true in this current volume. The main subtitle is: The Way, The Truth, and Life of Following Jesus. The tiny subtitle of I Am A Follower is: It’s Never Been about Leading. That should tell you a lot abut what you will read between the covers of this book.

Sweet identifies (and I think, correctly) that for the past 3-4 decades the church in N. America has suffered from an obsession with leadership.  How many books, seminars, conferences, articles, sermons, have we heard, taught, written, or preached on the subject of leadership? I myself was a charter subscriber to Leadership Journal 35 years ago. I have embraced a mantra of creating “More disciples, more leaders, and more churches.” Everywhere you turn in the church today there is cult of celebrity around ‘successful’ leaders. And have you noticed that “successful” always means “bigger”? Always.

“One of the greatest myths about leadership is that bigger is always better. I predict that future societies will recognize the fallacy of this myth and that the three mantras for the society will be these:

  • Live more with less.
  • Make little large.
  • Upscale by downsizing.”     (p. 151)

I found that much of Sweet had to say resonated with my own recent personal pilgrimage. Over the past several years I have intentionally pursued the title of Executive Pastor. I have skills and experience that would seem to indicate that I could perform XP functions with ease. Recently I came to realize that the greater role would be to do something less! (I think this fits with Sweet’s second point above.) I am now working to spend more of my time in discipleship coaching rather than ministry administration. I will be investing in men and women to coach them to become better equipped to carry out their ministries and to grow as followers of Jesus. I don’t really see this as a diminished role – except where it would appear on an organizational chart! My desire is to return to my original ordination charge, “…to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

If you are a church leader at any level you should read this book. If you are a Christ follower at any stage in your journey you should read this book! I believe that this would make a great book for group study for church staff, board, small groups, or even couples together. I just finished reading I Am A Follower and I plan to read it again.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Generous Justice

A century ago the conservative “fundamental” believers in the church came to believe that social ministries were at best a distraction from the spiritual ministry of the church if not a sign that these more liberal believers in the church had traded the true Gospel for a watered-down social gospel. This divide continued well into the 1980’s and 90’s but has recently shown signs of reversal.  Through a variety voices a new commitment to “seek justice” is emerging in churches. Timothy Keller is one of those voices.

Keller’s Generous Justice is a brief volume (189 pages) that serves as a clarion call to followers of Jesus to extend grace and justice to those in our communities who are impoverished and oppressed. In this book Keller presents a thorough and balanced study of scripture to support that call. “Like Isaiah, Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart.” (p. 51).  In other words, if you don’t care about the poor your spiritual health is in serious trouble!

Especially helpful are two chapters (5 & 6) that provide a strong argument for why we should do justice (Chpt 5) and how we should do justice (Chpt 6). Ministry leaders will find these two chapters to be immensely helpful in shaping and clarifying their own journey of doing justice. Second chair leaders will be able to tap into a good resource to use when coaching and mentoring. There is also good material here for small groups to wrestle with.

I personally found the final chapter – Peace, Beauty, and Justice – to be the most helpful and motivating. As one who has used the simple word “Shalom” to sign off on most of my correspondence for the past 30 years, Keller’s description of four forms of shalom breathed new life into my use of the term. He identifies physical, emotional, social, and spiritual shalom. (p. 174).

Why should you read Generous Justice? Consider Keller’s final sentence: “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” (p 189). The rest of the book serves as his basis for making that claim. Read it to find out if you agree or disagree with his. conclusion.

For a more extensive review of Generous Justice be sure to check out joelws.com

My 2012 Reading List

More than anything else, I use this blog to review books – especially those that I find particularly interesting or I think will most significantly benefit those of us who occupy the second chair. I have assembled quite a large stack of books that will be on my 2012 reading list. Here is a partial list – in no particular order:

  1. Becoming a Coaching Leader, Daniel Harkavay
  2. The Litigator, John Grisham
  3. I Am A Follower, Len Sweet
  4. Search & Rescue, Neil Cole
  5. Coaching 101, Logan & Carlton
  6. Bloodlines, John Piper
  7. Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell
  8. Switch, Heath & Heath
  9. blink, Malcom Gladwell
  10. Leaders Who Last, Kraft
  11. Real Marriage, Driscoll
  12. not a fan, Idleman
  13. Made to Stick, Heath & Heath
  14. Reimagining Church, Viola
  15. Foregiveness Formula, Hitz & Hitz
  16. War Room, Dawson
  17. Gracenomics, Foster
  18. Spiritual Conversations, Rohrmayer
  19. The Way of the Wild Heart, Eldridge
  20. Dug Down Deep, Harris
  21. Generous Justice, Keller
  22. The Reason for God, Keller
  23. Assured of Heaven, Ricker
  24. Connect, Perry

There are a few others that I am looking at but haven’t put in the stack just yet. Any suggestions?

Are You Living the Cross Centered Life?

In his book, Living the Cross Centered Life, C.J. Mahaney reminds us the words of Paul that the cross is the only essential tenet of our faith (1 Corinthians 15.1,3). And he suggests that we face constant temptation to move away from that essential in three common areas: subjectivism, legalism, and condemnation. (p. 16). Mahaney writes:

“The message Paul had for Timothy is the same message God has for you. You need to rediscover the truth. They key to joy, to growth, to passion isn’t hiding from you. It’s right before your eyes.

It’s the gospel.” (p. 30)

Through the rest of this little book Mahaney does his best to help us come face-to-face with the purity of the Gospel and to fall in love with the reality of the grace of the Gospel.

“For when you’re deeply aware of your sin, and of what an affront it is to God’s holiness, and of how impossible it is for him to respond to this sin with anything other that furious wrath – you can only be overwhelmed with how amazing grace is.

Only those who are truly aware of their sin can truly cherish grace.” (p. 88).

In those two sentences Mahaney seems to identify the great challenge of our age: the absence of sin. As a concept, sin has been identified as a leftover from the dark ages that no longer applies to contemporary life. Perhaps a few quaint religious types still believe in sin but not the more intelligent masses. Mahaney is correct then that one will not love the gospel (or “cherish grace”) apart from an awareness of their sin.

The intellectually honest seeker of God will consider the entire gospel narrative that begins with creation, then the fall, followed by God’s relentless pursuit of mankind to reconcile and restore them to himself in that relationship that existed in creation!  In that context the harsh reality of the cross where “Jesus does’t just feel forsaken; he is forsaken” (p. 94) challenges the assertion that sin is just a quaint, outdated concept.  Jesus didn’t go to the cross because of a concept.

I appreciate Mahaney’s challenge on p. 109: “Let the cross always be the treasure of your heart, your best and highest thought…and your passionate preoccupation.”

Living the Cross Centered Life is a volume that should be part of your library and should be re-read annually.