Thursday, April 30, 2009

Two Obstacles to Missional Living

"The North American Christian community today is in a missionary location....There are two obstacles, however, that must be overcome in trying to take our missionary location seriously. One is that many people in today's Christian community are too fond of the culture that makes up our missionary location [e.g. Christians addicted to American materialism, the god of technology and pop culture]. The other is that many people in the Christian community are too disdainful of this culture [e.g. Christian separatists, legalists and the 'angry at the world' religious Right]."

- Richard Mouw, "The Missionary Location of the North American Churches," in Confident Witness - Changing World, ed. Craig Van Gelder

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Good Book With A Limp

“To the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed collegues….To the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidity you will impose – prompting the ultimate departure of your best people.” (pp. 2-3)

With that thesis Dan Allender begins his provocative book on Christian leadership called Leading With A Limp. Throughout the fourteen chapters which follow, the author unpacks his argument like a gemstone viewed from various, complementary angles. Included are detailed discussions on the inescapably hard realities of leadership, failure as a leadership asset, the challenging but crucial balance between humility and courage and the indispensability of nurturing honest, interdependent community for leadership success.

In contrast to most books on leadership today (including those coming from the Christian sub-culture), Allender’s is different and refreshing. Most leadership books focus either on leadership acumen or character quality, both built on the premise of ‘leadership by strength.’ Leading With a Limp, in contrast, operates from the assumption of our depravity (control, manipulation, self-absorption) and frailty (limitations, character flaws, immaturity). The net effect is to knock down the false image of ‘leader as ruggedly independent superman,’ inviting us to enter into a painfully honest community of grace-bound sinners committed toward striving for a goal higher than ourselves.

Perhaps especially for Christian leaders emerging from fear (rather than grace) based contexts, Allender’s book is inviting and helpful in our quest to lead realistically and humanly, accepting not only the limitations of those we lead but, perhaps most importantly, our own significant limitations as leaders. Personally, I found chapters 12 & 13, which focus on leadership in community, most helpful and challenging, given my natural introversion and my depraved self-sufficiency.

By way of critique, I found Leading With A Limp to suffer from some of what Allender himself warns against: narcissistic self-absorption. For instance, although I hail the recent recovery of a salvation-historical approach to the Bible in evangelical circles, I found Allender’s emphasis on ‘leadership as story-telling’ less concerned with discovering our place in God’s biblical story of redemption through Christ and more concerned with post-modern-influenced, therapeutic hipness. My greatest disappointment with this book is how bereft it is of biblical categories (e.g. ‘reluctancy’ instead of ‘humility’ as the goal of chapter one). In the same way, I was thoroughly expecting the final chapter on ‘prophet, priest and king’ to be about Jesus – the only true Leader we need to enable us for true leadership. Instead, we receive a shrunken version of Christ’s offices we’re to imitate for our own success.

Allender’s book is particularly helpful in raising a red flag against Christian leadership which flows from self-protective pride and fear. Not only is Leading With A Limp’s thesis generally compelling, Allender sprinkles his text with many valuable one-liners of wisdom, and the allegory he uses to describe the Jacob narrative is nothing short of brilliant. In many ways this is a very good book. Grounding it in a decidedly Cross-centered, God-focused worldview would have made it even better.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Three Leaders We Need

What kind of leaders do we need most? According to Scripture, we most need the three offices of leadership which are found perfectly in Christ: prophet, priest and king. Theologian Francis Turretin explains how they perfectly address our unique needs:

"The threefold misery of humanity resulting from sin (ignorance, guilt and the bondage of sin) required this threefold office. Ignorance is healed through the prophetic office, guilt through the priestly, and the bondage of sin through the kingly. The prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the priest removes guilt and obtains reconciliation for us; the power of the king takes away the bondage of sin and death. The prophet shows God to us; the priest leads us to God; and the king joins us together with God and glorifies us with him. The prophet illuminates the mind by the spirit of enlightenment; the priest soothes the heart and conscience by the spirit of consolation; the king subdues rebellious inclinations by the spirit of sanctification."

- Francis Turretin, quoted in Alester McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, p. 283.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Something Obama Gets Right

It is likely that most of you reading this blog fundamentally disagree with many of the perspectives, values and plans of our new President. I disagree with many myself. Nonetheless, as gospel-centered, heaven-oriented Christians, Mr. Obama recently made a comment about the United States to which we should all be able to heartily say, "Amen!"

On April 6, Obama told reporters during a recent trip to Turkey:

"Although ... we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation."

If not in America, where, then, will we find our Promised Land of Christian hope? The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to adopt the attitude of Abraham, who "...was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:10)

"And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Revelation 21:2)

Our Christian hope is found in Heaven, not Washington. Could our Lord have raised up our new president, in part, to keep the church from putting our hope in a false Promised Land? Perhaps.

Poetic Redemption

Lord, the condemnation was yours,
that the justification might be mine.

The agony was yours,
that the victory might be mine.

The pain was yours,
and the ease mine.

The stripes were yours,
and the healing balm issuing from them mine.

The vinegar and gall were yours,
that the honey and sweet might be mine.

The curse was yours,
that the blessing might be mine.

The crown of thorns was yours,
that the crown of glory might be mine.

The death was yours,
the life purchased by it mine.

You paid the price
that I might enjoy the inheritance.

John Flavel (1671), from his sermon, "The Solemn Consecration of the Mediator," in The Fountain of Life Opened Up: or, A Display of Christ in His Essential and Mediatorial Glory

Friday, April 10, 2009

When Death Means Joy

Today is Good Friday - the day on which we remember with particular attention Jesus' brutal death by His enemies on the Cross. That brutality adds up to a paradox because for us Christians such hate poured out in Him means an eternity of joy. Joy through holy bloodshed - that's the paradox of Good Friday.
I'd like to call us to consider another possible means of joy through holy bloodshed. Today I received an e-mail from our missionary contact in Sudan. As he wrote he was about to fly from Kenya north into Sudan, and he is asking for prayer because of the following warning from the US Embassy in Kartoum:

In March 2009, the government of Sudan expelled numerous aid groups from the country and senior government officials publicly called humanitarian aid workers "spies." There is a continuing possibility that ongoing protests may encourage violent action against Europeans and Americans. On January 1, 2008, two American Embassy employees were assassinated while traveling in their vehicle in Khartoum. The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against all travel to Sudan. Americans and Europeans have been victims of kidnappings, carjackings and armed robberies while traveling in Sudan. There have also been several incidents of hostage taking of European NGO workers and Chinese oil workers over the last year, as well as a hijacking of a domestic airline flight. Terrorist actions may include suicide operations, bombings, or kidnappings. Travel anywhere in Sudan, including Khartoum and the adjacent town of Omdurman, is potentially dangerous. Militia forces have instigated sporadic violence and have attacked locations in Southern Sudan.

Though Ed and our teams going into Sudan do all they can to be safe, sometimes gospel ministry meets satanic hate resulting in spilled Christian blood. That spells dark sorrow for mourning Christians, but, according to Psalm 116:15 it also means that "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." And, in Revelation 7 we catch a glimpse of the Christian martyrs from chapter 6 with palm branches of victorious joy in their hands and praise on their lips.

As with Good Friday so now the hatred of the world costs Christian blood but equals joy. As you think about this paradox of the Kingdom of God this Good Friday, say a prayer for safety for Ed and all our brothers and sisters in Christ in Sudan - and then prepare your heart to rejoice in the martyrdom of some. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The tears of the church are a prelude to our joy.