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Category Archives: leadership

The Day the Republican Party Lost Me

MarqueeI was bemoaning U.S. politics with some old friends, one of whom has been a pastor and mentor in my life for years. He made the comment that, perhaps, the current political environment may prompt Evangelical Christians in the United States to finally disassociate themselves with party politics, and assume our Biblical posture as “aliens and strangers” in this land (1 Pet. 2:11). His idea sounded pure, freeing, liberating.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve made the leap.

I have been a registered republican for decades, with varying levels of loyalty. The main reason I identify with Republicans has been the issue of abortion. I continue to believe that our culture’s practice of removing vital fetuses is a colossal holocaust. I don’t think anyone, including a mother, should be granted the choice to terminate their innocent, vulnerable lives. I will always vote for pro-life legislation.

I also have always championed bigger freedoms, and smaller government. I want federal and state government to make as few decisions about my personal life as possible. I get tense when values are inflicted on me by politicians, especially in a land that claims to applaud individual liberties. Less legislation, less manipulation.politicsI’ve voted Republican for a long time. The primary

But something has always attracted me to the Democrats. It seems that they really want to make life better for people. I seldom think they’re answers are good ones — but I appreciate the heart. The Bernie Sanders campaign is a good example: Sanders wants to see problems fixed, and wants to take our collective wealth and redistribute it for a broader common good. Again, I like the heart … but the policy?

Republicans seldom have policy-related answers to the struggles of our American human condition – because they are committed to have as few policy-related initiatives as possible. Democrats scream, “where are your answers, Republicans?” Republicans just don’t like the assumption behind the question – that government needs to answer questions. Their primary policy MO is no policy. Freedom … the free market, the free will of the benevolent, the free thinking of people free of unnecessary tax burdens … free Cronkitepeople will choose to advance economics, care for their neighbors, and, in general, live well.

But, I just don’t believe this anymore. As a Christian, I have always believed that man is broken. Our inclination isn’t good, but rather “the wickedness of man [is] great in the earth …every intention of the thoughts of his heart [is] only evil continually” (Gen. 6:6). Man, left to himself, murders his brother, builds the Tower of Babel, breaks the laws of God, and crucifies Jesus. For our race to bank on freedom as our panacea for all of our problems … well, let’s just say it is Biblically unwise.

LoweryOur country is also less God-informed than ever. Faith in God, whether is has been genuine or just legalistic ethicism, had provided a moral center for our culture in decades past. But that is clearly eroding. The freedom we practice now is increasingly godless  … on both sides of the aisle.

So … a profoundly secular, progressive Democratic party wants to “fix” things on the basis of its own, collective, godless wisdom. I don’t like those Babel-like prospects. But an increasingly worldly Republican party  (including masses of poorly-discipled church attenders who have cashed in a robust Christian theology for two-dimensional talk-radio tweets) appears to me to be cloaking its selfishness in flags and eagles. I never hear a Republican clamoring for lower taxes so that we can give more to the poor. No, it’s about me – my freedom, my money, my guns, my health care, my license.

As God has always said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but that way leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). Democrats say “we know the way we should all live.” I don’t share their confidence. Republicans say, “left alone, we’ll choose good.” I don’t believe that for a second.

1902345-Godless-America-0Issue by issue? Sometimes I think we need government intervention. At other times, I think the best thing is for government to get out of the way. But, regarding the great issue facing our country, I’m afraid it cannot be answered by either party. It’s our godlessness. Though more than two thirds of our population believe in god, (s)he has become a side dish, no longer central to the ways we think or live.

Then, bring in the current election phenomena. Any party that could possibly let Hillary Clinton be its nominee? I wouldn’t go there. Any party that could possibly let Donald Trump secure its nomination? I couldn’t go there.

I will still care about politics. I will still vote. But labels … well, they haven’t fit for a long time, but current circumstances have disqualified them all. I guess that makes me “an independent.” A pro-life, small government, bleeding heart independent, praying that my country will somehow miraculously find its way back into the blessing of God in the years ahead.

– EO

 

 

 

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Lutherans, Pastors, Authority

Hosanna LutheranI worshiped with the local Lutherans today (LCMS). It was a very nice morning. The liturgy was rich, the hymnody stimulating, the preaching thoughtful, and the people seemingly very friendly. Though I don’t know it well, I was blessed to share the morning with this part of my family tree.

As a career pastor, I was struck by the wardrobe adorned by the leadership. The white robes, green sashes, crosses around the neck – it was clear who the consecrated ministers were. And there were several men adorned this way…which made me wonder about how leadership is chosen in this tradition.

what about pastorsSo, as I headed out, I picked up a publication in the foyer entitled “What About…Pastors.” In it, an explanation is given for what pastors are, what they do, how they are ordained, and how they should be treated. That’s when I stumbled on this quote from Luther’s Small Catechism:

Book-MartinLuthersCatechism-1868-Fair“When the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”

Wow.

I’ve been a leader in the church for a quarter century. Not only have I never been treated like this by the people I’ve led, but I have never expected this kind of response. Rather, I have always thought that no right-minded person would have the audacity to equate the validity of his or her leadership to being as valid as Christ’s. To do so would be an over-reach of one’s appropriate role, correct?

In this month’s edition of Christianity Today (Oct. 2013), there is a thoughtful article by Andy Crouch about the role of power in the church. In speaking about “power distance,” he juxtaposes those who create distance between themselves and those they lead through visible expressions of power (high distance), and those who try to look less powerful than they really are (low distance). He then remarks that, “America, today, is about as low power distance as it has ever been – and so is the American Church.”

pastor authorityI get this, and feel it. I remember from the days of my youth the bumper stickers on many hippie-driven cars and microbuses in Southern California that called us to “Question Authority.” That cultural ethos, coupled with some colossal leadership failures in the public world (Nixon, Bakker, Swaggert, Clinton, Edwards, Haggard, Weiner), have left us with little honor for, and therefore little allegiance to, our leaders. So, we’re uneasy when any leaders claim or flaunt their authority. (As an example…the image to the left is the first one that appears when I did an internet search for “pastor authority.” I think it represents our stereotypes well.)

Still, the Bible tells us that authority is both God-given, and very important. Peter tells us to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” This is for our protection, and our advantage, because they are sent by God “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14). But not only do we miss a blessing if we are out from under authority, we are also in incredible danger. Peter tells us elsewhere that “the Lord knows how…to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:9-10). Despising authority is an especially grievous offence to God – and it is standard practice in our 21st century western culture.

Francis ObedienceMy ancient and medieval brothers and sisters had an understanding of the value of obedience to authorities. The standard vow made by vocational monks and nuns was always to lives of poverty, chastity, and obedienceFrom the day they were received into the monastery, it was expected that they would give unquestioned obedience to their abbot or abbess – as a sign of their consecration to God Himself. We see that as strange today, don’t we? Do you think they would see our aversion of authority as even more troubling?

So…as I try to reconnect myself to the fullness of my Christian lineage, I do find myself longing to be under Biblcial, God-ordained authorities. I know there is blessing for me there. But where do I find it? Who truly has it, and might even expect it? Who exercises it well? And, if they do, whose expression of “power distance” is high enough that I can recognize it?

Lord, forgive me for despising authority. Teach me godly submission. May your church experience your provision of authority in increasingly healthy ways. For your honor’s sake, and for the blessings that are promised.

-EO

 
 

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Our Love-Hate Relationship With Our Family Prophets

Stoning

The Apostle Paul said, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy…the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” Then again, Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 

Is it appropriate to make this correlation: That prophetic words…

a) are the most important gifts for the church,

b) are intended to take people from where they are to where they could be (e.g., change their lives), and

c) will be rejected by the family they intend to serve?

As I go spelunking into the caverns of church history, I have begun to notice an all-too-common theme. There are many men and women who seem to have had uniquely clear vision in their day to see their condition, and a path to its improvement. With 20-20 historical hindsight, we honor these people. But most, in their day, faced stern resistance, rejection, and even extermination.

The sad thing? So many of these simply wanted the best for the church. They died for having a grander vision of what the church family could be than the rest of them could see.

Luther preachingI’ve come to find out in my short time here on the planet this less-than-profound truth: People want to enjoy themselves. That goes for my church family, too. In our age and place, with so many church options to choose from, most will pick a place that they likeOf course. Why would you pick a place you don’t like?

The church, though, is not designed to cater to our wants. It is, by definition, a place of discipleship, therefore discipline. As the author of Hebrews says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all … God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-8, 10-11). When Jesus commanded the Apostles to make “disciples” of all nations (Matthew 28:19), he was charging them baptize people into communities of discipline all over the world. Melding these passages together, Jesus was calling these men to broadcast a call to a life of painful hardship that will train you to become righteous, holy, peaceful and good. Anything less is illegitimate.

Prophets – those gifted by God to see truth, and boldly proclaim it in the church family – are on the front lines of this disciplined life. Like that really hard teacher in high school, or the over-the-top aerobics instructor, or that drill sergeant from your military days, the prophet is the one who calls you out of your present, and into your future. As the contemporary adage says, “No pain, no gain.” When we look back on these disciplinarians, some – especially those who rejected their leadership – might see them as obnoxious. But many of us are now grateful for the vision that they had for our lives, and their persistent drive to see us change. Those who endured bear the fruit, and are thankful.

Cranmer

Despite this whatever belated appreciation we can muster, it is a spiritual axiom that those with prophetic giftings will face rejection from the very family they are trying to serve. They are also indispensable to the life of the family. Paul tells us be especially ardent in seeking this gift … but really, who wants it?

Most all of our most famous aunts and uncles of the faith faced bitter rejection at the hands of the churches they served. Like their leader, they also become “the stone the builders rejected.” Paul. Athanasius. Benedict. Wycliffe. Hus. More. Luther. Hubmaier. Cranmer. Edwards. And a cavalcade of saints in local churches from our modern world. We may not say it … we may not even realize it! … but we’re eternally thankful for your faithfulness.

-eo

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in church, leadership, Uncategorized

 

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Don’t Make Me Lead the Church?

As I look into the annals of our church family, I stumbled upon this obvious, yet profound, theme.

downloadPachomius (d. 348), after being discharged from the military, found his way to a life of solitude in the desert. He and his followers were committed to never holding church office.

St. Anthony of the Desert (d. 356) committed himself to a life of solitude and prayer. He avoided church leadership issues, but his fame led to gossip about his doctrinal beliefs. His only involvement in local church life in the city ended up being him having to clear his name.

Athanasius (d. 373) was a church bishop, but chose to order his life by the rhythms of the monastery. Whenever he was in trouble in church politics, he would run to the desert for spiritual and relational peace. 

Basil the Great (d. 379) was ordained an elder against his will! Conflict drove him back to the monastic life. But then he was elected bishop, which was followed by direct conflict with the Roman Emperor. As a bishop, he championed (you guessed it) the monastic life of solitude!

st-gregory-nazBasil’s friend Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 390) was forced to become a bishop by Basil. He didn’t want the job – he preferred a life of contemplation. Gregory was so sad being a pastor that he left his local church. But, he was such a great thinker that his influence became known in the high places of power in the Empire. He was then called by Theodosius to become bishop of Constantinople. He didn’t want that job, either…and, sure enough, as soon as he assumed that role other church leaders started hammering him on some policy and procedure issues. So, he resigned yet again, and went back to little Naziansus to be a song-writer at his original local church.

Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), Basil’s younger brother, was an introvert. He enjoyed anonymity and solitude. His big brother Basil forced him against his will to become a bishop (why do these guys keep doing that?). But major conflicts ensued, so he went into hiding. Emperor Theodosius found him, read his amazing theological writings, and obliged him to travel all over the empire teaching doctrine. Gregory always felt this was a huge distraction to what he really wanted – a life of solitude.

Martin of Tours (d. 397) was also a military man. After he was released from the army, he, too, settled into the monastic life. When Tours needed a bishop, the people elected Martin to the post. But even though he took the position, he chose to live his life like a monk, not like a prestigious church leader. He eventually felt the need to move out of the city.

Ambrose (d. 397) didn’t want to be a bishop, but one night the crowd in Milan demanded that he take the job! He tried hard to dissuade the people. He then tried to escape. Finally, the Emperor himself let it be known that Ambrose would be bishop, like it or not. So, begrudgingly, he accepted the role – all this before he was even baptized!

John Chrysostum (d. 407) was a lawyer-turned-monk who happened to be a great preacher. He was so good that people couldn’t accept the fact that he wanted to live in simple solitude. He was preaching in Antioch when he was kidnapped and taken to Constantinople, because the Emperor wanted him as the bishop there. As a monk committed to poverty, the glitz of the Roman capital turned his stomach…and he preached about it. More conflict! From there he was turned on by other bishops, banished from the city, and even exiled, where he died from failing health.

Jerome (d. 420) was a monk, who then became a church leader. He did incredible work as a Bible translator and theologian. But his work in the church drove him to depression. He made a lot of theological enemies, and spent the last 10 years of this life lonely, in a lot of pain, and surrounded by controversy.

Augustine (d. 430), from the time he became a Christian, wanted a life of solitude. He was on that path when he was ordained in the church of Hippo against his will.

Obvious, isn’t it? Everyone craved solitude! The great leaders of the Imperial church all realized something: Following Jesus is the one thing to be desired above all else … and being a leader in the local church is huge distraction to that simple pursuit! And their experience was that church leadership worked against that desire, not for it.

I’ve been a Christian now for 39 years. I went to Christian college and graduate school. I’ve been pastoring for over two decades. In my lifetime, I have never met another man or woman who shares this ancient conviction. “I would much rather live a life of solitude than be a leader in the church.” No, what I experience instead is an almost insatiable desire to be in the throes of church life, preferably as the senior leader of the church.

I’ve also experienced in my ministry career that local church life is fraught with peril, especially for the pastors. When church conflict is at its peaks, rich community life and shared spirituality ebb. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.

I truly believe that, if I could get all these “great uncles” together in my living room, they would tell me, “Bill, don’t let life in the church keep you from the main thing of knowing Jesus deeply. Leave ministry leadership if you have to. Don’t lose it! Because it’s the best.”

I wish I could have heard from you guys sooner.

 
 

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