Tag Archives: church leadership

The goal of gospel contextualization

(Old Facebook Post – Revised)

Good questions and reflections here by Thabiti Anyabwile for missiologists and church leaders about the gospel and culture. I especially found this thought-provoking:

“It seems to me that a lot of the popular discussion of contextualization suffers from an incomplete statement of the goal. Contextualizing isn’t the goal. I think everyone who pauses to think about this even for a moment would agree with this. But what’s missing is, imo, a robust statement of the goal. What’s the end we ought to have in mind as we employ this strategy? What does Paul have in mind when he says “so that I might win some”? It’s not simply Christian profession. Nor is it simply personal discipleship. Neither is it simply church membership. If Paul means to win people to the position he himself occupies, it also includes such a radical redefinition of personal identity that he and the convert can become all things to all men (a kind of loose grip on natural identity itself, or a radically enlarged notion of freedom in Christ).”

How should this shape our churches? What if the goal of our discipleship programs and church structures was to equip each member to “become all things to all people… for the sake of the gospel,” as Paul did, “that by all means [they] might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22-23)? What would such a church look like? How much visible diversity would be present? How much gospel unity?

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On the danger of turning norms into absolutes

(Old Facebook Post)

One danger in biblical interpretation is the temptation to turn pragmatic norms into absolute rules. I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the question of who may baptize or serve the Lord’s Supper.

It is only natural and right, given biblical teaching about the responsibility pastors/elders bear to lead churches, and given socially-driven expectations placed upon leaders, that they will regularly perform baptisms and serve the Lord’s Supper. However, besides the command in the Great Commission about baptizing (Matt. 28:19), no biblical text gives any explicit instructions whatsoever about who should perform either of these tasks. Yet most Protestant and Anabaptist congregations have created a near-absolute rule that only ordained ministers may “administer the ordinances.” I think this does violence to Scripture, turning norms into absolutes.

Indeed, it could be argued that the more mature a local church is, the freer its individual members will be to all baptize and serve the Lord’s Supper without direct ministerial participation. As I understand it, Ephesians 4:11-12 does not say that leaders are given “for the work of ministry” (as KJV wrongly indicates), but that they are to given “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (ESV). Should not a well-equipped saint be prepared for “every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16), including baptizing new believers and celebrating the Lord’s Supper with fellow saints?

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Church cultures and the danger of complacency

(Old Facebook Post – Revised)

The Dangerous Side of Success.” This article by John Johnson is a superb warning for pastors (or other leaders of spiritual institutions) about the dangers of complacency. Giving examples from the business world, Johnson observes:

“Something… tends to happen with success.  Organizations become arrogant, monolithic, and inflexible.”

Another key quote:

“Church cultures are prone to the same thing—to achieve some success and then become satisfied, content, turning insular, rigid—oblivious to the warning Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, who once said: ‘When the rate of change inside an organization is slower than the rate of change outside of an organization, the end of the organization is in sight.’”

How do we keep our churches and church fellowships “cutting edge,” so that we keep young spiritual visionaries growing up within our ranks, rather than ignoring them, then suppressing them, then squeezing them out altogether?

Reader response:

“Change management practice [from business education] would indicate that to initiate the process, what is needed is a core group of “change champions,” preferably people with a high level of credibility and some level of power or influence. And of course, lets not forget that this is the Church of God–prayer is a powerful tool that tends to not make it into the textbooks I bought while I was in school.” 🙂

My response to reader:

…A combination of prayer and “change champions with credibility.” The latter requires patient people, persistent people, people who intentionally and humbly stay in meaningful dialogue with existing His Name Was John: The Life Story of an Early Mennonite Leader Buy on Amazon leaders, people who actively support everything current that is worth supporting, etc. For an old-fashioned account of such a change champion, read His Name Was John, a biography of J.S. Coffman, early Mennonite revivalist (d. 1898), who persisted against significant opposition to help introduce “protracted meetings” (week-long revival/teaching mtgs.) and Sunday School, etc. into very tradition-bound churches. Although some of his efforts resulted in new ossified traditions within a couple generations, he was, in his time, someone who brought needed fresh vision and life to the Mennonite church.

My main concern here is this: How can we better disciple new leaders within our churches? New leaders will mean some new ideas and ways of doing things (godly, but new). Do we intentionally make room for this newness? Or are our church Historical Drift: Must My Church Die? How to Detect, Diagnose and Reverse the Trends Buy on Amazon institutions so rigid that we stifle godly visionaries and set ourselves up for constant cycles of churches dying and new institutions being formed, often through conflict with old leadership?

It’s easier to criticize than to find solutions. An interesting book on this topic, which borrows carefully from business principles as well as church history, is Historical Drift: Must My Church Die? How to Detect, Diagnose and Reverse the Trends, by Arnold L. Cook.

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