Leadership is tough. That’s not a complaint. It’s a fact, like saying the sky is blue. Doug Wilson recently did a piece where he highlighted some of the unique issues surrounding leadership but there is one that I feel bears the time and effort of writing this. This is one that Wilson didn’t mention, but that is equally important, especially when making significant decisions. Later today, my fellow pastors and I will sit down to make some decisions about how we will lead the church that Christ has entrusted to our care over the coming days, weeks and potentially months, in light of the COVID-19 precautions that everyone is talking about (for more on this see Wilson’s article).
There are tough decisions to be made. They are particularly tough in this case because we don’t have all the variables nailed down with this virus. There are still a lot of unknowns and those unknowns make decisions more difficult. So, how do you make decisions when there are a host of unknown factors? I would submit that you make decisions based on what IS known. Therein lies the sticky topic that I am sure will rub some of you the wrong way but I feel needs to be said. As leaders, we are often (too often) reactionary and rushed. When we make decisions in reaction and rush mode, we tend to overlook unintended consequences. Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Allow me to take the spirit behind that law of motion and translate it into a law of leadership. Every decision we make has a host of consequences that in many cases, might not be fully understood until much later.
That means that every leadership decision we make, for example in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, does not just impact us here and now. It will impact us for years to come. It’s called precedent. It’s like tossing a pebble into a calm pool of water and watching the ripples drift out and back. The bigger the rock, the bigger the ripples. Sometimes those ripples turn into tidal waves. That brings me to the topic of this article. I am hearing many pastors (and keep in mind these are godly pastors who I respect, not charlatans) talking about how they will not be having church in person but instead, encouraging their people to “attend church online through the live stream”. Here is where I object. My objection is not a condemnation on deciding to suspend the worship service. That is a decision each congregation needs to make (and one of those tough decisions). My objection is this: that phrase “online church” is a contradiction of terms. And that decision to phrase it that way provides an excellent case study for how important it is for leaders to think through unintended consequences.
Yesterday, I wrote on Jesus' plan to reach the world and argued briefly that the primary way that Christ continued his work is through the church and most of his ministry was devoted to training men to care for the church and train leaders for the church. In other words, Christ trained men to care for and equip the local church and their training was a model that could be (and was) reproduced within the church as a means of growth. As leaders care for the church well and equip the saints (Eph 4:11-12), the gospel spreads. As the gospel spreads, more churches are planted and grow. As that happens, more leaders are necessary to equip those churches and the way those leaders are trained is through the local church and in particular, pastors who have been trained (2 Tim 2:2). I suggested that we can have a tremendous impact through intentionally investing in developing, training, and equipping leaders both at home in our local churches and abroad. I also mentioned that the American church has two particular strengths and suggested that as we think about missions, we need to play to our strengths. So what are these strengths?
By looking at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary today, one would not think that in my lifetime, the seminary was in theological crisis. When I decided to attend seminary, I sat down with my pastor and asked what seminary I should attend. I had no idea where to start and needed some wisdom. I remember his words very clearly; "if I could go to one seminary right now, it would be Southern. They have the best faculty in the world and have the most theologically rigorous program available". That settled it for me. With a lot of prayer, and in spite of my stellar 2.2 (cumulative) undergrad GPA, I was accepted. For the next 2 1/2 years, I was challenged and pushed to grow theologically more than I ever anticipated. The theological preparation that Southern provided is among the best available in the world. That is the Southern Seminary that I know... but it wasn't always that way.
While wasting some time on social media, I came across this picture posted by someone in a group.
Around society and within the evangelical world, there is a lot of discussion happening on the issue of social justice. Both sides are digging in and many are listening to the conversation finding aspects of both sides that they can both affirm and deny. In a conversation like this, it is important to understand some context, define terms and think through it from a Biblical worldview. Enter Al Mohler. If you are not familiar with Mohler, he is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has a gift for thinking through social and secular issues in a way that is gospel-saturated, Christ-centered, and comes from a carefully thought out and applied Biblical worldview. He recently did a question and answer session at Southern Seminary and I would commend this to you for thought and consideration as we think through these issues.
Today is the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I vividly remember watching the news in unbelief of what was happening and feeling the palatable fear and anger in the air. As I have skimmed through social media today, I have seen many posts on 9/11 ranging from political posts to tributes to the heroic actions of those who risked their lives to rescue ordinary people like you and me. Throughout the posts, videos, articles, and reflections though, something interesting has emerged. An emphasis this year seems to focus on the fact that there are now people for whom 9/11 is history like World War 2 and not something they experienced. I have read stories of adults who didn't know what had happened until much later because they were young when the attacks happened. There are those who are in high school now who have not known life in America when we were not at war and were not alive when the impetus for that war occurred. I have read posts from parents who lived through that terrible day and are asking the question "how do I talk to my kids about this"? While there are many answers out there, I would like to offer up a suggestion for Christians when it comes to the topic of talking about 9/11. Redeem it.
In modern evangelical Christian culture, there can be those who rise so high in popularity that they are beyond criticism. There are those who have make such a significant contribution in the past to the cause of Christ that they they can appear to be untouchable when in the wrong. Such is the case with Paige Patterson. The once stalwart architect of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has in recent years acted in such a way that he is not longer fit to lead and should, for the good of the convention, the reputation of Christ, and the advancement of the gospel, step down from public ministry and leadership of an institution charged with forming the theology and character of the next generation of pastors. For those unfamiliar with the situation, you can read an article by Ed Stetzer which chronicles the disqualification of Patterson. In addition, a young man who is a seminary student at SWBTS has been fired from his position there after tweeting Stetzer's article.
I am currently reading a book called Gospel Fluency (available here) and so far it is an excellent book. The author argues early in the book that we are all unbelievers. By that, he means that we all have areas in our lives where we fail to believe God. That is a simple, yet profound observation, and ultimately true. Though we may be trusting in Christ, we can say along with the man with the epileptic son, "I believe, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). We all need help in our unbelief.
My aim is not to give a political commentary on the events that transpired this week in Charlottesville, Va. This issue is not one of political ideology or party affiliation. It is, above all, a theological issue. As a pastor, I am not called to be a political activist and I refuse to do so because political involvement will not really change anything. As I read the Bible, I see that the problem with humanity is the problem of sin. It's a spiritual one, not a political one. My aim is simply to point out that as Christians, we cannot be silent about the issue of racism. Put simply, there is no room for racism within the family of God. If you are claiming the name of Christ and harbor animosity, bigotry, or hatred for another person on the basis of the color of their skin or their ethnicity, you are in sin. If you claim the name of Christ and believe that one race is superior to another, you are in sin. Thankfully Jesus redeems us from sin and gives us new hearts. When we look at the root of racism, we see hatred and hatred is not compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, here are 12 reflections on racism that I think all believers need to embrace.
Today, I'm starting a series of posts on the church. I'm starting with the question, "what is the church"? This may sound like a superficial question but how we answer it says a lot about how we view the church. We live in a very interesting time. On one hand, many parents that have kids that are in High School and College grew up in the church and likely raised their kids in the church to some degree. On the other hand, there are others who have perhaps never set foot in a worship gathering or think of the church as an institution. How should we think about the church? What is the church?
Jon is husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh, Ainsley, and Olivia, a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne, and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast