New Blog Post: Selecting Ministry Priorities

At the recent Global Leadership Summit (GLS), Bill Hybels talked about the 6 x 6 principle.  If I understood him correctly, he selects 6 ministry priorities that he seeks to accomplish over 6 weeks.  In principle I like this idea, as I find that I’m more effective with clear ministry priorities–but six of them over six weeks?  I have a growing respect for Bill Hybels–in fact, besides John Ortberg, he was my favorite teacher at the GLS–but I wonder if the 6 x 6 principle is sustainable over the long haul.  I mean, how many times can you do this in a row before exhaustion sets it?  Now, it could be that Pastor Hybels selects a mixture of “major” and “minor” priorities to accomplish, which makes the principle manageable in practice.  I don’t know.  And I’m certainly not going to question the teaching of this godly and influential pastor.  But in my limited experience, I wonder if the 1 x 2 or 2 x 1 would be more accessible and practical for regular pastors like me.

1 x 2: One key ministry priority per two-month period.  For example, a top-priority for me over the next few months is teaching (in the church and public school).

2 x 1: Two key ministry priorities per quarter of ministry.  For example, I’ve chosen to focus on teaching and pastoral care training this quarter.

In my opinion, regardless of the number or ministry priorities you choose for a particular period of time, the important thing is that you prayerfully select a priority(ies), so that you stay out of what Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser call an “activity trap.”  I conclude with a passage from their book, Leading the Congregation (Abingdon 1993), which I’ve found exceedingly helpful as a pastor of a small local church.

When you have determined what is the one thing that only you can do, concentrate your time and energies on it, and then you will have broken out of the activity trap.  Your work will no longer be shopkeeping or maintenance. . . . So concentrate on that one thing–certainly not more than two things, because you can do only one or two things well at the same time. . . . The Lord creates very few, if any, universal geniuses [like Bill Hybels?]. (80-81)

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New Blog Post: Reflections on the 2012 Global Leadership Summit

Over the last two days I had the privilege of attending the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit (GLS) in Edmonton.  I just harvested a number of quotes that I recorded during the GLS for future reference, so I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

First, a couple from Bill Hybels: “Leaders most valuable asset is their energy and their ability to energize others.”  “What a privilege it is to be a leader.”

And these from Craig Groeschel: “God values maturity.  If you’re not dead, then you’re not done.”  “Delegate authority and create leaders.”  “Authenticity trumps cool every time.”  “Respect is earned.  Honor is given.”

As much as I enjoyed the lectures given by a roster of gifted leaders and speakers, I would have to say the best part was connecting with my fellow leaders from Wolf Creek Community Church.  What a blessing to have a number of them attend the GLC, so that we can all be formed as leaders and strengthen our relationships.  So I thank the Lord for this learning opportunity, and I pray that he continues to form us as leaders so that we may effectively equip and empower people to make disciples of Christ in this community and in the world.

Let me conclude with another quote from Bill Hybels: “Everyone wins when a leader gets better.”

New Blog Post: Family Spiritual Growth Plan

Last Sunday we studied a very important text of Scripture: Colossians 3:1-14.  I’ve spent considerable time meditating on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians over the last few years–ever since I heard Dallas Willard call it a model “curriculum for Christlikeness” (see The Divine Conspiracy, 369).  And I believe that chapter 3 of the letter is especially important, as it helps us to put on the character of Christ.  This involves putting to death or taking off certain sinful actions and attitudes and putting on godly virtues.  As I reflect on the sermon I preached based on this text, I’m not convinced that I adequately explained how to do this.  Perhaps I should have also discussed vv. 15-17, as it provides a practical application.  Basically, what Paul does  here is give us some basic spiritual practices to help us become more like Jesus.  We sometimes call these practices “holy habits” or spiritual disciplines.  Now Paul’s list is by no means exhaustive, but it gives us some of the basic spiritual practices that help us to become more like Jesus: be thankful (v. 15); studying God’s Word (v. 16); singing “psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit” (v. 16 NIV); doing everything that we do in the name of Jesus (v. 17).  Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list of spiritual disciplines, but doing these activities faithfully (and with the right attitude) will take you a considerable distance on your journey toward Christlikeness.  So what am I doing to become more like Jesus?  The fact is that spiritual growth doesn’t just occur.  Yes, the Holy Spirit does whatever He can to make us more like Jesus.  But we must partner with him in our spiritual formation.  So what is my spiritual growth plan?  And what about my family?  The following is a draft of a “family spiritual growth plan” that I’ve begun to practice with my family as we seek to become more like Jesus.  I pass it on in as a potential resource for you.  
Sunday: morning worship service; afternoon: rest & play; evening: sing hymnsMonday evening: Bible study (led by parent) & communal prayer, focusing on thanking the Lord for Sunday and praying for God’s blessing this week; also prayers for teachers

Tuesday evening: Bible study (led by parent); communal prayer: thanksgiving & personal prayer requests; prayers for immediate family

Wednesday evening: Bible study (led by children [one per week—oldest to youngest]); prayers for extended family and friends and sponsor family

Thursday evening: Bible memorization (school program); respond to God’s Word in communal prayer

Friday evening: practice the discipline of celebration (evening)

Saturday: service at home and in the community; prayers for the worship service

So what is your spiritual growth plan?

New Blog Post: The Unbusy Pastor

I suppose there are as many models for pastoral ministry as there are pastors, but I find Eugene H. Peterson’s philosophy of ministry compelling.  Three years after he had started a church, he realized that he had worked himself into an unhealthy busy pastor mode.  One day his daughter, Karen, asked him to read her a story.  As usual, he apologetically declined, as he had another evening meeting to attend.  Her response hit him hard: “This is the twenty-seventh night in a row you’ve had a meeting.”  His heart was broken, and he knew that he couldn’t continue living this way.  So he went to his evening meeting and resigned.  He told his story of perceived failure in parenting and pastoral ministry.  One wise leader asked: “So what do you want to do [as a pastor]?”  This was Eugene’s response:
I want to be a pastor who prays.  I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence.  I can’t do that on the run.  It takes a lot of time. . . . I want to be a pastor who reads and studies.  This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us.  I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods.  This is subtle stuff.  It demands some detachment and perspective.  I can’t do this just by trying harder.  I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ–your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights.  I can’t do that when I am running scared.  I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship, a pastor who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces and get rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson. . . . .I want to be an unbusy pastor.”
(Eugene H. Peterson. The Pastor, 278.)

I’m not suggesting that every pastor should be exactly like Eugene Peterson.  But I do believe that his view of ministry is helpful for all pastors.  Godly leaders are reflective.  How can we help others to know Jesus if we don’t know him ourselves, which comes from spending considerable time with him in solitude and silence.  So may the Lord help me and all pastors to take Peterson’s story to heart.  May he show us how to be unbusy pastors, so that we can know Christ and make him known in this busy, distracted world.

New Blog Post: One Pastor’s Testimony of Thanksgiving

I love this time of year, when we pause to intentionally give thanks to the Lord for all of his blessings.  How blessed we are that our federal government calls us to give thanks to the Lord for the harvest and appoints a holiday for that purpose.  But no matter the season or circumstances, we’re called to be thankful.  As we read in Colossians 3:15 NIV: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful” (emphasis added).  Indeed, giving thanks to God is a basic Christian attitude and practice.  So allow me to give my own short testimony of thanksgiving.  Here are a few things that I’m thankful for: (again) for a Canadian government that calls us to thank God for the harvest; for my wife and family; for the privilege of shepherding a local church; for supportive leaders and loving brothers and sisters at my local church; for spiritual mentors in person and through writing; for gardens and fresh produce; for recreational activities and hobbies; for new life in Christ!  So what are you thankful for this year?  Whatever it is, I encourage you to express your thanks to God and others for all of his blessings–given to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

New Blog Post: “Establishing Beachheads”

I just finished reading Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken’s book, Renovation of the Church (IVP Books, 2011).  What an interesting and thoughtful read!  I saw myself and my church in their story many times.  The last chapter was especially intriguing, where they sought to cast a vision for the future.  Borrowing a metaphor from Dallas Willard, they encourage the church to establish “beachheads.”  “A beachhead is a term describing an invading army moving onto the shore of the nation they are invading and establishing themselves in enemy territory.  From this beachhead, the military is able to bring in fresh troops and all the necessary supplies to establish new front lines in order to advance on the enemy.  Once the beach has been taken, a command post and a field hospital are established there.  And the beachhead becomes a secure place to stockpile supplies.” (176)  Applying the metaphor to the church, Carlson concludes: “We no longer believe that the task of developing churches was foremost in Jesus’ mind (referring to the Great Commission [Matthew 28:18-20]).  We believe that Jesus was referring to something similar to the concept of establishing beachheads for the kingdom of God.  Planting churches undoubtedly will be a natural and necessary development of this perspective.  Churches will be the organizational headquarters, the command post, the field hospital, the place where the resources are stored and given away.  But our purpose is to provide followers of Christ with the necessary tools so that they can establish new front lines where the Kingdom of God is breaking out.” (177)  Lately I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the purpose of the church.  How can we best fulfill the Great Commission?  Are we really advancing the Kingdom of God in our community?  Where are the new converts?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the beachhead metaphor gives me pause.  Are we providing the tools that followers of Christ need to be able to establish new front lines for the Kingdom of God?  May the Lord guide us as we seek to move our church in this direction.