I love following pastors on Twitter and Facebook. In these years of temporarily being outside of pastoral ministry, it gives me great joy to pray for pastors who continue to preach, teach, lead, and serve week after week after very long week.
But Saturdays make me chuckle.
Beginning on Saturday afternoons, the tweets start rolling in. Tweets that sound a bit like a pep rally:
- Stoked about worship this weekend! Don’t miss out! It’s going to be epic!
- So pumped about what God is going to do tomorrow in worship!
- Can’t wait to deliver the message that God gave me for our church tomorrow!
- Get up, get to church, God is going to do great things tomorrow!
- AMAZING testimony to start our service on Sunday! Trust me, you do NOT want to miss this!
A pastor friend and I were having lunch not long ago and he said, “Sometimes, I want to get on Twitter and say to all our church members: I’m super stoked about services this weekend! It’s going to be the most super ordinary Sunday ever!”
There’s something to be said for online enthusiasm for worship services. Would that we be more enthusiastic about gathering with God’s people and hearing from God’s Word! We go to worship with a sense of expectation and anticipation, yes. We attend church services expecting to hear from God, prayerfully open to whatever changes He might make in our lives.
But let’s face it. Not every message, every song, every service will be spectacular.
Brothers, we are not hype-machines.
That’s why all the Twitter buzz wore out my pastor friend with the pressure of making every weekend “an incredible worship service you will never forget.” That’s a treadmill that exhausts the faithful preacher. Where did we get the idea that every worship set has to be more powerful than the week before, that every sermon has to be a home run, that every experience has to be immediately life-changing?
Not only that, but when you really do have a big event going on, it’s hard to top your rhetoric from every other weekend. If all your Saturday tweets are ecstatic escapes into ALL CAPS territory, you’ll have a hard time expressing how super, really, amazingly, incredibly stoked you are that 15 people are getting baptized the next day. Adjectives run out at some point, as do Twitter characters.
God Meets Us in the Ordinary
So, my pastor friends, please be encouraged by a few simple truths.
First, let’s not overemphasize the dramatic results of one incredible worship service and underemphasize the long-term results of faithful, ordinary church-going. The week in, week out routine of gathering with God’s people and listening to God’s Word is not a waste, even if your people walk out the door on a given Sunday and can’t recall the second point in your sermon. It’s the cumulative effect of our practices that matters, not the spectacular experience of the moment. Sometimes, it’s not one sermon that changes a life, but 1000 sermons.
Secondly, be thankful for the days when God performs open-heart surgery on us through His Word. But remember that most Sundays, God is extending health to us through the faithful proclamation of His Word and the fellowship of believers who stir us up to love and good deeds.
Third, let’s not downplay the ordinary Sundays – the beauty of God’s service to His children on non-holiday weekends, the Sundays that don’t stand out on the calendar. After all, it’s the God who meets us in the ordinary means of grace that we can get super stoked about.
According to authors Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini, the purpose of Building Leaders is to:
“present a leadership development process, providing leaders with a universal format that applies to all churches no matter their size, location, or ethnicity. The goal of this book is to help leaders walk their unique ministry organization through this process to arrive at their unique ministry product or model, ensuring that they touch all the necessary bases.”
The way Malphurs and Mancini seek to accomplish this goal is by explaining why such a process is needed in churches today, the biblical foundation for developing leaders, and the step-by-step process of training people to do the work of ministry.
Why Leadership Development?
The first part of Building Leaders explains why church leaders should consider implementing an intentional leadership development process in their congregations. The authors define a Christian leader as “a servant who uses his or her credibility and capabilities to influence people in a particular context to pursue their God-given direction.”
Leadership development is “the intentional process of helping established and emerging leaders at every level of ministry to assess and develop their Christian character and to acquire, reinforce, and refine their ministry knowledge and skills.”
Many church leaders have stunted ministries because they are unable to overcome the delays and obstacles for leadership training, or they are reticent to empower others to make decisions.
A Biblical Foundation
In the second part, Malphurs and Mancini lay a biblical foundation for leadership development. They point to the life of Jesus (His calling, equipping, and sending the disciples), the teaching of Jesus (particularly the metaphors He used to describe His followers), and the early church’s process for developing leaders.
Readers who believe many of the events in Acts are prescriptive in their particulars, not just in principle, may find elements of this section problematic. Most Baptists, for example, would not agree with the idea that polity is “situational” and that the early church had no prevailing view of church government.
A Process for Leadership Development
Building Leaders becomes increasingly prescriptive in Part 3 – the “process” stage, and it is here where the book loses some of its vitality. The authors move step by step through the decisions necessary for developing a leadership process.
Unless you’re currently working through the development of a process, you may get bogged down in some of the details. That said, there are areas that shine.
Don’t miss the chapter that lays out multiple ways of accomplishing the training of leaders, with a brief analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Reading this section, I began to understand why some of the training events I have been a part of did not accomplish the lofty goals we had when we organized them.
Two additional things make this book helpful.
First, there is a distinction made later on in the book between “building leaders” and “making disciples.” Mancini and Malphurs are right to emphasize that these are not the same thing. The end goal of a leadership development process is not a smooth-running church operation, but more disciple-making as a result of people’s gifts being utilized in the service of God’s kingdom.
Secondly, I appreciated the authors’ desire to consult churches of all sizes. The last section includes two test cases (one small church and one large church). These examples go a long way in helping the reader recognize the different ways this book’s insights could be implemented in unique situations.
In the end, I believe there is one aspect of this book’s stated purpose that was not fully accomplished, but this is due not to any inherent weakness in the book, but to an overly ambitious goal. The idea of presenting a process – a “universal format” that applies to any church no matter its ethnicity would have been bolstered by more examples of church leadership outside of North America. I believe many of the particular elements recommended in their leadership process would be difficult to implement in countries with an Eastern orientation, or an African conception of time and relationships, etc. (I considered what would work and not work in Romania – where I have spent much of my life.)
Overall, Building Leaders is a helpful guide to pastors and church leaders seeking to become more intentional in their development of leaders.
The United States of America crafted a gold statue called Aphrodite. They stamped it in their books, discussed it in their universities, and showed it on their screens.
The U.S. sent word to assemble the politicians, pastors, culture-makers, critics, businesspeople, judges, and law enforcers, and all the influencers of the different spheres of culture to attend the dedication of the statue that society had set up.
So the politicians, pastors, culture-makers, critics, businesspeople, judges, law enforcers, and all the influencers of the different spheres of culture assembled for the dedication of the statue.
The news media and courts loudly proclaimed:
“People of every state and region, race and religion, you are commanded: When you see anyone bowing down to Aphrodite – no matter where or when or how or whether or not you agree, you are to clap your hands and celebrate the gold statue that the United States of America has set up. But whoever does not clap their hands and celebrate will immediately be marginalized, cast aside, and silenced.”
Therefore, when all the people saw anyone bowing down to Aphrodite, people of every state and region, race and religion, clapped their hands and celebrated the gold statue that the U.S. had set up.
Some took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse the Christians. They said to American citizens:
Long live your country! Our society has issued a decree that everyone who sees anyone bowing down to Aphrodite, must clap their hands and celebrate the gold statue. Whoever does not clap their hands and celebrate will be marginalized, cast aside, and silenced. There are some Christians however, who manage businesses, hospitals, pharmacies, and adoption agencies. They are bakers, photographers, and florists. These people have ignored you, America. They do not serve your gods or celebrate the gold statue you have set up.”
Then in a furious rage the U.S. citizenry gave orders to bring in the offenders. So these people were brought before the cultural gatekeepers. Society asked them:
“Is it true that you don’t serve our gods or celebrate the gold statue we have set up? Now if you’re ready, when you see anyone bowing down to Aphrodite, clap your hands and celebrate the statue we’ve created. But if you don’t celebrate it, you will immediately be marginalized, cast aside, and silenced — and who will be able to rescue you from our penalties and fines?”
The Christians replied to their fellow citizens,
“Beloved countrymen, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then He can sustain us in the event we are being marginalized, cast aside, and silenced, and He can rescue us from craving approval from the rest of our society. But even if He does not protect us from your penalties and fines, we want you as a society to know that we will not serve your gods or celebrate the gold statue you set up.”
The bright spot in this insufferably cold winter has been the success of the movie, Frozen, considered one of the best Disney films in decades.
We took the family to see the film on Thanksgiving weekend, fully expecting the common, tired storyline of a princess being true to herself and finding salvation through romantic love. It is the Disney dogma, after all.
Suprisingly, the movie’s storyline takes us in the opposite direction. The princess who is “true to herself” wreaks havoc on the world and leaves shattered relationships in her wake. Her devoted sister pursues her, even at great personal cost. And when all seems to be lost and you hope a prince will save the day with romantic love, there is instead a stunning portrait of self-sacrifice, described as the only kind of love that can melt a frozen heart.
It’s not hard to see the redemptive sketches in this movie. If you believe that love is more than just a feeling, that true love is expressed in self-sacrifice (which flows ultimately from Christ’s willingness to give His life for the world), and that true change can only take place through redemption not self-discovery, then you will find this movie delightful. More importantly, you will find ways to connect this movie’s theme to the gospel. We loved it.
The Success of “Let It Go”
Four months later, we’re still talking about Frozen. It has earned close to a billion dollars at the box office, surpassing the studio’s all-time best moneymaker, The Lion King (in inflated dollars). For months, it has been in the top five, and the soundtrack has spent considerable time at the top of the Billboard charts.
“Let it Go” is the stand-out song on the soundtrack due to its beautiful melody and memorable lyric. The music video has been viewed more than 88 million times. But the success of this particular song leaves me scratching my head, especially when you consider its place in Frozen’s storyline.
If there ever was a song that summed up the Disney doctrine of “being true to yourself” and “following your feelings” no matter the consequences, it’s “Let it Go.” Take a look at some of the lyrics:
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well, now they know!
Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.
It’s funny how some distance,
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
Thousands of little girls across the country are singing this song – a manifesto of sorts, a call to cast off restraint, rebel against unrealistic expectations and instead be true to whatever you feel most deeply inside. What’s ironic is that the movie’s storyline goes against the message of this song. When the princess decides to “let it go,” she brings terrible evil into the world. The fallout from her actions is devastating. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me” is the sin that isolates the princess and freezes her kingdom.
It’s only after sacrificial love saves her from the effects of the curse that the princess is free to redirect her passion and power – not in “turning away” and “slamming the door” and expressing herself – but in channeling her powers for the good of her people.
If there is a moral to Frozen, it’s that “letting it go” is self-centered and damaging. What’s needed is for our distinctive gifts to be stewarded and shaped by redemptive love.
Perhaps that’s why I’m flummoxed by the popularity of “Let It Go” (the song). Not from an artistic standpoint; it’s a gem. But I’m afraid its popularity drowns out the bigger and more beautiful point of the film.
Rebellion vs. Rule-keeping
A popular idea in our culture is that there are only two ways to live:
- Through authenticity, expressed in rebellion against cultural constraints
- Through an ordered life, expressed in rule-keeping
Many people see these as the only options. And sometimes, Christians are assumed to be lumped in with the second group – the rule-keepers of religion. To the stodgy, religious types, “Let It Go” is an anthem to the beauty of spontaneity and freedom.
But Christianity doesn’t see morality in either of these ways.
We don’t believe we are most true to ourselves when we embrace our deepest desires. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. We need deliverance from our deepest instincts, not celebration of them.
Neither does Christianity say we are most true to ourselves when we conceal our sin – as if by willpower, we can control our terrible tendencies. Some religious people may put forward the image of a rule-keeping, behavioral checklist. But that’s not true Christianity. The gospel frees us from the curse of the law.
The Glory of Self-Sacrifice
Christianity teaches explicitly what Frozen only hints at: salvation comes not through self-discovery or self-restraint, but through self-sacrifice.
All across the country, little girls are singing about self-discovery. Let’s make sure that after they see this wonderful film, they are given songs about self-sacrifice.