Dr. J. R. Miller has written a book that directly challenges an average American evangelical status quo: the supposed office of pastor. In Elders Lead a Healthy Family, the popular “CEO” church-leadership model is directly, yet respectfully, critiqued and contrasted with a shared elder-leadership structure more faithful to New Testament ecclesiology. No more “senior pastors,” “associate pastors,” and the like, for church polity—a model that more closely resembles Western corporate business structures than the plurality of elders portrayed in Acts and Paul’s pastoral epistles. Rather, Jesus alone is the “Senior Pastor” (1 Peter 5:4), and all those serving as leaders in the church are His equal under-shepherds. With this in mind, Miller promotes a structure where the local church resembles a family fellowship rather than assuming a leadership model with one man on top followed by lower-tiered clergy (which effectively returns us to the pre-Reformation clergy / laity divide). Far from being a free-flowing, leader-less frenzy, however, the author takes us back to how the NT defines and describes the office of elder, and a plurality of elders–who serve more as “big brothers” than a special class of ordained clergy.
Because Dr. Miller actually practices what he preaches—a shared leadership model with a plurality of elders all bearing the burden (…even the weekly preaching!)—I cannot recommend this book enough. Here is a true practitioner of elder-led churches with a wealth of pastoral and academic experience that only adds undoubted credentials to the book. And, for those interested in the perspective of a real-life working “elder’s wife” (contra. “pastor’s wife”), Dr. Miller’s wife, Suzanne, adds a priceless chapter of her own which is itself worth the price of the book. Rather than merely talking about “shared leadership” or a “plurality of elders,” which are common buzz-words with today’s non-denominational pastoral teams, Dr. Miller’s Elders Lead a Healthy Family actually outline’s what it looks like–and how the church functions better by it to the glory of her Chief Shepherd.
Primary Influences Upon John Wesley’s Life
John Wesley’s greatest influence was undoubtedly his mother. From the training and education she provided him as a young boy, to the advice that she provided him as a grown man, John Wesley’s foremost guide was his mother. Her strict yet caring hand guided him into maturity and into the ministry. It was his mother who made him feel he was a ‘brand plucked from the fire,’ purposed to do great things. From his mother, Wesley found purpose and meaning, but no spiritual solace.
The mystics, such as Law and a’ Kempis, guided Wesley through the next phase of his life. Although his mother still brought direction at times of difficulty, Wesley was away from home and influenced by the teachings of these men. In the writings of Law and a’ Kempis, Wesley hoped to find peace from his burning fear of death. The writings of the mystics formed in Wesley the hope of seeking after God and finding inner assurance and peace.
Wesley would be tormented for many years with his fears until he was brought into contact with the Moravians. Through men like Bohler, Wesley was confronted with the truth of God’s saving grace through faith. The influence of the Moravian’s led to Wesley’s experience at Aldersgate. Here, Wesley gained the assurance and peace he had so longed for his entire life. These influences help mold Wesley’s theology changed the face of religion around the world.
Impact Upon My Life and Ministry
John Wesley stands as a symbol of faith and dedication to God in the midst of great turmoil. As Wesley and the Methodists began their preaching across England, they were met with great persecution. It is John Wesley, and men and women of like character, who inspire me to pursue God no matter the cost. John Wesley was a man who devoted his life to serving God. Examining his life challenges me to devote more time and effort to the work God has placed before me. Ministry is not a job, it is a choice to live my life in service to God and His people. Wesley knew this and practiced it without fear or hesitation. To have the courage and the dedication to serve God with all his heart and soul and strength is one challenge Wesley lays before the feet of all Christians.
Lessons for Today’s Church
Wesley was a revolutionary who brought correction to God’s people at a time of corruption. I fear that the Church today has drifted away from service that pleases God to service that pleases people and the culture. John Wesley never sought to divide the Church but to Sanctify her, yet many misguided leaders have ripped the Church apart in pursuit of approval from the dominant culture. Wesley sought unity, but never at the price of moral compromise. He is a good example of how we must care for the lost by reaching out without compromising the message. Sadly, however, too many Churches are consumed with attendance and too many leaders are consumed with popularity. The Church could learn much from John Wesley’s life, but will She?
My friend Paula showed me a recent blog post from Skye Jethani where he writes about his “Daisy-Cutter Doctrine.” Jethani is the managing editor of Leadership Journal which is owned by Christianity Today International.
So what is this new Daisy Cutter Doctrine Jethani writes about? It is named after a military weapon designed to do intimidate the enemy with an explosion so massive, that their desire to fight is stripped away. Jethani allegorizes this weapon to the the approach many churches take toward missions. He relates his own experience with speakers at large conferences aimed at energizing the audience for the “big” mission of the Gospel. Jethani writes about these popular conference presenters this way…
Throughout the stump speech, the presenter will wax eloquent about the fate he or she foresees for the new generation of church leaders in the audience. “Your generation will do what mine could not.” “The young leaders in the church are leading the way by throwing off what’s come before.” “You will be the generation to change the world.” Convinced of their manifest destiny, the twenty-somethings will head off to breakout sessions where they will learn the skills to impact the world-usually from other twenty-somethings.
In my study of Church history, this generational bigotry has, in my opinion, been one of the biggest barriers to fulfilling God’s mission for the world. If we are going to really fulfill the Gospel mission, then it must be done by recognizing it is not the task of one “chosen” generation or one “chosen” leader. It is the task of all God’s saints working together in the unity and power of the Spirit. Jethani, goes on to explain why the Daisy Cutter Doctrine is so appealing.
The shock and awe approach to mission is extremely appealing to people shaped by consumerism. It taps into our consumer-oriented desire for big impact and feeds the assumption that large equals legit.
But there is a less incriminating [I think Jethani means “obvious” not “incriminating“] reason why we are attracted to the Daisy Cutter Doctrine-a big mission seems to logically demand a big strategy… So we ask, how does Coca-Cola impact the world? How does Disney impact the world? How does Starbucks impact the world? And we forget to ask the only question that really matters: How does Jesus impact the world?
…through much of its history the church in Europe employed conventional (worldly) means to advance its spiritual mission. This resulted in the gospel being spread by the sword. We now look back at the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the slaughter of native peoples in the Americas mournfully. Centuries removed from those atrocities we wonder-how could people do such things in the name of Christ? Did they not see how inconsistent those methods were with the ways of Jesus? At the time, of course, they did not.
Jethani makes an excellent point. Let me extend his comment. I believe that each generation has its own methods to fulfill the Gospel mission. Each generation has some inherent blind-spot which feeds the mistaken notion that their methods are the enlightened path to achieving God’s call. Cultural bias is one reason why we need the wisdom of every generation to overcome our blind-spots.
The implications of this “Daisy Cutter Doctrine” are huge for our time. Jethani rightly points out some flaws within the church in seeking to fulfill our Big Mission using Big Solutions from Big Corporations, but I think he also reflects one of the major blind-spots of our culture. Does this flaw reflect Jethani’s hypocrisy? Or is it simply his own generational bias? I will share the details of Jethani’s own “Daisy Cutter Doctrine” in the next post and you can decide for yourself.
In the meantime, I want to leave you with a great quote from Phil Vischer of VeggieTales fame. Vischer’s blog is the newest link on my blogroll and his quote is the perfect shield against the Daisy Cutter Doctrine.
During this recent interview in World Magazine, Phil Visher says:
I no longer use the word dream as a noun describing a goal. We misinterpret passages from the Bible like, “For lack of vision the people perish.” From that we run off and go, “Oh, we’ve got to have vision, we’ve got to have dreams!” But it was Henry Blackaby who first pointed out to me that when we interpret that verse to apply to our ambitions, we’re completely misinterpreting it. A better, contemporary translation is, “For lack of revelation the people throw off restraint.”
We’re not called to be a people of vision, we’re called to be a people of revelation. God speaks and we follow. We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true” and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous.
That doesn’t mean I just sit here waiting for God to hand me a Post-it note with tomorrow’s agenda. But I brainstorm, I have ideas, I put them on the wall, and I pray about them. Then one of those ideas will start to percolate a bit, start to bubble, and then I chase the bubble to see if that’s where God is moving me. But if suddenly God seems to be moving me in a different direction, I let go of that idea, because it’s just an idea. If I keep calling it my dream, I’m holding on to it too tightly until it becomes something I can’t let go of. And the only thing I can’t let go of is God. Everything else should be held with an open hand.
This clip is from Dr. J.R. Miller’s graduate course on Christian Ethics and Leadership at Southern California Seminary. In this segment he discusses the meaning of ethics and the biblical basis for equality of men and women.
The church in the West is undergoing rapid change. We are shifting from an Enlightenment worldview to a Post-modern philosophy. The positive side of change is a stripping away of cultural encumbrance that has kept us from fulfilling the Gospel. The downside of our current transformation, is that we are all-too-often exchanging one cultural norm for another. One form of church is torn down, only to be replaced by a newer more culturally acceptable form. One set of political mores, is replaced by another.
One example of transformation comes under the rubric of Social Justice (ie. poverty, homelessness, AIDS, etc…). In serving the needs of the world, one of the key purposes of the Church–Evangelization of the lost–has been replace with the purpose to befriending the lost. The call to demonstrate the mature love of Christ has been supplanted by a childlike fascination with wordly-compassion.
Tokunboh Adeyemo writes a salient response from an African perspective in this article entitled, “Contemporary Issues in Africa and the Future of Evangelicals”
To the world, the Church has the responsibility of witnessing for Christ and discipling the nations (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19). This does not preclude works of charily which are an intrinsic part of the good news. However, caution needs to be exercised in this area. The Church is not an organisation for social and political asylum, nor are we to use divine resources to bribe people into God’s kingdom. Since the Church is in the world but not of the world, she should not be indifferent to the social, political, and economic struggles of mankind; neither should she sacrifice her ambassadorial function at the altar of social involvement. Our Lord Jesus Christ liberates the total man: the material and the non-material. Thus he says: ‘If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed’ (John 8:36). The Biblical sequence begins with an internal spiritual regeneration and reconciliation of man to God, manifesting itself in an external physical transformation and reconciliation of man to man in society. The task of the Church therefore is to confront (not maintain dialogue with) the world with the claims of Christ as deposited in the Bible. This mission, central to the heart of God, his Son, and the apostles, must be the mission of evangelicals to the world. The New Testament Church was a missionary Church; and so must be ours. We must go forth (i) with a thorough-going Biblicism which does justice to the claims of the Scriptures, and (ii) with a Biblicism that is both contemporary and relevant.
* World Evangelical Fellowship. Theological Commission., vol. 2, Evangelical Review of Theology : Volume 2, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Evangelical Review of Theology (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Periodicals, 2000, 1978), 12.
Does the love of Christ include tangible expressions of kindness? Yes! But, our mission is more than alleviating the temporal pains of this world. We, the followers of Jesus, have a greater call to give the world a hope beyond the ‘now’. We are ambassadors of God’s Kingdom to this passing world and we must live accordingly.
Lest we forget…
Thirst is not quenched by micro-loans for building wells, but by the eternal wellspring of the Spirit.
Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14))”
The hunger for meaning is not satisfied by wheat–bread, but through Jesus–bread.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe…
50 This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him (John 6:35-36; 50-56).
The longing for love is not fulfilled in giving trinkets and bobbles, but in the person of God who IS love.
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:7-14).
I know how some folks will respond, “this kind of faith is not practical.” But therein lies the problem.–Faith in the West is impotent. The power of Christ, through His Spirit, to transform the world has been entrusted to preachers, politicians and pop-stars. The church must not give Her grand place in the Kingdom to become the Sugar-Daddy to the world. Do we really believe it? Are we able to live it!
In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to feature some of the Christian men and women who had a major influence on American history.
In the early day of Reconstruction after the Civi War, the Radical Republicans tried to ensure civil rights were extended to the estimated 2.3 million freed slaves. Christian missionaries, teachers, and business owners all came to help rebuild and bring equality to the newly freed blacks.
When the Radical Republicans ruled, blacks were given unprecedented power and influence. One of those great men was a Christian pastor Hiram Revels, the first black member of the US Senate. Revels believed that his appointment to fill the empty MS seat would “be a weakening blow against color line prejudice.” The Democratic minority hoped that a black Senator would “seriously damage the Republican Party.” Following is a short biography of Revels.
Revels, Hiram Rhoades (1822–1901). African-American Methodist minister, politician and educator. Born of free parentage in North Carolina, Revels went to Quaker institutions in Indiana and Ohio and to Knox College in Illinois. In 1845 he entered the ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), serving churches in the Midwest and border states. A local church dispute in St. Louis resulted in his shift to an African-American Presbyterian congregation in Baltimore in 1858. During the Civil War, he recruited for African-American regiments, served as a chaplain, helped set up Freedmen’s Bureau schools in Mississippi and rejoined the AME Church. In 1868 he changed his clerical status to the Methodist Episcopal Church (ME), which had returned South for missions among the freedpeople. During Reconstruction, Revels advanced from local political roles in Mississippi to the state Senate until he became the first of his race to serve in the U.S. Senate (January 1870 to March 1871). Elected president of Alcorn University, he spent the remainder of his career in education, as a contributor to the church press and as a pastor and presiding elder. A representative to the General Conference of the ME Church in 1876, he fought unsuccessfully against the policy to permit a color line in the denomination.
Daniel G. Reid et al., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
Revels served and fought for the rights of blacks at a time of great civil unrest. The white and black people who came from the North to help ensure freedom for the black southerners were called “Carpetbaggers” by the white Democrats who wanted blacks to remain enslaved and oppressed. White Southerners who supported equality were labeled Scalawags by these same Democrats who sought to restore white supremacy. As noted in this PBS article,
After Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865, President Andrew Johnson alienated Congress with his Reconstruction policy. He supported white supremacy in the South and favored pro-Union Southern political leaders who had aided the Confederacy once war had been declared.
Southerners, with Johnson’s support, attempted to restore slavery in substance if not in name. In 1866, Congress and President Johnson battled for control of Reconstruction. The Congress won. Northern voters gave a smashing victory — more than two-thirds of the seats in Congress — to the Radical Republicans in the 1866 congressional election, enabling Congress to control Reconstruction and override any vetoes that Johnson might impose. Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 that divided the Confederate states (except for Tennessee, which had been re-admitted to the Union) into five military districts. Each state was required to accept the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, which granted freedom and political rights of blacks.
Eventually, the white supremacists employed methods such as Redistricting to ensure Democrat power, terror groups like the Klu Klux Klan, Rifleman and Red Shirts used force to keep white Democrats in power and suppress both the black and white voices seeking equality. Eventually, Reconstruction ended, and the Jim Crow Era took shape.
Most whites rallied around the Democratic Party as the party of white supremacy. Between 1868 and 1871, terrorist organizations, especially the Ku Klux Klan, murdered blacks and whites who tried to exercise their right to vote or receive an education. The Klan, working with Democrats in several states, used fraud and violence to help whites regain control of their state governments. By the early 1870s, most Southern states had been “redeemed” — as many white Southerners called it — from Republican rule. By the time the last federal troops had been withdrawn in 1877, Reconstruction was all but over and the Democratic Party controlled the destiny of the South.
Despite the setbacks of the Democratic-led Jim Crow era, the legacy of the great Christian leaders like Hiram Revels who partnered with whites who shared his ideals should inspire all of us today who seek to insure the God-given rights of all peoples.