Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Secret Sauce of Private Purity

In March 2001 at the age of 38, I left the business world and transitioned into a role on a church staff team. I had always been very active in church life but now I was fully immersed in the church world and, to my initial surprise, found myself being swept along by a tsunami of teaching on leadership. Looking back now the shift had started years before with good heathy teaching on the character of those entrusted with caring for the flock of God, helping believers take their next step in their Christian journey and prophetically calling people to follow them in the cause of Christ as 'they followed Jesus'.

As so often happens in the church what starts as a healthy challenge or correction can finish with a wild and unhealthy pendulum swing. Book after book and conference after conference focused on developing yourself as a leader, finding leaders, appointing leaders, and developing leaders. Talk of discipleship was replaced by an emphasis on leadership development and leadership levels when scripture to my knowledge is silent on the latter but is crystal clear in its call to 'make disciples.

Of course, I must be careful not to 'throw the baby out with the bath water' and pursue yet another dangerous swing. However, a short story from Pastor Rick Warren during a chat with Carey Nieuholf really brought home to me the crushing failures of our leadership teaching. 

One of the Pastors, from whom I have learned much, but has featured large in creating the leadership culture wave is Bill Hybels formally of Willow Creek Church and Willow Creek Leadership Summit. The great sadness is that all his teaching on leadership was holed beneath the waterline because his public platform life was not flowing in integrity with his private backstage life. Despite teaching others about leadership for decades he created a leadership culture that was abusive and not life-giving.

In the middle of a conversation with Carey about pastors protecting themselves from moral failure, Rick recalls a conversation with Bill Hybels:
'I remember telling this to Bill Hybels back in the eighties. I warned him. I said, "Bill, I think you're flirting with fire the way you travel with female staff and the way you don't hold up lines." And I gave him my Saddleback Ten Commandments. His response to me was "Rick, you're going overboard." That's what he told me. And I looked at him in the eye and I said, "Bill, I'd rather go overboard than be thrown overboard." And he was thrown overboard.'
I also remember hearing Rick say: ‘In ministry, private purity is the source of public power.’

This is true for all of us, whether we are operating in the family, the workplace, the community or the church. If we want to have a powerful impact for Christ in the world, we need to be people of purity.

Lord help me to continue to walk close and consistently with you, allowing you to do the work you need to do in my life that only you can do, enabling me to serve you faithfully with the humble confidence that comes from a heart overwhelmed by you.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Lord why is this?

John Newton wrote:

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know, 
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray, 
And He, I trust, has answered prayer.
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favoured hour, 
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r, 
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel 
The hidden evils of my heart; 
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand
He seemed intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, 
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
‘Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?’
‘’Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.’

‘These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, 
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.’

Sunday, July 26, 2020

50 years and counting

Today my friend and hero Roger Blackmore celebrates 50 years in ministry. Whilst he has been the person on the platform most of the time it is also as much a celebration of his wife Gill who has been there at every step of the 50-year journey. Together they have pastored churches in England, Scotland and of course Long Island, NY.

Roger & Gill have impacted countless lives over 5 decades and I am honoured and thankful to count myself in that number. I guess my story is replicated a myriad of times in many lives. Accepted, valued, encouraged, challenged, mentored and loved are just a few of the adjectives to describe time with Roger & Gill.

I am an avid reader and I am sad to say too many of the books on my shelves are written by Christian leaders who have crashed and burned along the way and many struggling to stand back up. So, in an age when pastors and Christian leaders seem to have a difficult job finishing well 50 years is a milestone worth celebrating.

Although young I was still aware of the tensions encountered when they were leading our church in Cairnbulg & Inverallochy. Transitioning a church is not the easiest thing to do. But walking into Genesis Church you can tell an instant that this church one, reflects Jesus but also the couple who planted it, Roger & Gill Blackmore.

It is a place that is real, honest, fun, gracious, accepting, loving and of course, are passionate about reaching the people who do not know Jesus yet!

 They and Genesis are the real deal.

Congratulations on 50 years, whats next?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

A road map to a healthy church culture

One of my favourite authors Scot McKnight has a new book being published later this year that explores creating a "goodness culture" in our church families.

Our first instinct may be to think well that automatically exists in a local church! Tragically, in recent years, Christians have gotten used to revelations of abuses of many kinds in our most respected churches--from Willow Creek to Mars Hill. We are not immune to this in the UK. In the last couple of weeks, we have read of a well-know leader announce his resignation with trustees citing concerns around an unhealthy church culture and specifically a culture that led to racism.

I am sure that no Jesus follower who hears the call of God and sets off to dedicate their life to serve God by planting or leading a church, expects to arrive at a place where they have to resign and suffer the consequences.

However, it seems to be happening with too much regularity at this moment in time. Our behaviours, beliefs and practices contribute so much to the culture we create. Let's take a time out to ensure we are taking steps towards health rather than a disaster.

Scot gives lists 7 characteristics he has noted in unhealthy church culture and 7 that help create a healthy culture.

(Below are my paraphrase of what I heard on a webinar and not exactly what was said)

Characteristics of a toxic culture
  1. Narcissism is allowed.
  2. Fear is common.
  3. Care for the institution can trump the care of people.
  4. False narratives are formed (e.g. to protect the institution)
  5. There is a large emphasis on loyalty.
  6. Celebrities and hero leaders are common.
  7. A greater emphasis on leadership than pastoring.
Characteristics of a healthy culture
  1. A high degree of empathy for others.
  2. Shaped by grace and nurtures grace.
  3. People are put first.
  4. The truth is told even when it's hard. (no spin)
  5. Justice is nurtured (do the right thing even when it hurts)
  6. A culture of service is built (particularly in leadership)
  7. Christlikeness is developed and valued (Christoformity)
An extract from Scot's book - A Church called Tov

Toxic, flesh- driven cultures breed a lust for power, success,
celebrity, control through fear, an emphasis on authority, and
demands for loyalty. These values may not be explicitly stated,
or even outwardly recognized, but as they fester in the heart of a leader, they can’t help but bear bitter fruit, damaging the culture of the church and seeking to destroy anyone who gets in the way.

A Spirit- formed, Christlike culture, on the other hand, nurtures truth, offers healing for the wounded, seeks opportunities to
show redemptive grace and love, focuses on serving others (rather than on being served) and looks for ways to establish justice in the daily paths of life. A Christlike church culture always has its eyes on people because the mission of the church is all about God’s redemptive love for people.