Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Human Relationships: A Devotional

[The following is a devotional I gave this morning to an ecumenical prayer group that meets twice a week in Cleveland, Tennessee. Rev. Max Morris started this group in 1999.  The total attendance for these services has been well over 100,000. The content of the devotional comes from my "Just a Thought" series on Facebook.]
Human Relationships: Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Jackie David Johns
His Hands Extended: Cleveland, Tennessee
February 26, 2013


Matthew 5:20-26  "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'  "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.  "Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

1 Corinthians 13:11 – 13:13  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 

This devotional is a collection of thoughts I have been writing on Facebook. This year I will complete forty years of credentialed ministry in the Church of God. I felt prompted to write each day a paragraph about the things I have learned and taught during those forty years. I have been surprised that so many of my thoughts have been on forgiveness and reconciliation. I am not certain what that says about me or my ministry. I have been equally surprised that this line of thoughts receives more responses on Facebook than others. Perhaps it is an indicator of our shared struggles to be faithful to the heavenly calling.

In my experience, forgiving another is often tied to the closeness I have shared with that person. The closer I am the easier it is to overlook the small things, but the more difficult it is to forgive the big transgressions. Intimacy makes daily life much easier and seasons of conflict much more difficult.

It is a fearful thing to place the care of your soul in the hands of another person. And yet that is what each of us longs for in intimate relationships and what each of us is called to in Christian community.

We all know human relationships can either hinder or nurture our relationship with God. This is because human relationships are by design a primary mode for knowing God. The struggle to know and be known by others is but an expression of the struggle to know and be known by God. The Spirit of God is the ever-present giver and sustainer of all life. To know another human is to stand before his or her Creator. God is thus a witness and participant in all relationships. It is for this cause that all sins against others are in fact sins against God. And discord in human relationships is caustic to our relationship with God.

It is by design that the need for intimacy with another human is linked to the need for intimacy with God.  Adam and Eve were created to know each other knowing God. The first couple fell into sin when they agreed to share a knowledge apart from their Creator. And the knowledge they chose to share became the knowledge that divided and destroyed them. In eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they lost their fellowship with God and their harmony with each other. Once marred by sin, the drive to live in deep communion with another became a primary battleground for sin. Ever since that fateful choice, humans have hungered to return to the Garden. That hunger is in truth a craving to return to that condition of knowing and being known in the shame-free, life-giving presence of our Heavenly Father.

This hunger to know and to be known is revealed most clearly in the gaze of our eyes. As we stare deeply into the eyes of another we are not voyeurs merely seeking to see into the soul of that person; we also desire for someone to see our inner self. When we lock our eyes on this person whom we are coming to trust, we enter liminal time and space. Without losing our personal identity we join this other person to create a new, shared reality. We enter into a covenant of co-existence. In that shared existence we freely give ourselves away; we boldly embrace that which was foreign to us, and we become more than we are. Hearts and minds are intertwined with or without physical connection. This psychic union offers the promise of personal fulfillment and the hope of the renewal of the image of God. Before the mouth speaks, the eyes expose the secrets of the heart.

The gaze of our eyes and the love of God are most exquisitely expressed in a holy and unfeigned love for one’s spouse. Properly construed, this love not only binds the husband and wife to one another; it also binds each to God; it serves as an ongoing expression of the worship of our gracious Creator. In the Garden, Adam and Eve knew and loved God as they knew and loved each other. For some, the great challenge in life is to not let love for one’s spouse eclipse that holy love from which it flows. For too many, the connection is never made so in failing to love their spouse they fail to know the love of God. Blessed are those whose love for spouse and love for God are of the same essence. They have already begun to know as they are known.

This is the reason forgiveness and reconciliation are essential to the Christian life. The quest for righteous intimacy is integral to our transformation into the likeness of Christ. Christian love, fellowship, and mutual honor mirror the glory and honor of the image in which we were made. In relationships of love and mutual respect we join with God in the restoration of His image. Brokenness in human relationships signals a fracture in our relationship with God. While marriage is the quintessential expression of knowing as we are known, all relationships must point toward our destiny in which we will stand together face to face with our Savior.

Our reconciliation with Christ and our reconciliation with each other comprise a single event in the divine economy. We will not be forgiven if we do not forgive. In the fellowship of the Spirit, we realize that the altar of self-denial at which we forgive one another and the altar at which we are forgiven of our sins against God are the same altar, the one at which all things are being reconciled to the righteousness of God. Similarly, at that place of reconciliation the voice of God’s pleasure (these are my beloved) and the voice of His call to service (go proclaim the good news) are heard as one voice. Those reconciled to God are reconciled to each other and they share in the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18-21).

Before concluding, it may help to make a couple of observations about that great obstacle to reconciliation – anger.

On one hand, anger is not a sin. It is an emotional response to a person, an event, or a situation. Counselors tell us it is a secondary emotion, one triggered by a primary emotion such as fear, or insecurity, etc.. I suggest that anger can also be grounded in love for others. Further, I suggest it is sometimes the only appropriate response to evil. Holiness draws us into the affections of God; we love as He loves and we hate as He hates. Thus, it may be sin to not have anger toward sin, especially sins of injustice. Our holy response to injustice should be to share in God’s anger toward it. Only, let our response be governed by His mercy and focused on the sin itself, not the sinner.

On the other hand, anger is a lot like wine. In and of itself it is not a sin. But like wine, anger has the potential to rule our lives. Mingled with other weaknesses it excites our brokenness and our inclinations toward sin. It numbs our better judgment and our self-restraint. Even righteous anger must be sobered by love and grace lest it devour our peace and give opportunity for evil in our hearts. To have anger may be an expression of righteousness. To hold on to anger is to hold on to our selfish ambitions instead of clinging to His righteousness.

With these thoughts in mind, I offer a few practical thoughts on forgiving and reconciling with others.

First, forgiveness should not be measured in emotions. We too often condemn ourselves for negative feelings when remembering an offence. The presence of the offender reminds us of the offence and we hurt. Then we feel guilty for hurting and possibly for feeling anger. We should not. Forgiveness is an attitude, a disposition, a dogged determination to treat the offender as if they never did us wrong. It is a firm commitment to act out of our convictions and not our feelings. Forgiveness should be measured in our resolve to bless the person who offended us.

Second, forgiveness must be more than the mental negation of an offense or simply “letting go” of a grievance. Such definitions allow, and even encourage, apathy toward the offender. Apathy is perhaps the greatest of the dehumanizing dispositions and indifference is a form of resentment. Thus, forgiveness requires a positive disposition toward the offender, a commitment to bless.

Third, forgiveness and reconciliation do not require a return to former patterns of relating, nor to old definitions of the relationship. Those patterns and definitions were no doubt built on an illusion of fidelity. They do require an openness to begin again and to build a relationship on truthfulness. Never settle for going back to the way things were. Never be driven to create that which should not be. Just be open to God’s power to make all things new. Seek to build a relationship that pleases God.

Fourth, as stated, the hope of reconciliation should not be the restoration of a relationship to what it once was; such attempts are destined to fail as they are locked within irreconcilable imaginations about the past. The hope should be for the creation of a relationship that should have been. Thus, true reconciliation is aimed at the future, the hope of what might be if both are willing to become.

Fifth, forgiveness is an expression of grace, a deep commitment to bless the one who offended our sense of worth and thereby fractured our delusion of wholeness. The grace of God never “dead-ends” in a receiver. In order for it to have its full effect on us, grace must flow through us to others. To “for-give” is to “for-grace.”

Sixth, forgiveness does not erase the pain of betrayal nor does it guarantee we will ever be fully healed. It is an exercise of faith in others that builds our faith in God. Forgiving others opens our soul to receive gifts from God. The grace that brings emotional healing flows from the same fountain as the grace that works redemption and sanctification. All of the gifts of grace are provisions of the atonement of Christ. Thus, we do not heal ourselves by forgiving others, instead we prepare ourselves to receive healing.

Finally, reconciliation with others requires reconciliation across time. While true reconciliation is aimed at the future, the journey forward should begin with openness about the present, and openness to the present requires sincere effort to hear and honor memories of the past. Those memories are part of our present reality and they too must be redeemed. We will have reconciled not when we fully agree on what happened, but when we each see what happened through the eyes of the other and embrace them as though it happened the way they remember it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Proverb on Honoring Parents


Dearest Daughter,
Listen to the words of your father
Righteousness is fulfilled
Not by avoiding evil alone
But by doing good always
For this Christ came
To free us from sin
Not from the penalty alone
But from its control within
Cleansed from our transgressions
Clothed in His righteousness
Recipients of His mercy
Granted grace that we might bless
Honor your father and your mother
That your days may be long
Seek ways to build them up
In their service become strong
Find the good in you
That first flowed from them
Let it shine for all to see
And they will glow more brightly
Add to the wealth of their memories
Your own nuggets of gold
Fuel their hopes for your future
And the future of those to come
Where they have failed
Never fail
Where they have excelled
Soar on the winds of their courage
Know and be true to yourself
Know and be true to them
From them you came
Unto them you will be gathered

August 1996
Taken from I Am Not a Poet: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/I-AM-Not-A-Poet/202394679841098

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Make Your Redemption Complete

You hold all things together
You make all things new
Your redemption is perfect
Purchased out of death
Unto life, abundant life
Our destiny is purity and perfection
Not a static state of endless protection
Rather, a dynamic embrace of all we have known
And all that is yet to be shown
Yet I scarce believe you will transform
My brokenness into wholeness
My pain into pleasure
My sorrow into joy
Betrayal into fidelity
Evil into good
Can these dry bones live?
Can they be transfigured?
Can they join the pulse
Of Your pure heart?
Contain the flow
Of Your boundless love?
Can they endure the glory
Of Your consuming face?
Can they survive the power
Of Your holy embrace?
Can they ever grasp the beauty
Of Your matchless grace?
Can they know
As they are known?
Will all things be made new?
Will my memories remain
And yet be changed?
Can these thoughts
Enjoy transubstantiation?
Can all that I am
All I have known
Be engulfed in Your beauty?
What grace must you apply
To the emptiness of my being
That I might fit
Into the fullness of Your image?
 Let every thought
Be imprisoned to Your Majesty
Every recollection
Made factual and true
Every betrayal
A revelation of Your fidelity
Every pain
A song of Your goodness
Every disappointment
A hymn to Your faithfulness
Every threat of death
A proclamation of Your life
Let every fiber of my being
From the time you wove me together
In my mother’s womb
Through every breath I have drawn
Every joy and every sorrow
Past, present, and for all tomorrows
For as long as I am
Proclaim boldly Your greatness
Your faithfulness
Your beauty
And Your mercy
At your appearance
May I sing in harmony
With the symphony
Of Your creation?
Breathed upon by your Spirit
May I dance that flawless dance
Of the redeemed
Moving in the splendor
Of Your presence?
In that day
When all that is gives You glory
Martyrs and saints singing your praise
Angels continuing their ancient anthem
Flowers, plants and trees
Joining in the revelry
The crown of thorns
now a royal diadem
The cross unfolded
Bejeweled as your throne
In that day
All creation will your name revere
Every nation bowing every knee
The pit too will sing
Of the beauty of Your holy mountain
Hell itself will then proclaim
The righteousness of Your reign
And the splendor of Your Name
Judgment will your grace reveal
As the peoples gather to be healed.

The damned will bear witness
To Your mercy
In Your presence
Consumed by Your absence
Touched by Your love without end
Unknowing but revealing
The greatness of Your plan.
 And so we plea
Come quickly Lord Jesus
Fill all things with Your presence
Make all things new
Make Your Redemption Complete!
February 2009

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Truth Shall Set You Free

[Neither poem, nor prose, nor a rose by any name.]
Our words reveal the truth of who we are
If we knowingly tell a lie
Our words reveal us to be a liar
A deceiver, in bondage to deception.

If we speak an untruth believing it to be the truth
Our words reveal us to be misled,
Ill-informed, ignorant, unwise, or full of pride to boast of that we know not.
The deceived, in bondage to deception.

If we speak the truth
Believing it to be a lie
Our words reveal us to be the greatest of fools
The blind, in bondage to deception.

But, if we speak the truth in the spirit of the truth
Our words expose our love for the truth and the truth is true within us
Only when the truth transforms us into the truth
Are we that new creation, born of the resurrection.

Then and only then, we become living epistles of the truth
And then we are one with the truth
And our words carry not just a thought,
An idea, a doctrine, but the essence and texture of the truth.

Thus, in knowing we conform to the truth
And we become the language of truth
And in that union we are truly human
Freely knowing and freely living in the truth.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Thoughts on Leadership

[This collection of thoughts on leadership first appeared in a series of random thoughts on Facebook. They are collected here and will be edited and expanded throughout 2013.]

1. There are two Biblical concepts of “headship.” One meaning is to be “first,” “up front,” or“on top.” When “headship” means being the one on top, the head must live with the constant threat of being toppled. The purpose for these leaders is to control. Such leaders must master the skill of holding on to others without letting go of power/control, an impossible state to maintain.
          Another meaning for “headship” is to be the “starting point,” “fountainhead,” or “source.” When headship means“source” the head must live with the constant need for personal renewal. The purposes for this leader’s existence are to resource and liberate others. Such leaders must master the skill of letting go both of control/power and of persons. These leaders empower others to fulfill their greatest dreams. They lead by example.
          I know which kind of leader I want to be. Do you? JDJ

2. One of the influential theories of leadership was an idea published by Douglas McGregor in his 1960 book “The Human Side of Enterprise.” According to McGregor, managers operate out of one of two theories of human nature. Either they see workers as lazy and in need of constant motivation (Theory X) or they see them as industrious and self-motivated in which case the challenge is to ensure they share the organization’s goals (Theory Y). These are issues of trust. We are inclined to either see others as trustworthy or untrustworthy. They are also theological issues; we lean toward viewing persons as evil and depraved or we lean toward seeing them as basically good and constant recipients of prevenient grace. Are they sinners or (potential) saints? I concluded a long time ago that there are many closet Calvinists hiding in the midst of us Armenian-Wesleyan ministers. Verbally they express faith in people and faith in the overwhelming power of grace to transform; behaviorally, due to a lack of faith in people, they are driven to control. They are herders, not shepherds. JDJ #174

3. The managerial grid model of leadership was developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton and first published in their 1964 book, The Managerial Grid: The Key to Leadership Excellence. Their grid charts leadership styles, or management styles, on the bases of concern for production (X-axis) and concern for people (Y-axis). Each axis ranges on a scale of 1 to 9 with 9 being high. The grid has been modified over the years with the most influential revised version being presented in McKee and Carlson’s 1999 book, The Power to Change.

The “indifferent,” or “impoverished,” leader has low commitment to task and to people (1,1 on the graph). The “accommodating,” or “country club,” leader has a low commitment to task and a high commitment to people (1, 9 on the graph). The “dictatorial,” or “produce or perish,” leader has a high concern for task and a low concern for people (9, 1 on the graph). The “status quo,” or “middle-of-the-road” leader attempts, with little success, to balance concern for task with concern for people (5,5 on the graph). The “sound” or “team style” of leader has a high concern for task and for people (9,9 on the graph). The “opportunistic,” or “exploit and manipulate,” leader adopts whichever behavior offers the greatest personal benefit. Finally, McKee and Carlson added the “paternalistic” leader who fluctuates between (1,9) and (9,1) on the grid.
I have observed within the church all of these types of leaders. I believe that the team style (9,9) is the one most consistent with the Scriptural description of the life of the church. I believe the very nature of the church demands that the task oriented leader must have a high commitment to people for the mission of the church centers on people and the formation of the people of God. I believe the truly people-oriented leader must be task conscious for the people cannot thrive without a mission. I am troubled by the paternalistic leaders within the church; in their arrogance and condescension they reveal their own insecurity and self-centeredness, isolating themselves from the life of the community. But I am most troubled by opportunistic leaders, for they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, true narcissists caring only about their own image and comfort. Unfortunately, they have they appearance of being effective and successful, but their success undermines the integrity of the whole. (More on narcissism later) JDJ #175

4. Perhaps, the most prevalent of leader types among pastors and other Christian leaders is the “status quo” or “middle-of-the-road” leader, the 5,5’s on the managerial grid. While anyone may fit this style, it is especially seen in leaders who are burned-out and in survival mode. Many of these were once by nature 9,9’s. They had a passion for people, but they have been wounded and disappointed too many times. They may have been risk-taking visionaries, but life events have made them insecure and uncertain about their futures. Their greatest fear is that someone from above or below will rock their boat. Deep within is the faint memory of hopes and dreams of being part of something great, but they now lack the energy or willpower to fan that vision into flame. These leaders are a great untapped resource for the church. They are dry-bones waiting for a fresh touch of the Spirit of God. Within their DNA is the call to Spirit-empowered Christian community and service. The enemy has handicapped them through isolation and intimidation. What they require is to be united with others to share stories of spiritual warfare and to dust off the memories of divine call. They need others who will believe in them, challenge them, and with them stir-up the spiritual gifts within. JDJ #176

5. I once was chided by a supervisor for not properly planning for a meeting I was assigned to chair. The problem in his eyes was not that I had prepared too little but rather that I had left the outcome open to group process. In his words, “Never go into a meeting you are chairing without knowing the outcome before the session begins.” I reject his view that it is the role of a leader to always determine the outcome. The drive for Christian leaders to control all aspects of their organization is grounded in part in a lack of trust in others (Theory X, or 9,1 on the managerial grid). But it is also grounded in a lack of trust in God and a misguided sense of ownership of the institution/church. Too many Christian leaders lack faith in the Lordship of Christ over His people and consequently confuse their own imaginations with inspiration. Christian leadership must begin with the assumption that the church is indeed inhabited by the Spirit of God and the first duty of the Christian leader is to exhort believers to seek for and discern the will of God. JDJ #177

6. Another theory of leadership arose in the second half of the 20th century based on systems science. Systems science seeks to understand the dynamics of the whole and its parts. It understands that all systems have structure and purpose and exist in states of constant disequilibrium and change. Each system is made of subsystems that function together toward the fulfillment of the purposes of the whole and each part. In this theory leadership is not an office, position, or role of an individual; it is a function of the organism. Those in positions of authority must learn to use the resources available to them to provide what is needed for the organization/organism to thrive. Leadership is the function of resourcing others and overseeing the processes of resourcing. Leadership creates the conditions in which others can contribute to their fullest potential. The power of this theory lies in its recognition of the complexities of individuals and social systems; it does not reduce leadership to personality traits and behavioral patterns. The bane of this theory lies in those same complexities which make it difficult to master and therefore of limited practical application. Never-the-less, since the church is a living organism, the body of Christ (see especially I Corinthians 12 & Ephesians 4) whose members have varying gifts for the edification of the body, systems science has much to offer toward understanding how effective leadership works. JDJ  #178

7. One very simple and helpful, but incomplete, definition of leadership is that it is influence. This definition moves the focus away from the leader onto the follower(s) and the effects of leadership. Everything is not subsumed in the greatness of the leader. The beauty of this definition is that it broadens the scope of leadership to all human relationships. It recognizes the power of systems. In truth, the great leaders in our lives are typically not thought of as our “leaders.” They were/are our parents, our siblings, our pastors, our teachers, and our friends. These are the people God uses most to set the course of our lives. Organizational leaders may influence the direction of the institution for a season, but that direction seldom outlives their administration. Mentors, friends, and spiritual parents have influence that penetrates eternity. While the adage “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” is often wrongfully used to suppress the role of women in society at large, it is never-the-less true. The church and the world have less need for Superman to come and lead us into Nirvana than for a generation of unknown but Godly parents and teachers and pastors and friends who will pour themselves into the rising generation. JDJ #179

8. I offer a corollary to McGregor’s and Blake & Mouton’s theories: managers, including Christian leaders, operate in response to their perception of how others expect them to operate. They perceive they are expected to be either controlling (Theory X) or empowering (Theory Y) and they lead out of or against that perception based upon their internal inclinations and strength of character. In other words, not only are individuals internally inclined to operate either out of Theory X or Theory Y, they lead within a social system that is either Theory X or Theory Y, a system that honors people over task (1,9) or task over people (9,1). In fact, they lead from within multifaceted social systems often simultaneously calling for opposing styles of leadership. The issue of leadership is always a question of how the individual leader sees him or herself in relation to others and to institutional objectives, and how he or she perceives social factors to define good leadership. Christian leadership is thus a question of whether one will follow her or his own inclinations, social pressures or the voice of God. Who are we seeking to please? The wise leader is guided by the fear of the Lord. JDJ #180

9. All systems are comprised of subsystems which are themselves fully functioning systems with their own subsystems. For example, the human body (a system) is comprised of organs (subsystems) which are comprised living cells (sub-subsystems), etc. Every subsystem performs a contributing function for the whole. In the church, like other systems, every member is gifted and her or his gifts are significant for the life and mission of the church. The function of each may not be apparent and therefore, may not be appropriately valued, but that does not diminish its significance. Every member of the body is important and needs appropriate resourcing and every member should be thoroughly honored.  The young, the old, the rich, the poor, the able bodied, the physically challenged, the intellectually gifted and the mentally challenged all are vessels of the grace of God. He speaks and works through whomever He chooses and it is often through the least of these. Therefore, one primary task of the Christian leader is to create environments where it is safe for everyone to speak, places of respect where each will be heard. The church must be a listening, discerning community where all are honored. Everyone must know not only that they are loved; they must know they are valued. JDJ #181

10. Systems are self-governing. They have internal functions that guide them toward their purposes. In response to the constant change and disequilibrium in which they exist, they make internal alterations in order to approximate equilibrium. They also have equifinality. Equifinality means they make adjustments to reach a predetermined future state. If not artificially restricted and if properly resourced, they will alter their structure and functions in order to achieve their purposes. Systems theory is therefore inherently “Theory Y.” All members of the system must be allowed to self-regulate. In the body of Christ, everyone must seek for the will of God and walk in the light of His Word as He shines it upon their path (R.G. Spurling). Conversely, every subsystem has a controlling effect on other subsystems and therefore on the whole. This controlling effect is an attribute of inter-dependency, a characteristic of the positive symbiosis of healthy relationships exemplified in mutual support. This is not the control of distortion and limitation. It is the control of positive influence. Healthy systems require both self-direction and mutual-submission. Artificial control interferes with the life-giving functions of the system because it short-circuits inherent self-governance. Thus, a primary task of the Christian leader is to create environments where others can explore the limits of their abilities to contribute to the life and mission of the church. The church must exist as the Kingdom of God governed by the Holy Spirit working in all of its members. JDJ  #182

11. Metaphorically, church office holders should center their functions more within the heart of the organization than within the brains. Christian leaders exist to resource rather than to control. The human heart functions (1) to pump the blood with its needed nourishments throughout the body, (2) to circulate blood so that toxins can be removed from the body, and (3) to propel the blood to carry anti-bodies to fight infections. Each of these is analogous to the essential functions of church elders as presented in the Scriptures, i.e., (1) feed the sheep, (2) reprove, rebuke, and exhort, and (3) confront false teachers. The brain functions to control all of the actions of the body. In the Scriptures, this function is only attributed to Holy Spirit and is never delegated to others. It is fascinating that Pentecostalism with its emphasis on New Testament Christianity often resorts to Moses the Law-giver as its prototype for organizational leadership. We should instead look to the other Paraclete of John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit, who writes upon every believer’s heart the Law of God and teaches in a manner that no one needs another to teach them that Christ is Lord. Christian leaders would do well to remember that the Lordship of Christ must be personally realized and can never be actualized through external control. JDJ #183   

12. Systems do fail; things interfere with their ability to thrive. There are occasions when a Christian leader must take control of a situation that threatens the viability of the church/ministry. Diseases that are beyond the resources of the system must be addressed. Abnormalities that threaten the life of the organism must be corrected. However, the Christian leader must take care to respond in an appropriate manner and at an appropriate time. Problems that do not threaten the vitality of the body should be handled by the regular functions of the body. A leader should take control only when one or more of the system's core functions are breaking
down. It is therefore critical that the church identify the key functions of a healthy church and protect and preserve those functions. What are the core functions of a healthy church, those traits without which it could not thrive? The church cannot be the church if it does not (1) bear the fruit of life in Christ (2) bear witness to the Lordship of Christ through its words, actions, and character, (3) worship God in Spirit and in truth, and (4) share in the fellowship (koinonia) of Christ, building up His body. In most situations the church is well equipped to address threats to those functions, but if not the elders must be willing to act. However, the typical problem is that the pastor(s) has failed in his or her responsibilities to ensure everyone is resourced, equipped for every good work. If the pastor does her or his job well, controlling intervention should seldom be needed. JDJ #184 

13. One set of major problems of the modern church flows out of the fact that it thinks of itself primarily in organizational terms. Deep down we consider the living and life-giving references to the church in the Scriptures as metaphorical and/or futuristic, i.e., we will be the body of Christ when He returns. We have a stagnant ecclesiology; one grounded in the dualism of Augustine, i.e., the church on earth is but a shadow of the one in heaven. Make no mistake about it; all organisms have organization, but organizations may not have life. The church is a living system, the very body of Christ. Organizations place their emphasis on products and processes; they think of people in terms of positions and productivity. The bottom line is what a member/employee contributes to the organization. How profitable is he or she? Consequently the focus is on what people do more than who they are. The Scriptures demand that we first think of who we are in Christ. We are bound together as a holy people, a living organism. What we do is derived from who we are. Consequently, elders in the church are first defined by their character and secondly by their function, i.e., they serve the needs of the body the way an elder serves the needs of the body. Finally, their specific duties are defined out of the merger of their character and function. In short, pastors are only incidentally office holders with job descriptions; they are first and foremost members who have pastoral functions. Our problem is that we fill offices without adequate consideration of personal character and established functions. JDJ #185

14. The core functions of the church must ever be before us. But it is also important that we identify the core functions of the church’s office-holders as prescribed in the Scriptures, especially the office of the pastor. It should be noted that the Biblical list of functions for pastors does not include “leading.” We err greatly when we begin our understanding of pastoral ministry with the secular concepts of leadership and management, i.e., when we follow a business-administration model for ministry. The Biblical functions for elders/pastors are teaching, encouraging, edifying, evangelizing, serving as an example, defending the faith and the faithful, and correcting doctrinal error, etc. These are the functions of a shepherd. Organizational management and supervision are not included in the Scriptural list of responsibilities. I would not suggest that pastors ignore oversight of any aspect of the life of the church. But oversight is not control and involves limited institutional management. Pastors must never lose sight of their primary roles; they must devote themselves above all else to the fulfillment of their pastoral functions. Many carry the title of pastor with little evidence of pastoral functions. Some are entertainers/performers and/or executives, but they simply are not connected with the body of Christ in healthy, interpersonal relationships that foster growth in Christ. JDJ #186

15. No one can lead well if they do not know how to follow. The Apostle exhorted, “follow me as I follow Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Because we have placed undue emphasis on developing leadership skills while downplaying, or sidestepping all together, the essential character and skills of following Christ we have generated a host of leaders who do not model the Christian life. The number of popular and “successful” ministers who are publicly disgraced by moral failure every year is a reproach on Christ. It is also an indictment on the church for its failure to follow the Biblical mandates for the selection, ordination, and supervision of its ministers. The Scriptures are emphatic; the first qualification for spiritual elders is that they be examples of the faith. Modernity has led us to believe that maturity is less important than performance, or at the very least we have been led to confuse the two. How drastically different would the church be if we took seriously the admonition that no one be set forth for positions of authority too quickly, that they first prove themselves faithful (I Timothy 3:1-10, II Timothy 2:15, 21-26, Titus 1:6-9, ). JDJ #187

16. A recurring problem for organizations is the narcissistic boss. Distinctions can be made between narcissistic personality traits and narcissism as a personality disorder; some traits surface in most of us from time to time. I am herein referring to those leaders on the disorder end of the spectrum. True narcissists are obsessed with their own greatness. On the surface they are often gregarious and confident. They are driven to make themselves look good and they often succeed, rising to positions of prominence and control. This is especially true in a materialistic society that judges success on the grounds of superficial appearances. In a capitalistic society no one may be better equipped for the top position than the competent narcissist. Narcissists are relationally handicapped, seeing themselves as the center of their universe and others as extensions of themselves. They differ in levels of ego strength and stages of psycho-social fixation. One knows he or she is the center of the universe, another only believes that it should be so, and another sees his or herself as the universe. I am not suggesting that all leaders are narcissists. The church is blessed with many servant leaders who pattern their lives and relationships on Jesus Christ. I am suggesting the church is not immune to the patterns of the world in its patterns of leadership selection. There are many types of narcissistic leaders, examples of which can be found in the Bible: Samson, King Saul, Solomon, and Jezebel and Ahab to name a few. JDJ #188

17. Samson was a narcissist; he was charismatic, self-confident, self-centered, and in the end self-destructive. He was the star of his time. Everyone in his life was but a prop on the stage of his theater. He was classified as a judge in Israel, but he is not known for sitting with people to help them “judge” a solution to their problems. He was a judge only in the sense that God used him to judge the Philistines. I classify this type of narcissistic leader as a comet; they see themselves as the brightest, if not only, star in the sky, a streak of glory collecting adoring fans as they traverse their universe. They are the universe, at least the part that matters. They are gifted performers and gnostics who are thought to have special knowledge to dispense. They are the TV evangelists of our time. These leaders are seldom found in established institutions and are therefore leaders by accident. That is, they have no interest in leading others. Their interest is in being adored. But in the process, they collect projects and programs that announce their greatness, any of which can be discarded should they distract from the glory of the narcissist. But as long as the programs add to the luster of the comet they must be maintained and thus institutions may form around the leader. Those institutions may even outlive the narcissist. Historically, in Pentecostal and Evangelical circles these leaders often founded a Bible college or a “Center” by which to memorialize the great leader. JDJ #189

18. King Saul was another type of narcissist. He was a reluctant leader who was thrust into his role with little ego strength, but once ensconced in power he fought to keep everything in his control. He was vicious with those he considered a threat to his reign. I would label him as the black hole of his universe. He was what I call a centripetal narcissist. Centripetal refers to an energy pulling inward. These leaders relate to others out of a weak ego that compensates as a strong gravitational pull downward into themselves. Their fragile inner self seeks institutional structure in which to house their exalted self. They know they should be the center of the universe. Like all narcissists, they have little sense of boundaries, and therefore absorb others and the institution they lead into their own self-identity. They have a need for everything to not only orbit them but for everything and everyone in the organization to be subsumed within them. They are like a collapsing star, fueled by and absorbing everything in their emotional system. There is no room for personal honor that is not viewed as the glory of the narcissistic leader. In their imaginations they are the source of all the good accomplished by others around them. Often considered brilliant, head and shoulders above the rest, they seldom succeed at creating institutional greatness. Onlookers marvel at their brilliance and then wonder why these leaders do not live up to their potential. They lack the ego-strength to empower others and to release them to realize their potential. They struggle to delegate and when they do they quickly recall the power they released. Masters at painting a rosy picture, they busy themselves with details and lose sight of the picture they have painted. JDJ #190

19.  King Solomon was a third type of narcissistic leader. He was born to greatness. It was not something for which he had to strive. Drawing upon the experiences of his father and others, he had an innate understanding of people and systems. His greatest attributes were his intelligence and his organizational wisdom. Yet, he lacked common sense in his personal life. He came to see himself as the source of the greatness of Israel. He was a centrifugal organizational narcissist, one who sees others as planets and moons revolving around him, reflecting his glory. Centrifugal refers to an energy pushing outward. It is the energy that counters centripetal allowing a solar system to remain stable. These leaders function out of a strong ego. They know they are the center of their universe. They have the appearance of empowering others, encouraging them to soar high. But that power is constrained by the necessity to stay in a proper orbit and reflect well on the narcissist. Betrayal by abandonment, or simply getting off course, is the greatest of sins. The institution they lead becomes narcissistic in character, believing its own PR and demanding that everyone recognize the greatness of itself and its leader. The organization is great because it has a great leader, or so it seems. These leaders may have excellent abilities to create complex institutional systems. They may be intelligent and highly successful. If so, they are considered charismatic leaders, their Achilles heel is that their success seldom outlives them. Neither they nor the institution can identity a replacement. Whoever follows them in leadership is likely to fail because success would detract from the charismatic leader’s glory, and the established myth that they are irreplaceable, the exception being another favorite son arising from within. JDJ # 191

20. Ahab and Jezebel were a team that together functioned as a fourth type of narcissistic leader. They ruled Israel out of a perverted, co-dependent relationship. They were not concerned with adoration or respect as much as control through fear. Power was the currency they valued. Ahab had the authority of position; Jezebel had the authority of control. Like the comet narcissists they had no need for others to revolve around them. Their need was to suppress everyone and everything beneath them. They were extreme narcissists in behavior. In this type, one partner is a true narcissist who dominates the other, in this case Jezebel was the dominant personality. The dominating narcissist lacks the skills or certification needed to excel on his or her own, but fueled by the codependent partner they manage to intimidate their way into dominance. Together, they simply want what they want and expect everyone to give it to them. Perhaps the best indicator of their existence is the opulence they demand for themselves; the image of power is everything for them. They are capable of using charm and manipulation to gain and maintain control. On the surface, they may appear successful and loved; their entourage may have all the trappings of allegiance and prosperity, but in the end it is a facade. Minorities and counter-voices are always oppressed. Churches, because of their dependence on husband and wife teams as pastors, are especially susceptible to this kind of paired, narcissistic leadership. Perhaps the greatest damage done by these narcissists is to those husbands and wives who are true partners in ministry, those who model healthy interdependency and mutual support as they function as members of the body of Christ. Specifically, strong women are too often labeled as having a “Jezebel spirit” simply because they dare to exercise their gifts and callings. JDJ #192

21. Regardless of type, narcissistic leaders have common characteristics. (1) While they may be gifted in making people feel loved, they are incapable of loving others. What is often misinterpreted as love for others is actually a love for the self, manipulating others to see them as loving. (2) While some are gifted at creating a pseudo-atmosphere of open discussion, they actually control the outcome through subtle intimidation and manipulation. Genuine debate is limited to matters of limited consequence. They will not tolerate opposition and are generally fond of using the word “insubordination.”  (3) While they differ greatly in the manner they treat people, all narcissists can switch from charming to vicious in an instant. Some are more adept at maintaining an image of pleasantness than others. (4) None of these leaders has a healthy sense of boundaries; their personal boundaries are nonexistent. The universe is within their purview and they simply cannot recognize as valid the personal boundaries of others. (5) They confuse the institution with their self. They sincerely believe whatever is good for them is good for the organization. (6) They have a skewed sense of morality. Because they are always right, truth is the world as they see it. What others recognize as a blatant lie, they consider a more perfected presentation of the truth. And (7) they have a special dislike for those they consider to be weak as weakness is a poor reflection on their leadership. JDJ #193

22. Regardless of type, narcissistic leaders are damaging to the Christian organization they lead and they are damaging to the individuals with whom they work (not to mention their family members). They foster a form of idolatry, making themselves demigods of their worlds. Under their leadership, it is inevitable that the vision of the organization will subtly shift from the sacred to the profane. Institutions founded for the glory of God degenerate into lifeless shells proclaiming the glory of the narcissist or the institution itself. Prone to collapse the organization in on themselves, narcissists fuse the mission of the organization with their own sense of destiny. The greatest danger from these leaders for the church is that they shut down the community’s processes for discerning the voice of God. There can be no other prophet than the leader, no other voice of authority than theirs. Under those conditions the church cannot be healthy. By the standards of the world, the organization may appear to be highly successful or it may experience slow decline. In either case, it is becoming a “white-washed sepulcher,” a monument to the glory of depravity. JDJ #194

23. Narcissistic leaders are also toxic to those who work with them. Narcissists are simply above being constrained by established policies or even social norms. They will rewrite the rules to fit their purposes. Their behavior is constrained only by their need (1) to survive in power, and (2) to be seen as good, beautiful, intelligent, etc. No one can be as good or beautiful or intelligent as they are. The overriding message they constantly communicate is that everyone is inferior to them. They have no sense of boundaries, not their own and especially not those of others. Centripetal narcissists rob people of their value and dignity. Centrifugal narcissists puff people up appealing to their baser gifts while restricting their personal development and freedom. For the same reasons, narcissists cannot appreciate the work load of others. They tend to expect little from some whom they see as important to their personal success and more than is reasonable from others. In times of conflict it is impossible to reason with a narcissist. No one can even appear to be in opposition or even non-supportive of them and their concerns. In short, everyone is an object to be used; those who work closely under a narcissist are robbed of their personal worth and dignity. JDJ #195

24. It is unfortunate, but narcissistic leaders do exist in the church. Should one find oneself working with a narcissistic leader, it is important to remember no one came thwart the will of God for anyone who is truly committed to do His will. We serve Christ under the oversight of human office holders. All of our weaknesses are part of the mix of humanity being redeemed by Christ. To the extent we can do so without violating the Word of God or our own integrity, it is our responsibility to honor and support each other, even narcissistic leaders. As frustrating as serving under a neurotic leader can be, it is an opportunity for ministry and personal growth. In such situations, it is critical that we seek God’s help to clearly define our own boundaries and the boundaries of the ministry God has assigned to us. One danger of serving under a narcissistic leader is to allow the leader to confound our God-given roles. We can be sorely tempted to fix problems that are outside of our purview; we can even become focused on fixing the leader. We see clearly their potential and their flaws and we are easily drawn into a deluded desire to repair them. That is never our role. We are to honor our narcissistic leader by shining a light on their positive contributions. But we must not become focused on him or her. To do so is to succumb to the temptation of making an idol out of them. JDJ #197

25. “Give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). “Honor all people” (I Peter 2:17). The giving of honor is intended to be a normal practice by all Christians with a special emphasis on honoring the lesser among the believers (I Corinthians 12:23-24, I Timothy 5:3). Yet, the modern church seems inept at this fundamental practice. At the heart of this difficulty is an inclination to honor on the bases of worldly values. We honor performance and performance is tied to skill and strength and beauty. We misconstrue honor as something which rightfully belongs to the powerful and so we consider honor a gift to be bestowed by them. True honor is not a gift to be conveyed; it is an acknowledgement of a quality or trait or gift already possessed. The weak and the lesser can be honored only by highlighting their overlooked qualities, only by valuing that which the world deems worthless. We fail to honor because we fail to discern and cherish that which is cherished by God. JDJ #198

26. Another challenge to showing honor in the church is that we have made honor a tool of management. With the birth of behaviorism in the early 20th century the business world and thereafter the church began the practice of recognizing workers for jobs well done or for consistency or for attendance, etc.. This recognition was mislabeled “honor.” Usually accompanied by ribbons, or certificates, or plaques, or an occasional monetary gift, these events were in truth designed to manipulate and motivate workers to be more productive. The problem is not in the act of recognition; the problem lies in the motive and the effect. Persons were not honored for who they are; they were honored for how they performed. Perhaps most grievous, these activities were tainted with deception. The language was filled with value for the person when the reality was that the person was valued less than was their contribution to the agency. The motive for honor must always be love, a genuine desire to express the worth of the person and thereby to build them up. JDJ #199

27. All honor, majesty, glory, and power belong to God. In the church care must be taken to honor that which is from God, of God, and unto God. Perhaps this is better stated in the inverse: care must be taken to not give honor for any reason that is inconsistent with the holiness of God. When giving honor to people we should be recognizing the honor of God which He has imparted to the individual or the group. Honor given to a servant of God must therefore be in harmony with the glory and honor that belongs to God. True honor for a Christian is but to announce the glory of God present in his or her life. It is to acknowledge the presence of God’s grace evidenced in conformity to the image of Christ. In this manner of edifying a member of the body of Christ, we glorify Christ. JDJ #200

28. The measuring stick for giving honor is the extent to which the recipient believes him or herself to be honored, the extent to which they consider themselves to be appreciated. It follows that honor can most effectively be communicated in an atmosphere of love and thanksgiving. People feel loved and respected only when they believe the things and people they love are respected. Thus, in order to honor a person there must be a sense of genuine appreciation not just for the individual but also for the things that person most values, those things that are most meaningful to him or her, those things they find fulfilling in their lives, those things they consider worthy of honor.In the Christian context honor must also be tied to the glory and grace of God. Honor should therefore focus on the intersection of God’s gifts and human values. The problem is that leaders tend to honor people for things the leader values without consideration of the values of the person and sometimes without thought of the character of God. Similarly, honor is best demonstrated in an atmosphere of celebration; honor is most genuine when the givers rejoice with the receivers over those things that cause the receiver’s heart to rejoice. In order to “outdo one another in giving honor” we must learn to rejoice without reservation over God’s blessings and presence in one another. JDJ # 201

29. Just a Thought: When honor is given as an expression of love and thanksgiving in an atmosphere of celebration it strengthens the bond between the honoree, the ones expressing the honor, and God who has chosen to dwell with humanity. JDJ  #202

30. There are many benefits to long-term leadership. There are also some down-falls. Organizations have their own traits and over time those institutional characteristics are more and more shaped by the personality of the leader in charge. Given enough time, the character of the leader will become the ethos of the community. The band-width of gray between black and white will be tuned to that of the leader. Patterns of interaction, openness to creativity, levels of trust, openness to diversity, and a host of other institutional traits will be governed by the ethical compass of the leader regardless of vision statements and policy manuals. The neuroses of the leader will become the neuroses of the organization. This is one reason the Scriptures are emphatic that elders and other leaders within the church must first be qualified on the bases of their spiritual maturity and relational integrity rather than their intelligence or skills (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-10; I Peter 5:1-3). We must choose our leaders well for they are what we shall become. JDJ #228   

31. One problem of the modern church is that we too often select leaders based on outward performance without due consideration of their patterns of devotional life and their inter-personal relationships, the very things the Scriptures set as foundational. These are often sincere believers who love God, have a call, and deep-down want to do the will of God. But, once exalted to a leadership position, the spiritually immature person is driven to maintain the performance-based image that got them elevated into leadership in the first place. The drive to lead becomes an obstacle to ongoing spiritual development. They become locked in their immaturity, unable to grow spiritually even as they excel in performance. They resist deeper relationships because that might lead to the discovery of their charade. For this reason, in the church, the ability to lead must be secondary to the grace to become and the ability to nurture. JDJ #229

32. Humility is a foundational trait of the Christian life and it therefore must be a primary trait of the Christian minister. The root meaning of humility is to make oneself low, hence the ancient tradition of bowing before royalty. Honor is the inverse; it is to lift up and exalt. The Scriptures exhort us to humility and instruct us to outdo one another in honoring our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 12: 10). This attitude about ourselves and others is the “mind of Christ” which we are to possess. He was fully God, yet He emptied Himself of His glory, took on the form of a servant, and was obedient unto death even death on the shameful cross so that He might lift upward those held captive to sin and death (Philippians 2). Following Christ requires that we take up a cross (humility); it also requires that we lift up others (honor them). We must always be inclined toward obeying God and honoring others above ourselves. Ostentatious shows of titles and wealth, and other flaunting of the gifts and blessings of God must be seen for what they are, pride. Perhaps this is why the Scriptures refer to church office holders as ministers, that is “servers,” and not as “leaders.” JDJ #231

Just a Thought: There are two foundational questions in the Christian life. What is the will of God? And, am I willing to do what I know to be the will of God? These are the cornerstone questions for spiritual health and growth. The first question is complex and the second is simple. How can we know with certainty what is the will of God? These questions are a matter of faith. The will of God is discerned by faith. We must believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We must believe He is intimately concerned about us and therefore about our futures. We must believe He is able to cause all things to work together for our good. We must believe the all-knowing Spirit of God is alive within us communing with us all things essential to our relationship with God. We must believe God is working within us causing us to both will to do His good pleasure and to accomplish His good pleasure. In short, we must consider our love for God our assurance that God is working in us to guarantee that we will do the will of God. I do not have to know with certainty the will of God. I merely have to desire His will and trust Him to accomplish His will in, for, and through me. Sometimes His purposes are crystal clear and sometimes they are hidden behind a veil. My focus must be on the simple part of the equation; I must continually renew my resolve to be found a faithful servant. My job is to devote myself to doing His will which necessitates that I long to know His will. As a disciple maker it is then my job to provoke these questions within others. Each must hunger to know and do. Each must seek for her or himself. Too often the church cripples spiritual growth by discouraging these essential elements of growth. We do not trust others with this task; but in truth, we do not trust God to accomplish in others what He has done in us.  JDJ # 396

34. Just a Thought: I teach a course titled “Formational Leadership.” The central thesis of this course is that the normative patterns of leadership under which we live in the church greatly influence the normative patterns of spiritual growth within the congregation. A corollary thesis is that the patterns of our congregational polity form, or mal-form, persons in the Christian faith. At the heart of this course is my deep conviction that Christian growth requires a constant effort to know and do the will of God. This effort must be both personal and shared. Yet, the church has incorporated models of leadership and decision-making that discourage people from sincerely seeking to know the will of God. These incorporated secular models of leadership understand it to be the role of the leader to “cast a vision” for the organization. In the church, this becomes a system in which only the senior pastor, perhaps with a small selection of elders or associates, is qualified to seek the will of God for the congregation. The role of believers is limited to catching the vision given to them and laboring to make it a reality. This process counters the pattern of congregational decision-making described in the early church. In the New Testament elders have a distinct role within the body which includes calling upon the faithful to seek God for direction. In consultation the entire body was to discern the direction God was leading. Everyone was to open themselves to be the channel through whom the Spirit would speak. Pastoral elders ensured that what was spoken was consistent with the established teachings of the church. In the church of today too much effort is given to being seen as successful in the eyes of the world and too little effort is given to shared-listening to the governing voice of the Holy Spirit. We are big on strategies and shallow on discernment. JDJ # 397

35. Just a Thought: Confession is an often overlooked critical component of spiritual vitality. We place emphasis on components such as worship, hearing/reading the Word, believing and repenting. But we seem to ignore the importance that speaking holds for growth in Christ. With the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10: 10). This is not a reference to a one-time action at the moment of justification but rather to the character of life in Christ. The Christian life is marked by ongoing confession of an ever increasing knowledge of Christ. There are two related words for “confession” in the New Testament. One of those words emphasizes speaking that which conforms to truth (homologeo), i.e., to speak the same. The second emphasizes speaking out freely (exomologeo). Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. One of the primal works of the Spirit within believers is to give them voice; the Spirit not only prays for believers, the Spirit aids believers in their prayers with groans and utterances of “Abba, Father.” By the Spirit believers speak boldly the mighty works of God; they speak in tongues, interpret tongues, prophesy, give words of wisdom and words of knowledge. If the church is to be serious about making disciples it must make normative occasions for freedom of expression; it must create safe spaces where believers can give voice to their faith in Christ. There must be freedom and security to talk openly about the battles and victories of the journey, freedom to talk about life. Yet, the polity of the church is often structured to silence many within the Body of Christ, especially women, minorities, and the laity. In this we grieve the Spirit, wound the faithful, and abdicate our duty as under-shepherds to nurture the children of God. JDJ # 398

36. Just a Thought: Formational leadership begins with the fundamental convictions that God must be THE leader of His people, Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and the Holy Spirit governs the church. The Holy Spirit works to form individuals and the church in all of its expressions into the fullness of the image of Christ (Ephesians 4). This formation requires that every member function to build up others and the whole. Each member has something to give and something to say. The elders of the community serve to ensure that each member is equipped and free to serve. It is not the task of select office holders to set the course or cast the vision; it is their task to facilitate within the community a process of shared discernment of the will of God. Elders are charged to defend the faith, teach sound doctrine, and to guard against false doctrine; they are to keep false teachers from leading the saints astray. But every member must be challenged by them to seek for the will of God for the community and to share any vision they believe God births in their heart. Everyone does not have to speak on every issue but everyone, even the “least among us,” must be free to speak. God will often speak through the “leaders” of the church to reveal His purposes, but it is a form of Gnosticism (leading to idolatry) when a formal or informal system is established in which He speaks exclusively through an individual or select group. Many in Western Christianity (and elsewhere I suspect) have fallen into the sin of worshiping a personality as THE oracle of God. Many are setting themselves up to be adored as God’s special ambassadors. JDJ # 399

37. Just a Thought: On the surface, in that it gives voice to all God’s people, formational leadership might appear to diminish the role of elders in the life of the church. The opposite is true. One of the great problems of the modern church is that we have lost our moorings when it comes to the ordination of spiritual leaders. We appropriately place emphasis on call and character. We also consider giftedness and skills for performance. But we fail to sufficiently emphasize maturity and function. Maturity is measured in part by one’s ability to discern and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is also measured by one’s effectual connectedness with the church, one’s healthy function as a member of the Body of Christ. Office holders in the church should be selected on the grounds of their demonstrated function in the Body of Christ. That is, elders should be selected from that group of persons who are already functioning as elders in the lives of believers; deacons should be selected from that group that is already functioning as ministering helpers in the Body. The central issue for ministry leaders/elders is that they should be selected from those persons who are mature examples of the faith. They should be persons who model what it means to live as persons who are led by the Spirit. Thus it should be expected that they will often be the vessels through whom God speaks to lead His people. The challenge for them is to be led by the Spirit in a manner that encourages the faithful to continue to listen for God’s voice. Too many speak for God in a manner that discourages others from believing they can be used by God. Too many refuse to listen to the voice of God spoken through “the least of these.” JDJ # 400

38. Just a Thought: Elders/pastors must preach and teach the Word of God and sound doctrine with authority. But when they speak of God’s purposes beyond those revealed in the Scriptures they must submit their words to the discernment of the Body like everyone else. When preachers confound their creative imaginations with divine revelation they foster confusion, division and doubt in the Body of Christ. Care must be taken to never blur what “thus sayeth the Lord” with the sincere but misguided hopes and dreams of a leader. It is in the act of mutual submission that pastor-teachers most effectively call the body into unity. Pronouncements that “God has told me” should be given only when one is willing to be judged as a true or false prophet. Such pronouncements require a division of the body into those who affirm God has spoken and those who deny God has spoken. When those divisions are not grounded in God they cripple the body’s ability to discern together God’s presence and will. Invitations to “help me discern what I believe God has spoken into my heart” promote unity, diversity and spiritual growth. In short, pastors and other spiritual leaders must speak with full authority those things they know to be the will of God; they must in humility offer to the church their best ideas about how to go forward and that must be done in a manner that entices the church to hunger for the voice and will of God.  JDJ # 401

39. Just a Thought: One of the most misunderstood and abused ministry concepts is that of “authority.” There are a variety of religious traditions describing the nature and sources of Christian authority. One of the oldest is the concept of apostolic authority and the succession of apostolic authority. The underlying concept is that the Apostles were carefully taught by Christ and then imbued with knowledge and power on the Day of Pentecost. Their authority to teach Christian doctrine and to minister grace by the power of the Spirit was communicated to others through ordination. In this oldest of traditions the church is the authority since it controls ordination and doctrine. In the Protestant tradition authority is posited primarily in the Scriptures which take precedence over tradition. The wielders of ecclesial power are those who have the knowledge and skills to exposit the Word of God. The exception to this would be those Protestants who are descendants of the Radical Reformation. For them authority is vested in individual conscience which places emphasis on associational relationships and decision by democratic vote. In the Pentecostal tradition, like other Protestants, Apostolic succession is rejected as a basis of authority and Scripture is considered the authoritative guide for the church. Their emphasis on personal encounter with the Spirit also makes room for personal authority in the interpretation of the Scriptures. But Pentecostals and Charismatics also appeal to the anointing of the Spirit as authority and in some circles there is a sense that this authority is posited in the charismatic figure. In recent years there has been a proliferation of Pentecostal/Charismatic personalities who have claimed for themselves the title of Apostle with implied apostolic authority based upon their special anointing as evidenced primarily by their success in ministry. Each of these four models for ecclesial authority is ripe with potential for abuse. JDJ # 402

40. In the New Testament “authority” is from the Greek word “exousia” which is derived from “exesti” meaning “freedom to act,” but more precisely the prefix “ex” is “out of” and “esti” is “to be,” or “to act.” Thus, “exousia” is literally “out of one’s being.” Authority is simply to be or do that which is appropriate to one’s true ontological nature, to be or act consistent with what one is. Since God is the only one who is the ground of His own being, He is the only one with true authority, the only one with true freedom to act. All others are created beings who draw their existence from Him. All true authority is therefore derived from God who bestows it as He wills. In other words, each of us has authority to be what God has created us to be, to do what He has willed us to do. Conversely, any claim to the right to speak or act that is not grounded in God’s will, design, and purposes is illegitimate. The practical question becomes, how does God make evident His will, design, and purposes? How can the church identify those actions that are grounded in the will of God? The models I uplifted in “Thought” # 402 posit authority in four distinct places: an office entered by ordination, a knowledge or skill base for reading Scripture (i.e., reason, intelligence), conscience (the meeting ground for the divine and the human spirit), and the charismatic person or experience. Each of these (office, intellectual skill, conscience, and experience) offers a platform for authority that is grounded in the presence of God, but each is also an opportunity for deception. They are not on their own reliable indicators of divine authority. JDJ # 403

41. The concept of Apostolic succession is grounded in very early Christian tradition. Jesus entrusted his Apostles with His mission and commissioned them to teach all He had commanded. Through the Holy Spirit the Apostles taught with the authority of Christ. After their deaths and before their writings were collected to form the canon of the New Testament, emphasis was placed on faithfully communicating the traditions they had received from Christ with the understanding this had to be done through the Holy Spirit who had anointed them. Thus, at the heart of Apostolic succession was the faithful transmission of the works and teachings of Christ, which embraced all aspects of the life and mission of the church. Pastors and bishops had to be selected on the basis of their place in this direct line of succession of oral Apostolic teaching. However, very early in the history of the church this authority became associated with a special anointing of the Spirit received at one’s ordination to be an elder with ultimate ecclesial authority associated with ordination as a bishop who served as “vicar of Christ” for their bishopric. In time, with the finalization of the New Testament canon coupled with a growing consensus of orthodox church doctrine, continuity with the oral traditions of the Apostles lost its importance, making the spiritual gifts imparted through ordination the essence of Apostolic succession. This impartation had to be done through the bishops as it was fellowship with them constituted the church. The essence of Apostolic succession is then that the bishops have received in their ordination special anointing to communicate special anointing/authority to those whom they ordain. The anointing  is specific to the office to which one is ordained. The question which must be answered is under what conditions can the anointing of the Spirit be communicated through the laying on of hands? Is that authority vested in the bishops of the church? Does a special anointing abide on an individual who has been ordained? If all of this is true, what does it say about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church? Does it not make the Spirit a subject of the bishops? JDJ # 404

42. Just a Thought: By the fourth century, largely in relation to struggles with heresy and schismatics, the Christian church had conflated the presence of the Holy Spirit with the presence of the “holy catholic church.” Notice the close connection of the Spirit and the church in the third clause of the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints…”
The motto of catholicity became “where the Spirit is, the church is; where the church is the Spirit is.” This conflation resulted in the view that the church and the Spirit function as one in the fulfillment of the mission of the church. The bishops, especially the Bishop of Rome, served as vicars of Christ and extended Apostolic authority forward in time. Governance of the church and authority to speak for the church became more and more centralized in the hierarchical offices of the church. Faith in the Spirit of Christ within the church necessitated faith in the church to be the agent of the Spirit. The result was a functional subservience of the Spirit to the church; when the church acts according to established tradition the Spirit will act accordingly. It should be noted that the close association of the Spirit with the church is grounded in Scripture and other early Christian writings. The church is the temple of the Spirit (Ephesians 2:21-22). It exists and functions by the presence and power of the Spirit (Acts 2, I Corinthians 12, 14, etc.), Justin argued with Trypho that Spirit inspired prophecy was proof the church was the restoration of the True Israel. The Spirit constitutes, fills and animates the church. But history makes evident the institutional church does not always exist as the living temple of the Spirit. It begs the credulity of the faithful to believe the Spirit maintains a chain of Apostolic succession that contain links comprised of faithless potentates or a church that is void of the manifest presence of the Spirit. Spiritual authority must be grounded in the authoritative work of the Spirit. Any system void of processes for shared discernment of the will of the Spirit will come to rely on profane sources of power for control. JDJ # 405

43. Just a Thought: The faulty assumption that spiritual authority can be bestowed through a rite of ordination alone does not negate the truth that spiritual authority can be communicated in an ordination process. Ordination should have spiritual significance and continuity (not linkage) with the Apostles. In its primal meaning, ordination is the laying on of hands for the purpose of imparting spiritual authority. But what is the nature and scope of that authority? What are the essential components needed to make the rite of ordination effectual? Effectual ordination begins with effectual discernment of the will of God. The church must never presuppose authority to act in the Name of Christ, which is to claim His authority. We act in His Name only when we act in accordance with His Word by the leading and power of the Holy Spirit. Any presumption of authority to speak for Christ, that is, in His name, is blasphemy. In the rite of ordination, function must precede office. The church should never ordain an individual to an office of ministry who has not been discerned to be called to that ministry as evidenced by the exercise of the spiritual gifts appropriate to that ministry. For example, elders in a local church should be selected from that pool of persons who already function as elders in the lives of God’s people. Deacons should come from that group that already demonstrates a pattern of ministry helps. The church must only ordain persons to offices for which Christ has clearly called and equipped them.  JDJ # 406

43b. Just a Long Response: As a general rule I don’t respond to comments to my posts. I appreciate the comments of others but I fear getting bogged down in responses. I want to keep moving forward with my “Thoughts.” But I will make an exception with this post for a couple of reasons. First, I have been slow in posting lately. My computer has been on her deathbed and I have been sitting by her side remembering when she was young and fast, trying my best to rejuvenate her. My tender touch was not enough. Second, I recognize my previous post was open to varying interpretations. I was expecting some disagreement but not as much as arose. Hence, I offer the following observations and clarifications.

1.     I was not offended by any of the responses to my post. I am thankful for all. I trust I did not offend.
2.     This post was on ordination but it was actually one entry in a series on authority in spiritual leadership. I think it would have helped if I had given more background information.
3.     I was intentionally broad in my use of “ordain” and “ordination.” While I was clearly addressing the issue of the ordination of the so-called “clergy,” I was also addressing the much broader issue of all types of ecclesial offices. I tried to avoid implying that I was referring only to a rank of professional ministry. For me, “ordain” is a verb, “ordination” is an event, and “ordained” is an adjective. “Ordained” must take an object: “ordained deacon,” “ordained elder,” “ordained bishop,” “ordained presbyter,” etc.
4.     While the word “ordain” is not common in English translations of the Bible (as some noted), it does appear in both Testaments in reference to the act of setting in “order.” Thus, to ordain someone was to establish his or her proper “place” in the order in the life of the people of God. It was synonymous with the concept of appointing or designating someone for a specified ministry. Any appointment to ministry within the Body of Christ is an act ordination, ordering.
5.     I recognize that the meaning of “ordain” has been effectively narrowed to that of appointment to a ministry office in which the authority of the office is thought to reside in the office holder rather than the institutional office, i.e., the office holder embodies the office. This is in contrast to the authority being vested in the office regardless of who holds the office, i.e., the authority of a police officer is in the law and not in the person. I consider contemporary usage in its narrow reference to a group of professional clergy to be overly restrictive to the point of near contradiction of the meaning of the word.
6.     It follows that ordination requires God’s initiative and church participation. In order to be “set in order” within the church one must be dynamically connected to the church. “Ordination” is predicated upon submissive relationships within the Body.
7.     My comments apply in principle to any ministry designation but especially to those that are thought to carry ecclesial authority beyond the administration of specified tasks, i.e., deacons, elders, pastors, bishops, etc.
8.     I also attempted to be generic in my use of “Bishop.” I was referring to those who have recognized authority to oversee aspects of the life of the church. In this sense there can be bishops within local congregations and bishops over multiple congregations. Not all who function as bishops carry the title of bishop.
9.     Concerning Paul’s claim to apostolic authority received directly from Christ, the context of that claim was specifically the authority to proclaim the Gospel to gentiles. He did in fact undergo a rite of ordination at the hands of his peers, the church elders (bishops) at Antioch. The statement that the he and Barnabas were to be “set aside for a ministry to which I (the Holy Spirit) have called them” was after all given to the church and not just to the two of them. It should also be noted the Paul was himself a practitioner of “setting persons in order” with a rite of “laying on of hands.” His instructions to Timothy and Titus made clear his expectations that elders and deacons were designated through the established leaders of the church.
10.  Concerning those persons whom their churches refuse to ordain, “chose for yourselves, is it better to obey God or man?” Giving every effort to submit to the church and its overseers, they must do what God has called them to do. My point is that obedience to the call alone is not ordination. I would add that the church will be judged both for its willingness to ordain persons who do not meet the Biblical criteria for the ministry to which they are ordained AND the church will be judged for its refusal to ordain all who are called by God and who meet the Biblical criteria for such ordination. [I allow that there may be a time delay between the call and the qualifications, i.e., a call may be given before the needed spiritual maturity is attained.]
11.  Concerning those churches and ministers who are independent and eschew the idea of being set in order by others, my main concern is not with how they came into existence. My concern is with whether they exist in a state of mutual submission with others in the Body of Christ. Do they exist as a faithful expression of the church? That can be achieved through a variety of polities (congregational to episcopal) but it cannot be achieved without relationships of accountability. It cannot be achieved without connection to the “catholic” church throughout the ages.

44. Just a Thought: In the Catholic/Episcopal tradition apostolic authority is communicated through the rites of ordination. [Technically, “apostolic succession” refers to bishops.] The cornerstone of this ritual is faith the Holy Spirit will act when those who have been properly authorized by the church (through ordination, etc.) act in accordance with the traditions of the faith. The central problem with this model is the assumption the Spirit will act even when the parties are not themselves in personal communion with the Spirit. The Spirit is not under obligation to communicate graces through unsanctified vessels to unsanctified vessels. I do not believe the Catholic Church has ever been void of the sanctifying presence of God. I do believe many bishops within the Catholic Church have lacked the unction given by the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of Christ does not govern them. The historical record is clear on this. Offices were bought and sold for immoral purposes. [I am not suggesting this is unique to the Catholic church. It happens in all branches of Christianity, even Pentecostal/Charismatic churches.] In order for charisms to be communicated the officiants must be anointed and directed by the Holy Spirit; such anointing is always a conscious event of union and communion with the Spirit. Apostolic authority is linked to but not ceremonially derived from the Apostles because it is authority vested by the same Spirit who governed the Apostles; it is authority to function apostolically by and with the Spirit. As I have earlier indicated, the pattern of the Scriptures is that charisms are communicated by the Holy Spirit through the church and the church has a critical role in discerning the leading and will of the Spirit and this role requires an appreciation for Christian tradition. JDJ # 408

45. Just a Thought: As the Body of Christ, the church has the responsibility to help all of its members discover, cultivate, and use their gifts for the glory of Christ. This applies to all persons and to all gifts, not just the “beautiful” people and the popular gifts. Ministry gifts are as diverse as there are people. We might categorize them in divergent patterns of service, but they, like the Spirit who births and nurtures them, cannot be constrained to popular categories even the categorical lists contained in Scripture. Are all apostles or prophets or pastors or teachers or evangelists or deacons or elders or bishops? Do all have gifts in teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, or encouraging? Not all are gifted in music or song or art or crafts. But all are gifted. This primary calling on the church requires first of all that the church to learn to honor diversity. Further, the church must create free space where individuals can explore their giftedness through service to one another. Thus, the journey into all kinds of ministry begins with the cultivation of humility and love with a corresponding desire to bless. In that atmosphere there is no room for pride, just a humble desire to serve others. The modern church has focused too much on performance and too little on service, too much on getting a blessing and too little on being a blessing. The only performance fit for the Kingdom of God is that born of love for God and others expressed as a sincere desire to see others uplifted. This is nowhere more critical than in the realm of worship; preachers, singers, and musicians must above all else serve out of humility and love. JDJ # 409

46. Just a Thought: When Jesus ascended to Heaven He gave gifts to the church, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor/Teachers. These ministers are to equip the saints for works of service for the building up of the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4). Every believer is to be equipped to build up others in the church and thereby to build up the church. While there are diversities of gifts within the Body of Christ and each member is unique in his/her giftings, there are some universal gifts that should be nurtured in every believer. I have come to prefer the phrase “ordinary practices” for these common ministry gifts that have been ordained in Scripture for the ordering of the Christian life. Too often we have thought of these as shared duties when we should consider them to be shared opportunities. The practices strengthen the one exercising the practice, but their real strength lies in their focus on others. In the practices we minister to one another. Every believer has the ability to intercede for others in prayer. Every believer has the ability to encourage others. And every believer has the ability to honor others. These are normative and normalizing practices for all. Perhaps it is the last gift that is most neglected in the modern church, honoring others. I have come to believe the lack of honor for the weak, immature, and young among us is the most debilitating of deficiencies in the modern church. JDJ # 410

47.Just a Thought: The following is a list of principles I have tried to live by as a pastor. I first wrote them over twenty years ago.

Principles of Ministry Development

*The church belongs to Jesus Christ and he desires to give direction to the ministries of the church through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

*The chief responsibility of the church is not to carry out pre-packaged programs but to jointly discover and fulfill the will of God.

*The holy Scriptures clearly reveal God's will for the church but each congregation must discover and live out that will in its own setting.

*All believers are to be joined to the church and in the context of the church they are to discover the will of God for their lives and "work out their salvation with fear and trembling."

*Every member of the church is a voice through whom God can speak to make his will known to the congregation and therefore must be heard with discernment.

*All members of the church must work together to plan and carry out the ministries of the church.

*The primary tasks of the pastor and elders in ministry development are to (1) instruct the congregation in the truths of God's Word, (2) hold the congregation accountable for living according to God's Word, (3) "perfect the saints for works of service" by preparing them to serve others through their individual talents, (4) release the members of the church to fulfill the ministries God has called them to, and (5) oversee the entire process so that all work together for the glory of God.  JDJ # 480

49. Just a Thought: What follows is another list of principles I wrote decades ago. As the title states, they address the processes of making decisions within the church.

Principles of Decision Making Within the Church

*All decisions are spiritual in nature and should be preceded by prayer.

*All decisions are personal and corporate.  They will affect people in the church locally and universally.  Therefore, their impact on persons and programs should be considered.

*All decisions are theological and should be made in dialogue with the beliefs and traditions of the church.  They must be made with a focus on knowing and doing the will of God.

*The persons who are directly affected by them should make decisions. Direction should emerge from the persons responsible for the ministry, the workers.

*Decisions directly affecting the church as a whole should be submitted to the church in conference for approval.

*It is the responsibility of the pastor and elders of the church to oversee all ministries and assure decisions within the church are made in harmony with the Scriptures, church tradition, denominational polity, and the other programs of the church.

*The central questions to be asked are: (1) is this in harmony with the known will of God?, (2) will it contribute to the mission of the church?, (3) is this in harmony with the mission statement and other established beliefs and programs of the church?, (4) will this make our shared ministry more effective?, (5) will this place an undue burden on people?, (6) will this build the church up in unity, strengthening the fellowship of the saints? JDJ # 481