Pastoral Leadership, Part 1: Godliness

I have the joy of teaching in our Doctor of Ministry Program at Southeastern Seminary. It is an outstanding program of study with majors in Expository Preaching, Leadership, Biblical Counseling, Faith and Culture, and Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. You can learn more about the program by going here or by phone at 919-761-2216.

Recently, I received a very fine paper from one of my students on “Leadership in the Local Church.” The author is a pastor of a very prominent church in the Southern Baptist Convention who is leading it through a time of transition following a long tenured pastor. The focus of his paper was on how to lead a local congregation through a time of transition without blowing up the place. As many of us know this is easier said than done.

With his permission I will share in several blog entries an edited version of his paper. There is real wisdom in what you will read. For obvious reasons the particular church and the pastor’s identity will not be disclosed.

Pastoral Leadership, Part 1: Godliness

Transitions in pastoral leadership can be one of the most critical periods in the life of a church. It will certainly be a challenge. Wallace Erickson, in his essay, Transition in Leadership, writes: “The events of history and observations in my lifetime reveal that transition in leadership can easily be the most traumatic event in any organization’s history. Succession in leadership makes a tremendous impact on any ministry” (George Barna, Leaders on Leadership, 298).

Over the years many have observed the departure of one leader and the arrival of a new leader with a sense of uncertainty. Sometimes the transition ends in disaster. As much as lay leaders pray, plan, and prepare, there is always an anxiety about whether or not the new leader will truly be God’s man to carry out the vision and mission of the church, as well as meet the pastoral needs of the congregation. Every week, in churches across our nation, leaders step down and new leaders assume their positions. As I have walked through this journey of leadership transition, seven principles have become my guide. They are principles that are needed in every leader who seeks to make an effective transition. Those seven principles are: godliness, integrity, courage, passion, compassion, competence, and communication.

The first principle that is vital to be an effective leader in transition is godliness. This is a principle that stands out in the life of every biblical leader. Nehemiah demonstrates godliness in his prayer life as he seeks vision and guidance from the Lord. It is seen in Jesus Himself, praying in Luke 6:12 and Mark 3:13-15, just to name two. The issue of godliness is most often described as part of the core issue of the leader’s character. Gary Bredfeldt, in Great Leader, Great Teacher, writes, “It’s a virtuous and godly character that provides the evidence that the content of one’s teaching is indeed true and that it can be lived with authenticity” (89).

In addition Jack Hayford notes, “A leader’s character will never rise beyond the flow of his obedience to the Holy Spirit dealing with his heart.” Seeking the face of God is paramount for any believer who desires to grow in the richness of his relationship with Christ. The leader must set his priorities to provide time for prayer, genuinely seeking God’s heart and God’s vision. Without the priority of prayer and the effort to seek God, this inner quality of godliness will suffer and go undeveloped. Oswald Sanders in Spiritual Leadership says, “Leadership is influence. It is the ability of one person to influence others to follow his or her lead” (Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 27). It is only through a consistent, godly lifestyle that a trust and a willingness to follow new pastoral leadership can be developed within a congregation. It is here that many transitions in leadership struggle. Oftentimes it is not the lack of godliness or lack of character on the part of the new leader that causes the struggle, but rather that the congregation has simply not had enough time with the leader to recognize that he is godly and consequently to place enough trust in him to follow his lead. Let me provide some specific examples.

One must be cautious in the reorganization of the staff. Planning a second service, more contemporary in style, must be implemented with care. A wise step before making formal presentations is to pull together a “focus-group” of a cross-section of the church. The purpose is to be transparent, to place the vision out there, and sincerely seek feedback. In hindsight, the selection of my particular focus group may have been limited by my short-term exposure. Not all the people of influence were being heard in this mix. This is crucial as you seek to lead in a godly manner that builds trust and followship.

For any present staff you inherit, the whole idea of change after many years of doing things in a certain way will probably be a huge adjustment at best. Again, it is important for these individuals involved in major change to sense the godliness of the leader who would be completely open and reassuring of how their gifts will be used. The transition of leadership demands godliness. The core character will truly take time to become evident to people around the new java

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Southern Baptists

First, note our new look at Between the Times–pretty snazzy, huh?

One of the ongoing debates in Southern Baptist life over the last four years or so is the relationship between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Emphasizing the apparent New Testament pattern and ecclesiological consistency (among other things), some Southern Baptists argue that baptism is biblically prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper. Emphasizing Christian unity and ecclesiological charity (among other things), other Southern Baptists argue that any professing Christian who is not under church discipline may partake of communion. Position papers have been written, sermons have been preached, conference addresses have been given, and “bloguments” have been made in favor of each of these views and variations within these views. I have weighed in with my personal opinions on a number of occasions, including a 2006 white paper and a 2008 blog article.

In December 2008, this issue once again became the focus of prolonged blog debate. Southern Baptists on both sides seem genuinely concerned that some of the brethren are not following scriptural teaching in terms of how they administer communion. Southern Baptists on both sides have attempted to marshal either Southern Baptist precedent or wider Baptist history in defense of their respective position. Southern Baptists on both sides have attempted to parse just what exactly the Baptist Faith and Message says and does not say about this matter. I’m not saying all of these arguments have been of equal quality or accuracy–frankly, I don’t think they have. I just want to note that the arguments have been made.

In an effort to try and bring some clarity to this debate, I wrote a short position paper last December titled “Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, and Southern Baptists.” It is an honest attempt to accurately describe each position and sketch out some of the implications of this debate for Southern Baptists. Because the paper is around 4300 words, I decided to make it available as a full document for download rather than posting it as a blog article or series of articles. Please feel free to circulate the paper as widely as you would like and join me in praying that the Lord will lead us to find the right solution to this particular issue.

Global Context (International): The World is Flat 3.0

This series of posts deals with the global context in its many dimensions-historical, social, cultural, political, economic, and religious. We will provide book notices, book reviews, and brief essays on these topics. We hope that you will find this series helpful as you live and bear witness in a complex and increasingly hyper-connected world.

Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century was written in the context of his taking over The New York Times’ foreign affairs column in 1995. Most of his exertions in the hallowed columns of that paper dealt with the themes revolving around the Lexus (his symbol for globalization) and the olive tree (his symbol for civil conflict). He was oscillating between these two themes right up until September 11, 2001. On September 12, he dropped the Lexus theme and went off to cover the (olive tree) wars. But the olive tree, according to Friedman, led him right back to the Lexus.

His thesis is that the world is now (almost) flat. Since the turn of the century, a series of political, economic and technological factors have converged to produce a tidal wave of change in global culture, which will only fully begin to be seen in the next few years. In the first chapter, Friedman points out that there have been other times of massive change such as the invention of the printing press or the dawn of the Industrial revolution. But this change is different: “There is something qualitatively different from other such profound changes: the speed and breadth with which it is taking hold….This flattening process is happening at warp speed and directly or indirectly touching a lot more people on the planet at once.

In the second chapter, Friedman lists ten “flatteners”: The Berlin Wall, IPO of Netscape, work flow software, uploading, outsourcing, offshoring, supply-chaining, insourcing, in-forming, and certain new technologies (“steroids”) that amplify and turbocharge all of the other flatteners. According to Friedman, these flatteners will converge to give us a flat world in which America may not fare as well as it has in the past century. As he tells it, there will emerge a system of global cooperation where no country is as dominant as the Americans have been. Further, Americans need to get accustomed to being 3rd or 4th in the world economy, after China and India.

In Chapter Three, “The Triple Convergence,” Friedman gets to the heart of his book. What he calls the Triple Convergence is the pivot point for the flattening of the world. The first convergence was when (at some time around 2000) all ten of these flatteners began to converge and work together in a complementary fashion. This was a tipping point of sorts. The second convergence is that we have now learned to “horizontalize” ourselves, to value connection and collaboration rather than to operate in top-down “command and control” frameworks. The third convergence is that as the world has flattened, an additional three billion people are now able to walk out onto the playing field-people from China, India, and the former Soviet Union. These three billion people, formerly locked out of “the game,” are now able (thanks to the ten flatteners) to plug in, sign on, and dial out as they connect, collaborate, and compete and, ultimately, define the course of the 21st century.

In Chapter Twelve, Friedman deals with “The Unflat World.” He opens by recounting two fascinating stories. The first is of his experience with Chinese government censors. One of his visits coincided with the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. When Friedman arrived, the government was blocking text messages that had any reference to Tiananmen Square. Because the Tiananmen Square Massacre happened on 6-4-89, the government blocked any and all text messages that contained the numbers 6 or 4. His next story is about a friend’s journey to the Sudan. At the time, in Khartoum, a rumor swept through the Muslim areas that if one shook the hand of an infidel (non-Muslim), that man’s penis would melt. The hysteria was spread by cell phone. Friedman writes, “Think about that: You can own a cell phone yet still believe a foreigner’s handshake can melt away your penis. What happens when that kind of technologically advanced primitivism advances beyond text messaging?

Throughout the rest of the chapter, Friedman deals with those who are unable to participate in a Flat World. Some of them are “too sick,” according to Friedman, meaning that either they are too sick or their governments are broken. This would include those who have HIV, malaria, TB, or polio, and those who lack potable water and electricity. Others are “too disempowered,” meaning that they do not have the tools, the skills, or the infrastructure to participate. This would include some Indians, Chinese, and Eastern Europeans.

Still others are “too frustrated,” because they have been put into close contact with more affluent societies and culture and feel envious, threatened, frustrated, and even humiliated by this. This is especially true in the Muslim world, as illustrated by the 9/11 plotters: “Virtually all of them seem to have lived in Europe on their own, grown alienated from the European society around them, gravitated to a local prayer group or mosque to find warmth and solidarity, undergone a ‘born-again’ conversion, gotten radicalized by Islamist elements, gone off for training in Afghanistan, and presto, a terrorist was born.

Finally, there are those who have “too many Toyotas.” In this section, Friedman deals with the billions of people in China, India, and the Muslim world who are beginning to demand the same conveniences that the West has, and as a result our environment is in seriously bad shape. He gives the example of the Wal-Mart in Shenzhen, China, which sold 1,100 air conditioners in one weekend in the summer of 2005. Can we afford for 1.3 billion Chinese to drive Toyotas and buy air conditioners? Can we afford for China to buy up nearly all the oil in the world, and from some of the world’s worst despots? His answer is no: “From a purely American point of view, we need a president and a Congress with the guts not just to invade Iraq, but also to impose a gasoline tax and inspire conservation at home and abroad.

In one of his concluding chapters, Friedman speaks of two types of imagination that we are seeing at the turn of the century. He contrasts the dismantling of the Berlin wall (on 11/9) and the destruction of the twin towers (9/11). The first type of imagination is fueled by hope and the desire for freedom, while the second type is fostered by hatred and fear. The bottom line, Friedman argues, is that we must work to influence the two forces that most shape the human imagination: (1) the narratives on which we are nurtured, and (2) the context in which we grow up. It is for this reason that America must collaborate with the Arab-Muslim world (for example) in order to produce the right contexts for people to succeed and to have “more dreams than memories.”

In reflecting upon Friedman’s book, I will limit myself to offering three points of interest for believers. The first is that Friedman makes it abundantly clear that the world is now hyper-connected in ways that it has never been before and that, furthermore, we are hyper-aware of this hyper-connectedness. Should we not take it as a gift from God, for the furtherance of the gospel, that we are now able to travel to, and communicate with, the global population in ways never before imagined? It will be a shame if evangelicals in the West do not take advantage of their wealth and this unprecedented opportunity to love the world with the love of Christ, both in word and in deed.

Second, we have good news for those who are too sick, too disempowered, too frustrated, and have too many Toyotas. For those who are too sick, we have the Great Physician. For those who are too disempowered, we offer the Savior who understands oppression and persecution. For those who are too frustrated, we offer the Savior who makes all things level for us at the foot of the cross. For those who have “too many Toyotas,” we offer a Savior who allows us to break the bondage of our idolatry and of our enslavement to money and possessions.

Finally, Friedman affirms and fleshes out what we are told in the Scriptures–that the human imagination is indeed affected by the narratives on which we are nurtured and the context in which we grow up. While we are thankful that three billion men and women from India, China, and the Soviet Union have the chance of emerging from poverty and oppression, we also know that affluence can have a numbing effect on the human soul. The narrative of “the ascent of capitalism” holds forth no food for the soul.

Let us give the world the true and better narrative, that of a crucified and risen Lord who will return again and bring with him a new heaven and earth on which there will be no pain and no tears. And let us give them the truer and better context for life by planting churches where they live, so that they may see the God of life and love as they watch a community of worshipers who are full of life and love.

Book: The World is Flat 3.0 (2007)
Author: Thomas Friedman
Region: Global
Length: 672 pp.
Difficulty: Intermediate