When People Speak Well of You

280px-bloch-sermononthemountThese days I’m coming to terms with my tendency to desire the approval of others. From what I gather, it’s a common challenge for pastors, because after all, we are in the people business where surrounding yourself with approval feels like a wise career move.  We believe that if we have others approval they will give a good public report of who we are as leaders and that when that happens, we will enjoy a comfortable popularity.  If we’re honest, popularity is a status that many of us have desired at one time or another be it among a small group of people or a much larger audience.

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. Lk. 6:26

Jesus repeatedly assures his disciples that their immediate ministry will not be marked by popularity. He tells them that the approval of the masses might actually indicate that their words are empty and untrue.  To be labeled a “false prophet” might seem a little bit over the top, especially since we don’t readily acknowledge the public office of prophet these days.  But, the point of Jesus’ warning should make us pause for a moment.

In the days of social media content, blogs, and mass communication in general, we can feel the need to clamor for affirming words from as many people as possible. We desire to be known and liked.

In contrast, I’ve recently thought about some of the most influential people in my life and how they have approached the whole posture of  popularity.  One of the trusted leaders I meet with regularly is a sought after speaker at the national level within his area of expertise. One of my friends who knows him referred to him as a “living legend.” But as far as I can tell, this sought after leaders hasn’t put his energy into winning popularity contests, instead he’s worked hard to be faithful to his calling.

When Jesus calls, he doesn’t call us into an ego building relationship in the way that our common popularity standards might encourage. Rather, Jesus calls us into a relationship that will give us a new identity rooted in who he is.  So that’s what I’m  praying for these days; a deeper relationship with the One who was despised by many and yet loved others so abundantly.

New Book: The Self-Aware Leader

Self-Aware-Leader-AnnouncementFriends,

I’m so excited to share a resource with you that I believe will unlock potential in you and those you lead. The Self-Aware Leader hits book stores today and I expect initial stock to go quickly in light of the great reviews it’s already received. I plan on doing a review of the book, or at least highlighting some of the content that connected with me as I read the pre-release copy.  Weather you work through this book as a pastoral team,with those you lead, or as a personal exercise in developing your own self-awareness, I think you will find it to be extremely helpful!  Again, more reflections about this book will appear in the coming days, so stay tuned! Have a great day!

In the Counsel of Older Men

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last February I was at a winter retreat with my high school youth. Per the usual format, we all attended a few large group main sessions led by a speaker brought in for the weekend. Long story short, by the end of the weekend, the speaker (Bob) agreed to meet with me regularly as a mentor and spiritual director.  It seemed as though God had brought us together for a divine appointment and I was fortunate enough to be aware of it.

That same month brought me to my first ever pastor’s retreat. It was there that I sat with many pastors to hear from God, to be renewed in spirit, and to learn more about the vision we believe Christ is setting before us. It was a meaningful time, but the highlight for me personally wasn’t the engaging worship, or hearing from the many gifted presenters. Instead, I shared a conversation with a seasoned pastor (a different Bob) who just seemed to be listening to the Spirit while also listening to me. Long story short, we’re continuing such conversations and it’s one of the most healthy things I’ve done in a while.

Following his sabbatical this past summer, my lead pastor and I began to set aside additional time outside of our regular staff meetings to talk about life. Conversations about ministry objectives and next steps have always been a part of our official meeting times, but here in this new, regularly appointed sacred space we talked about our hearts. These times together have grown my love for him as a brother in Christ and as my leader. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

The three men mentioned above are all well-respected within their spheres of influence. One is a CEO level leader of a Christian organization, one serves bi-vocationally in a local church and academic setting, and finally my pastor has served our congregation for the last 24 years.  They are all busy men, with a wide variety of commitments.  They are faithful followers of Jesus. They have a lot of wisdom to share…with those who are willing to listen.

The past 18 months have become a time where I have aggressively pursued the counsel of older men, but not just any men. Here are a few things I look for when trying to find a person who can offer wise counsel and/or mentoring.

1) Are others trying to spend time with them?  Leaders naturally draw people into their circle, so look for those with “draw.”

2) Are they still hungry to learn?  Beware of the person who has stopped learning, or who believes that learning is all about stroking one’s ego.

3) Do they demonstrate a love for their family? All of the men I’ve mentioned above have kids who genuinely feel loved by their fathers and reciprocate that love in all sorts of beautiful ways.

4) Do they take time to get away and be with Jesus? If a person has a million and one reasons why they are too busy to take times of personal retreat that include silence and solitude….beware. Busyness is the disease of a leader who is resting on his or her own abilities. It’s only a matter of time before the melt-down comes.

5) Are they multiplying themselves? Are they making disciples?

I’m sure this list could go on, but those are the highlights that stick out to me in this season.

I’m trying to blog more as a part of my own journey into greater spiritual health…so stay tuned!

 

Is “Non-Voter” a 4 Letter Word?

We’re four days away from election day. It feels like the countdown has lasted forever. For me, I’ve tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to avoid the worst parts of this election season. The campaign adds, the news sound bites, the talk shows, the radio shows…I find no joy in any of it.  In a world that’s battling all sorts of real and devastating things (remember Haiti?), it feels as though giving any brain space to the election conversation is somehow wasteful.  Full disclosure: I’ve been on a journey for almost ten years that has landed me within a growing tribe of people who call themselves “Evangelical Anabaptists”. Part of the Anabaptist heritage involves abstaining from roles in public office, military service and participation in voting, though many Anabaptists now vote and may hold the occasional public office.

So here I sit today, considering my options come November 8th in light of my sorrow and convictions. I’ve been having a consistent internal dialogue where I mull over what Jesus has to say to us about voting and from that conversation here’s where I’ve landed.

I have concluded that my participation in this election would make me complicit in what I consider to be an empire that is, part and parcel, contrary to the Kingdom of God. My job as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be a proclaimer of the GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM, a kingdom that, unlike earthly ones, will not pass away.  I’m fighting off the urge we all have to be distracted from this mission of proclamation. My non-vote is not a vote for one side or the other, it’s simply what it is, A NON-VOTE. And I don’t think we have a biblical paradigm for any “lesser of two evils” conversation.

I’ve had close friends tell me that if I don’t vote I have no right to complain about who gets into office.  I’ve told them that, as a Christian, I have no right to complain regardless of who is in office. Christians aren’t complainers (at least they shouldn’t be), but are instead witnesses to the truth of the gospel.  By God’s grace may we all throw off the shackles of complaint and live into our counter-cultural call to be truth tellers no matter who is in office.  May we all bear with each other though our approach to voting may be different.  May we not allow the kingdoms of this world to distract us away from the Kingdom of God.

As always, I invite polite, thoughtful conversation!

Exciting Announcement!

Greetings friends.

The time has come for me to answer the questions many of you have asked over the last couple of weeks regarding my next steps in pastoral ministry. So here’s an up-to-date summary of where things stand currently.

I am a youth and young adult pastoral candidate at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church located in Goshen, IN. I will be preaching at Clinton Frame on the morning of October 4th at 10:30am. The following Sunday (October 11th) the congregation will vote whether or not to bring me on to the pastoral staff.

My last Sunday as a pastor at Riverside Church in South Bend will be the 27th of September pending things moving forward with Clinton Frame.

The decision to pursue this position comes after nearly 10 years of bi-vocational ministry, that is to say, I have always had another non-ministry job while working at a local church. In the early days I was able to manage the awkward schedule and financial challenges that come with bi-vocationalism, but with a family of five and Jackie working full time, we’ve discerned (alongside wise counsel), that a change is needed. Specifically, in pursuing a full-time ministry role, I want to give some of the best hours of my day to one of the things I love most, which is pastoral ministry.

The last two and a half years at Riverside Church have been so rich and rewarding. I work with a great staff of people who are committed to bringing the whole gospel to the whole person. They are also committed to loving our city well in light of the gospel which continues to bear amazing fruit. I will miss these brothers and sisters beyond words.

Lastly, we currently plan on living in South Bend until we can find a place to rent in Goshen so if any of you know of someone looking to rent out their home in that area please let me know.

We look forward to the days ahead, trusting that God will handle the logistics of moving and selling our home in South Bend if the opportunity should be given to us. Please pray for our little boys as they may be experiencing several changes in the coming months. New schools, new childcare providers, new churches, all stand to be encountered in the coming months.

Grace and Peace,

Joel

Mars Hill, Driscoll, and the Multi-site

 

 

If you haven’t read the news regarding the plans for Mars Hill Bible Church to dissolve by January I’ll summarize the overall process by quoting Mars Hill pastor, Dave Bruskas.

“Rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities.”

According to Bruskas each pastor at the satellite locations will have three options in the weeks ahead:

(1) become an independent, self-governed church
(2) merge with an existing church to create one independent, self-governed church
(3) disband as a church and shepherd current members to find other local church homes.

During the above process, Mars Hill as an organization will dissolve in four steps:

(1) All of Mars Hill’s existing church properties will either be sold, or the loans on the individual properties will be assumed by the independent churches, subject to approval by the lender

(2) All central staff will be compensated for their work, and then released from their employment

(3) If any funds remain after the winding down and satisfaction of Mars Hill business affairs, they will be gifted as seed money to the newly independent churches

(4) The existing Mars Hill Church organization will be dissolved

I couple of years ago I watched a DVD series featuring James McDonald and several other well-known pastors.  The series, entitled The Elephant Room, tackles some difficult issues in the ministry of the church through candid conversation.  As a pastor and lover of the Church, I found the content interesting.  But what really caught my attention was session six; the discussion between James McDonald and Mark Driscoll regarding multi-site churches.  A lot could be said about their discussion, but in light of recent events there’s one thing I want to reflect on…it seemed minor at the time, but has major implications.

Driscoll explained that if his ability to be the regular teacher at Mars Hill was ever severely compromise or if he died, all the other satellite churches under the Mars Hill structure would become independent churches with the campus pastor becoming the primary teacher for their respective locations.  This plan is also discussed in a Gospel Coalition video where McDonald, Driscoll and Mark Dever discuss the dynamics of multi-site preaching.

After listening to these discussions here’s where I’ve landed on the Mark Driscoll-Mars Hill issue.

The multi-site phenomenon (no matter how idealistic its participants are) stands to cripple the humility of the preacher and turn them into a celebrity because for better or worse, the medium is the message….big screens, big personalities, big stars.

When confronted with the possibility that such church structures might be unhealthy, using language such as “long term church planting strategy” when referring to multi-site church locations, sounds very missional, but I think it smacks of one leader with a strong personality trying their darndest to build and maintain autocratic power.  How long-term is too long term?  We might have learned the answer to that question in recent weeks as Mars Hill now sets about the task of dismantling.  I am concerned for the welfare of multi-site churches as their leaders continue to find themselves in hot water regarding allegations of greed, dictator-like leadership, and unrepentant pride.

Furthermore, and more importantly, the preaching of the gospel is always contextual to local congregations.  This is demonstrated by the fact that we have different New Testament letters sent to various local congregations.  One gospel, many contexts.  We need more gifted preachers expositing the Word of God in local congregations that don’t even come close to a weekly attendance over 1,000.  We need capable men and women to share the truth apart from any delusions of rock star-like status.  In this way, the preacher stays focused on the concerns at hand and preaches faithfully with those local concerns in mind.

I applaud the decision that Mars Hill has made to set their satellite locations free to do the work of the church in their own local contexts.  This move should have happened quite some time ago in my estimation.  It is my prayer that the gospel will continue to go out from these churches and that many more will come to Christ.  I also pray that the negative effects, the hurts and the sorrows of this whole ordeal will be dealt with in a timely and God-honoring manner.  And finally, I’m praying for Mark Driscoll.  I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now, but I wish him the best as he journeys into unknown territory.  It’s no secret that I’m not a “fan” of his, but I know that Christ takes all kinds of people and makes them new again unto his glory…so in all of this we pray that much will be made of Christ and that his people (including Mark) will find renewal.

Evangelical Anabaptist: my hesitations

 

Conrad Grebel (c. 1498–1526)

My journey toward Anabaptism began ten years ago when I transferred from a Christian university with strong ties to conservative Reformed/Baptist traditions.  I began studies at Bethel College (Indiana) which has its early roots in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ and is now affiliated with the Missionary Church USA.  It was a significant change in culture, and overall academic environment.  All said and done, I was a student there for eight years completing two undergrad programs and two graduate programs….I learned a lot about myself, the history of Anabaptist and Wesleyan thought, and the influence of these traditions on various denominations and fellowships.  Unfortunately, my learning experience was done a part from the life of a local Anabaptist congregation. I developed an incomplete picture of Anabaptism, a picture that wouldn’t be challenged until a few years later.

I grew up in a small town just a few miles away from the town of Goshen, Indiana.  Many refer to Goshen as the “Mennonite Mecca” due to the high concentration of Mennonite congregations in the area along with it being home to Goshen College which is associated with The Mennonite Church USA.  Additionally, Elkhart Indiana (another nearby city) is home to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.  I think it’s safe to say that the larger community in which I grew up is significantly shaped by these institutions.  Many of the Mennonite and Brethren leaders I knew from a distance had attended at least one of these institutions.  Many of these leaders were active in their local fellowship’s congregational teaching ministry and pastoral oversight.

That being said, my early and ongoing encounters with these folks always left me wondering about the nature of their convictions.  To be honest, the designation of “Mennonite” or “Brethren” equated to “universalist” in my mind.  That is not to say that this is a fair generalization, as I now know that my experience is limited to a small number of people within that larger Anabaptist tradition.  But, since I’m talking about the reasons for my hesitation in associating with a particular tradition, my observations in this area need to be mentioned.  Simply put, gospel proclamation was low on the priority list, while “living peacefully like Jesus” was frequently lifted up as the goal of spiritual life.  There was a lot of “good behavior” apart from good news.

While I was in college I decided that if I were to enter into the Anabaptist tradition, it would have to be a cautious entry.  My concern is one of authentic discipleship over religious-cultural designations.  I call myself an Anabaptist, but not because that’s the tradition that was handed down to me by my parents, but because it is the tradition that stands to best cultivate what the Spirit seems to be stirring in me.  My journey is about what God is doing so that I may be more conformed into the image of his Son, not hiding behind religious designations so as to avoid the pressing questions of what it means to really follow Jesus.

So here I sit, also concerned about being lumped in with people who identify with an Anabaptist heritage, but who are functionally agnostic, pluralistic, or other.  And amidst that concern, I realize that my worry is sometimes more about how I might be perceived among my Evangelical peers.  So I’m trusting that the Spirit will guide me into all truth and that Christ will be at the center of whatever tribe I find myself journeying with.

Still more to come…