Boundaries and Balance in Ministry

Balancing productivity and non-productivity time in pastoral ministry is a great challenge.  Unlike many other professionals pastors do not “punch” a time clock or bill for their time.  A pastor is expected to be reasonably available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  A phone call can alter plans which a pastoral family may have had scheduled for days, weeks, or even months.  What margins or boundaries are non-negotiable?  And how does a pastor maintain those boundaries?  My experience has demonstrated that many well-meaning church folk will take advantage of the pastor’s time if boundaries are not announced and maintained.  As a general rule Fridays and Saturdays are my two days off during the week.  However, there is flexibility to my schedule.  Some Fridays and/or Saturdays are my busiest times during the week.  However, the church members understand generally I am unavailable on those days unless it is an emergency.  It amazes me at what some folks call emergencies!  I do try to compensate any time lost by taking additional time off.  Saturdays are generally the day I observe as the Sabbath.  On that day I try to rest, replenish, reflect, rejoice, and refocus.  The key word is “try.”  Over the years it has been a real struggle but I can report progress.  Most of my days off are spent with my wife and children as family days.  This is important time for me as I cherish the moments we share.  It is nourishing to my soul and it provides time when we can minister to each other just by being together.

My wife and I like to go on dates!  One of the things we try to do is not spend our time talking about church.  Sometimes we are not successful.  For me, it is a very difficult challenge to devote time for self-renewal because as pastor I am constantly thinking about the church.  Through experience and through study I understand it is not healthy.  As I stated earlier, it is a great challenge.  Though I have been on several retreats or advances, I have never taken a Sabbatical.  Perhaps, part of the reason is because there is a large part of me which struggles with being gone for extended periods of time.  What I have experienced is if I am away from the church two Sundays the attendance seems to decline.  It is certainly not me which keeps them coming.  If it were then I would consider it prideful on my part to think I could have that type of influence.  However, in smaller churches I do think people expect to see their pastor.  I believe this is draining and unhealthy for a congregation.  However, it is a reality of small church mentality and in order to overcome this, the church must grow.  With numerical growth change is inevitable and with spiritual growth change will take place.

Book Review – Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church

According to McNeal the rise of the missional church movement is the biggest renewal since the Reformation.  The missional emergence or renewal offers hope to our culture because its focus is upon incarnational living.  The leaders of the church must first be engaged in missional living reflecting authentic relationships with God and others in order to lead the church effectively.  The church is no longer able to rely on programs and ministries but must build relational bridges through missional service, celebration of and recognition/rewarding of missional work.  McNeal offers three shifts which will help the effectiveness of the church in fulfilling the Great Commission.  First, the church needs to shift from being internal focused to becoming external focused.  It is not about us but about offering Christ to the people in our community.  No longer can we operate on a “come and see” basis because it is too shallow.  The shift under missional leadership offers people something to give their lives to fulfill.  People need to know we care enough to die in order to fulfill our mission.  Second, the church must move from being program oriented to becoming people oriented.  It is not the ministries that make the church it is the people.  As we focus on developing people who are passionate about missional living we can expect to witness spiritual growth among our congregations.  Third, the leadership of the church needs to shift from operating like a corporate structure to becoming a kingdom structure which will reflect the church as a living organism.  As missional leaders we must focus on the Kingdom of God and less on our understanding of the church.  Most people in our culture do not see value in becoming a member of our churches but they can see the value of being in the Kingdom of God.  The book offered me fresh insight on how to lead change within the local church and the need to lead people away from the traditional understanding of the role of the church into the Biblical missional role of the church.

Book Review – Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger’s “Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples”

On the surface, being the pastor of a simple church sounds great!  Right?  As a pastor, there have been many church growth programs, ideas, methods, etc. which have come my way.  Some I have tried implementing in the churches I have served.  All seem to have a common theme which is moreMore ministries, more people, more workers, more money, more time, more resources to purchase, more complexity!  Is more really better?  I don’t think so and if more is not healthy then I would rather have less or at least simple.  According to Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger the local church needs to get back to simply making disciples and in their book, “Simple Church” they say this can be done through a strategic process.  They define a simple church as “a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”[1]  They are not alone in this concept as companies such as Google, Papa John’s, and Apple have capitalized on simplistic marketing of their products.  The local church can easily become over taxed by “doing” instead of “being”.  Please do not misunderstand, we are supposed to be doing the work of the ministry but this work should come naturally out of who we are as a Christian and as a local church.

Rainer and Geiger present a comparison between a simple church (Cross Church) and a complex church (First Church).  Cross Church is operating on a simple paradigm of processing converts through four stages: (1) Clarity, (2) Movement, (3) Alignment, and (4) Focus.  Did you notice simple has just taken on a fourfold paradigm?  Perhaps, you can relate to my “midway-the-book” thought, “Oh no, this is just another method being promoted as the latest greatest thing for pastors.”  I must admit I have become somewhat of a skeptic.  I have realized there are no easy answers to the problem of declining church health.  The bottom line is Jesus instructed his disciples to follow him.  In doing so, they left all they had in absolute surrender and ventured on a journey of a lifetime.  That is not easy and that is the radical call of discipleship we must get back to in order to simplify our lives and ministries.

First, we clarify (or re-clarify) the mission of the church.  We are in the promotion business.  We are not promoting our ministries, programs, building campaigns, church growth strategies, agendas, etc.  In simplistic terms we are promoting only One, the Lord Jesus Christ!  Pretty simple, huh?  Sure but if your bulletin reflects anything like the ones from churches which I have served as pastor you might think otherwise.  What a wake-up call!

Second, we need to mobilize believers into action.  This is not an easy task because most folks I have met are not eager to take up a cross, a crown, yes, but not a cross.  We have given folks so many options and in doing so we have cluttered the simplistic call to radical discipleship.  Have you ever given thought to how heavy the cross was that Jesus carried?  I think he may have been dragging the base of the cross up Calvary’s hill.  If so, the base would act as a brace keeping him from backsliding (not in a spiritual sense but a physical sense).  If the church is mobilized in following Jesus we will be gaining ground and not losing.

Third, we need to be properly aligned in order to receive the blessings and anointing of God.  Jesus had twelve which after his ascension turned into one hundred and twenty, which after Pentecost turned into over three thousand!  We need to align ourselves with what God is doing.  If we can come together in unity regarding following Jesus we can experience true revival!

Fourth, we must keep our focus.  It is so easy to lose focus.  One thing we must do is “keep the main thing the main thing.”  Jesus is the main thing and he has given the church a mission and vision.  If we can rediscover and regain his mission and his vision, the church will be on the way toward becoming healthy.

To simplify, the fourfold paradigm is really a call to radical discipleship.  Can we complicate this?  Sure, we can!  What I would like to do is issue this challenge to the readers of my post for this blog.  It is not an ice bucket challenge.  I challenge each one of us to simplify our personal walk with the Lord.  Are we seeking to promote Jesus in every area of our lives?  Are we mobile and carrying our cross?  Are we right in the center of God’s will and purpose for our lives?  Has anything blurred or encroached upon our vision?  I am just offering a simple challenge to do some personal reflection.

               [1] Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, (Nashville TN: B & H Publishing Group), 2011, 60.

Book Review – Alan Hirsh & Tim Catchim’s “The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church”

When I experienced the divine call to preach my pastor at that time asked me which of the five-fold gifts listed in the Ephesians 4 passage did I believe the Lord was leading me?  At that time, I told my pastor, “I believe the Lord has called me to preach and teach His Word.”  I continue to believe this is true of my calling.  However, my eyes are being opened to greater possibilities of how my calling might unfold.  Alan Hirsh and Tim Catchim’s “The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church” provides a fresh look at the Ephesians 4 passage and promotes apostolic, missional ministry which includes each of the five-fold gifts (APEST = Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher).  When all five of the gifts are operational within the church the church will naturally operate as God designed it because the church is a living organism.  If the church does not have all of the gifts operational within the church the church will not be missional.  According to Hirsh and Catchim the church has limited herself to the use of primarily two gifts: shepherd and teacher.  I was encouraged by the book and gained a better understanding of apostolic ministry.  They offered two diagrams which helped support their purpose in writing the book.  The first provides a practical team model for the church utilizing the five-fold gifts (see page 86) and the second provides an operational flow chart or framework for creating an “Apostolic Environment” (see page 115).  What I have gleaned most is a fresh understanding that the Lord is at work building the church and he has provided the church with everything she needs in order to grow spiritually and numerically/evangelistically.  However, if what the Lord has given is not put into place and utilized growth will be hindered.  Previously, I had been taught apostolic ministry ceased with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The premise of this false teaching was that one of the requirements to replace Judas Iscariot was that the apostle had to have been with Jesus.  On the surface this appears plausible but with further research the replacement of Judas was within a certain context.  It is not accurate to jump from the Lukan account to the Pauline passage in Ephesians and conclude there is no longer a need for the gift of an apostle.  Hirsh and Catchim cite two Biblical examples of apostolic ministry which was enlightening.  Peter was a catalyst apostle and was not sent to the mission field but rather was sent to help the community of believers by helping them reflect, discover, and fulfill the mission within the community.  On the other hand, Paul was definitely one sent to the mission field and he was a catalyst for church growth.  We must have people with the gift of apostle (as well as the other gifts) on our ministry team to be effective.

A Brief Personal View of Scripture

From the onset allow me to stress this is only a “brief” and personal view of Scripture as the Word of God.  My view of Scripture has been solidified upon the anvil of human suffering (specifically friends and family members).  I believe in the midst of tragedy, one is propelled into the search for the existence of God.  Some might refer to this as a type of “foxhole faith.”  Life storms associated problems such as, illnesses, accidents, deaths and the results of sinful living create a vacuum for truth.   Specifically, many utter in despair, “Where is God when I am hurting and in need of His help?”  He is omnipresent and is very much aware of all that is happening in and around the hurting.  But that is an easy answer and some would say falls short of the needed comfort that is requested by the grief stricken, bruised and battered society which longs for the presence of a loving God.  Praise God for His Word, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).  Yes, the love of God has given many people comfort in the time of storm but can we be certain of this particular passage?  Is it possible that some writers of the Bible are correct and others are not?  The answer to such questions is a resounding, “No.”  As seen in the following passage we can rely upon all of the Bible and not just a portion.  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV).

The Bible is more than revelation it is the very living Word of God from God.  I believe it is God’s message to us.  Scripture testifies and confirms that the Bible is God’s personal message to us.  The ultimate defense that the Scriptures are the Word of God comes from Jesus Himself.  Jesus maintained the authority of the Old Testament and even quoted portions of the Old Testament during His earthly ministry.  Perhaps, best demonstrated as two walked with Jesus along the road to Emmaus, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us” (Luke 24:32 NIV)?  His teachings provided not only hope to the ignorant but support for the educated that the Scriptures were in fact authoritative and the very Word of God.

The true evidence of Scripture being the Word of God is the life-changing, soul-saving power in Scripture which affects human life.  As stated in Hebrews, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV).  The apostles testified that the Word of God is powerful and that such power was not from themselves but from God.  Writing from different perspectives and backgrounds the Biblical writers did not contradict themselves.  On the surface this might appear not a valid argument.  But in light of fourty authors all who were fallible producing an infallible work is most convincing that the Bible is the Word of God.  If the Bible were not God’s Word then the likelihood of unity within the Scriptures would not be possible.  However, if God did speak through His servants at different times then His plan would be seen through the human writers and how God’s plan unfolds.  God knew the writers and the writers knew God!

As the Word of God the Bible has a purpose for its continued existence.  Historically, the Bible shows God’s redemptive actions in Jesus Christ.  This sets the Bible apart from other literary works.  For God gives us revelation knowledge in the Bible meaning that the source and content is from God Himself.  Jesus is the thematic connection between the Old and New Testaments.  From a fallen family (Adam and Eve) to nation (Abraham’s seed) to a faithful remnant (Tribe of Judah) to Jesus Christ (Messiah) and to the New Testament Church of which we are included (grafted in) we see God redemptive plan.  God has chosen to communicate to humanity through the Bible.  Testimonies of how lives have been changed as a result of opening and reading the pages of Scripture.  From the point of suicide many have returned to give credit that the Bible is the Word of God.  It is very probable that most Christians would say that they find the strength needed for every obstacle they face within the Bible.

In conclusion, can anyone really prove that the Bible is the Word of God?  Many might answer swiftly in the negative and rest upon the message of the Bible that is to be received by grace through faith.  For some Christians such an approach might seem acceptable.  For the scholar or the one who has an unquenchable thirst for answers that go beyond the avenues afforded by faith there is evidence that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.  Again, I believe the Scriptures to be the very Word of God known as the Bible.  The Protestant Bible consisting of 66 books is the verbal (linguistic), irrevocable (unchanging), plenary (full), infallible (trustworthy) authoritative Word of God!

Book Review – Lee Strobel’s “Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary”

Strobel makes some good points in his book.  He shares his own personal experience as an unbelieving news reporter in pursuit of the best story at the expense of others being hurt.  And from his atheistic and skeptic background he brings to light how some unbelievers feel about church.  The book provides much food for thought as how to meet the needs of unchurched “Harry and Mary” (names he uses to refer to all the unchurched).  However, I do believe his overall premise is somewhat flawed.  We are not called to meet the needs and desires of the unchurched in our attempt to build the church.  On the contrary, we are called to make disciples and in doing so we must be truthful.  Stobel mentioned that there are three types or camps of people: A) People who have found God.  B)  People who are seeking God.  C)  People who are not seeking God.  In my experience it was not I who found God but God found me.  Or perhaps it would be better to say He found a way to penetrate my hardened heart.  From a genuine encounter with the Lord came forgiveness and redemption.  I became a disciple of Jesus.  Discipleship comes at a cost and not with all the thrills promised by some of the so-called “seeker-friendly” churches.  I am not saying such churches have not done a good work for the Lord.  What I have gleaned from this book is an up close look at what some unbelievers think about church, some methods of evangelism, and most of all, an understanding of how some churches have fallen into a trap of commercializing the church to the point of meeting the needs of the unchurched.  I believe Strobel has provided me with some good information which will help penetrate the culture of the unchurched and for this reason is right on-time with our current studies and what I will reference in my dissertation.  He states, “Rescuing people in spiritual peril frequently requires us to strategically venture into their environment” (85).  This point is well supported as he shares insight on how we can build bridges to the unchurched.  I think this information is extremely valuable.  My point is once the bridge is built we share the Good News in a way that does not compromise the mission of the church.  Otherwise, we are not really doing the work of evangelism but rather promotional-ism.

Fifteen Observations:
(from Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary by Lee Stobel)

Observation # 1)  Harry has rejected church, but that doesn’t mean he has rejected God.

Observation # 2)  Harry is morally adrift, but he secretly wants an anchor.

Observation # 3)  Harry resists rules but responds to reasons.

Observation # 4)  Harry doesn’t understand Christianity, but he’s also ignorant about what he claims to believe in.

Observation # 5)  Harry has legitimate questions about spiritual matters, but he doesn’t expect answers from Christians.

Observation # 6  Harry doesn’t just ask, “Is Christianity true?”  Often, he’s asking: “Does Christianity work?”

Observation # 7)  Harry doesn’t just want to know something; he wants to experience it.

Observation # 8)  Harry doesn’t want to be somebody’s project, but he would like to be somebody’s friend.

Observation # 9)  Harry may distrust authority, but he’s receptive to authentic biblical leadership.

Observation # 10)  Harry is no longer loyal to denominations, but he is attracted to places where his needs will be met.

Observation # 11)  Harry isn’t much of a joiner, but he’s hungry for a cause he can connect with.

Observation # 12)  Even if Harry’s not spiritually sensitive, he wants his children to get quality moral training.

Observation # 13)  Harry and Mary are confused about sex roles, but they don’t know the Bible can clarify for them what it means to be a man and woman.

Observation #14)  Harry is proud that he’s tolerant of different faiths, but he thinks Christians are narrow-minded.

Observation #15)  There’s a good chance Harry would try church if a friend invited him – but this may actually do him more harm than good.


Dr. Denning’s biblical teaching and pastoral ministry spans twenty years. He is licensed and ordained through the NC Conference International Pentecostal Holiness Church. Currently, he serves as a full-time lead pastor within the NC Conference. He is a clinic-certified teacher/trainer through Evangelism Explosion International, certified teacher through the Evangelical Training Association, and certified coach through Lifeforming Leadership Coaching. He holds two undergraduate degrees from Emmanuel College, a Master of Divinity degree from Erskine Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Regent University. He is a member of The Society of Pentecostal Studies, The Society of Pastoral Theology, American Academy of Religion, and Bikers for Christ Motorcycle Ministry. He and his wife, Teresa, currently reside in Greenville, NC.

Christian Leadership: Quantity vs. Quality

We can dream and set goals but do not know what the future holds.  One of my goals is to pass on to others what I have learned in life and in ministry.  Through contemplative reflection I have arrived at a fallacy which at times I stumble as if I were its prey.  I was saved April 14th, 1991 at age twenty-six.  I answered the call to preach God’s Word in 1993.  I graduated from Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, GA with an Associate of Arts and a Bachelor of Arts, I graduated from Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, SC with a Master of Divinity, and now I am completing my Doctor of Ministry at Regent University.  The fallacy is twofold.  First, “I” had little to do with any of those accomplishments.  If it were not for the grace and power of God none of these things would have taken place.  Second, a person’s age and academic accomplishments may equate quantity but they do not equate quality.

Each time I enter a new season of learning my heart is full of gratitude and my mind is full of fear.  The passage that comes to mind is the Kenosis passage in Philippians.  After presenting to us the example of Jesus, Paul writes, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV).  As we embark on new phases of the journey…  I think it is accurate to say that we are now taking steps down a “road less traveled.”  For me, the work continues with fear and trembling.

Christian leadership is not achieved by through academia alone.  This week I have been reflecting on Nouwen.  He discovered the meaning of Christian leadership in his movement from Harvard to L’Arche.  There he learned that his many years of experience meant little or nothing.  What really mattered was his love for God demonstrated actively as he ministered to those at the Daybreak community.  Nouwen was working out his own salvation with reverence, respect, and humility.  As he partnered with a man named Bill he learned the power of discipleship as the Holy Spirit guides.

Friends, the studies we pursue will most likely be used to bless people that will be counting on us.  We can put our nose to the grinding wheel and succeed with high marks but if we lose the simplicity of the gospel message we will have utterly failed.  As we journey together to know the heart of Jesus, we must always keep before us His question, “Do you love me?”  The temptation may be great to take the road which leads to being relevant, spectacular, or powerful but the higher road of humility will take us closer to God’s heart.

Book Review – Alan Hirsch’s “The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church”

This is a great book and one which I will be revisiting as I work on my dissertation.  Hirsch has helped my perspective of the church as an organism and reintroduced the organizational and/or organism structure which will definitely help me as a doctor of the church.  The church grew from 25,000 Christians in AD 100 to 20 million in AD 310 just before the time of Constantine.  Hirsch presents this thought and question, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single question… How did they do that?  The purpose of the book is to answer this question in such a way as to provide a solution to the struggle between the modern church and the postmodern church.  According to Hirsch the solution is in what he termed “Apostolic Genius.”  The Apostolic Genius is the unique energy and force which has influenced historic Jesus movements.  According to Hirsch God has imparted six elements to every church which makes up its missional DNA (mDNA) as a living organism.  Five elements (missional incarnation impulse, apostolic environment, discipleship making, organic systems, and communitas) are viewed with the Christocentric theology that Jesus is Lord in the center and the elements growing out from Him (See page 275 for diagram).  Each element has an effect on the others and activates the “Apostolic Genius.”  As a pastor it is easy for me to follow the pattern or structure of other local churches or other pastors.  As a future doctor of the church and from what I have learned from Hirsch’s book I have a fresh understanding that the church is an organism with and how it grows does not necessary meet our preconceived structures.  This is exciting because the church is alive as a movement and growing in such ways to be the Body of Christ that is needed for this day.

Local Church Problem Solving: Deductive Method vs. Inductive Method

Sure seems like there is much thinking going on in the Christian academic world these days.  I believe Christian scholars, have been challenged to pick up a “new pair of glasses” and gain a fresh perspective at research.  On the surface it appears the deductive method is not as plausible as the inductive method.  If one takes the deductive approach then he or she has to come to the project with a preset theory to prove correct or incorrect.  On the other hand, if he or she takes the inductive method then there will be the gathering and analyzing of data which will aid in the formulation of a theory.  The latter approach is the one I like best but I do believe it will be more difficult to put into practice.  Who among us has already come up with a theory regarding a problematic issue within the church?  I am guilty.  I have some preconceived ideas and theories when it comes to how to bring about revitalization to the local church.  The trouble is every local congregation is unique and has its own “DNA.”  Therefore, there must be some aspects of deductive research involved in order to gain insight of a local church.  Again, it is a matter of blending the two or at least employing the two.

I recently thought of a Bible which I purchased several years ago which was titled, “The International Inductive Study Bible.”  What fascinated me most at first glance was the study aids included.  The editors had gone to great lengths to demonstrate how the inductive approach to Bible study works.  It involved much observation and then it challenged the reader to come up with the themes, headings, topics, etc.  After purchasing the Bible, I went home and pulled out my colored pencils and I was very excited as I dove in to the inductive world of study.  It was not long before I realized this involved much hard work!  I wish I could report how much I learned from my time of inductive studying the Bible.  What I can say is it made me appreciate more the topical headings in our English Bibles! Someone did the hard work for us.  When it comes to the inductive method being employed in our research, it, too, will mean hard work.  There will be observation, studying, and prescribing the right “pill” to solve problems in the local church.  However, it will be worth the effort when the theory surfaces in the end and we have a solution.  And this is the goal, to have solutions for church problems.  If we come to a problem with the answer in hand we are not really advancing our cause as far as research goes.  We will be able to confirm we have an answer which worked.  This is not bad and it will help the church.  Our challenge is to demonstrate we are capable of research and to this end the inductive method, in my opinion, is the best method.  At this point, all options are still open including the famous “blend.”

Book Review – William D, Romanowski’s “Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture”

Romanowski uses the term “Hollywood” to reference to all secular popular arts and Christian (even though it is a broad term) in reference to the arts which reflect Christian values.  The observation of Romanowski is many Christians fail to appreciate the popular arts unless it has the Christian stamp of approval upon it.  However, there are some popular arts which seem to trump this standard if “everyone else is partaking.”  The postmodern culture in America is reflected in the popular arts and if we do not critically engage in the popular arts we risk not reaching the unbelievers with the Gospel.  Engaging in the popular arts provides the opportunity to appreciate all the arts and to break down the barriers between the secular and the sacred.  If we do not engage in popular arts then we will limit telling the Gospel from our perspective.  If we do engage in the popular arts then we can speak from what is known as a platform to share what is unknown which is Jesus.  When Christians engage in the production of popular arts we can better glorify God through the arts.  What I have gained from this reading is the motivation to engage the popular arts with a renewed passion.  I must understand the culture in order to help people and ultimately share the Gospel.  Like it has been said, “We cannot redeem that which we reject.”  If I reject every popular art which is not Christian then I risk alienating myself from the culture and thus alienating myself from the people I am called to reach.

Ministry Interventions for Local Church Revitalization

As a whole, local churches are experiencing growth in numbers and folks seem to be growing spiritually.  As a pastor, I would rather have a good core group of folks who are spiritually mature and walking upright with the Lord over a large number of people who are spiritually immature.  Can I get an Amen?  That is not to say I would not like a large number of people because numbers represent souls!  It is my hope to see congregations revitalized.  Some folks say we need to pray for revival.  I agree.  It is my view at this point in my journey that revival is taking place right this moment.  The Lord is bringing about hope, healing, and restoration and my desire is to focus in and facilitate revitalization.  The goal is local church revitalization.  This is problematic because not all churches are the same (i.e., different DNA, demographics, rural, urban, etc.).  What may be described as revitalization at one church might not be considered such at a church fifteen or thirty miles away.  Revitalization cannot be measured in totality by looking at other churches in comparison.  However, there are some common factors which contribute to revitalization of the local church.  We must look at numbers and raw data but we must also look at how lives have been changed as a result of our ministry interventions.  Studying a local congregation from the past is essential in order to best determine how to administer the proper intervention (i.e., the “pill”).  And after the “pill” is digested there has to be a measure of its productivity (paradigms) and the overall spiritual health of the congregation.  Therefore, most successful methods will most likely be those of a hybrid nature.  Hopefully, congregations will experience growth in numbers and in spiritual maturity of its individual members.  Of this result, I am a believer!

Book Review – Jason Mandryk’s “Operation World”

This book is an anointed, catalyst-ic, missions informative, motivational, chronological, prayer guide.  I was not aware that such a book was in existence and I am so glad to now have my own copy.  It is inviting as I found myself thumbing through and stopping at pages which captured my attention.  Already it has brought clarity to my prayer life in regard to praying for other countries and peoples.  The paragraph # 3 on The Effective Functioning of Local Congregations and # 4 Leadership Development especially spoke to me.  We are living in a very challenging time and we need God called, adequately trained pastors and church leaders to help the church (each “organic entity”) embrace the moving of the Holy Spirit as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.


Ekklesia is a Greek word that means “called out ones.”  This word is used to describe/define the Christian Church.  Throughout our lives we will get to listen to quite a few different people share their opinions on what Christianity is supposed to be, what the Christian Church is supposed to be, what Christian worship is supposed to be, and so on.  The problem with these opinions is that they all have bias attached to them.  It’s as though with every experience that we go through in life – success or failure, happy or sad – there are a pair of prescription glasses we’re wearing that are being continuously altered to change the way we look at things.  We all have bias.  I certainly do too. However, when we let these biases become Christian doctrine, we set ourselves up to look as foolish as Pharisees standing before Christ.

The “Holy Christian Church” and the “Communion of Saints” that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed are ways of saying “all believers past and present who are recognized children of God through faith in their Savior Jesus.”

The word “church” today is so intricately connected with the idea of a building that you can hear in the way people talk that they have no idea what the New Testament is referring to in the concept of “church.”  “Our church looks really nice all decorated for Christmas.” “Our church is freezing today.  Someone needs to adjust the thermostat.” “We go to church weekly.“  Even we pastors misuse the word church.  Ever heard a pastor say something to the effect of “It’s great to be in the House of God today!” ?  Or, have you heard parents reasoning with their kids, “We need to behave because we’re in God’s House now.”?  Honestly, none of this really has anything to do with New Testament Christianity or the New Testament Church.  And it’s not just benign talk either.  The reality is that it reflects more the mentality of Judaism and paganism, which ultimately has some damaging consequences.

Old Testament Judaism revolved around 3 basic elements – the Temple (where God’s local presence dwelled), the system of priests as mediators between God and man, and the system of sacrifices to atone for sin and make believers right with God.  In short, when Jesus came, he brought an end to each by fulfilling the purpose of each.

In the Roman Empire, paganism had similar elements – temples (specific buildings for worshipping gods), priests (specific individuals you had to go through to worship gods), and sacrifices (specific things you had to do to please the gods).  New Testament Christianity didn’t know these things.

In not one place in the New Testament do we find the term church (ekklesia), temple, or house of God used to refer to a building.  In fact, the first recorded use of the word “church” to refer to a specific meeting place comes from the church father Clement of Alexandria in 190 AD.  He was also the first person credited with using the phrase “go to church.”

Okay, so if church is not a building, what exactly is it you ask?  Of the 114 times the Greek word ekklesia appears in the New Testament, it always refers to an assembly of people.  In fact, until Emperor Constantine, Christian history and archaeology knows of no Christian buildings except the homes in which the early Christians met for worship.

Jesus is obviously responsible for what Christianity is today.  Perhaps more than any other human, however, Constantine is responsible for the way Christianity looks today.  What’s so scary about that is that even today scholars debate whether or not Constantine was actually a genuine Christian.

If you’re not familiar with who Emperor Constantine was, here’s the abbreviated version: In 312 AD, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge to become Caesar of the Western Empire.  On the eve of that battle, Constantine claimed he saw a cross in the heavens and became a Christian (if that sounds a little fishy, yeah, that’s not typically how Christians are formed).  He promised God at that moment that if he won the battle, he’d Christianize the empire.  He did…and he did.  Christianity went from becoming first officially recognized as a religion in Rome in 311AD under Galerius to becoming the official religion of the state only a few short years later.  In 324 AD, Constantine became Caesar of the entire Roman Empire.  And then the buildings began.

Over the next several hundred years, church architecture took several interesting turns from the basilica phase to the Byzantine phase to the Romanesque phase to the Gothic phase. However, the design, almost unwaveringly, seemed to continuously point more and more to the transcendence and awe-inspiring nature of God, rather than to God found in the gathering together of his body, the real “church.”  And thus God also seemed to go from accessible to inaccessible.

I’m not fully promoting a return to “house churches” today, a concept that has gained tremendous popularity in the past 30 years in our country.  What house church leaders don’t seem to fully grasp is that if early New Testament church leaders had the legal freedom to worship as we do, the early church might very well have done things differently.  But the point, nonetheless, remains that perhaps God (even by means of working through the oppression of the Roman Empire) was establishing the type of environment that best leads to the healthy assembly of Christians.

Book Review – Peter Kreeft’s “Making Sense Out of Suffering

Many questions arise during one’s lifetime.  Perhaps one of the most significant questions centers in the topic of suffering and pain.  People do suffer and people do have pain.  This is a fact that is supported by much evidence.  A person does not have to look far for the evidence.  The main question is, why?  Why do people suffer and why do they have pain?  If there is a God and He cares for people then why does He allow people to suffer and to experience pain?  This type of questioning has led Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, to address the problem of suffering.

Kreeft’s book is an excellent source for anyone pondering this great mystery.    He does not claim to have all the answers.  He does offer his guidance as his readers attempt to tackle one of the hardest and toughest questions in the world.  Vanauken states in the forward of Kreeft’s book, “To be wise is to be discerning between the false and the true, to be balanced in judgement, to be, in fact, very sane.  A wise man, indeed, if you can find one, is a good guide amidst the claims of the experts” (vii).  Kreeft comes across as both an expert and a guide.

The problem of suffering is an apparent one.  Kreeft remarks that before a reader finishes his book that thousands will experience pain and suffering.  Among the great thinkers of the world stand Jesus and second would probably be Buddha.  A young prince, Gotama Siddhartha, was faced with the question, why do people suffer?  Siddhartha better known as Buddha made observations concerning pain and suffering which caused him to make a decision that launched Buddhism.  He calls these the four distressing sights.  The first sight was a sick man.  The second sight was an old man.  The third was a dead man.  The fourth sight was a sanyassin.  A sanyassin is “one who has renounced all worldly possessions … to become wise” (3).  Gotama became a sanyassin after he renounced his palace and princedom.  He became no wiser from while living a life of ascetisism.  So he alienated all the other sanyassins except five, which became his disciples.  He then proclaimed he was Buddha and stated his Four Noble Truths.  The first was that life is suffering.  The second was that the cause of suffering is desire.  The third is that the way to end suffering is to end desire.  The fourth is that the way to end desire is the Noble Eight-fold Path of ego-reduction.  The goal was Nirvana, which Buddha claimed would end suffering.  Kreeft’s examination of Buddha thoughts on suffering was educational and at the same time thought provoking for the reader.

The question, “Why does one suffer?” has generated many untrue explanations.  Kreeft takes a standpoint centered in Christ.  God is the only one who knows why people suffer.  Faith in Christ is the only answer that can satisfy the soul of man.  Kreeft tells stories from real life accounts of suffering and pain.  He identifies the case against God as, “ How can a mother trust and love a God who let her baby die?” (9).  Kreeft goes on to release four secrets that are often concealed in the lives of Christians.  The first is that almost every Christian will at one time or another be angry at God.  The second is when a Christian believes he or she is full then he or she is empty.  When he or she thinks that he or she is empty then he or she is full.  It is a paradox that can only be explained in realm of spirituality.  God is at work in the life of the believer.  This is a major key to understanding suffering.  If we cannot fully understand God then we cannot fully understand suffering.  The third secret is that a Christian’s faith is often made up of the intellect and the intellect fails in understanding God.  The fourth secret is that the Christian is not exempt from the same moral problems as non-Christians.  Kreeft makes a powerful illustration in including a letter from G. K. Chesterton.  Chesterton  answered a question concerning what was wrong in the world.  He simply stated “I am.”

Kreeft not only identifies the problem but he relates to fellow sufferers.  Kreeft listed who he was addressing in an attempt to demonstrate that this book was meant to be inclusive.  He shows humility in discussing this topic.  He goes on to explain that his book is not full of answers but a book to help others along the journey of understanding.  Kreeft goes into dialog with his readers on several occasions in order to place himself with the reader and not above the reader.  He does not like to be alone on the subject matter and relates that two minds are better than one.  He adds that this is a trait that he uses often in his writing.  He explains his method.  He relies on experience and believes in simplicity.  He is very personal and uses “I” a lot.  He relates himself to Augustine.  He emphasizes journey and quest instead of questions and answers.  He invites the reader to take the journey his or herself.  Kreeft identifies three areas of evil. They are suffering, death, and sin.

Kreeft states ten easy answers which some choose to hide behind.  He states that the answers are not sufficient and just give a quick fix type of solution to a complicated subject.  He claims that these are popular answers but an eleventh one that he states later in the book is not popular.  The first easy answer is that there is no God.  The second is that God is a fairy tale God or demythologism.  The third is psyschologism.  The fourth is old (polytheistic) paganism.  The fifth is new (scientific) paganism.  The sixth is dualism (two Gods).  The seventh is Satanism.  The eight is pantheism.  The ninth is deism.  The tenth is idealism.  Kreeft briefly describes each one of the easy answers and tells why he believes that they are insufficient.  Perhaps the best statement in his book offers hope to those who fail.  He states, “There is only one thing to do with failure: learn from it, turn your failure into a beginning of success.  Back up and start over.  Often the fastest way ahead is to go back” (44).

After exploring the possibilities of the ten easy answers Kreeft goes into dialog once again with his reader.  He has stated the problem and returns to it with the needed ground work completed in order move onto a deeper level of understanding.  The light comes when he explains that the truth cannot be known unless God reveals it to us and that God has a providential plan to save the whole world through Christ (51).  If God is in control (and He is) and if He has a plan (and He does) then is everything that happens apart of His plan?  Kreeft ends chapter three with a series of questions for his reader concerning who is in control.  Kreeft suggest that one should look for clues instead of answers.  In the chapters four through seven Kreeft explores several clues.  Chapters six and seven are where the meat of the book is found.  Kreeft tells about the prophets and the origin of suffering.  The clues point to the one who has all the answers.  The clues “itch” forward to Christ.  The ultimate pain and suffering was demonstrated by God’s one and only Son on the cross of Calvary.  “The answer must be someone, not just something” (129).  Christ is the answer.  Kreeft said it this way, “Jesus is not God off the hook but God on the hook” (140).

In the presence of the answer the reader is still presented with another question.  What is the difference now?  Kreeft explains that because the saints are believers in Christ and believers are His Body and because God is still at work in the Believer, he or she shares in Christ suffering.  St. Theresa said that everything was grace.  Therefore because everything is grace suffering too is grace.  Jesus is the needed explanation.  Remove Jesus from the issue of suffering then our knowledge of God becomes questionable.  Humility and Gratitude are the marks of a mature Christian.  When a Christian understands suffering in light of sharing with Jesus’ pain then anger, resentment and worst of all pride can be avoided.  Kreeft remarks that we do have eternal life and that is plenty to be grateful for.  Faith is the way to joy.  It is the way to heaven.  It takes total surrender in order to become a disciple of Christ.  It is in emptying out that one becomes full.  Kreeft explains in a simplified way what Kenosis is and how the believer can follow Christ example.  One of many quotations from C. S. Lewis is found directly after Kreeft comments on this topic.  “What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor ‘ordinary life,’ but simply and solely Hell” (154).

Kreeft again enters into a dialog with his readers in chapter nine.  The result is an unfolding of two problems along the journey or quest.  One is the intellect.  The other is the will or volition.  However, the will has to be handled through the grace of God.  The mind can explore and find data that can support the intellect.  There are basically two types of intellectual thinking on the subject of pain and suffering.  One is the rational or logical way of thinking.  The other is a deeper modern way of thinking.  Kreeft devoted chapter ten to dealing with the deeper modern way of thinking.  He lists and explains seven things that the modern mind seems to overlook.  He states that the Christian has to fight to get these points understood by others.  First what is the greatest good or summum bonum?  Second is the loss of faith in ultimate meaning.  Third is the forgetfulness of heaven and hell.  Fourth is the forgetfulness of solidarity.  Fifth is the forgetfulness of original sin.  Sixth is the forgetfulness in the vicarious atonement.  Seventh is the forgetfulness of justice.

In conclusion the book is excellent.  Kreeft leaves the reader with bad news and good news from the Bible.  The bad news is that all have sinned and the wages of sin is death.  The good news is that God gives eternal life through faith in Christ.  The greatest adventure is to be a Christian.  All of the clues found in the book were meant to point the reader to Christ.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book especially the sixth and seventh chapters.  I found the introductory information concerning Buddha educational.  There is good meat in this book that can satisfy hungry hearts.  I will continue to explore more clues on my own in order to be a “good minister of Jesus Christ” (I Timothy 4:6).

Book Review – James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World”

Hunter presents the case of how Christians can penetrate culture in a late modern (postmodern) world.  The book is divided into three sections based upon three “interconnected” essays.  Section one and Hunter’s first essay is titled, “Christianity and World-Changing.”  Hunter proposes that lasting long term change does not occur the way I would have thought.  From eleven propositions he suggests our culture is “resistant” to change.  On this point, I concur.  However, he goes on to say, “Only indirectly do evangelism, politics, and social reform effect language, symbol, narrative, myth, and the institutions of formation that change the DNA of a civilization” (45).  In order for long term change to occur it must be a type of bottom up approach which is focused on individuals penetrating the common institutions of change and thus having a positive impact on our culture.  I found “The Cultural Matrix” most interesting.  I think this chapter has helped prepare me to become a doctor of the church knowing it is not the groups that bring about lasting change but individuals within the groups.  Instead of looking for a group of like-minded people with a shared vision I can penetrate a group with my own convictions and facilitate change from the inside because I am there.  Section two and in the essay titled, “Rethinking Power” Hunter brings up the quest for power and how it has historically affected culture through economics and politics.  What I gained most from this essay was the reminder that Jesus did not choose power in the wilderness though Satan offered it to him.  There was a greater cause than the pursuit of power for Him and there should be for us.   Hunter states this claim, “It is this power and the spirit that animates it whose sovereignty Christ came to break” (188).  We should likewise seek to disarm the power Satan has upon the world thus bringing about change.  The third section and last essay Hunter shares the hope we can make a difference by working from within.  Such change will come at a cost and the real question for Christians is whether or not we are willing to pay the price for the change the world needs.  As a future doctor of the church Hunter has helped me better understand the dynamics of the problem and what it will take to bring about the change incarnationally.

Book Review – Lesslie Newbigin’s “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”

“Newbigin (1909-1998) was an internationally esteemed British pastor, missionary, theologian, ecumenical statesman” (Back Cover).  Today in our hostile pluralistic culture people view religion differently than science.  With science people look at facts and determine whether or not a particular hypothesis is true or false.  With religion people look at values, tradition, and reason.  What enters the discussion is a plausibility structure which has within it a view of what should be if things were ideal.  Christianity does not fit well within a pluralistic worldview but offers an alternative to the plausibility structure because God is active within the world.

Left-Brained or Right-Brained?

The sciences often overlap subject matter.  Two sciences that tend to overlap are biology and psychology.  Psychology is concerned with behavior and mental process.  This definition leads to the study of the brain.  The science of biology can assist the science of psychology to a point.  There is debate concerning the makeup of the brain and the breakdown of its function into a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere.  Are there such individuals as left-brained persons or right-brained persons?  Yes, because there is evidence that supports this theory.  The brain is composed of different parts however the portion that centers in this debate is the cerebral cortex.  Lahey states the following: “The cerebral cortex made up of two rounded halves called the cerebral hemispheres” (Lahey, 1995, 69).  The two halves are connected by the corpus callosum.  The two halves are involved in different mental process.  The left side is more analytical and the right side is more practical.  The two sides communicate through the corpus callosum.  A person would not recognize what side of the brain is being used unless the corpus callosum was severed.  This surgical procedure has been performed and the study supports the theory that the left side and right side perform different functions.  The right side of the brain cannot use language to describe a stimulus but the left can.  The left cannot identify the stimulus from touch but the right can.  Both sides are part of the body that has been created by God.  The body is a remarkable creation and functions in complex ways.  The science of psychology can learn from observation of the body and describe, predict, understand, influence and help others.  Personally, I lean more in the direction of being left-brained.  How about you?

Lahey, Benjamin B.  Psychology: An Introduction, (Dubuque, Iowa: Brown & Benchmark
Publishers, 1995).

Book Review – Tim Elmore’s “Mentoring: How to Invest Your Life in Others”

Tim Elmore shares, “Mentoring is a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources” (16).  I chose this book because I wanted to better clarify my understanding of mentoring versus coaching.  During my time in the doctor of ministry program at Regent I have realized the importance of coaching in pastoral ministry.  Though the two are significantly different, as I pursue building my coaching skills I also desire to invest in the life of others through mentoring.  Elmore’s view of mentoring complements the co-active coaching paradigm.  He presents the Greek model of mentoring, following the formal academic, passive, theoretical classroom, as less effective than the Hebrew model.  The Hebrew model which Elmore advocates is relational, experiential, and provides on-the-job training.  This model Elmore claims is a coaching model (20).  Jesus was relational and he empowered his disciples.  As God is at work in the coaching relationship the outcome is positive for both the coach and client.  As God is at work in the mentoring relationship there can be a loss of power from the mentor as he or she gives power to the one being mentored (empowerment).  Elmore categorizes coaching in the mentorship process.  He shares there are seven kinds of mentors:

  • Discipler – Helping with the basics of following Christ.
  • Spiritual guide – Accountability, direction/insight for maturation.
  • Coach – Motivation, skills needed to meet a task/challenge.
  • Counselor – Timely advise, perspective on self, others, ministry.
  • Teacher – Knowledge, understanding on a specific subject.
  • Sponsor – Career guidance, protection; network with contacts.
  • Model – A living personal example for life, ministry, career.

According to Elmore, “The bottom line is: we need different kinds of mentors at different stages of life” (99).  This is a great book for pastoral leadership.

Book Review – John Maxwell and Jim Dornan’s “Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others”

This book by Maxwell and Dornan offered me wisdom on how to deal with people.  This is helpful in my context of pastoral ministry because I consistently have to deal with difficult people.  Just being real.  I need the experience of proven leaders with practical application on how I can lead in such a way to gain followers.  Maxwell and Dorman provide such in their book through the use and discuss in of the acrostic “I.N.F.L.U.E.N.C.E.” (Integrity with people, Nurtures other people, Faith in people, Listens to people, Understands people, Enlarges people, Negates for other people, Connects with people, Empowers people, and Reproduces other influencers).  The book was helpful and full of positive information.  It was very edifying to me personally as I reflected on those who have met my needs.  It is my desire to be a great leader in the church by providing assistance and empowerment to other leaders.  It was an easy book to read and was helpful for leadership refreshing and renewal.

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