As we continue our series called “Epidemic in the Church: Spiritual Immaturity”, based on Terry Wardle’s book, Outrageous Love, Transforming Power, we look at how embodying good Christian character helps us become spiritually mature. The message is based on 2 Peter 1.3-11. You can watch just the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.
There is a certain romanticism about Christian ministry. Many – dare I say, most – people who enter ministry, especially younger in life (as I did), tend to have a view of pastoral leadership as something ideal: we get to preach God’s Word, share in people’s highs and lows of life, and live as full-time disciples of Jesus.
While all of that is true, there are many other aspects to ministry that our romanticized view conveniently blots out. They are not as fun, not as exciting, and often highly challenging.
Carey Nieuwhof, Founding and Teaching Pastor at Connexus Community Church (with campuses in Barrie, Orillia, and Midland, Ontario) has written a book which will be most helpful to all people in church leadership, especially younger leaders. Having gone through a career change early on (he studied and practised law briefly before accepting God’s call), being appointed a student pastor while still studying for ministry, leading a congregation through exponential growth and eventually out of the denomination in which he had served, he found himself at one point – about 12 years ago – in a period of burnout, from which he initially wondered if he would ever recover.
I was keen to read this book, not only because Carey is a longtime friend of mine, but because the latter part of that story eerily paralleled my own.
When I started in ministry over 30 years ago, the church and the social landscape were vastly different. I was educated to lead a church in a Christendom world, where churches were strong and pastors were well-respected. Today, those realities, in the Canadian church at least, are long gone, and we live in a time where change is the only constant. There’s a lot of adapting that needs to be done, by church leaders and congregants alike.
Younger leaders may find this season in history especially challenging, because they are starting at the bottom of a steep hill. Didn’t See It Coming, while applicable to everyone, is especially helpful, I think, to those younger leaders who are starting out in the pioneering work of bringing in God’s Kingdom on earth.
Carey addresses cynicism – how we get there and how we get out of it; he addresses intellectualism – how we are trained to think but also need to learn to experience God’s goodness and grace; and he addresses character – how Christians, and especially church leaders, need to be honest and transparent about developing lives like Jesus. Most of the rest of the book builds on these themes.
Readers of Carey’s blog (careynieuwhof.com) will find some familiar words in this book, as much of Didn’t See It Coming piggybacks on a number of Carey’s more popular posts. But there’s sufficient illustrative material and extrapolation to warrant reading the book, even if one has already read the blog. I am a faithful reader of the blog, and still gained insight from the book.
Carey addresses a number of issues about which I wish I had learned as a younger leader, especially before my season of burnout – topics like solitude versus isolation; personal growth preceding helping others grow; technology, with its ups and downs; and studying culture.
From his own experience, Carey uses this book to help readers avoid the pitfalls he faced. While, by grace, he did not find himself in a situation of moral failure as some other prominent church leaders have, he has written Didn’t See It Coming as a tool to help other church leaders avoid the challenges that can lead to ministry-ending situations.
I recommend that all church leaders read this book. It is not a long read, but it is a thought-provoking read. It will be widely available as of September 4, 2018.
Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges that No One Expects and Everyone Experiences, by Carey Nieuwhof (New York: WaterBrook, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018).
Disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher, electronically, of Didn’t See It Coming.
I once heard character defined as ‘who you are when no one is looking.’ I think it’s a pretty apt definition! Our character is, like a watermark on a sheet of paper, an indelible part of who we are in every part of our lives, every day. At a basic level, our character defines us; it defines us more than our family heritage, more than our vocation, and more than our possessions.
This is true of everyone, not just those who follow Jesus. But it is perhaps especially true of Jesus-followers, since we know that our lives cannot be compartmentalized. We cannot be Christians, with the character that involves, on Sunday morning, and something else the rest of the week. It doesn’t work that way. In reality, no one can be one thing at one point and something else another time, and maintain any sense of integrity. Even a chameleon, which can change colours to blend in with its environment and fool predators, is still a chameleon; it doesn’t become a rock, like the one on which it is perched when it changes colour.
I’ve wanted to avoid using this illustration, but I am compelled. The Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, who checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic yesterday, consistently said – after being forced to admit to crack cocaine use – that what he did in his private life did not affect his work as the Mayor of Canada’s largest city.
I willingly admit that I did, at one time, have a fair degree of sympathy for Mr. Ford, but once he started saying things like that, he lost my sympathy and gained my pity. When a human being believes he can be one kind of person with one group of people and another kind of person with another group, there is a disconnect that indicates a loss of grasp on one’s own personal reality.
Frankly, it’s a lot easier to be the same person irrespective of who you hang around with; there’s nothing to hide, and no one is surprised to see you in any other context, because who you are at the root of your character dictates what decisions you will make and what actions you will take.
As a follower of Jesus, does that describe you? Are you a Christian when you drive? When you work? When you hang around with your friends? When you invest?
To be sure, none of us is going to get it all right, all the time; perfection for us is reserved for God’s eternal Kingdom. But the hope is that each of us, as we follow and serve the Lord, will become more like Jesus every day, maintaining consistent character, being known as a follower of Jesus wherever we go and whatever we do. It’s a growth process; let’s be growing in the right direction. Remember the Golden Rule?
“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6.31, NIV).
Good, consistent Christian character goes a long way toward fulfilling it.