Our journey through Malachi takes us to 2.1-9 today, in which we learn that the spirituality of God’s people in Malachi’s time was so low that even the priests were ignoring God’s covenant. What can we learn from this for our life in Christ today? You can watch the whole gathering below to find out, or just the message below that.
If you’re a church leader, especially a pastor, hands up if you’ve muttered in the past year, “They didn’t teach me this in seminary”?
For me, it became a mantra as the reality of the pandemic set in, along with the first round of lockdown, back in March of 2020. Not long after that, I was given a copy of Canoeing the Mountains, and I thought it sufficiently intriguing that I would read it, if for no other reason than to give me a break from watching YouTube videos telling me how to do some of the things that seminary didn’t teach me.
The title itself beckons the reader to pick up this book. Whoever heard of canoeing the mountains?
Exactly. That’s why this book needed to be written, and why it needs to be read by Christian leaders, especially in these days.
The book is premised on the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. For us Canadians, that has an almost solely academic meaning, but to the average American, especially those living west of the Mississippi, the heart skips a veritable beat when these names arise. They are woven into the fabric of American history in the years after the Revolution.
But this is not a history text. I will admit, however, that as a Canadian, I learned more about the Lewis and Clark expedition in this Christian leadership book than I ever knew before. Illustratively, Tod Bolsinger, a minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, makes masterful use of Lewis and Clark to help church leaders realize that what seminary prepared them for is not what they’re navigating today.
When Bolsinger wrote this, he did not anticipate a global pandemic that would change the face of the world – and the church – forever. By God’s grace, the principles he writes about, while entirely applicable to pre-pandemic leadership, are going to be doubly applicable in mid- and post-pandemic leadership.
Leaning heavily on the writing of Edwin Friedman, particularly in A Failure of Nerve, Bolsinger applies, and demonstrates through the relation of personal experience, family systems theories to the process of change in the church.
He makes good use of the research of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, noting that “Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb” (124). I remember sharing that quotation and getting a prickly reaction, but I think there is some wisdom in it. As Bolsinger later states, those people whom you disappointed at a rate they could absorb will later be your strongest allies.
This book is both a comfortable read and (in a sense) an uncomfortable read, well worth the time for anyone in Christian leadership. I’m glad I took a break from tech-ed YouTube to read it!
Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger
(Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2015). ISBN #978-0-8308-4126-4.
Have you ever looked up the definition of the term ‘debacle’? Loosely defined, it’s a great big failure.
It seems we don’t need to look very far these days to find an illustration for that!
On both sides of the border, politics is providing its share of debacles. Organizations are seeing leadership debacles. Companies are seeing economic debacles.
Where can we turn to find something better?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace” (Hebrews 13.8-9a, NLT).
Too often, as followers of Jesus, we are easily drawn in to all the troubles of the world. Indeed, we should be active in the world, and pray for the world, but we should keep our eyes on Jesus, on whom we can depend all the time.
“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12.1b-2a, NLT).
Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good, but likewise, don’t be so earthly minded that you lose sight of heaven.
I’m attending the Canadian Church Leaders Conference in Barrie today (and last night, and tomorrow). It’s the second year in a row that Connexus Church has offered this conference, aimed at leaders in Canadian congregations (since so many church leader conferences are held in the US and aimed at the American culture, which is different from ours). Even after hearing just two short talks, I’m encouraged to keep going in the work of change.
Change is a hard word for most people, but perhaps especially for those who have been invested in the life of a local church for a long time. We all remember what the church used to belike. Some will remember when there were 500 kids in the Sunday school – a number that seems to go up every time the person recounts the story of what life in the church was like 60 or more years ago.
Trouble is, the world looks a lot different today than it did in the 1950s. In those days, the post-war baby boom and the optimism that came with a rejuvenated economy meant churches were full most Sundays, without much effort on the part of the leaders. Today, we have generations of people for whom the church has never been a factor in their lives.
One of the key learnings, so far, has been this: if the church is to be strong, we have to be set free from the idea that we just need to survive, so we can dream again. And that means change. And while change will be uncomfortable, we need to continue to focus on the people who are not among us yet.
That means ‘doing church’ in such a manner that it attracts those who are not yet part of the church and being more concerned for those who are far from God than those who are unwilling to change. It’s a tough sacrifice, and it can even seem a bit cold. But if we focus on who we already have, making sure we keep them happy, we are unlikely to see measurable growth in our churches.
I remember in one church I served, someone got up at a congregational meeting and complained about the changes that were happening. After the meeting, a dear old soul came up to me and said, “I wonder if his kitchen looks like it did in 1950.”
Of course, few of us have kitchens that look like they did in 1950, even if the house is older than that. Kitchens are among the first rooms in a house to be renovated, because we want to have the most up-to-date cooking and eating spaces money can buy! We want granite countertops instead of laminate; we want dishwashers, water-serving and ice-making refrigerators, and efficient ranges – all in stainless steel, bien sûr!
Few kitchens today lack a microwave oven, but in 1950, there was no such appliance.
Yet too often, our churches look not much different than they did in 1950. In some cases, the order of service might not have changed since then! But if we’re going to reach a new generation, that change has to be made.
I am fortunate to serve a congregation that has adapted to change very well. There’s more that needs to be done, for sure, but none of it is simply for the sake of change: we change howwe present the timeless gospel of Jesus, because that’s what’s going to reach a new generation.
Marshall McLuhan famously said that the medium is the message, and he had a point: the way we present truth attracts people, perhaps more than the truth itself. And that’s okay! While we don’t change the message, we do change the medium, because the method of presenting the timeless truths of Scripture inherently makes the timeless truths of Scripture more appealing, thus increasing the potential audience.
Is that always what we old-timers prefer? Probably not. But we already know and love and serve Jesus. What we want is to engage our neighbours so that they will know and love and serve Jesus. So we set aside what we prefer in favour of what they prefer. And the Lord does the rest.
“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9.22, NLT).
Most of us don’t know who Robert Raikes was, but he changed the world. He also changed the church – through children.
Robert Raikes was the founder of the Sunday School Movement back in the 1700s.
What most people don’t realize is that when Raikes began his effort, he was not exactly aided by the church. The Englishman, whose efforts sought to rescue children from what was effectively slave labour, teach them to read, and disciple them, caught the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who convened a bishops’ meeting to attempt to stop him.
They believed Raikes’ attempts to disciple children was a violation of the fourth commandment, that it broke the Sabbath.
As time went on, what were called “Sabbath School Societies” were begun across North America, particularly in the United States. But where was the greatest opposition to these groups? Clergy. It was the pastors who were opposing ministry to children because they viewed it as a desecration of the Lord’s Day. One Connecticut pastor even said of a class held in his church one Sunday, “You imps of Satan, doing the devil’s work. I’ll have you set in the street!”
Remarkable, isn’t it? That something we take for granted – ministry to children on Sunday – would have been met with such resistance initially!
So it is with so much change in the church today; it meets with initial resistance, but in the end, if God is in it, it changes the world.
Gamaliel was a learned Pharisee in Israel in the time of the early church. When people would complain about what the apostles were doing in Jesus’ name, Gamaliel’s advice was sage: “If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5.38b-39, NLT).
When change comes, church leaders with integrity are bringing it in not for its own sake, but because they know that the change can help the church change the world for the glory of God. And while that may initially be difficult to take, who wouldn’t want to get behind changing the world for the glory of God?
This is my summer for finishing books I’ve already started, and I started Building the Bridge an embarrassingly long time ago: early 2008. I purchased it as a leadership book, but found it useful on more than one level.
I had initially gotten about 100 pages into it, but since it was so long ago that I had started the book, I decided to reread it in its entirety. This time, I read it as much from the perspective of a spiritual director as a pastor in a leadership role. It is a secular leadership book, but the author, Robert E. Quinn (also author of Deep Change), may well be a person of faith, based on how he writes this book.
To those who lead in the secular world, the book is an outstanding primer in dealing with personal change; Quinn argues that we lead from and by who we are, rather than from or by what we do. You’ll find it helpful as you navigate change in business.
To those who lead in the church – ditto.
To those who provide spiritual direction, it is a fascinating exercise to read this book from the eyes of a spiritual director. You will find it helpful for yourself, and if you give spiritual direction to anyone who leads, it will give you remarkable insight into how to encourage and ask good questions of your directees.
In one sense, I’m glad I didn’t finish the book when I bought it!