Monthly Archives: March 2010

What if All Pastors Thought this Way?

John Piper announced this past weekend that starting May 1 he will be taking eight months off from his ministry. During this leave, Piper says I “intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation or preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements.”

Lot’s of pastors take Sabbaticals. In fact, Piper took one just four years ago. But he senses that something is not right and he is choosing to address it so that he can finish well. He clearly notes that there is no blatant act of sin or thought of unfaithfulness to anyone or the ministry, but he goes beyond what I hear from most ministry types.

I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.

But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.

Read the entire announcement. It is quite provocative. I love what he says about his “rock solid” marriage, although it is a bit convicting … OK, a lot convicting!

Not every church or pastor will be able to do this, but every church and pastor should at least recognize the danger that stalks all of us in the ministry. Thanks Dr. Piper for the reality check.

UPDATE 3/31/10:

“Thousands of ministers who have learned from Piper through his books, sermons, and conference talks will now have opportunity to learn from his silence.”

Colin Hansen,


Some Links that Might Help

Thirty-one Laws of Lame Leadership – I’m sure I’ve committed one or more of these somewhere along the line. A good reminder of ways to really create organizational chaos.

Kem Meyer had a brief, but insightful, post on how to break down silos in churches. Kem has a great book on simplifying communications in the church.

Finally, for all those IT guys, or anyone with a computer or hand-held device, this power-on test might be of use.

A Prayer from David – A Word from Spurgeon

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 139:23–24 (ESV)

Search me, O God, and know my heart. He [David] is sure that even by such an investigation there will be found in him no complicity with the wicked. We may each one desire such searching, for it would be a terrible calamity to us for sin to remain in our hearts unknown and undiscovered.

Try me, and know my thoughts. Read not alone the desires of my heart, but the fugitive thoughts of my head. What a mercy that there is one being who can know us to perfection! He is graciously inclined towards us, and is willing to bend his omniscience to serve the end of our sanctification. Let us pray as David did, and let us be as honest as he. We cannot hide our sin: salvation lies the other way, in a plain discovery of evil, and an effectual severance from it.

And see if there be any wicked thing in me. See whether there be in my heart, or in my life, any evil habit unknown to myself. If there be such an evil way, take me from it, take it from me. No matter how dear the wrong may have become, nor how deeply prejudiced I may have been in its favor, be pleased to deliver me therefrom altogether, effectually, and at once, that I may tolerate nothing which is contrary to thy mind. As I hate the wicked in their way, so would I hate every wicked way in myself.

imageAnd lead me in the way everlasting. If thou hast introduced me already to the good old way, be pleased to keep me in it, and conduct me further and further along it. It is a way which thou hast set up of old, it is based upon everlasting principles, and it is the way in which immortal spirits will gladly run forever. Conduct me into it, O Lord, and conduct me throughout the whole length of it.

Spurgeon, C. H. (1993). Psalms. Crossway classic commentaries (Ps 139:23–24). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

A Comment on Pride

It is ever our danger that after being used of God in some way, we mouth humility but practice pride.

(John Davis).

A very real peril faces each of us as Christians when we succeed at doing something for God, whether the task is large or small.

  • We can forget that whatever it is that we have accomplished was done by the Grace of God.
  • We can forget that it is not about us.
  • We can begin the think that we are somehow more important than we actually are.
    This is very present danger for pastors and others in ministry. We can so easily find ourselves talking about being a mere servant dependent on God’s grace and mercy, while harboring a deep seated attitude of arrogance. Maybe even thinking that a particular group or body of believers is so fortunate to have us as their teacher, leader, or shepherd.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 1 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV)


Where do the Mermaids Stand?

This is one of my favorite stories. It is from  All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. While it can be enjoyed as simply as a cute story, I always wonder how many times I have been guilty of shutting down someone because they just didn’t fit into the way things were ‘supposed’ to be.

GIANTS, WIZARDS, AND DWARFS was the game to play.

Being left in charge of about eighty children seven to ten years old, while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the church social hall and explained the game. It’s a large-scale version of Rock, Paper and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.

Organizing a roomful of wired-up gradeschoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity – all this is no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were ready to go.

The excitement of the chase had reached critical mass. I yelled out: "You have to decide now which you are – a GIANT, a WIZARD or a DWARF!"

While the groups huddled into frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pants leg. A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice, "Where do the Mermaids stand?"

Where do the Mermaids stand?

A long pause. A very long pause. "Where do the Mermaids stand?" says I.

"Yes. You see, I am a Mermaid."

"There are no such things as Mermaids."

"Oh, yes, I am one!"

She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf. She knew her category. Mermaid. And was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where a loser would stand. She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things. Without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted that there was a place for Mermaids and that I would know just where.

Well, where DO the mermaids stand? All the "Mermaids" – all those who are different, who do not fit the norm and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes?

Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation or a world on it.

What was my answer at that moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. "The Mermaid stands right here by the King of the Sea!" says I. (Yes, right here by the King’s Fool, I thought to myself).

So we stood there hand in hand, reviewing the troops of Wizards and Giants and Dwarfs as they roiled by in wild disarray.

It is not true, by the way, that mermaids do not exist. I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.

Entering Someone’s World

I very much like Paul David Tripp’s idea of building redemptive relationships with people rather than using people or manipulating people, especially as we engage in a personal ministry of “counseling” with them. Redemptive relationships are marked by love and are demonstrated in ministry as we seek to “enter the person’s world.”

Tripp points out that entering another’s world is more than just understanding their situation or circumstance; or figuring out what their problem is; or who is involved. Rather, “An entry gate into their world is a particular person’s experience of the situation, problem, or relationship.” We don’t ask “what are the problems?”, but rather, what are they “…struggling with in the midst of the problem or situation? Or, “What has this person in its grip right now?” And truly identifying with how they feel, or experience, the situation before trying to address how to fix things or give advice.

The entry gate is not what you think the person is struggling with; it is the struggle the person confesses. People will tell you how they are struggling, and their struggle will give you common ground with them and a door of opportunity into a deeper level of ministry"

In other words, to love another well requires us to care deeply about a person, their emotions, their state of mind, their fears, their anger, their hurt; and to do so before trying to solve their problem.

Tripp says,

I fear that many of us offer care that doesn’t cure because, from the outset, our eyes are so focused on the problem that we miss the person and the struggles within.

One of the most common struggles in crisis is the feeling that you are all alone. Because of this, it ‘so very discouraging when people throw quick answers at you and walk away. It feels as if they have quickly let go of your life and gone back to their own. This is why it is so important to incarnate God’s ‘I will be with you’ promises from the outset….We offer people a living, loving presence that puts real flesh and blood on the presence of the Lord.

Of course there is much more to personal counseling or caring ministry, but I have worked with enough people to know that there is a difference between counseling a “problem” to be solved and counseling a person in crisis. The first tends to be more about me and my skill and telling you what to do; the second is more about me loving you as we work through the process. Of the two, I’ve discovered that entering into your world of struggle, hurt, fear, is more redemptive and effective than giving advice. I wish I practiced it better. Sadly, the church is often where we find fixers rather than lovers. Those more concerned that you get your emotions together and behave right and say right things than they are with the fact that you truly are struggling.

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands is an excellent resource by the way.

A Simple Thought

I’ve long been convinced that when it comes to Christian living (or just living in general) one verse, practiced consistently would have the greatest impact:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others

Philippians 2:4

The context and grammar underscores and emphasizes that this should be practiced in the community of faith by each one towards another. Each one is called to be aware of what others may need, and to consider how best to respond to that person’s need. It is the practical outworking of the exhortation of verse 3 towards selflessness and humility:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Essentially, we are to take a servant viewpoint, to develop an attitude and practice of helpfulness, rather than seeking “what’s in it for me?” or “how will this affect me?” And it is a mindset that should permeate all areas of life…not just when we are on display at church!

Yes, we have our needs, our interests, and our priorities, but they are not to make up our life choices, rather we are to have a broad enough view so as to see the needs of others as a priority. Of course, if we were all putting this into practice, others would be looking out for our needs even as we do the same for others.

Imagine the impact:

  • if a wife looked to her husband’s interests as more important than her own? And then acted on it.
  • if a husband did what was meaningful and important to his wife? Maybe fixed the broken door, vacuumed the carpet, or just talked with her.
  • if a child looked out for his sister or brother, or even his parents?
  • if instead of demanding the perks of position, serve those who work below you.
  • if you helped those “under you” to do well and succeed.
  • if we looked for opportunities to make a difference in a life.

Paul places this passage in a context of unity. A significant element in the practice of unity seems to be thinking and living sacrificially for others without taking into account our own importance (real of imagined).