I can think of no better book to evaluate the effect psychology has had on the western mind than Theodore Dalrymple’s masterful little tome, Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality. He is a retired physician, psychiatrist, and author of prophetically inclined books on the moral and social trajectories of the West. Dalrymple plots the course that psychologizing has had on morality, and his conclusions aren’t cause for much joy.
He, through the lens of history, literature, and the social sciences, outlines the inevitability of our admirable evasions –
by which we blame everything but ourselves, the prime candidate, for our lamentable behaviours.
Dalrymple reminds us that Shakespeare, in King Lear, comments on the disingenuous inclination of man to blame his actions on anything but himself … “an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star.” Some blame the stars, some their heritage, some a habit – whatever. We find some way to shift blame.
Where did this come from?
It depends on who you listen to. Evolutionists will find a way to link it to the survival of the fittest, although nobody has adequately explained how dispositions/morality metamorphosed from physical activity (muscle to morality). Dalrymple sees it as an outcome of erosion of moral responsibility, with the gratifying assistance of much of what passes for psychology. It also complicates how justice is meted out, if we are taught that responsibility no longer lies at our feet, clay that they are.
Scripture explains it with profundity and economy in Genesis 3.
You are familiar with the story:
Adam, having done something he was warned not to do, and now experiencing guilt, blamed God and Eve. Eve in turn blamed the serpent. Adam is guilty and finds others to blame; Eve blames the serpent for deceiving her. In other words, nobody was prepared to accept blame. Neither were repentant. They were sorry, but being sorry isn’t repentance. Both pushed blame away from themselves – “It’s your fault”, “She made me do it”, “The snake is to blame”, “The devil made me do it”.
Blame shift is the preferred option when caught out or exposed. We are experts at it; it’s endemic to our humanity.
Blame is something as old as humanity and as modern as the 21st century. Some segments of the church trade in guilt, Marxism trades in blame, and the social sciences trade in both.
This plays out amongst church leaders who fail – morally, ethically, or financially, or as is often the case, a mixture of all three. It is a gambling habit, or a sex addiction, or a drinking problem – but seldom is it ever a personal problem, one I’m responsible for, even if fuelled by extenuating circumstances. When I hear leaders say they have a sex addiction – and well they might, and how does that help their spouse – I hear someone failing at base one of repentance and forgiveness. It is a classic shift of blame, in that it shifts the focus away from the person’s culpability towards reasons for failure, and it is so often applauded as honesty, as transparency, when in fact it is nothing of the sort. It is nothing less than the ancient sidestep of shifting blame. The mourning of genuine repentance is still a long way from this person.
It isn’t that they are an addict so much as they are corrupt, sinful. Confessing addiction, or some such ruinous proclivity, as the reason is a failure of repentance. It will engender sympathy but will not deal with a corrupt nature. This is close to, if not entirely, disingenuous – and all too common.
A contrite spirit is loved by God, not mere sorrow or regret.
Sorrow and regret are generated by being caught out (few ever confess) and masquerade as godly sorrow and repentance from sin. But they seldom lead to change. On the contrary, they are often predictors of behavioural recidivism.
If we can’t call something for what it is, we won’t be free from what it is.
Shift the blame to where it belongs – our behaviour, our choices – us, me, you. The cross of the saviour does not exonerate admirable evasions. It demands humble self-awareness and brings profound forgiveness, healing, and restoration. Blame shift to your own loss.
If we have learned anything in the last 2 years, it is that life is complex and uncertain. People are shaken, disoriented, and confused by the events happening on a global level that have very real and personal consequences. In complex times, people look to their leaders for stability and guidance. And yet, leaders themselves are shaken too, their sense of direction and vision for the future is also challenged. But there is a unique and wonderful opportunity to provide stability and guidance.
We have been called for such a time as this and as people are lost and questioning, we have the possibility to point people towards God, who will be their steady anchor. Our role as leaders and pastors is crucial.
The challenge of pastoring in complex times is that the need is great, and there is a risk that we might focus on the wrong things.
We want to suggest 4 focuses for healthy pastoring.
First, we need to be pastorally minded.
Now is the time to be present in people’s lives and focus on their well-being. Focusing only on vision and goals for your church when your people need help to get through the present can be dangerous.
Second, we need to be real and authentic.
We can’t ignore the problem and the challenges that people are facing by being overly positive. This requires a healthy vulnerability on our part and a willingness to listen to people. You can tell them that you don’t know, that you’re also struggling… People will feel like they can relate to you.
Third, we need to preach the word of God and avoid other debates.
The word of God is the ultimate truth, and we are called to preach a message of hope. Be careful of fighting the wrong fight by focusing on current affairs and political debates. Our role is to point people to God, to the cross and to be Christ-centered in the message we bring. That’s our place of unity: Jesus!
Lastly, keep as much stability and regularity as possible.
While we need to remain flexible to respond to changing circumstances, a time of crisis is not the right time to completely restructure the church. This can place an unnecessary burden on your teams and leaders when they themselves are feeling stretched. We also believe that your voice, as the pastor, is the one that will bring a sense of safety, so be there and preach most of the time!
As a Christian leader, you are perfectly positioned to offer people a sure hope that extends beyond the complexity of the times we are living in.
“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure”
As you fear the Lord and submit your leadership to Him, he will give you the treasure of His salvation, wisdom and knowledge that you can share with others.
Hindsight is so helpful when it comes to prognostication; we can prophesy with unerring accuracy something that has happened. Which is all a way of saying that we aren’t very good at prediction, and maybe a little better at interpretation.
If there is one thing the current pandemic has shown us, it is that those who have vital connections to God and his church have thus far fared better than attenders, onlookers, casual saints and the lazy.
It is unlikely that any churches haven’t been affected by lockdowns, stay at home orders, isolation, and quarantines –some adversely, if numbers matter, and I think they do. Some churches haven’t made it. I suspect they include churches who didn’t have the know-how to adapt with technology. I’m no big fan of Zoom and YouTube being our main means of connection, but they have been brilliant tools to help us through, even if engagement after a year started dropping, the more so in larger churches. A number of larger churches are starting back in person with less than 50% of their numbers prior to Covid. This may be because people are connecting more locally, but it’s hardly an encouragement to the leaders of these previously booming congregations. Yet, there is more at work here than the limitations of technology, or the fickleness of crowds.
The very nature of God’s church is premised on community, on proximity, on connectivity.
Christians aren’t wired, by the Holy Spirit, to live in isolation. Being in Christ is being in his church, nothing less, and that always finds a local expression, and it may be that the more local the expression the more effective it proves. The idea of watching church on a screen (excepting for when it is the only alternative) is not being the church, the saving community/body of Jesus. It is watching – not truly participating or being vitally joined.
Small churches may survive better, especially if the pandemic continues by morphing, of which the variants are salient warnings. We will always need bigger, apostolic churches but history reminds us that most churches have only ever been 80 or less. There is a sociological phenomenon that is consistent with the creational needs of humanity at play here; something that can’t be gotten around with hopes for more larger churches. And what is required for larger churches is a multifaceted and gifted team and uncommon leadership skill. The point is it is uncommon; this level of leadership is a gift that can’t be (easily) replicated by technique.
Two dynamics are currently feeding into the need for more smaller churches:
One is the fracturing of the family as the basic unit of society.
People are less connected to home and divorce continues to ravage families, especially children (I’m still amused with otherwise intelligent people saying they still love/respect their divorced wife or husband and are making sure the children are getting the best of both worlds, which like proposing that losing a leg will make you a better runner). And we are facing the fact that loneliness is a plague in our cities – the bigger the city the more extreme, where more and more singles live alone. People are craving connection and the best means of vital and healthy connections are always found in smaller settings – homes, around the table, at meals.
Which brings us to the second point.
The main means of community in the early church was table fellowship, even if some of the homes they met in were quite large by first century standards.
Christians would gather, pray, sing songs of praise to Jesus, read, and hear the scriptures, pledge to maintain biblical standards of morality, and eat together, including communion. That was essentially how they did small church together. This isn’t replicable in large assemblies. We simply can’t know one another and effectively participate with each other in large groups, unless we prefer the anonymity of crowds. But that is a sign of dislocation.
- Smaller churches are easier to start and replicate.
- Smaller churches have an agility that larger ones don’t. In an era that is increasingly anti-Christian, renting (or purchasing) larger spaces is incurring more and more community resistance, if not downright hostility.
- Smaller churches can comfortably exist (and validly so) with pastoral leadership rather than the significantly rarer apostolic/prophetic leadership.
- Smaller churches create an interpersonal dynamic that larger churches struggle with, unless their structure is, and genuinely so, small churches within the larger church. This is easier said than done, especially where the Sunday meeting is still the ‘real’ church.
- Smaller church is the form the church has historically and largely existed in. I don’t see this changing, and at this juncture this may prove to be one of our biggest advantages.
Small church is important.
Creatively Adapting In These Challenging Times
‘How did you actually grow your church during Covid-19?’
This is one of the questions many other pastors asked us in the beginning of 2021.
After one year of Covid-19, the number of volunteers and connect groups in our church and giving has doubled.
But how was this possible?
The easy answer would be that we put a lot of effort into making church happen in any way possible. Like most churches, we started online services. We held three drive-in cinema services. We organized a big open-air service in summer and tried to create some really special Easter and Christmas productions.
So, is the key to simply do as much as possible? Of course not.
Adapting to the circumstances of the time in order to grow your church means flexibility. We tried to hold this as one of our greatest values – especially in this Covid season. Flexible leadership means adapting to your circumstances quickly.
When the first lockdown in Germany occurred – we had less than 24 hours to set up the first online service our church had ever done. The question was never ‘should we hold a service?’ It was simply, ‘how can we make a service possible?’ So, we spontaneously booked a camera crew, and we recorded our first service and put it online.
Watching it today, it is far away from how we are doing it now, but it was the best we were able to produce at the time. It actually changed the way we thought about church! We tried to stop thinking about how we were used to doing church and focused on new ways of making church possible in this unfamiliar situation.
That is why we then asked a professional filmmaker to help us and give advice for our online services. Under their guidance, we quickly changed the setting from an ‘on stage’ service to a large industrial setting.
We tried to be flexible, and we tried to think outside the box. One day we heard that a drive-in cinema was planning to open in one of the cities in which we have a campus. I reached out immediately to see if it was possible to run a service there. It was! We could never have imagined the success of this service. We only planned to hold a one-off drive-in service but afterwards we decided to run some more.
We had hundreds of first-time visitors coming to those services and dozens of salvations every Sunday.
As a result of those events and our online service re-design, we had many volunteers starting to serve in our church. Many of them were the very professionals that we had asked for advice in the first place!
It was not actually the sermon or the way we worshipped, but the fact that we had been flexible, creative and forward thinking that made our church so attractive to them. Many had never been in church before and got saved during this season because they saw a group of believers that was so motivated to make church possible and to get the Gospel out there, even in unfamiliar circumstances.
Did everything always work out perfectly? Definitely not. Some things we tried out did not work at all, but to be flexible, to be creative, to adapt to the circumstances around you often means to try, fail and then try something else.
The message of hope remained the same, only the way of reaching our communities with the message changed in so many ways and so many times.
There was no ‘How to run church in a Global crisis seminar’ we could attend and there are many other things we as the Church might face in the future. Hopefully not on the scale of a global crisis, but there will be many future circumstances that require creativity, flexibility, and adaptability from us.
My biggest lesson as a leader in this season would be the following:
Be bold and try something.
We may be afraid that it might not work out but trust me, often we will be surprised by how God is using our effort to make things possible!
It does not have to be something the world has never seen before. It is mostly about embracing the situation and circumstances around you, being flexible and quick to react.
In German we have a saying: ‘The devil’s favourite furniture is the long bench’, which is a metaphor for procrastination. Often the Church’s biggest hinderance in adapting to circumstances is trying to wait it out.
So don’t wait – initiate!
They were false prophets because their ‘imaginary’ prophecies were not fulfilled. Unlike most genuine prophets they weren’t unpopular nor were they shunned, as Jeremiah was. They were included in the company of Priests and Kings. They regularly prophesied and were celebrated for their ecstatic utterances. They were part of the fabric of Israel’s national life and culture, confirming God’s continuing protection and goodness to the people – or so they said.
The prophet of the Lord, Jeremiah, gives false prophets a thorough lambasting. To some, he declares their days will be shortened, to others exile and loss, but to all stern reproof for not speaking in God’s name when claiming they were – “they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them.”
What then, was the nature of their prophetic ministry? Why did Jeremiah spend considerable energy repudiating their words of comfort and protection from encroaching enemies?
In short, the false prophets were giving false hope.
They were saying good times were ahead when, in actual fact, good times was the last thing on the agenda for their foreseeable future. Exile was decreed to them – back to Egypt (in a sense) – in the form of Babylon.
Jeremiah did speak of restoration and a restoring of God’s goodness to the people and the land – “I will restore the fortunes of my people.” And it was Jeremiah who spoke of a new covenant, wherein the Law of God would be written on the hearts of his people – not stone tablets. Jeremiah wasn’t a pessimist, but neither was he an optimist in regards their current fortunes and future. His sure hope was that God would one day revive and restore his people – but not before sorrow, loss and exile. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.” But in the meantime, they would face 70 years of exilic judgment. He was consequently imprisoned because the King and the nation didn’t like what he said – “why do you prophesy and say …”
False prophets tell people what they want to hear and for so doing are popular, and likely prosperous.
Because they wanted to satisfy the people, they made up what God didn’t say. But the King and the people loved it – ‘away with the doomsayer Jeremiah,’ they demanded.
It is easy to see false prophets as Rasputin-like, with glowering eyes, questionable intent, and crafty words ensnaring God’s people. But nothing could be further from the truth – they were popular, celebrated, invited into the halls of influence and power. What they said made the people happier – although, it should be noted, not for long. They accused Jeremiah of “not seeking the welfare of the people, but their harm.” They wanted the people to hear only good news – laudable in one sense, but deceptive in another.
Has anything changed?
Paul the apostle prophetically warned Timothy, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” We could add prophets to this.
A false prophet in the age of the church and the Spirit is unlikely to be saying things that are wildly unorthodox or heretical; they are likely to be like the prophets of Jeremiah’s day who appealed to the needs and desires of the people.
They aren’t always immoral, unethical, and heterodox – although false prophets can be all these things. But they only speak the positive, the palatable, the immediately satisfying. They are unlikely to challenge and convict with God’s word, as this is perceived as being negative and abusive (and when we go down that road, no discipling is possible).
We are so enmeshed in the therapeutic, the emotive, the sought-for expression of our ‘true’ selves, we are seldom any longer capable of being corrected, much less rebuked.
A prophet, worth his salt, won’t always say things we like.
Agabus didn’t get the memo from the ministry of ‘feel-good.’ He spoke of chain and pain when speaking to Paul. And Jesus told Paul how much he would suffer for him – hardly very encouraging.
Would we allow for a ‘word’ that told us our future had dark days in it, but that God would work it for his glory and our maturation?
The point being: we have to be able to take both. Sometimes things aren’t going to get better, although if we allow the Holy Spirit access to our inconvenience, we will – get better, that is.
For every three encouraging words we need one that stops us in our self-oriented tracks, calls us to account, and reminds us of the lives of Jesus, Paul and the saints (God’s church).
We are promised God’s goodness and difficult days. A false prophet only takes account of the former.
The Cross of Christ has been made many things, but ultimately it is only one thing.
To most, it is a finely crafted adornment on a chain, to be hung around our necks; it is romanticised.
It has become a symbol of Christianity and its founder – Jesus Christ.
It is found on flags – many European countries have it embedded on their national flags.
And it is now illegal to wear in places of employment in France, due to its aggressively secularized vision of the state.
The Cross is many things.
But what it actually is, is something quite different.
The cross was a brutal form of torture and subjugation employed by Rome to let its vassals know who was in charge.
Thousands of Jews were crucified by zealous Rome policy. Pax Romana was all very well if you towed the line, otherwise peace was the last thing you could expect. It was ignominious to be crucified. You were considered criminal, and publicly shamed as naked you hung, probably already viciously beaten, until you drowned in the fluid collecting in your lungs. Nothing romantic, nothing merciful, nothing but extreme pain and degradation. This was how Jesus died – just another poor wretch that crossed Rome’s power – so it seemed.
The cross was a great defeat, it appeared.
The most wonderful person to grace this earth was dispatched by the powers, without much more than a thought. And yet, what is weakness and shame to man was the display of God’s power and wisdom. In the cross, in the pain and shame, was the defeat of the dark powers that subjugate humankind – it was the crucifixion of sin and death. In the cross is a wisdom that beggars the greatest of philosophers.
This victory of God is not a once off historical act; it is re-enacted and embodied (incarnated, if you like) every time love is optioned, every time forgiveness is extended, every time God’s people don’t revel in and rely on man’s power to resolve matters.
Our celebration of military power is siding alongside the same sort of power/s that killed the prince of life.
The cross is not just something that happened, in the sense we look back on it – it is the pattern of the way of the Messiah. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was largely about their worldly perceptions of wisdom, patronage and privilege. He was at pains to show in his own life the cruciform lifestyle of a genuine apostle. He preached Christ crucified – he lived Christ crucified. He took the form of a servant. The cross was his impetus, his vision, his grid, his burden.
The cross subverts everything common to and preferred by humans. Like the apostle Peter, who died upside down, we are to live upside down – in leadership, in life, in teaching and in example. What was despised by man is hailed by heaven.
The cross is life, power and wisdom to us, death, weakness and folly to others.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
People are facing off about masks. Every man and his dog (I saw a dog sporting a mask recently) has an opinion. To wear or not to wear, that is the question? Naturally, every opinion is scientifically validated, they all insist on contradiction to one another.
In the community of faith, this divergence of opinion loses no energy – it may actually gain energy because of our beliefs about freedom, and freedom, rightly, means a lot to us.
Anecdotal evidence to hand is that some people won’t go back to physical church gatherings because people aren’t wearing masks, and equally other people refuse to re-engage with their church community because some people are wearing masks. Churches are splitting over this; it has all the hallmarks of Corinthian divisiveness.
Those that do mask up are likely to be considered the weak, the fearful, maybe the unwitting victims of so-called political oppressiveness. Those that don’t mask up see themselves as bastions of freedom, refusing to be the pawns of so-called scientific dogma, and Government legislation. They are the unafraid, or maybe the just plain careless.
Two thoughts for us to consider:
Firstly, we may find ourselves redefining freedom – which was paradoxically always about freedom from something to be being the slave of another thing, in our case, the servants of Christ.
Freedom isn’t a political agenda in the writings of Paul. Rather, it is the freedom to love and serve, and not having to exercise your freedoms. In the inimitable words of Bob Dylan – “you gotta serve someone.” A truly free person isn’t a captive of their freedom. They are, rather, a captive of love, which makes them a slave.
If freedom is to be defined by not wearing a mask, we have likely, even if inadvertently, judged the person who does wear one. We see them as weak, fearful, and no way are we going to succumb to that old devil. No way, we are making a stand!
Secondly, making a stand is about as far away as you can get from the apostle Paul’s teaching and lifestyle.
His glory was never in his freedoms, but in his imitation of the crucified Christ – who is our example (crucifixion) and not just our benefactor (resurrection). He went to great lengths when writing to the church in Rome to help untangle the issue of the weak and the strong. The weak were fearful, no question, the weak didn’t see the cosmic implications of Christ’s Lordship, no doubt, but the weak were as loved, accepted and celebrated by God the Father as the strong, and it wasn’t demanded of the weak that they change the condition of their, in most cases, cultural heritage. The Lord was their defender. The strong were the ones who had to change. This wasn’t by denying them the truth of their liberty. Not for a minute, and there were occasions when Paul refused to be hindered by the censorial attitude of others trying to rob him of his freedoms.
But Paul’s goal was to conform to the image of Christ crucified, and in so doing he would become all things to all people – to win as many as possible, Christian, Jew and Gentile. Paul became as the weak to win the weak. Gordon Fee has this to say, “The apostle’s actions, which appear (to some) to be inconsistent, have integrity at a much higher level. Whereas he is intransigent on matters that affect the gospel itself, whether theological or behavioural, that same concern for the saving power of the gospel is what causes him to become all things to all people in matters that don’t count.” Masks don’t count.
Which is all a long way of saying that Paul would wear a mask – and – Paul would not wear a mask.
He would be guided according to the need, the conscience, of the community he was with, not his freedom. The mask is nothing – people are everything. If not wearing a mask defines your freedom (your freedom thereby being supposedly supressed) – you guessed it, you are not free.
I hate wearing the flipping things. My glasses constantly fog up. So what? My concern for others is more important than the proclamation of my freedom (if you could call this an expression of freedom) and certainly more important than any temporary nuisance.
Love dictates our actions, not the establishments of our rights, be they personal or political – a sadly forgotten kindness/ethic in our rights-obsessed culture.
Mask up, you’ve been unmasked Lone Ranger.
 Slow Train Coming: Bob Dylan. 1979, Colombia Records.
 Gordon Fee. NICNT, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Eerdmans, Rev Ed. 2014.
I love the church.
It has played many crucial roles in my life; loving me, baptising me, supporting me, challenging me, discipling me, investing in me, and taking chances on me. And it has been doing these things for literally as long as I can remember.
I love the church.
The church is extremely important to God. Therefore it should be extremely important to us. The way we interact with and within the church is also extremely important to God.
Let’s be honest here, the church isn’t perfect and there is no such thing as the perfect church.
There won’t be a perfect church until Christ returns and makes her perfect. However, that’s no reason for us to slack or disengage. It is of paramount importance for us to spend each day we have here on earth building God’s church, His bride, into the best she can be.
I want the church to be in the best shape it can be when I pass it on to future generations. I want my children to have the same love and testimony of the church as I do.
How can we live in such a way to help this become reality?
Let’s dive into the beginning verses of Romans 12 to see.
Romans 12:1 ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.’
Paul spent the first 11 chapters in Romans teaching the church the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here in Chapter 12, Paul is changing from theology to instruction.
He is building on from what is true about God and Christ and our salvation, to how we should then respond and live in light of these great truths.
Weighing up everything that he has said in his letter so far, Paul instructs us to live ‘in view of God’s mercy…’ To live always aware of the mighty mercy that has been shown to us. To keep it front and centre in our minds.
In other words, the Christian life is built on the solid rock of the mercy of God.
But what does that mean practically speaking? How should our lives reflect us living in view of God’s mercy?
Let’s use the following verses to find out.
1. Live selflessly and sacrificially.
Verse 1 tells us, ‘To offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.’
Simply put we are to live selflessly and sacrificially in order to worship God.
Easy to say, hard to do.
2. Live according to God’s will for our life.
Verse 2 exhorts us, ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’
Simply put we are to live according to God’s will for our life, not according to our own.
Easy to say, hard to do.
3. Live humbly.
Verse 3 says, ‘For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought..’
Simply put we are to live humbly, putting others’ needs above our own.
Easy to say, hard to do.
4. Live well in community.
Verse 5 teaches us, ‘so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’
Simply put we are to live well in community, belonging to each other.
Easy to say, hard to do.
5. Use our gift and talents to the best of our ability.
Verse 6 encourages us, ‘We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith…’
Simply put, we are to each use our gift and talents to the best of our ability to benefit others.
Easy to say, hard to do.
As I contemplate this important teaching, I am challenged by the magnitude of what is asked of us, but thankfully, I am reminded that it’s all done ‘in Christ’.
It’s in and through His great mercy.
I lean on Him.
I find strength in Him.
I commit to living in view of God’s great mercy; selflessly and sacrificially, according to God’s will for my life, humbly, living well in community, and using my gifts and talents to the best of my ability.
I love the church.
A little over 18 years ago, just 6 months married and working full-time as an emergency nurse, my husband and I found ourselves leading a church. No one was more surprised than us.
We discovered the only way would actually survive this journey was within community. The C3 tribe quickly became our family, which we now love and are dedicated to.
From the moment we were welcomed at our first pastors gathering by Ps John & Danielle Pearce (from whom we had just claimed the title of “youngest pastors in the movement”), to having Greg French help demolish our kitchen on a visiting ministry weekend, we soon realised that ministry was a “whole of life” experience!
We have learned so much, but there is, however, one piece of advice that to this day resonates. It’s advice that I embrace and resist with equal fervor. It challenges me, empowers me and, perhaps a little surprisingly, has come from the guy with whom I have walked hand-in-hand in ministry for almost two decades. It’s advice we have shared with many a wide-eyed, fresh-faced leader and is often met with reactions of surprise, uncertainty, disagreement, and even sheer relief.
“Ministry will take everything you give it, so don’t give it everything.” My husband, Nick Hind.
Ok, before you get your hackles up, let me clarify:
In Acts 6 the disciples are counseled to spend time on the right things. The believers found themselves at a stage of rapid growth and growing complexity. The needs seemed endless and they were learning the lesson that every Pastor will face: there is and always will be something else to do – something urgent, something unavoidable.
We would be foolish to think that success in ministry is defined by the hours we give it.
And yet we can easily live as if just a little bit more time or effort will make all the difference. The challenge is that, as Ps John Pearce says, “there’s always something”!
So if there is always something, then perhaps too, like the disciples, we need to take the time to allow God to be the focus, allow Him to guide us in how we spend each of these precious moments we are given by Him.
There will always be more needed – the demand is endless – so we need to be wise about what we give out, and how we manage ourselves through the many seasons ahead of us.
Here in Canberra, Australia, I see the changing of seasons. Summer has lost its power over the cool dew mornings, the Autumn colors are thinly spread amongst the trees, Winter’s barrenness and dormancy will soon unfold as we allow creation to rest around us.
Each season has a purpose: to rest or to grow; to lay dormant or to produce. Every season shapes the way we live, the way we move through our days. Seasons of full-time work, bi-vocational work, having young children, older children, empty nesting…
Seasons are the way God has designed life.
Taking a moment to reflect on the season that has been, to prepare and embrace the season ahead, will keep us in step with God’s purpose and plan. A regular habit of reflection empowers us to continue to grow. It allows us a moment to reassess, prepare. It allows us to navigate the wrestle we find in the statement, “ministry will take everything you give it, so don’t give it everything.”
By a case for gravity, I don’t mean, what goes up must come down.
What I refer to is a case for dignity, for solemnity, because it appears that we have all but lost the capacity, or even the desire, to present with some sense of gravity – in our words, and our lives.
I apply this to us, to God’s people, because who am I, who are we, to judge the world.
The clamor to be heard, to express an opinion, overwhelms any sense of restraint and sobriety in much communication these days.
Yet, the greatest of people say less, not more.
That is a hallmark of their greatness; less is more and more is less (more or less).
The prophet, Isaiah, speaking of the servant of the Lord when he was being oppressed and afflicted, said “so he opened not his mouth.” He said it twice in the space of one verse. He talked less; we talk too much. Isaiah also stated that the servant of the Lord, would not “cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the streets.” The picture he paints in these verses is of someone who by extreme patience will bring forth justice. It isn’t saying he won’t speak, but that he wouldn’t push himself forward to be heard.
He (Jesus is the Servant) respected Synagogue protocol as to when he could speak. He didn’t walk in and demand his messianic right to minister. On the contrary, he told his disciples to walk away if their voice wasn’t heeded, which thing Paul did, ultimately. The gentle persistence of Jesus accomplished the will and purpose of his Father. He never craved the publicity of the miracles he accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, I digress.
A case for gravity can and should be made for those that lead God’s people, his church. We should be, need to be, described with words such as restraint, simplicity, dignity, and sober-mindedness. These words are easily, but wrongly, interpreted to mean, boring, and out of touch. But if they are (which they aren’t) then so be it because it is precisely these qualities that Paul sets out for anyone in leadership. They are the job description of the necessary qualities of God’s servants.
The list of attributes Timothy is to employ placing leaders over God’s church has nothing in it that speaks of gifts or charisma. It is entirely character-based. Nearly every word in these instructions portrays a dignified, well thought of, and self-disciplined person.
- Sober-minded – not given to the fanciful. Reflective, not reactionary, neither thinking too much nor too little of oneself.
- Self-controlled – control of appetites, needs, and wants. Calm under pressure; slow to react.
- Respectable – showing grace towards and respect of others, having earned standing in the community, not given to extremes, nor consumptive of commodities.
- Hospitable – a house open to others, one who welcomes, not exclusive but inclusive, the table is for all.
- Not a drunkard – not given to dissipation, able to enjoy what is legitimate but not captured by it; this is pleasure with restraint.
- Not violent (but gentle) – able to resolve conflict without fists, not a physical bully, someone able to maintain peace under duress.
- Not quarrelsome – no need to win arguments, especially to prove intellectual or academic superiority or make a point, a kind person, silent around fools and the contrary.
- Not a lover of money (which is idolatry) – able to be the same person with or without whether in lack or in abundance, not deceitful, or a scammer/schemer. Money is a gift to this person, not a possession.
What sort of person is this?
It is a person who displays gravitas – maturity, and bearing.
Regal bearing need not be the domain of the aristocracy. A person who expresses grace and kindness has gravitas, regardless of their social status. Another word for this is dignity. A dignified person is one who knows have to handle themselves in any setting – when to talk, when to be silent, when to come, when to go.
It is a person who shows restraint.
They aren’t just restrained in being able to control their feelings so as not to spill invective on others, or lash out, but someone who doesn’t live over the top, who isn’t a walking advertisement for conspicuous consumption, who is careful not to belittle others with what they have and what others don’t.
Paul wrote to this last point in his letter to the Corinthians, where the poor and rich (both in God’s church) were advised how to do community together in such a way that the poor of God’s people got to eat at the same table in the house church/es as the rich. The rich ate before the poor thus belittling them with the plenty they exclusively enjoyed, while the poor starved. Paul said it was for this reason people were weak and ill, some having died.
Another word for restraint is simplicity. How much do you need at any one time? There is a place for God’s people in the West to examine our lives – how we live, how much we spend on the frivolous, the unnecessary. Our consumeristic clutter is not to our advantage; it makes us no happier.
A leader should live with restraint dictating parameters to decisions and lifestyles.
The New Testament gives good grounds for gravity in living – in appearance, speech, behavior, and lifestyle. In fact, it is required of the leaders of God’s church.
This is my case for gravity.
 I Corinthians 5:12-13.
 Isaiah 53:7.
 Isaiah 42:1-4.
 Acts 28:26-31.
 I Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9.
 We can rightly assume that gifts mattered, but character leads to competency.
 People disqualify themselves from leadership in God’s church who don’t open their arms and homes, as a lot of discipleship is done around the table.
 Paul’s claim to be able to do all things through Christ is premised on/contextualized by him being able to be in abundance or lack. Either way didn’t change him. This takes strength.
 Dignity can at times be seen in deportment and appearance: not drawing attention yet well-groomed, fitting in yet not standing out – in a self-seeking manner.