Leadership Books for People Who Don’t Like Leadership Books

I don’t like most books about leadership technique. Never have.

Whether it’s the 21 Laws of This or That, or 5 Steps to a Whatever, I find these kinds of books to be mechanical, corporate, and not much use.

However, knowing that this is a personal blind spot, I still try to read at least one book about leadership each year. Over the years I’ve read – believe it or not – some good ones. So, here’s a list of five good books about leadership for people who don’t like books about leadership (in no particular order)… Continue reading

Can You Do The Gospel?

Over the last few years an in-house debate about the gospel has intensified in the Evangelical world.

Squaring off like prize fighters, in one corner you have an articulation of the gospel purely in terms of conversion, repentance, and forgiveness of sins. In the other corner is a gospel framed more as joining a movement, engaging in social justice, or following in the way of Jesus. A cottage-industry of publishing has developed around the word “gospel” in recent years.

More anecdotally, last Easter I noticed how many of the “this is what Easter Sunday means” status updates on Facebook included a of critique of the other corner, depending on which view the person posting held.

If I’m starting to sound cynical; I’m not. If anything, I’m more convinced that what I believe and teach about the gospel is crucial in ministry. On top of that, conversations and observations over the years have convinced me that there is still a lot of misunderstanding out there. Many people in the church still conceive of Christianity as an essentially moralistic religion… be good and God will let you into heaven.

I do believe there is truth in the critique that some have made the gospel too narrow, as if personal salvation is all that it entails. But I’m deeply hesitant about overcorrecting and turning the gospel into something you do. I’m with Tim Keller in his Centre Church, when he argues that we need to clearly differentiate the gospel from the implications of the gospel.

So, having said that I believe the gospel is vital, perhaps I should talk about how I’d communicate it. Continue reading

The Things I Wish I’d Preached…

I recently heard another preacher suggest keeping a database of the sermons you’ve preached; themes, verses, a short summary.

What a great idea!

I decided to follow his advice, and compiled a database of my sermons from the last year and a half. It was eye opening.

First, it helped me to see my pet subjects. It amazed me how often I came back to two themes: trusting in the character of God, and finding meaning and purpose in Christ.

It also helped me to see some of my blind spots. Here are 3 things that I’m determined to address in my next year and a half of preaching… Continue reading

Should Pastors Change Their Minds?

Alister McGrath has argued that the “dangerous idea” of Protestantism – dangerous to the Catholic church at the time, at least – was that each Christian should be able to interpret the bible for themselves.

As many Protestant churches have become less rooted in history and tradition (such that many who read this sentence will see “Protestant” as an archaic term!) this has meant that finding a common thread or set of beliefs amongst Protestant churches has become more difficult.

In the New Zealand Baptist context, this is even more apparent. Here, Baptists have never been ones for creeds and confessions, unlike some of our Baptist brothers and sisters in other times and places.

All of this means that it’s not uncommon for congregants, and even pastors, to have a much more fluid view of doctrines, beliefs and practices. And, of course, to change their minds over time.

I recently asked a question on Facebook: should pastors have their theology “sorted”, or are you happy for them to be on a journey, and to change their mind about certain things? I asked it to two sets of people: congregants, and pastors.

Continue reading

I Was Wrong

In my early 20’s, I had some pretty strong opinions. As I close in on my 30’s, I’m still holding on to some of them. But with others, I’ve either changed my mind, or at least softened a bit.

If I could hop in a time machine and take my 20 year old self out for coffee, I’d tell him he was wrong about these 5 things (after I told him to join a gym)…

1. Stop looking for silver bullets.

In my early 20’s I was into the emerging church in a big way. If you aren’t familiar with it, it was a movement trying to re-imagine what church could be, driven by a group of authors such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. I don’t blame anyone but myself for this, but somehow I got it into my head that this was the future of the church, the new Reformation, and everything else was soon to be obsolete. Except, over time, the emerging church movement sort of faded away, which was a bit embarrassing. This isn’t to say it didn’t have some interesting things to say, or that it didn’t make an impact (I think it did, and continues to, in some ways). But it wasn’t a silver bullet. Now that I’m older I realise that these “waves” often come through the church, every few years. And often they’re helpful and energising. They just aren’t silver bullets. Continue reading

Don’t Be Stupid, Be Simple

Sometimes, in ministry, you think, “I wish someone had told me about this when I was studying to be a pastor!”

Sometimes, you remember that someone did. You just didn’t listen very well.

That’s happened to me a number of times in my nearly 4 years as a pastor, but recently it’s happened with the topic of simplicity.

Back when I was at Bible College, one of my lecturers used the phrase “find the simplicity on the other side of complexity,” in regards to preaching. It sounded good at the time. The trouble is, it’s taken a while to really sink in. And not just when it comes to preaching, either. Continue reading

Walking With God Through Pain & Suffering

Credit: Amazon

I remember once being asked by a person with a physical disability, “Did God do this to me?”

My answer was quick and single-minded. “No! God didn’t do this to you. He grieves with you.”

…As I thought about that conversation though, I wasn’t so sure about my answer. Had I given the right one? How could I know what God had done for certain?

I’ve always been interested in just how “in control” of events God is, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading, thinking, and changing my mind. In recent years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with saying, “I don’t know,” and living within the tension of what I do know of God. That in mind, Walking With God Through Pain & Suffering has to be the best, most comprehensive book on the subject of suffering that I’ve ever read. Timothy Keller (who has at this point become the most influential author in my life) has written a nuanced, empathetic and profoundly biblical book which has become my go-to on the subject. I’ve already started recommending it.

Keller’s refreshing suggestion is that while certain theodicies (systems which attempt to make sense of the question of why God allows suffering) can be helpful, overall none is totally sufficient. In fact, Keller believes we should not try to formulate theodicies, but instead mount a defence of God’s goodness, and show that the argument against God from evil is not a consistent one (p95).

What I like about Keller’s position, is that he advocates a complete and childlike trust in God, even when situations go beyond our understanding. He writes, “Three-year-olds cannot understand most of why their parents allow and disallow what they do. But though they aren’t capable of comprehending their parents’ reasons, they are capable of knowing their parents’ love and therefore are capable of trusting them and living securely. That is what they really need. Now, the difference between God and human beings is infinitely greater than the difference between a thirty-year-old parent and their three-year-old child. So we should not expect to be able to grasp all of God’s purposes, but through the cross and gospel of Jesus Christ, we can know his love. And that is what we need most.” (p122). Continue reading