Good leadership books that translate into church leadership are rare. "Leaders Eat Last" is one of those rare books. This book is one of the best leadership texts for ministers and elders. At Castle Rock, we are journeying through this book together as a leadership team. We review each chapter, and talk about principles that we can apply to ourselves to improve the level of service we give to the congregation. This book is well written and informative. The beginning of the book developed the paradigm for the author. If you want people to follow you, you have to provide protection for them. You need to be loyal to them for them to be loyal to you. It is the idea of creating a sense of safety within the organization, because if people are busy fighting one another, there will be little attention given to developing the mission of the organization. Internal chaos causes people to be worried about self-preservation, and not about extending the reach of the group. The author talks about various chemicals within the body that help in this process. The book talks about various qualities that the leader needs, like the foxhole test. You have to have courage to do the right thing, even when the right thing seems wrong. Another valuable principle is the abstraction distance within an organization. The greater distance between the levels of people creates a sense of a lack of empathy, hence a lack of caring. You do not experience the pain of the people on the bottom level, so you feel comfortable firing them. The last part of the book develops various leadership lessons that are practical. Over and over again, I was highlighting this book, and thinking about how important this work was for church leadership. This is not a preacher or elder book per say, but in my opinion, every church leader should read it. Rarely do I come across I book I would recommend this strong, but this is such a book.
Last week my dissertation arrived in the mail. It was about two years old. I finished it up in March of 2013. It was finally published and bound, and a couple copies were sent to me. It has been a while since I thought about my dissertation. So I was going through it, and I was pleased. When I finished the dissertation, I was not sure about the success of the four years of work I put into it. First, I was asked to do an extra year of research and field testing in the process, this was one of the best years of my life for maturing in ministry. It caused me to assess my situation better, and allowed me to think clearer on my work. It might have been disappointing, but it really caused me to grow in my leadership. Thank you to Harding School of Theology for challenging me. Looking back, I am thankful that I was pushed instead of handed a degree. Second of all, the fruit of this dissertation is really starting to bud in the congregation. We might not have grown much over the first few years of my work within the congregation, but we are really taking off now. For those who do not know, I focused on missional transformation within the local congregation, and created a hybrid approach using systems, and two hundred barrier principles to help the congregation increase in its size for ministry to the community. Looking back, the insights that were gained in the dissertation, and the seeds that were planted are really producing fruit within the congregation. Essentially, without the dissertation, I am not sure we are the congregation we are today. The dissertation shaped the congregation, and we might not have been able to see the shaping taking place during the process, but we are seeing God using all of those years of intense research and application to create a missional and growing congregation. The dissertation caused me to become a better leader, created a deeper level of maturity, and helped me to see my contextual situation, and adopt to improve with the people to help provide them, and ultimately the Lord a better congregation serving His desires. It was uplifting to see the countless hours of work, and looking back, seeing in the present how those thoughts shaped the congregation we have today. I really appreciate HST for making this process possible. I know that congregations sometimes do not see the value of a doctorate, but looking back, those who go through the process can be much better ministers to a church because of the time spent in training. My dissertation was a spiritually forming time, and helped me be a better leader and preacher.
I was not sure what to expect from this book. It is edited by Dave Bland, a personal friend of mine, and the overseer of my dissertation. He is a professor and friend. And David Fleer edited the book, and he is one of my favorite preachers. The book has other well known authors like Tom Long. I knew the book would have various sermons on Luke/Acts, but what was really the highlight was the beginning section of the text. It was a look at the development of the art of preaching over the last few years. It was a deep look into the changing currents of Homiletic thought that goes into shaping a sermon. Like all expressions of art, various patterns come and go in and out of fashion. The beginning of the book will, in a few pages, provide you a wonderful glimpse into some of the debate concerning style in preaching. It deals with the seeker movement, post-liberal preaching, and expository preaching. People who see one particular style being the in all of a sermon really miss the point. Even expository, can have weaknesses. In fact, that is the richness of the book, you see the critique of the various expressions of sermon.
The second part of the book does some theology over various aspects of Lukan theology. These are all written at a semi-scholarly level, which is nice for people like me who are simple. The section does a great job of highlighting major themes in the book of Luke, and tracing them out throughout the text. At the end of these sections, the authors provide sermons on various texts that illustrate the theological flow of the book of Luke. This is an excellent resource for the preacher. You will learn about preaching, theology, and have it demonstrated before your eyes. This is a well done book.
If you do not know about these two movies, do not waste your time investigating them. But if you have a facebook feed, you have probably seen countless articles about these two types of movies. Both of these styles of movies fall within the explicit category. The movies are directed toward women. For years, men have been the ones who have predominately struggle with sexually graphic imagines, but with the changing culture, there seems to be a new genre of films that portray sexual imagines that women find intriguing. There is a new genre that is called “mommy porn.”
There seems to be a double standard that is developing within society. Groups of women will go the movie theatres to watch these types of movies. Women will update ones status on facebook announcing loving these movies. In these movies there are graphic sexual scenes that definitely would be considered “immodest.” You have men striping, and sadistic sexual acts portrayed on the big scene. Women sadly are flocking to these movies. Even Christian women are going with Christian friends to watch these shows.
One would be hard pressed to imagine men doing this so publically. Men are classically the ones that struggle with sexual imagines, but this sin is often hidden from public view. But women seem empowered to flaunt these acts in the face of the public. One could never imagine a man updating his status on facebook with “heading to the strip club with my bbf.” It seems that society even teaches that men should be ashamed of lusting after women, but women should be proud of longing after men. It is a manipulative role reversal within the world.
Christians should not be shocked with the world acting like the world. But to engage in these behaviors is counter to the calling of Holiness of those who profuse Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 states “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”
Years ago, the common practice for members of congress, once elected, was to move their families to D.C. Because of this, and the small world of churches, schools, and community events, these families from democratic and republican parties, would affiliate with one another. During session, the two parties would debate, argue, even criticize one another, but after the official business, would attend the same school events, backyard barbecues, and church fellowships. A story told by Charles Gibson is about George McGoven, a Democratic senator, and Bob Dole, a Republican senate, both would take the floor, and rail against one another, but after session would be seen acting like friends. There was a general feeling that "after six o'clock we can be friends, but before six, it is just politics." But things started to change, because of the need to fund raise. Instead of moving to Washington, elected officials stay in one's home state. In the 1980's, nearly two thirds of members of congress lived in the capital, but today, only a handful live there. Now elected officials fly into Washington, for a shorten work week. This has caused these individuals to no longer have friendships from across the parties. There is now less time to talk, socialize, and to have common interests like cheering for one another's kids at a school event. This shift away from friendships has created polarization in politics.
With this shift that is seen in politics, you are seeing it within the leadership of the churches of Christ. As the split within the movement has increased, you are watching the same dynamic take place in the fellowship. About a year ago, I was eating breakfast with a well know leader in the progressive churches of Christ, he is very influential, and he was asking me about a lectureship in East Tennessee, and he noted that of all the people on the program, he did not recognize a single name. This is indicative of the situation we are in currently. There is little friendship that is happening behind the scenes within religious conversation.
The reason we are struggling in this department is failure on both sides. On the progressive side, you have quasi-non-judgmental feelings. This means that any definitive statement of truth is seen as a judgmental stance. So the conversation is closed off because no one wants to be judged, and you are judging me. On the conservative side, you have defensiveness. Instead of listening to divergent points of view, you have a simplistic proof texting attitude of quoting a verse like it was not known already in the conversation.
The extension of this attitude is the go to your brother mindset. Instead of conversation happening, people will place stuff on the internet, and be upset that someone has reacted to it. If you post material for the public, you should not be offended when it is publicly disagreed with. There is always this back and forth concerning you should have went to me. We are not talking about personal sin, we are talking about doctrinal positions, and if you put forth your thoughts, one from a different position has the same right. The reason we fall into these traps is because like the political situation, we have a lack of friendship and trust. I can disagree, but I trust that it is not personal. Being friends with someone who is of a different perspective, does not automatically make you have that position as well. But the fact I have to say this, proves the polarization within the churches of Christ. And I am sure someone will quote the verse, friendship with the world, but we are not talking about morality, we are talking about grace, kindness, and compassion, and the ability to show love to one another in the face of serious disagreement. When we have to question one another's motives, one another's love for us, we have a serious problem people.
My first two preaching jobs were contextually radically different. One was in a rural small town Tennessee community, and presently, I am in a suburban affluent community in the West. Each church was roughly the same size when I arrived. Both were around the high 160 mark. The southern church was around 201 average when I left, and presently we are around the 240 average mark in Castle Rock. Both congregations have went through positive growth through the years. But if one would think that a strategy in Waynesboro would work in Castle Rock, this is the rub. You have to contextualize growth. What works well in one place might not work well in another. But there is some commonality. The number one way to help a church grow is good preaching. It does not look the same in every location, because what is good preaching in one place might not be considered good in another, but the root of it is, good preaching grows churches. With that said, here is some advice in helping a church grow with understanding.
1. Understand the Culture. The preacher who comes into a congregation with all the answers is a fool. He might have been successful in his former work, but this does not mean he will be successful in his present work. You have to spend two years at the minimum to understand the dynamics of the situation. When I arrived in Castle Rock, I went through a process of congregational learning. I wrote research papers on the congregation, interviewed the members, deacons, and elders. I did studies on the history of the congregation. Mostly, I studied the church for a few years first.
2. Study Material Specific for Your Context. If you are in a small town, research the role of a small town minister. When I was in Waynesboro, I read every book I could on learning the role of a small town minister. What is expected? In Waynesboro, community involved was huge. I prayed at football games, was the VP in Rotary, was on a board of directors for a local business., attended Basketball and football games regularly. You need to ask yourself, what is defined as a success for your people.
3. Resource Management. I have specialized in helping churches break the 200 barrier. For my dissertation, one of the major components was researching and executing a process of accomplishing this task. In this dynamic of growth, and to a certain degree in all churches, you have to manage resources. This is not just money, but volunteer time. Adding programs, or spending time doing the wrong things will waste your congregations good hearts. As a leader, you better learn what is the best work for your situation. What is effective in one location might not be valuable in another.
4. Partner With the People. You cannot force change on a church. You have to partner with your congregation. What does your people desire? Until you understand your people's heart desire, you are not ready to lead. You need to be submissive, and listen to the eldership. You need to gain trust within the organization first.
There are numerous stories and parables within the pages of the Book of Luke. Often we read these stories with little discernment. Merely reading through the pages of the text with the view that all of the writing is within the same genre category. This style of reading causes a lack of discernment into the approach that Luke takes through the power of the Holy Spirit to connect the accounts to his reader. To better understand Luke, one should be aware of the pronouncement stories. There are six types.
Correction Stories. These stories are about the responder taking a position that contrasts with and corrects the position assumed through word or action by some other party. There is some kind of point of view that is established, but through the story, the original wisdom is knocked down (Luke 11:27-28).
Commendation Stories. This story is similar to the correction story, in that the responder responds to a position take by another, but in this case, the responder is commended rather than corrected (Luke 7:1-10).
Objection Stories. In this story, the form is like the correction story, but in this case, someone is trying to correct Jesus, and the pronouncement is Jesus’ response to this correction (Luke 10:38-42).
Quest Stories. In the quest story, you have someone who is seeking something. It could be a healing, healing for others, a blessing, alms, salvation, or something else. But instead of resolution, the seeker receives a pronouncement (Luke 18:18-25).
Inquiry Stories. In this story, the process is that someone asks a question, and it is followed by an answer. It does not correct, by merely provides a pronouncement of truth (Luke 3:10-14).
Description Stories. In this accounts, there is some human situation that is presented in vivid detail, and the pronouncement makes some insightful descriptive observation about the situation (Luke 12:54-56).
Luke is the theme book this year and as you read through its pages, think about the type of story that you are engaging.
Matthew is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. He has a beautiful wife named Charity and two precious children named Gabrielle and Noah. He has graduated from the Brown Trail School of Preaching, Heritage Christian University with his Bachelors of Arts in Biblical Studies, Lipscomb University with his Master’s of Arts in Biblical Studies, and Freed-Hardeman University with his Master’s of Divinity degree, and Harding School of Theology with his Doctorate of Ministry degree. His articles have appeared in the World Evangelist, the Highway to Holiness, The West Virginia Christian, The Christian Echo, The Firm Foundation, Church Growth, the Gospel Advocate; and the Rocky Mountain Christian.