All We Lack Is The Will

According to Wikipedia,

World Vision International is an Evangelical Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. Inspired by Christian values, they are dedicated to working with the world’s most vulnerable people. World Vision serves all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender.

Ever since I was a child, I have known about the work of World Vision. I remember, as a young adolescent growing up in the hills of southern West Virginia, poring over the pictures and the articles in the World Vision magazine as soon as it arrived every month. In those days, not long after World Vision came into existence in 1950 as the outgrowth of the vision of Bob Pierce, their work focused mainly on caring for the needs of children in South Korea who were orphaned as a result of World War II and the Korean Conflict. Continue reading

Podcast No. 13

??????????Podcast No. 13 is now available. It is called “God Save Us From The Successful Church,” and it is around 7 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening.

The Arthur Chronicles—No. 15 (Poverty Is Prison)

I had expected to meet Arthur at our favorite coffee shop on Monday afternoon for our regular weekly conversation, but he called mid-morning to ask if we could reschedule.

“I sold my table,” he told me, “and the guy who bought it wants to pick it up this afternoon. Ellie is working, so I need to be here when he comes.”

I think I mentioned that Arthur loves to work with wood, and I knew the table he was talking about. He had found it at an estate auction many years ago. It apparently had not looked like much when he bought it, but beneath several layers of paint and yellowed varnish, he antique walnut dining-tablehad discovered the most beautiful solid walnut.

He had buffed out all the gouges and rough spots with sand paper and steel wool, repaired a loose leg, and attached new drawer pulls and slide mechanisms. Then he applied several coats of tung oil by hand. The result was a stunning piece of furniture now worth ten times what he paid for it.

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Here’s My Dilemma

This may surprise or even annoy some of my readers, especially those who are also bloggers, but I don’t read many blogs. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but I want to be absolutely forthright in what I communicate here.

There are two reasons why I don’t read blogs. First, I don’t have time. I know, I know. TheBlog concept vector illustration. more I write in this post, the more trouble I’m in, since I admit I don’t have time to read blogs, and yet I write one which I hope other people will read. Truth be told, I am amazed that anybody finds the time to read my blog. And believe me, I don’t take my readers for granted.

Second, most blogs are not very good. Good writing, like any proficiency, is a blend of innate ability and hard work. A combination of talent and sweat. A melding of gift and discipline. Let’s face it, few bloggers achieve that level of proficiency. If we did, our work would probably be picked up by a reputable publisher instead of being relegated to the internet.

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The Arthur Chronicles—No. 11

Arthur called on Saturday to tell me we would not be able to meet at our regular time on Monday afternoon. His wife is a breast cancer survivor. She meets with her oncologist for follow-up exams every few months, and Arthur accompanies her. One of those regular Week planningappointments was scheduled for Monday afternoon. Arthur had forgotten about it when we met a week ago.

I thought he might be happy to have a legitimate excuse not to meet with me this week. Some of our recent conversations had taken on an unexpected intensity. That was especially true last week, and Arthur had hinted, at the time, that he might be inclined to take a week off.

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An Outpost For The Kingdom

One week ago, I was in Washington, DC, where I attended a day-long conference on the campus of Georgetown University. The conference was called “Evangelicals for Peace: A Summit on Christian Moral Responsi- bility in the 21st Century.” It was time well-spent, and I will have much more to say about what I learned and experienced there, but I think I will hold off on that commentary until after Election Day. The issues addressed at that conference are far too important to be diluted or misinterpreted or ignored amid the clamor of propaganda and demagoguery, from both sides of the ideological spectrum, that assails the senses and clogs the airwaves and the internet during this highly-charged political season.

I mention this event because of a conversation I had while I was there. I was seated next to a gentleman who serves on the staff of the International Criminal Court, and as we chatted during the break times throughout the day, our exchange became progressively more substantive. During the mid-afternoon break, I shared with him, as succinctly as I could, my vision for a new church in the vicinity of The Ohio State University.

I described the yet-to-be-birthed congregation, which we are calling St. Patrick’s Church, as a community of faith in the Anglican tradition, established on a foundation of evangelical orthodoxy and committed to radical discipleship. And then I used a term which I don’t think I have ever used before. At least not often. I said, “We want St. Patrick’s to be what every church should be but few really are… an outpost for the Kingdom of God.”

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My Hope Is In The Diocese

Like many Christians, I grew up with what I now believe to be a grossly deficient view of the role and purpose of the church. My parents were Baptists. I was baptized, and eventually ordained, in that tradition, which is characterized by a strongly congregational polity (i.e. form or system of government). That is, while Baptist churches may link together for certain kinds of cooperative endeavors, each local congregation is viewed as an autonomous entity, not subject to any kind of outside authority so far as its decision-making apparatus is concerned.

In some Baptist churches, the form of government in the local congregation is something close to a pure democracy, where a vote of the membership is required for virtually every decision of any significance. Others operate under a system in which the pastor, as the lone “elder” in the church, pretty well runs the show, assisted to some degree by a board of “deacons” who presumably advise the pastor and, in rare cases, may actually possess sufficient authority to override a pastoral decision.

A similar polity is favored by “independent, non-denominational” churches, many of which use terms like “Bible Church” or “Community Church” in their names. My first two pastorates were served in churches of this sort, without denominational identity but decidedly congregational in polity. I was in my thirties before I began to think of “church” as anything other than a local, autonomous assembly, responsible for its own program, accountable to nobody except its own membership, and sometimes not even to them.

Well, that’s not entirely true. As a Bible college graduate, I understood the term “church” to be used in the New Testament with reference to the “body of Christ,” composed of all Christians, everywhere, across the centuries of “church” history. But this “universal church” was sometimes called the “invisible church,” and a church that you could not see was, in practical terms, nonexistent. The only church I knew anything about, so far as personal experience was concerned, was a local, independent entity, operating according to its own perception of Christian doctrine, and often in competition with similar local churches in the same general area.

Eventually, I came to believe that affiliation with a local church assembly alone, to the exclusion of formal and official identification with a broader, more diverse community of Christian believers (as in a denomination), revealed an inadequate understanding of the concept of the church as the “body of Christ.” I had read the Nicene Creed, with its declaration that “we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” and I wanted to do something, in terms of formal identification and official membership, which reflected my commitment to that church.

The proliferation of Christian denominations, I maintain, is one negative consequence of the Protestant Reformation. Thus it is not possible, in organizational and institutional terms, to identify formally and officially with the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Even the Roman Catholic Church, since Vatican II, recognizes that there are genuine Christian believers not covered by its umbrella. The best we can do, or so it would seem, is to identify with a denomination—ideally one with worldwide membership—which also recognizes its place within the family of churches, denominations, fellowships, coalitions, and alliances which, ostensibly, worship Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and King of the Universe.

That was the decision to which I came, nearly thirty years ago, when I became a member of what is now Mennonite Church USA. MCUSA is a tiny denomination, but it is linked to a worldwide Mennonite/Anabaptist network. Moreover, at the time, affiliation with even a small denomination was a big step for someone with my background to take.

I took that decision seriously. I could have embraced many of the distinctives which drew me to Anabaptism—an emphasis on radical discipleship, Biblical nonresistance, simplicity, and a commitment to social justice, for example—without actually joining the Mennonite Church. But I was ready to identify with an entity that included brothers and sisters in Christ outside of my local congregation.

Twenty-five years later, I was captivated by the beauty and mystery of liturgical worship. For a time, I tried to “scratch the liturgical itch” without identifying formally with a denomination in the liturgical tradition. Initially, I wanted to be an Anabaptist with liturgical sensibilities. The more I learned about Anglicanism, however, the more I was drawn into the communion as much for its polity, its history,

The Flag Of Worldwide Anglicanism

and its worldwide witness as for its liturgy. Today I consider myself an Anglican with Anabaptist sensibilities.

Anglican polity is decidedly not congregational or democratic. It is episcopal, which is the English form of a Greek word often translated “overseer” and is the etymological root for the English word bishop. In Baptist churches, authority rests with the congregation. In Anglican churches, authority rests (or is supposed to rest) with the bishop. The bishop’s authority extends to a specified number of local congregations (known as parishes) which all together comprise what is known as a diocese.

In congregational polity, the local church is the fundamental unit of ecclesiastical identification. In Anglican polity, it is the diocese. Local parishes exist to embody the vision and mission of the diocese in a particular community. They are the means by which the diocese interfaces with a specific neighborhood. Clergy are not members of a local parish. They are members of the diocese only, and their role is to represent the bishop in the parishes where they serve in a variety of roles.

This system of government, which is based on a particular understanding of terms and patterns found in the New Testament, has some weaknesses, but overall it is workable and efficient. Its efficiency and its effectiveness depend on the character and competence of the bishop and the faithfulness and commitment of the diocesan clergy to the system and to their vows of loyalty to the bishop.

I believe that episcopal polity (i.e. parishes in a diocese living under the watchcare and authority of a bishop) is not only efficient and effective (at least in theory) for the organization and operation of local churches or parishes. It is also tailor-made (again, in theory) as a mechanism for the planting of new parishes.

Here’s what I mean. A single local parish within a diocese may not possess sufficient resources, either human or material, to support the birth and development of a new church in its area, even when the need for such a new congregation is obvious and indisputable. By pooling the available resources from all the parishes in the diocese, the cost of planting a new church could be underwritten for a year or two. As the new church grew and took on responsibility for its own support, diocesan funds could be re-directed toward another area with a need for a new church. In this way, each new church would be a joint effort of the diocese, and the entire diocese could rejoice in its success and benefit from its ministry.

I have proposed a pattern such as this for consideration by the parishes in my own diocese. So far, it has gone nowhere. That makes me sad, since I have pretty much concluded that this approach may be the only way our vision for St. Patrick’s Church can be realized. And it may be the only mechanism by which I can find a context for vocational ministry in the Anglican communion.

Why God Doesn’t Sell The Cattle

Have you ever noticed that our awareness of an issue or our dedication to a cause expands proportionate to the impact of the matter at hand upon our daily lives? It is an indisputable quality of human nature. The more something affects us personally, the more interested in it we become. Sometimes almost to the point of obsession.

Parents who once could barely spell “autistic,” let alone define it, develop an intense interest in the condition soon after their child begins to show signs of autism. Breast cancer survivors and their families frequently devote themselves to programs that promote early detection and the search for a cure. And the list goes on.

I have served in vocational ministry all my adult life. In that role, to paraphrase Blanche DuBois, “I have always relied on the kindness of donors.” That is, whether as a pastor, a parachurch executive, or a professor in a church-related Bible college, my salary has been tied to the generosity of my constituency. That reality has tempered my expectations regarding financial compensation and has deepened my appreciation for frugality as a spiritual discipline and liberality as a mark of spiritual maturity. It has also heightened my sensitivity to the ways churches go about formulating their budgets and the means by which Christian agencies and institutions allocate their financial resources.

I know that God is infinite and His wealth is boundless. As the Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 50…

1 The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets;
7 “Listen, my people, and I will speak…
I am God, your God.
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”

God needs nothing. Everything belongs to Him already. That means…

  1. Sufficient resources exist to accomplish all that God wants done in the world. If He chose to do so, He could open the windows of heaven, or sell some of the cattle on those hills, and pour out unlimited prosperity so that every Christian enterprise would be fully and generously funded from its inception.
  2. For His own reasons, God has chosen to limit the resources that are available for use in Kingdom ministry and to make them dependent, for the most part, on the faithfulness and generosity of His people.
  3. Since everything belongs to God already, we don’t actually own any of the wealth or resources in our possession. God has merely entrusted them to us for a time, and it is our privilege and responsibility to use them in ways that reflect Kingdom values and bring honor to God.

There is no more accurate measure of spiritual maturity and sensitivity to the Spirit of God, for individuals and institutions, than money—how we get it and how we use it. But Christians don’t like to talk about their personal finances. How we use our money is nobody else’s business. Bank balances and investment portfolios, like bedrooms and voting booths, are off limits to outsiders. This attitude has blinded us to the relationship between financial stewardship and spirituality.

That blindspot extends to institutional and organizational finances as well. Many Christians assume that if the leadership of their church or the board of their alma mater or their favorite televangelist authorizes an expenditure or allocates funds for a particular venture, it must therefore be the best and most prudent use of those resources. Au contraire, mon frère.

A church budget is as much a moral document as a financial one. Since the church is the agent of the Kingdom of God, a church’s budget must reflect the values of the Kingdom. Church members are obliged to ask, with regard to every penny of expenditure which the budget allocates, “Is this absolutely the best and most prudent use of these resources which God has entrusted to our stewardship? Does this budget (or even this line item) reflect Kingdom values? Will this expenditure enhance our effectiveness in advancing the Gospel of the Kingdom? Could this allocation of funds be put to better use in some other enterprise?”

It is remarkably easy to talk about Christianity in contemporary America, but it is exceedingly difficult, in this culture, to implement the characteristics of cross-bearing discipleship. One reason for that discrepancy is a fundamental flaw in our thinking about money. We have more money than most of the rest of the world, we interpret our affluence as a sign of the blessing of God, and yet we fail to recognize that this great “blessing” is also the means by which God tests the true character of our faith.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus had more to say about money and its effect—both good and bad—on Christian believers, the citizens of the Kingdom of God, than any other single subject except for the Kingdom in general. That’s one reason you read about money and financial stewardship so often in this blog. That and the fact that my future ministry depends, in large measure, on the faithfulness and generosity of fellow-believers, my compatriots in the Kingdom of God.

I hear you ask, “Why are you so drawn to this subject these days? In the old days we never noticed your near-obsession with the role of money and the importance of stewardship for Kingdom citizens. What has changed?” “Well,” I respond, “in the old days I didn’t have a blog, now did I?”

 

Effective Leadership And The Rule Of Three

The “rule of three” suggests that groups of things that come in threes are inherently more satisfying or more effective than things in other numbers. It has many applications. Who could ever forget the Three Stooges, the Three Blind Mice, or Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

Three points are generally optimum for a sermon or speech, since they can be used in a progression to create tension, build it up, then resolve it. An equilateral triangle is one of the strongest geometric shapes employed by architects and engineers. And one of the most famous biblical images to make use of the rule of three is found in Ecclesiastes 4:12—A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The rule of three I have in mind today has to do with the factors which contribute to effective leadership. I’m not thinking so much of the character traits which are absolutely essential for a good leader. I will have much to say about them in the days ahead. Rather, for today, I’m thinking particularly of the context or the conditions which enable a good leader to be effective. And I believe that the most desirable context for effective leadership involves a proper balance between three components: authority, opportunity, and accountability.

By authority I mean all those things which are necessary to qualify a leader for his or her position and which enable the leader to accomplish the task of influencing people to make particular decisions or take specific actions. It includes natural giftedness, formal and informal preparation, and often a credential which may be symbolized by some sort of ceremony, ornament, or attire. Authority assures those who are being led that their leaders have met some objective requirements for their role and gives confidence that leaders are trustworthy and will use their gifts and exercise their influence in prudent and careful ways.

Opportunity is the setting in which leaders operate. It may be an organization, an institution, or simply a situation which requires a leader to use his gifts and exercise her influence for the good of the people involved. It will entail an obvious need along with the potential for resources required to address the need and resolve the situation.

Accountability is the mechanism by which it can be determined whether or not leaders have acted responsibly, prudently, and efficiently in the exercise of their gifts and the use of their authority for the good of those they lead.

I am no expert in effective leadership. I’ve read a few books, attended a few seminars, taken a few courses in subjects at least vaguely related to leadership. But my qualification for addressing this subject lies mainly in the fact that I have been both a leader and a follower, I am a keen observer, and I have learned a few things along the way. That’s where these three components for effective leadership came from. I didn’t read them in a book, at least not one that I can remember. They just seem to make sense.

I believe that failure, inadequacy, and incompetence within the church today, among those who make up the body of Christ—and there is a lot of it about—arises, first and foremost, from failures, inadequacies, and incompetence on the part of those who ostensibly provide leadership to the church. If there is a crisis of spirituality, a crisis of commitment, a crisis of effectiveness in the church, it is first of all a crisis of leadership.

Most of this crisis in leadership has to do with the inner character of the leader. As noted, I will have much more to say on that subject. Some of the ineffectiveness of contemporary leaders among the people of God, however, can be traced to an imbalance among the three components for effective leadership which I have noted above. When one of the three elements is decidedly weaker than the other two, or absent altogether, that imbalance impedes the efficient and productive exercise of leadership gifts and influence. When this happens within a church context or among the people of God, the consequences extend to the effectiveness of the church in embodying the character of the Kingdom of God and advancing the Gospel of the Kingdom.

After forty years of vocational ministry, I am prepared to suggest that leadership among Fundamentalists, where I began my career in vocational ministry, is too often marked by authority and opportunity without sufficient accountability. During more than twenty-five years of ministry among Mennonites, I found leadership to be sometimes limited by opportunity and accountability without sufficient authority to enable leaders to carry out their tasks.

I am today an Anglican priest. When Anglican polity is functioning effectively, there are ample mechanisms in place to confer appropriate authority and to provide for proper accountability. What is lacking is opportunity. Oh, there is plenty of need. There are simply too few resources to enable leaders, with adequate authority and accountability, to take advantage of opportunities, or to initiate the same, through the exercise of their gifts in fulfillment of their calling.

The problem is not really that there are too few resources. The problem is one of distribution. Too many resources are being directed toward too few opportunities. The work of the Kingdom is being hindered because of inequality and disproportionality in the distribution and consumption of Kingdom resources. I have spoken to this situation in earlier posts, and I shall do so again, anon.

Kingdom Stewardship

During his earthly ministry, Jesus talked a lot about money. More than he talked about heaven and hell combined. Far more than he talked about sex or marriage or even love. More, in fact, than he talked about any other subject except for the Kingdom of God. And much of what he said was a warning about the sinister and subtle ways that money can distort our thinking, pervert our values, and impede our formation as citizens of the Kingdom.

Jesus made three things very clear. One, everything we have, including our money, comes from God. We are stewards, managers if you will, of the resources God puts at our disposal. The idea that we give God a tithe (technically 10%) of our money and the rest is ours to use however we want is simply inconsistent with Kingdom stewardship. Two, money is either our servant or our master. If we do not use it wisely (and for Christians that means in the interests of the kingdom), it controls us. And three, when Jesus referred to “rich” people, he meant not just people who have money, but people whose money has them, whatever their level of affluence. It is in this sense that Jesus used the term when he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And American Christians need to remember that, compared with the vast majority of people on earth, we are all wealthy.

I did not enter the Christian ministry “for the money,” and I have never been generously compensated for my ministry, nor have I expected to be.  Vocational ministry is not a profession.  I have tried to live according to the principle established by Paul in his instruction to Timothy: “If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (1 Tim. 6:8)  In a culture obsessed with materialism, adopting a frugal lifestyle not only offers an opportunity to exhibit Christian values which counteract the prevailing culture, it also frees up resources which can be used for the work of the Kingdom in other ways.

I am trying to be faithful. God led me into Anglicanism, but it has cost a lot to follow that leading.  For one thing, I lost my job.  As I write this in the fall of 2011, it has been more than three years since I have drawn a paycheck.  During that time, I walked with my wife through her battle with breast cancer, and I completed the requirements leading to Holy Orders in ACNA. Were it not for the sacrificial generosity of some longtime friends, we would be destitute. As it is, my bank account is busted, but my credit rating is still strong, and my spirit, while bruised and downcast by times, remains unbroken. God, too, has been faithful.

I mention all of this for two reasons. First, I want to make it clear that I practice what I preach in this area. Second, God may have brought me to the Anglican communion “for such a time as this.” I believe that my experience and my perspective can be particularly helpful as the ACNA takes on the challenge of finding material resources to underwrite its spiritual vision.

More anon.