Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Audacious Leadership

I read this post Christmas 2010. It is an outstanding example of leading a church - the church didn't know where it was going but the pastor/leader pointed the way and the members got behind it. What David Platt did with his church is not just leadership, it’s audacious leadership. And history shows from Alexander the Great to Judas Maccabees to Jesus to Charlemagne to Napoleon to Hitler that people will follow audacious leaders (both good and bad). We just need more audacious leaders.

Why My Church Rebelled Against the American Dream by David Platt
David Platt, Ph.D., is the author of the New York Times bestseller Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream and is senior pastor of the 4,000-member Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.

We American Christians have a way of taking the Jesus of the Bible and twisting him into a version of Jesus that we are more comfortable with. A nice middle-class American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who for that matter wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings comfort and prosperity to us as we live out our Christian spin on the American Dream. But lately I’ve begun to have hope that the situation is changing.

The 20th-century historian who coined the term “American Dream,” James Truslow Adams, defined it as “a dream… in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are.” But many of us are realizing that Jesus has different priorities. Instead of congratulating us on our self-fulfillment, he confronts us with our inability to accomplish anything of value apart from God. Instead of wanting us to be recognized by others, he beckons us to die to ourselves and seek above all the glory of God.

In my own faith family, the Church at Brook Hills, we have tried to get out from under the American Dream mindset and start living and serving differently. Like many other large American churches, we had a multimillion-dollar campus and plans to make it even larger to house programs that would cater to our own desires. But then we started looking at the world we live in. It’s a world where 26,000 children die every day of starvation or a preventable disease. A world where billions live in situations of such grinding poverty that an American middle-class neighborhood looks like Beverly Hills by comparison. A world where more than a billion people have never even heard the name Jesus.

So we asked ourselves, “What are we spending our time and money on that is less important than meeting these needs?” And that’s when things started to change. First we gave away our entire surplus fund — $500,000 — through partnerships with churches in India, where 41 percent of the world’s poor live. Then we trimmed another $1.5 million from our budget and used the savings to build wells, improve education, provide medical care and share the gospel in impoverished places around the world. Literally hundreds of church members have gone overseas temporarily or permanently to serve in such places. And it’s not just distant needs we’re trying to meet. It’s also needs near at hand.

One day I called up the Department of Human Resources in Shelby County, Alabama, where our church is located, and asked, “How many families would you need in order to take care of all the foster and adoption needs that we have in our county?” The woman I was talking to laughed. I said, “No, really, if a miracle were to take place, how many families would be sufficient to cover all the different needs you have?” She replied, “It would be a miracle if we had 150 more families.” When I shared this conversation with our church, over 160 families signed up to help with foster care and adoption.

We don’t want even one child in our county to be without a loving home. It’s not the way of the American Dream. It doesn’t add to our comfort, prosperity, or ease. But we are discovering the indescribable joy of sacrificial love for others, and along the way we are learning more about the inexpressible wonder of God’s sacrificial love for us. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my country and I couldn’t be more grateful for its hard-won freedoms. The challenge before we American Christians, as I see it, is to use the freedoms, resources, and opportunities at our disposal while making sure not to embrace values and assumptions that contradict what God has said in the Bible.

I believe God has a dream for people today. It’s just not the same as the American Dream. I believe God is saying to us that real success is found in radical sacrifice. That ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of him. That the purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live. That meaning is found in community, not individualism. That joy is found in generosity, not materialism. And that Jesus is a reward worth risking everything for. Indeed, the gospel compels us to live for the glory of God in a world of urgent spiritual and physical need, and this is a dream worth giving our lives to pursue.

Lead On!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Church Politics

This is a personal soapbox - this issue troubles me more than anything else in church life because I feel it completely and utterly distracts the church from accomplishing it's God-given mission of sharing the Good News. This post will not be easy to write nor to read.

Jesus attacked only one group of people during his ministry on earth: Pharisees and Sadducees. Those men were the paid staff and lay leaders of the temple in Jerusalem. It was to them that all Jews looked to for guidance and wisdom. I have long wondered if I, as a paid church staff professional, will feel the same verbal assault on me that Jesus laid on those church staff of 2000 years ago.

Jesus' withering criticism of them is that they were caught up in the minutae of life. The Pharisees and Sadducees debated for endless hours about trivial matters while they completely ignored the important religious and physical needs of the people. They made up 613 laws which became an unbearable burden to commons Jews so that they hated to go to Temple but they did so out of obligation. Jesus went to Temple only to worship - he didn't debat the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Temple. They found him out among the people and they took their pettiness to him. How many times do the Gospels refer to Jesus as speaking with authority or speaking in a way at which the people marveled? Jesus focused not on the Temple politics of his day but on the big issues. Jesus instructed his disciples to keep their eyes on the God-things: disciple, baptize and teach (Matthew 28:19-20).

I've heard that many (if not most) young pastors prefer to start their own churches instead of stepping into an established church. Why? One answer may be the quantity of church politics. Established churches are hotbeds of politics, procedures, entrenched committee members, "but we've never done it that way before" mentality, and tradition. (So much of that is fear-based - fear of losing control, fear of not having enough, plain old fear. This is ironic since as Christians we are supposed to believe that God is in control and that God is generous beyond measure.)

I believe that church politics make people avoid church. They see the petty squabbles and decide that this is not for them - they want a God that is interested in big things such as people. Arguments and struggles over money, position, power, and decisions are so petty as to make God cry, especially when Christians do it.

I've been in too many meetings when an absurdly petty topic was raised: should we allow line dancing in the gym, what type of lettering should be on a sign, etc. I ask myself if this topic rises to the level of honoring Jesus and his sacrifice. Almost every time the answer is no, it doesn't. It is a small matter which should be dealt with by one or two people so that the big group can focus on the big issue: sharing the Good News.

Lead On!