Christianity 201

August 20, 2012

Spiritual Leadership and Education

While Bible Colleges and Seminaries are graduating record numbers of students, we are presently in the middle of a leadership crisis. The older generation is looking for those to whom they can “pass the torch” and often find nobody waiting to take the challenge. That “certain something” that marked the leaders of an earlier generation is somehow not evidenced among “generation next.”

Perhaps it is the case that many institutions are so skilled at training their students in the formalities of religious tradition that the natural, creative leadership within the individual becomes suppressed.

This is especially true when one considers the time frame involved between receiving one’s call (from God) and the date one begins active service (established usually by man). In one denomination, it’s common that that a candidate complete a four-year university degree followed by at least three years of Biblical training. This is then followed by two years of “in service training” in a North American church before the person is then allowed to proceed to the foreign mission field. This makes for a total of nine years and furthermore applies to both the individual and their respective spouse, for a total of eighteen years of training and internship.

We’ve quantified a person’s ministry worth in terms of courses completed, credit hours, and degrees earned.

There are no doubt those who become discouraged at the prospect of so much education when they are already itching to take the message to the streets. The contrary situation is found in a west-coast fellowship that simply requires the candidates to submit doctrinal statements and evidence of a “proven ministry” through either a church, a parachurch organization, or a life lived in the community or marketplace as an active follower of Jesus Christ.

What does God think of this? Does he demand a Masters degree in theology from those who would share his message in the 21st century?

One thing is certain, God chooses to work through people. He tells Ezekiel,

“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”  (Ez. 22:30)

Today, God is still looking for men and women of faith, men and women of prayer, and men and women given to leadership who will “stand in the gap” on behalf of a decaying society. People who will live the “set apart” life that is the defining characteristic of ministry life.

Do those people need education? In the New Testament church it wasn’t even an option. The Jerusalem College of Bible and Missions had not yet been built. Furthermore, the church was built on a rather unstable foundation — fishermen usually don’t get elected to the board of deacons. Yet we read in Acts:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

One of the first qualities for leadership is spending time with Jesus. But it is a quality that should apply to the church as a whole.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he writes,

“…the things that you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (II Tim 2:2)

The leader must be reliable and qualified. What kind of qualifications did Paul have in mind? Perhaps he was thinking back to Stephen, a man who had been chosen to assist the early church in some rather mundane administrative duties. (See Acts 6:1-10).  Today we would say that “Pastor Steve” was in charge of our “inner city outreach” or “helping hand program” or “operation good will.” His job would involve making sure that food baskets reached shut-ins, senior citizens, and people on welfare. In most of our churches, Steve would be on the staff part-time, probably working at Wal-Mart the rest of the week.  But for that job, the qualifications were that he be,

“…a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5)

Note that they didn’t hire a social psychologist with a masters degree in social work.  The qualifications were spiritual, not academic, and God used Stephen (6:8) to such an extent that he was martyred for his faith (see 7:54-58). Today some hope Pastor Steve could have been a little less radical or little more low-key. But there is no doubt that his life and death made an impact on Paul, who would later go on to write the majority of the New Testament (see 7:58, 8:1) and none of us doubt the impact of Paul’s leadership in his day (or ours).

We’ll continue this tomorrow with a look at three characteristics leaders should not have, the implied opposites of those characteristics which they should have, and two qualities of the heart which can result in causing even the weakest person (in the natural sense) to be a dynamic, effective leader.

~PW

April 20, 2012

Diggiing Deep Into God’s Word

Apologies to those of you who came yesterday and couldn’t find the devotional. I only found out 24 hours later that it got posted to the wrong blog — I manage eight different ones — and it’s now available.   

Today’s post is a little longer than what’s normally here, but it’s a subject that we all need to be reminded of.  When the early church was birthed in Acts 2, the thing that everyone noticed wasn’t the education or skill in oratory of the disciples, it was that they had spent time with Jesus.

This is from a blog that was new to me, Answers from the Book, and appeared earlier this month under the title Be A Berean. As always, you’re encouraged to click that link and read at source. If for some reason you stay here, please note there’s a page break in this one; be sure to click through to read the whole article. 

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)

A couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on a post that disagreed with my interpretation of a particular Bible passage. This was not the first time someone has shared a dissenting point of view and, I am quite certain, will not be the last. To be completely honest, I welcome thoughtful, sincere comments whether they agree with what I have written or not. Opposing viewpoints can have a way of sending us back to the Word of God to re-evaluate our position and to make sure that Scripture really supports it. Anything that leads us to spend more time in the Bible isn’t a bad thing, is it?

What concerned me about this specific comment wasn’t the fact that it criticized my conclusions, it was the reason the person gave for disagreeing. Apparently, this individual had heard a Bible teacher speak about this particular passage of Scripture on Television. The conclusions reached, according to the writer of the comment, were significantly different from what I was sharing in the article. Rather than offering Biblical support for these conclusions or citing corroborating passages, the only basis for accepting the interpretation seemed to lie in the identity and credentials of the man on the T.V. Program.

A Matter Of Authority

There is a great deal of overemphasis placed in the credentials and identity of individuals when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching. I remember browsing through a website a few years ago that advertised openings for pastoral positions in various churches across the country. It amazed me how many listings put the educational requirements first and foremost in their posting. “Must have a Doctorate in Theology or Pastoral Studies” was at the very top of a great many of the advertisements. Now, it is understandable that a church would not want to install a novice, ignorant of the Word of God, into their leadership, but it struck me as ironic that qualifications such as “must be of sound moral character”, or “must exhibit Christian virtues in their daily life” were listed at the bottom of the posting more often than not. It was almost as if these attributes were an afterhought! The most relevant credentials, in the minds of many of these church boards, had more to do with where a pastoral candidate attended school than the spiritual guidance he would bring to their congregation.

It seems that many people would rather put their trust entirely in the educational and experiential background of another person than evaluate their message against the Word of God. If a Bible teacher is famous enough, or has the right academic degree, then they are ready to unquestioningly accept any and all teachings that the person gives. But such a practice is never taught nor commended in the Bible itself. If anyone in Scripture had the authority to rest on His credentials, it would have been the Lord Jesus. Yet even He never urged anyone to accept His teachings uncritically, but frequently backed up His Message with references to the Old Testament (e.g., Mark 12:10, 12:24, Luke 24:27, 24:44, John 5:39). Luke describes the people of Berea in the Book of Acts as “noble” because they not only accepted the teachings of the Apostle Paul with an open mind, but because they “searched the Scriptures daily” in order to verify whether or not what he was teaching was Biblically sound (Acts 17:11). (more…)