Tag Archives: leaders

We Ain’t Edward VIII — The Great Boomer Abdication

Caricature Blog HWCMAbdications acquired a kind of romantic glow when Edward VIII of England abdicated to marry his American fiancé, Wallis Simpson. Many Americans gushed with the prospect of a King of England giving it all up for his “colonial” sweetheart. Simultaneously, many in the British Empire were aghast at the prospect of a royal not doing his duty.

Whatever we feel about abdications, we must, as a baseline, acknowledge the essence of the word: they are, well, abdications–a willful surrender of inherent responsibility.

Christianity in the West faces a crushing abdication–it is, in fact, a generational abdication as Baby Boomers decide (and the culture tweets in celebration) that it is time to abdicate–to step aside–to surrender responsibility–to retire.

Fueled more by cultural preference for the young and Social Security retirement income thresholds than by biblical mandate, Boomers have (in large part) decided to “move on and take it easy” (thanks, Eagles) rather than stay the course.

I am reminded of an interim pastorate experience I had in a small church in the coves of Massachusetts’s North Shore. The founding pastor had passed away, but I was entranced by stories congregants told of him sitting in worship (when he could no longer stand) and sharing the truths of God’s Word with the people he loved and who loved him dearly–right up to near the very end.

Most ministries will not end that way. Our youth-obsessed culture won’t let it. And there is genuine wisdom in the older pouring their lives into younger ministry leaders; finding the appropriate time to let go of the back of the bike and watch younger ministry leaders head off in their initial wobbly ways. But that is not, I believe, supposed to take place on a time table established by the Social Security Administration nor should it be triggered by the maturation date of Individual Retirement Accounts.

When God wants us to “retire,” He has specific and obvious ways of letting us know. The ultimate way He lets us know is by calling us to the retirement home whose threshold is the mortuary door.

This retirement phenomenon was highlighted in what I thought was a panicky sort of way when the Barna organization released its recent reports on the State of the Church and the State of Pastors. There was angst over the fact that the average age of pastors has increased and an implied wonder about what will happen next. As I read the report and heard the presentations, there seemed to be palpable distress over the rising average age of pastors.

All of this, I believe, runs counter to the consistent biblical teaching: respect the elders, listen to their counsel, watch them lead, watch them “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [them] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Boomers, let’s “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). It is certainly a relay race, destined to be continued by those who come after, but let’s not drop the baton before God Himself calls, “Time!”

Winston Churchill, speaking in the early days of the World War Two horrors, said these oft-quoted words: Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Of course, Churchill was not speaking from within a Christian world view, but his point remains: stay until the job (your job) is done. This was likely made more poignant by him giving his speech a slight five years after the abdication of Edward VIII.

But, here’s the question: do we honestly think that God will not raise up leaders for His Church? Do we think God doesn’t have a “succession plan?”

This cuts many ways, as I know some Boomers who have been shunted to the side who would joyfully engage in ministry, were the opportunity restored to them. And I know many Millennials who are hungry for ongoing investment in their lives by ministry leaders who have an abundance of notches in their belts.

Ben Sasse, in his book, The Vanishing American Adult, calls ours “an age that gives short shrift to the transmission of wisdom from old to young.” No kidding–and the Boomer abdication is not only a result of that but, in my view, likely a primary cause of that.

Perhaps we should look more to the sovereignty of God and rest in the reality that His plan for His Kingdom is not undone by “aging” pastors. And, perhaps Boomers should get back on the job.

© 2017, All Rights Reserved. Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


Anti-Trump Trumpeting

Caricature Blog HWCMI did not vote for either of the two major party candidates in last November’s presidential election.

I could not vote for Donald Trump. He was so egregious in his remarks and evident attitude toward women that I could not countenance showing support for him by checking his name on the ballot. I have a wife and a daughter and granddaughters and nieces (and many, many women in my life–friends and ministry partners) who deserve better. I have a son and grandsons who need to know that they are to never disrespect women–ever. In addition, while it is likely that many of our presidents have been closet narcissists, Donald Trump seems desperately in need of personal approval in a way not even assuaged by actually winning the presidency. His conduct on the campaign trail; his apparent lack of grasp of public policy issues; his failure to analyze any of those issues (beyond either, “It’s terrible!” or, “It’s great!”), gutted any potential I may have had to mark a ballot for him.

I could not vote for Hilary Clinton. She was, in my view, deeply flawed as a candidate in many ways but–and this was the key point for me–the Democrats’ migration over the last couple of decades from being euphemistically “pro-choice” to being aggressively “pro-abortion” was one I could not countenance. There is simply no room in the Democratic Party (at least at the national level) for pro-life persons. This, despite recurring and reflexive references to “children” as the rationale for policy proposals. We have many stains on the national fabric: 50 million (and counting) aborted babies is, in my view, the deepest crimson stain.

So, I didn’t vote for either of the major party candidates. In my state, a ballot write in was not available–a vote for a third-party candidate as a way to say “none of the above” was my only option. I cast my “none of the above” vote, even while realizing that one of the two major party candidates would be the winner on November 8th.

Given Trump’s Electoral College victory, there are at least three realities in the face of his presidency: He gets to try to govern. The opposition gets to oppose. And the public (in support or opposition) gets to protest. Those three realities have been at the heart of our republic since its inception.

By now I have likely lost or incensed many who read this. That’s fine. But a more pressing issue, for those who embrace Christ, is: how do those three realities play themselves out now that Donald Trump is president? For those willing to venture on, I offer these thoughts.

As Christians, we have multiple responsibilities: preach the Gospel, disciple those who come to faith, deepen our relationship with Christ, tend to the marginalized, pray for our leaders. And, in a democratic republic like ours, we also have a stewardship responsibility for our government–we get to vote for those who make our local, state, and national decisions. We must listen, engage, vote, protest. But having entered into the arena, we also have a responsibility to accept the outcome–win or lose. If we win, we celebrate magnanimously. If we lose, we lose graciously. If the other side wins, we give them the chance to govern.

However, there is another issue. Sometimes the civic responsibilities of governance collide with the compassion responsibilities of Christians. Biblically, the first responsibility of governance is the safety of a nation’s citizens (Rom. 13:1-7). Biblically, the first (but binary) responsibility of Christians is to love God and love people (Matt. 22:37-40). Sometimes our efforts to love people–particularly people “in the ditch” (Luke 10:30)–will run counter to (or at least complicate) the government’s responsibility for safety.

We must, in those cases of conflict, speak the truth of biblical compassion to those in authority and encourage them to continue to enable the American model as the refuge for the teeming masses who need protection and a place to launch their lives afresh. We must hear and speak truth. We must know that refugees coming to this country through the legal channels are among the most thoroughly vetted people to ever land on our shores. I am heartened by statements from evangelical leaders in support of compassionate refugee and immigration policies.

When we protest (and this president seems on a path to prompt much protest), we owe it to our neighbors to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15, 29). Truth is the content of our speech; love is the manner in which we speak that truth. Failure to be people of truth belies the essential content of Jesus’ message. Failure to be people of love betrays the very nature of God’s relationship with us and our call to reflect His love in our relationship with Him and with others.

If our sympathies lie with those in opposition to this chief executive, then we get to (must) oppose. But this is not opposition for the mere sake of opposition. This is a call to measure each and every proposal against biblical standards for truth and justice and oppose, in principle and by any lawful means, those policy proposals that run counter to biblical standards.

Christians should not, in my view, be people characterized by sore losing. We’re not to be the player who kicks dirt at the umpire or “rushes the mound” because we think the call at the plate was wrong. Baseball fisticuffs can be fun to watch, but Christians should be trying to break up the fight–not get in a few discreet punches of our own (Matt. 5:9).

Because–and here is, I think, a key point–this president gets to try to govern. The Christian call to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:2) is an important element here. If the Roman Emperor Nero was a worthy prayer focus, a democratically elected leader can be no less. National success is in everyone’s best interests. Certainly, there are debates about the elements of national success. But to hold that each and every element of the president’s agenda is intrinsically evil, just because he is the person proposing the agenda items, is simplistic and runs counter to Christians’ biblical warrant to be persons of discernment (Phil. 1:9,10).

So, there is anti-Trump trumpeting. As, I am sure, there would have been anti-Clinton caterwauling had she been the Electoral College victor last November. But perhaps the trumpeting can be tempered by some appreciation for the three realities mentioned above.

Besides, there is the primary means of protest in our democracy coming in 2018–the midterm elections. Not happy with President Trump? Energize your congressional district to empower the democrats. Happy with President Trump? Continue to empower the republicans with the possibility of national governance.

© 2017, All Rights Reserved.


Eight Things I Learned about Church Life and Ministry from Baseball

One: Nobody bats 1.000.  In baseball, the very best offensive players only get it right about a third of the time; the rest of the time they are out (sometimes down and out).  In this Christian life, clinging to the solid truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) can mean that we have a better handle on our propensity for “striking out” and will, perhaps, be better able to cultivate a temperament suited to understanding, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

Two: Comparing batting averages is a waste of time.  Baseball players don’t advance by comparing their stats to someone else’s.  Baseball players advance by focusing on their own game.  Besides, all comparisons do is fuel either pride or despair.  The Kingdom of God functions on neither.  In the Kingdom, we do best to look to our own standing before the King.  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3).

Three: We don’t have to swing at every pitch.  Batters know that lots of different pitches will come their way.  They need to discern those pitches that have the best chance of connecting and going somewhere.  They do that based on their experience and their coaching from those wiser than they.  In church life and ministry, it seems that everyone is an expert–except that they’re not.  Do I believe that God can bring ideas to and through anyone by virtue of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit?  Absolutely!  Is that the way it happens (and has happened) throughout two millennia of church history?  Not regularly–God speaks to and through leaders and then expects those leaders to lead.  So, we lean into the wisdom of those called, gifted, and equipped for ministry leadership–checking their ideas against Scripture and testing the spirits.  But every idea that comes our way is not worthy of engagement.  “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).

Four: Especially never swing at a pitch in the dirt.  Batters are sometimes fooled by a pitch that looks like it will be in the sweet spot but then trails away (often bouncing in the dirt near the plate).  Sometimes the pitch is so “off” that the batter can tell it’s going to be in the dirt from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand.  Two things happen when you swing at a pitch in the dirt: (1) you look stupid and, (2) you end up covered in dirt.  In ministry, the sheep will sometimes throw a pitch in the dirt–a snarl, a cutting remark, a baseless accusation, a tome of complaint, a general disdain.  Sometimes they’ll do it accidentally; oftentimes purposefully.  When we swing at those “pitches,” we end up covered in dirt and looking stupid.  It is so tempting to engage the defensive machine and blast back…perhaps “charging the mound” in indignation.  It is the wise person who knows when to simply let the pitch go by.  “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

Five: It’s at least a nine-inning game and it takes as long as it takes.  Fans sometimes chafe at extra-inning games or pitchers who take their time between pitches.  Sure, some of that pitching motion is strategy, an attempt to throw off batters’ timing.  But much of it is simply the rhythm of the game–integral to the test of endurance that is baseball.  It’s at least a nine-inning game and there are 162 of them in the regular season.  A team’s prospects at the beginning of any one game or at the beginning of any one season are not always predictors of the final outcome.  I once watched a 16-inning battle at Fenway Park that saw the lead switch several times before the home team finally nailed it in the bottom of the sixteenth inning.  People seated next to me left in the eighth inning because they thought the game was over.  Ha!  In church life we must get used to the reality of endurance that is simply the rhythm of the Christian endeavor.  “…the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).

Six: Sometimes you have to sacrifice for the team.  Many a superior hitter goes to the plate with instructions from the coach to try to get put out–to hit the ball somewhere they know it will likely be caught but which allows the runner(s) to advance into scoring position.  Church life is full of these moments.  Moments when we can choose to “swing away” and attempt to grab personal glory or when we can choose to make the “sacrifice” that offers the “team” the best prospects for Kingdom impact. “Now, to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

Seven: Getting to play in the minors is better than being in the stands at the majors.  Ask any player which they would rather do:  play or watch.  The answer?  Invariably, they want to play.  Too many in the Christian life these days are attracted to the bigger and the better–but all they want to do is watch.  Playing is always better–even if it’s only in the pickup game down the street.  “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said (John 10:10).  Nobody thinks (well, at least I don’t) that the “full life” is characterized by flattened and scarred backsides caused by sitting and watching others mixing it up on the field.

Eight: You need to be in shape to play the game.  Who thinks out-of-shape players will do well?  No one.  Everybody knows that players who are in shape will fare better: fewer injuries, more stamina, that extra “something” that makes plays and wins games.  The Christian life is joyfully rigorous and requires that we be in tip top spiritual shape: regular devotions, fervent prayers, supportive fellowship, genuine accountability.  Without those things we will not be “suited up” for the game and will falter when adversity comes our way.  “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

© All Rights Reserved.  Scripture Quotations from the NIV.


One “Aw Sh**” — Sin and Grace in the Christian Community

I know that I am a sinner.  I have often thought in recent years of a theology lecture I heard in seminary.  The professor was dealing with the notion of “sinless perfection.”  He was in his late 60s and, during the course of his lecture, he paused in a personally poignant moment to say, “The longer I am alive, the more aware I am of my sin.”

I know that I am a sinner.  I resonate with the words of the Apostle Paul who called himself “the chief of sinners.”  I listen with intensity to Romans 7:14-25, echoing Paul’s sentiment in verse 24, “What a wretched man I am!”  In concert with the Reformed theologians I admire, I know that all the decisions I make and all the actions I undertake are tainted by my sin nature and frequently directed by my “own evil desires” (James 1:14).  Trust me:  I know that I am a sinner.

So, when I stumble in major ways, I am never completely surprised.  Of course the word “stumble” might seem an attempt to soften the impact of one’s sinful missteps.  Perhaps so.  But I think that many of us, much of the time, are limping along through life anyway.  Stumbling is what we do–sometimes others see it; oft times they don’t.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of any particular stumble, a “stumbler” can feel like the embodiment of an expression I encountered years before while in the Air Force.  And it demonstrates, I think, how far short the Christian community can fall from the biblical mark with respect to treatment of those who stumble.

The expression in question goes something like this:  “One Aw Sh** wipes out a thousand Atta Boys.”  Former military readers will immediately understand.  For others, let me explain.

The military is a place that is intentional about the recognition of jobs well done.  But it is also an institution that has few tangible ways to reward folks when they do well.  You can’t give raises or bonuses; you can’t immediately promote people; you can’t even excuse them from facing hostile fire the next day.  What you can do is pause during the action long enough to say, “Well done!  Good job!  Thanks for serving your nation so faithfully!”  When I was in the military we called those kinds of expressions “Atta Boys” (Yes, women are also recipients, “Atta Girl!”) “Atta Boys” come in several varieties (medals, letters, etc.), but they are key instruments of reward and recognition in any commander’s leadership tool kit.

However “Atta Boys” have an evil big brother:  The “Aw Sh**.”  The “Aw Sh**” is often a knee-jerk response to some gross error in judgment on the part of the offending military member.  The power of the “Aw Sh**” is overwhelming.  If an “Atta Boy” is a shiny package, dressed with a bow on Christmas morning, then the “Aw Sh**” is September 11th–towering careers simply collapse.  I grant that the stakes are unusually high in the military, but I have seen one “Aw Sh**” take down officers in the middle of stellar careers, people who had accumulated a mountain of “Atta Boys” over the course of decades of service to their nation.

Now, what does this have to do with sinful stumbles in the Body of Christ?  This: everything a person has been or striven to be as a Christian can easily be swallowed up in one “Aw Sh**.”  I know the biblical standards for church leaders and the heavy investment in character the Scriptures mandate; I am not diminishing any of that.  What I am saying is that, particularly in moments of crisis, when church leaders are struggling with appropriate responses to failure, we must take the whole person into account.  Otherwise we may discard people as if they are so much septic tank toxic waste.

Jesus was heavily invested in the recycling business, but some reflective observation leads me to believe that church leaders often quickly bypass the recycle bin and head straight to the dumpster.  It is sometimes the case that an entire body of work, life, and ministry is compressed so tightly as to be seen through the lens of one episode of failure.

I believe that grace is “sloppy.”  The legalists own the bright lines in the sand and the sharp-edged shades of black and white.  Agents of grace, those who carry the name of Christ, and who believe that His model in dealing with sinners was gentle restoration, often color in more nuanced shades and move with less clear lines drawn in the sand.  Look with me at a few episodes from Jesus’ ministry.

I think one of my favorites is John 21:15-25.  Peter, the leader of the “remedial boys,” had committed the seemingly transcendent sin:  at a key moment in Jesus’ journey toward the cross, Peter had looked over at Jesus and said, “I don’t know the man!”  Surely Peter’s action is a contender for the unpardonable sin.  Jesus:  Messiah, Lord, Master, Teacher, Healer, Miracle Worker, The Son of the Living God (by Peter’s own confession), had been denied.  How much worse can it get?  All the sins packed into all the sin lists in Scripture seemingly fade away into nothingness in the face of this monstrous thing.

And yet, post-Resurrection, when Jesus encounters Peter on the Sea of Galilee shore, He deals with Peter in a supremely gracious way.  Jesus uses simple math (one statement of love to match each statement of denial) to restore Peter to first among equals within the gang of (then) eleven.  Peter was so deeply moved he said something goofy–again (see verse 21).  I think this passage has transfixed everyone who has carefully read it.  It particularly stirs my heart because of the spiritual and emotional distance Jesus traveled to restore Peter, the fallen leader.

A second favorite episode involves the little tree climber, Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was not a leader among Jesus’ followers.  He was a notorious “sinner”–a “chief” tax collector no less, one of those men responsible for the weight of fiscal oppression felt by the populace of Galilee and Judea.  Zacchaeus was short in stature and short on character.  But he had heard that Jesus was coming and wanted to see Him.  We don’t know what Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus or what Zacchaeus thought of what he had heard; we just know that he wanted to see Jesus.  So Zacchaeus climbed a tree to secure a better view of Jesus.  Jesus spotted Zacchaeus among the tree branches and said that He wanted to go to Zacchaeus’s house.  Of course this caused the crowd to grumble; they knew Zacchaeus and they wondered why Jesus would want to hang out with such a dishonored man.

Yet Jesus did want to hang out with this particular sinner.  And, because Jesus chose to join Zacchaeus in his home, sometime during the course of that visit, Zacchaeus mended his ways and decided to make restitution to those he had cheated.  All this occurred without Jesus having done anything more than being a house guest.  Merely being in the presence of Jesus was enough to restore Zacchaeus to wholeness and “spur him on toward good deeds.”

I think the culminating episode is the account of the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1-11).  This pericope is not well attested in early Greek manuscripts.  But something about it demands its continued inclusion in English Bible translations.  The elements of the episode resonate with everything we know about Jesus and His compassion and His grace.  Many questions surround this story:  How did it come to be that she was caught?  Was she set up as a test case for Jesus?  Where’s the guy with whom she must have been caught?  Was that guy in collusion with those who wanted to test Jesus?  Was there no one in the crowd who felt any mercy toward her besides Jesus?

We don’t have the answers to those questions.  What we do have is Jesus dealing with a horrific situation in a way that transcends the legalistic impulses of that day and time.  Because, on one level, the legalists were right–this woman’s offense demanded the Mosaic death penalty.  That is perhaps the most dangerous part of legalism:  on one level, legalists are often right.  But Jesus doesn’t operate on the level of “I’m right; you’re wrong” or self-righteousness.  He operates at the level of genuine righteousness.  And His genuine righteousness is always fully flavored by grace.  After Jesus challenges those in the crowd to assess their capacity to throw the “first stone,” He looks at the woman and says she is not the object of His condemnation; she is the object of His forgiveness.  He challenges her to live rightly and He restores her–right there; right then.

Those episodes from the Gospels are typical of Jesus and several things strike me about the way He dealt with those who stumbled.  The most significant is that Jesus was never in the “Aw Sh**” business.  No one failure, indeed no pattern of failure, was large enough to eliminate people from life with Him or even leadership in the Kingdom.  Peter was not left in the throes of his betrayal, consigned to some structured rehabilitation period; he was fully, completely, and immediately restored to his leadership role.  Zacchaeus had his eternal inclusion in the Abrahamic heritage emphasized for the doubters in the crowd.  And the woman caught in adultery heard those most precious words from Jesus, “neither do I condemn you.”

The second thing that strikes me is that Jesus had total awareness of the nuances of each and every situation.  Of course, He’s Jesus and, being fully human and fully divine, He had thoroughgoing information about the hearts and minds of people.  When Jesus made judgments, and He made many, He made them in that fullness of understanding.  Church leaders will never have that complete understanding of the behavioral particulars, emotional dynamics, and spiritual complexities of situations of sinful failure.

The third thing that strikes me about how Jesus dealt with the failures of those around Him is that He didn’t have to worry about Paul’s caution in Galatians 6:1.  There, Paul reminds his readers, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit (NIV, “you who are spiritual”) should restore that person gently.”

Since those charged with church leadership are not Jesus, I have five suggestions for those of us who act in His name on behalf of His Church.

My first suggestion flows from James 1:19.  Especially when dealing with life altering consequences and the potential for shattered lives, leaders must be “quick to listen; slow to speak; slow to become angry.”  In the middle of what appears to be (and may likely be) gross failure, leaders must understand, as best we can, exactly what has transpired.  That need for understanding demands extraordinary listening, careful investigation, and avoidance of rushes to conclusions or penalties.  We are, I think (at least I know I often am), too quick to assess a situation and draw conclusions.  I think that my ministry experience tends toward rapid diagnosis and response.  I am usually wrong–or at least incomplete–with both.  Each case is unique and demands meticulous attention.  We need to listen; we must resist the temptation to speak too quickly.  We need to not think of people as their “category of failure” and think of them as, well, people.  This need to “cruise” in a lower gear is a factor in the next suggestion as well.

My second suggestion is simple, yet close to impossible:  we need to ensure that we are “spiritual” in the Galatians 6 sense.  Jesus didn’t have this problem, but contemporary church leaders surely do.  Certainly the Bible is full of admonitions about sinful patterns of behavior, prescriptions for leadership responsibilities, and outlines of restoration processes.  But what I want to know is:  Where are “those who are spiritual?”  Because they are the only ones commissioned as agents of graceful restoration.

Looking back over the course of my ministry, I’m convinced that I haven’t really met many “spiritual” people capable of this restorative task.  Perhaps I have been hanging out with the wrong crowd.  I have met many who thought they were “spiritual” and I have participated in leadership meetings where we all thought we were.  But I am not sure many (maybe any) of us were.  And–I would be so bold as to say that if we think we are spiritual, we are probably not.  For myself, I am convinced that I was rarely among “those who are spiritual” when I was attempting restorative stewardship of the flocks assigned to my care.

I am not completely certain as to a conclusion about this business of spirituality.  Fallen, sinful, stumbling church leaders do, indeed, have this task of reconciliation and restoration.  I suppose I would simply flash a giant, yellow caution light in front of all who undertake this task.  Slow is the way to go.

Third:  We must realize that we can never have all the information we need to make the kinds of weighty judgments we will be making.  Omniscience is a non-communicable attribute of deity.  We cannot and we do not know all things.  Therefore we must be more tentative, less dogmatic, and more graceful in the application of consequences based on our assessments.  We must choose our words carefully, knowing that they have immense power to further wound the already wounded.

Fourth:  We need to ask, “How does this fit with the rest of what I know about this person?”  In order to avoid an “Aw Sh**” situation, we must carefully put anyone’s failure in the larger context of their whole person, refusing to simply see the last thing (particularly if it’s a failure) as the totality of truth about that person.  It simply cannot be the case (most of the time) that an accumulated lifetime of service is so fragile as to be destroyed in a single instance of failure (*Please see Postscript below).  And, as leaders, we need the maturity to see past immediate circumstances in order to bring to bear our wider understanding of the lives we hold in our hands and the issues with which we wrestle.

Finally, I think we must err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion, involvement rather than disconnection.  There are places in the Scriptures (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:1-5) where a period of exclusion from fellowship is discussed as a means of restoration.  Two things seem to be true about this practice.  The first is that we mere humans inevitably get this wrong.  If the subsequent reference in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 is to the same person discussed in 1 Corinthians 5, the Corinthian church had let the whole thing go on way too long.

The other issue connected to exclusion is that I believe we often seriously misinterpret Jesus’ own words about the restoration process.  Jesus’ prescription for restoration does not, I believe, involve exclusion.  Matthew 18:17 is not, I contend, about excommunication or shunning or other exclusionary tactics.  It is exactly what it says:  a call to treat those who persist in stumbling the way Jesus treated Peter, Zacchaeus, and the unnamed woman–with grace and mercy and an invitation to Christ’s own presence.

I spoke earlier of “sloppy grace.”  What does sloppy grace look like?  As in all things Christian, I think it simply looks like Jesus; no condemnation (except, perhaps, for the legalists), gentle restoration, the realization that Jesus’ mere presence would be enough to spur folks on toward good deeds (Zacchaeus).  The cure for all things that ail stumbling believers is more time in His presence.  Jesus will help us kill our “Aw Sh**” tendencies and He will help prevent our discard of precious Kingdom citizens, but only if we watch Him in action and take our cues from His approach to people who stumble.

[*Postscript–Caveat & Alert:  There are particularly egregious failures (child sexual abuse as an example) that require: immediate removal of the person from any situation in which they can inflict further harm, a root level analysis of any person’s future leadership potential, extended periods of rehabilitation, and great caution so as to not create other opportunities for those who fail to wound additional innocents.  But even those failures, I believe, require an intentionality and purposefulness about restoration to some expression of Christian fellowship (not necessarily leadership) modeled after Jesus’ dealing with the failures around Him.]

 


Millennial Mania & Besetting Sins

Chatter about Millennials (Generation Y) seems to be running amuck these days.  At the risk of adding more heat and less light to an already angst-filled discussion, I offer the following…

Each generation has, I believe, a besetting sin or two.  (Full disclosure:  Born in 1955, I am a Boomer…no, not an “aging boomer,” just a Boomer.)  Many Boomers succumbed (after all the “Hey, You Want a Revolution” hype) to a monstrous capacity for acquisition.  Following the “Greatest Generation,” which had conquered various forms of totalitarianism and provided the baseline for Western society’s post-Depression stability, Boomers went out to conquer wealth.  And, by and large, they succeeded (albeit, with huge segments of the population not equally enjoying wealth’s effects).  Trading alienation for avarice, Boomers, as a group, constructed and enjoyed a massive acquisition project.

Churches, in their attempts to reach the Boomers, saw fit to tap into the Boomers’ consumer mindset with “Seeker Sensitive” worship services and church forms tailored to the “What’s in it for me?” approach common to the Boomer era.  (Yes, I know, Seeker Sensitive language is no longer in vogue.)   The era of the Mega-Churches, with their attendant “Mega Amenities” arose to feed off of (and, yes, to some degree, feed) this consumerism.  This leads me to conclude that the Besetting Sin of the Boomer era was (and is) Materialism.  Wanting more and “needing” more led to, well, more (or at least the appearance of “more”–even though at least one flagship Boomer/Seeker church has since discovered that appearances were deceiving and the actual depth of biblical engagement was less robust than thought). 

Be angry with me if you will, but know that I too have Materialistic Boomer bona fides and that I too have been in search of “more is better” attached to the next promotion, raise, or bonus (in both their secular and sacred manifestations).

I recognize that I speak in sweeping generational language and that generalizations are, well, generalizations.  I know that there were/are many Boomers not beset by Materialism; I know that many Boomers have given their lives in faithful service to Christ and humanity.  And I know that, even now, many Boomers are seeking to redeem their Materialistic years by energetic volunteer service in a variety of venues.  The fact that so many Boomers now seek to flee from avarice to altruism is, I think, itself evidence of Materialism as our Besetting Sin. 

Along the way, Boomers gave birth and those who had given birth gave birth and thus we arrive at the Millennial Generation (a.k.a., Gen “Y”—by the way, the “Y” is not a question; though in a moment we will see how it might be more characteristic of Millennials than previously thought).  Those born from roughly 1981-1982 (depending upon your Millennial expert) leading up to those born around 2004.  The oldest Millennials are now in their mid to late 20s or early 30s.  And they are everywhere.  Read the Christian publications (the books and the magazines and the blogs and the IMs and the Facebook posts and texts and the Tweets and…well, you get it).  Never, in this writer’s opinion, has a generation been so thoroughly parsed–and loved it so much. 

We read that they are looking for authenticity and hunger for deeper spiritual ways and want to be part of intergenerational conversations characterized by “reverse mentoring” (oxymoron candidate, anyone?).   As an aside, teaching grandpa to Skype does not rank alongside helping someone who has been wounded by life find their way through the mess to wholeness.  Being tech savvy is not the same as being wise.  Tweet that.

Millennials are special.  They are not special in the way every human is special:  created in the image of a loving and grace giving God; uniquely designed; called by God to Himself through Christ; gifted spiritually to serve the Body of Christ; and, in Christ, destined for eternity in the presence of God.  Nope; they are, well, “extra special.”   

They know everything (while in faux humility denying that they think so); they don’t think much of anything that has come before (hence the “Y”–not the genuine question, “Why?” but a perhaps more dismissive, “Why would I consider inherited wisdom?”); they are the innovators who know how to do life and ministry in ways that previous generations just don’t get.  They are extra special.  They have cast about for health and vitality in the church forms that surround them and have found them deficient at just about every turn.  Those churches are not missional enough or emergent enough (I know, these terms too fade in relevance–have you noticed the short shelf life of contemporary originality?) or hip enough or deeply satisfying enough or service minded enough or green enough.  Enough. 

Millennial leaders abound.  Many ministries have given themselves over to those uniformed in open-collar plaid shirts, tousled hair, and rumpled jeans precisely ripped at the knees because those who are extra special will show us the way to the promised land of authenticity in life and ministry.  (I write this while wearing the Boomer uniform:  buttoned down shirt [no tie] and Dockers–but I do like plaid–even though my brilliant wife is not a fan.)

I suppose all that is as it will be in a Western cultural atmosphere that values new and young above nearly everything.  But, does it strike anybody else as odd that those who hunger for deeper and more authentic expressions of Christian faith tend to dismiss the possibility that pretty much everybody over 35 can’t possibly lead the way there?

“Never trust anyone over 30.”  Boomers grew up believing that to be true and later discovered that the generation preceding them (that “Greatest Generation”) had notions of service and selflessness that the Boomers had run past too quickly (and therefore missed) in their quest for more stuff.  Boomers too left the institutionalized expressions of Christianity, went off on their own, and later returned when “life” broke in on them and they needed “life that is truly life” to navigate their way through the inevitable disappointments of Materialism.

So then, what is the Besetting Sin of the Millennials?  I believe it is Narcissism:  an intense self-focus (an intra-generational infatuation) that has the potential to mislead them into thinking that the entirety of human wisdom is confined to some kind of Generation Y mind meld (I know, Boomer cultural reference). 

Writing about C.S. Lewis, who chose to study and teach the classics of English Literature, Alister McGrath said, “[Lewis’s] point…is that the study of the past helps us to appreciate that the ideas and values of our own age are just as provisional and transient as those of bygone ages” (C.S. Lewis–A Life, 168).  Lewis said it thus, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date” (The Four Loves, 166).  Teenagers from the time of Cain and Abel have thought they knew it all; the difference with many Millennials is that they seem to carry that notion well past its natural expiration date.

This probably sounds like the bitter rant of an aging (even though I told you I wasn’t) Boomer.  It’s not.  It is a call for some critical self-reflection on the part of both Millennials and those of us who may have too readily jettisoned the responsibility incumbent upon more seasoned leaders to cultivate genuine maturity in Christian leadership in those who must be there for the Church’s next season.

For, in the end, we are, I believe, the same.  Despite our generational propensities, we all hunger for authenticity and humility and compassion in our leaders.  We all yearn for genuine connection in the Body of Christ.  We all seek Larry Crabb’s “Safest Place on Earth.”  We all sense the shadow of shallowness that seems to have been cast over much of Western Christian life.  We all know that to be truly in love with Jesus means reaching for depth in understanding of His Word and His Ways–and then attempting to live that understanding.  We all know that “felt needs” are often just symptoms of aching chasms of genuine need to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We all know that we will do better when we listen with a teachable spirit to the saints who have gone before (both generationally and historically).

I am ready to hear from my Millennial Brethren and Sisteren. 

 


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