Tag Archives: leadership

The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill: 10 Quotes

Leadership Journal recently posted an article exploring some of the factors that led to Mars Hill’s rapid implosion over the last few months.  The article can be found here, and should be read by every church leader.  It’s a heartbreaking and harrowing piece that highlights how easily anti-gospel, toxic motivations can take root in the hearts of churches and their leaders.

Below are 10 quotations from the article that stood out to me.

1. “As the structure became more refined, the driving motive became efficiency and growth, and those two factors began dictating church policy.”

2. “This all began as a work of the Spirit, but we quickly started to push harder and harder, trying to accomplish it with human efforts—bigger, better, faster, stronger.”

3. “We started going for high-profile, high-ROI stuff that brings in more money,”

4. “The only way to create scalable multiplication is to somehow dumb down that position [site pastor] so that a dog with a note in its mouth can do it.”

5. “It got to the point where I’d get a weekly printout that would tell me I had one minute and 40 seconds to make an announcement.  I’d get a memo telling me to quit standing up in front and praying with people after the service because those hurting people are already regular attenders. The visitors are out in the lobby, so you need to be out in the lobby to get Velcro on the visitor to get them to stick so they come back.”

6. “‘How do we get more money coming into Central?’ became the main question.”

7. “For campus pastors on start-up church sites, everything hovered around congregation benchmarks. For 500 attendees, you got an executive pastor. 800? You could add a worship pastor. And if you boosted it up to 3,000 loyal listeners, the “award” was a youth pastor.”

8. “The whole corporate model for managing a church has infiltrated and affected the church more than anybody realizes.”

9. “When [a church] is dependent upon one charismatic leader, it is not dependent on Jesus.”

10. “This is going to be a great lesson for church leadership during the next 20 to 30 years.”

I sincerely hope that last quote is prophetic.

 

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One-Minute Review: “Playing God” by Andy Crouch

Just finished reading Playing God by Andy Crouch.

Here’s my one-minute review:

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“What’s ‘Playing God’ all about?”
Playing God is a book that explores the complex issue of power; its uses, abuses, and potential for redemption.  Crouch’s overall thesis is that power is a gift from God that should neither be uncritically embraced nor fearfully avoided by Christians.  True power, Crouch believes, holds tremendous redemptive potential when channeled through humanity’s deepest calling to be image-bearers of the true God.  Playing God explores how corrupt and abusive  power is always rooted in idolatry and injustice, while making it clear that Scripture provides us with an understanding of power that can lead to life and flourishing for all.

“Should I read it?”
Maybe.  Given my personal passion for the topic (I devoted an entire chapter of my book Mere Disciple to the topic of power!),  as well as the depth and breadth of Andy’s insights on this topic, I wish I could offer a yes without hesitation.  However, Playing God is not a light read.  It’s very dense in parts, and I’m not sure it’s quite as accessible as I would have liked.  While Crouch does a remarkable job of dealing with a spectrum of issues tied to power, I’m not sure if Playing God would be a good starting point for someone looking to wade into the immensely important topic of power and our use of it.  I would never discourage anyone from reading through Playing God, but if you pick it up just realize that it’s going to feel like work some of the time.  That’s not the end of the world, but I could see some people not having the fortitude to push through some of the more philosophically dense chapters, and deciding to leave Playing God unread.  Which would be a shame, because Playing God offers inspiring, uncommon, and dynamic insights into how Christians in all spheres of life should understand and use power.

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Icons Of Who We Can Become: Synaspismos

I’m reading through Playing God ahead of an upcoming event next week featuring Andy Crouch.  The book is fantastic, and is filled with memorable stories and illustrations that shed new light on what it means to wield power in ways that restores the image of God–in ourselves and others–instead of diminishing it.

One of the most beautiful pictures I’ve come across so far is in the chapter “Icons.”  Building on the idea that an icon is a trustworthy image (as opposed to an idol, which is an untrustworthy image), Andy recounts a trip to the Greek island of Patmos where he discovered a unique icon.  The following are a series of excerpts from p. 94-96 of the book, highlighting some powerful ruminations by Andy on the artwork.

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Most icons show one saint; this one showed two, Saints Peter and Paul.  And they were embracing.  Indeed, they were nearly kissing; their faces were pressed up against one another in an intimate greeting, presumably something like the “holy kiss” that Paul refers to in his letters.  The traditional circular halos behind their heads overlapped, forming a kind of heart shape.  The icon was a series of symmetries from top to bottom–their halos, their hands on one another’s shoulders and forearms, their overlapping garments of deep green, crimson, blue and gold all combining in a moment of balanced but dynamic harmony.

I ended up paying several visits to the icon during my week of Patmos, drawn back to it by the tension between its harmonious beauty and the complicated historical moment it portrays.  The icon, as a visiting Greek scholar did his best to explain to me using his limited English one day as we stood in the dry cool air of the gallery, shows the moment when Peter and Paul meet for the first time.  “Synaspismos,” he said emphatically.  “At yes, synaspismos,” I responded, pretending that my four years of classical Greek were not wasted.  For many years I though he was telling me the name of the icon; only later did I learn that the word refers to an ancient battle practice of advancing with shields overlapping one anther, just as the saints overlap in this moment of greeting.  It is a word for shared strength, comradeship, and partnership–the sharing of power that enabled both Peter and Paul to fulfill their vocations as ambassadors of the gospel across the Roman Empire.

But while Peter and Paul are indeed greeting one another with a holy miss, fellow warriors lending one another their strength and blessing, the longer I looked at that icon the more I suspected that Peter and Paul’s feelings about this meeting were, well, complicated.  The express on each of their faces is somber, even a bit suspicious.  Indeed, as they embrace they are quite conspicuously not looking one another in the eyes the way I do when I meet a long-lost friend; they gaze across and out of frame of the icon, each looking at something beyond the other.  These are not old friends reunited after a long journey.  They are, in fact, very recent enemies meeting shortly after Paul’s conversion from persecutor of the church to energetic defender of the Way of Jesus.

Peter and Paul were alike in some ways.  Both seem to have been bold if not brash, both were evangelists, both seem to have had an instinct for seeking out and training young leaders like Mark and Timothy.  Yet they were also undeniably different.  Paul, the cosmopolitan Pharisee and student of Gamaliel; Peter, the fisherman with the Galilean accent.  Oddly, the Galilean outsider become a leading figure in the Jerusalem church and ultimately was thought of as the apostle to the Jews; the Pharisee insider ultimately made his greatest contribution to Christian history by embracing a mission to the Gentiles.  The iconography of the Synaspismos icon plays up their differences even as it brings them together in their embrace–Peter with his traditional bushy head of hair, Paul darker in complexion and already balding (the iconographer thoughtfully gives him a little tuft of hair on top of his head–fortunately, the combover seems to have bee a later invention).  It also emphasizes, if not exaggerates, the difference in age between the two men: Peter is portrayed with gray hair and beard, oso that Paul, in spite of his premature balding, looks like the young man.

So the Synaspismos icon has become for me a picture of fellowship, partnership and community, and also of difference, distance and difficulty.  Ultimately they are all part of the same thing.  It is perhaps the best portrayal I have seen of the reality that love is as much an act of the will as an impulse of the heart.  In the Synaspismos we witness two strong leaders willing to submit to one another–to embrace the gifts the other brings and to join together, shields overlapping, in a shared mission.

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Thrones and High Chairs

I’ve been listening through Richard Rohr’s CD set “Fire from Heaven” over the last few weeks.  It’s a recording from a men’s retreat that focused on helping men (re)claim their identity in Christ.  It’s definitely geared towards those middle-aged and beyond, but I’ve found the talks very helpful on a number of levels.

A few days ago, I had the CD playing in my car, and in the midst of talking about men, authority, and leadership, Rohr just kind of threw out a metaphor and moved on.  I guess when you have tomes of wisdom, you can’t stop to unpack each insight, but his “throwaway” really struck me.

Rohr was discussing men and the two ways they veer towards holding leadership, authority, and power in their lives.  He said all men at some deep, unconscious level, want to be kings.  By kings, Rohr was referring to the archetypal king who embodies wisdom, justice, power, authority and grace.  Rohr mentioned that men will either occupy high chairs or thrones, depending on which path of spiritual growth they take (or refuse to take).

He said if men don’t mature beyond a “what’s in it for me?” worldview and grow up in God–really grow up–they’ll  likely become “high-chair tyrants” when they find themselves in positions of leadership.  The feet of a child in a high chair never touch the ground.  A high chair tyrant is childish and isn’t connected to reality–he isn’t grounded.  He usually lives out of arrogance and ignorance (I think this is a good summation of a lot of leadership in our world today).  One of the problems with high-chair tyrants is that they are unaware of how disconnected and ungrounded they are.  When someone is brave enough to confront them, any challenge is dismissed because it’s coming from one of the “common folk.”

However, Rohr notes that one of the main differences between a high chair and a throne is that, when sitting on a throne, one’s feet touch the ground.  A king is literally grounded, in touch with the earth, the community–it touch with what is real.   His authority, power and leadership are rooted in his experience with the earth (i.e., reality), and not his own ideas or ego-driven assumptions.

My experience tells me that the high chair will always be tempting, because it offers a shortcut to attention and authority without much work.  Just get a title or a position and start bossing people around–after all, you’re in control now!  You can even throw tantrums and often get what you want because of fear.

But the path towards kingship, the path that will shape us into leaders who are grounded in truth and live to serve while holding our kingdoms together, that path demands deep soul work.  It means confronting demons and a relentless commitment to live in reality, not in the fantasy of what we’d prefer.  Easier said than done, especially as one comes into successive levels of power and authority.

May we seek the narrow way; the way of the King.  Through his leadership, may we be refined into men who sit on thrones and not high chairs.

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Submitting My Manuscript

After self-publishing Mere Disciple this past summer, I started putting together an official manuscript submission for Christian publishers in order to see if someone would be interested in picking it up.  I discovered that all of the significant Christian publishers routinely comb through the manuscripts found at Christianmanuscriptsubmissions.com, so that’s where I started to put together my proposal.

Early into the process I decided to get some professional advice through an “author management company,” and  was eventually connected to Jenni Burke from D.C. Jacobson and Associates.  Part of her speciality is helping to craft quality proposals that “stick out” to potential publishers.

For the last few months we’ve gone back and forth editing and tweaking the Mere Disciple manuscript, and today all the necessary changes were formalized and the process was completed.  For the next six months literary agents from the major Christian publishing houses will be able to view my proposal and decide whether or not they’d like to follow up with me.

Working with Jenni was a great experience.  She was certainly tough on me at points, but she definitely took what would have been a ho-hum submission and made it something much more coherent and attractive to potential publishers.  As an added bonus, my manuscript was awarded the special silver “Critiqued & Edited” badge.  With thousands of manuscripts live on the site at any one time, these badges help publishers identify projects that have been professionally evaluated and deemed worthy of a publisher’s investment.

I’ve always seen Mere Disciple as a personal project and gift to the emerging leaders at Grindstone.  However, it’s been extremely rewarding to hear that its influence has extended beyond Grindstone to many people (both young and old) who’ve shared with me the impact it’s had on their lives.  Although it’s rough around the edges in parts, I still see an enormous potential for Mere Disciple to be a foundational resource in the lives of emerging leaders.  I hope a publisher out there agrees with me and is willing to help me nurture the book’s full potential.

I’ll keep everyone updated on any rumblings that occur over the next six months.

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