A Thanksgiving Confession

November 22nd, 2014

On Thanksgiving Day (November 27 in the USA), the following by Stanley Pritchard may be an appropriate admission.

Lord, we confess that we love to be independent, and we find it hard to give thanks for everything that happens to us, everything that comes our way. We want to feel that we have deserved success and a home and friends and honorable work; and so sometimes our thanksgivings ring false: just words that we take on our lips without meaning, without understanding. We are not ungrateful, but we expect our due. We feel we have earned our place in society, and that by our own labors, our own thinking, our own vision, we have gotten where we are. We accept our gifts as our right. So we forget that the whole earth is yours, and you gave it to us. We forget that the breath of life is your gift, and you have made us living souls. We forget that our best purposes are yours, and that you have inspired us to achievement and strengthened us for fulfillment. Give us therefore a grateful heart, O Lord, that we may offer our thanks with gladness and understanding, mindful that all things come from you, and that without you we have nothing and are nothing. Amen.


November 13th, 2014

As Thanksgiving Day approaches in the USA (November 27 this year), I want to focus more on Praise and Thanksgiving for my many blessings, and to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. As an aid in that regard I am using The Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). Andrewes uses verses from the Psalms to weave a tapestry of prayer. I have used the NIV version of the Psalms. Using such expressions of praise and thanksgiving, hallowed by generations of faithful people, will reinforce in us an awareness of the greatness of God and his grace.

I will exalt you, my God, the King,
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
And extol your name for ever and ever:
Today I will praise you,
Yes, O Lord, both today and all the days of my life. (Ps.145:1,2)

You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
You are my God, and I will exalt you. (Ps.118:28)
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
As I rejoice in the Lord. (Ps.104:33,34)
I will extol the Lord at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips. (Ps.34:1)
I will extol the Lord with all my heart
In the council of the upright and in the assembly. (Ps.111:1)

Your name, O Lord, endures forever,
Your renown, O Lord, through all generations. (Ps.135:13)
Let the name of the Lord be praised
Both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
The name of the Lord is to be praised. (Ps.113:2,3)
Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
Or fully declare his praise?
Were I to count them,
They would number the grains of sand. (Ps.139:18)
Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
Who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
May the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel:
Let all the people say, “Amen!”

What Would It Take To Make You Convinced of the Love of Christ?

November 7th, 2014

St. Paul is persuaded, convinced, sure, that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:38,39).

This kind of certainty does not come easily. When it seems to come easily it smacks of arrogance, of presumption. People can become too sure of themselves and their opinions. Spiritual certainty can be very off-putting. If someone seems to know all the answers it is difficult to have an honest dialogue with them. They put themselves above contradiction. When Job was suffering he did not need his friends to come and tell him what was wrong with him. They claimed to know all the answers to his problems, all the reasons for his suffering. However, if a person struggles with the doubts and questions that trouble him, looking at all sides of the problems, honestly pursues the truth, and is open to what God may reveal to him through his experience, through the teaching of the Scriptures, and his human knowledge, and reaches some conclusions on which he can take a stand, that conviction may be respected for it is hard-won and not superficial.

On the other hand, many people are not willing to do the hard work to win through to a conviction on which they can base their lives. Agnosticism is the comfort zone of many, who prefer not to know, rather than to have to declare themselves. There are many things of which we can legitimately be unsure. We do not know the answers to everything. But we need to know some things if we are to make sense of our lives. We need to know if there is something more to this life than meets the eye. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

St. Paul is convinced that life is worthwhile, because of the love of God he has experienced in Jesus Christ, who died for his sins. He is convinced that nothing that this world or the next, success or failure, good or evil, heaven or hell, the present or the future, can do to him, can take away from him the eternal source of love that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. So convinced is he of this fact that he wants everyone to know it, everyone to share this assurance that makes life worthwhile and complete.

Perhaps you have to suffer before you can reach this conviction. Perhaps you have to reach bedrock before you can build a faith that will last. Perhaps you have to come to the end of yourself before you discover your destiny. That was true for Ernest Gordon, who was captured during World War II and sent to work by the Japanese building the Burma railway. The conditions were brutal. The guards would execute any prisoners who appeared to be lagging. Many more men dropped dead from exhaustion, malnutrition, and disease. It is estimated that 80,000 men died building the railway, 393 fatalities for every mile of track.

Phil Yancey, in A Skeptic’s Guide to Faith (173-176), summarized Gordon’s story. Ernest Gordon felt himself wasting away from a combination of beriberi, worms, malaria, dysentery and typhoid. Paralyzed and unable to eat, he was put in the Death House, where prisoners on the verge of death were laid out in rows until they stopped breathing. His friends rescued him and cared for him in a bamboo addition to their hut.

The prison camp was a laboratory of survival of the fittest, every man for himself. Prisoners fought over the few scraps of food. Theft was common. Men lived like animals, and hate was the main motivation to stay alive. Recently, though a change had come. During a tool inspection the guard thought that a shovel was missing. He threatened to kill the detail unless the thief confessed. One enlisted man stepped forward, stood at attention and said, “I did it.” The guard beat him to death. That evening, when the tools were inventoried again, the work crew discovered a mistake had been made: no shovel was missing. One of the prisoners remembered the saying of Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Attitudes in the camp began to shift. Prisoners started treating the dying with respect, organizing proper funerals and burials, marking each man’s grave with a cross. With no prompting, prisoners began looking out for each other rather than themselves. Theft grew increasingly rare.

Gordon sensed the change in a very personal way as two fellow Scots volunteered to come each day and care for him. After weeks of tender care, Gordon put on a little weight and, to his amazement, regained partial use of his legs. The new spirit continued to spread through the camp:

‘Death was still with us – no doubt about that. But we were slowly being freed from its destructive grip. We were seeing for ourselves the sharp contrast between the forces that made for life and those that made for death. Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy greed, self-indulgence, laziness and pride were all anti-life. Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity and creative faith, on the other hand, were the essence of life, turning mere existence into living in its truest sense. These were the gifts of God to men…
True, there was hatred. But there was also love. There was death. But there was also life. God had not left us. He was with us, calling us to live the divine life in fellowship.’ (Ernest Gordon, To End All Wars, 105ff.)

As Gordon continued to recover, some of the men, knowing he had studied philosophy, asked him to lead a discussion group on ethics. The conversations kept circling around the issue of how to prepare for death, the most urgent question of the camp. Seeking answers, Gordon returned to fragments of faith recalled from his childhood. He had thought little about God for years, but as he would later put it, ‘Faith thrives when there is no hope but God.’ By default, Gordon became the unofficial camp chaplain. The prisoners built a tiny church, and each evening they gathered to say prayers for those with the greatest needs.

Gordon’s books (Miracle on the River Kwai, and To End All Wars) tell of the transformation of individual men in the camp, a transformation so complete that when liberation finally came the prisoners treated their sadistic guards with kindness and not revenge. Gordon’s life was changed. As a result of his experiences he gave his life to sharing the love of God in Christ with others. He became a Presbyterian minister and ended up as the Dean of the Chapel at Princeton University.

Ernest Gordon was convinced that nothing could separate him from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ who became his Lord and Savior. St. Paul was convinced. What are you convinced of? Are you convinced of the transforming love of Christ? Have you examined and weighed up the evidence for it. Where are you on your search? Can you reach a conclusion and a firm conviction? May the all-embracing, unshakeable certainty of St. Paul be yours as well.

Excerpted from SOLID FOOD, Volume 4, pp.102-106. All Rights Reserved, 2014

What is the continuity between this life and the next?

November 2nd, 2014

November 1st has always been celebrated as All Saints’ Day when Christians remember their communion with all the saints, the unity of God’s people in this world and the next. November 2nd is also celebrated as All Souls’ Day when Christians commemorate all the Faithful Departed, holding their lives in our memory. In the Mexican culture it is known as the Day of the Dead, when families take the day off to picnic at the graves of their families which are specially decorated and refurbished for the occasion. Homes and churches decorate special altars with photos of the deceased and other memorabilia. Mass is celebrated in the Catholic cemetery. Bakeries produce Day of the Dead bread and other special food to be consumed around the graves.

The Gospel assures us of continuity of life between this world and the next. We believe in the overlapping reality of this life and the kingdom of heaven. When, therefore, our Faithful Departed – those who die in Christ – leave us, we believe that they do not lose consciousness of our presence, as we do not lose consciousness of them. Just as we do not forget them, we are not blotted out from their memory. Surely, despite their absence, they have not lost knowledge of us. If God is a God of love, and is essentially a God of relationships, he would not eternally sever the ties that bind us together. We place photographs of our loved ones around our homes to continually remind us of their presence. We have memorabilia that remind us of what they mean to us: a ring your mother or grandmother wore and passed on to you, a chair they sat in, a tie your father wore, a coat you have not discarded, a watch and other family heirlooms, a crystal decanter, family china, a painting that reminds you of their home.

But how do they remember us? How can they keep us in their hearts? How can they follow our lives? What does it mean that we are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses”? (Hebrews 12:1) Just as the distant clouds hover over the landscape, can they see us from on high? Are they not cheering us on from the bleachers of heaven as we run the race marked out for us? Revelation 6:9-11 indicates that the Faithful Departed are alive and conscious of us.

When we travel great distances and settle in another location, we do not forget the life we led elsewhere. Our past is not obliterated by our journey. We are still the same person. Our past is not blotted out by the change of environment. Those who have lived and died in the cause of God’s kingdom will see the fruits of their labor. They will rejoice in the fulfillment of their endeavors. Surely also, a mother or father, who has planned great things for their children, and died before they were fulfilled, should be able to see the answer to their prayers and be satisfied?

Continuity between this world and the next is intimated in what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. In Jesus we see the overlap of the two ages. He was in constant touch with the unseen world of the spirit. He was the transmitter of the power and presence of God to those around him. Angels ministered to him. The heavens opened above his head. The voice of his heavenly Father was heard calling him the Beloved Son of God. The veil between the worlds was lifted in his words and works. He was the visible link between the two ages. In the Transfiguration he passed for a brief moment into the spiritual sphere and was seen by his disciples. “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” (Matthew 17:2,3)
What were these inhabitants of the kingdom of heaven talking about with Jesus? We can speculate that they were asking him to fill them in on what they had looked forward to in his coming to his kingdom. “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31) What they had begun in their day was about to be fulfilled by Jesus in Jerusalem. If they were concerned about the fulfillment of their plans and purposes, how much more will we, when we have joined them in glory, be similarly interested in our friends and loved ones.

This understanding may be at variance from those who think that in heaven we will be so absorbed in the contemplation of God, or the celebration of his praise, or the enjoyment of our own fulfillment, that we will be removed far above former relationships and earthly considerations. While this sounds spiritual, it is not practical or realistic. Suppose that you had to leave the country and emigrate to another in order to provide for your family. Your efforts results in great prosperity. Would not your first thought be of your family whom you had to leave behind? Would you not want to share with them your wealth? Would not your thoughts and prayers be with them? Is not this kind of love the surest evidence of communion with God? You would not be selfish enough to forget them.

It is argued that if the Faithful Departed live in constant sympathy with us in our trials and temptations on earth, they could not enjoy heaven. It they see our afflictions and sorrows, our failings and weaknesses, our physical dangers and pains, would they not be able to enter into the joy of heaven? Would we choose that our friends be cut off from all knowledge of us by the thick veil of death than that they should see us and suffer? But do peace and suffering have to be mutually exclusive? God has not been secluded and protected from all knowledge of human life through the ages. He has heard the cry of the miserable. That was why he sent his Son to die for us. Christ rose from the dead and sat at the right hand of God on High, and yet he also shares in all the labors and pains of his followers. Pity and sympathy do not contradict spiritual joy. They are two of its elements.

The Faithful Departed regard life with other eyes than ours. From our standpoint, in this world, suffering seems an unmixed calamity. With their clear vision looking from eternity they see where all things are going. They can see the fulfillment of the process of soul-making. They see indeed that all things work together for good to those who love God. They see the end, the goal, of all things. They see life whole. They see the rewards for all their labor. They see the prodigal son, not only in the misery of the far country, but also at home enjoying the love of his father. When we are suffering in surgery, they will not be in despair for us, for they see us again healed and strong. They can glory in afflictions because they see in them their reward.

The conviction that the Faithful Departed are not dead, or unconscious, or indifferent to us, but are alive for evermore, full of activity and constantly mindful of us, invests the unseen world with reality, so that we are not repelled by the thought of an unknown, fearful, world to come. We will recognize those whom we remember and would wish to see again. They are living there as they did in our homes, they are thinking of us as of old; they are ready to give us welcome; they will have much to tell us.

In the witness of the Faithful Departed is one of the strong encouragements of life. We need not fear that they regard us with critical and censorious eyes as we toil and strive. They have been where we are. They now have the infinite mercy and love of God in them. They continually believe in us as does our Lord. They expect much from us and pray for us. They reach out to us and will welcome us as we reach the goal and receive the crown of life which God has awarded to all who have longed for his appearing. We take comfort from them.

(Excerpted from SOUL FOOD, Volume 4, pp.131-134, All rights reserved, 2014)

How Do We Manage Our Grief At The Loss of a Loved One?

October 23rd, 2014

How do we manage our grief at losing a loved one? St. Paul based his consolation on the belief that as God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, he will also raise us with Jesus (2 Cor.4:13ff.). We are encouraged to believe that as we physically decline we are actually being renewed spiritually if we are in Christ. We cannot see this of course. All we can see is the deterioration of the body. Yet he urges us to focus not on what we see but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. We cannot see love, but it is no less real for being unseen. What is going on is a metamorphosis, a change in form from the physical to the spiritual, the earthly body to the heavenly body, the perishable to the imperishable, from what is weak, to what is powerful.

St. Paul uses construction terms. We exchange the earthly tent of our physical body for an eternal mansion in heaven, not built by human hands. As we age and our physical body begins to break down we are clothed with our heavenly dwelling. What is mortal in us is replaced by eternal life. God has made us this way for a purpose and given us a foretaste of it by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. The Holy Spirit is like an engagement ring that assures us of the wedding to come. The Holy Spirit guarantees what is to come. This guarantee can be relied on because it is backed by the promises of God himself.

Therefore we can be confident that when we leave the body we will be at home with the Lord, there to await those we love who will join us in their due time.

Benjamin Franklin expressed it in these words.

It is the will of God and Nature that these mortal bodies be laid aside, when the soul is to enter the real life; this world is rather an embryo state, a preparation for living; a man is not completely born until he be dead. Why then should we grieve that a new child is born among the immortals. A new member is added to their happy society.

We are spirits. That bodies should be lent us, while they can afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God. When they become unfit for these purposes, and afford us pain instead of pleasure – instead of an aid, become an encumbrance and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them. Death is that way.

We ourselves prudently choose a partial death. In some cases a mangled painful limb, which cannot be restored, we willingly cut it off. He who plucks out a tooth, parts with it freely since the pain goes with it, and he who quits the whole body, parts at once with all its pains and possibilities of pains and diseases it was liable to, or capable of making him suffer.

Our friend and we are invited abroad on a party of pleasure – that is to last forever. His chair was first ready and he is gone before us. We could not all conveniently start together, and why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and we know where to find him.

Dying is characterized as falling asleep in Jesus. It is a beautiful image of our passage from time to eternal life. We go to sleep in our faith in Jesus who died for us to win our salvation – to give us forgiveness, victory over death and resurrection to life eternal. We wake up to the new heavens and the new earth in the company of those who have gone before us. It is the closing of one chapter in the book of our life and the beginning of a new chapter.

C.S. Lewis, at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, has Aslan, the Christ figure describing this new life.

The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Why I Write and Read

October 11th, 2014

I now have an author page on Amazon.com. You can access it at https://www.amazon.com/author/tedschroder.

This enables you to locate all my books – I find it hard to believe that there are eleven of them. My first was INWARD LIGHT which was published in 2003. It is now out of print but there are several copies available on Amazon. All the others are still in print. Volume One of SOUL FOOD, was sold out but I have had more reprinted for the New Year. I will be taking a break from publishing for a while but there will be one new book appearing next month which is being published in New Zealand for my home town’s sesquicentennial. It is entitled GOD KNOWS WHERE THEY COME FROM: Four Faith Stories from Hokitika. It will include a memoir from me and three others who went into the Christian ministry from my home town – a Methodist, a Presbyterian, a Roman Catholic and myself, the Anglican. This will be listed on Amazon with the others and so be available for purchase in the USA.

My motivation in publishing has always been to further the proclamation of the Gospel through print as well as through the pulpit. I have always believed that you can reach more people through print than you can through preaching on Sunday morning. My prayer is that the books will be a blessing to many and will result in a bountiful crop of people for the kingdom of God – as Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower – “thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4:20)

I began writing for publication in 1964 when I returned home from Canterbury University. I had eight months to fill in before I left for Durham University in England. I needed to earn enough to pay for my way in graduate school so I took on several jobs. One of them was to write the daily editorial for our local newspaper, the Hokitika Guardian. I would come home each afternoon from teaching High School, sit down and have to compose the next day’s editorial. I was only twenty-two years old! How I had the courage to share my thoughts on a myriad of subjects with my neighbors seems now to me to be foolhardy but I did, and they paid me for them. Of course, I was helped by the fact that they appeared as the leading articles of the newspaper and not over my name so it helped to be anonymous. Writing for a deadline every day was a discipline that I have valued over the years. I learned not to leave my preparation until the last moment. Usually I am a month ahead. I cannot imagine preachers who wait until Saturday night to prepare. It also helped me to collect suitable topics and illustrations that could be used in the future.

My love of books and the writing of others has taught me to express myself and has provided me with material and widened my interests beyond my own experience. Reading all sorts of books has developed and enriched my vocabulary. I like to read several books at one time as my mood allows. Here is a list of my present reading. In the morning I read my Bible with the Encounter with God commentary, a devotional (Tony Dungy), a book of sermons (at the moment John Donne’s), a theological book (Ron Osborn on Death Before the Fall), a motivational book (Breakfast with Fred Smith), and a book of prayers (Lancelot Andrewes). During the day, for sermon preparation I consult all the commentaries on the passage. When I get home I read the news and magazines: London Times Literary Supplement, Books and Culture, Christianity Today, Weekly Standard. At night I read fiction, biographies and history (The Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, The War Diaries of Kenneth Best, White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov). The more you fill yourself with the thoughts of others, the easier it is to write out your own. Dr. Johnson said, “When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

What are you reading? Should you be writing also? Why not write out your thoughts and perhaps a memoir?

How To Survive and Thrive in Ministry

October 2nd, 2014

Bob Burns has written a post on The Gospel Coalition Blog that is worthy of wider readership. Since I celebrated the 47th anniversary of my ordination in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London on September 29 I thought it timely. I thank God that I have been able to survive and thrive despite the pressures of the ministry.

What does it take for pastors to survive and thrive in ministry?

This was the key question asked in an eight-year study funded by the Lilly Endowment that I had the privilege to coordinate through Covenant, Reformed, and Westminster Seminaries.

Why is this question important? Because many indicators—from personal stories quietly shared between friends to sophisticated research projects—all point to the fact that staying in pastoral ministry for the long haul can be tough sledding.

In God’s economy, pastoral ministry is not better than other vocations. But it is different. One pastor in our study explained, “Most people in our church have a life that is like a stool with three legs. They’ve got their spiritual life, their professional life, and their family life. If one of these legs wobbles, they have two others they can lean on. For us, those three things can merge into one leg. You’re sitting on a one-legged stool, and it takes a lot more concentration and energy. It’s a lot more exhausting.”

After hundreds of hours of meeting with pastors and their spouses, then working through the data, our research team identified five primary themes for fruitful ministry, which are shared in the book Resilient Ministry. While these themes aren’t the holy grail of ministry survival, my co-authors and I believe each one plays an important role in pastoral resilience.

The themes are (1) spiritual formation, (2) self-care, (3) emotional and cultural intelligence, (4) marriage and family, and (5) leadership and management. Although we wrote two chapters on each theme, I will simply introduce you to each one, highlighting a few ideas to consider.

1. Spiritual Formation
Spiritual formation involves both personal and interpersonal growth as a follower of Jesus. Most assume that people in vocational ministry take ample time to nurture the gospel in their souls, as well as maintain accountable relationships and other disciplines. But the pastors in our study shared how they had to manage jobs that were taxing, fast-paced, and unrelenting. This could lead to substituting church work for involvement in spiritual formation.
At the same time, after interviewing most of our pastors, one of our researchers concluded that their devotional practices directly correlated with their preparedness and ability to face difficult situations and trials.

2. Self-Care
Proper self-care is simply responsible stewardship of the life one has to serve others—what Paul meant by running the race in such a way as to win the prize. This includes taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, socially and physically. For example, one study identified 76 percent of clergy as either overweight or obese, compared to 61 percent of the general population.
A critical aspect of self-care in ministry is identifying safe, trustworthy relationships. Relationships in the church overlap all kinds of boundaries. For example, one day you may be counseling an elder about his sexual temptations; a few days later he is setting your salary. As one pastor put it, “Who can I talk to without any fear of how it might affect me or others?”

3. Emotional and Cultural Intelligence
Emotional and cultural intelligence reflects the capacity to understand oneself and others. Over the past several months it has been instructive to read and watch how Christians have responded to the problems in Ferguson, Missouri. Much of these responses reflect EQ (understanding and responding to emotion) and CQ (the ability to understand and adapt to cultural conditions).
It has been encouraging to read Justin Taylor’s blog and Ed Stetzer’s series in Christianity Today, as well as watch congregations like South City Fellowship in St. Louis respond to this crisis with thoughtfulness and action. The capacity of pastors to manage their feelings and responses in such challenging contexts shapes and forms their ministries as well as the message they send to a watching world.

4. Marriage and Family
There is a strong tendency among pastors to make an idol of ministry success. A sad outcome of this idol is seen in the comment of one pastor’s wife, who shared, “I think the heart of the issue is actually as a pastor you have two wives. You have your wife at home and your wife that is the church. Often that second wife dominates.”
Most of the pastors in our study ended up talking with their spouses about the need to place boundaries on the demands of ministry in order to responsibly care for their families. As one pastor said, “I’m challenged to minister to my spouse in the same ways that I minister to my flock. My family gets the scraps.”

5. Leadership and Management
Pastoral ministry demands a wide variety of varying job responsibilities. However, studies dating back to the 1950s show that pastors are surprised by the number of leadership and management tasks involved in their work.
One of the most important things pastors must learn under this theme is to manage conflict. While conflict fits into leadership and management, it involves all of the other themes. Remember that our researcher found a direct correlation between pastors’ devotional lives and how they handled difficulties.
An earlier study we referenced determined that Presbyterian pastors had higher rates of conflict with their congregations than pastors from other denominations. The reasons for such conflict were not primarily theological. Rather, they came from issues involving emotional and cultural intelligence, such as leadership style, financial decisions, and leading change. Conflict is natural and normal in relationships. How that conflict is handled makes all the difference.
So, besides recommending that you read our book, and others such as Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling and Clay Werner’s On the Brink, where do you go with all of this counsel? I’d recommend beginning a conversation with a friend or two. Talk about how these themes affect you. And what you plan to do about it.

Bob Burns is a pastor on staff at Seven Hills Fellowship in Rome, Georgia. He previously served as the Director of the Center for Ministry Leadership at Covenant Theological Seminary, coordinating the joint Lilly Endowment research project for Reformed Theological Seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author, along with Donald Guthrie and Tasha Chapman, of Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving.

Mindless Californian Bigotry and Persecution

September 25th, 2014

Antoinette and I belonged to the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship when we were in college. Last night we listened to Alec Hill, the President of Intervarsity USA speaking at a conference on Amelia Island. He shared about the problems Intervarsity was experiencing in being able to maintain its Christian leadership in California and other colleges because of mindless university rules about inclusivity. This is his post today on Huffington Post.

The nation just got a lesson in what happens when well-meaning attempts to foster diversity instead evoke the opposite effect.
Last month, the chancellor of the California State University system rejected campus ministry group InterVarsity’s request to modify the system’s policy prohibiting student groups from requiring leaders to commit to the beliefs of the group they are leading. As a result, InterVarsity is facing de-recognition as a student group from the 23 California State University campuses.
The only thing that makes a decision like this possible is the pervasive distortion in our culture of tolerance and pluralism.
Today, many within the academic community have adopted a skewed and dangerous definition of pluralism. In a front-page article last June entitled “Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy,” the New York Times reported several instances where new university non-discrimination policies — policies designed to encourage campus diversity — are actually making campuses less inclusive. At issue on campuses such as Bowdoin, Tufts, Vanderbilt and the California State University system is the right of all student groups to use beliefs-driven criteria to select their leaders. Accused of “religious discrimination,” now some faith-based groups are at increasing risk of being derecognized on campus.
A year ago, the Aspen Institute addressed such concerns in the report “Principled Pluralism.” Co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and David Gergen, the 25-member “Inclusive America Project” panel included university and seminary presidents, media thought-leaders, professors and social service providers. It was my great privilege to serve with senior religious leaders from various faith communities — including Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, humanist and Christian.
Together, we coined the phrase “principled pluralism” to articulate two big ideas. First, we embraced the right of diverse religious traditions to self-define and to disagree — even adamantly — on matters of theology. Second, we affirmed a deep commitment to pursue the common good together in higher education, youth services, media and government. The first point distinguished us from those who seek to blur or mitigate religious doctrinal differences; the second, from those who seek to foster ill will among faith communities.
I was particularly impressed by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam’s conclusion that religious diversity can actually be a source of social cohesion (as counter-intuitive as that may seem). Rather than trying to homogenize our culture, we can actually thrive by celebrating our diversity.
The emerging false pluralism we see on college campuses today stifles religious expression, labels leadership selection based upon orthodoxy and orthopraxy as “religious discrimination,” redefines freedom of association as “exclusionary,” and condemns the sharing of one’s faith as “proselytizing.”
It seems as if university officials need a refresher course on what the role of a leader actually is. Merriam Webster defines a “leader” as one who “guide[s] on a way especially by going in advance.” How can the student-leader of a Christian group guide someone down a path he or she has not taken?
When pluralism is wrongly defined, nonsensical policies result. In the California State University system, for example, sororities and fraternities are explicitly exempted from gender discrimination in selecting leaders, while faith-based groups are not granted a similar religious exemption.

My point is not to slam sororities and fraternities. To the contrary, I concur that they should be allowed to have female and male leaders, respectively. Likewise, Phi Beta Kappa should have smart, academically high-achieving leaders. The Young Democrats should have politically progressive leaders. And, in this same spirit, faith-based groups should have religious leaders.

It is telling that the conservative National Review and the liberal Mother Jones concur on this point. University administrators bear great responsibility to ensure that principled pluralism thrives in their environs. The degree to which they provide — or fail to provide — truly open public campus forums will determine how our culture engages such issues in the future. How they define pluralism today will establish a cultural template for a whole generation.

Alec Hill is president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.

A Prayer for Old Age

September 20th, 2014

Eric Milner-White (1884-1963), a distinguished clergyman of the Church of England wrote a book of prayers, My God, My Glory, which is a favorite of mine. It contains the revised versions of the original prayers of his heart. Many of them were written during wakeful night hours when, as an insomniac, he would turn his sleeplessness into prayerfulness. This prayer on Old Age may be of help to so many of you who are navigating that new and unknown stage of your life.

O LORD GOD, who leaves us not
nor forsakes us in the time of age;
Show me, as my strength fails,
an even fuller, lovelier light of your glory
shining over and about me.
O my soul, give thanks!

There is that glory, let me find mine.
Grant me new store of gentleness, gratitude, patience;
new learning of the Suffering of my Lord;
new dignity of Grace.
Make my life wholly his life: his heart, my heart;
his breath, my breath, breathing love
to the very end.
O my soul, give thanks!

My time is in your hand
Be my support in weakness,
my courage in the dark and in pain,
my aid, day and night,
my company in loneliness,
my rest.
O my soul, give thanks!

For all that you take from me,
you give what is better,
and guide to the best.
O my soul, give thanks!

Be your love my bed and covering,
be your Christ my living Bread;
your Spirit, my strength to the end.
Bring me forth, forgiven, loved, and loving,
child and servant for ever,
into your joy.
O my soul, give thanks!

What is Courage?

September 16th, 2014

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Courage is the willingness to risk. To lead is to act. To have courage is to take charge, first of one’s life, for the true hero is not the person who conquers others but the one who conquers himself or herself. Courage is the ability to exhibit personal autonomy and independence of thought, to take the initiative, to be a self-starter. Courage means that you are willing to stand alone. You define yourself. You invent who you are. You are responsible for who you are. Courage is the free decision to tolerate maximum amounts of anxiety, to manage your anxiety constructively, to understand that being anxious is what it feels like to grow. The courageous leader claims the power, at all times, to initiate, act, and risk. Courage means acting with sustained initiative. (Peter Koestenbaum, Leadership: the inner side of greatness, a philosophy for leaders, 49-52)