Category Archives: Leadership

Cruciformed: Reflections on the 2016 Pepperdine Bible Lectures

A week ago I was on my way to the best Pepperdine Bible Lecture’s to date, at least in my opinion. I’m thankful for the leadership of Mike Cope, Rick Gibson, and the rest of the staff for organizing and hosting such an encouraging time of worship, fellowship, and teaching. This years theme was Cruciformed: Living In Light of the Jesus Story which is always a very timely but perhaps even more so as more and more Christians among North America recognize that we now live in a post-Christendom/post-Christian society.

The main features of the Pepperdine Bible Lecture’s are always the worship, fellowship, and teaching. The bonus is the location of Malibu, California with the view of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains. I had many people ask if I was having a good time and I’m sure I asked other people the same question. Nevertheless, it seems that one would really have to try hard not to have a good time.

I have always enjoyed gathering for worship at the Firestone Fieldhouse, as the singing is uplifting. Whether singing a song like How Great Is Our God or The Lord Bless You and Keep You as a blessing to Ruby Bridges, my heart is filled with joy. And yes, I just mentioned Ruby Bridges, who delivered a powerful message late Wednesday evening. Her message was one that everyone in living in America, and especially every parent, needed to hear. Hearing N.T. Wright and Greg Boyd speak and teach was a joy because I have learned so much from these two Christian scholars from their books. While I was encouraged and challenged by every keynote address, I especially appreciated the addresses delivered by Randy Harris on The Scandal of Carrying the Cross and Dave Clayton on The Scandal of the Resurrection. I enjoyed all of the classes I went to but really the 2-part class taught by Pat Bills called Once Bitten, Twice Shy which is about the way elders and ministers lead together (available on a free podcast here); if you’re an elder or minister then I highly encourage you to download the two sessions and listen to them.

Hula PieBesides the worship and teaching at the Bible Lectures, fellowship is also a key feature. Like always, I run into old friends and make new friends. Some people I meet in person for the first time after already knowing them through social-media, which is really nice. I’m terrible at remembering names but if I ran into you, it was my delight to speak with you even if it was only for a brief minute or so. Of course, the one disappointment, as there is never enough time to spend with friends. And to the friends who recommended that I order the Hula Pie at Duke’s (pictured to the left), it was great but next year I really hope that my wife can come with me to share some pie as well as some great worship, teaching, and fellowship.

Psalm 23 and Pastoral Leadership

One of the Lectionary readings for this coming Sunday is Psalm 23. The most popular Psalm, known to most from the King James Version, this Psalm has been featured in Hallmark Cards, recited at memorial services, and quoted numerous times in a plethora of different contexts. It’s certainly an appropriate scripture to read for worship and devotion on the fourth Sunday of Easter, as the Lectionary suggests. After all, since God has raised Jesus from death and made him Lord, by faith we can live confidently knowing that the Lord is indeed our Shepherd and is guiding us as he invites us to eternally dwell with him at his table and in his house.

As I read through Psalm 23 I couldn’t help myself from thinking about ministry as it pertains to pastoral leadership. Pastoral responsibilities is a part of serving a church as a minister. Besides preaching and teaching, a minister works at the bedside of someone in the hospital or at a local cafe having lunch with someone wanting to talk about some struggles. This is the primary reason why we who serve as ministers are often called “Pastor” in our day.

Yet because I believe that leadership in a local church includes elders serving as shepherds, my concern for pastoral leadership isn’t just with the role of the pastor/minister but the role of those called to serve as elders. When reading Psalm 23, I am immediately drawn to the sense of peace David has with the Lord. David knows that he can trust the Lord to do right and lead him in the right way no matter the circumstances, including those times of walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4, KJV). That raises a question about pastoral leadership in the local church, since the Lord is shepherding his flock through the leaders he has raised to serve that church. The question can be stated as the following: How must the leaders of a church serve in order to attain the trust of the congregation to lead them and do so even in difficult circumstances?

I don’t have the definitive answer to such a question and I believe it is a question that can only be answered by each local leadership. However, I do want to clarify a couple of things which might help any local church leadership answer this question. First off, when I speak of local leadership, I have in mind both the ministers and elders working together in a collaborative effort. Both ministers and elders are leaders that Christ has given to the local church. Failure of ministers and elders to work collaboratively to lead as a team creates unhealthy tension and disunity, which in turn diminishes the ability of a church to trust its leadership. Secondly, trust is attained on the ground with people and not just in an office or leadership meeting. Minister will spend some time in an office preparing teaching lessons, elders might choose to meet one evening a week to pray for their church, the elders and minister will meet to talk about the circumstances of the church in order to discern the way ahead, and… But ministers and elders must spend time meeting with people, listening to them, and serving them, if they want to gain their trust.

One suggestion I have for when ministers and elders meet together is to spend sometime dwelling in the word and they might do so beginning with Psalm 23. Spend some time reading this Psalm out-loud and dwelling on it, listening for what God might be saying about the way they serve and what it means for pastoral leadership. Then talk about this with each other, listening to what God might be saying through one another. Finally, as ministers and elders discern together how God is calling them to serve in order to attain the trust of the congregation to lead them and do so even in difficult circumstances, hold each other accountable to such service. If the leadership of a church can do this, I believe the result will become a much more healthy and spiritually mature church that is able to continue participating in the mission of God.

Is Your Church Looking For A Minister?

Coffee and BibleFor the past fifteen years I have served as a minister. Besides pursuing an education in theology and ministry, serving as a minister has included opportunities such as volunteering in a local county jail, short-term mission trips to Brazil, and vocationally serving with churches in part-time and full-time roles. I’ve learned some important lessons along the way, including the sort of minister God has formed me as and gifted me for. I like the word minister because it speaks of one who serves. More than a job, ministry is a way of life lived in service to God and neighbor. Ultimately, serving as a minister is about helping people as a follower of Jesus.

A Minister of the Gospel

So who am I as a minister? Perhaps the best way of summing this up is to say that I am a pastoral theologian and leader. I don’t mean a theologian in the academic sense, though I appreciate the work academic theologians. What I mean is that I am a pastor and teacher, in terms of spiritual gifting for leadership (cf. Eph 4:11).

  • As a pastoral theologian, I am continuously engaged in a conversation about what God is saying in scripture in light of present circumstances. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the apostle Paul says that “all scripture is inspired of God” that people might be “equipped for every good work.” So whether preaching, teaching a Bible class, or having a conversation with someone over a cup of coffee, I am trying to understand the gospel and its implications for the present circumstances so that others might live by the grace of God full of faith and hope in Christ. Whether it is preaching on Sunday, visiting with someone in a hospital room on Monday, having a Bible study with someone on a later day, and so forth, I enjoy it very much.
  • As a leader, I am seeking to help the church faithfully participate in the mission of God. In Ephesians 2:10, the apostle Paul describes the church as God’s “handiwork” or as God’s “work of art” as the New Jerusalem Bible renders the passage. Paul is describing the church as God’s artwork on display to the world as the church embodies the gospel through “good works.” My role is helping equip a local church for good works so that the gospel is faithfully embodied among the local community in a relevant manner. This is a task that requires listening to the way God is speaking among scripture, the local church, and the local community.

This is the minister I believe God has made me and called me to be. Though far from perfect, I seek to follow Jesus and take scripture seriously. With passion, courage, and conviction, I want to help a local church live as an embodiment of the gospel.

So, how could I help your church? By listening, modeling evangelism and ministry, by mentoring people for discipleship, and by leading the church in biblical reflection for its spiritual and numeric growth through preaching and teaching. If this is the kind of minister your church needs, then contact me at k.rex.butts@gmail.com and let’s begin a conversation.

Andy Stanley and A Lesson on Good Character

I don’t remember much about the message I preached on Christian worship at that particular church gathering but I do remember the criticism that I received afterwards. It came in the form of a letter signed by a wonderful Christian lady. She was kind in her response yet clear in her words about some things I had spoken in the message I preached, things which seemed dismissive of others and insulting to her. And they were! I just didn’t know it until this Christian lady said something to me. I can’t remember exactly what I said. My thoughts may have been rooted in scripture and based on sound theology but what I actually said, by dismissing others and insulting her, caused unnecessary offense.

Thankfully I was smart enough to listen to her complaint not as an attack on me but as a kind expression of grace offering me an opportunity to learn and mature. So I thanked this lady for her response and apologized. Apologizing is the first thing that good Christian leaders do when they realize they are wrong!

What Andy Stanley Said…

I shared the story above because earlier in the week Andy Stanley said something in one of his preaching messages that was wrong. According to this post by Leadership Journal, this is what Stanley said:

When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids…anybody else’s kids.” You’re like, “What’s up?” I’m saying if you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.

Instead… you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church. And then they go to college and you pray that there will be a church in the college town that they connect with. And guess what? All those churches are big.

You can watch a larger clip that provides a little more context on this YouTube video:

For the record, I’m not opposed to large churches or even mega-churches per se, but I do strongly disagree with Andy Stanley and believe this kind of thinking reflects a poor ecclesiology. But to Andy Stanley’s credit, he quickly issued the following apology in a tweet:

Saying “I’m Sorry!”

Every pastor will at some point say something that is wrong. Hopefully, as in my case, they will have someone kind enough to confront them in a private matter. Now that we’re in the age of social media, where the teachings of many pastors are available online and where anyone can become a watchdog critic, an ill-advised word easily takes on a life of its own. And it seemingly has in this case.

However, because Andy Stanley quickly apologized, he also offers us a great example of Christian leadership. He made a mistake. But when confronted with that mistake, he listened to the voices that were crying “foul” and quickly apologized, admitting that his words were offensive.

To say “I’m sorry” shows good character. Just a year or so ago, all the talk in the sub-culture of Christian social-media was about a pastor in Seattle who, among other things, had said some things that were wrong but didn’t really apologize until the mega-church he planted imploded. Right now in America we are watching a Presidential election campaign in which some of the candidates, who claim to be Christian, routinely make remarks that are dismissive and insulting to others. But instead of listening to the complaints and apologizing, they keep at it.

As I said earlier, apologizing is the first thing that good Christian leaders do when they realize they are wrong!

Whom Shall A Church Follow?

There isn’t any such thing as a local church without leadership. All communities of people have leaders whom the rest follow and so it is with local churches too. The real question is what kind of leaders does your church have? Who are the people whose influence is charting the direction which the church journeys in and where is that journey headed?

The local church is neither a business like an investment company nor is it a squadron or company within a military structure. So while there are lessons in leadership to learn from businesses and military life, the question of what kind of leadership and leaders does a local church need is not found in either approach. What I mean is that leadership among a local church is neither a minister functioning like a CEO or Commander nor elders functioning as a board of directors or tribunal. Though God raises ministers and elders up as leaders, such spiritual authority derives from their wisdom displayed in the way they live and serve.

In some cases, leadership in a local church happens by popular vote or the influence of a smaller “ruling” group within the church. Even in churches with ministers and elders, sometimes the direction of a church is determined by a fear of upsetting the perceived mass. Of course, this is wrong! The local church is neither a democracy led by popular vote nor is it an oligarchy ruled by a few who may offer generous contributions or happen to have the most seniority in terms of having the most amount of years being members of the church. I’ll also add that the local church is not a monarchy either. While the universal church of Jesus Christ is a monarchy of whom Jesus is the King, leadership in the local church is not a dictatorship.

Leadership is shepherding sheep. It is of utmost importance that anyone seeking to provide leadership realize that the people who make up a local church are sheep in need of shepherding, not cattle to be driven. Shepherding people requires dwelling among the people, listening and learning from them in order to know them and build a relationship of trust with them. Shepherding people also requires setting an example that is worth following.

So where does a church begin is asking the question of what kind of leaders and leadership will it have? Whom should the church follow?

“Shepherding people requires dwelling among the people, listening and learning from them in order to know them and build a relationship of trust with them. Shepherding people also requires setting an example that is worth following.”

The most obvious beginning place for identifying a leader worth following is Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus lived as a servant to others to the extend of forsaking himself for the sake of others. Christian leaders are servants who will forsake themselves for the sake of others. Anything else is toxic and sure to become a problem. Moving beyond Jesus, the story of the apostles calling for the selection of seven men to lead the distribution of food in Acts 6 to offer some help in answering the question of what kind of leadership will a church follow. The apostles empowered the rest of the disciples to select seven men “who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 4). For those with eyes and ears to see and hear, it ought to be rather obvious who is full of the Spirit and wisdom. Elsewhere, Paul will tell the Corinthian church to follow him as he follows Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Spiritual leaders among a church are followers of Jesus too. Not just good church goers but followers of Jesus. And here too, it should be rather obvious if someone follows Jesus.

This certainly is not an exhaustive look at what defines those called to lead God’s people among a local church. It’s a beginning point that reminds us that healthy church leadership requires servants who are Spirit-filled followers of Jesus. These servants are not perfect, as all people are still sinners and live with various struggles from time to time. But they will exemplify an abiding faith as they follow Jesus, growing in their knowledge of God’s word and excelling in good deeds, demonstrating their wisdom as leaders worth following.

Church Discernment: Navigating Unchartered Waters

Between the holidays and getting prepared for an upcoming D.Min seminar at Northern Seminary, I have’t had much time for writing on this blog. However, I hope to return to regular blogging soon. In the mean time, one of the books I have read for my upcoming D.Min seminar is The New Parish by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen (2014). The book is offers a vision for how we can live as the church beyond the building, participating in the mission of God among the neighborhood. It’s an easy and accesible read that draws on some of the recent thinking regarding missional leadership and contextual theology.

For churches moving forward as participants in the mission of God among our neighborhoods, discernment is absolutely necessary. With all of the cultural changes taking place among society, we are in many ways navigating through unchartered waters. With each new day comes new challenges and we all, as local churches, exist among particular contexts that differ in degrees from each other. Therefore, rather than chasing after easy one-size-fits-all answers that don’t really help, we are invited to discern the way forward. Leaders in particular are called into discernment.

Discernment presumes that we are listening for what God is saying and then acting upon that discernment. It is risky, requiring faith, but as the authors say, “To substitute faith in God for your own controlling strategies is to undermine that which is most central to the gospel” (p. 64). My conviction is that God speaks through scripture, tradition, and each other as we gather in submission to God and one another. I am not saying that God speaks in an audible voice, for if he did then we wouldn’t have any need for discernment. And even though some are apprehensive of such a seemingly subjective endeavor that has room for error, we must trust that God, though the Spirit dwelling among us, is leading us as followers of Jesus to move forward in unchartered waters.

However, as we consider possible actions and choices, the authors list several questions that I believe will help us in the discernment process (p. 129):

  • Is the ministry of Jesus being continued in what we do?
  • How might we as a gathered community be formed if we act in this way?
  • Will these actions invite us to be more faithfully present to God, once another, creation, and our parish?
  • Will we be invited into mutually beneficial relationships with others?
  • Will this action invite the flourishing of life for all and for creation?

How might our conversations about worship, community involvement, ministry to the poor, etc… change if we are asking these questions?

What Am I Looking For in a Church?

     With the Columbia Church of Christ disbanding, I find myself looking to what is ahead and how I might continue serving God with the gifts he has blessed me with. I am thankful for those who have encouraged me to continue in ministry as a life-vocation, as this has reaffirmed God’s calling into ministry which has come at very necessary moments. I am also thankful for the Christian community that was known as the Columbia Church of Christ. Though the outcome was not what anyone expected when I began serving as the minister, it was the leading of God and along the way I also learned a lot about leading a church in a pastoral sense for the sake of God and his mission.
     Even though I have learned from all of my experience and education, it is my experience with the Columbia Church of Christ, participating in the Mission Alive training labs, and the Doctor of Ministry studies in missional leadership I am working on at Northern Seminary that has helped me understand how I must serve as a minister. And now that I am talking with some other churches about serving with them as a minister, one of the questions that always seems to come up is what sort of church am I looking for as a minister. So here is my answer to that question.
     Let me start by saying what I am not looking for. I am not looking for a church that is afraid of considering something new, reluctant in taking any risk, and simply interested in maintaining things the way they are. But on the other hand, I am not looking for a church that is just trying to change in order to follow the latest trends of what some other church is doing. Instead I am looking for a church that wants to pursue how God is working among them and in their local community for the sake of his mission so that they can continue participating with God in that work.
     So besides preaching and teaching, casting vision, spending time visiting with people, and all the other work that ministers often do (which I enjoy doing), I am trying to foster a conversation. This is a conversation about how we, as a church, participate with God in his mission, serving one another and our community as we serve God. It is a conversation in which the gospel, as known through scripture and the Christian tradition, is brought into conversation with culture so that we may discern how God is calling us to embody the gospel followers of Jesus. When this happens, there is participation in the mission of God.
     For me, as a minister, that means serving as a listener first in order to learn how God has been at work among the church as well as the local community. By listening and learning myself, I believe I am better equipped to help the church listen and learn so that we are able to discern how God is leading us. This also means that I am seeking from the elders shepherding the church buy-in on a commitment to leading by listening and learning, so that we are listening, learning, and leading together for the sake of God’s work among the church and  community. That’s ministry leadership… pastoral leadership… missional leadership!
     When this happens, we are able to discern as a church not only where God is leading but what might need to change and how that should occur. Further more, this ministry leadership enables us to discern how God is gifting various Christians within the church in order affirm their giftedness and encourage their faithful service using such gifts.
     That’s the sort of church I am looking for. The sort of church that wants to discover how God is at work among them and where he is leading them next in order to go there in faith, just as the people of God have done many other times.