Nouwen on Leadership and Theological Reflection

Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologist, pseudo social workers.  They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living.

But that has little to do with Christian leadership because the Christian leader things, speaks, and acts in the name of Jesus, who came to free humanity form the power of death and open the way to eternal life.  To be such a leader, it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how the personal, communal, national and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection.

The task of Christian leaders isn not to make a little contribution to the solution of the pains and tribulations of their time, but to identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading God’s people out of slavery, through the desert to the new land of Freedom.

. . .

THe Christian leaders of the future have to be theologians, persons who know the heart of God and are trained — through prayer, study, and careful analysis — to manifest the divine event of God’s saving work in the midst of many seemingly random events of their time.

Theological reflection is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus and thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s guidance.

Henri Nowen In The Name of Jesus: Reflections of Christian Leadership. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co, 1989. pp 86-88

Who Am I? – Poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tel me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equally, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

 

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were

Compressing my throat,

Yearinging for colors, for flowers, for voices of birds,

Thristing for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

 

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already acheived?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

 

Church & 30 Rock

I love 30Rock.  Smart, funny, quick.  All good things when it comes to a sitcom.  Kathy and I were watching it the other day, and I was struck by a really fun idea, how does the Church line up with 30 Rock?

This does not reflect Creekside, these thoughts reflect stereotype ideas about local Churches

Jack Donaghey = Lead Pastor

Jack has a lot of ideas, but knows that he is not going to be the one to actually carry them out.  He’s always thinking about leveraging the organization to the next level through things like “Synergy” and “Stratification.”  Jack put in his time and moved up the org chart.  He’s got bosses, but he’s definitely king of his empire.  For Jack it’s TGS and Mircrowave Programming.

Liz Lemon = Associate/Executive Pastor

Liz works hard and carries a lot of responsibility on her shoulders.  Liz is often responsible for making Jack’s ideas happen.  She has freedom to disagree with Jack in conversation but she also wants to make sure that their work is great and innovative.  Liz wants to move the organization forward, but she is working with people who are all working their own agenda, Liz has to build the habit of bringing all these people back to the same agenda.

Tracy Jordan = Youth Pastor

No one knows what Tracy is going to do, but other people will know that they have to pick up the pieces.  Tracy has two guys who Dot Com and Griz who keep him on track.  Youth pastors (having been I youth pastor I know) need to have youth leaders to keep them focused as well.

Jenna Maroney = Worship Pastor

The dreamer. The performer.  Always working on something crazy on the side.

 

I could probably go a lot deeper in this whole thing.  And again, I am not saying this is Creekside, but it’s a pretty stereotypical representation of the Church, based on stories I have heard and seen.  The idea tickled me and I had to write it out.

What happens to us when we hear?

I am learning Biblical Hebrew, one of the key texts in all of scripture is Deuteronomy 6:4, also known as the Shema.  Here is the text:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one

The word “hear” is shema.  It’s a verse that observant jews would recite throughout their life.  It is a reminder of who their God is, and it goes on to talk about how God’s people are to follow after God with all their heart, mind and strength.

I have been spending a good amount of time learning this verse in Hebrew.  If you would like to hear what it sounds like you can click here.

This morning I was listening to an old episode of the Radiolab podcast.  They were talking about how they work with sound to tell stories (download it here).  Radiolab does interviews with experts and they create really deep auditory experiences.  This is one of my favorite podcasts.  You can hear all of them at Radiolab.org.

This statement really struck me, “Sound is touch at a distance.”

Sound is really made up of waves that travel through the air and they travel through our ear canals and touch the tiny little bones and hairs in our ears and our brains somehow translate all of that into something that we can understand.

If sound is just touch at a distance, what happens to us when we hear, shema, the words of God.  God’s words are more than a word on a page.  When we hear them outloud, we are touched by the words of God.

We make contact with God, through his word when he hear it.

And when we pray, God hears us.  Do our prayers then touch God?

So take the time to hear the words of God

Shema Israel, adonai elohenu, adonai echad.

Hear O Israel, The LORD our God, The LORD is one!

Practice

I just finished my pre-preach with our music & worship pastor Mike Brandow (twitter.com/mikebrandow).  Mike has definitely brought up the level of excellence in our Sunday morning gatherings, and part of that is pre-preaching.  It’s exactly what it sounds like.  I preach my message, and he listens, takes notes, and looks for ways to increase clarity and and how we can communicate our message with more creativity.  It’s a great exercise and it’s helped me for several reasons.

1) It forces me to finish my sermon early.  I don’t live well with anxiety over uncompleted tasks.  We are currently 2 weeks ahead on our sermon prep.  So I didn’t go over this Sunday’s sermon, I went over next Sunday’s sermon.  Now I can tweak it and improve it, but I can also cut things that are unclear.  I don’t want to be writing my sermon on Saturday night because that’s not how my brain works.  Knowing that I have the bulk of this message done is a huge relief.

2) It forces me to think bigger picture.  I need to see how my sermon relates to last weeks sermon and the week after.  Doing a pre-preach helps me ensure that I’m not preaching a sermon that doesn’t have continuity with the arch of our teaching series.

3) Practice is good, and early practice is better.  If I didn’t do this pre-preach I would not be naturally inclined to read my sermons out loud to anyone.  Sermons are not really meant to be read in your head, they are designed to be heard.  I need to know how the sermon sounds, what people hear.  And this practice give me a chance to do that.

Pastors, I would challenge you to schedule in a regular pre-preach.  It’s been a great help to me and i think Creekside is stronger because of this simple practice.

Are You Being Fed?

When people say that they stop going to church because they weren’t getting fed, I’m just going to be honest, that’s a cop out.  Sunday morning is about worshipping Jesus.  Somewhere in the church we decided that we couldn’t tell the truth.  Truth is, people stop going to a certain church because they don’t like it.  You’re right you’re not getting fed on a Sunday morning because the purpose is to glorify Jesus.  As a by product your heart will be transformed if you are seeking to engage in worshipping Jesus, but it’s not about being fed.

I wish people would say the truth when they leave a church.

These are all acceptable and plausible statements:

‘I did not like the music.”

‘I did not like the preaching.”

‘I did not like the direction the church was going.”

‘I would rather watch football.”

‘I was offended by something the pastor said.”

The list could go on and on.  And this would be nice because they are true.  “I’m not getting fed” is a spiritual sounding cover up for anyone of those statements.

Can I tell you something though.  The motivation of all of those statements, even “I’m not getting fed” are rooted in the same problem.  Selfishness.  Until I can get away from my own selfish desire to “be fed” on a Sunday morning, I will never be nourished.

Something truly amazing happens in a corporate gathering where people are worshipping together, and I know that I too am engaged in worshipping God and giving thanks to Jesus on the Cross, through the music, communion, even the sermon, I am built up and encouraged and I feel satisfied.

I’m not trying to get fed, I’m trying to find my satisfaction in God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The language of being fed, is not what Jesus had in mind when he said he was the bread of life.  I think it was more about being truly satisfied not just fed.  When Jesus said he was the Living Water, and whoever came to him would never thirst again, that’s what he was talking about.  Satisfaction.

So I posit this, healthy churches are helping people to find their ultimate satisfaction in God.  They break away from the temporary feeding mentality and point to God and finding satisfaction in him.

If we put our satisfaction in God then amazing things begin to happen.  Selfishness has not foothold in our hearts.  Materialism dies out.  Consumerism fades.  When our ultimate satisfaction is found in God alone then it’s not longer about me getting fed.

Satisfaction takes time.  I do believe that the self-help / felt-needs style of preaching that is fairly common in churches is much more like a drive-thru spirituality.

“I’m hungry, I’m going to go get a burger off the dollar menu.”

“I have a problem in my marriage, I better go somewhere that’s talking about marriage for 3 weeks.”

“I have money struggles, I better go over to that church that has an 8 week campaign called Debt is Dumb.”

All of these things will help the immediate pain, but they don’t last.  If we think we can fix a marriage in 3 weeks then we are lying to ourselves.  If we think a campaign called debt is dumb is going to be the silver bullet that will transform the world, we are kidding ourselves.  It’s the burger on the dollar menu.  I will feel full for a while but then it will fade.

But if we are leading people to find their satisfaction in God, then debt problems change because consumerism can be broken.  If we are leading people to satisfaction in God then we will see healthy marriages because selfishness is broken.  When I am satisfied in God I no longer have to think about myself.

Teaching people to find satisfaction in God takes a lot longer than an eight week campaing.  But a gourmet meal talks a lot loner to prepare than a .99 double stack from wendy’s and the satisfaction lasts a lot longer.

So what’s keeping us from teaching our people to find their satisfaction in God?  What’s keeping you from finding your satisfaction in God?