Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Calculating Ministry Dropout

Both my MTh and MA studies had much to do with ministry dropout. According to US statistics, one may expect a halving of survival in ministry every ten years -- which is pretty disastrous. Therefore, what are the chances that you (or your minister) should have survived in ministry at this point in time? Take the present year and subtract the year that you started in full-time ministry. In my case, this gives me 28. Divide by 10. Add 1. In my case, this now gives me 3.8. Call this figure y. Now calculate 2^y (your calculator should have an xy button, so you type 2 xy y =). Divide the result by 2. In my case, I now have 6.96. Call this figure z. Now calculate 100 ÷ z. That's your percentage chance of survival -- in my case about 14%. OBSERVATION: Note that statistics outside of the USA might well look better than this. Also, statistics within the USA may vary -- some better, some worse. If you borrow my Scarborough Dropout Formula, do mention this blog.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Being vs. Doing

A major discussion in Christian leadership today is being vs. doing. It was a major emphasis of my last term at Fuller Theological Seminary. Thus it is said that Christian leadership is not about what I do, it's about who I am. Part of the reason for emphasising being vs. doing is that doing has led to widespread dropout in the past (an emphasis on achievement, but character fails, or burnout ensues, and so on). However, I consider that being and doing are merely different aspects of the same. Those phrases "what I do" and "who I am" have one word in common: "I". I have called this an inordinate emphasis on self, in both cases -- whether one is speaking of doing or of being. I think this to be the real, underlying problem in dropout.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Love Without A Lover

I have been reading a prescribed book which is trendy in academia: Metaphors of Ministry. While it is of a high academic standard, it would seem to illustrate all that ails ministry in North America. The book describes dozens of Biblical "images of leadership". However, in making the characteristics of the Christian leader its primary and almost exclusive focus, it would seem to promote the imitation of love without a Lover. That is the problem.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Lord's Work

I consider that there are basically two ways of looking at ministry -- it's your work, or it's the Lord's work. The difference may be subtle. One may trust God to make one a superhero, rather than trusting Him to use one's nothingness. I think this is one of the most important things to know about ministry -- it's not your work. He saves people, He grows people -- a minister just walks in, walks out, watches what God does, drinks coffee and watches the clouds go by.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Church Demographics

I am seeking to address some "warm topics" in our Church -- with a little help from various friends, who are joining me. This Sunday, the subject is demographics, or the way that a Church is made up -- age, income, and so on. I make some observations about our Church's demographics, then sketch two approaches. To put it simply, one may either seek to engineer a Church's demographics, or one may consider that God Himself shapes its demographics. I take the second approach. In this case, faithfulness to a few spiritual basics is important, and the Holy Spirit accomplishes the rest. For an example of the "engineering" approach, see Selling Jesus to Saddleback Sam.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

African Christian Leadership

In a recent post (African Christian Leadership), I showed that knowledge of the Word, interpretation of the Word, and communication of the Word are subjects which dominate Christian leadership curriculae in Africa. Leadership principles and leadership character are at the bottom of the list. Why is this? It would seem to me that the Word itself is viewed as guaranteeing effective leadership (respectively, followership). In theological terms, I would think that the doctrine of the means of grace lies behind this -- and that implies a form of supernaturalism. Other suggestions would be welcome.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jesus: "Failed Mentor"

Stanley and Clinton define mentoring as "a relational experience in which one person empowers another ..." With this in mind, Jesus is frequently portrayed as the ultimate mentor. For instance, Campbell, Chancy, and Stanley state: "Jesus was (and is) the ultimate mentor." However, Andrew Murray suggests in his book Humility (1895) that Jesus failed as a mentor -- or maybe rather, that His disciples failed. As the prime example, Murray offers the words of Jesus: "Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matt 11:29) -- and then the scene at the Last Supper: "There was a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest" (Luke 22:24). So they learnt nothing. It was only when they received power from on high that things changed. OBSERVATION: The same logic may apply, in ministry, to preaching, teaching, counselling, leadership, and so on.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Motivating Factors

I recently read an article: Motivating Factors for Ministry, by Christian leadership professor Dr. Bobby Clinton. He asks: "What motivates you in ministry?" and lists nine factors. Yet it is interesting to note that my own most crucial motivating factors are not on the list -- not even at the bottom of it. I'd put this down to typical differences between Global North and South. For instance, near the top of my list would be -- to put it very simply -- God's faithfulness. Related to this, there is little if anything in Dr. Clinton's (750-word) list to suggest that God does anything but work in me, in my ministry. Here are the nine motivating factors for ministry that Dr. Bobby Clinton identifies: ♦ finishing well ♦ the return of Christ ♦ one's giftedness ♦ confidence in the power of the gospel ♦ a burden to minister ♦ the resurrection ♦ handling God's Word for impact ♦ the perspective of eternity, and ♦ love for Christ. That's in his book Titus: Apostolic Leadership (much expanded there).

"Live And Let Live" Theology

In a recent class debate, a fellow postgraduate student commented: "Thomas, your live and let live theology from below is a fresh and empowering approach that could have transformational impact in the lives of believers. ... Can you elaborate on how this works in your Church? Does a member get to write his or her own creed for their own life? Are they free to interpret Scripture situationally without regard to exegetical integrity or a commonly upheld hermeneutical understanding? Does this happen by a committee of the priesthood of believers?" OBSERVATION: These aren't easy questions, and I won't try to answer them here. What I said was basically the following: that our Church's (vernacular) theology is enriched and shaped by diverse spiritual input, or ministry by members -- however, one needs to take certain risks in order to do that, and some Churches won't entertain it. We sometimes need to wink an eye at what we hear. I do agree that our approach is "fresh and empowering".

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Psychologically Regressive"

At a recent theological forum I encountered something I have frequently encountered in recent theology, and it disturbs me. In the debate, alternative theological viewpoints were characterised, dozens of times, as being "regressive" or "psychologically regressive". Similarly, in my postgraduate studies, free Church tenets have been described as "dangerous", faith-based leadership as "irresponsible", and so on. OBSERVATION: Personally, I don't think such language belongs in theological debate, even if it is backed up with charts and graphs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lessons From Nehemiah

I completed draft work for a group study of Nehemiah tonight. Typically, in Christian leadership studies, Nehemiah is presented as a man of character. Ted Engstrom epitomises this approach: “We see how great he was." Yet what I have discovered through the study is that the breakthroughs of Nehemiah's leadership are routinely preceded by an appeal to the acts of God. For instance, he informs the citizens of Jerusalem "of the hand of God which was good on me". It is then that the people respond: "Let us rise up and build." Or when faced with their first major adversity, Nehemiah proclaims: "The God of heaven, He will prosper us." It is then that "Eliashab the high priest rose up." OBSERVATION: In my own ministry, I continually seek to reveal what God is doing. There are important parallels to this dynamic in the Bible, e.g. Moses and Aaron (Exod 4:31) and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:12).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Leadership Not About Leadership

I wrote to my US leadership professor today that Christian leadership in Africa may, in an important sense, not be about leadership. To put this in other words, a Westerner may not recognise African leadership training by looking at the curriculum or the textbooks. US leadership training typically focuses on the leader, while African leadership training often focuses on aspects of leadership thought to be more central than the leader himself / herself: the Holy Spirit, homiletics, prayer, the task at hand, and so on.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Evangelical [Or Not]

The way that "evangelicalism" is understood has changed during the past generation. One tends to find the old understanding e.g. in Africa -- while one tends to find the new understanding e.g. in North America. One newer definition says that evangelicalism "affirms the centrality of Scripture" -- another that it "is rooted in Scripture" (one would include the early creeds and Reformation tenets in the picture). The old understanding, however, is that evangelicalism "correlates with Scripture", or words to that effect. So in the new understanding, a theologian may claim, say, that much of the Torah was borrowed from the Canaanites after the Exodus -- as an example, Hans Schwarz. Yet Schwarz (see the scan -- you may click on it to enlarge) is described today as a fine evangelical. This is because his writing "affirms the centrality of Scripture". However, it would be hard to say that (much of) it "correlates with Scripture". OBSERVATION: Often, these different understandings of evangelicalism are used without distinction today.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Recently I was invited to highlight, on this blog, a discussion of Brian McLaren's postliberalism. However, the discussion tended to treat postliberalism as liberalism, and this, in my view, does not make a good fit. Being registered as a postgraduate student at a postliberal seminary, I’ll give the question a go: What is postliberalism (or narrative theology)? To simplify in the extreme (I’m trying to make it understood), it may be summarised in two points. 1. Postliberalism considers that the value of Christianity cannot be founded or demonstrated -- much as someone might ask you: "What do you see in that?" and you reply: "Well, it can't really be explained. Just come along and see!" Postliberalism, therefore, has been called non-foundationalism (says George Hunsinger). This is a well-known philosophy, of which the chief proponent is Ludwig Wittgenstein. Therefore 2. instead of being founded or demonstrated, the value of Christianity is discovered as one becomes absorbed in the language and practices of the Church. Again, this is like "Just come along and see!" -- then you wake up one day to realise that you have been quite taken up by it all, and now you do the same things and speak the same words as "those guys". Thus postliberalism holds that one is drawn into the narrative and formed by it (says Paul Ballard). With all this in mind, postliberalism is sometimes referred to as a neutral theory of religion (says George Lindbeck), as it doesn't ask destructive questions like the liberals, nor does it construct rational proofs like the conservatives (Lindbeck describes these as experiential-expressive religion vs. cognitive-propositional). Postliberalism is a very big movement, being espoused by major seminaries the world over. OBSERVATION: However, by stating up front that becoming a Christian is to be drawn into the narrative, one tends to reject the kind of Christianity which has been described as "an encounter with the Holy" (says George Malek). Postliberalism tends to reject the idea that faith comes "straight down from above -- through the skylight, as we might say" (says Lesslie Newbigin). Therefore on the crucial issue of conversion, it tends to see this as enculturation rather than miracle (Newbigin famously spoke of “no privatised eschatology”). It also tends to disavow an “interventionist God”. To the untrained person, postliberalism is hard to spot, as it tends to "talk the talk" – however, it has many catchwords or phrases, among them community, reign of God, shalom. My post Emergent Church is related.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Older Congregants Boost Growth

I am doing a deconstructionist critique of Christian transformational leadership. Among other things, this means that I study the footnotes. Here’s a particularly interesting one from Eddie Gibbs (Gibbs E 2005:200). He writes: “In a personal email [Peter Brierley] writes, ‘Your comment that churches making a significant impact among under 35-year-olds needing folk in the 70+ category was proved by our research from the 1998 English Church Attendance Survey in a report we wrote in collaboration with Springboard called Growing Churches in the 1990s. We found [that] 42 percent of churches grew when 25 percent of their attenders were 65+, the highest percentage of any age mix.’” QUESTION: What would older congregants do for growth? And how would one effectively accommodate them with under 35-year-olds?