Monday, July 25, 2016

The Director's Covenant: 4 Promises We Make Our Students

1. I will always respect you

Respect the special quality of each individual’s God-given singing voice and musical expression.  Respect the value and dignity of every human soul. Respect the priesthood of every believer: Recognize the anointing each person has and help them step into their calling. Be a servant leader.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. -1 Peter 4:10

2. I will never embarrass you

Always prepare the group well and avoid putting them in situations to feel unprepared, uncomfortable or awkward. Put people in a position to be successful. Set them up to thrive.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another. –Romans 12:10

I think about the way that Jesus set his disciples up for success the first time he sent them out and they came back victorious and excited. I think about the way we are told to correct people for their sins in private before confronting them publicly. (Luke 10:1-24; Matthew 18:15-17)

3. I will say Please, Thank-you, You’re Welcome and My Pleasure

Remember what an incredible privilege, honor and sacred trust it is to teach and lead this amazing group of people.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. -Colossians 4:6
4. I will always take care of you

This includes developing and caring for each individual’s vocal health and musical development as well as their spiritual development.

Make my joy complete be being of one mind, having the same love, being united in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves. Each of you should look, no only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. -Philippians 2:3

Special thanks to Jeanette Cowherd who always promised to never embarrass us and who took respect to a higher lever by loving her students and genuinely caring about us. I would also like to show appreciation to Anthony Maiello who articulated these promises so well at the Texas Bandmasters Conference last week, showing that they could be unconditional commitments. I have added commentary and Scripture references to show how these promises can be applied in a Christian setting. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Response to Dr. Henry Cloud's Sermon at Gateway Church (July 9)

Last weekend, Gateway Church, which I love, hosted psychologist and controversial author Dr. Henry Cloud as a guest speaker for our weekend services. There was a very enthusiastic reaction when it was announced that he was coming. This week Pastor Robert endorsed his sermon as being "Phenomenal!" I can offer no such promotion. As a matter of fact, I have been deeply concerned and saddened by some of the things that Mr. Cloud said. I have allowed the past week as a sort of cooling off period to contemplate how I should respond to certain claims he made and shenanigans he pulled. For one, he had the chutzpah, the unmitagated gall, to say that God is "INCAPABLE" of healing us without working through other people. This adds to my concern, as I have noticed a disturbing trend in some charismatic circles to accept secular, worldly craftiness and acumen as "prophetic." There is an unhealthy infatuation with celebrity and a lack of discernment that leaves them vulnerable to incorrect and unbiblical teaching. We need to take our cue from the Berean Jews and start carefully checking the word of God. That is what I did when I got home from church last Saturday night.

Now the Bereans were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if these teachings were true. -Acts 17:11

In context, it was the teaching of Silas and the Apostle Paul that they were checking against scripture, and they were commended for it. 

In his sermon, Dr. Cloud, whose degree is in Psychology, not Theology, told 7 lengthy stories and used 10 shorter illustrations, none of which came from Scripture. I've never kept statistics like that during a sermon before, but for some reason, that night I did. I'm sure his speech coach would be very proud, as this is precisely what celebrity speakers are trained to do. He inserted only 2 Bible verses into his slick presentation and when I looked them up I discovered that he had manufactured a false context for one of them to tailor it to his cleverly written script. He superimposed only a few passing references to God into what was an otherwise godless, secular speech. One of these allusions was to a made up passage of Scripture from Ephesians 4 that does not exist, claiming that God only heals us in groups. Ironically, when I read it, I found out that very chapter actually warns us against false teaching. It is so obvious, I must confess that I actually wondered whether he might have put the false reference in there on purpose just to see if anyone would bother to look it up and call him out on it, to see if he could get away with it. Only God knows. I can only report what I found: 

"We are no longer to be like children, tossed around by the waves and blown all over by every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men with cunning in deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all ways into Messiah, who is the Head"  

While it is true that God works through people, it was wildly inappropriate, and possibly even heretical to claim that God is "incapable," that "God cannot heal you in isolation," that "God only heals in groups" or to place other limitations on God that push people toward psychological counseling, or impress upon them a need to buy the speakers book. God chooses to work through people and often does so to foster relationships, but when Elijah fled from Jezebel, He helped him when he was all alone, When Daniel fasted for 3 weeks, God healed him all alone, He met with Moses alone at the burning bush. He dealt with Jonah's selfish heart in complete isolation. He redeemed Paul one on one on the road, though he left his eyes unhealed so that Paul would immediately be accepted in relationship as he received ministry from other believers--but that was for physical healing. God, Himself, healed all the heart stuff. Can the Holy Spirit work through other believers to bring healing to our hearts and minds? Absolutely. Is He incapable of doing so without human help? No. It is true that God works powerfully through His church full of born-again believers, who are filled with the Holy Spirit. But the starting point is salvation through Jesus Christ. His Spirit is the glue that holds us together, unites us and allows us to help each other. It's all about Him. There is no healing of hearts without Jesus. We can grow together, but the work of salvation--which is the healing, renewing and restoring of our souls, that belongs to Christ alone. We can preach the gospel and guide others to it, but ultimately it is a one on one decision. 

It seems very arrogant and disrespectful of God's word to me, that in a sermon series on Prayer, this man did not speak about prayer at all, except for his made up reference to "remember the time" Paul was struggling and praying for help and God sent Titus. God did send Titus to encourage Paul, but the Bible does not record the rest of what Dr. Cloud said. Worse, he even said that spiritual disciplines such as prayer, bible reading and attending church or a bible study were good but that they empty us out. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that spiritual disciplines are ways that God fills us up and helps us grow. Cloud recommended therapy to fill us up, indicating that spiritual disciplines are incapable or insufficient to accomplish this. Let that marinate for a second. I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. The astonishing hubris this man displayed by promoting psychology over Scripture is unacceptable. You can reference my blog post "Living Water," to read about how God pours into us through spiritual disciplines:

I listened hopefully, on the edge of my seat, as he began speaking at length about the human heart and our need for healing. Sadly, instead of preaching the good news of salvation through Jesus, who comes into our hearts to renew, restore and heal, he promoted psychology through therapy, counseling and support groups. It was like the whole sermon built up to the solution to our problems being to receive Jesus into our hearts and then at the last minute, he pulled Jesus away and presented Psychology as the hero of the story. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with receiving wise counsel and help, we should do that. Praise God for Christians who give wise counsel. But it is wrong to idolize those things while trivializing Jesus' completed work on the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Henry Cloud promotes the secular, needy, dependant-on-therapy dynamic that is the hallmark of secular psychological practice, designed for the purpose of keeping people writing checks and coming back for more.

Mr. Cloud works as an author and a Life-Coach to Hollywood celebrities and to Fortune 500 Executives. His entire presentation last weekend came from HIS book, "The Power of the Other," instead of from the Bible. Based on his presentation, I feel this book is founded more in secular humanism, than anchored in a Biblical worldview. 

I'm tired of hearing sermons from a guest speaker's newest book instead of the Bible. To me, it feels like some churches are pimping out their pulpits to popular pastors, prominent psychologists and prosperity preachers who seem more interested in promoting their publications, padding their pocketbooks and publicizing their brand names, than in Jesus name (a name which, according to my recollection, failed to receive even a single mention in last weekend's pontification). As the people of God we must be more perspicacious (discerning) about the teachings we accept and allow to permeate the church. 

Dr. Cloud's teaching about the power of the other flips the Biblical point of view upside down by focusing on what others can do for us, instead of focusing on what we can do for others. Here is a great link to a list of verses on one-anothering: 

The fatal flaw of secular psychology is that it is entirely inward-focused. It's all about self. If Satan can keep us focused on our own selves, on our own problems, circumstances and trials, then he handicaps us from spreading the good news of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus heals our hearts and minds, completely forgives us and puts us in a right standing with the Father so that we can focus on helping others. The key is to put others first, to die to self and live a life of one-anothering. God can heal and help us in many different ways. One of the fastest ways to receive healing in your own life is to focus on helping others. 

Addendum: Please don't misunderstand this as a wholesale attack on Psychology and certainly not as a commentary on Christian counseling. I took 6 Psychology courses as an undergraduate and then completed 3 courses of Seminary graduate studies in which we carefully weighed and measured various Psychological theories against what the Bible says. I found Child Development and Adolescent Psychology to be very helpful in being patient and understanding with students. In Classroom Management, a class based entirely upon Psychological theories, we studied Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Kohlberg's levels of moral reasoning and others. There were appropriate outbursts of indignation at the comparison of the teaching of children to the training of Pavlov's dogs. In Seminary, in Theology and Philosophy for Christian Education, we took a careful look at 30 educational theories to see how they hold up when scrutinized by God's word, and none of them measured up. Biblical Anthropology and Pedagogy took a detailed survey of human growth and development from a Scriptural point of view and presentations were given analyzing the Biblical fidelity/infidelity of the work of 4 prominent behavioral theorists. Principles of Biblical Counseling, which is the counseling training course for pastors, challenged secular ways of thinking, confronted us with the truth of Scripture and fostered a Biblical worldview. Sometimes secular Psychology stumbles upon a principle that lines up with Scripture, but sometimes it does not. One of the pioneers in the field, Carl Junge, stated that Psychology was becoming a religion for people who could accept no other and that people were coming to them seeking help that only a priest could give. The Bible trumps Psychology and must be the standard by which all other teaching is judged. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Ministry of Discernment

From the moment I picked up a trombone, back in 1985, I have been taught to listen critically and to think analytically. As an Educator, I've sat through many professional development sessions about teaching students to use higher order thinking skills such as critical thinking and analysis, though we already do this every day in Band. It is sad that in some Christian circles, people who think this way are viewed as "Troublemakers," accused of being "Divisive" or "Unsubmitted," or even said to have a "Critical Spirit." The Bible refers to such people as DISCERNING. "Cheneniah, Chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing. He was to direct the music because he was skillful." (1 Chronicles 15:22) This word skillful is the word biyn in Hebrew. It means to be discerning, insightful and prudent, to have understanding, to be attentive, to diligently consider matters and to be able to teach. We teach students this skill through music so that they can apply it to every aspect of their lives. This ability is highly prized in the field of education. It is however, a skill that can be misused and even futile without the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding that comes from God.... 

If speaking in tongues is the most controversial spiritual gift, then I believe discernment is the most neglected and misunderstood. From watchbloggers who confuse discernment with cynicism and harsh criticism, to those who have been hurt by the church and post from a position of bitterness and broken trust, to pastors who dismiss this vital gift, we can discern that this in an important issue which needs to be addressed. I believe discernment is an essential ministry which is worth a few minutes of our time. Proverbs 4:7 tells us:

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. 

 These words, wisdom and understanding appear together repeatedly in Scripture. Wisdom and understanding work hand in hand. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, or macaroni and cheese. The Hebrew words for understanding are biyn or biynah which means to be discerning, to carefully consider matters, to be diligent and to gain knowledge. The term that keeps coming up as a synonym for understanding is DiscerningI would define discernment as the skillful and diligent application of wisdom. This is the very thing Solomon asked God for: 

So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours? Now it pleased the Lord that Solomon had requested this. So God said to him, "Because you have requested this and did not ask for long life or riches for yourself, or the death of your enemies, but you asked discernment for yourself to understand justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart (mind ESV), so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
1 Kings 3:9-12

Solomon asked God for this gift and it was very pleasing to the Lord. He knew that God was the source of wisdom and discernment.

"Who has put wisdom in the innermost being or given understanding to the mind? -Job 38:36 

Solomon knew that God had given this gift before:

You are to instruct all the skilled craftsmen, whom I have filled with a spirit of wisdom...I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, Exodus 28:3,31:3

The Spirit of knowledge and understanding, or discernment, is the Holy Spirit:

But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. Job 32:8

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him-- a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:2

It is through God's Spirit that He gives us discernment and He desires for us to have this.

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Psalm 51:6

Paul prayed for us to have this gift:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.  Ephesians 1:17

Wisdom from the Holy Spirit is a gift for all believers, so how do we apply this gift? What are its uses? 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 gives insight into these questions:

To one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits...

God gives us wisdom and knowledge through His Spirit. He also helps us to determine whether a teaching, interpretation or a prophetic word comes from the Holy Spirit or whether it comes from some other source. So what is the right way to use this gift? We need to be diligent to apply wisdom. We should test every book, sermon, prophetic word, song, teaching and teacher against the word of God. As important as it is to be discerning and watch out for false or incorrect teaching, it is perhaps even more important to watch out for wonderful teaching. We should be equally diligent to follow the instruction of Philippians 4:8 to look for things that are true, pure, lovely, noble, right, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise and to highlight those things that are of GOOD report. Because, bitterness, envy, anger and unforgiveness can taint our perspectives, I often observe a waiting period before posting on an issue where I am deeply emotionally invested. Even just a few days can help, when we take the time to search the Scriptures, and then pray and consider God's purposes, placing His desires above our own. If we put aside our personal agenda and place God's will, the Gospel and the proper teaching of His word first, we can think more clearly and be good stewards of the gift of discernment. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Rightly Divided: 4 Great Questions To Ask When Studying a Passage of Scripture

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul encouraged him to: Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. -2 Timothy 2:15

Other translations say to be diligent or make every effort. They tell us to accurately handle the word or to teach the word correctly. Here are 4 great questions to ask when preparing to study or teach a passage of Scripture: 

1. Contextualize
Ask: What did this passage mean to its original audience? Read the surrounding passages and then determine the literal meaning of the text. This helps us to learn the intended lesson and to accurately apply the word to our understanding and our lives. 

2. Harmonize
Ask: How does this passage fit into the total teaching of the Bible?
Examine other passages that teach on the same subject to get a deeper understanding of the material. As Augustine said, let scripture comment on scripture. 

3. Symbolize
Ask: Is there a spiritual or prophetic meaning of the text? Interpreting the spiritual, symbolic, or prophetic meaning of the text helps us to understand scripture on a deeper level. We should examine each passage to see how it points to Christ, how it fits in with redemptive history, ultimate justice/judgement and what spiritual principles are being taught. 

4. Apply
Ask: How do we live out this teaching in our daily lives?
Develop a summary that includes an invitation or an activation that leads people to respond and calls for action. The response might be to correct unbiblical thinking on an important social issue, to help the poor, to share the gospel by carrying out the great commission, to repent from sins, to teach the Bible to your family, or many other things. 

Paul provides valuable advice for public teaching by telling Timothy "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching." -1 Timothy 4:13

Read the word of God, then carefully teach and explain what it means. Too many teachers gloss over Biblical accounts in their sermons without actually reading them first. Get your points from the text and teach it for all its worth. Give an exhortation, where you encourage a response and give application. 

Be Blessed and Happy Studying. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Response to the Lifeway Article: "Early Warning Signs Of An Unhealthy Staff Member"

This article is based largely on secular business practices and secular psychology. From the introduction, the phrase "No one intentionally picks a loser," sets a negative tone that carries throughout the article. I feel that it leans toward a self-centered, self-serving, secular leadership dynamic. While it claims to identify 4 types of problem staff members, it fails to offer solutions or advice. I fear this article could cause Senior leaders to neglect and even turn against the very staff members they have been entrusted to minister to. 

Claim #1: They Find Problems Faster Than Solutions

Secular leaders often treat the person who identifies a problem, AS the problem. Contrastingly, one of the primary functions of an overseer of the church is to be a skeptic. In chapter 1 of Paul's letter to Titus, he exhorts him to appoint faithful preachers and teachers as elders to be overseers of the church. The word overseer is episkopos in Greek. It comes from the words epi, which means over and skopos which means skeptic, one who scopes something out. Lifeway is a Baptist organization and in Baptist, congregationalist churches, healthy Skepticism, based on Biblical principles, is an important function of anyone bearing the title of Pastor. The overseer must watch out for problems on the horizon in the same the way that a lookout on a ship watches for icebergs, rocks, pirates or any other approaching danger that could harm, hijack or wreck the ship. This is the person who is looking forward to the destination and guarding against destructive heresies and false teaching while providing careful instruction and doctrinal fidelity. 

You can't find solutions until you identify problems. When a staff member submits a problem to other church leaders, that is a good and faithful staff member and servant of Christ. As an experienced teacher, I always try to bring solutions when I present problems to my administrators, but as an executive pastor or someone designated as higher up in the leadership of a church, anytime a staff member submits a problem to your oversight, that is an opportunity to work creatively together to find solutions. We've all heard the old saying "Don't Kill the Messenger." Secular administrators tend to treat the person who identifies the problem AS the problem. On the contrary, Christian leadership who are watchful problem finders are a blessing from God and an important resource. Remember, we have a wonderful book full of solutions for you to search through together. When a staff member brings a problem before you, consider that an honor that they trusted you and be mindful of your responsibility to shepherd and guide them. 

Claim #2: They Complain More Than They Contribute

As a church leader, you are there to serve your staff. If they are complaining, you should be listening. If their complaint is valid, then YOU need to address it as a faithful servant leader and work to create a more positive work environment. That being said, a negative, bitter attitude is a problem. Before dismissing the person, find the root of the problem and try to help the person work through it. Follow your own advice and look for solutions, rather than making a person your problem. The trend in business is to just get rid of people. In the church, we don't throw them away so quickly. Most Baptist churches are small and you cannot and should not run them like a large corporation. You can't just fire staff and more than likely, your leadership is going to be made up almost entirely of volunteers. Build your people. Develop leaders. If you want your people to serve with a good attitude, model it. Teach them the way and show them how by living out Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." 

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Matthew 20:25-26)

Claim #3: They Become Disconnected Or Withdrawn

The most normal reaction in the world is for a person to withdraw from pain. This is not passive aggressive behavior. This is the sign of a hurt staff member. Sit down and pray. Talk it over. Take them to lunch. Make them feel like a valuable part of the team. In 1Thessalonians 2:6-9, Paul tells them that though he had authority to make demands as an apostle, instead he chose to be gentle, like a mother to her nursing child, that he chose, not only to share the good news of Jesus with them, but was delighted to share life together with them. A withdrawn co-worker is an opportunity for ministry. What better way is there for them to learn how to minister to others, than by experiencing ministry from you?

Claim #4: Once They've Had A Disagreement And Discussed It In A Healthy Way, They Can't Let It Go

This is the big one. The cheap and easy way out for leaders is to listen to someone's opinion, discuss it in a "Healthy" way and then make like Elsa and "Let It Go." This is good advice for relational conflicts, it's called forgiveness. But this is a terrible way to deal with real problems that have to do with Biblical issues, church operations and doctrine. The person who can't "Let It Go," when it comes to a serious Biblical issue may have God's hand on them and you need to listen. My family once left a church because of an issue where a "healthy discussion," wasn't enough, action was required. Large, corporate mega-churches might get away with this because one person leaving doesn't make a noticeable impact. Small churches can't and shouldn't. When discussion is not enough, corrective action, usually in the form of re-teaching and correcting is required. Again, we are back to the primary functions of a pastor or overseer. All responsible teachers correct mistakes and re-teach important material when their students fail to grasp it. How much more important is it for church leaders to do the same? It might be uncomfortable to admit a mistake, or to to get up and correct the teachings of a fellow staff member or guest speaker or to make changes in some program or function of the church. But you can't always "Let It Go." 

Final Thoughts

This article fails to offer a single word of advice on how to help staff members or how to develop them. By his own standard, the author would be guilty of presenting only problems with no solutions. I feel like this teaching could cause church leaders to target vulnerable staff members going through a difficult time or feeling disenfranchised--it even points to not fitting in with chemistry and culture as a problem. Your church brand might have a certain "culture," you want staff to conform to, but the Kingdom of God is all about the disenfranchised and the misfits. We all fit in here and everyone has an important role in the Body of Christ. You could likely be attacking someone sent to you from God for a very special and important purpose. We don't need "chemistry," we have the Holy Spirit, he is what joins us together. We should not substitute a manufactured "culture," for an enviroment of Christian service and ministry. We shouldn't use terms like "chemistry" to replace the bonding work of the Holy Spirit. We shouldn't view people as problems, but rather should honor the incredible trust God has placed in us to shepherd, develop and minister to them. Focus on ministering to your staff (and staff, minister to your leaders) and there will be fewer problems. 

"I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Be deligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." -Ephesians 4:3