Loving Jesus. Not the Bible.

Provocative title. Yes. And of course we discover so much about Jesus through the primary source of the Bible.

Yes these words of Jesus provoke something in me.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life…..”John 5.39

How much study do we do compared to how much time we spend just praying, listening, hearing, meditating.

How much scripture do we exegete before sitting down and thinking about how the Holy Spirit wishes to transform our lives, and the community around us. It is safe to study. It is safe to know the construct of the Greek words. It is not safe to be born along as the Spirit leads.

Seems to me there is a holy war going on at the moment. Some are worshipping at the idol of knowledge and attacking those seeking to know Him.

And the haters you will always have with you….

It is natural we will be attracted to those speakers and leaders whose way of looking at the world is symbiotic with our own. That is why it is wise to read from a wide variety of sources, even ones that grate our natural tendencies.

I watch and listen to a wide variety of preachers. A recent addition to my play list is John Gray. He is a passionate communicator, and brings emotion and vibrancy to a room. He is also overtly positive about our faith and loves using scriptural stories to speak into people’s lives. Recently he preached a message on David and Saul at Elevation Church conference. I really enjoyed the message. Then the critique started. One in particular got to me. It was a very well done mash up of Gray and Matt Chandler, a well known and great communicator. They perhaps unfairly (to both speakers) contrasted their views on David and Saul. In context Gray was absolutely saying that we can relate to David in that without the persecution of Saul, David would not have been the King he was. I could not speak to Chandlers context, apart from saying that in the video they used the line he did say, ‘you are not David, nor are you any of the characters in the Bible”.

Can we place ourselves into the scriptural narrative? Recently I did this with a message based around John 12. I asked the question, why type of worshipper are you? Contrasting different personality and gifting types. Lazarus the grateful worshipper, Martha the serving worshipper and Mary the extravagant worshipper. It is natural as we are human, to see and relate to the human characteristics we see in the characters in the Bible. Even Jesus. Of course I would say that is why story is so powerful, and why indeed there are so many stories of people in the Bible.

But lets take it a step further than just relating to the characters. How far can we take it? Can we be empowered like David? Can we relate to His life and apply it to ourselves? Can we in fact do the miracles of Jesus, or even pray the prayers of Elijah?

Should we put ourselves in the place of David, as John Gray suggests? Well Jesus said we should. In Matthew 12 Jesus is talking to the Pharisees about the Sabbath. He uses David and Davids interaction with the Sabbath as an illustration of how we should live our lives.  Of course we relate to David, and his interaction with Saul and the lessons he learns speak to us know.

I want to go a step further even than that and highlight two scriptures. There are plenty more, but this post is getting long.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. (John 14.12 KJV)

Truly truly, I say to you. If you believe in Jesus, you will do greater works than He did. Thats hard to believe. I find that hard to believe. But then, I need the faith of a mustard seed.

This next one is a favourite and perhaps even more clear. Surely, some might say, we should not compare ourselves to an Old Testament prophet, and believe we are like them, and can see God’s power flow through us as it did through them? Because, are they not special, is it not egocentric to think this? Perhaps not.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.” (James 5:16-18)

There have always been those who doubt God. There have always been those of audacious faith. Read your bible. Believe that the stories you read in your bible can be your story. Thats why you have been given it.

The Pressure on Pastors

Ever since Bill Hybels said that church leadership was the hardest form of leadership the question of how much pressure there is on Pastors has been brought to light.

On Sunday night I was chatting with someone who has been in and around pastoral ministry all her life. She told me the story of how when she was a teenager there was a discussion at a church meeting which revolved around the Pastors salary. One man stood up and said that the pastors salary needed to be low because he could not be allowed to earn any more than anyone in the church. They discussed how the Pastor needed to be a humble servant, like Jesus. If they earnt more than someone else in the church there might be resentment or even worse, pride in the heart of the pastor.

Now this post is not about a pastors salary. It is about the pressure on the pastor. In those days the pastor was expected to visit everyone in the church, to be involved wholeheartedly in their lives. Things have changed. The pressure comes at a different point.

The pressure is now on the pastor is to be overseeing a large growing church. To be, and here is the contentious word, succesful. Along with the wonderful resource that the internet and media has brought us has also come examples world-wide of your pastors failing. How come the worship is not as inspiring as Hillsong? How come the preaching is not as stirring as Furtick or as deep as Ortberg? How come we are not growing like Saddleback or Willow Creek?

Even pressure to be like the church down the road. The worst words a Pastor hears on a Monday is, ‘this church is just not meeting our needs”. As the family you have cared for takes themself off the roster and moves on to the shiny building down the road your heart sinks.

Reality is that success also brings pressure. To continue to grow, to make each year bigger than the last. And more people with more needs and their own desire to be successful are attracted to you. It can also cover up the need for character. All is forgiven if the pastor is successful. We eat on the fat of success and forgive character flaws because of it.

Everyone has pressure in their work. Everyone. And how could I as a pastor know what pressure there is being something else? From the CEO caring for multiple employees to the nurse caring for grumpy patients to the teacher trying to impart knowledge to disinterested teenagers. Perhaps a unique challenge in being a pastor is that everyone who calls themself a Christian really truly deeply care about their faith, their spirituality, their children’s faith.

And  a pastor who is worth their salt will care about that too. There should be pressure on us. We are leading what is meant to be the primary organisation in the world. If Apple corporation does not get the next iPhone right they might fail financially. If the Church does not get its role right, the world will be in even more pain than it is.

So I suppose I am calling for a radical middle. A radical balance. No one wants a pastor who doesn’t care about their church and their community. Who isn’t aiming to be effective, skilled and fruitful. But equally, no one wants a pastor who fails, drops out, burns out and is rendered ineffective. Perhaps what a Pastor needs is grace. Grace to do their ministry, grace when they mess up, grace when they are not as good as the pastor down the road. Grace which resources.

And this is something we can all relate to.

Father Hunger

It does not matter how old a man gets. He is still a son.

Every man I have ever met has been defined in many ways by their relationship with their father.

I was speaking to a person who trains tradies. Blokey young men. Many of them have had absent fathers. The fathers that are present have told them how useless they are. That they can’t do basic tasks. Things that a tradie finds necessary. My friend has to father them before he can train them.

It seems to me this generation has in many ways not learnt from the previous one. There are many great fathers. But there are many young men with absent, abusive, emotionally void and uncaring dads.

It felt like this generation would be different. But so many dads have never grown up themself. They spend time, money and attention on games. Games of all types. From video games to four wheel drive accessories. Pure selfishness.

The best leaders get robust feedback

It has been said that the best leaders are followers.

Others have put it this way, that the best leaders surround themselves with people better than them, particularly in certain areas.

In my team I have staff who are better than me at different areas. My worship pastor, young as she is, talks to me about stage transitions and on stage dynamics. I dutifully listen, because she is more than often right. Other staff members bring skill and thoughts to bear which make our church better.

Being a listener as a leader is the biggest skill I can bring. This can only work if I am not insecure. An insecure leader cannot listen because instead they need to control. After a couple of decades in varying stages of leadership I like to think I am not insecure. I know who I am, who God has made me, and more than that, I want to be better.

Sometimes robust feedback might be annoying. But you have to listen and reflect upon this. Is it annoying because it means you need to change? We like to see change, but change in ourselves is difficult.

In a church context we as leaders are not the point. Jesus is the head of the church. And what matters most is the church. Not us. Not our comfort. This is hard to take because if we are honest we generally like to make sure we are looked after. I have seen leaders reduce their church greatly because they have made it about them.

I believe all leaders should be listeners. It makes them better leaders.