‘Against the Wind’ by J. Don George


From the latest issue of Enrichment comes this excerpt of J. Don George’s new book, Against the Wind:

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He didn’t leave the world in its status quo. He stepped out of heaven to make a difference. It cost Him dearly. Are the people in our communities worth the price we have to pay to reach out to them? We must overcome old, suspicious, stiff, self-absorbed, lethargic ways.

Many pastors see a few black or Hispanic faces in their congregations on Sunday and assume they are reaching these cultures. They may be doing a great job of connecting cross-culturally, but they may be doing nothing at all. We need to gauge the effectiveness of our cultural awareness and outreach by the comparison of our church demographics with community demographics. In 1995, Calvary was 98 percent white. Today, we are a clear reflection of Irving and the surrounding community: 30 percent white, 30 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent Asian.

Love propels action; but, when love is absent, we withdraw into the safe confines of the status quo. We are glad when someone responds to the gospel, but we seldom invest our time, energy, or reputation in pursuing outcasts, sinners, or foreigners.

We need to ask penetrating questions:

  • Do we see people of other races, cultures, genders, and ages as annoyances that ask too much from us?

  • Do we see them as projects to pursue?

  • Or do we love these people so much that we’re willing to take any risk and pay any price to reach them?

Read the whole thing here. And watch J. Don George’s message on the same topic from this year’s General Council in Orlando, Florida.

GC13 Communion Service from Assemblies of God USA on Vimeo.

‘Four Faces of a Leader’ by Bob Rhoden and Dean Merrill


201304_062_Four_artThe fall 2013 issue of Enrichment, the quarterly journal I edit, has an excerpt from Bob Rhoden and Dean Merrill’s new book, Four Faces of  Leader. Here are the opening paragraphs:

How do you know if you are an effective Christian leader? If you are like most in ministry, you first check attendance. “How many are coming on Sunday morning?” “What’s my percentage of increase compared to last year?”

Next, you look at your church’s financial record. “Are all the bills paid? Have we stayed on budget? Will the fiscal year end in the black?”

What if I measured myself by standards that told the real truth? Am I passionate about holding true to my original calling? Am I regularly doing acts of practical service? How good am I at casting vision and bringing about necessary change? These tell much more than a weekly head count or dollar total.

The Library of Congress has some 32 million books. Which world leader commands the most shelf space? George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? This may surprise you, but this auspicious place holds more books about Jesus Christ than any other person.

This confirms my inclination to use Jesus as a benchmark for effective leadership. In just 33 years, He accomplished more that has lasted longer with greater impact and wider reach than any leader in history. How did He do it?

In this article, I explore the four leadership faces of Jesus — the shepherd, the servant, the steward, and the seer. I summon you to a leadership journey that can potentially move you from simple survival … to success … and on to significance.

Read the whole thing.

Believing God for Greater Things


The fall 2013 issue of Enrichment is now available online. My opening editorial is below.

The founders of the Assemblies of God were audacious people. At the 2nd General Council in 1914, at the Stone Church in Chicago, they committed themselves and the Movement to Him “for the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.” That was big talk coming from a few hundred people with limited resources, education, and opportunities.

Ninety-nine years later, the Assemblies of God worldwide is no longer a few hundred people but approximately 65 million strong. We are part of an uncoordinated revival — uncoordinated by men and women, anyway — that had multiple starts in many places around the world: Wales, India, the Korean peninsula, and, of course, Azusa Street. Today, one of every four Christians in the world is Pentecostal or charismatic. The growth of the Assemblies of God specifically and Pentecostalism generally is impressive. Arguably, the Pentecostal revival is one of the greatest people movements in history.

There is a tendency in people movements, including spiritual revivals, to lose momentum over time. They are birthed, they grow, they stagnate, they decline, and then they die. From a historical perspective, this seems natural because it happens so often. The question the Assemblies of God — especially in the United States, but also around the world — needs to ask itself as it approaches its centennial is whether this tendency will be our own.

I hope, for the sake of the world, that we answer with a resounding “No!” Pentecostals and charismatics may number approximately 1 out of every 4 Christians globally, but approximately 2 out of 3 people in the world are not Christians. There is no pride in being the growing piece of a shrinking pie.

Instead, I hope we offer a resounding “Yes!” to God and to His mission for us to the world. I hope, in other words, that as we end our first century and begin our second, the same Spirit that fanned into flame the faith of the Assemblies of God founders will fan into flame that same faith in us. The greatest evangelism the world has ever seen is not over; it has barely begun.

The theme of the 55th General Council is Believe. In line with that theme, we asked the Executive Leadership Team of the Assemblies of God to share with you what they are believing God for. We asked them to share these things because they lead our Fellowship. But we also want their essays to spark a fire of faith in your own heart. It is not enough to follow the faith-filled dreams of your leaders. You must have faith in God for your life, your home, and your ministry.

The founders of the Assemblies of God were audacious people. We need to be audacious people in our own generation. So, what are you believing God for?

‘Cultivating Faithfulness’ by George O. Wood (My Dad)


201302_042_Culti_art The spring 2013 issue of the journal I edit, Enrichment, includes an article by my dad, George O. Wood, about the important thing in small-church ministry, namely, faithfulness. Here’s an excerpt:

When I was a boy, Mom would often say two things to me, and she said them often. The first thing she said was, “It won’t matter 100 years from now.” Indeed that is true. One hundred years from now it won’t matter if we led a small ministry or a large one, whether we lived in a nice house or a rented one-room apartment, whether we drove a new car or an old jalopy, whether we got our clothes from Macy’s or Goodwill (where Mom got hers). What matters 100 years from now is whether we loved Jesus and loved the people Jesus called us to.

The second thing she said was, “Georgie (my family name), when we stand before Jesus He will not ask us if we have been successful, but if we have been faithful.” Of course, in retrospect, I realize the Lord wants us also to be fruitful as well as faithful; but it is my parents’ focus on faithfulness that informs my life to this day. I have been more successful than they if you examine success by metrics, but they were exceedingly faithful in spite of what seemingly was a lack of success.

A Pentecostal Way Forward Through the Challenges of Science*


Every day, it seems, scientists uncover new wonders — both large and small — in our world. These wonders redound to God’s glory, for He created them all. And among those wonders, surely the human mind ranks high. Aside from the angels, only humans are able to perceive God’s handiwork and praise Him for it.

Yet many humans do not. Instead, they “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). Consequently, “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). By they, of course, I mean we. Ingratitude for God’s gracious gifts mars every human heart.

Because creation is wonderful and the human heart wicked, I am ambivalent about science.

On the one hand, I benefit from advances in science. For example, I use Enbrel — a TNF inhibitor drug — to treat my ankylosing spondylitis. My iPhone, iPad, and laptop are indispensable tools in my work and my graduate studies. Their apps and programs make use of complex mathematical algorithms to produce, store, and communicate information. Energy efficient air conditioning and heating keeps me and my family cool in the summer and warm in the winter, at low cost. I could go on with more examples, but you get the point: Science has its benefits.

On the other hand, advances in science seem to portend retreats in faith. A 2009 Pew Forum poll of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that “scientists are roughly half as likely as the general public to believe in God or a higher power.” According to David Kinnaman, 25 percent of “18- to 29-year olds who have a Christian background” indicate that the belief, “Christianity is antiscience,” is “completely or most true of me.”

I don’t believe Christianity is antiscience. How can God’s Word and His world contradict one another? But many people — including many Pentecostals — believe Christianity is antiscience. How, then, should we as Christians live between the benefits of science and the challenges it seems to pose to our faith?

First, we must be filled with the Spirit. One of Pentecostalism’s greatest strengths is its empirical quality. For us, God is not a concept we ponder or a historical Actor whose past deeds are interesting to archive (though pondering Him is wonderful and recounting His past deeds is encouraging). Rather, God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is a living Person who invites us into fellowship with Him, changes our character at deep levels, and empowers us supernaturally to speak and to act on His behalf. Our experience is evidence — proof, even — of the realities our faith lays hold of. Perhaps that is why Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” If you find your faith questioned by science or anything else, the answer always begins with a prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, I need You.”

A focus on Pentecostalism’s empirical quality does not mean that arguments are unimportant. We are people of the Spirit, yes, but we are also people of the Word. Jesus Christ is the Logos of God (John 1:1–3,14), His Word, Reason, and Logic. If science or anything else challenges our faith, we must mount a tough-minded apologetic. Paul’s ministry is exemplary in this regard: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Since God exists, any scientific or philosophical argument that denies He exists is a bad argument, and we should be able to demonstrate this through close reasoning. Paul did not merely evangelize the lost, he reasoned, explained, and proved Christ’s vicarious death and victorious resurrection to them (Acts 17:2,3).

Third, we must interpret both Scripture and nature humbly. Scripture and nature are God’s self-revelation (Romans 1:20; 2 Timothy 3:16). Theology is primarily our interpretation of God’s revelation in Scripture, while science is primarily our interpretation of God’s revelation in nature. God is infinite, we are “the grass [that] withers and the flowers [that] fall” (1 Peter 1:24). God is all knowing, “we know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). God is all good, our “heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Given the distance between God’s perfection and our imperfection, we need to interpret both His Word and His world humbly, always ready to learn more about Him through them.

A new baptism in the Holy Spirit, confidence in the truth of Jesus Christ, and humility in the light of our limitations is a Pentecostal way forward through the challenges that science seems to pose to faith, even as we enjoy the many benefits it confers.

*This is my editorial in the fall 2012 issue of Enrichment.

Knowledge Problems and Necessary Virtues


(Here’s my editorial from the spring 2012 issue of Enrichment, which is available online.)

In a February 12, 2002, press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the following statement: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.”[1]

Rumsfeld was answering a question about the apparent lack of evidence connecting Saddam Hussein’s government and terrorist organizations seeking weapons of mass destruction. But his remark applies to the knowledge problems leaders face in any organization, including the church. And they suggest certain virtues that all leaders, including ministers, need to develop.

Start with Rumsfeld’s first two categories: known knowns and known unknowns. The older I get, the more I realize how ignorant I am in most areas but how knowledgeable I am in a few. Career specialization is the reason for this lopsided ratio of ignorance and knowledge. I have been a vocational minister for half of my life and all but 2 years of my professional career. Consequently, I have the knowledge base and skill set necessary for vocational ministry. Had I chosen or been called to a different profession when I was 21, no doubt I would have a very different knowledge base and skill set.

When you know what you know and do not know, it helps you develop appropriate virtues. In the case of known knowns, confidence, and in the case of known unknowns, teachability. In 2007, I transitioned from associate pastor at a megachurch to senior pastor of a turnaround church. I was not afraid of the new task of preaching weekly because my previous ministry experience had prepared me for it. I approached the pulpit with confidence. But I had never led a board meeting or annual business meeting, never been responsible for formulating the entire budget for the church (as opposed to my department’s budget), and never done a thousand other things that senior pastors routinely do. I was unconfident, but I was teachable. And I benefited from mentors both inside and outside the church who were willing to share their knowledge and skills with me. Had I approached my known unknowns with confidence, rather than teachability, the growth of the church would have been stifled by my ignorance (and pride).

The real problem in ministry — or leadership generally — is how we respond to unknown unknowns. Consider the Early Church. It was entirely Jewish. Then Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on Gentile God-fearers without their being circumcised, keeping kosher, or observing Sabbath. The Early Church did not know how to respond to this novel situation, which they had not even imagined would happen.

When you experience unknown unknowns, two extreme responses are common: resistance and ditching. In the Early Church, Judaizers resisted the law-free gospel and clung to the necessity of the ceremonial law, while antinomians went to the opposite extreme and ditched the moral law along with the ceremonial one. The proper response, as articulated by Paul? Flexibility. Paul flexed with the new wind of the Spirit blowing among the Gentiles without being uprooted from Scripture’s foundational “law of love.” In the crazy, rapidly changing times in which we live, ministers similarly need to know what can change and what must remain the same.

To Rumsfeld’s three knowledge problems, philosopher Slavoj Žižek adds a fourth — unknown knowns,[2] “the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.” Žižek was writing about what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Sometimes we ministers overlook and even justify sin in our churches. We do not confront the abusive dad because he is chairman of the board. We give the gossipy woman a pass because she does so much for missions. We take out loans for building campaigns but do not have money in our benevolence accounts. Repentance is the only appropriate response, and we ministers should lead the way.

Confidence when we know what we know. Teachability when we know what we do not know. Flexibility when we experience unknown unknowns. And repentance in the face of unknown knowns. These are the knowledge problems we ministers face, and the virtues we need to develop.

Notes

1. http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2636. Accessed 18 January 2012.

2. http://www.lacan.com/zizekrumsfeld.htm. Accessed 18 January 2012.

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