Sober Up

If there’s a command I’ve missed before, I’m sure not missing it now. In his letter to Christians facing persecution, the apostle Peter repeatedly issues the same command, twice in the last part of 1 Peter:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7)

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

He also says something similar in 1 Peter 1:13. “Therefore,” he writes, “preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Sober up. Be self-controlled. Stay awake, and be watchful. It’s as if we’re called to high alert. The reason, according to Peter: the end is at hand; we’re in the last stages of redemptive history. Not only that, but the devil is on the prowl.

  • If we aren’t thinking about the return of Jesus, we’re living like drunks. We need to sober up.
  • If we are living on our own strength, rather than living prayer-filled lives, we’re living like drunks. We need to sober up.
  • If we don’t think we have an enemy who is trying to thwart the advance of the gospel, than we’re living like drunks. We need to sober up.
  • If we are surprised when we suffer, we’ve underestimated our enemy. We’re under the influence, and we need to sober up.

As I’ve meditated on Peter these past few months, I’m surprised at how much I need to sober up. I’m not nearly as aware of the end as I should be. I’m not nearly as prayerful as I need to be. I’m often surprised when I suffer. I’m often mystified by why our efforts as a church are thwarted.

Peter wasn’t surprised. He offers clear, practical advice in his letter on how to deal with these things (hints: prayer, humility, more prayer, and a willingness to suffer). Please join me being sober-minded and watchful. It’s a command that Peter repeats; it’s a command we can’t afford to ignore.

The Number-One "Vision Problem"

I believe in the importance of vision and leadership. Still, I've grown almost allergic to the statements that seem to be so common about having and casting a vision. It's why I love this quote by John Ortberg in Ready, Steady, Grow, a book by Ray Evans. Ortberg says:

Vision is fundamental to the health of your church, but it’s probably not the kind of vision you’re thinking about.

Someone gets gripped by a vision that will not let them go. But it is not a vision of what they’re going to do. It is not a vision of a preferred future. It is not a vision of human activity. It is a vision of what already is. It is a vision of God, and how good he is, and how wonderful it is to be alive and a friend of such a Being.

Out of such a vision flow desires to do good things for such a God. Sometimes these activities may lead to results... And then other people may gather, and some decide they’d like to be involved...[But] people begin to pay more attention to what they are doing than to the reality of God.

At this point the mission replaces the vision as the dominant feature in people’s consciousness... people are living under the tyranny of Producing Impressive Results.

The number-one ‘vision problem’ with churches today is not (as is widely held) leaders who ‘lack a vision’. The real problem is when our primary focus shifts from who God is (a vision alone that can lead to ‘the peace of Christ reigning in our hearts’) to what we are doing.

Great quote. The number one problem with vision in our churches is that we lack a vision of God. Until we have that, almost nothing else matters.

Saturday Links

10 Lessons I learned pastoring the same church for 10 years

The first five years were very difficult, while these last five were a great blessing. Here are a few of the lessons I learned these last ten years that I pray will encourage you in whatever season of pastoral ministry you find yourself.

How to Shape Your Church’s Culture

A key to effective church leadership is to understand a church’s culture as it is presently and shaping it in Biblical ways for the future. The following are three practical ways to shape the culture of your church.

Working on Learning to Rest

If you’re anything like me, you know that you have to be intentional about learning how to rest.

7 Things You Need To Stop Doing To Be More Productive, Backed By Science

Here are 7 I things I stopped doing to become more productive.

The First Priority of Leadership

What’s the first priority of leadership? Character. It matters more than leadership techniques, skills, or even results. The results that matter, after all, flow from character.

I’ve been thinking about this recently in light of three different books: The Deep Change Field Guide by Robert Quinn, Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer,  and Redefining Leadership by Joe Stowell.

To my surprise, Palmer has a lot to say about leadership in Let Your Life Speak. Because pastors are (among other things) leaders, and “a leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there,” character is crucial. Palmer writes:

A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader is intensely aware of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good.

Leaders, he writes, have a tendency to “project more shadow than light.” Positive thinking doesn't change this, and it also ignores some dangers:

By failing to look at our shadows, we feed a dangerous delusion that leaders too often indulge: that our efforts are always well-intended, our power is always benign, and the problem is always in those difficult people whom we are trying to lead!…If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone “out there” into the enemy, becoming leaders who oppress rather than liberate others.

Parker outlines five issues that we tend to face, including insecurity about identity and worth, a tendency to view everything as a battle, functional atheism (“It all depends on me”), fear of chaos, and denial of death. I think I've seen all five in leaders, including myself.

What is a good leader? Parker writes:

Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who can lead the rest of us into a place of “hidden wholeness” because they have been there and know the way.

It’s no accident that Scripture puts such high value on the character of a leader. It’s the difference between what Joe Stowell calls “character-driven leadership” and “outcome-driven leadership.” We need more focus on character. Character, Stowell writes, is the defining priority of leadership. His book, along with Let Your Life Speak and The Deep Change Field Guide, are striking similar notes.

We will inevitably project who we are. All the leadership techniques in the world will not change this. Apart from a character that is shaped by the gospel, we will project shadows. The first priority of a leader must be character: to be remade by the gospel, to experience the deepest change, to be the chief repenter, the most enamored with the gospel, and the most real about life.

Character is the first priority of leadership.

Pastors and Deep Change

According to Robert Quinn, self-change is crucial to leadership. The organization — for instance, the church — will not change unless the leader (the pastors) experience deep change. Leadership is not so much a set of skills as much as about choosing deep change rather than slow death.

There are so many gospel implications I could make from this one key insight. We tend to overemphasize leadership skills and underemphasize what happens when pastors experience deep change.

One way to foster deep change? Fire yourself every Friday. Quinn quotes Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon. “Reinvent yourself first before you reinvent your company,” Jung said in an interview a few years back. While I wouldn’t express it exactly this way, I think she still has a point. Pastors: why reinvent a new church when you are in need of being reinvented by the gospel? Start there. She continues:

Fire yourself on a Friday night and come in on Monday morning as if a search firm put you there as a turn-around leader. Can you be objective and make the bold change? If you can't, then you haven't reinvented yourself. If you can, then you can have a decade of tenure that is like having different jobs.

Just two thoughts:

  • Before a church can be changed, I must be changed. Too often I focus on the work that I want to see God do out there rather than realizing he wants to do a work in me first. It's about being the chief repenter, the one most enamored with the gospel that never gets old.
  • I never want to coast as a pastor. May we never lose the freshness of the gospel and the immense privilege and responsibility of serving God through his church. Deep change — possible through the gospel — is always preferable to slow death, even if it means firing ourselves every Friday.