On holiday, a couple of weeks back, I indulged in a little light reading – Martin Hengel’s short study entitled Crucifixion. It’s only 90 pages and he makes lots of brilliant insights about the ways in which crucifixion was viewed in ancient societies. He certainly helps to show why the cross would have been a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). Here’s an interesting possibility he suggests which adds weight to the former; next time I’ll give you one of his observations which supports the latter.
Hengel demonstrates from ancient sources that crucifixion was not invented by the Romans but used by societies long before. Most notably Herodotus cites numerous examples of crucifixion as a form of execution among Persians. For example Darius has 3000 Babylonians crucified (Herodotus, Hist. 3.159). This got me wondering. Could it be that Haman was not impaled or hung in Esther 7:9, but rather crucified. I went and checked the Hebrew which reads (apologies for the transliteration) hinneh-ha-es aser-assah (behold the tree which he made) . . . teluhu alayw (hang him upon it).
Is it just possible that Haman was actually crucified, rather than hung or impaled? It would certainly give further evidence that only the cursed are hung on the tree.
I was preaching yesterday from a tricky little passage – 1 Pet 3:1-7, which begins with “Wives, in the same way, submit to your husbands.” A mate of mine preached that passage recently and managed to make national news – he was pilloried as being a medieval misogynist (unfairly btw). As I tried to explain what leadership and submission looks like in a marriage relationship I used the analogy of ballroom dancing – beautiful dancing is achieved when there is a gentle but firm lead, and a sensitive and responsive follow. After I’d preached a good friend reminded me of C.S.Lewis’ usage of ‘dance’ to illustrate the intra-Trinitarian relationship – ontological equality with functional subordination brought together in the most beautiful dance. The marriage relationship, to some degree, mirrors the relationship of the Trinity. Submission and leadership, far from being abusive, is about serving and bringing out the best in your partner. So men, take your partners, and dance.
The Thomas Kilmann model of conflict is helpful in demonstrating that good teams need people who are focused both on their individual task and the greater good of the team. Leaders don’t need to be “Yes” men – in fact having yes men just means they accede to your every request, which in turn means your overall team is only as good as you. I think many church teams end up competing, compromising, avoiding, or accommodating. Collaboration is the goal. For that to happen you need team players who will assert themselves.
Last week I read (in just over 24 hours) Doug Wilson’s book Wordsmithy which was thoroughly enjoyable. It had some great tips for writers and speakers, and because Wilson himself is an excellent writer it was simply a joy to read. Here are some of my favourite bits:
- Interested people are interesting people – read what you enjoy
- Read until your brain creaks
- Read voraciously, widely, like a reader (not like someone cramming for a test)
- Read like a lover of books (not like someone who wants to be seen as a lover of books)
- Pace yourself (little and often; don’t be afraid of having 20 books on the go at one time)
- Practice – the quality of what you produce will be directly proportional to how much you are willing to throw away
- Listen to critics; don’t be afraid to suck for a while
- Keep a note-book for writing down memorable phrases or quotes
I enjoyed it so much I’ve immediately passed it to a friend to read. I reckon any writer or preacher would benefit from reading this excellent little work. Keep ’em coming Doug.
Yesterday morning one of our church leaders, David Bartlett, spoke powerfully from the end of Mark 1 about Jesus’ compassion on the sick. As a local GP he mentioned the stack of purple forms that sits in his desk drawer. These forms are know as DNAR forms – DNAR standing for Do Not Attempt Resuscitation. These forms are filled out for those patients for whom resuscitation in the event of collapse would not be a beneficial course of action. Often they are very ill, frail, or have a terminal condition. These forms are always filled out with the patient (or their advocate) and are inevitably accompanied by solemnity and painful emotion. Sadly, and much to human frustration, sometimes their is simply nothing more we can do.
But here’s the amazing thing – Jesus has no DNAR forms sat on his desk. There are no futile or hopeless cases. There are no people so sick that Jesus cannot heal. There are no people who Jesus looks at and says, “There’s nothing more I can do.” There are no people whom Jesus does not consider worthy of the effort. His sacrificial death on the cross can bring new full real true magnificent eternal life for all who will come to his clinic. Sola Dei Gloria!
Here is a link to a BBC news story today reporting the banning of prayers at a town council meeting in Bideford, Devon.
The essence of the discussion seems to go something like this:
Plaintiff: I don’t like the council praying – it impinges on my absolute right to freedom from religion
Defendant: We quite like praying – it’s part of our absolute right to exercise our religious freedom
Judge: Council – you may not exercise your freedom because it impinges on his freedom
Defendant: But what about our freedom?
Judge: There’s more of you – it’s not fair
Defendant: But suppose there are now more of those who want to exercise their absolute right to freedom from religion – we’re now in a minority of folks who aren’t allowed to exercise our absolute right to religious freedom. Their absolute right to freedom from religion is impinging our absolute right to religious freedom.
Just finished Don Carson’s excellent biography of his father, Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor. Here’s a moving quote from the end of the book:
Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modelled Christian virtues to them. He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists. When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.
But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man—he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor—but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.
May we all be that ‘ordinary’.
Last week I finished reading this excellent book on leadership by Larry Osborne called Sticky Teams. Here are some of the best take-away points.
- Gaining team unity is sometimes more about situational factors than sin factors – get things such as environment, timings, numbers, and efficiency right can make meetings more fun, effective, and unifying. He moved his team meetings out of the boardroom and into his living room. As he says “when you disagree – no matter how much you disagree – when you’re sitting on my couch, you’re not allowed to be a butthead about it.”
- One of the best insights was in a chapter entitled “What game are we playing?” Here he notes the team relational dynamic changes depending on the size of your team and organization. For example, a small church with one full-timer is like the track athlete working along. As it grows you might have a couple of folk involved – golf buddies. When it gets a little larger you may have a basketball team to organize with a coach. When a church gets really big it’s more like an NFL team with multiple specialists and coaches all performing unique roles. Being aware of this helps deal with team frustration which will be inevitable if the church grows and the game changes.
- Related to size, the role of the elder board changes as the church grows. When a church is small the leaders do everything, at midsize they approve everything, at large they review most things, at very large they have to be content to set boundaries and direction and only review the key things. This can be frustrating for long-term elders.
- As church grows you need to employ more specialists and less generalists.
- When it comes to decision making seek permission, not total buy-in. You’ll never get total buy-in and “church harmony is
inversely related to the amount of time spent oiling squeaky wheels.”
- When it comes to change remember most church battles are not fought over theology but over change. “Churches are like horses. They don’t like to be startled or surprised.” Communicate and train if you don’t want a kick in the face!
- In one of the last chapters he also makes a compelling case for elder teams being aware of the churches giving – not just in a general way, but a specific list of who gives what. Jesus’ teaching in Matt 6 is addressed to those who like to show off, not to eldership teams trying to lead and pastor. In the same way we do sometimes talk publicly about fasting or our prayer lives. Is it OK for leaders to know some specifics about people’s giving? Have we become overly pious in this area? Osborne gives one particular example of a man who threatened to withdraw his ‘firstfruits’ over an issue. He asked one of his team to find out about the man’s giving, and it turned out he hadn’t given anything that year – he was making a deceitful power-play. Knowing or not-knowing that information profoundly changes the pastor’s response. This chapter for me was certainly stimulating and I need to think some more about this, but I’m increasingly persuaded that part of our pastoring and leading in every area probably does include some knowledge of people’s giving.
All in all, an excellent book, and one I suspect I’ll be returning to time and again.
Here’s a helpful leadership story I heard recently on Andy Stanley’s leadership podcast.
“In the early 1990s, the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A restaurant was facing stiff competition from the upstart Boston Market restaurant. Chick-fil-A leaders were trying to figure out how Chick-fil-A could get bigger, faster. Company founder Truett Cathy pounded on the table and said, ‘I am sick and tired of listening to you talk about how we can get bigger. If we get better, our customers will demand we get bigger.'”
Don’t worry about bigger – just get better.