Bottom-Up Leadership

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Ron Paul’s latest book, The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System. Last night I particularly appreciated a passage where Dr. Paul wrote about the process of becoming a good leader:

Successful leadership begins with self-government. It is extended through successful followership. A person learns the basics of leadership by working closely with a competent leader who serves as a model. He gains access to the leader through his willingness to submit to leadership. This is the principle of bottom-up leadership. It begins at the bottom. Then, over a period of time, the follower advances in his level of responsibility. Maybe he attends a meeting on a regular basis; he shows up. This is basic and absolutely necessary to success in life, because a lot of people do not show up. Maybe he gets there early. He helps to set up the chairs. He learns how to make the coffee. He offers himself as a servant to whoever is running the meeting. He becomes useful to somebody else.

The themes of responsibility and servant leadership are recurring ones as Paul outlines his methodology for producing educated citizens who are ready to succeed in whatever course they choose to pursue, and to lead with humility:

So few people are faithful servants that those people inevitably rise in the chain of command, even if there is no official chain of command. So few people are reliable followers that leaders reach out to them, train them, disciple them, and put them in positions of leadership.

The discipleship model of servant leadership is prevalent in the Bible, so it should come as no surprise that Dr. Paul frequently credits his study of Scripture in forming his own style of leadership. Yet another reason to love the good Doctor!  I hope you’ll check out his book. You won’t regret it!

Where Will You Turn?

Yesterday, our Sunday School lesson in the college class was on the importance of the sermon. One of the discussion questions from the lesson sparked a great conversation at the table I was leading.

The question was, “Where can you turn when you are convicted or confused by your pastor’s sermon?”

Immediately, many students responded by saying that they could “turn to God“, or “turn to the Bible“… not wrong, of course! But I answered them with a challenge:

“Those are great Sunday School answers, but what does that look like? What exactly will you do when (not if) one of our pastor’s sermons places you under conviction, or when you don’t understand something that he said?”

After that, they started giving much more thoughtful replies, with some very good practical wisdom, but still not quite what I was looking for. What I really wanted was not a “what”, but a “who”.

“If names don’t immediately come to your mind when you hear those questions, then consider this an invitation to lean more on the Body of Christ.”

The questions about conviction and confusion point to two of the greatest relationship needs that a Christian has: accountability and discipleship. When I am feeling especially convicted about something, the first person I talk with about it is my wife, who is the greatest accountability partner I could have. But there are some things that are best shared among guys. That’s why I’m so thankful to know exactly who I can call at any time, and trust to hold me accountable. The Lord has blessed me with some tremendously godly friends!

Similarly, God has placed certain men in my life who have graciously and patiently taught me God’s Word, and answered my questions. I still have men in our church who I know are ready and willing to help me work through problem areas and points of confusion. I’m also thankful that the Lord has allowed me to serve in the role of discipler for many other young men, and always humbled when they bring their questions to me. I’m fairly certain I learn more than they do every time!

So how about you? When you are convicted or confused, where will you turn?

Where Do I Fit Into the Ministry of the Church?

This is a question nearly every Christian has asked at some point, but many still haven’t found the answer. Many of us are eager and willing to serve, but how are we supposed to know where and how we can serve? Do we need special training or church programs to be able to serve?

One of the greatest books I’ve read on the nature of church ministry — which includes the personal ministry of every believer — Is The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (my review). I just began reading it for the third time (this time with a group of godly men from several different local churches), and have been reminded just how good it is! I love its emphasis on “people work” — the ministry of one believer to another as they grow together in God’s Word and proclaim the gospel with others.

Today I’d like to share a few paragraphs from one of the opening chapters that gives a foretaste of what the type of ministry advocated in the book looks like in real life. You can preview the first two chapters in their entirety by clicking here.

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Imagine a reasonably solid Christian said to you after church one Sunday morning, “Look, I’d like to get more involved here and make a contribution, but I just feel like there’s nothing for me to do. I’m not on the ‘inside’; I don’t get asked to be on committees or lead Bible studies. What can I do?”

What would you immediately think or say? Would you start thinking of some event or program about to start that they could help with? Some job that needed doing? Some ministry that they could join or support?

This is how we are used to thinking about the involvement of church members in congregational life—in terms of jobs and roles: usher, Bible study leader, Sunday School teacher, treasurer, elder, musician, song leader, money counter, and so on. The implication of this way of thinking for congregation members is clear: if all the jobs and roles are taken, then there’s really nothing for me to do in this church. I’m reduced to being a passenger. I’ll just wait until I’m asked to ‘do something’. The implication for the pastoral staff is similar: getting people involved and active means finding a job for them to do. In fact, the church growth gurus say that giving someone a job to do within the first six months of their joining your church is vital for them to feel like they belong.

However, if the real work of God is people work—the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another—then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless.

So you could pause, and reply to your friend, “See that guy sitting over there on his own? That’s Julie’s husband. He’s on the fringe of things here; in fact, I’m not really sure whether he’s crossed the line yet and become a Christian. How about I introduce you to him, and you arrange to have breakfast with him once a fortnight and read the Bible together? Or see that couple over there? They are both fairly recently converted, and really in need of encouragement and mentoring. Why don’t you and your wife have them over, get to know them, and read and pray together once a month? And if you still have time, and want to contribute some more, start praying for the people in your street, and then invite them all to a barbeque at your place. That’s the first step towards talking with them about the gospel, or inviting them along to something.”

Of course, there’s every chance that the person will then say, “But I don’t know how to do those things! I’m not sure I’d know what to say or where to start.”

To which you reply, “Oh that’s okay. Let’s start meeting together, and I can train you.”

Now if you’re a pastor reading this book, your reaction at this point might be something like this: “Okay, right. Now I really know these guys are living in a dream. In their fantasy world, I’m supposed to have time to meet individually with all the members of my congregation, and personally train and mentor them so they can in turn personally minister to others. Have they seen my diary? Do they have any idea of the pressure I’m under? If that’s what they mean by a mind-shift, it sounds more like a brain-explosion to me!”

Well, we haven’t seen your diary, but if it’s anything like most pastors’ diaries, we know very well the pressure you’re under. And in due course, we’ll get to the nitty-gritty of how these sorts of mind-shifts play out in the day-to-day life of real churches.

However, there is some vital biblical work to be done first. To understand the scriptural foundations for re-focusing our ministries around people rather than structures, we have to go back and re-examine our core assumptions about what God is doing in our world, how he is doing it, who he is using to do it, and what it all means for Christian discipleship and ministry.

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This really is a fantastic book! If you’d like to join us in our group discussion, we meet at Perk Up on Tuesday mornings at 6:30. Even if you can’t make it to that group, you should grab a copy. You can get it here.

Nate’s Catechism Chart

A few weeks ago I put a video up on Facebook of Nate reciting the first few questions and answers from the catechism we are using to teach him about our faith. Today I wanted to share an update on our progress, as well as some resources that you are free to use if you’d like.

When we decided that we’d like to begin catechizing our kids at a very young age, I made a chart to keep track of our progress. I began with the Catechism for Young Children as a template, but have modified the questions and answers in such a way as to be more accessible for our two-year-old. For now I’ve only charted out the first 45 questions (the Catechism for Young Children has 145), and I can re-evaluate how in-depth he’s able to answer the rest of the questions once we get there… we’re only on #9 so far, so it  may be a while! Here’s the chart:

Nate’s Catechism Chart

And here’s Nate’s progress (we’re still working on getting some consistency with question #9!):

The Awful Responsibility of a Parent

From Mr. Joseph P. Engles’ 1840 introduction to the Shorter Catechism:

“You have an awfully responsible office in being entrusted with the training of immortal spirits for the service of God on earth and for glory in heaven. The temporal welfare and the eternal salvation not only of your own children, but of future generations, may depend upon your faithfulness in the discharge of this duty.”

Watch Me

Following up on what I wrote yesterday, I want to point out something Justin Taylor posted on his blog. He quotes excerpts from D.A. Carson’s newest book, “From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days.” In it, Carson exhorts Christians to step up to the plate to disciple younger people, following our biblical mandate and the example of the apostle Paul. You can read JT’s post here… I highly recommend it!

The questions Carson asks are things that have really been convicting me lately. Would I be able to go to a younger Christian — or even an unbeliever — and say, “Watch me. If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, imitate my life”?

Whether I am able to do so or not, I haven’t done it. There really can only be two reasons for this, and two responses. Either my life is not worthy of imitation (in which case I need to pray for some serious sanctification), or I am not taking the initiative to invite others into the sort of relationship that was such a great blessing in my life, when a Godly older man did something similar for me.

I suspect that there are elements of both of these reasons in my life, but the second is much more likely to be the main problem. Whether it’s something I’ve absorbed culturally or something that’s just an issue for me personally, I have a hard time saying “Watch me” without feeling as if I’m being arrogant or presumptuous. But this is the model of discipleship we see over and over in the Bible. It’s what Paul said. It’s what Jesus said. Old Testament leaders encouraged others to follow their example as well.

I suppose the difference lies in the motive. If I say “watch me” out of desire for my own glory, I have sinned, for I have put myself in God’s place. But if I say, “Watch me, because Jesus has changed my life,” then the glory is properly redirected to Christ. Of course, doing this means that I must be faithful to be “a model of good works” (Titus 2:7-8). This is also why accountability is so important, and why cross-generational ministry is so foundational to the life of the Church. If I am saying “watch me” to younger generations, then I had better also be saying “watch me” to Godly older men who can keep me accountable to set a proper example. I need to be constantly sharpened so that the example I set for those who are imitating me (including my own son) is an example worthy of emulation!

I have recently committed to myself and to God that I will actively seek opportunities to disciple younger people, and to make myself available to those who are seeking discipleship. Pray with me for the boldness to live out this commitment with integrity and humility!