Category Archives: The city
It’s odd for me to post something even remotely political, as I would be the first to admit that my knowledge of political stuff is rather shallow and reliant on the reporters in the media. It’s also odd because in spite of the title of this post, I’m actually going to write about what not to do in light of the shallow understanding I have of ex-PM Rudd’s leadership style.
However after reading David Marr’s essay from 2010 this morning, a few lessons about leadership popped into my head in view of Mr. Rudd’s track record while he was PM. So what follows are reflections that apply to me as a pastor and a leader since I know how prone I am to make each one of his mistakes:
- Stick to the big picture and learn to delegate. Time and again we hear of Rudd’s obsession with the minutiae. He was a details man who couldn’t let his ministers and those whom he worked with just get on with the job they were given. Good leadership knows that balance between attention for details and letting others just run with the ball. Good leadership also knows to distinguish the wood from the trees and is able to rally people with the big picture in mind.
- Don’t just woo the crowd, empower your team. It seems that Rudd was (and is) great with the people but not so great with his own party. A Christian leader with any sort of exposure can spend all of his time increasing his public visibility whilst neglecting the training and gathering and empowering of his own leadership team. The more publicly popular a ministry, the more it can hide the ‘rot’ that lies in its own structure. We must not settle for that sort of duplicitous shallowness that can come with popularity.
- Don’t be a jerk in the way you treat people, especially those who serve under you. So many great leaders (such as the late Steve Jobs) were quite frankly colossal jerks when it came to how they treated people. So again, while the public image is great, the private person behind closed doors can be a foul-mouthed jerk who people don’t like to be with. And while pastors and Christian leaders should, in theory, be great people to serve with and be around, the truth of the matter is that we’re tempted to be jerks as well. How tragic for us to forget simple humility and what it means to regard others as better than ourselves.
- Don’t forget to rest. Mr. Rudd is known for his extraordinary ability to operate with very little sleep. However, a lack of sleep can push a person to be a bigger jerk (see point 3 above and Marr’s essay) simply because they are too tired to function. Pastors and leaders need rest. When we aren’t well-rested, our godliness dips and temptation to sin in many ways rises.
- Don’t be a lonely leader. Yes leadership can be lonely, especially the higher one goes. This certainly was the case for Mr. Rudd. However, his lonely style of leadership ended up isolating him from those who were best positioned to help him. Pastors and Christian leaders can do this as well. Yet unlike Mr. Rudd, we have little excuse for this to happen since we spend so much time teaching others about the importance of Christian community and accountability. Christian leaders need to find mentors, regardless of how high they are in leadership.
What would Jesus protest about?
One of the top news stories has to do with the protests that began on Wall Street now spreading throughout the world, especially in European countries like Italy and London. One of the protesters apparently dressed up as a Jesus with the placard: ‘I threw the moneylenders out for a reason!’
So it got me thinking: what did Jesus really protest about when he marched into the temple and threw out the money-changers? Was it really because they were corrupt or greedy or financially unscrupulous? Is this a parallel situation to the protests happening around the world against corporate greed?
A closer look at the Gospel accounts in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19 and John 2 would probably cause us to think again.
In short, by overturning the commerce of money-changers, Jesus was actually overturning the very fabric of Jewish temple worship. Nothing in the texts identify Jesus’ anger as directed against greed or financial dishonesty. In fact, the money-changers (note: not “money-lenders”) and those selling animals were doing the public a service. Without them, it was impossible for travelling pilgrims to come and offer sacrifices at the temple.
So Jesus kicking up a storm over their presence in the outer court (the court of the Gentiles) was a visual statement declaring two radical things: firstly, that the old order of temple worship was over. John 2 especially makes it clear: Jesus is the new temple. Then secondly as a related point, Jesus quotes the Old Testament that declares the goal of the temple is to be a house of prayer for “all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). By overturning and destroying the very system of Jewish temple worship which divided Jews from Gentiles (and here furthermore was actually preventing Gentiles from worshipping in their designated space), Jesus was declaring a new age when worship would equally be available to all, for he himself would be that temple in whose body Jew and Gentile are radically united as one (Ephesians 3).
So what would Jesus protest against?
If I could be so daring to suggest, I believe Jesus would protest in Italy at the Vatican. More than that, he’d protest in any place where ‘church’, sacred buildings, and ‘religion’ eclipsed the reality of Jesus being the one and only perfect meeting place between God and people. He’d also protest against any religious system that continued to separate God’s people based on culture, ethnicity, gender, tradition, experience, or education.
Jesus is the true temple. He’s come to bring a radical worship through his death and resurrection and by his Spirit (see John 4). This temple, unlike the Jewish temple, unites rather than divides. By his heavenly session and his Spirit of intercession, we truly have a ‘house of prayer’ in which we dwell and can freely relate to God our Father.
When I was in high school in the early 90s, Japanese was the language to learn. Given Australia’s proximity to Japan in the Asia-Pacific region, and given the economic and technological leadership that Japan had provided the world in the previous decades, it was the obvious choice.
Now, Mandarin Chinese is the language to learn. On the 100th anniversary of the birth of modern China (see Xinhai Revolution), China has eclipsed Japan and almost every other nation to be the global and economic powerhouse in the world. In the sci-fi futuristic film Serenity, the common speech is a combination of English and (bastardised) Mandarin Chinese. This is not so hard to imagine now that China is on the ascendancy and the U.S. is on the wane. Who knows what the world will look like in 50 years?
So I’m writing as a bit of a ramble, but not in any sense of being Chinese and feeling pride about it. In fact, China’s ascendency can be somewhat of a worry, since there’s no Christian worldview that undergirds its morality (unlike the post-Christian West), and the influence of Christians in China, though they number millions, is a shadow of their influence in the West. In other words, I worry that the growth of China in the world stage is not happening with any checks and balances that even a post-Christian worldview can provide. That’s a matter of prayer.
What I want to ramble about is Australia and Chinese ministry in Australia over the next few decades. In a conversation with RICE director Steve Chong, former Deputy PM John Anderson commented that the importance of a ministry like RICE, with its networking of Asian churches, lies precisely in the ascendancy of China in world influence, along with the strategic placement of Australia as a nexus between East and West in the Asia-Pacific region. And so I wonder if churches in Australia have thought about Chinese ministry in light of that.
My impression is that many churches are hopping on to Chinese ministry and perhaps even working with Chinese churches in order to reach the growing migrant and international student population flooding our shores. But most, as I understand it, see it primarily as meeting a current need. Rather, I think the tide of world events should make us prayerfully think about Chinese ministry in terms of the future. If, as John Anderson predicts, Chinese influence is only going to gather momentum both in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world, then doesn’t it make sense to invest heavily in Chinese ministry in order that Chinese Christians can be placed in positions of leadership and influence in the secular world both here in Australia and in China? If Australia, geographically and politically, as a nation bordering the East and West is going to be strategic for this next phase of development, then doesn’t it make Chinese ministry in Australia even more important, not just because of the needs now, but because of the possibilities in the future?
I have no idea what this might look like in detail but here are just some general initial ramblings:
- More genuine partnerships need to be forged between Chinese churches and Aussie churches; between the RICE network and other movements and networks.
- We need to raise up the next generation of Chinese leaders within the church, especially those who speak or are willing to learn Mandarin.
- Strengthening weak and under-resourced Chinese churches, rather than just taking away the best of their leadership in order to serve Anglo churches, may actually be an important strategic move for the next few decades, as bridges to the Chinese community and the key influencers there are more likely going to come from Chinese churches than Anglo churches.
- Australian-born or -raised Chinese who are part of Chinese churches ought not feel defensive or ashamed about their churches. Rather, they ought to see the opportunities advantages that lay (perhaps dormant) within their churches. In other words, I’d love some to decide to stay in Chinese churches not out of personal preference but out of a desire to be strategic in where they serve.
- Allowing Chinese congregations in Anglo churches which are growing and outgrowing other congregations not just to play ‘second-fiddle’ but actually to take the lead and drive the ministries of the entire church has got to be a consideration, though it might be met with resistance.
- We need to give existing Chinese churches a vision to reach beyond their own ethnicity, especially to cross into other minority cultures, in order to allow God’s blessing to them to overflow to others.
- Promoting and investing in Chinese (language) theological scholarship both within Asian seminaries and Western ones.
Okay, enough of my rambling. What are your thoughts? I’d genuinely love to read some interaction along these lines.
I don’t like writing book reviews. The main reason is, I’m a quick reader but not a detailed reader. I assume that for a book review to be decent, some attention has to be paid to the details, and I don’t particularly want to do that.
However, as someone who is one of the first in my circles to have gotten hold of this book (via Kindle) and read it, I thought it would be worth putting some thoughts down on a page somewhere. There will no doubt be better reviews than this one, and when they turn up, I’ll link them to this article.
I picked up this book because of its premise and its recommendations. Its premise is to “make sense of social justice, shalom and the Great Commission”. The first two items: social justice and shalom, have been the flavour of a new generation of young evangelicals who have been exposed to writers such as N.T. Wright and Christopher J.H. Wright (among others – those are the two who have influenced me). The recommendations of this book come from such respected luminaries as Mark Dever, D.A. Carson, Michael S. Horton, Thomas Shreiner, and P.T. O’Brien. When they write in such glowing terms, you gotta take notice.
Having read the book in nearly one sitting (I spent a lot of time on the train yesterday), I can say that it’s been ultra-helpful for me personally as I’ve been wrestling theologically with some of these issues for awhile now, ever since I picked up Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. I can say now that it’s probably one of the top three books I’ve read this year and I hope its influence will spread and its central thesis carefully chewed over, examined and appraised by my generation of socially active younger evangelicals.
Rather than going through a chapter-by-chapter analysis, here are my highlights from the book.
1. Attention to exegesis. The authors don’t allow us to be swept into convincing rhetoric that stays at the big picture level without dealing with specific texts.They do this so deftly, since this is not intended to be a scholarly work. Don’t be fooled though! Though they write as pastors, the exegetical work no doubt lies in the background and surfaces just enough to make their case very convincing.
2. Clarifying important concepts and ideas. The book rightly identifies that there is a lot of murkiness and slipperiness in a lot of recent talk about this issue. Much of the recent literature is very enthusiastic about concepts such ‘mission’, ‘social justice’, ‘shalom’ and ‘kingdom’ but never spend time to defend it exegetically or even clarify what is meant by these terms. They very helpfully ask (and deal with) important questions such as: Is there a difference between God’s mission and the church’s mission? Is the gospel primarily about cosmic renewal or forgiveness of sins? Is it biblical to speak about Christians ‘building the Kingdom’ through social or other means? What do we mean by ‘social justice’? Is ‘incarnational’ ministry a valid way of speaking about what Christians are called to do? What is biblical shalom and how does it come about? Will the new creation be continuous or discontinuous with this old one? Those are exactly the kinds of questions discerning young evangelicals should be asking in the midst of current enthusiasm for social concerns.
3. Recovering the centrality of the gospel. The best thing for me is that DeYoung and Gilbert show that the ‘old stuff’ that we young evangelicals have been taught isn’t that wrong: the mission of the church is essentially the Great Commission. Our mission is primarily that of bearing witness to, proclaiming and preaching a good news of forgiveness and reconciliation achieved by the work of Christ and calling people to repentance and faith in him. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations. That’s it. To summarise their central thesis:
The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father. (p. 62)
4. Locating our social and mercy ministries under the category of ‘love’ rather than ‘social justice’. The authors are very clear that what they do not want to do is to discourage or deflate a concern for the poor, socially disadvantaged or enslaved peoples of the world. However, they want this concern to be Biblical both in its source and in its demonstration. Rather than locating it under the blurry term of ‘social justice’, they see that Christ’s command to ‘love our neighbours’ is sufficiently important as a motivator to get moving to care about those around us in holistic ways.
The Christian will be generous and compassionate toward the suffering and the disadvantaged, realizing that all we have is a gift from God and that we share God’s image with the poor. But in the constrained vision, this care is a matter of love and compassion, not automatically a matter of justice. (p. 182)
5. A call to Biblical realism. Some of the calls for Christians to social action is enjoined with a grand vision of ‘participating in Kingdom building’ on earth as it is in heaven. It is the classic liberal vision of bringing God’s Kingdom here on earth through radical transformation of social structures. A lot of this talk neglects to take into account the ‘not yet’ aspect of eschatology, as well as (most importantly I think), the way in which the Bible speaks about God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom is God’s work, God’s mission, God’s accomplishment through Christ, not ours. We receive the Kingdom, enter the Kingdom, but are never told to ‘build the Kingdom’. In their words:
God certainly uses means and employs us in his work. But we are not makers or bringers of the kingdom. The kingdom can be received by more and more people but this does not entail growth of the kingdom. We herald the kingdom and live according to its rules. But we do not build it or cause it to grow because it already is and already has come. (p. 134)
There is a tendency towards a sort of triumphalism when we think of being able to ‘transform cities’ and ‘build God’s Kingdom’ in the here-and-now before Jesus returns. That’s a great vision but has always made me a little uncomfortable, as I don’t see that in the mission of the disciples in Acts or in the pages of the New Testament. The authors argue that Jeremiah 29 is a better way of understanding God’s call to his people while we live in the tension of the ‘now and not yet’. We’re to seek the welfare of the cities we are in, love people around us, do as much good as we can, but our hope is in God’s new city coming from heaven to earth, not in our ability to transform our cities to be the New Jerusalem before Jesus returns.
The new heavens and new earth are not something that we build for ourselves out of the ruins of our fallen world. They are a gift from God to his redeemed people. Christians do not build the holy city, New Jerusalem, from the ground up; it doesn’t rise from the ashes of Babylon (Revelation 18–19). Rather, it comes down from heaven (Rev. 21:2), a gift of God to his people. It is “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). (p. 206)
There’s a lot more I could write about, but I won’t given the length of this post already. If I have one criticism of this book it would be that I wish they would engage more openly with Tim Keller as they do with Chris Wright when it comes to these issues. They do quote Keller, but only in positive and supporting terms. I wonder however, if there are aspects of Keller’s vision for Redeemer and cultural / city transformation that should stand up to more direct scrutiny. I would also want to read Chris Wright’s Mission of God in more detail so I can see if all their critiques are fair, but I can’t help but feel that he is their main target in terms of evangelical scholarship on this topic.
And before I sign off, I reckon their last chapter, written as a sort of imagined dialogue between a young fiery new pastor and a seasoned evangelical pastor ought to be required reading for every young man wanting to head into the pastorate. I just wish I had read it when I finished Bible College 7 years ago.
Now read a “proper” book review by John Starke from the Gospel Coalition here.
Mark 9:17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
I am calling your attention to these two verses, and to the second in particular in order that we may consider together the great subject of revival, and of the need, the urgent need, of a revival in the Church of God at the present time. For I am persuaded that this is a very urgent matter.
Now I want to take this story and use it as a very perfect representation of the present position. Here in this boy, I see the modern world, and in the disciples I see the Church of God…almost at this present hour. Is it not obvious to all of us, that the Church is patently failing… that she does not count even as much as she did in the memory of many of us today? And here is the Church, certainly trying, like the disciples doing her utmost, perhaps in a sense more active than she has ever been and yet obviously failing to deal with the situation. […]
Mark 7:28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer (and fasting).’”
There are certain things which are quite useless when they are applied to ‘this kind’. In other words what our Lord was saying to the disciples can be put like this. He said, in effect: ’You have failed in this particular case because the power that you had and which was sufficient and adequate for the other cases, is inadequate and of no value here. It just leaves you utterly helpless and hopeless and it leaves the boy in his diseased and powerless condition.’ Is it not becoming obvious at last that so many of the things in which we have trusted and to which we have pinned our faith, are proving to be of no avail?
[…] Of course these various methods, the apologetics and the others may indeed lead to individual conversions. We are all aware of that. Almost any method you like to employ will do that. Of course there are individual conversions, but my question is this—what of the situation, what of the bulk of men and women, what of the working classes of the country, are they being touched at all, are they being affected is at all? Is anybody being affected, except those who are already in the Church or on the fringe of the Church?
What of the spiritual and religious condition of the country? What of the whole state of society? Is this being touched at all by all our activities? Well, my answer would be that it all seems to put us into the position of the disciples who had tried to cast the devil out of the boy, these men who had been so successful in many another case but who could not touch this case at all. And our Lord gives the in the explanation, ‘this kind’ can come forth by nothing like this. By what, then? ‘This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer, and fasting.’
You failed there, he said in effect to these disciples, because you did not have sufficient power. You were using the power that you have, and you were very confident in it. You did it with great assurance, you were masters of the occasion, you thought you were going to succeed at once, but you did not. It is time you paused for a moment and began to think. It was your ignorance of these gradations in power amongst evil spirits that led to your failure, and to your crestfallen condition at this moment. You have not sufficient power. I did what you could not do because I have power, because I am filled with the power that God gives me by the Holy Spirit, for he gives not the Spirit by measure unto me. You will never be able to deal with ‘this kind’ unless you have applied to God for the power which he alone can give you.
You must become aware of your need, of your impotence, of your helplessness. You must realise that you are confronted by something that is too deep for your methods to get rid of, or to deal with, and you need something that can go down beneath that evil power, and shatter it…and there is only one thing that can do that, and that is the power of God.
And we too, must become aware of that, we have got to feel it until we become desperate. We must ask ourselves how we can succeed if we do not have this authority, this commission, this might and strength and power. We must become utterly and absolutely convinced of our need. We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in all our methods and organisations, and in all our slickness. We have got to realise that we must be filled with God’s Spirit.
And we must be equally certain that God can fill us with his Spirit. We have got to realise that however great ‘this kind’ is, the power of God is infinitely greater…that what we need is not more knowledge… more understanding… more apologetics… more reconciliation of philosophy and science and religion…and all modern techniques—no, we need a power that can enter into the souls of men and break them and smash them and humble them and then make them anew. And that is the power of the living God.
And we must be confident that God has this power as much today as he had one hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago, and so we must begin to seek the power and to pray for it. We must begin to plead and yearn for it. ’This kind’ needs prayer.
Now, this is but the introduction to the theme that we are going to consider, but it leads me to ask this question: Are you really concerned about the present position? Are you desperately concerned about it? Are you praying about it? Do you ever pray for the power of God in the Church today? Or are you just content to read the weekly newspapers which tell us about all these various efforts and to say, ‘It is all right, the word is going on.’
‘This kind cometh not forth but by prayer and fasting.’ This word fasting is not in all the ancient manuscripts, but it implies not only literal, physical fasting, but concentration. The value of fasting is that it enables you to give your undivided attention to a subject. So what our Lord said to the disciples is this: you will never deal with this sort of problem until you have been praying, concentrating in prayer, waiting upon God, until he has filled you with the power. When you know you have got it, then you go out with authority. That is the way, and that is the only way. Surely no one should need to be convinced today that nothing short of a mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God is adequate to deal with our situation in this mid-twentieth century?
Are you really still trusting to these other things? Here is the vital question. Have you seen the desperate need of prayer, the prayer of the whole Church? I shall see no hope until individual members of the Church are praying for revival, perhaps meeting in one another’s homes, meeting in groups amongst friends, meeting together in churches, meeting anywhere you like, and praying with urgency and concentration for a shedding forth of the power of God, such as he shed forth one hundred and two hundred years ago…and in every other period of revival…and of re-awakening. There is no hope until we do. But the moment we do, hope enters.
Oh, when God manifests his power, it happens as it happened in the case of this poor boy. With apparent ease, in an effortless manner, the devil is exorcised, and the boy healed and restored to his father. When God arises, his enemies are scattered, that is the story of all the great revivals of history. But we shall not be interested in revival until we realise the need of ‘this kind’, the futility of all our own efforts and endeavours and the utter absolute need of prayer, and seeking the power of God alone.
I preached a sermon last Sunday on James 1:26-27, where pure and faultless religion consists of ‘looking after orphans and widows in their distress’. In the process of thinking about what were modern-day examples of vulnerable social groups in distress in our society, I came across this study done in 2008 by the Parenting Research Centre on single mothers:
- 1 in 5 families with children under the age of 15 is headed by a single parent. 87% by single mothers.
- Single mothers are providing 70% to 100% of their children’s care, with the majority responsible for 66% to 97% of the costs of raising their children.
- 75% of single parents are raising children on incomes below $20,000.
- Because of the challenges and isolation, they are twice as likely to experience depression as women who have partners.
Let me quote some more bits from their study:
Research highlights that the initial transition to becoming a single mother can be one of the most challenging periods for single mothers and their parenting. For many women, becoming a single mother is a time of tremendous upheaval and life-changing circumstances.
Most people find it harder to parent when they are feeling stressed and anxious. Day-to-day parenting, like coping with sleeplessness or their children’s behaviour, is the same for single mothers. The difference is that single mothers are on their own and usually can’t rely on the daily support of the other parent in providing time out from parenting, affirmation and support with decisions.
The transition to becoming a single mother can carry considerable personal and parenting stresses, such as moving house, changing jobs, changing work hours, having less money, taking on more domestic and child-care duties or losing neighbourhood or friendship supports. Single mothers also tell us that there are complexities in dealing with the legalities and paperwork required by their new status. And many single mothers whose relationships break down are escaping from violence (25% separating women victims of physical or sexual violence).
Our community (and might I add: our churches!) can sometimes be harsh and unsympathetic towards single mothers in their role as parents and providers, and single mothers tell us that stigma and discrimination are an additional burden for them and their children.
I came across this article this morning on SMH.com. It’s about the alarming rates of resignation from new teachers in NSW schools (those from graduation to within five years of work). Given the batch of soon-to-be retired teachers from public schools, this is becoming an enormous problem for our state education department.
It got me thinking: what if every Christian teacher who graduated decided to go into public schools and stayed there for the sake of the gospel? What if Christian high schoolers decided to go into university to study teaching for this very reason? Would we, within 10 years, see a shift in the make-up of staff in public schools in NSW so that a good percentage (maybe even 50%) would be Christians? Wouldn’t we also see the order and rhythm and blessing of Kingdom lifestyle overflow to benefit the schools (even the very under-resourced struggling schools) of which they are a part?
It seems to me that this is what Kingdom living is all about – being like invisible yeast working in dough, seeing the Kingdom grow and our city blessed by our involvement in it.
What are your thoughts? Are there any other spheres of influence that are ripe for God’s people to make a concerted effort to be a part of in order to see Jesus honoured and our city blessed?