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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Servant-Leader Professor: How to Recognize One...

Over the years I have had and observed many professors and the most outstanding reflected the character of Christ in real and visible ways in and out of the classroom. One of these observations was the “professor as a servant leader.”  Although much more could and should be said, here are a few summary statements:

1. The servant-leader professor sees the student is a gift from God to whom God calls professors to come alongside and to join in what God is doing in their lives in an area of ministry for God’s glory.
2. The servant-leader professor’s task is not to impress the student with how much knowledge the professor has, but aid in the development hunger to grow and learn and to model how the character of Christ is lived out in everyday life in and out of the classroom.
3.  The servant-leader professor understands that the student does not exist to make the professor look good, but rather to seek to develop the student to his or her full potential.
4.  The servant-leader professor understands that his or her worth as a professor is not so dependent in how well the student’s performance makes the professor look, but in how well the student reflects the character of Christ.
5.  The servant-leader professor understands that the true worth of the student and professor is rooted in what God through Christ has done in their lives.
6.  The servant-leader professor understands that respect is earned, not demanded and is mutually given.
7. The servant-leader professor does not lead in such a way that the students fear the professor,  but follow out of love and mutual respect.

Lord, work in my life to become a servant-leader professor.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

I was obedient, and then things got worse...

Following God’s leadership is not a vaccine from problems or difficulties.  We can be sincerely following what we believe is God’s will and design, and to our surprise and disappointment [even confusion about who God is and His plan for us], the situation can become worst. Over the years I have known several men and women in full-time ministry who have been wrongly accused by others in attempts to discredit the direction they sensed God leading them, and some by other ministers whose colleague was attempting to get rid of them in order to take their place!

The devastation, hurt, and deep offense wasn’t limited to the husband and wife, unfortunately, the children suffered under the trauma as well. Yes, our obedience can mean that those we love might suffer for our following the leadership of the Spirit.  A crisis point in our faith can occur if we are not careful. Fortunately, God’s Word gives us insight when we find ourselves in these difficult situations.

Last week I was reading in Exodus 6 and came across the account of Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh. I had made some notes on the side of the margin and spent some time meditating on what God was telling me through His Word.  Here is a summary of those thoughts:

In the book of the Exodus, Moses obeys God’s command and goes to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, resulting in having to make bricks without straw provided. The people blame Moses and Moses goes back to God.

The people of Israel were already suffering under the hands of the Egyptians, and through being obedient things only got worse. What can we learn from this? What does God do?

6:1.  Now you will see...    Sometimes the situation will get worse before God chooses to act.
6:3.  I am the LORD...      God reminds Moses of WHO He is,  His nature, His character
6:5.  I have heard ... I have remembered...  God reminded Moses that He knew their need and that He is faithful to His promise
6:6  God tells Moses to remind the Israelites Who He is and of His promise.
6:9.  The people did not listen “because of their discouragement
6:12  Moses returns to God thinking Pharaoh nor the Israelites will listen
7:1-5. God repeats Who He is and that “I will multiply my signs” “I will reach into Egypt and bring    out my people”
7:6 Moses and Aaron obey.

Points to ponder...
1. Obedience to God can bring difficulties, it is not a vaccine against trouble.
2. Sometimes the situation must get worse before God chooses to act.
3. In the midst of the difficulty, God will take us back to Who He is.
4. God reminds us that He knows the situation, the need, and His promise to be with us.
5. Discouragement can make us close our ears to when God speaks.
6. If we are not careful, the discouragement of others becomes ours and we forget Who God is.
7. God reminds us again who He is and that it is He working, it is not left up to us.
8. Our response must be obedience, regardless of the comments of others, trusting God is in control.

Monday, September 9, 2019

“Spiritual Bullies and Worship Leadership”

Here are just a few thoughts that I am sharing with my students this semester about Servant Leadership. [For this commentary, let’s call Worship Leaders, Servant Worshipers.]

Spiritual Bullies look at those “under” and around them as objects to control;
Servant Worshipers see those around them as someone for whom Christ died, and desire to know what God is doing in their life and to come alongside what God is doing.

Spiritual Bullies are more concerned with how those with whom they work will affect the reputation as a leader;
Servant Worshipers give their reputations over to God, knowing that God’s evaluation of their actions is of greater importance.

Spiritual Bullies gain their sense of self-worth from their ability to perform;
Servant Worshipers realize that their self worth comes from what God has done in them through Christ.

Spiritual Bullies use people for their own advancement, playing favorites with those who can do the most for that goal;
Servant Worshipers focus on the growth of those within their realm of responsibility, regardless of how much they might be able to advance their position or prestige.

Spiritual Bullies focus on the amount of knowledge they acquire;
Servant Worshipers focus on being able to apply what they know and share what they have learned in a manner that is modeled and understandable.

My prayer is that the influence we have on others reflects the nature and character of Jesus Christ.  Just a few thoughts... 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Your wife has... cancer.

Not the words we wanted to hear and certainly not in our plans for the summer. We live in a fallen world that is racked with disease and Christians are not exempt from them. Still, in the back of our minds, cancer is what happens to others, not to us. Suddenly our lives were filled with doctor appointments, lab tests, etc., and notebooks of what has to be done and what not do. Moments of frustration and hurt watching the one you love suffer as a result of the chemicals pumped in her body to eliminate that which would kill her. The pain is still pain and we have only begun the journey.  Overwhelming, yet God’s grace has been there through it all. We have even seen how He had been preparing us and providing for us long before we received the news.

Not surprisingly, Scripture and my devotional time have become more meaningful and critical to the day to day confronting of the new realities in our lives. Today as I was reading in I Corinthians 11, I was reminded of all that Paul had gone through as he sought to be obedient to God’s calling in his life. In the context, Paul is defending his apostleship to the church at Corinth against the “super-apostles” whose boasting and domineering leadership were causing trouble for the church. Rather than boast of all the miracles that had been a part of his ministry and the great expansion of the Gospel because of what he had done, his focus was on his difficulty and suffering. 

For Paul, living in obedience was not a denial of the hardships, pain, and suffering that accompanies following Christ, but the acceptance that these things would be a part of developing the character of Christ in his life.  In “living in the victory of Christ,” Paul showed complete transparency of the trouble and hardships he had and was facing. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 1:8 he stated: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”  Strong words from the same man who said that he could “do all things through Christ.”

Rather than base his apostleship on a false philosophy that says “a loving God would never allow His loved ones to suffer,” or “following Christ means going from victory to victory in power,” Paul chooses to reveal the truth that even Jesus suffered and we should expect no less.  In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul shared “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. [2] ... you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out." [14-15] Obviously, part of the instruction Paul gave to new believers was the reality of suffering for the cause of Christ. 

Not all suffering is a result of following Christ, however, as we follow Christ we must anticipate that suffering will be a part of the journey. Sickness is real. Pain really does hurt. Going through times of suffering does not mean that God is far away; on the contrary, His presence may be even nearer. We lean not on false or trumped up emotions, but on the promise of God’s Word that the Spirit of God lives in us and He is with us until the end of time. Our focus must be on giving Him glory and relying on Who He Is. The pain will remain, our understanding that God is still in control, that He loves us and that He has a plan for our lives and can help us trust Him that, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” [Job 13:15]

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Why Skill-based Music Study is Needed in the Seminary Setting

Questions have risen over the past few years as to the necessity of skill-based music study, especially in the seminary setting. Students may come having played keyboard or guitar, or sung in their praise band and at least believe that they function well in that setting. They realize that they need more training, especially in worship studies because that where their interests lie. When they begin to look over what an accredited music degree is going to involve, some decide that it has little or no relevance to what they believe they need and opt for a non-skill based track. While some of these tracks provide a good overview of worship, they are not designed to address the skill-based needs the student might have. The following are some thoughts and considerations that need to be discussed and my desire is not so much criticize the one, but validate the critical need for the other.

1. Students don’t know what they don’t know. Please pardon the obvious in this statement, but let me illustrate. Even for a student that comes with some skilled-based experience, that experience has generally been limited and specific to a local situation. For the student to not continue to develop those skills reveals a belief that those skills will be adequate for future changes that will undoubtedly come. The lack of continued skill development those sets the student up for possible failure in the future.

2. An educational system that is driven solely by student desires will most certainly be lacking. I doubt that many would want to go to a doctor that only took the courses that he or she thought were interesting and wanted to take. The reasoning is that doctors with great knowledge and experience in the field designed the basics of what a doctor needs to know; the specializations follow a foundational program of study. In a similar fashion, there exists foundational course work for skilled-based programs of study from years of research and experience. Some institutions have followed the student-driven model, leaving the students to seek skill development on their own, or failing to get the needed training. Rather then an either/or situation, balance can be achieved in meeting students needs and desires without eliminating the standards by reframing the standards in a contemporary context.

3. Without getting too technical, brain development must also be taken into consideration. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop and that not until the mid-twenties. This part of the brain manages higher functions such as the analysis of future consequences. The dilemma comes when a student fresh out of high school goes to college and is asked to focus on a specific area that will determine his work, income, and livelihood for at least the foreseeable future and the very part of the brain that is responsible for such decisions is not fully developed. Rather than trying to address this dilemma, some institutions cater only to what the student can discern with limited foresight.

4. Students can obtain skill-based education in secular institutions and many that come to our seminaries have attended such institutions. The difference is the context from which the material is taught and the biblical worldview from which the material is presented. For example, music history taught from a biblical worldview can lay the foundation for students to understand much of the contemporary music and music theory can be readily applied to aid in the musical part of worship.

5. Accessibility and affordability are crucial elements of skill-based education.  While financial issues are not the main issue, they remain an integral part of the equation, especially in graduate training.. For the student, the cost for private lessons are added to the tuition; for the institution, maintaining faculty for skill-based education remains one of the most expensive budget items. Some institutions have completely eliminated skill-based programs principally for budget reasons. While this may address one issue, it fails to address the issue of adequate training and preparation for worship leadership. While the “trend” to cut programs has spread, the growing need in churches is for more skilled musicians and skilled-based professors to teach them has grown even greater. Graduate programs such as the DMA are crucial to the skill-based needs in the educational system and especially those based in a biblical worldview. One recourse has been to fill the gap with an adjunct teacher model, so that skill driven education can be maintained. Great care must be taken with this model that those filling the gaps be able to teach out of the biblical worldview, otherwise, the distinctiveness of the biblical context from which the subjects are approached will be lost.

6. After years of multi-venue worship, a growing number of churches are focusing on multi-generational worship and desiring one person who can not only lead a single style-driven worship service but one that is more inclusive that unites the church as a whole. This leader must have the skills to lead and direct some kind of choral group and coordinate youth and children’s musical groups for outreach and to aid in training future leaders. The performer/worship leader model is fading and many churches are looking for someone who can do more than just lead a few songs and look good on Sunday. The development of such skills is beyond the popular week or weekend workshop’s capacity and design, whose strength is disseminating a specific content in a short period of time, not skill development.

As I stated earlier, my goal is to bring this growing crisis to the discussion table. I realize that some may disagree on some, perhaps all of what is presented. I am very grateful for the training I have received at both a Baptist University and two seminaries. After nearly 50 years of ministry [including 20 with the IMB and then 17 years at NOBTS], I believe we are at a critical period in which secular culture, recovery from the worship wars, economic pressures, changes in student population, generational issues, and faulty discipleship in our churches are forming a “perfect storm” that we must address. I pray we may seek God’s wisdom and leadership as we face these days ahead discovering solutions that continue to meet the needs of our churches and students.