Episode 097: Leadership During Turbulent Times: An Interview with Dr. Ben Witherington

In this episode we sit down with New Testament scholar Dr. Ben Witherington to talk about church leadership during turbulent times.

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My parents were devout Christians and raised me in church… I was there every week and those people really shaped me… and I had some wonderful pastors along the way who were a big encouragement to me…

As I got older, there were a couple years where I didn’t really attend church… the churches seemed very formal… so I wandered until the Lord called me back through some friends into InterVarsity… that did me a world of good during a very turbulent time…

One of the things that is clear to me about right now is that when you have a crisis, you find out which people have a civic religion and which people have a genuine Christian religion… there is a sort of winnowing effect in a crisis, and you find out where people really place their trust…

I think what I want to say to pastors right now is that they need to take half-baked Christians and put them back in the oven… you don’t get to wear the big ‘C’ on your forehead if *this* is what you think about race, disease, etc…

We have a teaching moment right now, an opportunity to raise the level of biblical spirituality and sanctification, because people are struggling… we learn more from trial and tribulation than we do from other times, so: carpe diem—seize the day and let people know how Christians are supposed to behave…

We need more solid, meaty biblical preaching and teaching that’s bringing the text to bear on the situation at hand… a good preacher knows how to do this… I’m not talking about speaking to the issue du jour, but giving people the tools to fight off sub-Christianity…

It is time for us to redouble our efforts to make sure our ministers are well-equipped to equip the saints for the works of ministry…

With fallen human beings, sins like the sin of racism don’t go away; they keep resurfacing… we need to look to genuinely people like (civil rights leader) John Lewis who lived his faith out in day to day life… to Christians who will call us to action…

To the pastors of today I want to say: you are a long way from being finished… read 1 Kings 18 and 19: now is no time to give up; now is the time to redouble your efforts…

Episode 096: 10,000 Fathers

In this episode we sit down with a new addition to our staff, Aaron Keyes, to talk about the mission of his organization 10,000 Fathers and how to raise up worship leaders as genuine pastors in our churches. You can find out more about 10,000 Fathers at worship.school.

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I was never a great musical performer or singer… what I was able to do as a worship leader was to open the Scriptures and invite people to try it out… people came alive to that… I started realizing how rare it was to be led in worship by Scripture…

The stuff that pastors are trained in now is very different than what worship leaders are trained in… the apprenticeship and training that is required for being in pastoral leadership in the church doesn’t really exist for worship leaders…

Big songs will only carry small leaders so far… and that’s what’s happening… but the problem is more with the system—we’re hiring people because they know how to play guitar, and then we’re mad at them because they ONLY know how to play guitar…

The reason we started our worship school was to address this need… my wife and I and our pastor started praying and decided to bring worship leaders from around the world in to come and live with us… we wanted to do discipleship in the context of life together…

We’ve shifted it now to an 18-month thing where people don’t have to move… our goal is to raise worship leaders up who can be elders in the church for years to come…

We’ve had pastors call us to say that having worship leaders who can help them make disciples is such a gift… and that’s what we want to see…

Many worship leaders live with anxiety about their relevance… when they’re no longer relevant, they exit ministry… 10,000 Fathers is trying to equip people so that when their stage value starts going down, their spiritual and practical value to the church goes up…

Worship leaders are easy targets… but most of them want depth and want to be helpful to the church for a long time… most would jump at the opportunity to be equipped for that…

Episode 095: A Conversation on Church Discipline

In this conversation, we sit down to talk about the issue of church discipline, what it is, and why it is so important.

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I have children who are now 19 and 21… I can’t imagine what kind of human beings they would now be without rules and safeguards, without discipline…

When I was a young pastor, we had to subject a man to church discipline… when we came back to church the next Sunday, there was a palpable shift in the air… we had regained the ethos of our community…

Let’s not be surprised: if we start treating people like customers, they are going to start acting like customers… we have a sacred responsibility to make sure that the atmosphere inside our congregations is as healthy as we can make it…

Two of the lenses we can use to think about church discipline are: is it threatening the unity of the church, and is it threatening the witness of the church?

Everything is highly relational and gentle, as the Holy Spirit is with us… we’re not talking about coming in with an iron fist, but about loving one another enough to keep people from going off the cliff…

Jesus doesn’t say “get behind me Satan” because he hates Peter but because he loves Peter… this is part of the ministry of Jesus…

To be holy is to be healthy, so if we’re not concerned with holiness, we’re not concerned with health… church discipline needs to be a ministry of healing…

What we want is our congregation to take ownership of this… this is the Matthew 18 model… it’s not until “step 3” that the church gets involved…

I want 98% of the correction in the church to happen within relationships where trust has been forged… the elders are called in when grassroots correction doesn’t work…

No matter what size of church you have, there is a core group that is helping you lead… your core is like the engine of your car: if your engine is broke, your car is useless…

I believe the reason that most church leaders don’t get involved in church discipline is that they know that the first person to be judged will be them… so they ignore the topic altogether…

Episode 094: All Flame

In this episode we sit down to talk about Andrew Arndt’s new book All Flame: Entering into the Life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Available on Amazon HERE!)

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God’s intent with the human life is not to displace our humanity but to sit within in and radiate through it so that we become all flame… it’s not something for the spiritual elite, and no one’s life is better calibrated for holiness than anyone else’s…

We were a church that nobody knew about… but the life of the Spirit was so present among us… I was surrounded by very ordinary people who were full of the Spirit… that became my bar of what’s normal…

Jesus Christ did not come to write a book but to form a community… one of the pitfalls of the spiritual life is that people try to run off and do it by themselves… that can only end in nonsense or despair…

The only way you hang on during hard seasons in when you are surrounded by the church, which keeps putting in front of you the reality of the Triune God, the hope of Jesus Christ, and the practical support of their own commitment to you…

This is not an academic book of theology, nor is it purely a book of spiritual formation… if God is the fundamental truth of our existence, and God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then his Triune identity shapes our stories…

My mom approached her spirituality like a farmer… up early in the morning seeking God… I’d wake up and wander down the stairs to the sound of my mom praying in tongues, covering her family in prayer…

My routine these days is similar… I’m up early with coffee and my Bible and I’m praying and asking God to put me to death and make me alive… if I don’t get that time, I’m just not right in the head…

I hope that people are taken again by the wonder and mystery of God… that they are awed again… we’re short on awe in the church… we do a great job giving people principles, but often wonder is missing…

I also hope that people whose faith is hanging on by a thread will see that there is no human experience they can have that is not already an event of the Triune God…

Episode 093: Covid-19: Where Are We Now?

Welcome to the start of Season 7 of the Essential Church Podcast. In this episode we sit down to discuss the state of the church seven months into Covid-19.

We’re seeing that fear is a powerful motivator… fear is front and center in our culture right now… pastors are wrestling with it in a way they haven’t before…

Pastors weren’t trained for this in seminary… they weren’t trained in social media or on the nuances of the culture right now…

I am concerned that if we’re not careful we are going to see a mass exodus of pastors from pastoral ministry… there’s a growing concern about this around the country…

I am telling pastors to mute the wrong voices and amplify the right voices… who we listen to will very much determine the condition of our souls…

Right now about half the churches in the US are open for in-person worship… what I am hearing from pastors across the country is that 25-30% of people are actually returning to church… people have started forming new habits…

In person church attendance has been on the decline for years… all Covid did was accelerate a trend that had already started…

I’m hearing from really committed churchgoers that they have new habits on Sundays… they wake up late, eat brunch, turn on the broadcast, and then head out hiking… that’s the new habit… we’re going to have to reshape people’s ecclesiology to help them understand the power of the gathering…

Our services don’t feel the way they used to feel from a “production” standpoint… but the spirit was as strong as ever… that’s something we can’t manufacture…

For most of church history and most of the church global, “suboptimal” is just how you do church… and those pastors who don’t want to jump in because it’s going to be suboptimal are making an enormous mistake…

I think right now we need to simplify what we’re doing… the pastors out there that are trying to push forward with a big, bold vision – you’re going to burn out…

I’m taking about simplifying everything… meetings, what you say yes to, your fall relaunch… complexity is not our friend right now… you need to have one or two things every day that you’re doing well…

We have been breathing out really hard these last seven months… now we need to start to breath in again… simplify everything…

Episode 092: A Conversation on Race

In this episode, we share a conversation we recently had at New Life Church on race, racism, and our hope for unity.

Subscribe and Watch our conversation on our YouTube channel here.

Episode 091: An Interview with N.T. Wright Pt. 2

In this episode, Andrew, Glenn, Jason, and Daniel chat about what they’ve learned over the years from NT Wright. Be sure to catch part 1 of Glenn’s conversation with Wright HERE.

Subscribe and Watch our conversation on our YouTube channel here.

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One of the things we do with crisis is we ask, “How did we get here?” and try to assign blame… and of course we want to get out of it as soon as possible… telling the story of Jesus won’t let us escape the sojourn… Jesus is the one who is the companion in the sojourn…

Jesus is not ONE of the ways we make sense of the world, Jesus is THE way we make sense of the world… Tom was one of the first people who helped me understand that the question is not “why” is this happening but “who” is God for us in this?

There are two threads in the OT… one thread is that calamity is the result of judgment… the other is the innocent sufferer… what I love about Tom is that he shows us that Jesus is both (the judgment-bearer and the innocent sufferer)…

A lot of Christians see racial justice as tangential to the gospel… but when you read the New Testament, you see that it is central…

Tom reminds us that we cannot privatize the gospel—Jesus is the ruler over all things and all people, and what God is doing is reconciling all things to himself in Jesus, and everyone to one another…

Part of God’s saving work is that God’s covenant righteousness is also covenant membership… Tom helps us see that Paul is talking about who belongs – and if we all belong because of our faith in Christ, there can’t be division anymore between me and my brother…

The beauty of repentance is that we are casting ourselves upon merciful God… for white America, this will be one of the hardest things to learn… that we can’t fix this… that we’re going to have to listen to our African American brothers and sisters and let them lead the way…

So much of Tom’s work contradicts our implicit divided worldviews… we think there is God’s realm and our earthly realm… but when you look at the history of Jesus, you see that heaven and earth are interlocked…

If the church now is Christ’s availability to the world, we are the place where the weeping of God meets the pain of the world…

Episode 090: An Interview with N.T. Wright

In this episode we sit down with world-renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright to talk about his new book “God and the Pandemic” as well as the way Gospel addresses racism.

Subscribe and Watch our interview with N.T. Wright on our YouTube channel here.

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Obviously there are plenty of things in the Old Testament which are about people misbehaving and God producing specific judgments—a plague or being defeated in battle or whatever it may be. But there are many other passages in the Old Testament—with the book of Job in the middle—which say “Yeah, bad things happen, but this was not God doing it and I do not deserve it.”

What “God and the Pandemic” is really all about is hermeneutics—it’s how to read the Bible for all it’s worth instead of just taking a bit here and a bit there… We have to read the Bible as a whole narrative with Jesus in the middle and only then do we get the real message.

Again and again the New Testament encourages us not to say “OK, we can now produce a rational analysis of why God has done this or that,” but we can say “what is our vocation as followers of Jesus in this extraordinary situation?” 

This is what it looks like when God takes charge: It’s not God sitting upstairs pushing buttons and pulling levers. It’s God coming in the person of his Son, in order to confront evil to take its weight upon himself to bring healing and New Creation… 

When Jesus redefines power at the end of Mark 10, he says, “Yeah, the emperors boss and bully and beat people up to get their way, we’re not going to do it like that. We’re not going to do it like that. We’re going to do it the other way. If anyone wants to be great, they must be your servant, the slave of all” …That’s the redefinition of power itself.

God is leading wise, humble Christian servants to be at the place of pressure and pain to be there in prayer. To be with. That’s the whole thing. God with us. 

In Romans 8, Paul is talking about how God saves creation as a whole with humans at last rescued from sin and death to take their place as the rescued rescuers… God has designed the world to work as a garden through human agency. We don’t make roses grow, but we prune them and tend them. 

To our hurried, Twittering, lament is a really difficult thing to do. To hold back from what we think we ought to say at once. To say: “No, I’m going to wait. I’m going to stay in this place of pain. Please help me Lord…help me to use these psalms, and teach my people to use these psalms, and to have a season of lament to just say ‘How long O Lord, how long?’” And then there may be new things that grow out of that… we become gradually formed by the passion of Christ. 

The Christian example of two thousand years of caring for those who cannot care for themselves has rubbed off on the world… The Church still has to say “We’re not giving up on this. We’re in this for the long haul.” 

Caring for the poor, caring for the sick and the dying, caring for the weak and the vulnerable and those without education. This is part of our DNA. This is what we do as Christians. And Christians have done that from day one, because it’s what Jesus did.

People think of going to church with the people who look like them and talk like them, but the whole point of the gospel in the beginning was that this was a new way of being human in which men and women every nation and tribe and tongue would come together.

Christianity is an entire way of being human. It’s economics, it’s politics, it’s philosophical, it’s everything. It’s got some religious elements, but it didn’t look like a first-century religion at all. It is its own category. And that category is instantiated in the life of the multi-colored, multi-ethnic everything-together church.

Episode 089: When Is It Time To Plant A Church?

In this, the final episode of Season 6, we sit down to talk about how to know when the time and circumstances are right to plant a church. (Note: this episode was recorded before COVID-19.)

Every church that’s in existence today exists because someone felt a tug… it begins in the heart of someone… someone has to say yes…

I think it’s time to plant a church when the right person and the right geographical location are married…

A church planter needs to be sent by a sending church… all the church planting movements and networks say that the highest rate of church planting success is when the planter is sent with the strength and power of a sending church behind them…

The biggest thing that’s going sideways right now in the American church is that most young leaders don’t have permission to bring up the feeling that they are being transitioned…

For senior pastors—you have to create an environment on your team that allows people to talk about transition… there can’t be fear of being ostracized or punished for this… the culture has to be healthy enough for people to bring it up…

Every church regardless of size can develop preaching laboratories… young leaders need these, because Sundays come with an alarming regularity… we need to see if our young leaders can preach to all ages and ethnicities and situations…

There are three things you have to be able to do to plant a church, and you have to be able two well: you have to be able to preach and teach, you have to be able to lead, and you have to be able to pastor… if you can’t preach and teach, don’t go plant a church… but the other two you can supplement…

The right way to come into a city is to make sure you are planting in an area of the city that actually needs a church plant… if there are ten other churches within five minutes of your building, don’t plant there…

Go to an area that needs a good church, and make sure you meet with as many pastors as you can in order to learn how to come alongside God’s work there… 98% of the local pastors will welcome you if you come in to be a blessing to them and to the city…

You need to know how you’re made—some of us are called to innovate and some of us are called to renovate… don’t assume you have to be a church planter…

Episode 088: The Church in an Election Year

In this episode we talk about the challenge of pastoring in an election year. (Note—this episode was recorded before Covid-19 hit, which is why there is no reference to it.)

I’ve been accused of believing that politics aren’t important; I believe they are EXTREMELY important, because the laws that are passed by our officials will affect the most vulnerable among us…

Miroslav Volf says, “A great government gives everyone the conditions opportunities and tools to live a flourishing life” – this is a fantastic reason for the church to engage in politics…

We have become not a prophetic voice but a partisan voice… we play right into the tribal aggravations and distinctions that the culture is forcing us into…

The tricky part is, how much pressure do we assert on institutions that are not the church…? Does the emperor get to appoint bishops or does the church leader get to say which emperor is excommunicated…?

We’re in a crisis in the West because our definition of the common good came from Christian roots… now we’re trying to figure out if we can enjoy Christian fruit when we are disconnected from Christian roots?

The church doesn’t have a politics as much as the church IS a politics… as we listen to the Scriptures and Jesus, the Word made flesh, we become a different kind of political being…

The best thing that we can do with our politics is to be really transparent, authentic followers of Jesus first… the ministry of Jesus had political ramifications…

We need to be aware of what’s happening in our communities and in local politics… many Christians are nationally engaged but locally distant… we should, first of all, be aware of what’s happening in local politics…

A long time ago I decided that I was going to turn my outrage into outreach…

If all your talking points line up with one party’s talking points, you haven’t taken the time to understand the logic or motive of the other party… sometimes our “opponents” have the same end in mind…

Are we more at home with people who share our faith and not our politics, or those who share our politics but not our faith…? There are some really godly people who vote differently than you…