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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Honour and Leadership

The whole relationship between honour, leadership and the release of gifting within the body is a vital and pressing issue in our day. This is so for the journey we are on as a local church and - if my perception is right - for the body of Christ generally. At a time where models of hierarchy and cultures of command and control are being challenged and great value rightly placed on liberating and empowering God's people, this relationship needs to be negotiated carefully. While we reject hierarchy, we still believe in authority (rightly understood) and leadership. Not all leadership is an attempt to control and take away freedom. In fact, I suggest aspects of leadership are essential for ensuring freedom and harmony in the body, for enabling the choreography of freedom and community, of empowerment and service.

Let me suggest a couple of things prompted by the passage I have been looking at in Romans 12. Firstly, note that leadership is placed as just one example of gifting in the body among the others that Paul lists (v.8). And the word used - proistemi - is the one used of 'ruling', governing, overseeing etc.that is used, for example, of elders (1 Tim.5:17), though it could be extended to other kinds of leadership. This tells me that there should be no sense of leadership as a rung up near the top of the ladder in a hierarchy; but it also tells me it needs to be valued and honoured like all the other gifts. It has its vital part to play within the body.

Secondly, Paul, in giving them these instructions, does not do so on the basis of an appeal to authority (there is a mis-translation of v.3 in the NLT) but on an appeal to the grace - charis - given him. The apostle is not asserting authority, or demanding honour, but is making an appeal to them in such a way that he gives them the opportunity to recognise the grace gifting within him. It is an opportunity to honour - recognise, value and be willing to receive from - his grace gifting as an apostolic leader. The more we can see leadership in terms of gift and not rank the better we will be able to negotiate this really important relationship.

In my next post I hope to say a little more about this by returning to the idea of the dance of leadership, and of community, as a way of exploring this creative but delicate balance of freedom and honour.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

You can't demand honour

Some more thoughts on honour. I have suggested that it is a really important principle for the effective functioning of a spiritual community, and in the last post I proposed a few groups of people to whom our honour should be directed. One thing I have noticed is that many of us - perhaps leaders especially - can feel tempted at times to expect that honour should come our way, and we're rather put out when it doesn't! But I have had to learn a vital lesson which we must all learn at some point - honour can never be demanded; it has to be granted. The minute we start to think that people really jolly well ought to recognise our gift, or our position, importance or stature, and try to make them feel bad if they don't, then we are actually hindering the flow of grace in our lives. Why? Because it is an expression of pride and God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (1 Pet.5:5).

Trying to demand honour is like doing what Jesus accused the religious leaders of doing in taking the place of honour at the feasts (Matt.23:6). It is being like the guy in the parable that Jesus then told (Luke 14:7-11- a really important story to learn from as we try to develop a culture of honour). This guy decided how much honour he thought he was worth by where he chose to seat himself. He then ended up being humiliated as he was moved down the table. It is good to remember what I heard an old preacher say many years ago: God says our job is to humble ourselves and his job is to lift us up in due time (1 Peter 5:6); if we try to do his job for him, he will end up doing our job for us!

Jesus went on to encourage us to take the lowest place - and rather than regarding this as doing a menial job necessarily, I'd suggest we see it as taking a place where we concern ourselves primarily with the honour we give to others rather than what they give to us. Let others grant the honour (as happens in the parable - v.10) rather than try to demand it.

If people fail to honour the grace-gift in us, we have to learn to deal with it, and leave it with God for the 'due time'. I think part of Paul's tone in Romans 12:6-8 is like he is saying 'stop waiting for the title, or the position, or the honour; if you have a gift  just get on and exercise it. And then let others recognise and celebrate the grace within you as it becomes obvious to all.' We don't need a position to be powerful. We don't need recognition to release the gift. Let's just use the grace he has given us to bless others.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Who do we honour?

In my last post I suggested that honour (together with humility) is a key principle and attitude for the effective functioning of the spiritual body where people have different gifts and roles, where there is leadership but not hierarchy, and where roles and functions are according to gift not rank, to grace/anointing, not title/position. If you want to know who should be functioning in a certain role, in a hierarchy you just ask the boss! In an organic, spiritual community, you have to operate in honour, to recognise and release the flow of grace for the different giftings and anointings. I am focusing here on honour in relation to the release of grace-gifting, but I'd like to say something about how honour should operate as a general principle by addressing the question, who do we honour? Of course, God always gets the highest honour but he teaches us to honour others - so who? I suggest at least the following:

  • Honour all people - see 1 Pet.2:17 (ESV): every person has grace in them as people created by God and in his image. God places value on them (another way of understanding honour) to the highest degree - the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet.1:18-19).
  • Honour fathers and mothers, natural and spiritual - see Eph.6:2-3: this speaks of those leaders and others who care for us, watch over us, teach us, shape us and pass on an inheritance to us; this includes elders (1 Tim.5:17) but also other faithful and mature Christians who do or have parented us.
  • Honour each other - Rom.12:10: the ESV says 'Outdo one another in showing honour'. What an amazing church it will be when we genuinely seek to prefer and honour others beyond ourselves!!
  • Honour the grace-gifting within people - Matt.10:41: this has been the focus of the last few posts and is essential for the functioning of the body (I'll post more on this issue of releasing gifting in future). 
  • Honour the seemingly least honourable - 1 Cor.12:22-24: it's easy to honour those in obvious 'positions' or with more apparent and public gifting, or more attractive personalities; but the way of God's different kingdom is to give even more honour to seemingly 'the least'. There is no place in God's church for haughtiness, only honour (Rom.12:16). Look out for those who others overlook and specialise in honouring them.
Next post: why you cannot demand honour.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Culture of Honour

Reflecting on Romans 12:1-8, I suggested in my last post that we have to replace hierarchy with humility and honour, or we are left with anarchy. Let me say a little more about honour.

I understand honour to be about recognising and celebrating the grace of God in and upon others. In this passage it is relevant to 1) Paul's appeal to them to receive his word on the basis of  'the grace given me' (v.3); and 2) his encouragement for all of them to confidently exercise their various gifts 'according to the grace given to each of us' (v.6). It was important for them to honour his apostolic leadership (which was truly charismatic i.e. according to grace gifting; not just positional). But he also wanted to release the grace gifting among the whole body (vv.4-6). That will mean that we not only confidently exercise our own gifting but that we honour others - see and help draw out the the grace of God within them. We recognise the grace gifting in others, we celebrate it, rejoice in it, open ourselves to receive from it, and in doing so we draw out the gold that God has placed within each person. This is really what it means to be a truly 'charismatic' church. (I will need to do another post soon on the nature of gifting as I think, historically, the charismatic church has actually had quite a narrow view of grace-gifting!).

One last point, which has been made well by Bill Johnson in his writings and ministry (see here for example). Honour releases blessing, life and power. When we honour parents we get long life (Eph.6:2-3); when we receive/honour the prophet, we get his/her reward (Matt.10:41). And I think that this is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 5:21 where he says 'submit to each other out of reverence for Christ' as one of the actions that we should continually engage in in order to stay continually filled with the Holy Spirit (see Eph.5:18-21). If I'm right, then honouring others is a key to staying full of the Spirit!

Next post: more on who do we honour?

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Replacing hierarchy

When you realise that hierarchy has no place in God's different kingdom, it's important to know what takes its place for the effective organising and functioning of a church community. Without some appropriate principles in place, we can end up replacing hierarchy with anarchy (everyone doing as they see fit) - with disastrous results! I don't want to live under a dictator or despot, but nor do I want to live in a failed state. I don't want to live in Syria or Somalia!

Over the next few posts I am going to use Romans 12:1-8 as a springboard passage for thinking about the principles that replace hierarchy. This is one of the passages where the New Testament uses the image of the one body with many different parts as a fundamental picture. It is an ideal picture of a family with each member uniquely gifted to play their part, free and empowered to exercise that gift, yet all functioning together in unity. What causes that to happen when it is not a chain of command with clearly delineated roles and ranks, and a culture of command and control?

I think that there are two vitally important principles: humility and honour. In brief, humility means we are able to realise what we haven't got and be secure about that, and honour means we recognise and value what others have got and be able to celebrate that. This encourages the interdependence necessary for a body to function. It stops an eye trying to be an ear, or a foot being jealous of a knee!

A little more on humility. Forget religious ideas of this, or any thoughts of false modesty. Think of it as self-awareness. It actually involves being aware of how God has made you, the way he has wired you and shaped you, and being totally secure about that. Then you have nothing to prove to anyone and you don't have to try to be something that you are not. So actually humility does involve knowing what you have got as well as what you haven't got; but it means your identity doesn't come from your gift, or from what you do. It comes from who you are - a child of God. That's what makes you secure enough to serve with humility. Then when it comes to the exercise of gift, you are free to be how he made you and not try to be more than that. I think that this is what Paul means when he says here: 'Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.' (v.3, NLT). He's not talking about your identity - you can't get any better than being a son of God! He is talking about your gift: and if God has formed you to be a brilliantly functioning knee, don't waste your life trying to be an ankle! Just love and accept how he has made you!!

Next post: more on honour.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Restoration Legacy - Summary

OK, so actually just one one more post on the Restoration legacy thing. As I've spread it out over such a long period, thought I'd provide a summary list of the things that I have suggested are part of the postive legacy left behind by the restoration movement:
  1. a new wineskin of church that is ideally more relational, charismatic and organic
  2. the spirit of the pilgrim church - a willingness to change and respond to any new thing that God does
  3. the concept of real commitment to the local church community
  4. understanding of church as organic community
  5. the value of voluntary submission to anointed leadership and authority in the church (with some caveats)
  6. openness to being discipled, sacrificing independence and having a teachable spirit
  7. an end to the one-man show in church ministry and realising everyone is called to 'ministry'
  8. the recovery of the ministries of apostles and prophets
  9. a challenge to religiosity and super-spirituality
  10. freedom and passionate extravagance in praise and worship
  11. living a life of overcoming faith
  12. a theology of hope - that we can be part of preparing a bride for the king, and begin the process of transforming this world by advancing his kingdom before Jesus returns!
What a legacy!!

Is there anything that those of you who have been part of this movement (or been influenced by its message) over the years, would add to this list?
(By the way, if you struggle to connect in order to leave a comment, please let me know; others have told me this has been a problem).

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Restoration Legacy 7

Dissertation done!! So finally getting round to writing the last of these thoughts on the legacy of the restoration movement. This last is top of the list for me really, and ironically is what the dissertation that has stopped me from posting more often is all about:
  • a theology of hope - or what I have been calling a positive and transformative eschatology (in academic writing). Eschatology refers to what we understand not only about the end times, but about the ultimate purpose, goal or 'hope' that the whole of creation and history is working towards. We know that it ends with the return of Jesus and the new creation of a new heaven and earth. But before the restoration movement, the most prevalent view among Christians was that things in the world were going to get worse and worse, the church was going to get generally lukewarm, there was no need to try to change anything in the world as it was all going to get destroyed anyway, but before then Jesus would come back and rescue-rapture us Christians and we just had to 'hold on' until then. Some people sadly still believe this negative and defeatist eschatology, the spirit of a theology called pre-millennial dispensationalism (explaining all that Left Behind nonsense!). But through the restoration movement I learned that actually Jesus is coming back for a glorious and victorious church, a bride who has made herself ready for her king; that we don't withdraw or retreat from the world but we get involved and expect to see transformation now, because the kingdom has already come; that God is not just seeking to get us into heaven but to bring heaven to earth. Even though the kingdom is still to come in its fullness, we are involved already in the process of restoration in the here and now; we get to anticipate that new creation now, tasting the powers of an age to come, bringing heaven to earth, the kingdom of God into our areas of influence; and heaven is not our destiny but a restored and re-created earth, united with heaven, is our ultimate home. I'd say on reflection now that we sometimes allowed this message to produce a triumphalist spirit and a culture where our rhetoric was not always matched  by our practice. I have come increasingly to see that the cross must be kept at the centre of our understanding of the kingdom (I'll post more on this in the future as it is what is most occupying by thoughts at the moment). The kingdom is a different kingdom, a counter-cultural kingdom and its values and criteria for success are different from the world. Nevertheless, the message that has gripped me all these years and for which I feel so indebted to men like Bryn Jones, Arthur Wallis, Ern Baxter, Terry Virgo, Keri Jones, Tony Ling, Hugh Thompson, David Matthew, and others is that God's future kingdom has already broken in upon our world and is transforming it and we, the church, get to be part of advancing that kingdom in the earth, of transforming our world by the power of the cross and we live to see God's glory filling the earth as the waters cover the sea. This is part of the legacy I definitely want to hold on to!! And it's a purpose worth living for!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Restoration Legacy 6

I can't believe that I haven't blogged in this new year yet! It is because my mind has been focused on finishing my dissertation as well as the daily responsibilities of church leadership. Perhaps it is true that men cannot multi-task and focus on more than 1-2 things at once! Seems to be in my case (anyway, happy new year to all my readers!)

But I want to comment on just two more things that I regard as the legacy of the restoration movement. Just one of them today and the last tomorrow, hopefully.
  • a life of faith - again this was not exclusive to the restoration movement, but certainly it was something that I learned from the key players in it. They taught us to have a big view of God, to expect great things from him, to believe that we are more than conquerors, that we can overcome life's challenges and that God leads us in victory (2 Cor.2:14). It challenged what was often an insipid, negative, beaten down, victim mentality among  many Christians and churches, and encouraged us to believe that those who received of God's grace could reign in life (Rom.5:17). There were times that this emphasis was unbalanced so that it took on a triumphalist, macho-Christian tone which made some of us at times unsympathetic to the weak, underestimating of the challenges people faced and simplistic about what are often complex problems.I would want to make sure now that faith was expressed through love (Gal.5:6) and combined with the endurance of hope (1 Thess.1:3) but overall I think that it is a great emphasis and is the tone of the New Testament. The Christian life is a life of faith and if we don't stand firm in faith we just won't stand (Is.7:9).  I tell people now that I preach faith not because I think life is meant to be easy but because I know that sometimes it can be very hard. So I am grateful to those who taught this, modelled it and encouraged it, and especially to those who still do.