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The Church, the Gospel, and abuse of the pulpit

January 22, 2012 1 comment

The following is written by John Weirick. John is a physically distant and electronically close friend. He is a lover of Jesus, leader of men, communicator of the gospel, and, as displayed here, a wonderful exegete of the culture. You can find his website in my blogroll to the right.

Atlanta, Georgia’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, according to its website, is “built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ,” and has long been an environment fostering the social justice movement. Boasting its great history as a leading site of Civil Rights events and coordination, Ebenezer Baptist was even pastored by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.

It’s not surprising that this was the location hosting senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett, on the anniversary of Dr. King’s birth. It was reported that Jarrett praised Dr. King’s work as essential to the possibility of Barack Obama ascending to the Oval Office. Many may also remember that then-Senator Obama manned the pulpit in 2008 prior to reaching the presidency.

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“It felt appropriate to have her here,” said Rev. Raphael Warnock. Ebenezer is several weeks into a voter registration drive, which will continue until November elections, providing attendees the opportunity to register in the lobby before leaving the church facilities.

Jarrett spoke before Warnock’s sermon, and garnered the audience’s applause with two remarks in particular:

“We all sleep a little better at night knowing Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants are not plotting a terrorist attack against the United States.”

“Teachers and firefighters and policemen, whose jobs are now in jeopardy because Congress, well let me be specific, because the Republicans in Congress…”

More thoughts on news stories.    More thoughts on the Gospel.

Warnock’s sermon continued the politically charged theme, leaking tones of his liberation theological bent, even calling out Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich:

“Mr. Gingrich, let there be welfare reform, and let it begin with you…He is playing an old game that’s part of the southern strategy…I think he’s relying on old logic of scapegoating and race baiting.”

I am deeply disturbed, and I am not alone.

As we’ve joined Jeremiah on his thoughtful and concerned exposition of what the Church of Jesus should look like, this is no doubt an issue that has broad implications. There is no shortage of discussion material that could be explored here, including the proper relation of politics and the Church, individual Christians involved in politics, government roles, social justice, civil rights, racial tension, liberation theology, and other contentious topics. However, my main concern here is this: how should the Church use the pulpit?

Even setting aside the issue of the “legality” of all but endorsing a political candidate by hosting one of his top advisers and representatives, and speaking against a candidate (threatening non-profit, 501c3 status), this is a bold move by Ebenezer Baptist Church. [IRS: “…Public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.”]

Why did Rev. Warnock surrender the pulpit to such a figure? What did he hope to accomplish with this? Was this an intentional, thoughtful use of people’s time attending the church gathering? How is Jarrett’s celebration of the death of Bin Laden providing the audience meaningful spiritual substance? What perception does this give the public at large about Ebenezer Baptist Church? Or about the Church locally, nationally, or globally? Do we want the world to see the Church in this light, as a forum for more political and socioeconomic divisiveness? Does the Church not project a perception of who God is and what He’s like?

How should Jesus’ Church use the pulpit?

A position of leadership and speaking to a gathered body of people should not be taken lightly, and therefore must be stewarded wisely. The pulpit, as a placement of authority, ultimately belongs to God and not man; we are only borrowing it, but we’ll be held responsible for how it is used.

The intention of the pulpit is to proclaim and celebrate God’s truth in Scripture and the world, to remind us of His heart, to call us out of sin and to repentance, to cast vision for the direction God calls his followers, to instigate believers to live adventurously with God’s Spirit in loving and serving the world, and to bring us back to the centrality of life: while we were still stuck in the mire of sin, Jesus dwelt among us, died to put our sins to death, and resurrected to bring us also back to life in Him. The pulpit is about the Gospel, because without it, truth is incomplete, God is too impersonal, the world too un-navigable, our lives of no culminating significance, and grace too unattainable. The pulpit must be used to re-gather God’s people around their purpose for living, enjoying the Creator and His creation.

Perhaps most importantly, in this instance of opening the pulpit to a high-profile guest, where was Jesus?  Not once was Christ mentioned, nor was God name-dropped; neither was there a semblance of biblical teaching, instruction, or leading of attendees into a holistic, godly life following Jesus. [I realize the nature of news reports is to share only succinct soundbites and the most sensational statements, but there has been no shred of Jesus mentioned in any of the broadcasts or transcripts. I would love to be proven incorrect by hearing that Rev. Warnock actually did preach a sermon about Jesus, although it’s hard to argue that the Gospel would not be muddied by including such flagrant speech against a political figure in his same message.] To give a guest speaker, or even a pastor or leader figure, warranted time on the platform to share a message that is void of Jesus and the Gospel, is at best a disjointed, incomplete message, and at worst a disservice and disgrace to the Church for which Jesus died to redeem.

If we contrast how Jesus used the position of the pulpit (although a physical pulpit may not have been the precise location of his teaching), we see Him steward the platform for spiritual authority with great wisdom, boldness, and substance. In the Gospel accounts, for example, we see Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount and visit synagogues to read Scripture. In preaching a brief message based on the prophet Isaiah’s writings, Jesus’ exegesis of Scripture reveals that He is the fulfillment of it. The redeemer of the oppressed, the giver of sight to the blind; despite the imperfection of the world, He is making all things new. We would do well to rightly divide the word of truth in our stewardship of the pulpit.

Do you see unfitting use of the pulpit? What abuses must be avoided? How can we effectively and faithfully steward places and positions of authority?

John writes more at johnweirick.com and is grateful for the opportunity and friendship provided by Jeremiah.

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If I Had To Write A Book On Leadership It Would Go Something Like This

February 17, 2011 3 comments

I’m not a super experienced church leader. But for a while, I was well on my way to becoming one. I was in high school and I led my small group, led middle schoolers, mentored those younger in the faith, was on leadership teams, read leadership books, and went to leadership conferences frequently, As a freshman in college, I did the same thing on a different level. I started a college church group with a friend, led a bible study there, led leaders there, kicked leaders out of there, led some more, kept reading leadership books, then left that whole deal. I’ve played the church leadership game. It was fun.

I got all the comments that people want to hear too. “You’re a very strong leader.” “I have a lot of respect for you.” “You have so much leadership potential.” “A lot of people look up to you.” “I’ve never seen a leader like you.” Blah blah blah. They were nice to hear. They were encouraging. But the more I read Scripture, the less I really saw about leadership. At least not of the same sort I heard describe described by others around me, church heads, and the many books I read on the topic.

It felt like people all thought that the same skill set for leading in the business world was the skill set needed for leading in the church. I had the skill set for leading in business environments, but that only works in the church if it functions primarily like a systematic organization. The business style of leadership worked for me. Uh oh. I became disenchanted with the whole deal, with the whole idea of leadership that I felt I had been taught.

The longer I live in this brief life, the less and less important the idea of leadership seems to me. As far as the world of Jesus-followers is concerned, I don’t really think that we need more great leaders. I don’t think that’s the kind of revival we’re looking for. I don’t think we need more people who really want to have authority over others in order to help them, teach them, or guide them. The global church doesn’t need more initiators or people that really take charge. The gatherings of believers in the world do not need to spend more time focusing on potential future leaders to build the kingdom of God on earth.

Moses is a classic leadership example that I am going to use. A lot of leadership books have used the example of Moses. Then they go into a discussion of these different leadership characteristics he had and the way that he led and they say things about the story that just don’t seem quite true, but fit into their book. I’d like to just stop at Moses.

Moses was a terrible candidate to be a leader. If he had sent me a resume to be the CEO of my company, I wouldn’t even have given him enough credit to send him a letter telling him he didn’t get the job. He wasn’t exactly good with people. To get revenge for a violent, but still normal and daily, action by an Egyptian, he killed him secretly. That was his strategy for helping. As a result, he made the Egyptians want to kill him and his people mock him and criticize him. I guess you could call him an initiator, but you could also call him a fool who wasn’t in control of his own actions. Then he goes off into the desert to hide. Bold and courageous Moses. He helped some hot women get some water (which is awesome), then defaulted to marrying one of them. Being the ambitious self starter that he is, after a long period of time we find that Moses’ career path is… to tend sheep for his father in law. He took life by the horns and wrestled it so he could live the dream – working for his in laws. Then God calls him in a miraculous and powerful way. And our self-confident leader Moses says he’ll go, sort of. As long as God lets Aaron do the speaking for him.

Do you see what I mean? For those involved in church leadership, is this the dude you would choose to lead hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children into the promised land? Does he have what you look for in young leadership to develop to be the future of the worldwide assemblies of believers in Jesus? Is Moses the guy of Maxwell, Stanley, Blanchard, or Hybels? Does he have the right qualities to be a leader in today’s church?

I love Moses. Moses is freaking amazing. He is, in so many ways, such a great model for our lives. But he is not a good model because of his many leadership qualities. I think he is a great model because of one leadership quality. Numbers 12: 3 “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone on the face of the earth.” We see this in his first direct interaction with God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt.” He’s no one. And he knows it. In his humility, he knows it. Through his honest humility, he develops a relationship with God where despite Moses’ weaknesses, lack of confidence, and incapacity, YHWH works through him to do amazing things. Moses was not a typical leader but that didn’t matter to God. Moses’ lack made no difference in his effectiveness. Because God’s Spirit gifted Moses with the ability to lead, Moses’ effectiveness at leadership could only limited by his pride, and he had less of it than anyone on earth.

I do not believe in developing leaders. I believe in developing people (which includes leaders). I believe in speaking the word of God to people to be humble, and in humility live in right relationship with God, and through humility receive God’s power. And if in one’s love for God and others, gifted by the Spirit of God, they find themselves called to be a leader let them lead and do so diligently. But if their gift is serving, then let them do so cheerfully. If it is prophecy, let them do so boldly. Let them all exercise their gifts out of humble love.

If a leader is leading because of their leadership qualities and desire to lead and not out of the empowering of the Holy Spirit brought about by the person’s humble relationship of love with Jesus, that’s a serious issue for our churches. God then is working through these persons misactions and misguided heart rather than through their humble obedience. And in their desire to lead and in successful leading, the leader so often becomes deluded, believing that leadership is their honoring of God, is tantamount to obedience, and is their necessary path to being like Jesus. For many, leading in the church often comes at the expense of intimacy and humility. And others who are close to God are ignored by those positioned in some sort of spot of authority in the church because they lack leadership characteristics. There is a tendency to prop up quality business leaders in our church gatherings at the expense of the humble men and women that God would rather position there. Be wary.

Also, to quote my favorite author outside of the Bible, “at least 20 percent of what I am telling you is wrong, but I don’t know which 20% it is: I make many mistakes in life, in relationships and in work, and I don’t expect to be free of them in my thinking.”

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