Thursday, October 29, 2009

the glory of preaching

How ironic is this...

With 200+ books on preaching on my shelves and with 20 years of teaching preaching in the classroom and with a multitude of moans about 'why can't just one of those books serve as a textbook in just one of those years in the classroom' - well, in the year that I finish as a classroom teacher, the textbook shows up.

Darrell W. Johnson, The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God's Transformation of the World (IVP, 2009). Yep - it is that good. It may not be the best book I've ever read on preaching, but as far as basic, comprehensive textbooks go, it enters the charts at Number One.


1. I am Stottian in my convictions. That means theology is more important than methodology. That means holding your techniques lightly, but being held by your convictions tightly. I love the way Johnson opens with 4 chapters on convictions ("theoretical foundations for participating") and then it is 5 chapters on techniques ("human mechanics on participating") - before concluding with 1 chapter on convictions again ("theoretical foundations again"). I like the symmetry. I like what the symmetry is saying. Students need this in their foundations.

2. There is something in his basic metaphor of 'participating': "expository preaching is not about getting a message out of the text; it is about inviting people into the text so that the text can do what only the text can do" - 58).

3. I confess - as I have done before in this blog - that I am somewhat dubious about the North American academic homiletic tradition. With their books they tend to talk among themselves and create this massive industry - and it just feels a bit ivory-tower-ish and club-ish to me. Not sure. What I am sure of is that Johnson is so refreshingly different. It drips out of his book. Not a lot of polish. It is almost chatty. His career has bounced between church and academy and between East and West. He has been a pastor (I think he has just left Regent College in a return to the pastorate) and he has been a missionary in the Philippines. It shows. I like it.

4. Let's face it! Johnson has written a whole heap of stuff I'd dream about putting in a 'book' on preaching. So there is a depressing side to reading this book!
For example:
(a) his definition of preaching emphasizes the need to be "causing a shift in worldview" - YES!;
(b) he makes space for the significance of the parable of the sower/seed/soils - YES!;
(c) he has such a high view of the Bible - informing, transforming and performing - YES! ("our task as preachers is to open the text in such a way that the text itself does what only the text can do" - 165);
(d) he includes an entire chapter on "the many-verbed wonder (which is) the preaching moment" (98) - YES! (even classifying them into four quadrants - "hold me back lest I swoon");
(e) he lingers with the importance of mere observation of what the text is in saying and with a genre-sensitivity - YES!;
(f) he includes his manuscript of a sermon and he does it just like I do - so unlike an essay - YES!

5. Then there are other topics on which Johnson is so fresh and so clear, even prophetic.
For example:
(a) 'truth through personality' becomes "personhood" as he takes us through Temperament, Woundedness, and Gifting ("burnout in ministry does not result from overworking; burnout results from not honouring who we are and instead trying to be who we think we ought to be" - 190);
(b) betraying his experience in Asia, he puts postmodernity (and the new atheism, I might add) in its place - pleading with the reader to open their eyes and realise that in the future inter-faith issues are going to be of far more consequence than lack-of-faith issues;
(c) keeping the sociologists and the marketers at arm's length a bit, he questions aspects of the pursuit or relevance and the place of seeker-sensitivity. In effect - 'if you are going to let those guys define the problem you may find yourself checking them out for the total solution as well ... and the drift from the gospel has begun'.
(d) affirming the need for the Spirit at work at both ends, saved appropriately for his concluding chapter;
(e) having a little word for those who tend to be intimidated by the visual as preachers - "the power of a film does not lie in its sights alone but also in its sounds" (145).

6. Some of the stuff he says is just downright intriguing. It makes you want to respond - "really?! - please explain yourself".
For example:
(a) the case he makes for continuing to handwrite his notes, rather than using a word-processor (135);
(b) the case he makes for application not being the preacher's responsibility - rather it is "implication" - "to expect preachers to apply the text for their listeners is to ask them to play God ... the pressure to apply is a modernist pressure, not a biblical pressure" - 159);
(c) the way he plans for the next year's special service immediately after this year's version - "why wait for a few weeks or months? Late Christmas Eve is the best time to prepare (for next year) because, one, all the sounds and smells and sights of the celebration are fresh in my senses and, two, I know what I did not preach for lack of time and wished I could have" - 210).

7. Finally, I have met Darrell. He took me out to lunch one day in Vancouver. I liked him a lot. No airs. Just a natural authentic person. I actually invited him to NZ and he had to cancel on me in the end. I might try again.

nice chatting


Monday, October 26, 2009

koru clubs

It happened again.

Sitting in yet another Majority World church context - this time the Graduation Ceremony of the Phnom Penh Bible School in Cambodia - and I find it staring me in the face from the front wall in huge font. The whole focus is on maturity: "help your people grow in Christ".

This is one of the twin mandates of the church in the New Testament. The other mandate is mission. But it seldom receives the same focus because people tend to be coming to Christ and evangelism and church-planting is happening anyway. It is almost routine. The great need is to see people mature.

The context back home in New Zealand is just so different. The mission challenge is immense. It hogs the headlines as we struggle along. However let's not forget to invest heavily in maturing the people of God. This is done primarily through the ministries of the Word of God. We might be surprised at how this impacts that mission challenge we face. That is why this view adjacent to the deck outside our new home is just so energising. This is exactly what I pray for the churches of New Zealand: that they would become koru clubs, gatherings of people unfurling into likeness to Christ as they remain in Christ. I reckon that this has massive missional potential - and without it mission is going to keep disintegrating into a perennially messy ineffectiveness.

Here is to being faithful to the twin mandates of the church: maturity and mission

nice chatting


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

my niece is an author

Yes, a serious author.
So serious that you really should check her out.

Jasmine May Dodson has written and illustrated the most gorgeous little children's book. It is called The Fancy Fable of the Fairy's Frock.

Check out this page:

"Left and right they looked
and cocked their heads
for the way they had come
was now gobbled up by the snow
as were all the other trails.
They now found themselves
in an unfortunate conundrum
when obligingly at that moment
a scratching of the friendly variety
was heard in the periphery.
A wee nose emerged from the snowflakes."

Isn't that just beautiful?! Conundrum? Periphery? How can she get away with those words with kids? She does and she will because the imagery in word and in picture is so exquisite that it will hold the kids - and adults will keep on reading for the additional intrigue in the vocabulary. I loved the way my eyes feasted, my imagination fired, and my mind engaged all the way through the storyline. It is a remarkable piece of literature.

The book is available from Amazon with the link mentioned above. ISBN 978-0-473-15642-8. However a website (for NZ orders, in particular) is being constructed which will be easier and quicker: Don't wait for Christmas. Be in.

I know I shouldn't say this - but it is my blog so I can say whatever I like thank-you very much :) It is Beatrix-Potter-esque, that is what it is.

Jasmine is one talented young woman.

nice chatting

Jasmine May Dodson's uncle
(I am famous)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

imperatives and questions

I don't usually rehash sermons on this blog but on this occasion I have found the four imperatives in 2 Timothy 2.1-7 to be so compelling - particularly as I work away at the interface between the Post-Christian West (P-CW) and Post-Western Christianity (P-WC)...

"be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2.1)

Could it be that in the P-CW we are too strong in too many areas? We have books and DVDs. We have programmes and seminars. We have colleges and consultants. We have money. Let's face it - we don't really need Christ in order to function as the church. However in P-WC, time and time again, the only option available to people is to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Is that united-ness to Him really the truth on which we depend?

"the things you have heard me say ... entrust to reliable people ... qualified to teach" (2.2)

Could it be that in the P-CW we are placing gospel-sized hopes in leadership? It is important. Of course it is. But what kind of leader is required? Have we started to down-grade the skill of teaching? Might one of the issues today be that people are over-inspired and under-fed? Paul's plea to Timothy was about entrusting responsibility to leaders who are 'reliable people qualified to teach'. In P-WC when leaders are needed the eye still turns to the theological college - and when the college is at its best (which is not always the case, sadly), it is a great place to find reliable people qualified to teach.
And what about 'entrust'? Is this not a Pauline word for discipling, mentoring, coaching? As one leader said to me recently, "all mission is going to become mentoring", or entrusting. I suspect this will true regardless of whether we live in the P-CW or P-WC.

"endure hardship" (2.3)

Could it be that in the P-CW we are prioritising the wrong imperative as we live in this world? The call goes out - all the time - to be relevant. Of course we want to be relevant - but is it really that important? Does it not smack of too much salt and not enough light? Does it not end up being too concerned about minimising differences so as to help people be comfortable, rather than maximising differences to help some people be intrigued and attracted, while allowing many other people to mock and ridicule? There is something to endure in the life that bears witness to Christ in the public world - always, always, always. In P-WC endurance is just so commonplace as people experience oppression and persecution for their faith. The language of relevance rarely emerges. Have we been duped? C-mon, isn't mission in the P-CW hamstrung largely because we have forgotten to live different lives with distinction ... and then endure the consequences for the sake of Christ?

"reflect on what I am saying" (2.7)


nice chatting


Friday, October 09, 2009

the undefended leader (b)

Volume Two is subtitled "training in the exercise of power" - and that is exactly what the book covers. Volume One was about locating the source of freedom as a leader and Volume Two moves on to articulate what it means to be a leader - and it is about power.

Simon Walker opens with describing the forces at work in the power transactions which come with leadership. Firstly we return to the back stage:front stage forces from Volume One as an effective leader will be in command of both stages. Secondly there is a discussion of strong and weak forces in leadership. For example, the British Raj exerted 'strong' force, while Mahatma Gandhi used 'weak' force to exert influence. So strong force imposes shape, direction, or constraint - exuding strong personalities, positional power and formal authority. Weak force resources people through affiliation, respect or trust - moving to create consensus, foster trust, offer an invitation, or make a sacrifice. There is room for both, a need for both. Thirdly there is a choice between 'expanding' and 'consolidating' forces. Expansion is when 'we extend our territory and possesions', while consolidation is when 'we stabilise and build up what we already have but could lose'.

Walker loves his sketched images(!) and on p29 he presents the image of a bicycle where these three pairs of forces are illustrated. I can't begin to describe it! But he then places these three pairs of forces into various combinations to create "eight different patterns of power, each with its own character." (31) He names these "patterns of power" as Commanding, Foundational, Pacesetting, Visionary, Consensual, Self-emptying, Affiliative, and Serving - each one with full and helpful descriptors. "These eight different strategies represent the full repetoire of skills that are involved in effective leadership". (33)

Then each individual 'pattern' receives a whole chapter of explanation, together with an example of such a leader. Rather regrettably, there was an over-reliance on American presidents and an under-representation of women (none!) in the examples which he used. But he must hear that critique all the time so I won't dwell on it because the substance of what he says is just so helpful. The "ecology of power" is examined with each pattern as the interplay of the three sets of forces is explained. Each chapter concludes with ideas on how to implement each strategy, some examples of that strategy, and when to use it. A feature of Walker's writing is his capacity to illustrate and apply what he says. The total combo is as insightful as it is practical.

For the record, Abraham Lincoln reflects the Foundational, Franklin D. Roosevelt the Commanding, Ronald Reagan the Affiliative, Jimmy Carter the Serving, Winston Churchill the Pacesetting, Martin Luther King the Visionary, Nelson Mandela the Consensual, and Jesus of Nazareth the Self-emptying. Naturally what matters is being able "to use the right kind of power at the right time on the right occasion." (53)

The Consensual discussion becomes interesting because in being collective in its approach, it is "highly non-Western" (108). The essence of this strategy is "to build up the strength of the relationships between people" (108) and then Walker speaks of a boss who urged him to 'look at the spaces between people'. "The health and strength of any organisation lays not in the capacity of any one of its people or its departments, or its vision or its growth, but in the strength of the bonds that exist between people." (108) So reassuring to read him say it like this!

Then the Self-emptying is intriguing because Jesus is the model offered. At one point, back in the Raj:Gandhi example, he asks "how can vulnerability work to change the course of events?" (122). This is 'weak' force - but it can be so influential. "Self-sacrifice is the conscious choice not to use force or to exercise power but instead to allow something to be done to you." (122). That is a long way from standing up for your rights with a show of 'strong' force! He advocates the "strategic use of weakness" at the right time - but in so doing a leader must be willing to suffer and must be able to bear the suffering without being overwhelmed...

A couple of useful final chapters. Ch 14 - Finding the Holy Grail of Leadership - and the need for a leader to "understand the kind of power she is using and whether it is the appropriate kind to use in that situation." (133) The leader's "signature" becomes the array of strategies they are able to use effectively - with the understanding that we aim to develop in all eight strategies to enable a "mobility" in leadership. Great tips on how to do this on p141-2. "assemble a council of wise friends" ... "every leader needs to have an area of her life in which she is being led" ... "practise being still" ... "lay down your power at major junctions of your life" ... Those attached to success and results will find the use of 'weak' force diffcult. Those frightened of failure will struggle with using 'strong' forces.

Then in ch 16 - The Hospitality of the Undefended Leader - Walker is in search of a "new way of thinking of what a leader really needs to be" (152) and he comes with the idea of a leader being "a host" - because it is about the kind of space which we create around us. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant. The most refreshing description of leadership I've heard in years. A host! So, at the core each of the eight strategies do something with the 'space around us' and between us and other people. "Used in concert, they offer a repertoire of social and emotional skills that allow a host to create and sustain a healthy, enriching, dynamic and (most importantly) humane space in which people can grow and give of their best." (152)

Can I close with a three paragraph quotation from p154? Well, I am going to anyway!

"Undefended leadership is about a kind of generous hospitality: a giving of ourselves to the world that transforms it, an opening-up of space in our lives in which the 'other' is welcomed and, indeed, utterly changed. As such, it is a task that depends on the 'space' available within the leader that others can be invited into. The quest to become undefended leaders is a quest to cultivate this interior space within ourselves, as well as the fluency to become welcoming hosts who can enrich our guests.
We've come to accept an idea of leadership in which the character of the leader is virtually irrelevant to his task as leader. The concept of undefended leadership contradicts this and insists that the right character is the primary attribute required. We've come to accept an idea of leadership in which the leader is strong and powerful and 'does things' for her followers. The concept of undefended leadership, however, says that first of all the leader must be led. Leadership is not a primary activity but a secondary one. A leader is not a leader first but a follower. First and foremost, she must be focused on the source of the love and grace that gives her security and sets her free.
Undefended leadership subverts expectations of power and self-sufficiency in favour of a life of vulnerability and dependence. It declares that the first steps taken by the undefended leader may not be on the metalled road to the trainnig school but on the rough path of personal discipleship. It is on that journey that the process of formation is begun. Undefended leadership begins not with the amassing of skills and the acquisition of power but with the humility of learning to trust and to receive. It insists that the leader must begin by receiving. Only then can he go on, enabled to give to others. It is only out of this kind of life that the freedom and power to act greatly can come." (154)

Admittedly, I am in the midst of a major transition in my working life as I move out of senior leadership as a Principal. This trilogy is giving me such sight and insight. We all have our strengths and weaknesses as leaders. Simon Walker, with almost surgical precision, has touched my weaknesses (which I am wired to remember too easily) as a leader and provided some healing - but also touched my strengths (which I am wired to forget too readily) as a leader and provided some reassurance. The books have been a God-send...

nice chatting


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

the undefended leader (a)

In recent months I have been discovering a treasure...

Back in 1997, in the months leading up to taking on the principalship at Carey, God reassured me in His call through a (secular!) book called The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes and Posner). Its impact on me was enormous. Now in the months after finishing as Principal at Carey a similar sort of reassurance has been flowing from God. I've been looking for something to help me process those years in senior leadership and a colleague in Langham pointed me towards this treasure.

It is the "undefended leader" trilogy by Simon Walker. Three brief, clear, fresh books on the nature of leadership. Leading out of Who You Are (I), Leading with Nothing to Lose (II), and Leading with Everything to Give (III). I have read the first two on recent plane trips and am saving #3 for the next trip. Can't wait...

Walker had me by the end of paragraph One in chapter One of volume One. "Leadership is about who you are, not what you know or what skills you have. Why is this? There are two reasons: leadership is about trust and it is about power (5)". Kouzes and Posner had pointed me in this direction. In all the years at Carey I tried to give priority to building-trust and sharing-power wherever and whenever I could. I consider it to be the essence of leadership. The best times as a leader were when I could see people flourishing within this framework. The worst times were when I could sense people misreading my intentions in these two areas. So ... to read this so early and so baldly in this trilogy both reassured me and pulled me in for the full trilogy. I have not been disappointed.

Walker recognises that every single one of us, not just some of us, have emotional needs. The message of Volume One is that "unless those needs are met in the context of a relationship with an Other who accepts us unconditionally, we will seek to meet them from human relationships around us. When a leader does this, she starts to exploit her followers as a surrogate source of affection, power, control, belonging or whatever it may be she needs. Her followers cease to be people she is freely serving and instead, to some extent, become commodities she needs and uses. The transaction between leader and followers becomes corrupted and, rather than freedom, it results in a kind of collusion. (II, 144)". When this "Other" is in place it brings a sense of identity, security, belonging, and affection which leads to the quality of 'undefendedness', enabling a leader to be truly free. The bulk of Volume One is given to describing the different 'egos' formed in childhood and how they impact the way a leader operates. He names them as the Shaping, the Defining, the Adapting, and the Defending 'Leadership Egos'.

The books have helpful images and tables - none more useful than his distinction between 'front stage' and 'back stage' forces at work in leadership. The front stage is what is explicit, visible, on the surface while the back stage is what is implicit, hidden or buried from sight. Walker's insights into the way these two stages inter-relate is so useful - food for compelling discussion in any mentoring relationship.

A highlight of Volume One is ch 13 - "Leading as a Child": (a) maintaining a light and playful touch; (b) retaining the capcity to wonder; (c) strengthening the bonds of trust; (d) learning to take responsibility. So also is ch 15 - "Setting Undefended Goals": (a) enabling people to embrace struggle; (b) enabling people to both develop and 'lay down' their skills; (c) enabling people to identify and embrace their vocations; (d) enabling people to 'know the moment'.

Some quotes I want to retain (blogs are great filing systems!):
"a leader is one who takes responsibility for people other than himself" (I, 17)

"Freedom comes when we start to allow people to see not only the glossy image - front stage - but the mess as well - back stage" (I, 33)

"If you want to know what the leader is like, you should look at the community around them" (I, 44-45)

"Only when a leader is willing to follow someone else's script can collaboration truly be said to be taking place" (I, 46)

"Freedom comes when we are concerned only about the opinion of the one in the audience who truly matters" (I, 103)

"The choices you make to live an undefended life, to lead as an undefended leader, are not made for the sake of balance or wellbeing; they are made for a greater good. And that greater good is to set people free" (I, 124)

"Nature builds in struggle as an essential part of the formation and development of healthy life (and leaders)" (I, 140)

"The only proper goal of leadership is this: to enable people to take responsibility" (I,153)

"Leadership is a task that occurs at every level of life and in every kind of sphere ... Leadership is a way of offering life to the world, in order to draw life out of the world. As such, it is a spiritual activity" (I, 154)

"I myself believe that all leaders should lay down their roles every five years or so. A period in which we are shorn of our power is good for us and reveals whether we are truly free" (I, 156)

"I have found that many of the skills I have possessed that I have also let go have been given back to me, but with a power they did not have before" (I, 157)

"I often look out for people with exceptional listening skills - the ability to sit quietly without interrupting or interpreting, to notice little things and to reserve judgement. These, rather than the confidence of power, are the things I would look for in a potential leader" (I, 158)

to be continued...

nice chatting