God’s sovereignty and personal compassion in public tragedy… and some other great links


Enjoy the following links!

Kevin DeYoung – The case for marriage

The Gospel Coalition – TGC13 media now available for free

Reformation 21 – The real problem with praise bands

Unashamed Workmen – Dr. Al Mohler on ‘Why expository preaching is a bad idea’ (this is an ironic title: Mohler is addressing objections to expository preaching and answering them)

Desiring God – God’s sovereignty and personal compassion in public tragedy

The big ego-trip


Big ego tripIn a large theatre in Seattle, USA, an overweight young mobile phone salesman called Stuart steps up to the microphone.

He is auditioning for a TV talent show. His gait, bearing, facial expression — the whole body-language package — signals that here, ladies and gentlemen, we have a loser.

Stuart is going to sing ‘opera’. As the judges glance sideways and roll their eyes, the audience sits back and waits for the fun to begin. What follows is a spine-tingling, lump-in-the-throat rendition of Nessun Dorma that brings the audience to its feet and the judges to their knees. It’s an electrifying piece of theatre that lays the foundations for huge recording contracts and international stardom.

But our young performer discovers another kind of stardom too. Within no time at all his story finds its way into inspirational seminars, life-changing coaching programmes and onto websites that promise to revolutionise your life. It turns out that, like Stuart, you too can release your inner strength, find your power and discover your destiny. Only ‘believe in yourself …’

Believe in yourself

In a London inner-city school, an eight-year-old girl sits enthralled. A teacher is telling the story of ‘mouse’. ‘Poor mouse’, says the teacher. ‘She’s forgotten that she has her own special gift. “I’m no good; I’m only a mouse!”’

‘Believe in yourself’, the little girl whispers.
‘I’m no good, I’m only a mouse!’

‘Believe in yourself’, her classmates join in. ‘Believe in yourself.’ As the children try to convince mouse that it’s ‘good’ to be who she is, it’s repeated over and over: ‘Believe in yourself!’

At the end of the lesson the children file out of the assembly room, chanting: ‘It’s good to be me, good to be me’. A school inspector sitting towards the rear of the classroom nods his quiet approval: a whole-school self-esteem policy that works.

Greatest sin

In New York, a black American pop singer is being interviewed for the latest issue ofHello! magazine. Described as a ‘global phenomenon’, she offers the usual briefing about her taste in fashion, boyfriends and the inevitable plug for her latest record. Then comes an unexpected question. The interviewer asks her to confide her ‘greatest sin’.

After a few moments of reflection, with utter sincerity, she makes her confession. ‘My greatest sin’, she intones, ‘is that I’ve never truly loved myself.’

In a small church hall in the Midwest of the United States, a young mother is calling her Sunday school lesson to order. A wall poster displays a fair-skinned Jesus smiling benignly at a group of Western children gathered around his knee.

‘You’re special!’ he is telling them.

‘Today’, the teacher announces, ‘we are going to let off a little self-esteem!’ None of the kids gets the joke.

The world of self-esteem

Welcome to the world of self-esteem. Half a century ago, if somebody complained of feeling down or that nobody liked them, that they were ‘no good’ or they didn’t like themselves, a friend would most likely offer advice along the following lines: ‘Don’t get stuck in your own problems. Don’t think about yourself so much. Instead of being a “here-I-am” person, try to be a “there-you-are” person! Think about other people. Try to get out more. Make new friends and explore some new interests. You’ll never get anywhere by contemplating your own navel’.

Today the same friend would offer radically different advice: ‘You need to believe in yourself more! Stop thinking so much about other people’s problems and worrying about other people’s expectations. You need to discover who you are. Be yourself. Learn to like yourself. Build up your self-esteem’.

Cultural change

How life has changed, and not just in the counselling room or on the psychiatrist’s couch. Now, everybody is ‘special’ and all must receive prizes. From their earliest years, we try to inoculate our kids against the hazards of low self-esteem: ‘You’re incredible!’; ‘Danger, princess on board!’; ‘What have we here, a Mozart in the making or what?!’ And when they grow up into mature adults striving for success and recognition, the message keeps on coming: ‘You just need to believe in yourself!’

Church change

Things have changed in our churches too. I sat in a committee meeting recently, addressed by a chirpy young ‘church-growth consultant’ sporting a spiky haircut and a PowerPoint presentation. Clicking on yet another depressing graph showing national church attendance figures heading southwards he announced: ‘Our churches need leaders who will help them build up their self-esteem’.

In my Sunday school days many decades ago, we sang a little song that went, ‘Jesus first, myself last, and others in between’. We would never teach our children to sing such self-negating tunes now. Why not? ‘Because you can’t love other people until first you love yourself.’ In this upside-down world of self-esteem it’s not the sin of pride that we take into the confessional, but the transgression of ‘not liking myself enough’.

No dissent

Hardly anybody disagrees with this now. It’s a no-brainer. Self-esteem ideology has gained acceptance among lawyers and academics, as well as politicians, educationalists and church leaders. In academic psychology it’s one of the most published topics in the whole of the psychological literature. What happened to bring this about? How did the self-esteem movement gain such a foothold in our lives?

The big fix

First, the self-esteem idea promised big. What started out with good intentions — to help a minority crushed by criticism to stop beating themselves up and take a more realistic view — became a one-size-fits-all solution for just about everybody. This didn’t just apply to bad feelings linked with a difficult and emotionally toxic childhood either. Self-esteem ideology made a land grab for the big questions of significance and personal ‘value’ too.

Everybody has questions about their value and significance. Since the beginning of time humans have puzzled over questions of where we figure in the grand scheme of things and what we are ‘worth’. The prophets of the Old Testament told us to ‘stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?’ (Isaiah 2.22). Even now, in the Higgs-boson era, issues of significance continue to haunt us. The self-esteem movement gripped our imagination because it engaged with this, the deepest and most profound problem of our lives, and it told us it could fix it.

Secondly, the self-esteem idea had experts. Oh yes, massed ranks of them. And the experts told us that promoting self-worth (or ‘boosterism’ as I prefer to call it) works. They convinced us that there was enough objective, scientific evidence about the terrible toll that low self-esteem wreaks in our lives to merit radical and far-reaching changes to the way we think. They said that, provided we recruit enough parents, teachers, Sunday school leaders and counsellors to the cause, bad self-esteem can be unlearned. And soon a vast army of self-help gurus, therapeutic educationalists and ‘cultural entrepreneurs’ stood ready to fill the breach.

Thirdly, when the self-esteem movement took off nearly half a century ago, it resonated perfectly with the emerging spirit of the age. After surfing the sexual revolution of the 1960s, self-esteem ideology thrived in the new humanisms of the 1970s and the materialistic orgies of the 1980s. Eventually, the primacy of self-admiration became the default cultural mode: If we want to love one another, first we have to learn to love ourselves — right? Who could disagree with that? And hey, hadn’t Jesus even said something about loving your neighbour as yourself? We overdosed on self-admiration and, as a result, the self-esteem movement gained a powerful foothold in the Western mind, and reshaped secular and Christian cultures alike.

The big con?

But did it work? It was only after decades of promoting self-esteem that academic psychologists got around to asking this, the most important question of all. What did they discover? Had the self-esteem movement delivered on its promises? Does encouraging people to value, love and honour themselves produce the kind of outcomes we all hoped for? And, for the Christian, what is the biblical perspective upon all of this?

Glynn Harrison is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, University of Bristol, where he was a practising consultant psychiatrist and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry. He preaches locally and speaks on issues of faith and psychology, neuroscience and psychiatry.

This article is edited from The Big Ego-trip by Glynn Harrison, published by IVP in February 2013, and is used with permission.

 

(This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

What’s coming up in the June issue of EN


June 2013 highlightsA few highlights to look forward to in the June issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday May 24. Of course you can always e-mail subs@e-n.org.uk as well if you’d like a complimentary copy or if you’d like to subscribe!

Don’t miss our ‘Churches Away supplement’ this issue – a listing of churches you could visit where you are on holiday.

The right to decide (book review)


 

THE RIGHT TO DECIDE The right to decide
Seeking justice for choices around unwanted same-sex attractions
By Michael R. Davidson
Core Issues Trust. 52 pages. £5.00
ISBN 978 0 957 373 907

This booklet is a collection of testimonies from those who have sought help with their unwanted same-sex attractions.

For most of the 13 stories, this preference comes from their Christian faith. Interestingly, though, the first account is from a non-Christian, which perhaps reflects the author’s desire to emphasise the case that the demand for therapy goes beyond the faith community.

The Preface and Introduction emphasise the agenda, along with the booklet’s title and cover (illustrating scales of justice), to fight back for the right of individuals to make their own choices and receive whatever form of therapy they want. This comes amid the current climate of professional counselling bodies (such as the UKCP and BACP) trying to label such therapies as unethical.

Some readers may agree with these introductory sections, but also find themselves uncomfortable with the emphasis on individual ‘rights’ (arguably not a biblical concept). I found myself wishing that the booklet had let the stories speak for themselves. The playing-down of the moral issues in the Preface (e.g. ‘some find homosexual practice morally wrong. In a sense, none of the reasons matters’) also suggests a secular target audience.

Testimonies have an astonishing power to persuade and even disarm those holding contrary views. In a way, no one can really argue against another person’s experiences, particularly in this postmodern age. Overall, then, these stories are powerful and persuasive. I would recommend this booklet to anyone with an interest in the subject.

Stuart Parker,
Associate Director of True Freedom Trust, a charity supporting those struggling with same-sex attractions (see http://www.truefreedomtrust.co.uk)

 

This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

 

Disciple-making leaders


DisciplemakingLeadersJohn Risbridger talks to Marcus Honeysett of Living Leadership

 

JR: You speak around the country about the need to grow and disciple leaders within local churches. Briefly, how do you understand biblical leadership?

MH: Paul speaks in Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 1 about working with people for their progress and joy in God, so that they grow firm in their faith and have abundant joy in Christ. That’s a great, simple definition of spiritual leadership. You don’t have to think very hard to see why a church that is standing firm in their faith and full of godly joy is going to be a beacon for the gospel.

JR: That is quite a different understanding to running meetings or managing the organisation of the church.

MH: It’s possible for churches to drift into a wrong understanding of why they exist. What started off as a group that wanted to impact its area with the gospel can, after a period, mutate into one that merely meets for believers to get their own spiritual needs met. The kind of leaders the church looks for depends on their understanding of their DNA. The first will look for leaders who equip and release all the disciples to be a community of witnesses; the second will look for someone who serves the organisation and ministers to the perceived needs of the Christians.

JR: So a major priority for leaders in local churches is to be equippers and facilitators?

MH: I find it hard to read Ephesians 4 any other way. I recently asked a group of leaders to read this chapter of the Bible and complete the following sentence: ‘According to Ephesians 4 the goal of biblical leadership is…’ Someone instantly replied: ‘To equip and release disciples who make disciples’. That’s it in a nutshell. The work of leaders is not to do all the gospel work while everyone else supports and pays for them. It’s to enable the gospel ministry of every Christian and help the church grow a sense of being a team of disciples working together.

JR: That will be a significant mindset shift for some churches. Can you recommend any books to help a church think about it?

MH: There is some really good material being written at the moment to help churches think about this critical shift in their thinking. Neil Hudson from LICC (Imagine Church — Releasing Whole Life Disciples, IVP) has written helpfully on how the contract (actual or implicit) between congregation and leaders needs to shift from one of ‘pastoral care’ to ‘pastoral equipping’. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address the same idea powerfully in their book, The Trellis and the Vine (The Good Book Company). You could do much worse than take one of these as your church book of the term.

JR: I’ve heard that Fruitful Leaders by Marcus Honeysett isn’t bad either! Why is it important, in your view, for leaders to train disciples to disciple others?

MH: I recently read somewhere that there are three fads that tend to come and go in churches: discipleship, mission and leadership training. I believe that we should combine all three and understand that we need to train leaders to make disciples who are actively participating in mission: disciples who know how to disciple other people. I agree with Steve Timmis when he says that, if we aren’t involved in some way in making disciples, then we aren’t disciples ourselves, because disciples make disciples.

That is the fundamental principle behind 2 Timothy 2.2, in which Paul tells Timothy to take what he has learned from him and pass it on to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. That’s four generations’ worth of believers and a vision for multiplication all in one verse!

JR: Don’t all church leaders train their churches to be involved in disciple-making?

MH: You would hope so. In reality, I think the number of churches which actually train every member to be involved in disciple-making is vanishingly small. The same is true for many leader-development programmes, which train people in theology and ministry skills but often don’t do much on how to make and multiply disciples.

And yet the fundamental call of God on every church is to go into the world and make disciples of Jesus: active followers, actively participating in Jesus’s mission, responding to his call to join his great cause. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people in local churches who haven’t grasped this core principle.

JR: How should the principle of making disciples shape the development of new leaders?

MH: It needs to shape leader-training programmes at all levels in churches and Bible colleges. Every element of training should aim to fulfil this goal. We need to train leaders to handle the Bible well, not just as an end in itself, but to make disciples who take the gospel to their neighbourhood and to the nations. We need to train people to pastor well, not as an end in itself, but so that those we pastor in turn counsel and nurture others. We need to train leaders who are certain that the local church is not just a chaplaincy for meeting the needs of Christians, but a mission team for impacting the world with the gospel. And we need to train leaders of churches, which haven’t got the disciple-making vision yet, to effect the difficult changes in church culture that will be needed and to handle the resistance they will encounter along the way.

JR: One new initiative you are involved in is the School of Missional Disciple-Making. Tell us a bit about it.

MH: The School is a joint initiative between Living Leadership and Above Bar Church in Southampton. Students and trainers come from a wide range of churches across Southampton and teaching input comes from people from several local churches, as well as the Navigators and Damaris. The curriculum is fully centred on the need to grow disciple-making leaders. It combines four tracks: (1) Bible handling, (2) spiritual formation of leaders, (3) principles of mission-focussed church and biblical leadership, and (4) how to disciple others and equip them, in turn, to disciple others. The School is both strongly biblical and deeply practical, encouraging the students to engage with non-Christians, one-to-one discipling and small group huddles with junior leaders, as well as identifying mission-focussed needs and opportunities in the city. It is great to see Above Bar and other churches establishing disciple-making as the core DNA of new leaders.

JR: So who is it for and is it really just a cheaper alternative to Bible College?

MH: No. Our focus is not on training a small number of people to be pastors (although for some we hope this may be a first step in that direction), but on training a large number of people at all levels to be disciple-making disciples!

JR: So how many students are involved and what are your plans for the future?

MH: During this pilot year we have 14 students. We are currently starting to recruit for next year’s intake, which we hope will be larger and draw people from a wider range of churches. Our vision for the coming years is to work with local churches to help develop training initiatives with the same ethos and content in other locations across the country.

John Risbridger is pastor of Above Bar Church, Southampton, and Marcus Honeysettis director of the organisation Living Leadership. If you would like to know more about the School of Missional Disciple-Making or Living Leadership, seehttp://www.missionaldisciplemaking.org.uk and http://www.livingleadership.org

 

(This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: Music and sunshine!


Summer is just around the corner. I am very much looking forward to doing things with my family that I don’t get to do in term-time — wearing shorts, eating Coco Pops, doing roly-polies down hills, foisting our two boys on the in-laws. I think the word ‘foist’ must have been invented with in-laws in mind — it seems to fit perfectly the action of ‘encouraging good relations between grandchildren and grandparents’.

Summer can also feel slightly bitty, especially if holidays are mixed in with helping on a Christian camp, attending weddings or going to the Olympics (I failed in my application for family tickets to the second round of the women’s weight-lifting, so no Olympics for me this century then). All this summer activity means a lot of coming and going through July and August, which is tough for churches musically, as in my experience musicians do more going than coming.

Getting ahead

For this reason, it’s worth getting ahead with planning as much as possible so that we’re confident that there’ll be at least one musician to hold the fort at each church meeting.

Summer music planning doesn’t involve just the provision of music at our home churches. There are many opportunities to serve over the holidays and to get better at the skills we need back at home. For instance, we know how much Christian holiday parties help equip church members more effectively for service back at home. This is also very true for those who help with music. I learned some of the most important lessons about how to lead singing from the piano at the Christian summer holiday party I help on. I made some horrendous mistakes along the way, but making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn.

Have a go

So, if you’ve got any type of musical skill at all (however small), why not volunteer to help with the music at a Christian holiday party? Musicians are always needed, and in my experience are (nearly) always hugely appreciated! It may seem a bit daunting to just throw yourself into it, but I was very inexperienced when I first played on my holiday party, so I used to practise on my own for over an hour before each meeting (for just four or five songs). That’s one of the beauties of holiday parties — you’re on site, so can always carve out time to practise if necessary.

Just have a go! A few years ago I was short of a drummer on my holiday party. A girl volunteered who’d only played the drums once before. The first couple of meetings were pretty ropey, but by the end of the week she’d got so confident that she felt able to serve back at her local church. Even more happily for me, I was running the music at that same church so I’d inherited another drummer! The point is that Christian holiday parties are a safe place to get things wrong and we’re really not expected to do everything perfectly. Everyone’s on our side and there’s always a good level of encouragement, if only because the sun’s out, everyone’s doing roly-polies down hills and they’re all eating Coco Pops too.

Opportunity to train

If you are slightly more experienced and always run the music on your holiday party, why not use the opportunity to step back and train others up? Christian holiday parties help us musicians to be much less territorial with ‘our’ music. It was very good for me when I was asked not to oversee the music one year. That’s because we could then help others gain confidence by letting them learn from the same mistakes that I made (and still make!). I was put in charge of the minibuses instead, which has a lot to do with me being quite old.

Finally, if you are the over-all leader of a holiday party (and even if you are not in the least bit musical) do think about asking someone to lead the music who might not be the first choice. You’ll be equipping your own holiday party with musicians for the future, but also your training will be much more widely appreciated as musicians gain experience and confidence to lead music in their local church.

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the May 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Greater than all our worries… and some other great links


Enjoy the following links!

Kevin DeYoung – Ain’t got no rhythm

The Proclaimer – Bruce Ware Love-in

Thabiti Anyabwile – Reforming a local church slowly

Unashamed Workmen – John MacArthur: Video lectures on expository preaching

Desiring God – Greater than all our worries