The Multiplying Leader

Founder of The Unstuck Group is the third entry in a new series.

I’ve always believed healthy leadership in the church is less about the leader and more about those being led. The real leadership development ‘win’ happens when all of God’s people are fully equipped to do his work. That means we should be intentional about identifying leaders and helping them discover the unique gift mix God has designed for their lives.

In the work my team and I do helping churches get unstuck at The Unstuck Group, leadership development consistently arises as a core issue churches say they are facing. The pastors we serve know it is important, and they know there is a strategy problem, but they feel stuck. The things they have tried aren’t working. If you can relate, here are two questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you programming instead of personalizing?

Churches that fail to develop leaders often try to program leadership development, instead of taking a more personal approach.

Another class or teaching most likely won’t create the culture you’re after. You must invest quality time and resources into key staff and lay leaders—and by that I don’t mean send team members to a conference and buy them a couple of leadership books each year. Real leaders see potential in people and proactively invest in them personally.

Create opportunities for them to implement the skills they are learning. Include lay leaders in your efforts. Doing so will help you find future staff who already have the DNA of your church. The results of proactively investing in leaders cannot be measured. People who have experienced this tend to keep the cycle going, and it builds a culture of leadership development.

2. Are you ignoring the leadership development pathway principle?

All leaders …

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Personality Tests—A Waste or a Resource?

Personality tests are helpful tools to understand the gifts and abilities that the Lord has given us.

Most of us have taken at least one personality test over the course of our lifetime. Some prefer StrengthsFinder, others appreciate Myers–Briggs, but each with the same objective: to better understand who we are and what we should do.

The popularity of these tests has only skyrocketed in recent years. Thousands of companies use them as recruiting tools and countless individuals use them as a means to answer some of life’s big questions.

And these tests (or inventories) appeal to a part of us because we sense a certain longing to know why we’re here and, most importantly, what exactly we were placed on earth to accomplish.

We Are Made for a Purpose

As Christians, we know that the time and circumstances of our birth were not arbitrarily selected or the product of random chance. We worship a God who, before our birth, knew us in the womb and took the time to know each of us intimately. As scripture reminds us, “Even the very hairs on our heads were carefully numbered.” Everything we are and anything we dare to do is ultimately a gift from our Creator.

These truths—that God created and intimately knows each and every one of us—are certainly the starting point to any fruitful journey of ‘self-discovery,’ but by no means should we stop there. Although many skeptics might disagree, I see personality tests as helpful tools we can use to keep the conversation going as we seek to better understand the gifts and abilities that the Lord has so generously given us.

While the old maxim ‘to each his own’ rings true, I have personally found Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator helpful over the years. And as it turns out, so do around 10,000 companies, 2,500 colleges and universities, …

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Demonic Cheese-Donkeys and Immortal Peacocks: Augustine Does Science

How a church father loved God with his rational mind.

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) loved God with all his mind—his rational mind, his scientific mind. Yes, that’s right: History remembers him as the revered church father, brilliant theologian, and ground-breaking philosopher, but what is perhaps not so well known is that he was, at times, a good scientist too.

Which makes it rather interesting that Andrew Dickson White (founding president of Cornell University), who crystallized the modern narrative that Christianity is anti-science, chose to single out Augustine as an example of the pathetically irrational early church. Augustine, he says, blindly accepted local folklore about magical cheeses and immortal peacocks, stories that White said “would now be laughed at by a schoolboy”:

St. Augustine was certainly one of the strongest minds in the early Church, and yet we find him mentioning, with much seriousness, a story that sundry innkeepers of his time put a drug into cheese which metamorphosed travelers into domestic animals, and asserting that the peacock is so favored by the Almighty that its flesh will not decay.

White wrote this in his mammoth 1896 work A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom—an attempt to utterly demolish dogmatic theology by pointing out that it had always gotten in the way of science and rational thought.

Although White’s conflict thesis has been utterly debunked by modern historians of science—who have instead found a great deal of evidence that the church has generally benefited science—this message has not filtered down to the general public. It was in the process of researching for a new popular-level book on the topic that I stumbled across White’s bizarre claim …

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Political Exegesis: On Mulligans and Turning Cheeks

What Tony Perkins gets almost right and Jerry Falwell Jr. gets wrong.

We at CT are reluctant to enter the political fray on most issues because they rarely touch on core causes or issues for us. But when fellow evangelicals start exegeting and applying Scripture in the public square, we think we have something to add to the conversation. Two recent comments by evangelical leaders deserve comment.

The first comes from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins in an interview with Politico reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere:

Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

This has received a fair amount of criticism, including from Christians like this:

As I understand Perkins here, there is a limit to Christianity. You can follow it so far, but when it doesn’t work to get power in the situation, you resort to whatever tactics might be necessary.

To be fair to Perkins, however, the call to turn the other cheek is not a universal guideline for Christian behavior. It is a very good guideline in many, many situations, and one Christians should instinctively start with. But it doesn’t take deep imagination to recognize that Jesus does not call us to simply absorb evil in every instance. He certainly didn’t. He called out the Pharisees in the strongest language—“hypocrites,” “blind fools,” “sons of vipers” (Matt. 23)—and he turned …

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Translating the N. T. Wright and David Bentley Hart Tussle

The recent New Testament dust-up between big-name scholars reminds us how hard—and important—Bible translation can be.

Individual translations of the Bible have a long history in Western Christianity, stretching back to Jerome’s Latin translation, the Vulgate. Notable members of this auspicious tradition include William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, and Martin Luther. Much more recently, figures such as Kenneth Taylor and Eugene Peterson have joined their ranks with popular paraphrases, while scholars such N. T. Wright have also produced more traditional translations. (For those interested in more coverage of Bible translations, CT has an in-depth look at lesser-known translations in the upcoming March issue.)

The newest member of this unique club is Orthodox theologian and scholar David Bentley Hart, who published his own translation of the New Testament last year.

Hart’s translation has been making waves, to say the least. Variously described as “mind-bending,” “provocative,” and “a glorious failure,” Hart’s rendering of the New Testament has produced no shortage of commentary, and more than a little critical praise.

Wright’s Review

One notable scholar who does not appear to be particularly impressed by Hart’s translation is Wright, who is probably the closest thing current New Testament scholarship comes to having a celebrity. His review of Hart’s New Testament, published January 15 in The Christian Century, details a lengthy list of disagreements with Hart’s translation choices, and ends with the backhanded compliment that Hart’s translation is “as idiosyncratic as it is bold.”

Wright’s primary concern seems to be Hart’s understanding and use of language—both Greek and English. Hart claims his translation will in many parts be “an …

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When the Gift of Intelligence Becomes the Burden of Alzheimer’s

The strength of human intellect also makes it fragile.

This essay was the second place winner of the 2017 CT Science Writing Contest.

The two most hair-raising moments I have ever had with my dad happened within 10 minutes of each other. A few years ago we were snorkeling with my two brothers off Santa Fe Island, one of the 13 major islands that make up the Galapagos Islands. We had hardly rolled into the water when a Galapagos shark about three meters in length gracefully floated by only a few body lengths away. Thankfully, it did not take much interest in us.

As the shark disappeared into the dark blue backdrop of water, we continued to move along the shoreline looking for sea turtles, brightly colored fish, and less dangerous whitetip reef sharks. After a couple minutes, I noticed my dad slowly drifting toward a large adult male sea lion who was floating a few meters offshore. Having been warned that male sea lions were somewhat territorial, I moved as quickly as I could to steer my dad the other direction. By the time I reached him, the sea lion was no more than a few arm lengths away. Again, thankfully, it did not take much interest in us.

We had similar though less harrowing experiences everywhere in the Galapagos. It was common to come within arm’s reach of some of the most fascinating animals in the world. Marine and land iguanas, giant tortoises, sea lions, sea turtles, stingrays, albatrosses, and blue-footed boobies paid little attention to us fawning tourists. Their tameness was disarming and beautiful, but it also made them look a little stupid.

Charles Darwin seemed to have the same observation on his famous voyage 150 years earlier. He described the marine iguana, an animal whose uniqueness to the Galapagos is only surpassed by its number, as a “hideous-looking …

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How Poetry Might Change the Pro-Life Debate

The moral imagination of literature speaks volumes.

January 22 marks the 45th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that decriminalized abortion. What has changed in those 45 years? Well, not a lot. After peaking in 1980, the abortion rate has been on a slow, steady decline (although it’s heartbreaking that in 2014, 1 in 5 pregnancies ended in abortion). While the reasons for the overall decline are debated, one thing hasn’t changed much: public opinion on the issue.

According to the most recent Gallup poll, half of Americans say abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances,” while 29 percent say it should be “legal in all circumstances,” and 18 percent say it should be “illegal in all circumstances.” These percentages have moved very little in four decades of polling.

Charles Camosy, an ethics professor at Fordham University, points out that despite the fact that 7 in 10 Americans would like abortion to be illegal after 12 weeks, the pro-life/pro-choice binary reinforced by media coverage makes it even more difficult for Americans on both sides to move toward areas they agree on.

What will it take to move past the abortion stalemate?

We might look to the method of persuasion used by Paul in Acts 17, a passage cited often in Christian apologetics. Here, Paul presents the gospel to the Greek philosophers gathered before pagan shrines at Mars Hill in Athens. He begins, not with words of Scripture, but with words of writers familiar to his audience: “As even some of your own poets have said…” After quoting these lines from pagan poetry, Paul then goes on to point to the one true God who fulfills the truth sought by those poets.

Christian apologists today describe this approach as literary …

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Overreach Is the Part of Obama’s Legacy That Trump Should Undo. And He Is.

HHS Announces New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division

Today, the Trump adminstration rolled back some Obama adminstration rules and changed how the government would approach religious and conscience objections.

The Washinton Post reported:

The document released describes an approach to conscience and religious protections that is significantly broader than current regulations. The number of entities that would be covered by the new rule is massive — as many as 745,000 hospitals, dentists offices, pharmacies, ambulance services and others — and the steps any entity must take to show it is in compliance is increased.

The Obama Overreach

The Obama administration, as many of us know, was seen as less-than-accommodating to individuals and groups with deeply-held religious convictions when those conflicted with new politics and laws. Instead of expanding opportunities for conscience-based objections, the Obama administration approach was one that stifled thoughtful conversation and prevented compromise. And, most importantly, they did not make appropriate accommodations for religious beliefs—picking unnecessary fights with groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Rather than seeking to find reasonable accommodation for sincerely held religious belief, the Obama administration consistently overreached with unhelpful mandates and more.

In response, a host of religious leaders—from Rick Warren to President Obama’s own former staffer Michael Wear—composed a letter in 2014 asking President Obama to rethink his practices. They affirmed the need to protect human dignity and advocate for just policies. They agreed that ridding our nation of discrimination was, in fact, a noble endeavor. Nevertheless, they asked that “an extension of protection for one …

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The Year Science Took Over the Pro-Life Movement

Even the technology touted at 2018’s March for Life can divide the cause when it comes to abortion policy.

The March for Life has taken place each January in Washington for 45 years, rallying Christian organizations, Republican politicians, and thousands of demonstrators dedicated to a timeless message about the sanctity of life and the need to protect the unborn.

The annual event has always evoked spiritual and political arguments. But this year’s also looked to science and technology to bolster the cause.

President Donald Trump, who spoke to the march by video from the White House, announced that Monday’s Roe v. Wade anniversary would be declared National Sanctity of Life Day (as Republican presidents before him have done).

“Science continues to support and build the case for life,” his proclamation states, referencing the advent of more detailed sonograms and the new possibilities for procedures done in utero as important medical advances for the pro-life cause.

“Today, citizens throughout our great country are working for the cause of life and fighting for the unborn, driven by love and supported by both science and philosophy,” Trump wrote.

Following his remarks, the first-ever offered by video from a sitting president, House Speaker Paul Ryan shouted to a cheering crowd at the National Mall.

“Why is the pro-life movement on the rise? Because truth is on our side,” the Catholic lawmaker said. “Life begins at conception. Science is on our side!”

Bolstered by a young generation of pro-life millennials and new developments in prenatal treatment, advocates see themselves in a better position than ever to change minds on abortion. The Atlantic details this trend in an article out Friday that asks, “Does the pro-life movement have science on its side?”

Science came …

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In Defense of Pro-Life ‘Hypocrisy’

Analogies between abortion and other “life issues” are shakier than we sometimes suppose.

Spend enough time arguing against abortion, and you’re certain to deal with accusations of hypocrisy and inconsistency. If you were really pro-life, critics say, there are other, outside-the-womb causes you would champion just as ardently.

In a 2004 interview with PBS host Bill Moyers, Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and social activist, gave voice to this common complaint. “I do not believe,” she said, “that just because you’re opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Does the pro-life movement have too narrow a focus? Recent Republican efforts to reform our health care laws have vaulted this question back into the spotlight. Opponents ripped the Republicans’ plans as depriving our most vulnerable citizens of health insurance coverage. And they wondered why pro-life conservatives in Congress would neglect going to bat for low-income women—those at greatest risk, in their desperation, of making an appointment with Planned Parenthood.

Both friends and foes are always urging pro-lifers to update their list of priorities. A genuine ally of unborn life, they might say, should also oppose the death penalty. Or lobby for restrictions on gun ownership. Or protest America’s wars. Or fight cutbacks to government programs. Or demand action on climate change. Some even lump campaigns against smoking …

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