On Being a SENIOR Pastor

From Dave Black Online:

My reading in Acts has brought me to the end of Paul’s first missionary journey in Asia Minor. In this passage (Acts 13-14) I was struck dumbfounded by something I had never observed before.

Paul has preached in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, leaving behind a group of converts in each place — a few Jews, perhaps a few more proselytes, and a number of Gentiles. Now, at the end of his ministry there, the way lay open for him to return to Syrian Antioch via the Cilician Gates.

This famous mountain pass lay just to the north of his own home town of Tarsus, and he could expect a pleasant visit there on his way back to his headquarters in Syria. Everywhere he had gone on his first missionary journey he had encountered nothing but terrible dangers, and in Lystra he had even been stoned and left for dead.

Despite all these dangers, however, and without any thought for his personal safety or comport, Paul decided he would take the way he had come and revisit all the churches he had established in order to encourage the believers in the face of persecution. Note also something of greatest importance: Luke records that in every city Paul appointed “elders” to watch over and care for the small congregations in his absence (Acts 14:23).

This mention of elders moves me deeply. Paul went to a great deal of trouble to see that “elders” — not “pastors” — were appointed in every church. That the term is in the plural is also of importance. Finally, note the absence of any mention of a “head” elder or a “senior” leader in any of these congregations. I grieve today when I see such self-conscious titles as “senior pastor” on letterheads or email signatures. In my book The Jesus Paradigm I address this matter in great detail and even dare to suggest that the title “senior pastor” would be an affront to our Lord Jesus in light of what Peter wrote about Him in 1 Pet. 5:1-4. I also suggest that anyone with the title “senior pastor” ought to consider — if he feels he needs a title at all — to use the term “servant pastor” instead. Better yet, why not simply return to the pattern of Acts 14? Why not call our spiritual leaders what Luke called them in Acts? The answer can be nothing less than a slavish adherence to church tradition and ritual. Can you imagine Paul, after arriving back in Syrian Antioch, worn with toil and suffering after his first missionary journey, receiving a letter from the “senior pastor” of the church at Lystra and not being heartbroken?

If we’re going to say that we follow the example and teachings of the apostle Paul, then let’s be fair to him. I know many godly, good, exemplary pastors today who have yet to take this small step of radical obedience to their Master. Titles have no place in the kingdom of God. This is the clear teaching of Jesus and the example of the earliest churches in the New Testament.

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Teaching Like Jesus

From Dave Black Online:

I’ve been teaching for some 33 years now. Still hard to believe. I’m finding that only when I am like Jesus can I be an effective teacher. He was gentle yet forceful when necessary. He could be tough or tender. His life perfectly blended grace and grit. He must have been an arresting communicator. The people of Nazareth were amazed at the graciousness of His speech (Luke 4:22). At all times He spoke with great authority (Matt. 7:29). He was a man of solid convictions. He spoke from personal knowledge (I can’t see Him using crib notes) in stark contrast to the teachers of His day. Although He had no formal rabbinical training, He showed no timidity or hesitation as to what He had to say.

Simple, charming, direct, authoritative — how attractive His teaching must have been! He’s my model of a great teacher. But here’s a question. What did He teach? That is, what was the substance of His teaching? The answer can only be the kingdom of God — men and women ruled over by God and thereby finding the real meaning of life. He came to bring God to us and us to God. Christianity is in its final and ultimate analysis the acceptance of God’s rule in our lives.

I’m trying to say that teachers have both a model and a method in Jesus. This was perhaps the most difficult thing for me to learn in my career as a professor. For many years most of my teaching was a pale shadow of the radical kingdom announced by Jesus. By the grace of God, I’m determined to change that. I’d appreciate your prayers — I’m not naive. I recognize this is spiritual warfare. I encourage all of us teachers to follow Jesus’ example in all that we do and say.

Would Jesus Have Written a Book?

Dave Black discusses this in a new article on Dave Black Online.  He starts:

This was a question I pondered recently. Of course, the query is utterly pretentious. I just as well might have asked, “Would Jesus have used Twitter?” The question is an anachronism because it removes Jesus from His historical context.

Still, I wonder. Writing a book is perhaps the ultimate act of hubris. By writing a book one must assume that she or he has something vitally important to say to others. And the publisher, in making the author’s words available to a broader audience, is complicit in this arrogant act.

Read the whole article.

As publisher and thus complicit person, this is a worthwhile thing to think about.

Dave Black on Announcing the Reign of God

The following post is entirely extracted from Dave Black Online and used with permission:

I know, I know. I’ve been talking a lot about discipleship, but it’s what my mind is firmly affixed to these days. (My therapist tells me I may never recover….) I took the past couple of days to read a book that was mentioned in the comments section of Geoffrey Lentz’s review of The Jesus Paradigm. I had never had the opportunity to read Mortimer Arias’s Announcing the Reign of God before.

Of course, this is a book we conservative, Bible-believing, inerrantist, non-liberation-theology evangelicals aren’t supposed to read. All the more reason for doing so. I honestly was pressed on points I needed to think deeply about. What surprised me the most was how I agreed passionately with the author, even though he and I come from completely different theological backgrounds. There are 5 things I’d like to list that summarize what he is saying in this book:

1) The Gospel is the Gospel of the kingdom, the kingdom that Jesus introduced.

2) This kingdom-of-God emphasis has practically disappeared from evangelical preaching. It’s been replaced by an emphasis upon individualized salvation and identification with the organization of the church. The kingdom of God as the focal point of the Christian life has virtually been absent.

3) The kingdom of God, as preached by Jesus, embraces all the dimensions of human life: the spiritual, the physical, the intellectual, the societal, and the social. The kingdom cannot be reduced to an inner religious experience on the one hand or an ecclesiastical organization on the other.

4) Kingdom evangelization is Christ-centered evangelization. He is both the evangel and the evangelizer. He is the center and content of the Gospel and embodies the Good News in His words and deeds.

5) Because Jesus’ evangelization was kingdom evangelization, so was His disciples’. Their message was, “The kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 10:9). To proclaim the kingdom of God was to call people to follow Jesus without looking back. Therefore, just as Jesus taught, preached, and healed, so His disciples in the church are to do the same.

I make many of these same points in The Jesus Paradigm. Jesus invented discipleship. He modeled discipleship. He taught discipleship. And He commanded discipleship — not decision-making! And His command was a command to be engaged in kingdom evangelization. The kingdom of God is a multidimensional reign that has to do with the totality of life. It involves much more than a belief system. It means following Christ on the way of the kingdom, and this way is a downward path involving not only verbal proclamation but also incarnating the Gospel in the lives of people. It is, as Bonhoeffer reminded us, a “costly discipleship.”

I believe that one of the most difficult challenges for evangelicals today is to test our understanding of the Great Commission against this teaching of Jesus. Our missionary activity falls short if we limit ourselves to calling for personal faith in Christ without pointing to the requirements of the kingdom. Yes, we can always escape to a convenient “altar call” and “pledge card” mentality and call it evangelization, but this is not the total message of the Scriptures and the vision of the all-embracing kingdom of God. I suspect the devil loves it when we preach a Gospel without discipleship, as is inevitable once we become preoccupied with “getting people saved.” Following Christ means following Him in costly discipleship or it means nothing at all. This is the conclusion Eduard Schweitzer came to in his 400-page book The Good News According to Mark — that “discipleship is the only form in which faith can exist” (p. 386).

I am aware that I have brushed with broad strikes an infinitely deep subject. I just try to remember that my job is not just to talk about discipleship but to live it out by mimicking Jesus (Eph. 5:1-2) and doing the kingdom. Frankly, it’s obvious to me that the evangelical church is not getting the job done, especially when American Christians spend 97 percent of their income on themselves (according to George Barna). Evangelism is not primarily about techniques, training, programs, or knowing more. It’s about living out the Jesus paradigm by overflowing the life experienced in Jesus.

Announcing the Kingdom of God is a great book and a superb critique of modern American evangelicalism. I highly commend it.

Politics and The Jesus Paradigm

From Dave Black Online:

I want to say a word about The Jesus Paradigm. Some reviewers have implied that it makes too much of politics for a book only about discipleship. Actually, the book is ALL about politics. I insist that politics is never enough and that the human problem is insoluble unless it be attacked on all fronts — the spiritual as well as the political and the economic — the whole point of the book being that the problem is too complex to be solved by political reforms. If you feel that something can be done along political lines and that it would be worth doing, that’s fine with me. But, alas, in view of what politicians and the voting public are like, hope must be mingled with a great deal of doubt. It seems to me that if we are to have better politics, we must also have a better philosophy. And the only philosophy I think worth defending is the ultimate anti-philosophy, radical Christianity. The hope of the world lies in people getting disgusted enough with politics to take the teachings of Jesus seriously and to begin serving their communities with Calvary-love.