True Team Leadership

I just read a great article from the latest issue of Leadership (formerly Leadership Journal) titled Next & Level. It's an interview with the 4 pastors who make up the leadership team at Next Level Church in Denver - Jared Mackey (ministry pastor), John Miller (worship pastor), Dave Terpstra (teaching pastor), and Brian Gray (community pastor). After a bad experience with a top-down, "Senior Pastor" model of leadership, they chose to try something different. They leveled the hierarchy. All four pastors are equal in authority despite their different ministry roles.

I have to admit although I've never seen it in action, the concept of this style of leadership has always been attractive to me. I've seen too many Senior Pastors either abuse their power or be abused by the powers-that-be. It's something that I try to constantly evaluate in my own ministry. I don't want to be the controlling, manipulative pastor with a very ego-driven ministry, but I also don't want to be the weak, ineffective leader who doesn't allow God to guide his ministry because he's afraid of confrontation. For a point leader to have a balance of strength and meekness is a gift that has to come from God, because I don't think it comes naturally to most people.

The pastors at Next Level Church admit that this model is not for everybody. There are just as many obstacles with their model as with more traditional models. Change takes longer because they all have to come to agreement. It can be rough on egos to take a backseat for a season. A huge benefit, though, is when a church is personality-based, the church tends to fall apart if anything happens to that personality (sin, death, moving on). When a church has a team-based leadership model, it doesn't take as hard a hit when these things happen.

I don't think this is a model that is easy, either. It would require a great amount of trust of all the team members. It would require true selfless service. These are things that we all aspire to, but too often when humans are involved, these things are difficult to come by.

I do feel like Living Hope has a similar feel, though. I try to work as an equal with both the elders and the staff. One of the most beautiful things about our church is that everybody is accountable to everybody else. We are all both in authority and under authority. The membership submits to the authority of the staff/elders who submit to the authority of the membership. We all submit to the authority of Jesus. It's a beautiful thing!


Why the ESV?

I've been using the English Standard Version of the Bible for study and preaching for about a year and a half now. I really love this translation. I had preached from the New International Version for years and still believe this is a great version. This is the version most people own, and several have asked why switch?. There are several reasons I believe this is the best version for preaching and more in-depth study.

Before I go there, though, let me just say that this is not an attack on any other version of the Bible. I regularly read from multiple versions. For instance, in my daily devotional time I'm reading through The Message this year. I also consult the NIV, TNIV, NKJV, NASB, NLT, and CEV versions regularly. They are all excellent translations that I would recommend to anyone. I believe the key to finding a good reading Bible is finding one that is readable. This is the reason I never recommend the King James Version. Not that the KJV is a bad translation - on the contrary, it's a very good one. The problem is that it is a very outdated translation. The language is one that we simply don't use anymore. Even though it's English, the reader must translate 17th century English into 21st century English. That said, here are my primary reasons for preaching from the ESV.

1. The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation.
My Greek professor used to say that "all translation is, at best, approximation". When we translate from one language to another (in our case, from Greek and Hebrew to English). There are some things that will not literally translate. One language may use words or phrases that we just don't have an exact equivalent to. It's the job of the translator to come as close to the writer's intent as possible. This is why we say the ESV is "essentially literal" - it's as literal as possible. Why is a literal translation important? Because we believe that the Scriptures are the very words of God, not just the thoughts or ideas of God. He chose the words He chose for a reason. So as best as we are able, we need to know what those words were. For example, the NIV is a "dynamic equivalent" translation. It focuses on the overall thought of a passage, rather than the individual words used. Generally this is not a big deal. But when a translator is trying to translate the thoughts and intentions of a writer, rather than the words the writer wrote, the result is often the translator's personal commentary on the passage. If we are studying or receiving preaching from a passage, we need to know what it actually says before we can get to what it means.

2. The ESV maintains the theological language of the Scriptures.
Many modern translations have removed theological terms like atonement, justification, propitiation, and even sin. These words have meaning and are used for a reason. Substitutionary words don't convey all the layers of meaning that these words, when explained properly, convey. My job as pastor/teacher is not to dumb down the message, but rather to unpack it and convey all the intended meaning in a clear, but accurate, way. The ESV also maintains the gender language of the Scriptures. When God is referred to as He or Father, it is for a reason. When the Bible speaks to man or woman, it is for a reason. It should not be the job of the translator to make the Bible politically correct.

3. The ESV did not sacrifice readability in an effort to be "essentially literal".
Before the ESV was released in 2001, it was widely held that the New American Standard Bible was the most literal modern translation. While it was quite literal, it was also a bit of a mess in some areas. In an effort to be literal, much of the beauty of the language of Scripture was lost. The poetry was, well, not very poetic. The translators of the ESV (who are by the way the most widely respected scholars today in the fields of language study and theology) did a fantastic job of maintaining the beauty of the Scripture. I've always found paraphrases, like The Message, enjoyable because of their readability - I could sit and read long passages like I would a modern novel. I get some of that same sense from the ESV. It is quite readable.

These are just a few of the reasons I choose to preach from the ESV. If you attend Living Hope Church, do you need to rush out and purchase another Bible? Absolutely not. Keep reading the Bible you love. But if you're interested in checking out something new, I'd recommend giving the ESV a look. All the versions mentioned above are perfectly fine for devotional reading. But for the purpose of preaching/teaching, I believe this is the best choice. Many other churches across the nation are making the switch as well. For a more detailed explanation of the benefits of the ESV check out Pastor Mark Driscoll's article at http://www.marshillchurch.org/content/esv. Mark is the pastor of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle and one of the best Bible teachers I know of. He does a much better job of writing on this topic than I did here and goes into great detail on how we got the Scripture and differences in the various translations. Hope this helps answer some questions.


Kindle Review

My mom called the other day asking if I knew anything about Amazon's Kindle device. She was considering forging into the futuristic world of e-books. It looks like a cool device, but seems a bit pricy to me. I was reading the one-star reviews on Amazon (which you should probably read, Mom) and came across this review from an unsatisfied customer. Funny stuff!

I used a highlighter on the screen to mark my favorite passage in the book, but all it did was muck up the screen. Now lines 3 through 17 are always highlighted. I mean, I like the book, but not enough to highlight the whole thing, am I right? I tried rinsing off the highlighter marks with some dish soap and a scrubbing sponge, but this just scratched the screen and blurred the highlighted section. My wife suggested using the dishwasher, so I put it on the top rack (I wouldn't put a $400 piece of equipment on the bottom rack, duh!).

I don't think the Kindle is dishwasher safe. All of my pages are smudged now and the forward and backward keys don't work. I've been reading the same passage for a few hours now, and let me tell you, it get's pretty boring.

I tried to connect wirelessly to Wikipedia to find out how to wash the screen but everytime I turn on the Kindle, it just beeps and shows me the same page of the same book. I tried plugging it in to the socket because I thought it had a low battery, but I misplaced the charger. I rigged up a coat hanger and some wires though. It seems to work, because now the Kindle is getting very warm.

I hope it works when I get back from the store!

- Matthew J. Mahoney of Cleveland -


Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God

I just finished reading Larry Osborne's book Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God. I have to say I think this is one that could become a modern classic. I believe this book has two great values.

The first is that it teaches that spirituality need not be something that can only be attained by religious professionals or zealots. It is something that is accessible to all of us. Unfortunately, we have allowed religious professionals and zealots to overly complicate the business of spirituality. Instead, normal God-loving, well-meaning people can live lives pleasing to God. Even ones that struggle finding time to rigorously study the Scriptures or pray for hours or fast for days at a time. This is a book that will be invaluable encouragement to those Christians in the trenches trying to please God, but who are constantly riddled with guilt that they're probably a disappointment to God.

The second value will be to pastors and church leaders. I found myself reading this book and several times pausing to repent for setting the bar higher than Jesus set it. I think a lot of guys like me desire to see church members deepen their relationships with Christ and we try to encourage people into more committed, more disciplined spirituality. Instead, we probably leave people feeling like they'll never measure up or can never be spiritual enough.

One of the most personally convicting chapters was "Tools or Rules?". Osborne states that church leaders or well-meaning lay-people have taken spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, fasting, family devotions, etc...), which are tools to give us meaningful encounters with Christ, and turned them into rules. The problem is that not everyone resonates equally with the same tools. And not every tool is effective for every situation. We should use the tools that are the most effective for us and that are most appropriate for the season of life we're in.

I want to emphasize that Osborne doesn't suggest we lower the bar when it comes to sin issues. What he's addressing is the overall business of connecting with God and our overall spiritual lives. I loved this book and will probably recommend it over and over again. If you struggle with guilt that stems from not meeting other people's standards of spirituality, or from a nagging feeling that God is never pleased with your weak efforts, I promise reading this book will encourage you and give you hope.


Happy Birthday, Me!

Well, I turned 36 today. That sounds much older than 35. But I had a great day. Jamie, the kids, and I drove over to the East Bay this afternoon to El Cerrito to the Cerrito Theatre. It's an old theatre that's been remodeled and is a lot of fun. The seating is all couches and cushy chairs. You can actually have a meal served to you while you watch the show. Normally kids aren't allowed because they serve alcohol, but they do let kids in for special Saturday matinees. Today they showed Happy Feet. I hadn't seen it before and it was really great. The kids loved the theatre. After that we went to Zachary's Chicago-style Pizza in Berkeley. Probably the best Chicago-style pizza outside of Chicago! Needless to say, today was definitely a "cheat day" on my diet.

I also made out like a bandit gift-wise. Great books and great music! I got these books:
  • The Jesus Way - Eugene Peterson
  • Brothers, We Are Not Professionals - John Piper
  • Solving Marriage Problems - Jay Adams
  • Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible - Jay Adams
  • Beyond Good & Evil - Friederich Nietzsche
  • Selected Poems - Robert Burns

...and this CD:

  • The I Heart Revolution - Hillsong United

I LOVED spending the day with the family. Life is good!


Joshua Judges Ruth

I've been reading through the Old Testament historical books lately. I'm currently reading in 1 Samuel. I finished Judges several day ago and I have to say that it would make for an interesting sermon series. As far as I can tell, it's pretty much a lesson in what NOT to do. It has to be the bloodiest book in the Bible. Seriously, it reads like a Quentin Tarantino script (without all the likable characters). If you don't believe me - give it a quick read. In fact, just read the bit about Samson (ch. 13-16). Samson is one of the great characters we teach our kids about, because he's kind of like He-Man or something. It's a very interesting, sexy story. But read those 4 chapters and tell me one decent, honorable thing that Samson did. HE DIDN'T! Seriously, not ONE! For four chapters you read about how he kills, lies, breaks oathes, commits adultery, etc... In the end when he's been captured and humiliated by the Philistines, he doesn't so much come back to Jesus. He just says, "God give me my strength back and I'll kill all these fools." And the most baffling part is that God is like, "Yeah, OK, that sounds good." Now that I think about it, as an homage to Tarantino, I could do a 2-part sermon series on Samson titled Kill Phil Vol. 1 & Kill Phil Vol. 2.


Wii Tech

I am a big fan of the Wii. It's loads of fun. I don't own one yet, but enjoy it whenever I get the opportunity to play. Check out this TED talk where a researcher, Johnny Lee, found some incredible uses with the Wii remote - http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/245. It is really amazing. I'd like to try some of these applications sometime.


Seacrest (Freeze) Out

I'm watching American Idol with the fam right now. For the last several weeks we've been playing a game that makes us laugh alot. If you have Tivo or DVR, just pause anytime Ryan Seacrest is talking. His face always looks ridiculous. We just laugh and laugh at the many funny faces of Seacrest. Other faces in the frame will pretty much look normal, but his is always distorted in some way. Good times!

FOLLOW-UP POST: Two shockers tonight. I can't believe I just watched the final 8 Idol contestants sing Hillsong's Shout to the Lord. It was pretty good, but I was a little creeped out by it. It makes me nervous when praise/worship music is used in a mainstream setting. Crowds have cheered during that song before, but it was predominantly directed toward Jesus. This time crowds were screaming and cheering, but I'm not sure it was targeted in the right direction. But then again, it was nice hearing that song on such a big platform. (Mixed feelings.) The other shocker was Michael Johns getting the boot. The Aussie was one of my personal favorites. His time definitely came too soon.


Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God

I just read a great little book today. It only took a couple of hours, but it was worth every minute! I had heard some whisperings about a pastor by the name of CJ Mahaney - how he was a great teacher/writer. So I picked up a few books on Amazon the other day and his book Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God was one of them. (He had other books that looked good, but none of them had "sex" in the title - so this one won!)

This book is a great book of practical advice for romancing your wife and a good deal of teaching from the Song of Solomon. It's written primarily to men, but Mahaney's wife as a great section at the end directed toward women. It is one of the better books I've read on improving marital relations and I may start requiring it for all the couples I marry in the future.

Here are the a few quotes that were highlights for me personally:

On the purpose of marriage:
"Something of the selfless love, care, and sacrifice that Jesus shows toward the Church is supposed to be evident in you as you relate to your wife. Something of the respect, submission, and devotion that the Church shows toward Jesus is supposed to be evident in your wife as she relates to you. That's the purpose for your marriage. That is why God has given her to you, and you to her."

On the foundation of intimacy:
"In order for romance to deepen, you must touch the heart and mind of your wife before you touch her body."

On studying your wife:
"If you have children living in the home, then of all the questions you could ask [your wife], this one is especially revealing: Do you feel more like a mother or a wife?"

On taking time to plan for the important things:
"Every week, on Sunday evening or Monday morning, I get away to the local Starbucks. Armed with my PDA and a cup of steaming rasberry mocha, I review several things: my roles (husband, father, pastor, etc...), my to-do list, my schedule for the coming week, the book I'm reading, and a message I've heard recently.
The heart of this time is when I define, for each of my roles, what is most important for me to accomplish during the next seven days. I have learned that if I do not define the important, then during the next week that which is merely urgent will rush in, disguised as the truly important, and will crowd out everything else."


Dave Eggers at TED

I don't know if you know what TED is, but it's an annual symposium where all the greatest minds - scientists, inventors, writers, theologians, politicians, humorists, psychologists - and everybody in between - get together to share important ideas. If you go to http://www.ted.com/, you can check out archives of speeches, many of which are just incredible.

I had to share this one from Dave Eggers. He's a writer in San Francisco that championed a neighborhood tutoring program that is incredible. I love his sense of humor, passion for education, and mostly his creativity. This is the kind of stuff the church should be doing. How can we as the church meet the needs of our communities and have a ton of fun doing it at the same time?

I wasn't able to figure out how to embed it here, but you can check it out here - http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/233.