Direction Dilemma

End of Term Reflections

Coming to the end of Fall term, I get to reverse roles and learn from the students. It is always (well, almost always) quite stimulating. My students in leadership class come back to report on a leader they have studied and assessed. Students in a course in worship return with field reports, sharing what they discovered in attending area worship services. This can sometimes be quite depressing (“we listened to a sermon on the woman at the well in John 4 that focused on the need to protect and preserve our water systems”). This is what you call “watering down the text”!

Back to the leadership course, I am always amazed at the leaders students select, as well as the lessons they draw out.  Here is a representative sample from my Fall class—

  • Adolf Hitler-“Egoism can kill the most brilliant leader”
  • Bill Bright-“When a man is given a God inspired vision, nothing can get in the way”
  • Peter the Great-“Behind some of the greatest leaders are deeply flawed people”
  • Pat Williams-“If you truly love people, your leadership can go a long way”
  • John Maxwell-“Great leaders treat people as people they really like”
  • Huey Newton-“Living out courage wins many followers”
  • Henri Nouwen-“True servant leaders have their identity rooted in Christ—not in degrees or accomplishments”
  • Abraham Lincoln-“Great leaders look for the good, even in their greatest rivals”

It’s an interesting cast of characters (from corporate heads to Black Panthers to ministry leaders), but each presentation always draws out lessons that explained their lives and inform ours. Leadership is a gift, but it is also something learned, and one of the best ways of learning is to study the lives of those who profoundly influenced and led others.

I also listened to student presentations evaluating contemporary ministries. Again, I was amazed by the diverse choices: Tim Keller (Redeemer Church); the US Army Chaplaincy; Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church); John Piper (Desiring God Ministries); Jews for Jesus; BSF; Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church); Chinese Homecoming Ministry; Village Missions; Youth for Christ; Harvest Bible Chapel: Andy Stanley (North Point); Inter-Varsity Fellowship.

Here are some of the questions we pondered—

  • how big is too big? When 43,000 meet for worship, is it still a church?
  • can a ministry that is called to be all things to all people still qualify as a ministry?
  • is a video venue approach biblical? Can you truly shepherd multiple locations?
  • if a parachurch ministry is not intentional to support the local church, is it still valid?

Here’s one I found myself asking. With so many creative ministries, where do you draw the line at what truly constitutes ministry? We can do lots of things in the name of Jesus and call it ministry. Are we doing a disservice to the body of Christ by continually creating new ministries? What I mean by this is this: are we bleeding the local church to death by funding so many present ministries? Could we take a break from launching a new church, a new site, a new parachurch ministry devoted to reaching…?

I’m sure these questions may get some to see red, but the fact so many ministries are in the red causes me to wonder these things out loud. I’m not sure how to answer this (after all, I teach in a seminary). But I sometimes wonder if the landscape would be healthier if it were simply composed of local churches, each calling people into community, each member giving their time and resources to making the church a vital witnessing, training church. I know this—I would get a lot less mail this time of year.

About John Johnson

John Johnson is the lead pastor at Village Church in Portland, OR and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary. He also has a strong commitment to building the church worldwide, partnering and teaching ministries in Lebanon and India.

One thought on “End of Term Reflections

  1. Yes! Living and ministering in a college town, I would love to see our extra resources (people, time, money ) devoted to local church ministry.

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