A Really Smart Guy’s take on McLaren’s Praying during Ramadan

Howard Diehl, one of the smartest guys I know who serves as a missionary in France that our church supports, commented on McLaren’s praying during Ramadan. I thought his comments to be very insightful.

Hi Charles:

Here is an article by McLaren on why he was doing it.

http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/ramadan-2009-part-1-whats-going.html

There were quite a few Christians here who did the Ramadan fast and used it as a time to pray for the salvation of Muslim friends and acquaintances. There was a prayer guide that circulated for those who were interested in joining the prayer fast. I had thought about joining, but I missed the beginning of it, and ended up not doing it. I think I will join in next year.

I think part of the problem is that McLaren has come down as somewhat slippery on some issues, and that has tarnished a lot of what he’s said lately. Talking with a few friends who know him and at one time followed some of McLaren’s teaching, they all say that he is skating along the edge on some stuff. One friend, who actually was a member of McLaren’s church in the US, believes that he has lost his voice on a lot of issues.

One thing McLaren likes to do is go for shock value. I do agree with his approach to people, going without an agenda, i.e., “I’m here to get you saved or straighten you out”. I think that is his view of doing Ramadan (i.e. not as part of some agenda). If he is doing it for the reasons listed in the article above, I have no problem with it.

One aspect of Muslim evangelism is that you need to be up front with your faith and religion. If a Muslim knows you for a few weeks or months, and the issue of your faith is never mentioned by you, their assumption is that it must not be important. So from that standpoint he is correct in being up front about why he is doing this, that he is a Christian and wants to affirm certain values and ideas that both faiths have in common.

So I guess what I think is, that if he is being authentic in why he is doing the Ramadan fast (based on his article above), then I applaud him. But I have learned that I have to look at each item that pertains to McLaren, because some of his stuff can be a bit dicey. I won’t turn McLaren away out of hand, but I do want to dialogue with him when he makes a point or declaration. I can learn from the conversation, even if I don’t go away agreeing with him.

One last thought, McLaren has been vilified and demonized by a lot of Christians who should know better. But on the other hand there are also many emerging types who will do something like this because of some misshapen idea that this is how emerging church is done, with little thought or knowledge of what the gospel is really about. They stand for nothing so they have nothing to stand for.

I am also beginning to take a new tack in my thinking about evangelism. I am always struck by the impression that I get about evangelism when I hear it mentioned. It always sounds like a job description. I focus now on the reality of witness and testimony. Tertullian once said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The idea is that a martyr is one who is faithful to their witness for Jesus Christ until the end, even death. I also notice that he didn’t say evangelism. So what are the implications for this?

Howard Diehl

Here is Howard’s blog site.

http://sanscontexte.blogspot.com/

Leadership Paradox #2: Spontaneity or Planned

A couple days ago I suggested a leadership paradox leaders face: trust God or trust others? Although both Ezra and Nehemiah were both men who trusted God, each took a different route in a leadership decision.

Similarly, leaders face another paradox. Do I act upon the Spirit’s promptings to make a decision or should I use my brainpower and plan before I make a such a decision?

Scripture seems to indicate that both these paths can be correct.

When Jesus spoke about the cost to follow him he said these words. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? (Luke 14.28)

Yet, Jesus also counseled those who faced persecution with these words, But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,  for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matt. 10.19-20)

So, which is it. Do I plan for the future or do I walk into it by simply trusting the Holy Spirit?

I believe we must include both paths to most effectively lead.

Just as God gives each of us unique personalities, I believe he gives each of us a particular bent, or groove we tend to more easily fall into. I tend to over-plan, probably because I have an engineering degree. My wife, on the other hand, tends to receive promptings from the Holy Spirit much more often than I do.

I’ve discovered that being married to someone opposite to me helps me maintain a healthier balance. Every leader should welcome those unlike him or her into the decision making process.

The Leadership Paradox: Trusting God or Trusting Others

Every church leader (or Christian for that matter) faces a common paradox. We are expected to trust God for our personal and church needs. Yet, we need the help of others. Leading is not a solo effort. How do we find the balance?

Recently I noticed that same paradox reflected in the choices made by two famous biblical characters, Ezra and Nehemiah. Notice in the Message paraphrase below that each one took a different route. One just trusted God and didn’t approach the king for help. The other sought help from the king and God worked through that choice.

Ezra 8.21 I proclaimed a fast there beside the Ahava Canal, a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance for our journey—all our people and possessions.  22 I was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road. We had just told the king, “Our God lovingly looks after all those who seek him, but turns away in disgust from those who leave him.” 23 So we fasted and prayed about these concerns. And he listened.

Neh. 2.7 Then I said, “If it please the king, provide me with letters to the governors across the Euphrates that authorize my travel through to Judah;  8 and also an order to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, to supply me with timber for the beams of The Temple fortress, the wall of the city, and the house where I’ll be living.” The generous hand of my God was with me in this and the king gave them to me.  9 When I met the governors across The River (the Euphrates) I showed them the king’s letters. The king even sent along a cavalry escort.

See the difference? As contrasting as were their decisions, they both made God honoring ones.

So, what insight can we draw from their experiences when we face a similar situation?

Here’s a thought. The next time you face a ministry decision that requires resources or help, lean in the opposite direction you usually go. If you usually ‘pray’ and ask God to meet the need, perhaps you should ask others to help meet the need. If you tend to go to others first, maybe your first step should be to seek God’s provision first, before you ask others.

I’ve discovered that God often works in counter-intuitive ways … through avenues outside those most familiar and comfortable to us.

What I Learned from a Sour Leadership Meeting about Planning

Every year our staff takes an overnite retreat in September to map out plans for the next year. Our process is relatively simple. The elders determine the 2-3 broad objectives for the coming year. Then we translate these into strategies and then involve our ministry teams in developing the tactics. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Well, the past two years we’ve run into a glitch. We invite the elders to join us for dinner the night of the retreat. We bring them up to speed on our progress that day and welcome questions and insights. But, after that dinner in two years straight, both groups have gone away discouraged and deflated rather than encouraged. We all have good hearts and want what’s best for the church, but we seem to lose traction in our dinner meeting.

Here’s what we discovered. It’s impossible to bring one group up to speed in one hour what another group has accomplished in eight, especially in these crucial big-picture areas. So, we are planning next year to involve these elders in that planning day for two reasons. They need to experience the relational dynamic the staff experiences in the planning process. Secondly, they need to be involved more deeply in that process to gain greater ownership.

As an interim step this year, we are suspending acting upon our plans for 2010 until we can bring the elders into that planning process. We’ve scheduled an extended meeting soon to hopefully bring our elders up to speed.

So, if you are planning your next year now, consider how you can include your key stakeholders.

Defeating the Demons of Discouragement

Somebody once said there are two things in life we can’t avoid, taxes and death. I’d like to add a third, discouragement.

Church leader or not, you will face it. It’s an inevitable part of life. Just this past week I dealt with a bout of it.

It all began Monday even after we had a good day at church the day prior. We had baptized a dozen people, another half dozen indicated they had trusted Christ, and we began Alpha with a bang. Alpha is a great evangelism tool. Check it out at Alpha.org.

But, when I got the stats back from Sunday’s service, I got bummed out. A not-so-good attendance and a very poor offering pushed me into discouragement. I’ve been doing well lately to not allow low Sunday statistics to affect me. This time, however, I didn’t do so well. It didn’t help that Thursday night my alma mater, GA Tech, got plastered by Miami on national TV.

I found, however, that three small choices helped me dig out of my funk. I take great comfort that King David lifted himself out of a serious bout of discouragement when he “encouraged himself in the Lord his God,” (1 Samuel 30.6). I believe that small choices that may not seem overtly spiritual can become ways we can encourage ourselves in the Lord.

Here are the three.

  • Break up your routine This past week my wife and my daughter were going to make a run to our local super Wal-Mart and they asked if I wanted to go. My first inclination was, ‘no.’ But after a moment’s reflection, I said, “sure.” Usually I’ll just sit at the man bench at the check-out line. You know, those benches or chairs where guys sit to be very bored while their wives shop … one of those. This time, however, I decided I’d go to the books area and browse. When I did, I picked up the 2009 Guinness Book of World Records and had few laughs. I saw, among other things, a picture of a guy who holds the world record in piercings (yuk) and a picture of another guy in India with the world’s longest ear hairs at 7 inches (gross). This little break, albeit odd, helped get my mind off my discouragement.