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The Evangelical Flip and a Call for a Conference

Bible.jpgEvangelical pastors have flipped in the last generation. 30-40 years ago what most incited excitement was a new book by the arch-pastor and expositor, John Stott, expositing a New Testament book or a J.I. Packer book on theology. Today’s evangelicals pastors are enamored with the latest book on leadership, like that morsel of an idea in the book called Tribes, or the latest book on management, or the latest fad in creativity.

These are often pastors who, if we were to ask them what is in some Old Testament book or some chapter in Ephesians, to take two soundings, would not know what we were talking about.
When good pastors or good scholars come out with insightful expositions of pastoral leadership, and stick to what the Bible says or even plumb the depths of some of the great books on pastoral leadership — like Pope Gregory, we see almost no interest.
So let me say this: (too many) evangelical leaders have become too enamored with management skills and techniques and have neglected the nitty-gritty of soaking themselves in the great texts of the Old and the New Testament.
We need a conference, at some church, devoted to one thing: two days of exposition of key biblical texts on pastoral theology and ministry. And no one can bring up a modern management or leadership expert; and no publisher or book table present can sell anything but commentaries.
Who will host it? Who wants to know what the Bible says?
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John W Frye

posted October 2, 2009 at 1:42 am

Right on! Right on! I think that Eugene H Peterson’s writings on pastoral ministry (he has many books on the subject) are birthed in and true to the great stories and themes of both OT and NT. I tried to get him to get his books translated in Russian for pastors here in Ukraine. I even invited him to come with me and do a conference here. He is too committed to writing and his age is an obstacle. I so long to protect the passsionate young Ukrainian pastors from the marketing, techno-centric vision of pastoring that has crippled the USAmerican church. My own book JESUS THE PASTOR (Zondervna) was an attempt to immerse pastors in the Gospels so that they could focus on a biblical (duh!) model of the “good pastor,” “the great pastor,” “the chief pastor.” USAmerican evangelicals are obsessed with Paul and his letters for pastoral vision when, in fact, Paul is never called a “pastor” nor calls himself a “pastor.” Young Timothy was not a “pastor” either (viz-a-viz 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus).
Anyone truly interested in a pastoral template marinated in biblical stories and themes may begin with Peterson’s FIVE SMOOTH STONES FOR PASTORAL WORK. He uses the megilloth to cast a vision for the work of pastor.
I can SO glad you raised this topic. God bless you!
In Ukraine,

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James Petticrew

posted October 2, 2009 at 2:35 am

Such a conference has been held in Scotland @ St Georges Tron in Glasgow. It was a bit Calvinistic for my theological taste but I applaud the Reformed folk for having the vision for this kind of conference.

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Gary Manning

posted October 2, 2009 at 3:19 am

Amen! Just today, as I was thinking about my students (most of whom are involved in ministry), I asked myself: why is it so rare for me to hear a sermon that simply explains the meaning of a passage of Scripture, and then reflects on its significance? What scares me more is how few pastors seem to even understand that this is a problem.
I came across a quote yesterday that helps explain the problem: “It is not too difficult to be biblical if you don’t care about being relevant; it is not too difficult to be relevant if you don’t care about being biblical. But if you want to be both biblical and relevant in your teaching, it is a very difficult task indeed.” (Howard Hendricks, quoted in John Walton, Genesis, p. 19).
I think many pastors are addicted to what is relevant, and don’t know how to be both biblical and relevant in their teaching, or even in their ministry philosophy.

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posted October 2, 2009 at 5:00 am

I am in total agreement with what you said here. The bible is scarcely mentioned now especially in pastoral leadership. Scarcely mentioned because of the fact that expositions on leadership are just texts plucked out at random and principles abstracted from it.
On answering the question about who will host this…im not sure how to answer this but it would be good if a team of multicultural team of pastors to spearhead conferences like this. (I’m asian so I’d like an asian perspective on biblical pastoral Leadership).

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Tim Gombis

posted October 2, 2009 at 5:38 am

Can’t help much on the conf. venue. We could have it at our church, but it’s kind of a dump!
Just to say, I was thinking about Eph. 3-4 the last week or so and how pastoral ministry there is all about weakness and suffering and cruciformity. Such a contrast to any sort of an ad for a pastor these days — decisive leadership, executive vision, skill in delegation. Ministry is now cast in terms of a CEO rather than a skillful and patient shepherd.
All this to say, ‘AMEN!!’

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Scot McKnight

posted October 2, 2009 at 7:37 am

James, and the Reformed folks are the major segment of contemporary evangelicalism who probably don’t need this so much. They are much more soaked in Scripture than most.

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posted October 2, 2009 at 8:10 am

I would echo and second John #1’s comment. Eugene Peterson and his writing, all four of them beginning with 5 smooth stones all the way through the Unnecessary Pastor.

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Mel Lawrenz

posted October 2, 2009 at 8:20 am

Your call is like opening a window on a spring day. You are very right. What makes me sad is to think how many church leaders who would benefit so profoundly, would look at such an opportunity and not give it a second thought. Why is it that we cannot break out of measures of “success” in favor of accomplishments of faithfulness?

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posted October 2, 2009 at 8:35 am

I would totally have to agree. Having picked up Nouwen’s “In the name of Jesus”, or Stott’s “Christian Leadership” after a few too many Willow Creek conferences, I couldn’t understand why this vision hasn’t soaked in deeper.
Following Nouwen and Stott however, quickly allows you to fall out of favor.

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John M.

posted October 2, 2009 at 8:47 am

has the culture changed? as a church planter in the ECC, I’m overwhelmed by the difficulty of my task. the people i’m trying to reach don’t have any sense of a need for church. likewise, they don’t sense much of a need for biblical exposition. I’d love to do nothing but biblical exposition — it’s why I became a pastor — but there isn’t much of a thirst for it. there are other church alternative experiences out there that require much less work in a Sunday service. people I meet are choosing between our more intimate (therefore intimidating) fellowship where we study the Bible, or a high quality production replete with custom video clips and stage props for every service.
if we want to lift up biblical exposition, i think we first have to be willing to shrink our churches. it’s just not as sexy. it doesn’t draw a crowd in the same way. if we placed less emphasis on “growing fast churches” and more emphasis on growing radical disciples of Jesus, biblical exposition would be more highly valued. most pastors i know love the bible and love bible exposition…it’s just that they hate having a small church more.
Is this different than it was back in the day like you mentioned, or have people always been turned off by the promise of a pastor who will engage in biblical exposition?

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Mark Farmer

posted October 2, 2009 at 8:51 am

Amen and Amen. The pendulum is already preparing to swing back; I have heard pastoral colleagues expresses a sense of being fed up with leadership techniques.
Our church is too small to host a national conference! But why not have a network of local and/or regional conferences?
Scot, perhaps the booktables could, in additional to commentaries and such like, also carry some worthwhile titles on biblical pastoral theology. Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant – a pastoral theology drawn from the Book of Jonah – for example, and titles by Andrew Purves, William Willimon, even Richard Baxter and Robert Murray McCheyne.
I would love to help out in whatever way I can.

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Your Name

posted October 2, 2009 at 9:03 am

maybe no one has interest because most of these types of conferences are put on by our fundamentalist friends.
try it and see what happens. If you get the right folks, you might be surprised. a few suggested speakers: you(Scot), Tim Keller, Eugene Peterson, and others.
Scot, who would you add as speakers?

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David B. Johnson

posted October 2, 2009 at 9:19 am

I think the Pastoral Studies Department of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary should spearhead an event like this. Frankly, I had never heard of PTS (probably because the PCUSA is off limits to many of my colleagues) until Scot introduced me to Andrew Purves (The Crucifixion of Ministry, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Theology in the Classic Tradition) and Edith Humphrey, both of PTS. My feelings are no modern discussion of Pastoral Theology is complete without reference to the great contribution of Andrew Purves.
Scot, I know you have blogged through, The Crucifixion of Ministry, do you have any history with his other works on Pastoral Theology?

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posted October 2, 2009 at 9:22 am

My church would love to host something like that. We’re in NYC. Thanks for the post Scot, it resonates with me. And I second the motions for Eugene Peterson’s work…

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posted October 2, 2009 at 9:27 am

Well it sounds like you guys are preaching to the choir here! What we neglect to see, when we emerse ourselves in scripture, is that many of the “business” or “leadership” principles found in secular or Willow Creekean writings are found in scripture. What has happened is that some of these teachings are not well grounded in scripture and devoid of God. The teachings themselves are not bad but in how they are applied. For example, ,”vision” is important to ministry just ask Moses, Noah, Nehemiah, and Jesus. They all could have written great books on leadership lessons!
I think we run the danger of making a false dichotomy between “faithfulness” and “success.” I often here people who are not very “successful” (reaching many irreligious people, making disciples,creating missional opportunites, etc)in ministry use lack of Bible teaching or exposition as an excuse for their lack of ministry. I would rather have a person in leadership who could faithfully apply one piece of scripture to their ministry than be able to expound on all 66 books! I have known too many people who can quote many scriptures to me but couldn’t apply a single one of them to their lives! It is not the amount of exegesis that will change our world but the amount of application of God’s word (which includes leadership and business practices).
I also think the reason we are not expounding the scriptures as we once did is becasue we realized that the secular culture around us has become Biblically illiterate, has been emeresed in media and technology, and has many forms of ADHD. If we are serious about reaching irreligious people than simple expostional preaching will not do! That is the easy way out for us as preachers!
I think only wanting to use the technique of expository preaching is lazy preaching. That makes life easy for me as a preacher. I just have to do exegesis of God’s word and not have to worry about exegeting the culture. I also don’t have to do the extra hard work of taking my exegesis of scripture and communicating it in such a way that it applies directly to the lives of the hearers who are emersed in the secular world. The task of preaching is application to the heart of the hearer. Simply exegeting God’s word to create an expository sermon is not enough for today’s world to hear the Good News!
I would love to come to such a conference as many propose but it would simply be for my love of God’s Word and may not be purely for my love of the people God calls me to reach. God’s word does not return void when it reaches the heart of a person. The problem is their are too many obstacles between God’s word and the heart of a person. One of those obstacles could possibly be the preacher.

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Mel Lawrenz

posted October 2, 2009 at 9:28 am

(In response to John M. “I’d love to do nothing but biblical exposition — it’s why I became a pastor — but there isn’t much of a thirst for it.”)
Friend, I think there is a very strong thirst for biblical exposition, as long as it does not stay a cerebral lecture. Congregations today will respond when we relate (with enthusiasm) ideas newly discovered (mind); go deep into the core human issues every Scripture passage brings out (heart); and challenges people to do something about it all (will). People will respond when, in a way that is integral in their worship, they are presented with the word from above. People want God to break in.

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posted October 2, 2009 at 10:03 am

A really great reminder. Feel similar.
I wish I could host something like this… needs a network.
Spiritual Formation Conference this year with Willard, Foster, Ortberg probably had that feel. Maybe the gospel oriented stuff with Piper and friends might be something too.
Way too much leadership talk for the little amount of Biblical learning we’re doing.
Presently reading THE JESUS WAY and am reminded how I need to soak this stuff much more than the next leadership principle/book.

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Clay Knick

posted October 2, 2009 at 10:07 am

I’m ready to attend!

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Jim Martin

posted October 2, 2009 at 10:46 am

So glad you posted. Yes, this is an important need. I am thankful for Eugene Peters (as John F. noted already) for his contribution here. (Also been helped by T. Oden, M. Dawn, and W. Willimon on this front).
Would love to see this conference happen. Thanks.

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posted October 2, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Great idea!
Sounds like something Origins might be able to help organize, along with some churches and/or seminaries.

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Bill McReynolds

posted October 2, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Please see the writings of Bobby Clinton, almost all of which look in depth at the leadership styles of Old and New Testament leaders. Some of Clinton’s thought has been popularized by Terry Walling, as well.

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posted October 2, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Scot, I hope you will address this call when you speak at preaching and leadership conferences.
Should a meeting like the one you suggest develop, perhaps panels rather than speakers (i.e., talking together rather than being talked to) would be helpful. But if there are speakers, don’t just go for the big names and turn it into another market-driven celebrity pastors’ conference. Find those pastors who day in and out practice this sort of immersion in Scripture and let them mentor us.

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posted October 2, 2009 at 1:52 pm

The conference should follow the spirit/mission of Lausanne 2010.

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posted October 2, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I agree with the conference, Scot – and Matt, good idea about exegeting the culture as well as Scripture. I’d add we need to exegete ourselves, too – so we can preach Christ’s peace to those far and near from the intersection of those three places.
I believe there are preaching conferences around that really do help us preachers focus on the Biblical text….I’m curious what people’s favorites are?

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posted October 2, 2009 at 7:31 pm


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chaplain mike

posted October 2, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Yes! Yes! and in case I’m not making myself clear, YES!!!

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Larry Boatright

posted October 2, 2009 at 11:52 pm

I couldn’t agree more, Scot. I love reading management and leadership books. I’ve taken graduate (seminary) level courses on Christian leadership. But I too think a generation of pastors have forgotten the record of the God whom we serve. I couldn’t agree with what you said more.
One of my leadership courses required we read some books by Eugene Peterson (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, etc). He really calls pastors to recapture connecting with God’s Word and prayer. I needed it.
Let’s do the conference in Chicago (where we’re both at). I’ll commit to being there!

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posted October 3, 2009 at 12:33 pm

I could not agree more. There are some good works on a biblical theology of leadership, but not a widespread understanding in the church about how to lead biblically and what exactly it means to be a pastor.
I would support it!

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Jason N

posted October 3, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Alistair Begg (Parkside Church) has a conference called “Basics” every May at his church in Cleveland. They joke that the topic never changes much, only the speakers really shuffle. It’s always on the Word, biblical model of pastoring, and preaching. Pretty boring in one sense, but pretty invigorating in another.

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Casey Taylor

posted October 3, 2009 at 4:36 pm

I absolutely agree, Scott, that there’s too many pastors are too enamored with the latest business-managerial-leadership books. I also agree that many pastors should read at least one meaty theology book each year, something that will challenge them intellectually and/or nourish their soul.
However, my undergrad religious training and much of my divinity school training so poo-pooed any wisdom from the management world that many pastors have been sent to churches without a clue how to deal with relational dynamics, organizing groups of people, leading a meeting, etc. I think of the insights from the so-called “secular business world” like the wisdom literature of the Old Testament that had many points of intersection with other ancient sages. We can learn from these guides but always bring them into conversation with (and submission to!) the gospel.
By the way, it was nice to meet you at the conversion symposium.

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