The Wisdom of Leadership

As a fellow elder, witness of Christ’s suffering, and partaker in his glory, I, Peter, encourage elders as follows: Feed your flock, looking over them not because you must, but because you want to serve other people; not for what you get out of leadership, but with a servant spirit; not out of arrogant pride, but with humility. If you lead in this way, when Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, appears you will receive an eternal crown of glory (I Peter 5:1-4, GCS translation).

During the 1970’s, an executive for AT&T wrote a leadership book entitled “Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.” The book was a culmination of Greenleaf’s years as an executive and his interest in leadership. In the book, he developed a theory that servanthood is the key to real, authentic leadership. In so doing, he was sharing in secular terms a notion of leadership that began with Jesus–a vision of leadership that, in my view, is not sustainable without faith in the God of Wisdom and Love revealed by Christ. Greenleaf’s interest in leadership began in college when a professor spoke these words: “There is a new problem in our country. We are becoming a nation that is dominated by large institutions—churches, businesses, governments, labor unions, universities—and these big institutions are not serving us well.” [1] If a lack of true, transforming, life-enhancing leadership was a problem in Greenleaf’s youth, it is a worse problem today.

team1The notion of “servant leadership” would never have emerged without the revelation of Christ nor can it be sustained without an underlying Christian World-View. Why do I believe this? If you look at contemporary leadership in business, government, churches, universities, and other institutions, one is struck by the following paradox: leaders often mouth concern over those they lead but seldom actually serve their best interests in humility. There is a lot of talk about “servant leadership,” but very few actual servant leaders. A good bit of the time, so-called “Servant Leaders” talk about servant leadership, while all the time receiving exorbitant salaries, abusing the symbols of power and influence provided for them by their institution, and making decisions and engaging in behaviors completely at odds with the best interests of the members, shareholders, stakeholders, citizens they reportedly serve. Often, they engage in a despicable tradeoff: “You give me power in return for my promise to serve your best interests, a promise I do not intend to actually keep.” Worse, some of these leaders are what I would call demonic leaders who engage in this tradeoff: If you will give me power, I will do things that will not improve your life. In fact I will do things that may cost you your job, your sense of security, or your sense of self-respect.”

In order to develop and sustain servant leadership, there must be leaders whose character is formed in such a manner that they are wiling to suffer for those they lead. By “suffer,” I mean servant leaders must constantly be willing to exercise self-denial and self-control, seeking the best for those they lead and resisting every temptation to manipulate or take advantage of them. Without the notion implicit in Christian faith that self-giving love is the way to true leadership and wholeness both personally and for those one serves, it is almost impossible to sustain a servant posture in the face of the temptations that leadership always brings. Christians have a ministry as they serve humbly, with a servant spirit, in whatever form of leadership to which they are called.

For many years, I had the privilege of being mentored by a person with great leadership ability, yet never or rarely misused his power. There are many stories people tell about this person. One involves a day on which he and a local mega-church pastor were to be honored as outstanding community leaders. The other pastor arrived in an expense “power suit,”  surrounded by a retinue of assistants. My friend arrived in khaki’s, all alone, and sat in the back of the room until his name was called. He was actually embarrassed to be honored. Over and over again, my friend would warn me not to think more highly of myself than I ought and to avoid getting carried away with leadership. One of this most telling observations went something like this: “Do not emulate those pastors who take themselves too seriously and get too involved in high profile, self aggrandizing ministries. They always come to a bad end.” Most of the time, he has turned out to be right.

[1] Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1977), 1.

Copyright 2014, G.Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

Reaching a New Generation


Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days, God says,
 I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions, 
your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, 
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below, 
blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Acts 2:14-21).

This post is a about reaching the next generation of young people for Christ. It focuses on what is called the Millennial Generation, but it applies to most young people today from about twenty to forty years of age. There is no question but that Christians face a tremendous problem reaching the next generations for Christ. America seems to be traveling down the same road that Europe followed following the Second World War.

Fortunately, The challenge we face is not as big as the challenge the first church gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Pentecost morning! They were just a few provincial Jews from Galilee, some women and a few men. They had no real formal training. Few of them had ever traveled further than the short journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. They did not have the problem of a weak church out of step with the culture. They had the problem of no church at all.

In the Upper Room, they waited for the Power of the Holy Spirit, just as we must wait. We also have to pray and wait for the Spirit with open hearts willing to reach out to people God puts in our path. We have to be willing to reach out to those who are trapped in sin and brokenness, who are different, who are outsiders, who have different customs and traditions. We have to wait and pray not hoping that God won’t come so we don’t have to change, but hoping that God will come so we will change and receive the blessings God has for us.

We Worship an Unpredictable God.

Most people, young and old, expect things to stay the same. The Old Testament name for God translates, “I Am that I Am” or, “I Will Be What I Will Be.” The Name God chose for himself before Moses on Mt. Sinai reveals God as the inexhaustible source of everything that is, was, or ever will be. Therefore, it is not surprising that God embraces change. God is a God who is deliberately bringing about the future in surprising, unexpected and mysterious ways—ways we can hardly imagine.

In Acts 2, Peter quotes from the Prophet Joel, who prophesied that, when the Last Days come—that is the long awaited “Day of the Lord,” God would pour out his flesh upon people in a new way (v. 17). Not just adults, but sons and daughters would prophesy (v. 17). Not just prophets and especially religious people, but young men as well would see visions, and old men would dream of the future (v. 17). God’s Spirit was not going to be the province of one sex. Instead, the Spirit was going to be poured out on men and women alike (v. 18). There were going to be wonders and disruptions and strange signs like those that accompanied the Jews leaving Egypt (v. 19-20). In the midst of all this change and disruption, anyone who calls upon the God would be saved. Before human history is over, God intends to do a lot of unpredictable things. Peter is proclaiming to the crowd that the day of the Lord has now come. A new era is beginning. We are a all a part of that New Era in which God intends to use everyone to reach the world with the Gospel of Love.

Loving a New Generation.

There is no question but what it is God’s desire that every generation of Christians be reached. Unfortunately, recently American Christians have not been good at reaching young adults, what sociologists have called “Millennials,” or young people who entered adulthood right around the beginning of the new Millennium. Today, the oldest Millennials are about 35 or so and the younger Millennials are in their late 20’s.

Millennials are the first generation to grow up in Post-Christian America. They are the first generation to live all their lives in a nation where having babies is a personal choice, birth control is common, abortion is frequent, sex is always on television, in movies, and in the media, and the technology to communicate information and images is in their pockets. This is the first generation that has always relied on media and technology for information and communication.

Around half of Millennials grew up for a part of their young life in a home in which one parent was missing. Because of the prevalence of two income households, Millennials are a generation that spent a great deal of their childhood alone. This is the generation that first heard the term “latch key kid” used for a large number of children. Scholars say that his is a generation that has not known stable family and community relationships, and is hungry for them.

My generation, sometimes called “the Boomer Generation,” saw the beginning of this phenomenon. We also saw the beginning of another phenomenon: Our parents, the Builder and Silent Generations, built institutions, public and private. During the Viet Nam War, for the first time in American history, a generation began to mistrust institutions. As Boomers became cultural leaders, our children became the first generation that never trusted the institutions of our society and was educated not to do so. Therefore, this generation is hard for institutions to reach, including churches.

For those of us who grew up going to church with our parents before the Cultural Revolution, it is hard to recognize that more than half of the next generations grew up never, or almost never, going to church. What they know of churches is largely what the media tells them, which is that churches are harsh, legalistic, judgmental, and mostly led by white, abusive males. In order to overcome this stereotype, it is important that churches go out of their way to welcome and empower young people and shows them God’s love. We must be interested in them, not just interested in their coming to our church.

Millennials grew up with technology. They instinctively use the Internet for communication and information. They love to tweet, post, and text. Many of us are not as tech savvy as our children and/or grandchildren. Using technology wisely is a part of reaching the next generation that is really important. This will impact everything from how we structure worship and write sermons to what kind of discipleship materials we use, to how we communicate information.

Perhaps as a result of the technological revolution, and perhaps as a result of media saturation, this is a “post-printing press” generation. Older adults primarily learn from reading. This is a generation that is used to getting its information visually from the media. It is a generation in which posting on Instagram is as popular, or even more popular than posting text on Facebook. Anyone who has used social media knows that experts encourage posting pictures and not just text because of the difficulty of getting people to read just text.

We are the People God will Use.

By now a lot of readers are thinking, “I am not qualified for this. I don’t even want to do this! I am happy just as things are.” I feel this way a good bit of the time. I am sixty-three years old. I am an old dog not too crazy about learning new tricks.

We don’t know much about the disciples. Paul indicates that they were all married. I suppose this means that they had children. We have every reason to believe that Peter, Andrew, James and John were successful business people. Matthew was a wealthy tax collector with a mind for business. Paul was a Pharisee and moving into a position of power in Israel. I suppose none of the apostles wanted leave Israel and go to the ends of the earth. I’m certain they did not want to be around Gentiles, eat unclean food, and die far away from home. Nevertheless, they went in the power of the Spirit and along the way a lot of things they were accustomed to changed.

Reaching a New Generation.

To reach another generation, we must be willing to change and embrace a series of challenges and paradoxes. Here are just a few:

  • We must be willing to change how we do things, without compromising the Gospel.
  • We must be willing connect emotionally with people, while still communicating the cognitive, truths of Christian faith and life.
  • We have to be willing to make our ministries accessible and relevant to new generations using the communication styles they are accustomed to using.
  • We need to emphasize relationships, including mentoring relationships. In a world of technology people want and need deep personal relationships. In a world where people live alone, isolated, and away from family, we need to provide a place of healthy, stable, relationships.
  • We need to be real not slick. We don’t have to change who we are; we need to be interested in a new generation, tolerant of generational differences, and ready to embrace Millennials with God’s love.
  • We need to be mission and ministry focused. This is a generation that wants to serve as well as learn.

One of the young people who helped with this sermon made this comment: “We can’t just want young people to come to our church so it won’t die. We have to want them to come and build something new.” [i] One of the most successful congregations in reaching young people is a pretty traditional Reformed congregation. It has a lot of small groups, what they call “Life Groups,” which are led by young people. It has a community garden, run by young people. It even has a worship service led by Millennials. The older church members did not decide to do these things. Young people decided to do these things, and the congregation, young and old, encouraged them. It did not shame them into doing what they were doing. It opened its arms and welcomed them to do what they desired to do.

May it be so with our churches.

Copyright 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[i] I have consulted a variety of sources, including Paul Fritz, Ten Keys to reaching Young People (December 2002) and an entire issue of Presbyterians Today entitled, Young Adults: Their Vision for the Church Special Millennial Issue A Guide for Young Adult Ministry (May 2014). Several of the young people of Advent were shown an early version of the sermon. They made many good comments, and I want to thank them for those comments. The sermon could not have been written as it was without them. I also need to thank the Long Range Planning Task Force and the Communication Task force for their comments, which I have tried to embed in the text. David Shotsberger, Don Kerns, Dan Eubanks, Coenraad Brand, and Cindy Schwartz did not see an advance copy of the text, but they have been working on how Advent reaches a new generation for a long time. Their work and advice is appreciated.


The Power of Revival

I did my Doctor of Ministry degree at Asbury Seminary. Part of the reason has to do with an experience of a friend of mine who went to college there and an experience he had. On February 3 1970, the students gathered for chapel as they normally did. The service was scheduled to last for one hour. Instead, it lasted for 185 hours, 24 hours a day for a week. It began with a time of testimony in which one student after another came forward to talk about their Christian life. Gradually, students and faculty members found themselves weeping. People formed small groups in the chapel and began to confess their sins to one another, ask for forgiveness, pray and sing. The President of the Seminary, Dr. Kinlaw, was out of town and both fearful and skeptical about what was happening. When he returned, he went to the chapel, which seats 1500 people. Before he left, he was convinced.

My friend remembers people praying all night in dorm rooms, confessing sins, and sharing deep hurts with one another. News of the revival traveled around the nation, and people flocked to little Wilmore, Kentucky. When the service was over, students from Asbury shared their story in other places, and sometimes revival broke out there as well. Many of the students who were present went on to become pastors, missionaries, and church leaders. Those who were present testified that they could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Kinlaw put it this way:

“[Y]ou may not understand this, but the only way I know how to account for this [the revival] is that last Tuesday morning, about 20 minutes until Eleven, the Lord Jesus walked into Hughes Auditorium, and He’s been there ever since, and you’ve got the whole community paying tribute to His presence.”

Here I am, Send Me.

This post is a look at the events of Pentecost with an eye to the renewal and revival. If you are not a Christian, you may be wondering, “What is Pentecost?” Pentecost is fifty days after Passover. The Jews celebrate it as the “Festival of Weeks.”  The Festival of Weeks celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, which was thought to have occurred fifty days after Passover. The symbolism of the coming of the Spirit at the Festival of Weeks is important. On Sinai, God gave the law to Moses. At Pentecost, God gives the Spirit that enables us to fulfill the Law because we have been given new hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah foretold (Jeremiah 31:33).

Here is the way it is described in Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:1-12).

Promise of the Spirit.

Acts begins with the resurrected Jesus meeting with his disciples. For forty days after the resurrection, Jesus spoke with his disciples (Acts 2:3). One time when they were together, Jesus told them not to leave the city of Jerusalem but to wait for a gift—the Gift of the Spirit God would give them (v. 4). John the Baptist foretold that while he, like your pastors, baptized people with water, the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit (v. 5). The disciples thought that Jesus might be telling them that the Kingdom of David now would be reestablished (v. 6). Jesus told them they were not to know the future (v. 7). Going on, Jesus promised that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit; and when they did, they would witness to him in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (v. 8). Then, Jesus was taken up into heaven, after which two men appeared and promised them that Jesus would return (vv. 9-10).

There is a temptation to think that God needs help from us to accomplish his will. This is especially true of those of us who are by nature active, busy, and inclined to the view that “God helps those who help themselves.” While it is true that God often helps those who help themselves, this truth can blind us to a greater truth: All real progress comes from God and is based on the promises of God.

In the Old Testament, the prophets often judged the Jewish people because they tended to seek alliances with other nations, and especially with Egypt—a nation that had enslaved them (Isaiah 30:1-3). God does not want us to rely on our programs, our abilities, or ourselves. He wants us to rely on Him. As we pray for our families, our friends, our colleagues at work, and our neighbors, even about our own hopes and dreams, it helps to remember that, in the end, what happens is in the hands of God.

Preparation for the Spirit

After Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room in Jerusalem and for a period of days prayed constantly (Acts 1:12-16). Along the way, they discerned that they needed to replace Judas Iscariot who had betrayed Jesus and committed suicide (Acts 1:26). [2] Of course, the most important thing they did was pray.

As you can imagine, many people wondered about what caused the great Asbury revival. At least one skeptic wondered if somehow the administration and faculty had manufactured it. Here are some facts. First of all, there have actually been several revivals at Asbury. In the instance of the 1970 revival, as the President noted in his comments, there are always people praying for revival at Asbury. It is a Christian school and there are many charismatic students present as well as strong Christian children of Methodists and others. In addition, several months’ earlier, groups of students began praying for revival. They were usually groups of six, and each group of six recruited others to pray. They did pray for revival. They also prayed for one another, for forgiveness for sins, and for all those things for which people normally pray. [3]

Some years ago, there was a famous revival in Wales. The Welsh Revival was a part of the greater Methodist revivals of the 19th Century. Once again, there were faithful preachers preaching and faithful people praying for revival. One evening, a young man who had received a mighty calling from God went to his own church. He asked a few people to stay after the meeting and visit with him. He asked them to pray. Here are the specific things he asked them to do:

  • First, he asked them to confess their own sins and ask for forgiveness from God.
  • Second, he asked them to remove from their own lives anything that was not in accordance with God’s will.
  • Third, he asked them to be totally yielded to the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Fourth, he asked them to publically declare their faith in Christ.

There are things that preceded true revival: and prayer, confession, repentance, changed lives, and sharing the Gospel are the most central elements of all.

Proof of the Spirit

Revival and renewal by the power of the Holy Spirit is a tricky thing. Being Americans, we want a kind of visible proof. We think that revival would mean our church would grow; our lives blessed financially, our families healed and the like. These things do happen. However, they are not in themselves proof of God’s presence with a group of Christians. The proof is lives changed. The proof is people changing their lives.

At the end of this chapter of Acts there is a short description of what happened next. First of all, about 3,000 people were saved on Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Second, we are told that something just as wonderful happened. Acts 2:42 and following records:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).

The proof of revival is a return to simple Christian faith. The proof of revival is deep fellowship, including table fellowship among Christians. The proof of revival is wonderful, unusual, healings occurring—things we cannot explain. The proof of revival is a new generosity. The proof of revival is changed lives.

Where Do We Go from Here?

A lot of Christians are worried about the state of Christianity in America just now.  Here is what I hope we can remember from this post:

  • First, we have a promise from God that he will send his Spirit if we wait and pray.
  • Second, we know that God only sends his Spirit in response to prayer, confession, changed lives, and changed behavior among Christians.
  • Third, we know that we await that moment when God pours out his Spirit upon our congregation.
  • Finally, we know what to look for—Changed Lives and our first of all.
  • Amen.

[1] A Revival Account Asbury 1970 The Forerunner (March 31, 2008). My account is based on this article at Dr. Kinlaw’s story is on U-Tube.

[2] People often have questions about this vignette as well as about why it was necessary and if it was a mistake. Almost certainly, the disciples felt that their number (twelve) symbolized the renewal of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Therefore, it was necessary that someone be elected to replace Judas to return the number to twelve. Those who believe they acted unwisely generally believe Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was, in fact, God’s choice to complete the twelve.

[3] It is a bit more complicated than I have recounted. I suggest anyone interested hear Dr. Kinlaw’s 37-minute explanation of what happened at the U-Tube site mentioned above.