In a phrase that is often used more than pondered, George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” What Santayana could have added is, “And we forget the past very quickly!”
The close of this year provides us with the chance to be pupils in the school of history. As we come to the end of 2014, we have the opportunity to remember the year, reflect upon the year and avoid repeating the worst parts of the year.
So what should we learn from the events of 2014? Here are three important ministry lessons.
Build the Soul, Not the Platform
The events surrounding both Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church are both sad and sobering. They’re a reminder that platforms are shaky structures, often hastily assembled for sales and death sentences. And in ministry, the platform is only as strong as the soul which stands upon it. Platforms built on personality, charisma, or gargantuan gifts will soon buckle under the unbearable weight.
The key takeaway here for leaders is that we must focus more on strengthening our souls than erecting our stages. We must strengthen the foundation of character before we seek to build the platform from which it speaks. A truly God-given platform is not a goal but a fruit – the fruit of faithful, God-centered ministry. I need to remember that. And as I end 2014, I want to heed the words of Paul to the Corinthians:
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (1 Corinthians 3:11-13)
The foundation of our ministries must always and only be Jesus Christ. If it is anything else, it will be swept away, either now or on the Final Day.
People Aren’t Color Blind
If there’s one thing we can learn from Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner, it’s that the issues of ethnicity, race, privilege and police are fault lines lying just beneath the surface of our national unity. There’s a dividing line, hardly discernible to the naked eye but inching wider with the passing of each week, and it possesses the power to trigger fury. After the failure to indict in the case of Eric Garner, millions of people stormed the Internet with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. In other words, the fault line is stressing and breaking open new discussions about race, love, and power.
As pastors and leaders, we can’t afford to ignore these issues. Why? Because they’re gospel issues. The gospel not only reconciles us to God, but it also reconciles us to one another. In Ephesians 2:14-17, Paul says:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
As pastors, leaders, and church planters, we must identify the dividing walls which exist in our communities and then consider how the gospel applies to those dividing walls. We, along with those in our care, must apply the gospel to our hearts so forcefully that it kills the sinful hostility residing there.
Biology is Supplanting Theology
Lines are being drawn and forces amassed when it comes to issues of biology, sexuality, and theology. More and more evangelical Christians are coming to the conclusion that the Bible does not forbid monogamous, loving, same-sex relationships. Prominent worship leader Vicki Beeching came out as being homosexual. In April, Matthew Vines released his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Marriages. The creep of pharmacology is resulting in categories and diagnosis that overlook the soul and reduce behavior down to biology.
These trends, along with others, are indicative of popular assumptions in which biology overrules theology. In other words, men and women experience the difficulties of change – be it same-sex attraction or entrenched patterns of sin – and seek answers that ignore or deny Scripture’s place of authority.
As pastors and leaders, we must think carefully and compassionately about issues of sexuality, gender and change. We must hold tightly to the supremacy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture, while also extending grace and compassion to those who struggle with same-sex attraction or compulsive patterns of addiction. We need to understand issues of biology without surrendering the authority of Scripture. In other words, we need wisdom.
Before greeting 2015, let’s pause to ponder. What foundation will we build our ministries upon in 2015? How will handle issues of race and ethnicity in the coming year? What steps will we take to strengthen our convictions regarding the authority and sufficiency of Scripture?
Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. May God help us remember the past, that we might lead wisely in the future!