Work Hard, Rest Well

Many leaders, myself included, aspire to follow the philosophy to “work hard and rest well.” Most of us have no problem following the “word hard” part of that statement. Unfortunately, we often find it much harder to “rest well.”

But the holiday season is when work rhythms typically slow down, giving us an opportunity for rest and restoration. In these seasons it is wise to resist filling that time with work and investing it in some downtime.

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How I Write Sermons

I don’t know how long it takes to write a sermon. When someone asks, I usually say something like, “Somewhere between 13 and 50 hours.” I mean this sincerely. When I know I have to preach in the next 5 to 10 days, I am always thinking about the sermon. My mind is constantly moving back and forth between the text, possible illustrations, main points, and ways to apply the sermon. Whether I am in a meeting, driving to the office, working out, or doing yard work, the sermon is always in the background of my thoughts. My wife can tell you plenty of humorous stories of catching me talking to myself or mumbling something under my breath on the weeks I am preparing to preach. If you count all of these hours of thinking about the sermon as official “sermon prep,” then the time it takes to write a sermon is very long, indeed.

While I don’t know how long it takes to write a sermon, I do have a pretty good answer for a person who wants to know the process for writing a sermon. I have been in ministry for 19 years, and I estimate that I have preached somewhere around 1600 sermons. Through lots of trial and error, I have found a method of preparation that works for me. Let walk you through a week of sermon prep and describe what I aim to do each day of the preaching week.

What follows is a normal week of sermon preparation where I am preaching the text our preaching team has determined for that particular Sunday. Space will not allow me to go in-depth into the methods I use for researching the text, looking at the original languages, and the particular commentaries or resources I prefer. All I want to show here is what happens each day and the high-level goals I have for each session in the process. In addition to what I describe below, I start and end each session with prayer. 

Monday – Kick Off (1-2 sessions)

Monday is the lightest day in terms of preparation. My only goal on Monday is to read the text as many times as possible and make a few notes. I generally do this in two 45-minute sessions on Monday, one in the morning and one in the mid-afternoon. That’s it. Again, I am likely thinking about the text on the way home in the car, listening to podcasts with an eye toward the sermon, and maybe even doing some open-air preaching in my office, but as far as actual study, I am just reading the text.

Tuesday – Heavy Lifting (3-4 sessions)

Tuesday is the heavy lifting day. My goal on this day is the research the text as in-depth as possible. This involves doing word studies, looking at the original languages, reading commentaries and background material, and doing what is called exegesis. Exegesis is the process of seeking to understand, to the best of my ability, what the original author meant when he wrote the text. I am not looking to understand what the text means to us today and how we can apply it to our lives. Rather, I am only wanting to understand what the original author, such as Paul or Matthew, meant when they wrote a particular passage. Once I feel like I have accomplished this, I will write one or two sentences that summarize what the text meant. Most often, this takes me three or four 50-60 minute sessions. 

Wednesday – Outline and Introduction (3-4 sessions)

Wednesday is outline and introduction day. Once I have established the meaning of the text and worked through the author’s flow of thought, I then write down what the main point of the sermon (MPS). The MPS takes the original author’s meaning and applies it to today. It takes what was written and intended in the past and seeks to bridge the gap into the present. Once I’ve established this, I make an outline where each of the 3 or 4 points further explains and serves the main point. For example, recently I preached from Matthew 5:6-8. The MPS of that text was: The church must understand the wrong way to pray in order to learn the right way to pray. With my outline I showed three wrong ways to pray:

  1. Avoidance of Prayer
  2. Appearance Prayer
  3. Performance Prayer

My intent with each of these points was to establish the claim of the MPS. This work is done on Wednesday in 3 or 4 50-60 minute sessions. 

The final session of the day, usually in the afternoon, I will begin writing the sermon by trying to nail down an introduction. My introductions have two simple goals: where and why. I want to establish where we are going in the sermon, and I want to show why it’s important that we go there. Pretty simple. This might involve an illustration, a personal story, or some need or issue in our lives, or in the world, that demands a response. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said the introduction should be like a doctor diagnosing a patient. Before the doctor can cure the patient, he must know what his problem is! Introductions of sermons show the problem and establish why a person should listen to what the preacher has to say.

Thursday – Rough Draft

The goal for Thursday is simple: Get a rough draft done. This might take me 2 hours or 7 hours. I never really know. Sermons tend to have a mind of their own! I simply write until I am done. Now, you might be asking, what does a “done” rough draft look like? For me, it’s two things: balance and word count. I want each outline point to have balance and symmetry. I don’t want to write 1000 words for 2 of the points and 300 words for the other point. I like for each point to carry roughly the same amount of weight in the sermon. Second, because I have preached for almost two decades, I know the correlation between the length of my notes and the length of my sermon. Yes, we preachers do take sermon length into account! My goal is to preach somewhere around 36-42 minutes. Anything longer feels like too much. Anything shorter feels like I’ve left too many things unsaid and you as the hearer didn’t really get their money’s worth that week! This length requires my notes to be somewhere around 3300-3500 words. I stay pretty close to my notes when I preach and rarely deviate. So, the goal for Thursday is to complete a balanced rough draft of 3300 or so words. Once I am done, I send my draft to other members of our preaching team for review and await their verdict. 

Friday – Sabbath

Friday is my sabbath. I try to get as far away from the sermon as possible. I don’t want to think about it, talk about it, or look at it in any form. There was a time when I would use Friday’s for sermon prep, but those days are long gone. I’d rather work as hard as I can to make the Thursday deadline, and then be able to relax and rest before Sunday. 

Saturday – Edits and Memorization (2 sessions)

Saturday involves two main sessions: final edits and memorization. I wake up early on Saturday and work through any feedback I’ve received from our preacher team and bring the sermon to its final form. This might take me 15 minutes or 2 hours depending on how much I need to change. 

Later in the evening I’ll begin the process of memorization. This typically involves reading the entire sermon 6-8 times. I’ll also make notes in the margins where I want to emphasize something or potentially mention another passage of Scripture that hits me as I visualize preaching the sermon. Usually these changes are minimal. I am mainly attempting to make the sermon as “preachable” as possible. Once I feel like I have memorized the sermon I put it away for the night and try to get some rest. 

Sunday – Pray and Preach!

While I try to make prayer a priority all throughout the writing and planning process, I spend the most focused time in prayer for the sermon on Sunday morning. I wake up early, read through the sermon one last time, and then I pray for our church, for any unbelievers or seekers who may be present, and for my own heart to love and believe what I am preaching. At this point in the process, I have done all I can do. I then attempt to preach with as much zeal and conviction I as can, and trust that the Lord will attend to the preaching of His Word, and that it will accomplish all that He intends.



ASI Seminar Recap: Kindred Allies

The Austin Stone Institute’s (ASI) 2019 “Learning to Listen” seminar series is designed to encourage us to consider other people’s perspectives, to give us a theological foundation for speaking with grace and truth about topics such as gender, race, and politics, and to empower us to engage with people who are not like us.

Our first seminar “Kindred Allies” with author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin occurred on September 12 at our West campus. We were delighted by how many people came—we saw nearly 200 people gather in the auditorium.

Men and Women Are More Alike than Different

The seminar featured two teaching components and one Q&A panel. During the first teaching, Jen explored how men and women are more similar than different. She started by debunking the idea that men and women cannot be platonic friends. Jen undergirded her position with Genesis 1 and 2, saying that God did not provide Eve because Adam felt the lack of a sexual partner. Rather, God provided Eve because Adam was lonely and needed a companion who shared his language and abilities. God made them to “image” Him together, not separately. 

Jen then turned to the New Testament and discussed how Jesus redefines and expands the definition for “family.” She referenced Mark 3, which says: 

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

In the family of God, relationships between men and women are not based on husband and wife, but on brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. And, Jen continued, this family of brothers and sisters is told to “one another” over and over in the New Testament. Men and women are to love one another (1 John 4:7), serve one another (1 Peter 4:10), encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), etc. Men and women are not to divide by gender, with men in the living room and women in the kitchen, but to pursue friendship and unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

But that is not how life typically plays out in the church or the larger culture. Men and women fear each other—a natural state of affairs considering humanity’s sin and a hyper-sexualized culture. Relationships between genders become fraught with tension. And yet, some relationships transcend it: the bond between a father and daughter, for instance, or a brother and sister who defend each other no matter what. Such relationships give a glimpse of what friendships between men and women can look like. It is possible to be friends with the opposite sex without sexual temptation running rampant.

Men and Women Should Consider the Other’s Perspective

But for that possibility to become a reality, Jen suggested men and women needed to do some reconditioning in terms of not only how they saw each other but also how they recollected stories in the Bible. She addressed the former in the first session of the seminar and worked through the latter in the second. In it, Jen walked seminar attendees through the example of David and Bathsheba. 

Many readings (and commentaries) of the text depict Bathsheba as a “loose” woman delighted to capture King David’s attention. A close textual reading, though, offers something different. It displays an unequal and unbreachable power dynamic, with David having all the agency and Bathsheba all the vulnerability. Reading the text with that viewpoint can be uncomfortable but ultimately healthful; it teaches people to reconsider their assumptions about both the Bible and the opposite gender, to reexamine their understanding of situations, and in some cases, to initiate conversations with men and women about their experiences.  

Jen ended her teaching with a panel. Todd Engstrom, Executive Pastor of Ministry Strategies, John Murchison, Managing Director of The Austin Stone Institute, and Lindsay Funkhouser, Program Manager of ASI’s Writer Development Program, joined her. They answered questions from the audience regarding how men and women can be “kindred allies” and gave advice on how men and women can relate to and support one another. For example, Jen and Lindsay said men can open up opportunities to women, while women can remind men that emotions are not weaknesses. Men can also encourage women toward speaking up for themselves, and women offer insights into men’s communication styles.

God designed men and women complementary. Each gender has something the other lacks. By coming together as friends, they can discover how the qualities that seem to separate them enrich each other’s lives and unite them as one body in Christ. 

 

Join us for our upcoming seminar with Dr. Gregg Allison on October 25. He’ll be answering the question, “Are you your body?”



Seven Questions from the Kindred Allies Seminar

In our most recent ASI Seminar, Kindred Allies, we heard from Jen Wilkin how men and women are designed by God to work together for the glory of God and the growth of His kingdom. She encouraged us to think more about how men and women are similar, both being made in the image of God, than to think about how we are different. She also challenged us to grow in acting like the family of God, treating each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

We were not able to get to all of the submitted questions during our Q&A time, so we compiled a few of the most popular questions into this post. Todd Engstrom, elder and Executive Pastor of Ministry Strategies, and members of our Austin Stone Institute staff team worked together to provide brief answers below. If you attend The Austin Stone and would like to know more, I encourage you to speak to your congregation staff and elder team, or to reach out to us at asi@austinstone.org. We would be happy to talk to you more about this important subject.

1. What wisdom or guidance would you give a male believer who, in the corporate workplace, encounters many non-believing women who subscribe more to female empowerment to the detriment of the biblical vision of deep mutual male-female respect? For example, when encountering ideas like only women can lead, toxic masculinity, it’s women’s time now, the future is female, etc.

A helpful place to start is to remember that your worldview as a believer is likely going to be different from a non-believer’s worldview. Your authority and framework for honoring male-female relationships will naturally be different,

Approach this situation the way you would any other – remember that Jesus is our model for interaction. We see many examples in Scripture of Jesus actively seeking to employ empathy in trying to understand others and speak life into their stories. If you believe female coworkers are striving for control, power, or recognition, consider that perhaps it’s because they have a history of not feeling valued, heard, or recognized. Though they may be striving through means different than what you think is best, you can be a powerful example of how Jesus would listen and speak value into them. They don’t know Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, advocating for His children, but you can be their advocate and encourager. You can speak light into darkness and healing into wounds. You can model the fullness and joy of the family of God, and by His grace, maybe one day they will become your sisters in God’s Kingdom.

2. When it comes to women teaching and/or leading men, what do you believe, and how do you discern what is appropriate biblically?

This is an extraordinarily difficult topic to handle within a short paragraph. Theologians have debated this topic for a very long time, and our elders have also wrestled with this very question since the earliest days of our church. And we are still wrestling with it!

Biblically, we should consider that the Spirit of God has poured out gifts on all saints, and both men and women receive those gifts (Joel 2:28-29, 1 Corinthians 12:7). We also must consider that Paul prohibits the exercise of those gifts and authority through teaching or speaking in the church (1 Timothy 2:12-14, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35). So, we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which include leadership and teaching, being given to women, but a constraint on how those gifts function in the church from the apostle Paul. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation, distinction, and confusion!

At The Austin Stone, we do not have a formal position with respect to how this would play out, and instead, allow for discernment through our plurality of elders on how to navigate this within each congregation. In this discernment, we would specifically be asking “does this expression of female teaching or leadership contradict a clear text of Scripture?” This will help us discern and understand the question of whether or not something is permissible. The next question would be, “For what people might this be a beneficial expression of the gifts?” This will help us move forward in expressing the gifts the Spirit gave to our church.

In practice, we know that it is biblically right for women to teach women (Titus 2:3-5), and therefore love it when our spiritually gifted women impart grace through their gift to other women. In mixed environments, we consider the conscience of those who might be in attendance, factor in the cultural perception of authority and use wisdom and discernment as to when this might be appropriate.

3. Are our elders open to meeting with a woman one-on-one to discuss spiritual issues with women? Is this a policy for our church, or could this vary from elder to elder?

In the broader evangelical culture, this is often referred to as the “Billy Graham rule”, and has been a guiding principle for many men in ministry due to Graham’s tremendous influence. There are at least three predominant motivations for adhering to this rule:

  • Preventing temptation towards inappropriate emotional connections
  • Honoring the desires of a spouse who may not feel comfortable with this kind of interaction
  • A desire to ensure the comfort of the person with whom you are meeting

Our elders do not have a formal policy on this matter but instead allow for the freedom of conscience of each individual elder. While some elders will meet with a woman one-on-one in an appropriate setting, others on our elder team do not feel the same.

4. How do we take actionable steps to model this [kindred allies] in our church today?

Jen’s framework of emphasizing the similarity between the genders and focusing on agency and vulnerability as mutually beneficial distinctions is a great place to start. For the men in our church, asking the question, “How might I use my agency to serve my sisters in Christ?” would be a great starting point. For the women in our church, asking the question, “How might I foster vulnerability in my brothers in Christ?” is a good place to begin.

One way to start would be to intentionally interact with the opposite gender in our missional community family meals and gatherings. Asking simple questions like, “How are you?” and, “How can I pray for you?” are great, simple action steps to start living intentionally.

5. As a woman gifted with leadership abilities, how do I cultivate my gifts and serve appropriately? How do I seek mentorship? How do I promote health and healing between the genders?

This posture of humbly wanting to serve and grow is so encouraging! Your congregation leaders and elders want to know you and help you figure out how to cultivate your gifts and use them for the flourishing of the church. I would reach out to any leader at your campus and ask them to help you identify your gifts and how those can be used in your community or at that congregation. You are needed by the church, and we want to help you walk in obedience and joy through using your gifts.

As for mentorship, the best and often easiest thing to do is to identify a woman you admire and who is spiritually “farther down the field” and just ask if you can learn from her. Or if you’re desiring to invest in someone, ask them if you can walk alongside them and help them grow. It may seem scary to put yourself out there, but I’ve heard many stories of wonderful mentor relationships that happened because one of the parties was brave enough to ask the other if they could spend intentional time together growing in Christ.

It’s difficult to answer this last question in a couple sentences, but a great place to start in helping promote health and healing between the genders is to form friendships with people in your congregation and start to tackle these questions together. “What would it look like for the men in our community to help all the women flourish? For the women to help all the men to flourish? What are some things our community is missing when men and women aren’t acting like the full family of God we see in Scripture? What would these interactions communicate to the nonbelievers around us that wouldn’t be true in male/female relationships apart from Christ?”

6. How do you help people create appropriate boundaries while also stepping into better brother-sister relationships?

The first step in having healthy brother-sister relationships is having close community with a few people of the same gender. This close community can offer insight, accountability, and wisdom as you navigate how to work with your brothers or sisters in Christ to advance God’s kingdom. There is no “one size fits all” approach into what is appropriate for each person. Inviting others in your community to help you define what is wise and above reproach for you is an invaluable part of the process.

In addition, those who are married should also involve their spouses in this discussion and consider their input above that of their community.

7. If I grew up in a male dominated family/church, how do I start reframing my viewpoint? Some of these ideas/viewpoints are very challenging to hear.

It can be difficult to begin to shift our viewpoints from what was historically true for us or from what we experienced growing up in the church. Jen offered a lens through which to view this situation when she proposed that the church is experiencing a “diminished understanding of the concept of family.” As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a truer and better family than those in our own family units. And in addition to focusing on and nurturing our familial relationships within the body of Christ, Jen encouraged us to see that “there is more that we have in common than what separates us” and that when it comes to men and women in the Creation story, “the Bible starts with sameness.” God created man and woman so that there would be “completeness.” The truth is that we need each other, and the mission of the church cannot go forward without the complete body of Christ working together. Rather than a church functioning as a single-parent home, Jen encouraged us to “strive to make the church look like what we dream of in a nuclear family.” Jesus commands us to be the family of God. In light of this, we should each search our own hearts and ask, “Do we truly see each other as those with whom we partner to bring forward His good news?”



Five Ways to Fight Perfectionism

I was nine years old when I first tangled with perfectionism. (At least, it’s my first remembered encounter. My mom probably recalls something different.) I got a “C” on a grammar test. While most kids would accept that grade with delighted relief, I didn’t. I felt like a failure. To me, a “bad” grade wasn’t a letter grade; it was a mark against my moral fiber. I spent the next week berating myself and dedicating hours to understanding the laws of verbs and diagrams. I was determined not to suffer anything less than an “A” going forward. 

As far as I know, I didn’t. I established and maintained a pristine honor roll status. But the achievement did nothing to combat perfectionism. Perfectionism lingered, a constant presence needling me with the thought that I wasn’t good enough and would never be good enough. To fight that idea, I would need succor other than achievement and determination. I would need God and His grace and wisdom. 

Throughout the years, God has not only provided wisdom and grace but also proven Himself a much more faithful and kind companion than perfectionism. Perfectionism belittles. God lifts me up. He gives me, as one of our new songs from Austin Stone Worship says, “a better word.” God reminds of the better way. That way encompasses a lot of things, but the following five came to mind during a recent bout of perfectionism.

Decide Whether to Create or Be Perfect

Perfectionism cripples. It puts the act of creation at a towering height. Every word, brushstroke, string of code has to be perfect at their inception. If they’re not, the artist/writer/insert other maker topples headlong into perfectionism and its downward spiral of doubt, guilt, and self-inflicted railery. Rather than confront the perils of creation, the maker refuses the climb. They choose safety and comfort over the risk and danger inherent to the creative process. 

But safety and security are poor comforts, especially to the person called to create—and I mean “create” in the broadest sense, from architectural drawings, business plans, and mathematical theorems to murals, choreography, and memoirs. I realized that truth as I sought to put thoughts into words and drawings as an undergraduate. It came with a complimentary epiphany: I could create, or I could be perfect. I could not, however, be both. I could either accept the messiness of creation, along with its risk of failure, or never attempt anything ever again for fear of it being “imperfect.” I decided on the former. The act of making, despite its risks and dangers, was and is infinitely more satisfying than the pursuit of perfection. 

I like how Neil Gaimain juxtaposes perfectionism and creation. In an interview with Tim Ferriss, Gaiman says, “What you cannot fix is the perfection of a blank page. What you cannot fix is that pristine, unsullied whiteness of a screen or a page with nothing on it, because there’s nothing there to fix.” Exactly. My first draft, whether it be writing or art, may be a wreck. But it’s something. I can work with it, mold it into shape.

Choose Humility or Pride

Perfectionism produces pride, too. The perfectionism, though, may not appear as blatant self-promotion, as in the statement, “Look what I did.” Instead it hides beneath a mask of false humility by deflecting praise.

The deflection works a strange magic. It feels right to acknowledge other writers, artists, and creators as more skilled or gifted. And maybe it is. It’s good to recognize and celebrate other people and their gifts. And yet—something about the deflection remains off-kilter, wrong. A friend helped me realize one part of the issue; he told me deflecting a compliment was like trampling on a person’s gift. If he went to the time and trouble to recognize my talent, I should accept his compliment as I would any other thoughtfully given gift, with gratitude and grace. To do otherwise was to hurt the gift-giver and to deny them the opportunity of engaging with me and the thing I created.   

The other part of the issue resides in a denial, conscious or unconscious, of God’s handiwork. Deflecting a compliment is, at best, a diminishment of God’s gifts to me. It downplays my abilities, says they’re of little importance. But they matter a great deal for God gave them to me, and He gave them to me for a reason. At worst, the deflection conveys a wish for other talents, to be made in a different way. It suggests I know better than God, which is both prideful and hurtful. How would I feel if one of my creations stepped off the page and asked, “Why did you make me thus?” I would feel hurt and betrayed, and if I, with my flawed love and incomplete knowledge, feel that way, how much more would God feel, the One who made me in faithful loving kindness and perfect knowledge?

Remember the Source of Confidence

Perfectionism often produces crippling fear and pride. It also frequently suggests people “control their destinies.” Everything, from the smallest, most trivial decision (Should I have avocado toast or granola for breakfast?) to the largest, most transformative one (Should I accept this job or marry this person?), depends on the individual. They are the captains of their ships, and when it comes to their work, they are the sources of inspiration and confidence.

But such sources are finite and fallible. Confidence crumbles for all sorts of reasons—failure, sure, but the size or scope of project, fatigue, and doubt, too. And inspiration? Inspiration is a fickle friend. It snubs invitations to visit, no matter how the person strains. When either confidence or inspiration dissipates, the illusion of control shatters. The world will not conform or perform to the maker’s perfect equations. Life proves more complicated than they ever anticipated. 

Here, the difference between what the world says and what the Bible says becomes vivid. The world says to wrest control back by planning harder, working longer hours, taking a retreat—to do whatever it takes to achieve the picture-perfect career, lifestyle, etc. The Bible says different. It says God is in control of everything, including me and the ins and outs of my days. He, not me, strengthens and sustains when disorder—imperfection—descends. He is my ultimate source of confidence and inspiration, and a never-ever running out one at that. God is and always will be my source of sustenance, confidence, and inspiration whether the work comes easy or hard. He remains constant, a perfect, fixed point upon whom I can rely. 

Decide to Rest Instead of Perform

Perfectionism also says I am the sum of my work. It’s an easy lie to believe, particularly in a culture that urges me to be the best, to pull myself up by my bootstraps, to work and work and work, demand my rights, break through the ceiling, etc. When I believe those things, I shoulder a burden I was never meant to. Rest becomes a distant memory or merely the means of greater efficiency and productivity. It no longer restores, for it is no longer connected to God, the One who conceived of and instituted rest in the first place. 

The longer rest remains disconnected from God, the harder it becomes to cease from toil and strife. Josef Pieper, in his essay “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” offers an explanation. He says, “We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence … The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refused to have anything as a gift.”(1)

To correct the lie, I have to remember the truth. In Christ, I am God’s daughter. God made me for more than work, even if that work makes His name great. He made me to know Him, to so enjoy being His daughter that I can’t help but make Him known to others. He made me to reflect Him. He also gave me unique talents and skills, not so that I would be consumed by them, but so that I could enjoy them and use them for His glory and other people’s good. And—He gave me rest and play and wonder, things I have to receive as the gifts they are. I do not work for those things; they come unbidden, without effort, a means of grace, not ability.

Embrace Community

Finally, perfectionism isolates. How can it not? Its chief goal is to be, not the best, but the most perfect. It dismisses collaboration and community because the successful perfectionist should be entire to themselves. They shouldn’t need help or desire to be known as a real person, a person with struggles and flaws and yes, imperfections. 

If that posture doesn’t produce isolation, perfectionists’ unrealistic standards should. Some perfectionists manage to keep their standards under control and apply them only to themselves. But even then, they can be difficult to bear. No one wants to spend time with a self-righteous prig whose aim in life is perfection. In other cases, the perfectionists assume their standards should be everybody’s standards. But that’s not fair. No one can live up to a perfectionist’s standards. Even if they could, they shouldn’t. They were made in a unique way, and they should use that uniqueness to grow into the person God created them to be, not the person the perfectionist says they should be. (Which, let’s face it, is basically a mini-me of the perfectionist. Who wants that?)

But the reality, according to the Bible, is that humans were made for community. God embedded it in humanity’s design. Admitting I need help and other people is not some great moral failure; it is good, right, and true. When I welcome people into my work or join them in theirs, beauty results—and I’m not talking about the end product, although it almost always improves with other people’s input. No, what I speak of has to do with the people of God. I see them as God sees them. I witness how He knits us together, the same way He knits me. The sight fills me with awe, and in seeing it, I respond by turning away from isolating perfectionism and toward a community where I belong. 

Over the years, I’ve discovered many truths to counter perfectionism’s lies. But the most convicting, life-shattering one is that God has entrusted me with a certain amount of time, with certain talents and gifts. That means I am not an owner but a steward, a humble servant, a recipient of God’s manifold grace. My gifts are not for me and my benefit but for God’s glory and people’s good. When I keep that truth in mind, perfectionism loosens its grip. I step into a space brimming with possibility and create with the joy and confidence my Father and King so abundantly and graciously supplies.

 

(1) Josef Pieper, “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 1948)



Doctrines and Disciplines Available Online Today!

The Austin Stone Institute is excited to announce the release of our newest written resource!

Doctrines & Disciplines is a new 227-page workbook written for The Austin Stone Development Program (ASDP). For those unfamiliar with the program, ASDP is designed for people who are serious about growing in their knowledge, love, and obedience to Jesus Christ. As a member of a learning cohort, students pursue intimacy with and conformity to Christ through the practice of spiritual disciplines and the study of systematic theology over the span of eight months. From the program’s conception in 2008, over 2,000 students have completed The Austin Stone Development Program!

What’s the story behind Doctrines & Disciplines?

In 2015, Jake Riddle and Rex Hamilton began the process of codifying the program curriculum into a printed resource. The 2015 version was comprised of four workbooks and designed for a centrally-administered program. 

In 2017, The Austin Stone Development Program adopted a new administrative structure and began offering the program at each congregation of The Austin Stone, rather than one central location. New teams were assembled to lead the program at each location. And with all of the changes, it was then decided to revisit the curriculum, too. 

ASDP, in all of its iterations, has long been a seminal catalytic experience for countless people within the body of The Austin Stone. Students—many for the first time—learn doctrine, practice spiritual disciplines, and learn directly from people like Kevin Peck and Matt Carter. Along with the central elders of The Austin Stone, the ASI team understood that the new administrative structure and program scope necessitated a new set of program materials. In the spring of 2019, the ASI team began the process of formally revising the curriculum to be released by the commencement of the program in the fall of 2019. 

We set out to create a single workbook that would draw from and reinforce some of the most effective activities developed within the program over the past 10+ years. We wanted to make a simple, effective, and scalable resource that would enhance each student’s learning experience, while also making the program more manageable to carry out.

How is this resource laid out?

Doctrines & Disciplines consists of 18 individual chapters and corresponding resources for each of the doctrines associated with The Austin Stone Development Program syllabus. Each chapter represents a specific topic of study. Students generally spend time reading, completing activities, attending a lecture, and discussing the chapter’s content with their cohort. 

The chapters are: 

  1. Doctrine of the Word of God Pt.
  2. Doctrine of the Word of God Pt. 2
  3. Hermeneutics: Bible Study Methods
  4. Doctrine of God 1: Incommunicable Attributes
  5. Doctrine of God 2: Communicable Attributes
  6. The Trinity
  7. Imago Dei
  8. Doctrine of Sin
  9. The Person of Christ
  10. The Work of Christ
  11. The Person & Work of the Holy Spirit
  12. God-centeredness of God/Christian Hedonism
  13. Unconditional Election
  14. Doctrine of Salvation 1: Calling, Regeneration, Conversion, & Justification
  15. Doctrine of Salvation 2: Adoption, Sanctification, Perseverance, & Glorification
  16. Doctrine of Providence
  17. Ecclesiology
  18. Eschatology

 

Every chapter has been designed with similar recurrent components. For instance, each chapter begins with a checklist of reading assignments and activities for each session.

Each chapter also includes a Scripture Study with the intention that students will be given ample opportunity to investigate different passages of Scripture by using Bible Study Techniques taught in Chapter 3. 

After the associated Scripture Study, each chapter then includes a variety of different activities and case studies aimed at directing users to practice applying doctrinal truths to a variety of unique situations. 

Finally, each chapter concludes with key terms and questions associated with the topic at hand, along with ample space for users to write down notes from the reading and lecture. 

Who was involved in creating this resource?

It takes a lot of people and a lot of time to create a resource of this length. 

Doctrines & Disciplines was:

  • written by Jake Riddle
  • content edited by Lindsay Funkhouser and Anna Sargent
  • theologically edited by Todd Engstrom
  • copy edited by Lindsey Lundin
  • designed by Shawn Bueche
  • proofread by Rebecca McCoy
  • printed and bound by One Touch Point Printing in Austin, TX

How can I get a copy of Doctrines & Disciplines?

While this resource is optimally intended to be used within the context of The Austin Stone Development Program, the ASI team has made this resource available for purchase to anyone interested in owning their own copy.

Copies of Doctrines & Disciplines can be purchased here 



Refuting the Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

September 18th, 2018 marked the twenty-year anniversary of a book that many have read or at least heard of: John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. If you haven’t heard of him, John Maxwell is a fairly famous former pastor and leadership expert. In 1998, I was a young youth pastor, eager to learn and grow in my calling, so when I heard that Maxwell was releasing a book on leadership, I bought it and read it quickly, hoping to find some nugget of truth that would take my leadership to another level.

The idea behind the book is that certain laws of leadership are irrefutable. The word “irrefutable” literally means “impossible to deny or refute.” His argument is that there are certain aspects of leadership that you can take to the bank—they’re true, all the time, every time, no matter what.

That is a pretty bold claim.

I remember reading about a particular law of leadership that Maxwell said was irrefutable and, personally, it was pretty discouraging. He called it “The Law of the Lid.” The idea is that an organization will only grow to the level of its senior leader. If, as a leader, you’re an “A,” you can lead your organization to an “A” level of effectiveness, but a “C” leader will only lead his/her origination to a “C” level, etc.

This “irrefutable” law was discouraging to me because I’m a decent leader, but I’m definitely not an “A level” leader. I can preach, but let’s be honest: my name is Matt Carter, not Matt Chandler. And folks, those are the things I’m decent at. There are several aspects of leadership (organization, systems, etc.) where I’m downright awful. I was discouraged because, according to John Maxwell’s irrefutable laws of leadership, whatever ministry God called me to lead was doomed to mediocrity, capped by “lid” that my ineffectual leadership placed upon it.

As I write this, it’s been twenty years since I’ve read the book and what I’ve discovered in those twenty years is that although there is some truth to the “law of the lid”, to say that it is “irrefutable” is a big stretch. I founded and pastor the Austin Stone Community Church and I can say with all honesty that she has far surpassed the effectiveness of the leadership level of her senior leader—and so can the organization you lead.

Here’s how to refute the irrefutable law of the lid:​

Lead in Plurality

Every leader has weaknesses. You can spend all your time trying to improve your area of weakness (there is some value here), or you can bring people around you who are gifted in ways you aren’t. This takes humility and a willingness to actually let others lead and receive credit for successes. Most leaders I’ve seen “cap” the effectiveness of their organization have been unwilling to truly delegate or, if they do, still require all decisions to be funneled through them. ​

Have Real Accountability

As you lead in plurality, give those leaders permission to honestly address your areas of weakness and failure. Receive that critique with grace and kindness, then change those things to the best of your ability. Most leaders I’ve seen who have placed a lid on their organization, never allowed themselves to be challenged or critiqued. This lead to a stagnation of their personal growth and their organizational growth was likewise hindered. Again, this takes real humility and Christ-likeness. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it in the long run.​

Surround Yourself With and Develop Young Leaders

The culture is changing rapidly. While there are things that are relevant for every culture (the Bible, the church, etc.), the way that people receive and process those things are radically different from generation to generation. Surrounding yourself with and developing young leaders allows us to change in appropriate ways with the changing tides of culture. This takes time, effort, and a whole lot of listening and learning, but it’s worth it. Too often, leaders refuse to do this and find themselves ineffective in reaching a changing culture.

If you’ll do these things, you’ll continue to grow as a leader in health and effectiveness, and your organization will grow right along with you.



Doctrine and Discipline for Leadership Development

Innumerable resources are available to leaders wanting to invest in their personal development. Many books have been written for leaders, from classic books, such as Blanchard’s One Minute Manager and Drucker’s The Effective Executive, to newer works such as Brown’s Daring Greatly and Scott’s Radical Candor. Commutes to and from work and appointments can be turned into leadership seminars by listening to TED talks or podcasts from leaders like Micheal Hyatt and Carey Nieuwhof. Even web surfing can be redeemed for personal development by pointing the address bar to Seth Godin’s blog or Harvard Business Review.

All of these resources help a leader grow. Christan leaders, however, should take care not to be so inundated with leadership books, podcasts, and blogs that they fail to focus on two important ways they can grow in leadership: the study of Christian doctrine and the practice of spiritual disciplines.

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Book Review: Rosaria Butterfield’s “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”

In anticipation of Rosaria Butterfield’s hospitality seminar on June 1, we read her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

“The gospel comes with a house key,” (11) begins Rosaria Butterfield in her book by the same name. She says the phrase is more of a process. By viewing one’s home as a key to sharing the gospel, strangers can become friends, and friends can become family members of God.

Butterfield explores that idea throughout The Gospel Comes with a House Key, using her life as an illustration. At the same time, she weaves in the gospel that undergirds and informs her family’s daily rhythms of hospitality. She intertwines the two on purpose, for Christian hospitality must always point to Jesus. Without that upward direction, hospitality becomes counterfeit and incapable of welcoming diverse worldviews, suffering with the brokenhearted, and inviting people to experience the healing found only in Christ.

Butterfield’s exploration of hospitality happens organically, meaning people glean principles and insights as they read the book. Some of those principles receive mention here. Butterfield’s book, however, contains many more.

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Training Writers to Lead

Writers who follow Jesus believe that God has given us life-changing truth to share and a dynamic medium through which to communicate that truth to a broken and hurting world: the written word.

Countless leaders throughout history have pointed to famous books, letters, and writings that have significantly impacted their lives and missions. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, cites Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day as an “impossibly perfect” literary work that influenced Bezos to push himself to achieve. Pharrell Williams, a prolific performer and producer, describes Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist as an epiphany that sparked intense reflection on his chosen life path and community. J.K. Rowling, author of one of the most beloved children’s series of all-time, credits Jane Austen’s Emma with making her a better thinker and writer.

Talk to anyone on the street, and they will likely have at least one book, essay, or treatise that profoundly influenced their worldview. The power to affect lives when a creator pours time, attention, and creativity into their work can create echoes of impact that will only be fully understood in eternity.

As believers in Christ, we have the greatest source from which to draw inspiration and understanding. We have the greatest model of humility, intentionality, and creativity. We have the greatest message to share!

We have the ability to make an eternal impact through our words. What an incredible gift and weighty call we’ve been given in Christ.

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