Archives For Theology

Malcolm Gladwell on David and Goliath

Kent Shaffer —  October 3, 2013

Catalyst Atlanta 2013

At Catalyst Atlanta 2013, Malcolm Gladwell discussed David and Goliath.

Israel was still in its infancy, and their great enemy was the Philistines. One day the Philistines came through the valley to attack, and Israel came out to meet them. They were deadlocked. So the Philistines sent out the Philistine giant named Goliath to fight single combat (i.e., a tradition of a one-on-one fight to decide the battle and save bloodshed). Goliath was too big, but David the shepherd boy was willing to fight him.

David told King Saul,

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.

King Saul offered David his armor, but David refused. Instead David brought a staff, 5 smooth stones, and a sling.

1 Samuel 17:31-39
And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

David was not an underdog.

I think the way this story has been interpreted in modern culture has miscontrued its meaning.

We call David an underdog. Why?
He is a kid. He is shorter. And because all David has was a sling.

However, in ancient combat a slinger was one of the more devastating weapons. Its projectile moves at such a speed that Goliath wouldn’t have time to react. Based on the speed and hardness of stone, the projectile was the equivalent of a .45 caliber bullet. We know that in these times, slingers could be as accurate as a hair’s breath.

So David had an advantage.

Goliath was a big, slow heavy infantry man. The convention was for heavy infantry to fight heavy infantry, which is why King Saul offered David his armor. But David would not play by convention.

So we have a slow lumbering giant versus a nimble kid with superior technology and who is filled with the Lord. So who is the underdog?

When you look at the heart, David is not the underdog. Your obstacles and moments of weaknesses are our opportunities for our greatest learning.

David refused to be passive. He was the only one that understood the power of his faith.

An example from WWII

During World War II, the French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon defied the Nazis. Andre Trocme He was a minister who chose to not submit to anything that went against the Bible. He refused to salute the invader’s flag and ring the bell for them, and the town joined him. Most importantly, they chose to protect the Jews.

The town was so defiant that the kids wrote a letter to the government explaining that they have Jews among them and do not make a distinction between Jews and non-Jews because it is against the gospel. They added, “If you try to get them, we will hide them.”

The people were prepared for this because the Protestants faced severe persecution from the Catholic Church in earlier years. Earlier persecution taught them how to band together and be strong, but most importantly, they learned the power of faith. So here come the Nazis, and they say, “We’ve seen worse. Why should this be any different.”

One woman that harbored Jews said, “I did not know that it was dangerous.” She didn’t see herself as an underdog. There were plenty of other Christians in France that didn’t act like this. They saw themselves as underdogs.

Underestimating the power of our faith has real world consequences.

We misunderstand Goliath.

But it is not just that we underestimate David, but that we misunderstand Goliath.

First of all, Goliath is led down to the valley by a guy. Why? Why does the mightiest warrior need help?
Then there is a specific mention about how slowly Goliath moves.
Why does it take Goliath so long to figure out what David is doing? He is oblivious.
Then Goliath says, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?”

Modern medicine deduces that Goliath suffered from adenoma, which is a tumor on the pituitary gland. It causes people to grow tall, but sometimes the tumor grows to impair the optic nerves causing nearsightedness and even double vision.

Why does Goliath call out, “Come to me?” He needed David near. Why did Goliath say “sticks”? David only had one stick. Goliath couldn’t see well.

So remember 2 things:

  1. Giants aren’t always what they seem.
  2. Someone armed with nimble feet and superior technology and filled with the Lord is not an underdog.

I’m sorry. I was wrong.

Kent Shaffer —  October 2, 2013

I began blogging in 2006. Last year I said I would take the blog in a new direction. And I have subtly shifted the language towards where God has been refining me.

But it needs to shift more. I need to better reconcile what this blog has been and who I am now.

Quite frankly, I no longer agree with some of my early writings. It is not that they were blatantly wrong or heretical, but they did emphasize the wrong things. They often emphasized man’s strength or were even godless. But in the work of Christ’s Kingdom, God has to be at the center. God has to be in it in order for there to be fruit. We plant and water, but God makes it grow (1 Cor 3:6). And there will be no growth if God is not truly invited.

I’ve studied the business of ministry long enough to feel confident that there are almost guaranteed principles and techniques for growing a large American church. I know how to grow a church in my own strength that appears successful in man’s eyes. But man’s metrics aren’t Kingdom metrics, and a seemingly successful church can actually be an anemic church.

If God told me to start a church, and I was faithful to hear and obey every nudge of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, it may not appear impressive in man’s eyes. That is not to say that God doesn’t grow large gatherings because He can and sometimes does. However, the most striking moves of God I see often seem grassroots and unorganized in such a way that nobody can take the credit except for God. Many moves of God are mundane in institutional appearance but radical in local impact.

The same can be said for individuals. Of course, God can use someone famous, but you don’t have to be impressive in man’s eyes to be used by God. Among the Christ followers I’ve recently met recently that seem most in tune with God, I am amazed by how many work jobs like Fedex, Starbucks, and homeless shelters. They fly under the radar of man’s attention but do so much for the Kingdom. This isn’t about social status; it is about heart attitude. So God also uses designers, ministers, and multi-millionaires.

How I was wrong.

Of course, when I started blogging, I would have agreed with these statements, but I didn’t live or write like I actually believed them. I thought I believed them, but I only religiously knew about them. I thought I was promoting biblical ideas but often promoted the wisdom and best practices of man instead.

I felt like a Pharisee from Matthew 15 when Jesus rebuked them by paraphrasing Isaiah 29:13, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” In other words, I was learning about God from preachers and middlemen rather than properly communing with God directly. I teaching man’s ideas as though they were God’s.

Matthew Henry adds the following insights:

When men’s inventions are tacked to God’s institutions, and imposed accordingly, this is hypocrisy, a mere human religion. God will have His own work done by His own rules, and accepts not that which He did not Himself appoint. That only comes to Him, that comes from Him.

Those who are most zealous of their own impositions, are commonly most careless of God’s commands.

Like most Pharisees, I was blind to what I was actually doing. My chief error was in what I emphasized and prioritized. I knew prayer was important, so I’d occasionally toss it into an article as a legalistic afterthought, but I wasn’t living it, and I was drowning out what few spiritual disciplines I mentioned with my overemphasis on man’s ideas.

I wrote what I knew but lacked spiritual maturity.

People write what they know, so it was easier for me to write about man’s wisdom rather than spiritual disciplines. I was groomed for ministry by working on a team that didn’t need God (i.e., we were self-sufficient). We were so talented, efficient, and well-funded that there was seemingly nothing we couldn’t do in our own strength. God broke me years later by teaching me how much I need Him. Please understand that it is not bad to have a skilled team or great resources. However, such strengths make it easier to forget about God, prayer, and abiding in Him and easier to fall into temptations like pride and self-reliance.

I understand that it is harsh to say a team “didn’t need God.” I try to be cautious about assuming the heart attitude of others. At the same time, I know that “the heart speaks what the mouth is full of” (Luke 6:45), and I know that our theology dictates our methodology. I am deeply troubled by how many esteemed ministry leaders and teams I’ve encountered that talk hours about strategy and techniques but rarely if ever speak any words of prayer, Scripture, or things deemed spiritual. It is dangerously influential on an organization’s culture.

I’ve encountered too many ministries shaped by cultures that unintentionally communicate, “You don’t pray about it. The leadership will pray and tell you what the Holy Spirit wants you to do.” Of course, no one ever says this, but I’ve sadly seen many operate this way by spiritually emasculating workers and siloing them as compartmentalized cogs rather than members of a body. It trains ministry workers to use their own strength rather than God’s wisdom and focus on their role’s needs rather than the body.

I don’t like writing that. It sounds negative. It may hurt some of my relationships. But it is a very real dynamic I’ve experienced on multiple teams, and it’s consequently shaped some of my writings.

I assumed people knew and wouldn’t forget the power of prayer.

I made the same mistake that church growth experts made decades ago. I assumed that I didn’t need to emphasize prayer because everyone already knows they should be praying. However, when spiritual disciplines are deemphasized and man’s strategy is exalted, there is a grave danger for established generations to stray from what’s most important and for upcoming generations to be mistrained by religious middlemen rather than being directly reshaped through abiding in Jesus Christ the Living Water (i.e., enjoying God through prayer, worship, reflection, and Bible study).

It reminds me of this quote by Gary McIntosh in an interview with Ed Stetzer:

Here is what I have learned about McGavran and the early church growth movement, McGavran was a man of the Word. He was a man of prayer. This man would get on his hands and knees and pray an hour every night whether he was traveling or whatever he was doing. His memorized almost all the Psalms in two languages – English and Hindi. The Word was in His heart.

Now what happened in the early church growth movement is that a lot of assumptions were made. He made the assumption that churches were churches of prayer, that churches were churches of relationship. And I think all of us in the early part of our church growth experience, we focused on methodology. We focused on technology or techniques of helping people build communities, build evangelism, build houses of welcome for newcomers to come. But then we’ve all through our history, through one way or another, have come back to those spiritual disciplines of it’s prayer; it’s the Word; it’s the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning of the movement, the assumption was made that we don’t need to talk about the Holy Spirit, don’t need to talk about prayer, don’t need to talk about relationships because we all know that that is the core of everything. So pastors need help with specifics. How do we build a welcoming process for people in the church? How do reach out to the community? But over time, we got criticized for that lack. And it wasn’t because we didn’t believe it but because we assumed it in the early writings.

We cannot forget to emphasize the basics. Talking about ideas, strategies, and techniques isn’t bad, but doing so must fit within the scope of the Holy Spirit’s calling, be fueled by engaging with Christ, and be built upon the biblical basics of the gospel, the Great Commission, the two love commandments, prayer, worship, the Beatitudes, the Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, the armor of God, and the pursuit of purity.

Just to clarify…

I still love institutional ministry and organic ministry. I still love ideas and strategy. I think there is a place for pragmatism, models, and ministry tools. And I love and am grateful for the teams I’ve worked alongside.

In the past, I have written things that emphasized the wrong things. I am sorry.

Redefining Church Metrics with 7 Simple Questions

Kent Shaffer —  April 19, 2013

We’re incapable of measuring on a large scale what God values – heart attitude, authentic conversions, true discipleship, purity, worship, obedience, selfless advancement of the gospel, and so on.

So instead we settle for measuring things that only hint at the possibility of spiritual fruit – church size, growth rate, influence, church planting, etc. Unfortunately, a church can have all the trimmings of success by excelling at man’s metrics while actually yielding no spiritual fruit.

Not all big churches are fruitful. Not all fruitful things will grow big. But usually fruitful ministry does cause numerical growth.

Our current church metrics only weakly measure the probability of spiritual growth. I’ve grown tired of things labeled as quality Christianity while they dilute its principles or are devoid of it all together. In response, I’ve personally begun measuring the probability of ministry effectiveness with 7 questions.

  1. How well do you love others?
  2. How much do you pray?
  3. How much do you talk about Jesus?
  4. How much do you use Scripture?
  5. How joyful are you?
  6. How hard do you work?
  7. How much do you give God the glory?

These metrics are still flawed and vague. They don’t produce a finite number. But I do think they give a better answer as to the probability of ministry effectiveness.

What questions would you ask? Please share in the comments of this post.

You don’t have to be awesome. God is awesome.

Kent Shaffer —  February 18, 2013

Some pockets of Christianity create a false theology of what a pastor should be by hijacking the biblical roles of a pastor with their own cultural ideals. It is not intentional. In fact, they often agree on the biblical definition of a pastor, but their actions and culture don’t show it. Their culture perpetuates an epitome of pastors that binds them psychologically and drives their behavior.

The Bible describes a pastor as a shepherd who feeds and protects the flock and ideally knows them by name. It is an authoritative intimacy with the congregation that feeds them spiritually with preaching, teaching, and relational discipleship while nurturing, protecting, and guiding their individual spiritual journeys.

In some pockets of Christianity, we’ve stopped empowering believers to use their spiritual gifts and created a culture where the pastor is expected to be the eloquent speaker (teaching gift), the counselor (shepherd gift), the CEO (administration gift), the visionary (leadership gift), the motivator (exhortation gift), the scholar (knowledge gift), the expert (wisdom gift), the soul-winner (evangelism gift), the buddy (hospitality gift), the prayer warrior (intercession gift), the spiritualist (discernment, miracles, & faith gifts) as well as a technologist, social media maven, marketer, sex expert, financial strategist, diplomat, comedian, blogger, vlogger, and more.

When you fail to emphasize the responsibility each church member has to own and live out their spiritual gift(s) daily, the pastor will inevitably feel the need to take the responsibility of all the gifts upon his shoulders. This is impossible and unhealthy. The eye can not be a spleen.

God’s Will for Your Life

Kent Shaffer —  December 11, 2012

Sometimes we become hyperfocused and obsessed over the little things and lose track of the big picture. In those moments, the sharp contrast of a new perspective can be a great way to refocus.

For those anxiously wrestling with discovering God’s purpose for you life, consider the levelheaded perspective of Rich Mullins, a dead modern prophet/singer/songwriter.

Rich Mullins on God’s Will for Your Life

Quoted from an interview at the 1996 Ichthus Music Festival.

Well you know this whole ministry mumbo jumbo stuff – I don’t buy that. I think you are who you are, and you just live your life, and eventually we’ll all be dead, and it will probably matter very little that any of us actually lived except to God who made us. And the only way we can possibly do anything meaningful to God is to be who He made us to be. And the rest of this stuff about doing stuff for God and this and that I think is a bunch of hype. If I were going to be a good car, if Mr Ford had invented me, and I wanted to bring Mr Ford glory, what would I do? I wouldn’t go conquer countries. I wouldn’t plow fields. I would simply be a car, and so I think that God created me to simply be a person. And I think that God looks down and gets a big kick out of people, but what He finds are a bunch of heroes. And I think He is bored with heroism. And I think it’s just a matter of being who you are. The trick of the trade is letting go of your own ideas of yourself and letting God to define you as you go along, which is very hard to do because we like to think way more highly of ourselves than we ought to and at the same time we think far more angrily towards ourselves than we should. I think that God likes us awfully much more than we imagine that He does, but I don’t think He likes us because we are so very cool or so very useful or so very valuable. I think that God just is love, so He can’t help but like us.

***

God’s picture of my life doesn’t look like my picture of it.

***

I can tell you what God’s will is for everyone standing here. And it ain’t cause I’m some big prophet. It’s cause I have half a brain. God’s will for me and for him and for her is that we should be holy. And I think that apart from our becoming holy, God really doesn’t give a bang and a bag about a whole lot of stuff that we worry about. So people say, “Well, where does God want me to go to college?” And I go, “You know what I’ve been to college a lot, and I don’t know that God wants you to go. But maybe you want to go, so why don’t you do what you want to do. And if God don’t like it, He’ll stop you.” I’m just not as convinced as the Calvinists are, I’m just not as convinced as everybody else seems to be that God has a specific will for each of us, and our job in life is to figure out what is right for us to do. I kinda tend to think that we should be where we are, be God’s person in the place where we are, and if God wants you to go to Egypt, He will provide 11 jealous brothers who will sell you into slavery. He will take care of His will. We don’t have to worry about God’s will, not in that way. What is a big worry to me is, “How do I live out holiness? How do I live out that identity that God has created in me and imputed into me through His son Jesus?”

The full interview is available via YouTube.

We Have All the Answers

Kent Shaffer —  December 6, 2012

Mankind tends to be compelled to have it all figured out. We oversimplify complex things into 12-step formulas. We make stereotypes. And no matter how big and unanswerable a question is, we seem unable to resist creating a theory to make sense of it.

In fact, I just did it by generalizing the whole human race.

Sometimes the only way to remotely grasp reality is to simplify it through the lens of our unique worldview. Christians are no different. We do this with theology. And we don’t just try to understand the fundamentals such as the gospel, grace, and atonement. We also want to know and explain the weird, obscure, and unimportant like the Nephilim, the rapture, how old the earth is, and what Jesus really looked like.

But we cannot forget 1 Corinthians 1:25, which reminds us that God is always exponentially wiser than the greatest of thoughts from our best theologians.

You don’t have it figured out. No one does. We have glimpses of truth on which we build our faith. I don’t believe our minds have the capacity to understand the fullness of the ideas formed by the language of God. They are otherworldly, marvelous, and awesome in the most literal sense.

The best we can do is stay content resting in the shadow of God and latch on to every bit of divine revelation gifted to us by the Holy Spirit through prayer and Scripture. And if we must know more, then listen to other true believers who are from different cultures, denominations, theologies, and models of ministry because their perspective may reveal to us a new vantage point of who God is.

Artists are a gift to the Kingdom…

Kent Shaffer —  November 21, 2012

Artists are a gift to the Kingdom, who woo awe from humanity with words, with song, and with what the eye sees. Sometimes it is beautiful. Sometimes it shocks and repulses. But at its heart, it creates awe for creation, which when at its best, leads mankind to awe and worship of God.

A Prayer for the Global Church

Kent Shaffer —  November 1, 2012

My time at the Global:Church Forum (read the notes) two weeks ago was one of the best ministry events I’ve experienced. The worship was rich. The theology was deep. Good friendships were formed. And the ecumenical unity was beautiful.

It is not easy to pragmatically explore how the global Church can better work together like a body’s cells and parts do in unison. However, the forum’s conversations were fruitful steps in the right direction. But I also realize we must protect this momentum. We must keep our hearts vulnerable to each other. And we must guard against lapsing back into our old habits and ways of doing things. We cannot do this in our own strength. We need God. And we need to stay steadfast in prayer.

This is the prayer I pray for us all:

Lord, help us for we cannot do this without you. You are a good God who graciously and generously invites us to take part in Your plan. May your kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us what we need, not what we think we need. May we be responsible with what you give us. When we have more than enough, may we generously share it with others as you have generously given to us.

Purge from us the comforts that we have made idols. Free us from any clutter of possessions, mindsets, sins, and systems that weigh us down and slow us from running the race well.

May we become more like Christ. May we pray like a poor man. Teach us to have a heart like David, obedience like Noah, and courage like Rahab.

Humble us – for mankind is too weak and proud to discover meekness without Your help. Remove far from us jealousy and selfish ambition – for it is divisive. Teach us to be patient with each other, kind, and selfless servants. Break us where we need to be broken and heal us where we hurt. You are the Potter, and we yearn to be your clay.

May we not forget the stories of Your greatness in our own lives or the legends of Your goodness from the far corners of the earth. They produce hope that illuminate the dark times and sweeten the bitter.

Give us ears to hear. May we first hear your Word because it is the fuel of our faith. And without faith, it is impossible to please You. May we hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit and be bold enough to obey it. We repent for talking when we should be listening. And we repent for remaining silent, when we should be a voice of truth and justice.

Grant us wisdom to know how to work with each other as co-equals and as a healthy and whole body. May the Body of Christ be as graceful as our own bodies are – made in Your image as a miraculous symphony with millions of complexities. And grant us grace for each other when we fall short. May the Holy Spirit fill the voids where we lack. May You get all the glory.

Above all else, may we reflect God’s love to everyone. For without it, our work is futile.

May all we do bring glory to Your mighty name.

And it is in the precious, life saving name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

In the weeks to come, I urge you to be thinking about how your role within the Body of Christ can work interdependently with the other equally important parts – locally and internationally.