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Last summer the New York Times investigated allegations of widespread cheating in one of New York Cities most prestigious schools, Stuyvesant High. Apparently more than 80 students communicated about exams via text message. In a follow-up article, here was how one student involved in the alleged cheating described his rationale:
It’s like, ‘I’ll keep my integrity and fail this test’ — no. No one wants to fail a test,” he said, explaining how he and others persuaded themselves to cheat. “You could study for two hours and get an 80, or you could take a risk and get a 90.
While such candor is shocking, it isn’t to Scott B. Rae. He has written a new book that insists we are in an ethical mess, and we need to reignite a passion and commitment to “doing the right thing” in order for our society to remain free and prosper.
In his new book, Doing the Right Thing: Making Moral Choices in a World Full of Options, Scott insists that part of the reason why we’re in such an ethical mess, as evidenced in the above cheating scandal, is because of the incoherent views people have regarding morality, which cashes out as moral relativism. There are 4 dominate views:
- “What gives you the right to judge?”—A common refrain that insists no one has the right to make particular moral judgments.
- Follow your own conscience—Scott calls this view the “Jiminy Cricket” view of morality, in which people are encouraged to let their conscience be their guide, as in the Disney movie Pinocchio.
- Values are what you value—This view is pretty straightforward: values are defined as whatever you as an individual value.
- We make up our own moral rules for ourselves—In this common way of expressing moral relativism, either culture makes their own moral rules or individuals make up their own moral rules for themselves based on personal tastes and preferences.
Given this list it’s no wonder the episode in Stuyvesant happened!
As a pastor I want to ask this: What are we ministry leaders to do in the face of such incoherence and confusion? Scott suggests there are 4 alternative crucial characteristics of a distinctly Christian ethic that will fight against the incoherence of moral relativism: Transcendence, objectivity, universality, knowability.
Stop for a minute and look at your desk lamp or your ceiling. Inside is one of the most crucial inventions of the modern world: the lightbulb.
But did you know that one monumental innovation was the result of thousands of monumental failures? In response to that repeated pattern of failure Thomas Edison famously quipped, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Plenty of other successful leaders have followed suite: Abraham Lincoln lost countless elections, for years Albert Einstein was told he was stupid, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, the founder of FedEx was given a C by his business professor for his college class idea.
Stories like these are comforting, aren’t they? They reassure us that our own failures and stumbles don’t have to be final.
Until they are. Because as Larry Osborne explains in his new ministry leadership book, Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret, the fact is some failures are final. “It doesn’t matter how much we believe in ourselves or how doggedly we pursue the dream, some failures permanently close the door.” (87)
In his chapter on “The High Price of Failure,” Larry outlines four major “leadership felonies” all of us ministry leaders are capable of committing. If we do, they will obliterate our trust and credibility and prevent us from executing our God-given mission.
Larry Osborne Says Answering These Two Questions Will Make Your Ministry Ripe for Birthing Innovation
As a youth worker, small group leader, or pastor, what frustrates you the most in your ministry? What do you see that’s not working?
In his new book Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret, Larry Osborn says these two questions are crucial for birthing innovation and moving organizations to new plateaus of effectiveness.
I wish I would have known that several years ago when I worked for a unique ministry to congressional leaders in our nation’s capital. The organization ministered to the spiritual needs of Senators, Representatives, and their staff through discipleship and evangelism. One of the major ways we executed our mission was by equipping congressional staffers to minister themselves.
We used a method of evangelism training that was developed in a different time and culture, focusing on answering questions about getting to heaven after death. A year in I had this sense that it wasn’t working in the unique post-Christian, young adult context of Capitol Hill (quick fact: nearly 23,000 staffers work in Congress, average age is 27!). I became frustrated that my Christian friends weren’t being trained properly and my non-Christian friends weren’t finding Christ through this method.
Larry would have told me to listen to the two questions I asked at the beginning that were gnawing at me back then. Had I known what I know now thanks to this helpful manual on ministry innovation, I may have birthed some lasting ideas that would have brought lasting change to this community.
Again, what is frustrating you in your current ministry context? What do you see that isn’t working? Answering these two questions will make your ministry ripe for innovation. According to Larry here’s why:
Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Failure Is The Norm. Larry Osborne Says Do These 2 Things To Succeed
You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Innovate or die. But what most organization consultants don’t tell you is what Larry Osborne does in his new manual for ministry innovation.
The dirty little secret about innovation is simply this: Most innovations fail.
“It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a new product, a new program, or a new process. it can be a new company or even a new church. When it comes time to start something new or make a major change, the surest horse you can bet on is the one called Failure.” (17)
Well that’s comforting! And sobering, especially if you’re in the middle of a campaign to help right a ship that’s drifted off course.
This is where Larry’s new books comes in, Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret. He says that he has long felt that the Innovation Emperor is naked, that the hype and promises are overblown. Perhaps you’ve felt the same way. Larry is here to tell you “that you’re not the crazy one. When it comes to innovation and leading change, it’s the conventional wisdom [about innovation] that’s crazy.” (26)
If you want to avoid failure, or at least minimize the chance its ugly head will pop up, then Larry suggests you do these 2 crucial things in order to better navigate the predictable risks and dangers of implementing new ideas and major organizational change.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of marrying off my sister by performing her and her new husbands wedding ceremony. I felt in small measure what some of my pastor friends must have felt when they married their children off: joyous and privileged, but also a bit responsible in a big-brother sort of way.
One of the ways I felt responsible was sharing a message that would be meaningful and set their marriage off well from the start. One of the passages I was brought to was Philippians 1:27-30. Whatever happens is how Paul opens his challenge to the Philippians. I told my sister and new brother-in-law that when Paul wrote these words to these early Christians they would have had no idea the kind of suffering they would experience for following Christ. They would loose their jobs, their families, their homes—even their lives. A lot is wrapped up in this word whatever.
I then said that when they walked out the church doors they would have no idea what would come their way in life with their jobs, their health, their finances, their cars, their family—good and bad. And I urged them to do what Paul urged them to do: “in whatever circumstance life brings your way, stand your ground in the struggles of life in the power of the Holy Spirit—not in isolation or alone, but together.”
The issue of suffering is a perennial issue that we ministry leaders will never stop helping and healing. Thankfully, in her new Philippians commentary Lynn H. Cohick equips us to help our people “[cling] to their sure salvation with one hand and [grasp] the cup of suffering with the other.” (67) Her insights provide at least 5 ways Philippians 1:27-30 helps us and our people respond to whatever happens.
Have you ever considered what we’d miss if certain books of the Bible were never written?
Consider the Book of Hebrews, for instance, one of my favorite books of the New Testament. This book magnificently bridges the Old Testament with its rituals and laws to show how Jesus, the Great High Priest, is their fulfillment. While the Church might have gotten by with three gospels instead of four, each of them lend their own unique contribution to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; we’d miss crucial aspects of this story if one wasn’t written.
Now consider the book of Philippians. What would we miss if Paul hadn’t written this letter to the Church of Philippi? Lynn H. Cohick provides a powerful answer, which provides a powerful reason for reading and teaching this book.
Philippians is the second inaugural volume in the new commentary series, The Story of God Bible Commentary. Like every volume in this new series, Cohick’s Philippians explains each passage in light of the Bible’s grand story, connecting it to the Church’s Rule of Faith and seeking how this particular Pauline epistle compels us to live in our world.
Cohick explains in her commentary that if Paul hadn’t written Philippians, “Several aspects of God’s character, his redemptive plan for the world, and the believer’s response to such audacious and marvelous news would be shifted to the realm of speculation and surmise.” (1)
If Philippians was absent from your Bible, you and your people would miss a greater understanding of four important “characters”: the character of God; the character of salvation; the character of the believer; and the character the Church.
If you’ve been looking for a framework to help magnify the message of this book, whether in sermons or small groups, here’s your outline:
One of the most depressing, destroying, dastardly words in the English language.
I’ve been fortunate to have never experienced this word first hand, either with my parents or with my wife. I am a child of the 80′s, though, when the fall-out from divorce was particularly fierce, so I have childhood memories of classmates experiencing its pain. I’ve witnessed its effects on personal friends, as well, leaving a wake of heartache and unhappiness. I’ve also witnessed the confusion it creates, particularly in the Church, who seems to be as confused as our culture about how to think about this depressing, destroying, dastardly word.
Scot speaks of this confusion in his new commentary on the Sermon on the Mount: “Divorce confuses the church today because marriage confuses. And marriage confuses the church today because love confuses.” (94) Yet Jesus had some strong words about divorce, marriage, and love. Scot unpacks them in away that will help you understand the crucial biblical and theological issues surrounding this passage so that you can help your people apply it to their lives.
“If we come to this text looking for reasons to justify divorce,” Scot writes, “we miss the whole point. What this text does is redefine marriage and to anchor it in the new community of Jesus, a community that will make possible both the single life and fidelity. Jesus calls his followers to a better way, a way of love and marital faithfulness.” (95-96)
Divorce is “vexing,” Scot writes. It vexes us at the biblical level, because understanding what it teaches is challenging; it vexes us at the personal level, because it emerges out of relational problems, personalities, and histories; and it vexes us at the Church level, because of loving people in their marital trials is challenging.
Though it is vexing, Scot’s contribution will empower you to help your people hear from Jesus’ teachings on divorce; equip you to explain these teachings to your people; and will help you lead your people to live that Story in their own marriages and the marriages of others.
A few years ago I was teaching an adult Sunday School class when we focused on Jesus’ hard teachings about enemy-love, radical holiness, and the single-minded kingdom focus found in His famous mountain sermon. About half way through our time a gentleman challenged me, saying it was impossible to reach Jesus’ high ethical and moral mark. Instead of being an actual set of ethical and moral standards, they were designed to reveal how much we fall short.
As a young seminarian I didn’t know how to navigate his objections, even though my gut said he was wrong. So I tried to steer the discussion toward Jesus’ final words at the end of the sermon, the ones that talk about the person who puts these words of mine into practice is like someone who builds their house on firm, dry, solid land. We went several more rounds where he continued to try and render Jesus’ shocking demands harmless.
Have you tried to talk about Jesus’ high standards for living only to be told, like me, that no serious Christian should try to live by them? Have you tried to teach Jesus’ Sermon only to be shot down as being too moralistic and legalistic? Have you wondered yourself whether this sermon matters today—and if so, why does it matter and how should you teach it?
New Testament scholar Scot McKnight understands these questions. In a new commentary, The Sermon on the Mount, Scot shares in your frustration: ”The contrast between Jesus’ vision and our life bothers many of us,” he says. “Throughout church history many have softened, reduced, recontextualize, and in some cases abandoned what Jesus taught—ironically, in order to be more Christian!” (1)
This is precisely why he has written a marvelous new commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. It’s part of the new The Story of God Bible Commentary series that seeks to empower you help your people listen to God’s Story, equip you to explain the Story, and help you help your people live God’s Story in their story.
But what about this part of the Story, this Sermon of Jesus on that mountainside in Galilee? How should you help your people listen to this part God’s Story? How can you explain it to them in a way that compels them to actually live it?
Scot says that “the Sermon on the Mount remains the greatest moral document of all time,” a document that is meant to be heard “as the claim of Jesus upon our whole being.” (3) And he says there are 4 significant reasons why Jesus’ potent, provocative sermon matters for your people’s lives today.