Are you like me: two or three books on the go at once, always trying to remember where you’re at and what the main points or storyline are? Usually one of the books I am reading is lying around at home, while another is in my briefcase, and yet another beckons me from my e-reader. My regular pattern is to read books on spiritual formation and leadership along with biographies and a good novel.
I love it when an amazing confluence occurs and all my reading brings me inspiring reflections on spiritual formation and leadership. I was recently reading, at the same time, Bishop: The Art of Questioning Authority by an Authority in Question by William Willimon; C. S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath; and God In My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God by Ken Shigematsu. As I read these books, I found myself reflecting on my calling and vision as general superintendent over the past five years. While I pondered the good work the Lord has been doing and the foundations that have been laid, I felt I needed a replenishment of that calling and vision. My passion is still that we be a relationally based mission family marked by spiritual, theological and missional vitality, and that we bring glory to God by making disciples in the power of the Spirit.
These three books offer a wealth of interesting insights and opinions, but a key point from each merged to provide me with some helpful perspectives.
Willimon, a noted Christian scholar and writer, served as a church overseer for eight years. Battling through a maze of church structure and tradition, he tried to help his faith community understand that their leaders did not exist simply to manage and maintain things as they were. Rather, he called them to this vision: “Every church challenged and equipped to make more disciples of Jesus Christ by taking risks and changing lives.” This was not a call for church reinvigoration based on safe strategies and sentimental yearnings. With clarity Willimon called for assessment and accountability. He expected Christians, individually and corporately, to bear kingdom fruit.
His honest appeal resonated with me as I considered our vision and mission as The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. With the Spirit’s help I reviewed the past five years and sought to assess our spiritual, theological and missional vitality. I reviewed church closures and amalgamations, new church plants and satellites, and new mission initiatives. There is a lot to be sobered by. For instance, close to 70 per cent of all church closures are in well-populated areas. In other words, most churches that close their doors do so for lack of vision and vitality, not population.
But there is also encouragement as churches find ways to creatively increase the impact they have on their communities. Satellite or multisite ministry is becoming the most common way our churches multiply their efforts. Hands-on community ministries and campus ministries are also on the increase.
My constant conviction is that fresh spiritual life and empowerment are what we need, both in our churches and in their respective leaders. Spiritual vitality is the precursor to missional vitality. That is why I complement my reading and study of Scripture by ensuring that every second or third book I read focuses on spiritual disciplines and formation. I need to keep in step with the Spirit.
That’s what led me to God in My Everything, a book written by my friend Ken Shigematsu. If Willimon’s book is a kick in the backside, Shigematsu’s book is a hook in the heart. It pulls me toward everything I know is right and good about life in Jesus. Like the spiritual classics by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard and Brother Lawrence, this book draws attention to the motives and practices that shape us into the image of Jesus. Shigematsu draws from the church’s rich historic patterns of intimacy with God and with others and then beckons us to live that way today. He shares openly from his own life to help us see the things that move us away from disciplined devotion. Clearly, we will not respond to the missional challenge Willimon emphasizes if we do not first respond to the challenge highlighted by Shigematsu’s book.
So where does C. S. Lewis fit into the picture? Well, theological vitality matters. There is great value in reading the story of one of Christianity’s great thinkers, apologists and story-tellers of the past century. McGrath portrays Lewis as a complicated, brilliant, and at times frustrating scholar and colleague. If your image of a Christ follower fits into a highly sanitized North American evangelical box, you may not want to read this biography. However, if you want to marvel at how God pursued a man who was antagonistic toward Him and then used that brilliant, albeit flawed, man to proclaim His truth, then I encourage you to give it a read. It struck me as I read this book that 50 years after Lewis’s death, God is still shaking up my view of whom He will and will not use! I am so glad He gave us the gift of C. S. Lewis.
Father, thank You for using the stimulating writing of Christians to push on our wills and pull on our hearts. We continually commit ourselves to love You with all our heart, soul, mind and strength so that Your love will be evidenced in us. For your glory. Amen.”
- David Wells, General Superintendent
This article appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Visit www.testimonymag.ca.