Archives For Leadership

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about leadership in the local church has to do with creating, cultivating, and contending for a gospel-centered culture in the church. This past weekend, I led a discussion in our “Introduction to Grace” membership class on this very thing. I began with Albert Mohler’s well-known case for theological triage. Membership interviews and membership classes are important to the life and health of a church for several reasons, not the least of which is the need to protect/content for a gospel-centered culture in your church.

Here’s what I mean by that. If Christians are looking to join your church (via transfer growth), it could very well be that there are 3rd Tier issues that they want to make 2nd Tier or even 1st Tier issues. Some people call them “single issue Christians.” There are others that are not so obvious and can sometimes be discerned by their approach to church being a “What do you have to offer me?” kind of attitude. Either way, they want to push upward their 3rd Tier preferences and make them 2nd Tier principles. Some of these preferential non-essentials are listed in the chart below.

So here’s the deal. If at any point you as a leader allow for 3rd Tier issues to advance upward in the culture of the church, then members will become centered on something other than the gospel and factions will ensue. If passions drive preferences, and preferences are not 2nd Tier issues, then church leaders must be clear that the passion to lead the church with a gospel-centered focus is greater than their passion to drive their preferences into the culture of the church. This is protecting the unity of the flock with a gracious spirit of saying, “That’s not going to happen among us. I’m sorry.”

This is why I believe it is important to be clear with the 2nd Tier. If your church is not clear on what defines you in what you believe (confession), how you live (covenant), and what you value most (core values), then you are living in the land of assumptions with an open invitation for any member to more explicit about their preferences than you are your principles. Without those gospel-guiding principles in place as filters to protect the unity of the church, the health and welfare of the church is in a vulnerable state.

Gospel-centered leaders do not have the luxury of being accepting of personal preferences as anything more than personal preferences. They have to front with the gospel explicitly and consistently and back that up with a godly intolerance for members to be united by any greater than the good news of Jesus Christ. They themselves must exhibit by their life and actions that the greatest common denomination in the fellowship of the saints is that our names are written in the heaven as blood-bought children of God.

For some churches, gospel-centered churches must guard against liberalism, which is the neglect or dismissal of 1st Tier doctrines. On the other hand, I believe in most cases leaders must guard against fundamentalism, which is the treatment as if all matters are 1st Tier issues. A real test of the diversity we are to enjoy is whether we can experience genuine fellowship with other Christians who see 3rd Tier issues differently than us.

Here’s how I like to think about it. The 3rd Tier issues ought always be in subjection to the 2nd Tier. The 2nd Tier issues ought always be in subjection to the 1st Tier. Gospel-centered churches major on the gospel (1st Tier), and members who care deeply about the unity of the church care about the 2nd Tier (and by virtue of that, the 1st as well). If that kind of order is not functional in the church, then what you are left with sadly will look similar to this…

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Two areas I’m particularly invested in are the centrality of the gospel and leadership development. My home library has shelves full of books in each of these categories, and yet those shelves (and the books therein) seem to have little in common. The leadership books are shaped with great principles and best practices with no gospel lens or hermeneutic. The gospel books gives us a great lens but have yet to show us how the gospel colors our understanding of leadership in the local church. Insert Steve Timmis’ newest book, Gospel-Centered Leadership: Becoming the Servant God Wants You to Be (Good Book Co., published October 2012).

In the Introduction, Timmis stakes out the thesis of the book:

“I have a deep and enduring conviction that it is the gospel that should shape my attitude to and practice of leadership. That what God has done in Christ should define who I am as a leader and for what kind of leader I am. That there should be something distinctive about leadership among the people of God, that springs from the message that brings it into being” (Loc 43, Kindle).

In contrast to the style of leadership that presupposes self-actualization and omnicompetence, Timmis explains that gospel-centered leadership leads from a position of repentance and faith, from the leader “recognizing his deep and enduring need for Jesus and the patient work of His indwelling Spirit”. This leadership style works from a profoundly different premise than typical leadership books operating under the delusions of self-adequacy, and the substance of this book provides the “shape, color, and texture” that the gospel brings to leadership, particularly in a local church.

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Coming up at the beginning of next month (Nov. 1-3), PLNTD is hosting a regional training event in Nashville focusing on Gospel-Driven Leadership. I am excited about this event for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the two men helping forward the important initiative of raising up and sending out gospel-driven leaders in local churches. Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax have agreed to spend the weekend with us, providing instruction and encouragement on how church leaders are shaped by the gospel and driven through a distinctly gospel-centric philosophy of leadership.

Recently, I asked Trevin to share about why he’s speaking at this training event and what he hopes God will do in the lives of those who attend.

Tim: Trevin, you have helped many of us thinking carefully about the gospel. Why is it important to explore the relationship of gospel centrality to church leadership?

Trevin: When the theological underpinnings of ministry practice are unseen, then we have a disconnect between theology and ministry philosophy. So, for example, we say the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, but then we sometimes act as if it’s the gospel needs to be propped up by our creativity, our innovation, etc. There’s a disconnect, and this leads to a number of practical handbooks for ministry that are largely devoid of theological substance.

A lot of gospel-centered guys recognize this disconnect between theological foundation and pragmatic church practice, but unfortunately we swing the pendulum too far the other way. We love theology to the exclusion of practical ministry guidance. I want us to make sure we’re not being reactionary. We do need to see how the gospel impacts the day-to-day life of the leader.

I am learning as I go when it comes to leadership, and I’m excited to jump into a conversation with the people at this conference about gospel-cetnered leadership and what it looks like.

Tim: Do you think a greater understanding and commitment to the gospel could produce greater health and longevity of church leaders in difficult situations?

Trevin: Yes, but I’d want to be careful not to imply that we make it through difficult situations by gritting our teeth and holding doggedly to the gospel message. It’s not the gospel (as message) we cling to, but the Savior who has revealed Himself to us through that message. The way we persevere through adversity is by holding tightly to the Savior who we know (because of the gospel) is holding tightly to us. It’s personal.

In my preparation for this conference, I’ve been amazed at the emphasis in the Gospels on “being with Jesus.” Gospel-centered leading is following. Not a list of rules and regulations, but following a Savior. Our work for Jesus flows out of our life with Jesus.

Tim: We are grateful for your participation and leadership for our upcoming conference! What are you praying God will do in the lives of those who attend?

Trevin: I’m praying that the Lord will grant us eyes to see His glory and hearts to see His compassion for lost people, so that we’ll be overflowing with passion as we lead others to join His mission of seeking and saving the lost.


For the next two weeks, you can register for this training event using the special promotional code “timmybrister” and receive 25% discount of regular registration (which is just $49). Additionally, everyone who attends this conference will receive a FREE copy of Trevin’s excellent book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope! The conference is right around the corner, so don’t delay. I hope to see many of you there!



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The third and final training event in the “Cultivating” theme of the PLNTD Network is scheduled to take place Nov. 1-3, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. Earlier this Spring, PLNTD hosted “Cultivating Gospel Community” in South Florida with Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. Next month, PLNTD will host “Cultivating Gospel Mission” in New England with Caesar Kalinowski and Scotty Smith. And finally, on November 1-3, PLNTD will host “Cultivating Gospel Leadership” in Nashville with Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax.

In some circles you can find a lot of the conversation focused on church leadership. In other circles, a lot of the conversation is about gospel centrality. However, rarely do you find those two topics addressed by the same people. In the Nashville training event, we hope to forward the development of thinking in this regard, namely to have a philosophy of leadership driven by a robust commitment of the gospel and seeing its implications worked out in local church life.

To do this, we have asked Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax to come and speak on what exactly gospel-driven leadership looks like in the church. Stetzer will tackle the topic largely from a leadership emphasis while Wax will help us think about leadership from a gospel grid, bringing emphasis to how our identity in Christ shapes how we lead others in ministry. In addition to these main session talks, there will also be two panel discussions and two breakout sessions to break down gospel-driven leadership in greater detail, including its practical outworking in various seasons and ministry contexts.

Some of you here know that I have studied and written somewhat extensively about triperspectivalism and church leadership. For the Nashville training event, I agreed to do a pre-conference (limited to 40 people) on the nature, framework, and outworking of triperspectivalism in church life, including cultural engagement, disciple-making, spiritual formation, preaching, prayer, and leadership development. This will take place Thursday night (Nov. 1) and Friday morning (Nov. 2). If you are looking to consider a gospel-centered philosophy of leadership, I encourage you to jump into this pre-conference! It will be practical and interactive, giving you margin to explore how such a paradigm of leadership could work in your church or ministry.

This training event is open to pastors and church planters, to leadership teams and launch teams, to seminary/college students and ministry interns/apprentices. Basically, if you are aspiring to lead in the local church and want to press into a distinctly gospel-driven flavor of leadership, we encourage you to come!

This week only, we have a special registration rate of just $29. At midnight Saturday night, this opening rate registration will end, so don’t delay! You can get all the details about hotels, restaurants, schedule, etc. at the conference website. I hope to see many of you there!

Conference Website || Register!


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I have been thinking in recent weeks about the role of leadership in transitioning and in particular a kind of transitioning that requires a paradigm shift of crafting a new culture. For example, how does a church that has largely been ingrown and maintenance-driven become outward-focused and mission-driven? How do you lead a church that has been static and on “ecclesiological birth control” to experience a movement of reproduction through individuals, gospel communities, and eventually daughter churches?

Those are significant questions been asked by many people today, and I don’t pretend to have the answer. Yet, I would like to hash out something that I am calling triperspectival transitioning for crafting a new culture. Triperspectival transitioning (TT) is a leadership approach built upon the three perspectives/offices of Christ’s mediation, namely prophet, priest and king. These perspectives are intended to serve the purpose of helping church leaders through times of transition. Through the various phases of transitioning, the various perspectives of prophet, priest, and king play a pivotal role in shaping or crafting the new culture leaders are hoping to birth.

I have laid out TT in a seven-phase process where each perspective carries the lead role (at least) twice.  Here is a simple diagram that shows the seven components:

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Dustin Neeley recently sat down with Mark Dever and asked about the importance of biblical theology in the life and work of pastors and church planters. I appreciated Dever’s response.

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Leadership Retreat Feedback

Tim Brister —  September 5, 2009 — 1 Comment

This past week, the pastors of Grace hunkered down for three days for our leadership retreat.  Just a couple of days out of it, the meetings are still fresh on my mind.  I think we all agreed that it was really productive, but I also believe it can always improve and be done better.

I am convinced of the importance of such retreats for personal renewal, team building, ministry assessment, and vision casting (among others).  Conferences are good to aid in some of this, but they are no replacement for a retreat that deals directly and comprehensively on the local church and the men called to serve in a leadership capacity.

Below is the template I created and that we ran with this past week (I stripped it down to remove details).  I am providing it to get your thoughts, suggestions, examples, or any other ideas on this matter.  I want to serve my fellow pastors and church at large by helping us develop the best retreats possible in the future.  Any feedback you’d be willing to provide is great appreciated, and if you would care to share docs, you can email me at timmybrister[at]gmail[dot]com.

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The following posts were made available at Sowing Grace this past week:

Sunday: Paul’s Prayer to the Ephesian Church
Monday: Monday Is for Membership: Biblical Theologian, Part 1
Tuesday: Developing Missional Patterns (Cultivating Community Contacts, Part 4)
Wednesday: Leadership in the Early Church (study in Acts)
Thursday: Greatness Redefined (chapter 3)
Friday: Fuel Friday: Church Planting Novice (Jonathan Dodson)
Saturday: Mark Dever on Three Things for Church Planters

You can subscribe to the Sowing Grace feed or check out the site for more information and upcoming posts.

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