Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Holy Week…So What? (2015)

Editor’s Note: This blog entry was first published in 2012, and the ChurchandCulture.org Team wanted to share it with you again this year in honor of Holy Week.

This weekend is known as Palm Sunday weekend.

So what?

It’s a fair question. In our culture, the significance of sacred days and times has long been forgotten. We live our lives on the surface of frenetic activity, seldom adding depth to any given moment. We surf and skim over a body of information, but rarely dive into the depths of knowledge, much less wisdom. 

There are no “thin times,” as the ancient Celts would have noted; times when the separation between the eternal and the temporal was thin enough to walk the soul between both worlds.

But without that sensibility, we are lesser people.

So here’s the “so what.”

Palm Sunday is the traditional beginning of what has been known throughout Christian history as Holy Week; a week designed to focus our attention on the “passion,” or suffering, of Christ.

The story of Christ (a title meaning “Messiah”) is the story of God Himself coming to earth in the form of a human being, a man named Jesus, living the perfect, sinless life and then willingly going to the cross in order to die for the sins of the world.

The tradition of Holy Week began when Christians making pilgrimages to Jerusalem had a natural desire to re-enact the last scenes of the life of Christ in dramas.     

There is an ancient text called The Pilgrimage of Egeria which describes a fourth century visit to Jerusalem. It was noted that people were already observing Holy Week by that point in history, so it dates back many, many centuries.

There are five days in this week that are set apart:

It begins this weekend with Palm Sunday, and then includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and then Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday denotes when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet during what is known as the Last Supper on the night He was betrayed. 

The word “Maundy” is built off of the Latin word for “command”; when Jesus washed their feet, He said, “A new commandment I give you – love one another as I have loved you.” It’s why some churches actually have a foot-washing ceremony or service on Maundy Thursday.

Good Friday is the day we mark the anniversary of when Jesus was crucified. I know, the word “good” is a misnomer. 

Or is it? 

Sin is not good. Suffering is not good. But what Jesus did for us, what His death accomplished on our behalf – that was good. Good because He took on our sins, and then hung in our place, paying the price for our sins so that we could be forgiven.

Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, marks the time of Jesus in the tomb. To be honest, little is associated with this day, though it is named. Perhaps because few know what to do with the obscure verses Peter offers surrounding Jesus’ descending into the depths of hell. The medievalists called it the “harrowing of hell”, and that is perhaps its fullest sense. 

What is certain is that it was a victory lap.

And then, of course, comes Easter Sunday when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. A day that so altered human history that we are still talking about it, and marking it, over 2,000 years later.

Each day rich with meaning, significance and spiritual admonishment.

But it all begins this weekend, with Palm Sunday, the day of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

From the gospel of Mark:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:1-10, NIV)

This was a fervor that eclipsed Tebow’s press conference in New York, or any iPad or iPhone introduction Apple ever construed. 

Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus that Jesus deserves. 

Yes, “Hosanna” quickly turned into “crucify him!” It was one of the most tragic turn of events, perhaps second only to the fall, where humans turned from worship to rejection.

But that’s what Palm Sunday calls us to remember. After Jesus entered to acclaim, He moved to clear the temple. Not willing to succumb to a celebrity culture, He made it clear what the demands of following Him would entail. 

That’s what changed “Hosanna” into “Crucify.” People were confronted with the weight and consequence of God. They had to choose: a tame God, or a real One.

And now it plays out again; not in human history, but in our lives.

Every day. 

Welcome to Holy Week.

James Emery White

 

Sources

On Holy Week, and the individual days, see The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition; and the Encyclopedia of Christianity.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Why Give?

Why do people give?

That’s easy.

They give from the heart, to vision.

Let’s start off with the “from” part.

All giving is a matter of the heart. I can’t think of anything more counter-cultural than parting with resources. If someone gives, they do it because something deep and internal has been affected.

A lot of teaching on stewardship is guilt-based, even fear-based. I don’t like it, and I don’t think it’s biblical. Yes, the Bible teaches that there are blessings with giving. Yes, the Bible teaches that any act of obedience or disobedience has consequence.

But that’s not what God wants to motivate us.

I was recently reading through Exodus and was amazed (again) to read how Moses had to tell the people to stop giving because they had more than they needed to construct all that God had commanded in terms of the Tabernacle. 

Any of you pastors ever have to preach that message?

But their hearts were so taken that they couldn’t stop giving to the God who had liberated them from every bondage.

This is why Paul, in the New Testament, instructed people to give from their hearts. He knew it was the most powerful area to scour for motivation and obligation for the needs of the kingdom of God.

But people don’t just give “from,” but “to.” And what they give “to” is vision.

Vision is the destination. The goal. The promised land.

For Meck, it’s 20,000 active attenders with ministry in 20 countries. That’s 20,000 changed lives. That’s partnering with 20 incredibly-needy partners who are doing God’s work in ways we never could. That’s making a difference with our one and only life in ways few could ever imagine.

We teach people that giving is an act of worship. And, of course, it is.

But it is more than money.

It is the giving of our hearts, and then the commitment of our wills to the cause.

And God smiles on the giver.

And God honors the giver.

And God gives to the giver.

No wonder people give.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Cultural Enemies

If you are a true follower of Christ, you will have enemies. A lot of enemies.  

This isn’t a popular idea.

Many Christians seem more intent on fitting into culture, or at least getting its affirmation, than opposing it. And the entire idea of being an enemy, or having one, seems out of sync with the Christ life.

But it isn’t.

Jesus made it very clear that He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Little wonder His own life did not end in a crowning but a crucifying. 

The apostle Paul talked about open spiritual warfare in his letter to Ephesians.

The Bible speaks plainly about the “god” of this fallen world, and it is Satan himself.

So why is there such a great temptation for Christians today to opt for a popular stance instead of a prophetic one?

For many, there is such a bitter taste in their mouth from the caustic and abrasive era of the “Moral Majority” and religious “right.” So much so that they have over-compensated by not wanting to be seen as condemning anything.

For others, it is spiritual insecurity. Somehow they are not “legitimate” until they land on Oprah, are covered by USA Today, or are fawned over by Slate.

It is as if our model is Bono – be a rock star while espousing Christian faith. Not to denigrate Bono, but the better model would be Bonhoeffer. Someone who clearly saw the lines of good and evil, and worked tirelessly to overthrow evil (in his case, Hitler and the Third Reich). Rather than popularity, for Bonhoefffer, it ended in execution at a concentration camp.

Suffice it to say, we are behind enemy lines. When behind enemy lines, there are, well, enemies. The goal is not to be enemy-free, as if Christianity at its purest is so winsome and compelling that no one who “gets it” will ever reject it. 

No, the gospel is scandalous and offensive. Many will openly reject it, not to mention its moral mandates. We are not to embody culture, as John Stott wisely wrote, but the Christian counter-culture. The kingdom of God that we advance is not the kingdom currently in place.

So don’t worry about having enemies.

Instead, concern yourself with having the right ones – and for the right reasons.

Don’t have enemies because you are intentionally offensive in spirit and inter-relational dynamics.

Don’t have enemies because you are caustic and abrasive.

Don’t have enemies because you are unfeeling and unloving.

But…

Do have enemies because you stand for truth.

Do have enemies because you will not waver in the face of majority opinion when it crashes against biblical authority.

Do have enemies when you will not personally compromise your convictions.

After all, Jesus did.

And did you really think following Him would avoid any kind of cross?

James Emery White

 

Sources

John Stott, Christian Counter-Culture (InterVarsity Press).

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Vetting Staff

One of the most frequent questions I get from fellow pastors has to do with hiring (and firing) staff.

As in,

…how do you know who to hire?

…when do you know it’s time to let someone go?

…how do you evaluate current staff in terms of future roles and responsibilities – or even if there is a future?

In my book What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary, I outlined the five “C’s” for hiring: calling, character, competence, catalyst, chemistry. I stand by all five as the basis for any and all hiring decisions.

I also talk about the importance of picking up the phone and calling their current employer, no matter how awkward that might be. Want a wake-up call? I’ve only been called once by anyone who ever hired a Meck staff person – whether they were currently on board, or were a staff person in the past.

Once.

Want another wake-up call? 

With very few exceptions (very few), the person hired without the call was either 1) on a performance-improvement plan; 2) on the verge of being fired; 3) had been justifiably passed-over for promotion and increased responsibility; or…well, you get the point. They weren’t exactly who we were building around. I’m sure that’s why they came up with whatever reason they did for the hiring church not to contact their actual supervisor at Meck.

I also was confessional in the book about my biggest mistakes, such as hiring too many times out of expediency and not moving quickly enough to address staff “infections.” If any of these topics are of interest, and you haven’t read the book, it might be worth a look.

But how do you spot warning signs after you’ve hired them? Let’s say there seems to be a sense of calling in their life, there is character, there is (at first) chemistry, there is seeming competence, and they give every sign of being a catalytic go-getter. Are there other signs to be mindful of as you evaluate them for the future?

Yes.

There are at least six “red flags” to watch out for as you evaluate them as staff in terms of whether you can build around them for the future.

1. They are attracted to the mission in principle, but not in practice. 

Most staff breakdowns are not doctrinal, but over philosophy of ministry. But I’ve learned that it’s not just philosophy, but the practice of that philosophy. For example, let’s say your church is all about the unchurched in terms of outreach. Someone can sign off on that with great conviction, but when they come face-to-face with what that means, things change. They’ve never really encountered it in practice before, and when they do, it’s alien to them. Even abrasive. They start pushing back in ways that betray a philosophical divide.

2. They are called to a job but not ministry, or called to ministry but not your church.

This is a huge area to explore. Meck gets countless applications for employment, but it’s very clear upon the most cursory examination that the vast majority are called to getting a job, not to a life of ministry. Ministry is a means to an end. What is harder to spot are those who are called to ministry, but who are not called to your church. They like a lot of things about it, but if they weren’t employed, it’s doubtful it would be the church they would naturally attend. And that’s key – would they attend if they weren’t employed? If not, that’s your answer. It’s one of the reasons we tend to hire from existing attenders. We already know it’s really their church.

3. The problem is never in the room.

I don’t know if you’ve heard that phrase before, but it speaks to those who never feel they are at fault for anything that goes wrong, or isn’t going well. The problem is never with them or anything they have done; it’s always something “outside” the room. This can reflect pride, a lack of teachability or just a defensive spirit. Whatever the cause, it’s a show-stopper.

4. They don’t play well with others. 

This is a real blind-spot for many who are in leadership. You get along great with a staff person you supervise, but the peers of that staff person tell a different story. They find them difficult to work with. In such situations, you have someone who knows the art of kissing up, but not getting along. This will be corrosive over time. I once heard Jeffrey Immelt, head of GE, talk about the rise of staff in an organization – that it’s less important what the supervisors feel than the person’s peers.

5. They are lone rangers.

Let me say that a “lone ranger” is not the same as an introvert. Introverts are fine. So what’s the difference? “Lone rangers” do their job adequately, get their reports in on time, show up when asked, but they are aloof from the team. Separate from the community. They are in a “silo” and don’t interact with other ministries. They have their ministry, but it’s not macro in nature. It’s their little turf. 

6. They spread dissent and dissatisfaction.

This is the most important single staff dynamic to vet for. Nothing is more important in a church than staff unity, and a single staff person can wreak havoc to what was, before, a happy tribe. If you want a cautionary tale on this, read the chapter “Zero Tolerance” in What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary.

None of these are always easy to spot. They can take time to surface. Even someone who is the source of dissent and dissatisfaction can take a while to pinpoint, or at least to gain the evidence to confront. 

But make no mistake. 

If you oversee the hiring and firing of staff, the creation and development of teams, you need to get down not only the “C’s”, but these six more subtle “evaluation” areas.

Trust me.

I’ve learned them the hard way.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary (Baker).

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

About Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

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