Book Review: The Grand Paradox

In his second book, The Grand Paradox, Ken Wytsma provides readers with the opportunity to face their doubts and fears while finding the reassurance needed to dive deeper into relationship with the Imago Dei. Finding a balance between the messiness of life and the mysteriousness of God, Wytsma summarizes that, “faith is often characterized less by clarity than by confusion. (xx)” As he continues to write, Ken allows the reader to ask questions often faced by Christians in this messy world. Some of the questions include (7):
• Do we have the wrong definition of faith? (Chapter 3)
• I have doubts…does that mean I don’t have faith? (Chapter 7)
• What is God calling me, personally, to do? (Chapter 8 & 9)
These questions, amongst others, provide the backbone for examining the Christian life lived amongst the messiness and the mysteriousness of God. This paradox “is learning to ‘live the questions’ faith engenders. (13)” The ability to survive a life of faith with one’s faith in tact seems to be getting more difficult, yet this catch-22 can lead to wrestling with God’s plan for one’s life.
From this point of discussion, Wytsma continues to build on the definition of faith with the ideology that faith is perplexing, unreasonable, and scary, yet it requires a blind leap to trust. (41) “A common theme in the Old and New Testaments is that ‘the just shall live by faith’. (53)” Wytsma answers, “if we are not looking out for ourselves, then we have to trust that God is looking out for us. (53)” This creates the paradox found later through addressing doubt.
The paradox between faith and doubt is a complex structure that many pastors today believe should not be within the person of faith. In The Grand Paradox, Wytsma identifies two types of doubt: honest doubt and stupid doubt. (65) Honest doubts begin when we:
• Encounter the complexity of the universe
• Confront evil in the world
• Feel lost or broken
• Can’t find God
In the end, doubt creates a need for answers, but the answers rarely provide the needed reasoning; another paradox that Wytsma goes on to answer in depth in later chapters.
Throughout The Grand Paradox, there are tremendous resources for those who struggle within their faith, those who have little faith, and those who are strong in their faith. As a book written by a pastor, college president, and conference founder the candor that Wytsma writes with provides for the right atmosphere to allow one’s doubts and fears to marinade in the correct responses. This book is the perfect resource for the strong of faith, and a needed resource for those who struggle to comprehend their place in God.

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Book Review for The Just Church, by Jim Martin

 

The Just Church, by Jim Martin of International Justice Mission, provides an excellent foundation for the local Church to carry out the Biblical command to seek justice. With the basis of social justice grounded in scripture, this book will reignite the Church’s passion for reaching those in need. Broken in two sections (Justice, Discipleship, & the Failure Point of Faith and The Justice Journey), The Just Church explores the journey from failure to joy while providing practical insight into the application of developing a just church structure.

In the first section, Justice, Discipleship, & the Failure Point of Faith, Jim Martin details the failure of faith through the story of Blair. In the quote below we can begin to understand the passionate pursuit that a true disciple of Jesus will take to expand his kingdom.

God‘s gracious call to us is an invitation to pursue him out of our comfort zones and into a place where failure is a real possibility–perhaps even an inevitability. It’s a call to follow God to places where dependence on him is a necessity. […] To accept this invitation is to discover the work of justice is significantly about our own discipleship” (p. 10).

The reason for our personal discipleship is not to simply obey a command of God (Matt. 28:18-20), but rather to build his kingdom, bring him glory, and bring justice in an unjust world. In order to accomplish this we must grow our faith. “Faith grows most profoundly when it regularly encounters the failure point (50)” and “we grow faith not by sitting alone and trying to flex our faith muscles. We grow faith by putting ourselves in situations that will require faith of us” (49-50).

In the second section, The Justice Journey, Jim Martin expands the readers understanding of the process of spiritual formation. Through fueling our work, encountering the just God, discovering ones talent, need & call, and stepping out in faith instead of fear this book will “invite you on the adventure with God, who is in the habit of using the pilgrimage to transform the pilgrim” (234). With this in mind, if you find yourself drawn to social justice, the hurting world around you, or you simply want to fulfill the purpose of God on this earth The Just Church will equip you with the necessary vision and passion to begin pursing the mission of God. Moreover, “if you muster the courage to be faithful, what you will witness is God’s unambiguously miraculous power to rescue and deliver. When that happens, a whole new kind of fear enters your soul–an awe-struck appreciation for the God of justice who is able to do immeasurably more than you could ask or imagine” (192).

 

Goals

 

In line with the three books that have influenced my life over that past three years, my personal and professional goals also line-up with each other. These goals reflect the work that God is perpetuating in my heart and desires me to pursue in life. They reflect each portion of this essay and provide the context in which I sense God leading my ministry both personally and professionally.

Personal

My foremost personal goal is always to love God, my wife and son, and others with agape style love. Another personal goal is to be the leader and provider this family needs and deserves. In order to accomplish this, I must obtain a position in ministry where I can fulfill the passion and desires God has ignited in my heart. This position will enable me to continue to meet with individuals to share Christ, disciple, and invest in future generations. Lastly, I desire to graduate with a Doctor of Ministry degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Professional

Concerning my professional goals, I desire to minister alongside other passionate believers shaping the future of Christianity. The ministry that God desires me to establish will focus on equipping the people of God for the mission of loving with reckless abandon. Through sincere worship experiences, passionate preaching, missional community, and purposeful outreach the local church will relentlessly pursue the great commission as lived out in the local area, the state, the nation, and the world. With this as my philosophy for ministry, I believe that the church can properly fulfill the Great Commission while living out the Great Commands. I know God has a tremendous plan in store for me as I journey through this program and beyond. I am eager to begin this journey and look forward to the adventure.

 

Philosophy of Ministry

My personal philosophy of ministry stems from both my experience and education. Experientially, I have been a part of ministry’s that were pastor led (more of a dictatorship) and those that were committee based. Both of these experiences have exhibited exceptional problems. Educationally, I have learned concept of servant leadership, but have had little exposure to it in practice. The philosophy that I hold to are the leadership principles of servant and team leadership or servant-led leadership (combined).

Through my experience, I have observed that the pastor led model of leadership can limit the growth potential of the staff and the congregation to the limit of the pastor themselves. Now, there is a tremendous amount of mega-churches today that hold to this model of leadership and on the outside appears to be successful on all fronts. I am not saying that this model is ineffective across the board, but rather, in my experience it has eventually led to major leadership issues within the senior pastor and staff or congregation. The other side of the dictatorship style of some pastor led congregations is the committee-based church. These committees are comprised of, usually untrained, volunteers who sacrifice their time to take part in the administration of the church. It would be great if every church had a person who was trained in human resources, a Forbes’s 500 list maker, and well versed handy-man who could all tackle the individual committees that they are trained to work in, but that is not the case. Oftentimes, these untrained individuals are doing their own thing or listening to others who are desperately seeking to have their will done as opposed to the will of the Father. Therefore, I desire to build a team where the individual members are altruistically leading their ministry and understand the strengths/ weaknesses of each other while meeting the needs of the congregation.

The servant-led organization is often viewed as successful when the leader focus’ on the followers, as opposed to the organization. This perspective can often lead to a highly positive work environment, which will then develop into followers that who invest in their positions and have the drive to succeed on part of the organization. In order to develop this form of work environment the leader must have a grasp of key principles such as (a) agapao love, (b) humility, (c) altruism, (d) vision, (e) trust, (f) empowerment, and (g) service.[1] I believe that one of the strongest principles identified by Dr. Patterson is that of altruism. If a servant- leader is not concerned for the welfare of others then the leadership is truly missing the point of their position.[2] It is the role of the servant-led leader to know their strengths, but also the strengths of their followers. It is the role of a servant leader to be willing to meet other’s needs, fill-in where needed, and pick-up the slack often created in a workplace atmosphere. This leader will also guide their employee’s into the proper projects, work aspirations, and even assist in their development into future leadership positions all because of the altruism principle living within them.

I or we (the team) will equip the people of God for the mission of loving with reckless abandon. This radical type of love is relentless. Through sincere worship experiences, passionate preaching, missional community, and purposeful outreach the local church will relentlessly pursue the great commission as lived out in the local area, the state, the nation, and the world. With this as my philosophy for ministry, I believe that the church can properly fulfill the Great Commission while living out the Great Commands.


[1] Patterson, Kathleen. Servant Leadership Theory. School of Global Leadership and Entrepeurship, Regent University, Virginia Beach: Regent University, 2003.

[2] Ibid.6.

Ministry Experience

 

Since graduating from Liberty University in 1998, I have had the privilege of working in various forms of ministry. From being a middle and high school Bible teacher to being, a youth pastor and even combining the two positions. These roles provided me with the opportunity to develop the spiritual formation of today’s youth. Throughout this time, I knew that there was more in store for me as I continued throughout my spiritual journey.

The first ministry position I was in at Atlantic Shores Christian School was that of middle school Bible teacher. Here I had the privilege of teaching seventh and eighth grade Old and New Testament Survey. The depth of knowledge that I was able to gain expanded my understanding and provided me with the resources to develop true application principles for the students. I would definitely evaluate this period as one of growth for the students and myself as we journeyed through Scripture together.

The second ministry position I held was at Atlantic Shores Baptist Church, as the Assistant Youth Pastor. During this period, the church was going through a staffing change and the current Youth Pastor was moving to the Executive position. For six months, I was able to shepherd the student ministry through the Lord’s leading and the ministry grew tremendously, not only in numbers, but also in depth of surrender. After this time, the church brought in a new Youth Pastor that had a different perspective of ministry and I was let go. Overall, I would evaluate this period as a success, but also identify the amount of growth that was needed on my part to continue in ministry.

The third ministry position I was at Greenbrier Christian Academy as the Director of Middle School Discipleship and Activities (and High School Bible teacher). In this position, I was able to develop the discipleship program for the Middle School as well as oversee the chapel program. During this time, the students experienced various challenges that guided them into deeper surrender of their life to Christ. These challenges came through the chapel services, but also during the various small groups that developed over the years in this position. In addition, I was personally discipling a group of guys that were not the first choice of the High School Discipleship Director. The guys became an important aspect of my ministry and are still active in my life today. Overall, this time of ministry is probably my most fruitful experience thus far, but I know the Lord has tremendous plan ahead for me.

The forth ministry position I held was at Norfolk Christian School where I was the Middle School Chapel Coordinator (and Middle School Bible teacher). Like at Greenbrier, I oversaw that chapel services and revolutionized the school’s previous perspective of this weekly event. Taking the service from a joke filled one verse read time to a worshipful experience with meaningful preaching the students grew in leaps and bounds over the course of my tenure. This time of ministry is one I look back on as a success, but also felt the burden for more adult minded ministry opportunities.

The current area of ministry that I am in at Bayside Baptist Church is as the Volunteer Director of Small Groups. Although this is a volunteer position, I have the opportunity to influence the spiritual formation of the congregants. Through the semester based small groups system the congregants are able to pursue spiritual formation in various areas of their life. The development and implementation of the small groups has provided me with the opportunity to minister to the congregation through investing in their individual lives by developing their desire for personal spiritual renewal. Overall, this period has been challenging for me as the adults are not as easily motivated in their spiritual formation as their student counterparts. Yet, I know that through consistent offerings I am hopeful that they will grab ahold of their own spiritual formation.