The Legacy of Josh McDowell

On Saturday, May 1, 2010, Josh McDowell will be speaking at the church which I’ve been attending. My plans are to be in attendance with the others from this area, and it will be the sixth time that I’ve heard him in person. The last time was several years ago when he travelled to various churches warning about the faulty scholarship lying behind the story in The Da Vinci Code. The first four times were in the fall of 1975, when he came to Miami University, during the first semester of my freshman year.

I would have to say that he was the first speaker that I heard that gave both a strong intellectual and apologetic foundation to the Christian faith, and yet with a real joy and enthusiasm and evangelistic fervor. Though I had both Edwin Yamauchi and Ravi Zacharias for professors, Josh’s apologetic and evangelistic ministry gave me a genuine foundation in the reasonable foundation of faith in Christ. And though I’ve read through a number of other defenses of the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, I have never come across one which did not cover pretty much the same ground and reasons as Josh did. And his ministry communicated to me then, as a college freshman, not much over one year since my conversion, in a way which others may not have done so at the time. He communicated to us where we were, neither talking above our heads nor down to us as anything less than adults.

Josh also spoke several times on marriage, sex and dating to us. For those who later came to know his ministry through the Why Wait? campaign in the 1980s, he had already been ministering to us through the scripture and with the candor of his own life and experiences long before that campaign started. For those of us in the sexual pressure of the modern university, his guidance and candor definitely helped to bolster a desire to honor God in our lives in the areas of marriage, sex and dating during those years.

Though Josh’s ministry did lead to my purchasing his books, I found them to be the gateway to a number of other authors that I would find helpful over the years through his numerous quotations and references: C. S. Lewis, Kenneth Kitchen, Norman Geisler among others. In addition, the inclusion of the experiences of well known believers as corroboration of the life changing power of the gospel introduced me to the lives of believers such as Sadhu Sundar Singh.

In these days of high tech advertisement, the students who were part of Campus Crusade for Christ found a very low tech and very effective way of advertising. Every morning, they would go throughout the classrooms and lecture halls and write on a blackboard off to the side something like, “Josh is coming!” These announcements piqued interest yet were very unobtrusive. I can’t remember a single professor or student who either found them offensive or intrusive upon the learning process. And the campus was very well prepared for his arrival.

I don’t know how many came to Christ through his ministry during those days, but I do know that many believers also were strengthened in their faith and in their desires to live to glorify God in their dating lives during that time. I don’t think that our campus and my fellow believers are alone by any means in having been blessed by his ministry during those days.

Thoughts on Pastoral Compensation

As someone who has been the pastor of several churches, and candidated to be the pastor of several others, I can attest that the matter of financial compensation to a pastor is a matter of debate and concern for pastors, their families and church boards at large. And for pastors who may be looking to plant a new church and be supported by their denomination in the process, this becomes a matter of discussion between the pastor and denominational officials. Then again, many pastors who go to plant churches in another culture are officially missionaries, and they usually discuss and pray about this before going into that venture. So, here are my thoughts on the matter.

For a pastor or missionary, accept love gifts which are given from a righteous motive, and do not put any pressure or guilt trips on people for them for any reason. The example of the apostle Paul himself in Philippians 4:10-19 is the scriptural guide here.

For a church, denominational official or mission board: make no promises of financial support without some kind of written documentation. For a pastor or missionary, do not accept a promise of financial support without some kind of written agreement. This is not to have a document on which a lawsuit would be based if one party failed to deliver, which is contrary to I Corinthians 6:1-11, but rather to deliver clarity on what was actually promised, and so that false promises will not be made or received. Unfortunately there are those who profess to be believers who will promise someone else anything to get that person to do something that they want that person to do, and this is a way of helping to make sure that the promise which is being made is sincere, and that the person making the promise does intend to fulfill it and has the authority and ability to fulfill it. This kind of defrauding by false promise is something that I plan to write about later, God permitting.

Out of a desire to have all things appear righteous in the sight of all men (II Corinthians 8:21), I would advise the development a faith covenant for financial support in ministry for a pastor or a missionary between their church or denomination. I believe that too often this matter is treated like a matter of secular employment, and not a reliance on God for wisdom, guidance and provision by both the pastor and missionary and the denomination and local church. My impression is that sometimes this comes from people who want to appear to be with-it business people rather than people of faith relying upon the grace of God.

The first principle behind the faith covenant would be that the church or denomination agrees to full time support for full time ministry work. The scriptural principle behind this is that the laborer is worthy of his hire (I Corinthians 8:3-12, II Timothy 5:17-18). Usually the minimum for this is ten or eleven tithing families, and this comes from the history of Israel, where the tribe of Levi was supported by the tithes of the other eleven tribes. Churches with less than this number are usually expecting the pastor to live on a salary much less often than they would accept for the same demands in terms of work and hours, and this often results in pastors needing to leave for larger churches not only out of a sense of spiritual leading but also out of a need for adequate financial support.

The second principle behind the faith covenant would be the permission for part time or even full time secular employment where necessary. Again, the pattern for this is the apostle Paul, as outlined in II Thessalonians 3:7-9. For some churches, this may actually turn out to be a way for the pastor to make contacts in the community and have opportunities to witness and minister than he would have had otherwise. This can be a problem for declining churches which have become used to having the ministry of a pastor who has been supported entirely by the church, and who has been able to keep up with the demands of two quality sermons, one or more Bible studies, and the administration, visitation and counseling that his support enabled him to give. Generally, though, it is the right thing for a church which cannot support a pastor full time to either share the pastor with another church or to allow for one sermon and Bible study or prayer meeting a week, some visitation on the weekends and evenings, and let the pastor work throughout the week at supporting himself and his family. In these cases also the elders and others in the church need to make sure that they are also sharing the responsibilities of the teaching and preaching ministries of the church.

As part of the process of developing an adequate understanding of what would be adequate remuneration for the fulfillment of the needs of the pastor and his family, the church or denomination should undertake a written description of the expected responsibilities of the pastor. The pastor should also work to put together his own expectations for his responsibilities in ministry, a personal budget that sets out reasonable living expenses and a personal report on what kinds of expenses would be necessary for ministry. This will help to get the discussion not on what someone thinks a pastor should make based on the salary of an unskilled entry level factory worker (I met someone who actually believed this) or upon what a retiree makes from Social Security (I’ve heard this one too) or what a previous pastor was paid thirty five years previously when he came to the church fresh from seminary (this also is true).

The Diagnostic Problem at the Root of Self Esteem Teaching

Several episodes of the television series M*A*S*H dealt with the problems that the doctors had with treating the disease Korean Hemorrhagic Fever. It was a real disease that troops from the United States and other allied nations faced during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. In one of the episodes, the doctors were faced with the problem of replenishing bodily fluids from patients during a phase of renal overdrive. They faced court-martial if they used what had proved to be a fatal treatment of administering hypertonic (high salt) intravenous saline solution during this phase. Instead, they found that the correct treatment was to administer isotonic intravenous saline solution – saline at the same concentration as human blood.

This illustrates one part of the problem of the self esteem teachings that have been part of the culture at large and some churches for the better part of a generation. It was based upon the study of abused children, who had been shamed and beaten down emotionally. The treatment was based upon the idea that they had something that was called self esteem that had been damaged. That this also falls under a logical error called the materialistic fallacy, in which an abstract construction of thought –self esteem or, in some works, self image — is treated as a material reality, does not seem to have occurred to them either. The idea is that something that they call self esteem or a self image is an entity which has been damaged, like an arm bruised and damaged from twisting. The remedy was, or so it was thought, to give them lots and lots of self affirmations and to have them learn how to give them back to themselves. Somehow this became trendy to do with children and even adults who had not been in an environment as severely abusive. The unintended consequence was to give many a false sense of self importance.

Instead, the Biblical answer seems to be not to give them or anyone lots and lots of self affirmations. I think that Solomon calls this kind of thing flattery throughout Proverbs, and treats it as a kind of deceit. For myself, I’ve generally preferred a realistic compliment for a job well done or extraordinary effort or a realistic correction for something on which I was mistaken or could have put in more effort. The honesty and respect this entails was always preferable to the often syrupy flattery that the other approach entails. For instance, I can remember a certain pastor who once or twice put his arm around my shoulders and tried to give me some ‘affirmations.’ Though I do not believe that he was malicious, I found this pretty creepy since he barely knew me at the time, and wondered if someone else had put him up to this in some way. I am very glad that within several years I had left that church and went to the Chapel Hill Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where I have always felt treated like a respected, responsible adult and brother in Christ.

It’s been documented that these kinds of ‘affirmations’ offered to the abused do not help them but in some way do the opposite. I think that the idea was that abused needed to be provided not with heaping helpings of what others think that they have missed – like the doctors who were giving patients with Korean Hemorrhagic Fever in renal overdrive a hypertonic intravenous saline solution – high amounts of salts — to replace the salts in their blood that they thought needed to be replaced. Rather a more realistic and stable environment of love and respect with realistic doses of truth – like the isotonic saline solution with normal amounts of salts that proved to be the correct treatment – is also the correct treatment for those who have come through an abusive environment.

Certainly what we need to be providing others in our churches and families in our culture at large is realistic love with honest compliments and appreciation and honest corrections. I don’t think that piling it on thick with the ‘affirmations’ offered either to others or to oneself really helps anyone in the long run, and it feeds selfishness, conceit and an odd vulnerability to and craving for more and more flattery. The Bible is actually pretty clear about how the environment of Christian growth is, ‘ . . . speaking the truth in love . . . ‘ (Ephesians 4:15), and not any kind of exaggerated flattery.

Here are some more scriptures that talk about the kind of atmosphere that needs to be fostered. Some of these would make excellent subjects for sermons and teaching (of course as part of the larger context of the passages in which they are contained), and I do not believe that I have ever heard and preaching and teaching which dealt in depth with applying them to our lives.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. . . Do not be proud . . . do not be conceited” (Romans 12:9, 16).

“If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to others” (Galatians 6:2-3).

“Show proper respect to everyone; Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (I Peter 3:17).

Finally, while an atmosphere of love and respect is something that brothers and sisters in Christ can provide for each other, and parents and siblings can provide within a family, believers in Christ ultimately need to find their satisfaction in their relationship with their heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, “ . . . who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). The knowledge of one’s identity in Christ, what it means to be in that relationship, and God’s goal of transforming us into the likeness of Christ (II Corinthians 3:18), will do more than all the human flattery and ‘affirmations’ that can ever be given within a lifetime. Knowing who you are in the light of the Word of God is reality.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.