EP 159 THEOLOGICALLY PRINCIPLED PRAGMATISM
Hello Bootcampers! We’re welcoming in the fall, well all of us except Jimbo. He’ll grab a hoodie, and we’ll get down to the serious business of talking leadership and how to avoid leading in your own wisdom and strength. Tune in, listen up and get ready for some important info on how you can follow God, lead and pastor well.
We return to gleaning insights form the book, Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton.
Let’s start with a verse from Proverbs 14:25 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
We need to know two things:
- What does success look like
- What guideposts do we need to set up to help us evaluate if something is working
The guidepost we need is theologically principled pragmatism. Listen in as the guys unpack this idea and how it works itself out in ministry.
Am I a Replanter @ Southern Seminary, October 28-29
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JimBo Stewart: [00:00:00] Here we are back at the bootcamp. Bob, I hope you’re ready for the next episode. Diving back in the nice, cool below 80 degree weather of a Florida fall.
Bob Bickford: Jimbo, what is, what does the Florida fall look like? What’s the appropriate apparel for a Florida to fall?
JimBo Stewart: It has to be layered because as we get into winter, here’s what’s gonna happen when you wake up. If you’re an early bird like myself, when you wake up, it’s gonna be like 40 degrees outside, 35, 40, which is frigid down here. That’s just insane, but, By noon it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be tipping back in the upper seventies again.
And so you really, it’s like, and this is a, at that point, my body will lose its mind and I will begin to get a sinus infection because it doesn’t know what to do with the rapid. It’ll, we’ll have a 40, you, you’ll have a 35 to 40 degree shift in temperature [00:01:00] from early morning to afternoon. And so mornings are, I’m bundled up, man.
And if I go outside, I mean, I’m. Full thing, just bun on the whole body, but then you, it’s gotta be something you can take off because it’s gonna be 75 to 80 degrees by one o’clock.
Bob Bickford: So are we talking like winter coat? Are we talking hoodie? Are we talking, you know, beanie, what? What are we talking here? Because 35 and 40. here in Missouri in the winter is like a spring day, Jimbo.
JimBo Stewart: No, man, I, I’m good. That’s why I’m glad to be where I am. there’s a lot of things.
Bob Bickford: The first time we brought you to St. Louis. Wasn’t it like 20 below or something like that? It was like
JimBo Stewart: It was insane and I was stressed out. It, I didn’t even know how to, I didn’t even to.
Bob Bickford: Well, that’s awesome. Well fall here is glorious and beautiful. We break out the flannels, we bring out the vest. And speaking of vests, the replant vest, the Carhartt replant vest, I think we might be outta stock, but we’ll get some more in. So go check it email@example.com [00:02:00] and uh, check that out.
JimBo Stewart: Hey, speaking of going to the websites, you ought check out, we’re gonna put a link in the show notes, look up the am I re planter at the end of October, end of this month, by the time you’re listening to this. And, man, we’d love to hang out with you if you’re a rookie novice to replanting revitalization or you are considering it.
This is kind of like you. Intro Replant 1 0 1, Revitalization 1 0 1. Introduction to some of the things that you need to know. Introduction to resources you need to know. We’re gonna talk through what is the difference between replanting and revitalization. We’re gonna talk through the life cycle of a church.
We’re gonna talk through how to understand your missional context. We’re gonna talk through the characteristics every vital and re planters and more. There’ll be breakout sessions for the wives. Our wives will be there in Louisville O’Brien Croft will be there. Hanging out at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
you don’t have to be a seminary student there, It’s just, they’re just hosting it. And man, we’d love to see you there.
Bob Bickford: And we will be there. Jimbo and I will actually be there
JimBo Stewart: [00:03:00] Yeah,
Bob Bickford: in the flesh.
JimBo Stewart: we will be there. And look, it’s, it’s late October and it’s north of Florida, and so I might be wearing that replant vest.
Bob Bickford: you will be wearing that replant vest and hopefully there’s still be some beautiful fall leaves. On the trees. The, the campuses at Southern has gorgeous, gorgeous trees and foliage, so, um, hopefully they’ll still be on.
JimBo Stewart: Good man. Hey, this week Bob, we’re gonna catch, we’re gonna catch back into the conversation we were having last week. if you have not listened to last week, I’d recommend that you go back and listen to. Last week we talked about how, there’s this kind of dichotomy of pragmatism versus overly theological, what Craig Hamilton calls functional hyper Calvinist and.
We’re gonna dive into this idea. We talked a lot more philosophically last week about how we should pursue and think through pragmatism. And the pragmatism in and of itself isn’t bad, but the focus on immediate results, really lacks the tactical patients that you need to lead in church revitalization, replanting, [00:04:00] because God really often calls us to the long game.
Discipleship is a long game. Revitalization replanting is a long game. And then we also have to consider the dangers of unintended consequences when you jump ahead just to make things happen. There are probably gonna be unintended consequences. So here’s how we, here’s how we ended last week and is how I wanna begin this week. Proverbs 14, 12 and 1625. Both tell. There’s a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way to death. Hamilton says, Pon by itself doesn’t work, but of course we wanna do things that work. And the idea of doing things that work is a good one. But what we need is a way of knowing two things, one.
What does success look like in the first place, and how do we know if what we’re doing is working? And two, what guidepost can we set up before we start to help start to help us evaluate whether something is working or not. And so he says, We need some principles that will help us assess what will work.
And work long term to [00:05:00] achieve exactly what we’re seeking to achieve. What we need is principled pragmatism, and as a Christian leader, our principles are theological, and so we need theologically principled pragmatism.
Bob Bickford: Man, That’s a good word. we were talking about last week that the necessity for having. some guidance or principles by which you make your decisions and evaluate those. And again, I think we, we talked about this last week too. Not just you alone, like being, trying to be the smartest guy in the room by yourself.
But leading others to think this way too, right? Because I mean, if you’re developing as a leader, Jimbo, and let’s say you, you develop in this particular area and you develop theologically, principled, prag, pragmatism, and you’re the only one in the room, it’s gonna be a battle every meeting you have with your, your deacons, your church council, whoever it is, that our decision makers, So I.
As we talk through these, one of the things I think would be helpful is for guys to imagine how they might bring others along in this development process and how, how you guys could share these [00:06:00] ideas, in a group, maybe even get the book that we’re, we’re, uh, talking about here, and read through that with these leaders.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. I’ll tell you, this book was recommended to me by Mark Haack. Happy huggy haack. And, it’s, it’s been so rich. I have so enjoyed reading this book. it’s one of the most theologically grounded. approaches to leadership that I have ever read, really, that that does not completely throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to learning some best practices and principles while remaining in the guidepost of being.
Theologically and biblically grounded. And so he says, When we trust the Bible as a supreme authority and the gospel is God’s power to bring about lasting salvation and lasting change, then we have access to the guidepost that we need. God himself tells us what he wants us to do, what he wants us to be doing.
And he gives us some broad methods and boundaries. And so as we pursue truth to, as we pursue truth and seek to thank God’s thoughts after him, biblically and theologically, Certain foundational principles [00:07:00] for what works will become clear. So, like, for example, Bob, when it comes to effective preaching and disciple making, which we’re called to do as we lead churches, that some of the primary work that we’re given to do is preaching and disciple making.
He says God won’t do it any way other than through the gospel. and so you’re, if you’re preaching. Is not pointing people to the gospel and you’re not. If you’re just developing leaders and not raising up disciples in the gospel, you’re not, you’ve fallen way outta the guidepost. Now, should, should the gospel presentation be 10 minutes?
Should it be 10 hours? Should it be at the beginning of everything you do? At the end of everything you do, in the middle of everything you do. Should it be? I mean, really we start to get into some of these things, order of service and those sorts of things. And the Bible doesn’t give us deep specifics on exactly how that has to go, but it does.
The Bible does give us some theological principles as guideposts that we’ve gotta live within.
Bob Bickford: [00:08:00] Then this is the question that I think all of us have come to regarding. Our practice as, as pastors and leaders. Okay, what do we do with kids? What do we do with announcements? What do we do with, our small groups and what do we do with our fellowships? All of these sorts of things. We have done a really good job, I think, in the Baptist world of giving people practices on how to lead those individual things, but we’ve probably not given, good in instruction or information on how to think.
Theologically and how to connect all of these to the gospel, right? I think there’s been some really big books that have been like Center Church and those sorts of things that have really tried to understand how do we connect all these. So I think in some ways, resources like that take this question and then try to flesh it out in practice.
So it’s important for us to ask. Good questions that help us refine our practice. But if I’m understanding what Hamilton’s doing here, he’s tying this back to the gospel, is that correct? Jimbo?
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. And so, I mean for us, so last week we talked about, that really [00:09:00]points us to the characteristic of tactical patient. What we’re talking to right now, is, is the characteristic of gospel orientation. So gospel and gospel orientation refers to aligning the culture and the practice of the church in such a way that the core doct into the gospel drives its mission and practice in preaching, managing conflict, and leading organizational change. This is where, So the guidepost is not pragmatics. Hey, what’s gonna work? What’s gonna get me the biggest crowd? What’s gonna swing momentum the fastest? What’s gonna bring us organizational stability the fastest and the quickest? That’s not the guidepost. The guidepost is the gospel. How does the gospel inform?
How we approach children in children’s ministry and what we do with them. Now, here’s the thing, I don’t think the Bible tells you whether you should have a children’s church moment in church or, in, in the service. Or do you send them to Children’s Church to be discipled and led by other adults, Why you’re preaching to the adults, or should you have family services where [00:10:00] everybody’s sitting in the sanctuary together?
I think you could make some arguments for any of those, but I don’t know that the Bible. Gives you a hard line guidepost on which of those approaches you have to take. The point is not. On that. The point is, are you pointing kids to the gospel? Are you pointing people to the gospel? Is is the way that you approach music ministry oriented around the gospel is the way that you approach even your security ministry, even like even the way like security ought to be oriented around the gospel.
Everything you’re doing has to be informed by and oriented around the gospel.
Bob Bickford: Yes. And, I think explaining what the gospel is is important as well. Because one of the things I noticed, you know, several years ago as part of a church that was big into the Gospel coalition, Keller movement, all this kinda things. So it was like , It almost seemed like it was your goal to, in your writing, in your speaking, in your [00:11:00] preaching, say the word gospel as many times as you could. Most of the time you didn’t unpack it, right? And so here’s, here’s what I would, here’s my suggestion. Say the word gospel fewer times, but make sure the theme of the gospel in terms of God’s love for us, God’s sending Jesus to die for us, are utter dependence upon God’s sufficient work in Christ, to lead us towards salvation and transformation.
Those kinds of themes being built. The fabric of your church and your leadership. And your communication,
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, I mean, there’s no point in leading a church where you get to leave the guidepost of the gospel and go just to pragmatics. But here’s the thing, So pragmatics is about doing things that that work. Hamilton argues that doing things that work isn’t the problem. The problem comes when we. What to do based on what seems to work rather than what on God ask us to do [00:12:00] to.
What works isn’t a reliable guide for what’s right. just because something works. I’ve heard somebody say before, I’m not interested in what works. I’m interested in what God has asked us to
do. And I, I remember, I, I may have told this story on here before. I remember having lunch with a pastor, a replant pastor who his, it was a church plant that merged with a dying church.
And the church started to grow dramatically. I mean just really fast. And he was coming under some fire within our community because of a theological difference, ales theological difference that he had from most people in our tribe. And some people were being really ugly to him. About it. And I did not appreciate how ugly people were.
I, I agreed with the theological stance of those that were against him. I did not agree ales logically with what he was doing, but I know him to be a brother in Christ that, and I love him. And so I took him to lunch just to [00:13:00] encourage him. And here’s what he said to me though. He said, Obviously it’s working.
Whatever I’m doing is working. Look at how many people are coming to the church and I said, Listen, you gotta be really careful with that on the ecclesiological difference that people are coming at you about. I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna debate you on that because it’s a secondary, tertiary issue and I don’t think we need to be making a huge deal about it.
But what you just said is a primary issue. We cannot just evaluate how well we’re doing based on how many people are coming. That’s a very dangerous way to evaluate your ministry.
Bob Bickford: Yeah. Can we flip side this for a second?
so I was just in a consultation, with the church that is declining and they’re talking about a partnership with another church. And the church that’s declining. men, they’re, all older. They all commute in. They realize that they don’t have any kids, that they’re not reaching the neighborhood, et cetera, etcetera.
They realize in principle, big picture what they’re doing is not working [00:14:00] in the terms of fulfilling their. So they’ve began to try, They’re trying to evaluate what do we need to do? Well, one of the focal points for them is their worship, right? Their worship style. And it is, it’s probably the best of the early eighties in terms of like how they’re, how they approach it.
It’s, you know, it. Songs, it’s this kind of, you know, you take three songs and you blend them together, You segue one from another and it’s, you know, music worship pastor waving his arms, you know, kind of leading the music and all that kind of stuff. And there’s a tension because the, the congregation loves that and doesn’t want to lose that.
And they don’t like anything that’s like, they don’t like fresh and new and they don’t want you. What they call rock and roll worship and that kind of thing. So if we’re having a discussion with the declining church, how do we vet take that cuz this is a real, this is a real thing that re planters and revitalize will [00:15:00] deal with the music stone worship.
Walk me through. Thinking through, how do we process that dis decision, not just pragmatically by saying, We’ve gotta change the style because people will come in because you know that, or the reason people aren’t coming in is because of the style. H how do we start there and how do we move towards a theologically, principled, pragmatic discussion with that issue?
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, I would say it’s the, the idea of still doing music from the early eighties or late eighties is you’re still making that decision on pragmatism and, and from two, from two angles. One pragmatically, it worked in the late eighties, right? So pragmatically that was the style. It worked back in the late eighties, but also pragmatically.
it, it hits my preferences, it hits the way I want to do things. And both of those are the wrong way [00:16:00] to approach this cuz here’s what I’d say is because. If you think only pragmatism, here’s the mistake I think you could make. You could say, Well, this is the style of music that was popular and worked in the late eighties, and so let’s figure out what the style of music is popular and works right now is.
And then you go find the top the billboard charts of worship music. Well, that may or may not lead you to some theologically sound music. And, and so I don’t think that’s, that’s a too pragmatic of an approach as well. I think a theologically principled, pragmatic approach would be to say, what is the purpose of our time on Sunday morning when we’re singing songs?
Why are we doing it? What, what are we trying to accomplish? Are we, are we on the right track? So not what’s gonna get us to where we need to be the quickest, but when you identify. The reason why are we doing it the way we’re doing it? Well, we’re doing it cuz it worked in the late eighties and it’s cuz the music I like, well, I think we then have to theologically understand, well that’s, [00:17:00]Gospel orientation.
So gospel orientation says, one, I need to make sure we are theologically, clearly proclaiming the word of God, the truths of God through music in a way that ex exhausts the glory of God. And as a Colossians three 16, sing truth to one another and, and so that we’re edifying one another through music in a way that is not, unnecessarily obtrusive.
To the generation below us. I’m not of the camp to say that you have to do super modern music. Man, I’ve been to churches that, I mean, I was at, I was at the Church of Tony Marina Pastors in North Carolina, a couple Sundays ago, and it was not like wildly popular new music, but. I mean, some of it was pretty old, but it was done in a way that really any generation could sing along with it.
It was theologically rich and pointed people to Jesus, and, and so it’s really checking your motives [00:18:00] and why are, why are we trying to do it? And getting to the quickest results is not the right answer in getting to our preferences is not the right answer.
Bob Bickford: Right, and I, I think you outline the fact that, it’s quick, it’s easy for us to make a quick decision or quick, quick statement. About how we feel about it or people feel about it, that puts us at the center of worship, right? I like it. I don’t like it. And that’s not what worship is about. Worship is about drawing people into an environment, through music, through leadership that causes them to think about who God is, to give praise to him for who he is and for what he’s done, and to understand who he is and who we are in response and in lie to the gospel.
And so that’s the bigger question is, does, does your style or does your worship do that? Whether it’s 80 style or whether it’s, you know, a modern style. And, and so I think that’s the question. So I [00:19:00] think if a guys are out there and they’re doing the music battle, that’s the question to ask is like, how does, what is the goal of worship?
Who is it for? And are we facilitating according to the scripture? What needs to happen in worship service of giving praise to God and honoring him for who he is in proclaiming the gospel. And I think most of most of us would be able to, to grid that out and answer that despite the style,
whatever the style is.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, we did a good episode, with, Nathan. I reawaken hims about that, and I’d recommend going back to, it was a really good conversation on multigenerational worship. And here’s the deal though, man. Here’s what Hamilton says. Sometimes doing the right thing, doing what God says. Doesn’t immediately lead to success.
Sometimes doing the right thing leads to suffering or pain or more problems. And this is the opposite of pragmatism. but even when the right thing doesn’t seem to work, it’s still the right thing, and that’s one of the things we have to [00:20:00] understand. Theologically, principled pragmatism. One may not seem to be working at first and two.
May not really work in the way that we are hoping it’s gonna work, but doing the right thing is the right thing. Always Hamilton goes on to say, doing what God says does actually work. It just might not seem like it does it first. Often when we do the right thing, we discover much later that it was far more successful than we.
Ever could have imagined. It makes me think of the old, I don’t listen to a lot of country music, but I grew up where some people did, and I remember the old country song, Old to me, thank God for unanswered prayers. man, I can tell you, Bob, there were plans I had that I’m really glad they didn’t work out , that God took it a different direction and it, he had way better plans than.
Bob Bickford: Yeah. Most of us could say that. you know, Thinking through the hard decisions and the, and making the hard [00:21:00] decisions that are the right decisions and experiencing the consequences of those decisions. Our view of the impact or the consequences of those decisions in the short run is what really creates tension for us and makes us feel like this is not this.
Did I make the right call here? And I think of, honestly, Jimbo makes me think about some church discipline. conversations that I had where it was like, well, if, we don’t address this, then we won’t offend anybody and nobody will get mad and nobody will leave. Right.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah.
Bob Bickford: So that was a, that was part of the discussion.
The other side was, if we don’t address this, then this, this sinful behavior perpetuates and it has an impact on the body, which means that we may keep some people, but we’re not gonna be spiritually healthy. Right. Therefore, we need to have this conversation because it’s a biblical matter. It’s a, this is a, this is a sinful behavior.
This is creating division in the body. This must be [00:22:00] addressed. And our constitution and bylaws say that we have a, a model and a method for addressing this. And so we must act on that. And in the short term, Jimbo, when we did that at our replant in the early days, we saw the loss of quite a few folks.
Because people were related to the individuals where we had to, you know, we had to address some things with, But in the long term, Jimbo, it turned into a really good thing because even after, and even out, even the meeting where we announced before the church what had taken place and what had happened, we, we were all heartbroken, but we had hun, we had countless people that came up to us and said, That should have been done a long time.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. Yeah.
Bob Bickford: that was the right decision. And so it was from that point on our church, our church really started the culture and the spiritual condition where our church started changing. And so, Ben, I just encourage you, lean into this one. Doing the right thing, the biblical thing, the thing that God calls you to do is not gonna be easy sometimes.
most oftentimes it’s not gonna be easy, but [00:23:00] it, may have some consequences in the short run that you, that others think are detrimental, but long term play the long.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, if you’re so using the visionary operator processor synergist paradigm that we use often if you’re on the visionary operator side of things, the more proactive side of things, then pragmatism is gonna lead you towards productivity. But if you’re on the processor synergist side of things, then pragmatism is gonna lead you towards not shaking the apple cart, trying to keep everybody okay trying to, To not upset anybody and not let anybody leave. Both of those are not a great approach. You don’t, So pragmatism Hamilton would say means that we make decisions based on what we think will work. Now, I would say that either means you think it’ll work and that it’ll be productive, or you think that it’ll work and that it won’t mess everything up and get, make people mad.
So we make decisions based on what we think will work, even though we don’t know really enough to predict how it’s gonna actually turn out. We, we are not. We, we cannot see the [00:24:00] future, and so we don’t really know. So when you, when you’re based on pragmatics, you may think this is gonna be productive and it may blow up in your face, or you may think, Well, this is gonna keep everybody happy, and it might either blow up in your face or it might, uh, just halt progress completely.
So what he would say is theological pragmatism or theologically principled pragmatism means that we make decisions guided by the one who who does know what works and how it will turn out. I mean, this is gospel orientation. This is submitting everything we do to what the Lord has for us. I wanna give you one more quote, Bob, and then I wanna hear your last thoughts.
So the last quote I wanna bring from you from the chapter is Hamilton says, Unprincipled pragmatism doesn’t. But theological pragmatism. A pragmatism constrained by theological convictions does work in the real world, even if it doesn’t at first appear to be working as we expect or [00:25:00] want it to.
Bob Bickford: Yeah, I, I think I would encourage our guys who. in a situation right now where they’re having to make some key decisions and leadership calls, and root yourself in scripture and prayer and give yourself some time and space to deliberate about the decisions you’re needing to make and avoid the mistake of simply making the quick decision to have a short term impact or to to delay or to, To say no to a decision because of the short term impact and have the long game in mind and think.
What is the Lord calling your church to do? What is he called it to do in the word? What is he called your church to do and you as pastor to do? What is it clear in the word? And then what is he specifically calling you to do to apply his word in that local context? Do those things, wrestle with that.
It’s not gonna mean you’re gonna make fast decisions likely, but you’re probably gonna make better decisions and the [00:26:00] best ones. And then I think the quote that he had before, it’s like you make a decision and you trust God to work it out, right? And. I’ve been in the space where I made a decision and made a call and I had a couple people tell me that was the worst decision you could have ever made, and that was the wrong decision.
And I was firmly convinced that the Lord had let us down that course, and that’s what he called us to do. And it ended up being that that was the case, but the Lord had to make it so he had to be my defender. He had to be the one to show in the long term that that’s really what he wanted us to.
JimBo Stewart: Mm, That’s a good word. Hey, one of the things we’re excited to tell you by the time this comes out, we’re recording a few weeks in advance right now, and we have been assembling a Replant Bootcamp blog writing team, and, So we’re super excited that by the time this podcast comes out, we will have some blogs rolling out.
Some of them are gonna be based, most of them are gonna be based on episodes that we’re doing. And [00:27:00] so be on a lookout. I don’t know what the web address will be. It’ll be on replant bootcamp.com. You’ll be able to click blog and you’ll be able to find it there. and let us know any other way that we can serve you.