Dear <<First Name>> <<Last Name>>,  The Baugh Center for Baptist Leadership seeks to inform and be a resource for Baptist deacons and other lay leaders like you. Following is an article from Center Director Dr. Daniel Vestal that we hope will support you today.

by Daniel Vestal  

Faithfulness to the Christian mission requires resistance to distortions and corruptions of the gospel. Two distortions in popular Christian circles have to do with prosperity and power.

PROSPERITY: Prosperity is the promise of continued good health, financial flourishing and career advancement. It might also include an abundance of material possessions and social status. All of these are not evil in themselves. But when they become the goal toward which the life of Christian discipleship is directed, they become idols. When the Christian gospel is presented and represented as the means by which one attains these goals, the gospel is distorted.

To be sure there is a thread of truth in Scripture that appears to make personal human flourishing the goal of faith, hope and love. Did not Moses say to Israel, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you. I set life and death before you, blessings and cursings. Now choose life.” (Deut. 30:19). And did not the promise of life often have to do with material, physical and social well-being? Did not Jesus himself say, “I have come that you may have life abundant” (John 10:10) which on occasion included physical healings and miracles of deliverance?

On the surface these promises seem to support a Christian theology and proclamation that today is popularly called, “the prosperity gospel.” But what seems to be missing from the interpreters of this theology is the strong emphasis of Scripture on communal and societal welfare, not just the welfare of individuals. Personal prosperity without societal prosperity, as wonderful as it may be, isolates us from one another and creates a chasm or divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” So to turn the promises of Scripture about human flourishing into a justification for the pursuit of personal prosperity and a sure sign of faith, hope and love is to miss the primary purposes of God’s redemptive plan.

God’s purposes for the world are for a universal “shalom,” a kingdom of peace and justice, a place where the lion and lamb are together. The promises of God, beginning with Abraham all the way to Jesus, have much more to do with a communal well-being that surely includes individual well-being, but transcends the personal to include the corporate.

The prosperity toward which the biblical message and the Christian gospel points is a shared prosperity and a communal flourishing. The very nature of true prosperity is reconciliation between rival and competing individuals and groups. This not only means the absence of conflict, which is no small matter when one considers the amount of conflict because of greed and rivalry, but a mutual care for one another and a social fabric where everyone has enough and no one has too much. This is the kind of prosperity toward which we should work and pray.

The pursuit and acquisition of personal prosperity as a gospel is, at its core, selfish and self-serving. It is a distortion of the gospel which focuses on divine provision and love for all. God’s purposes for mankind are captured in a number of biblical metaphors: a banquet where everyone is seated at the table, a land flowing with milk and honey, not just for a few, but for all, a city where justice and peace are present and a world that is covered with the glory of God like waters that cover the sea.

POWER: A second distortion of the gospel has to do with power, and here I mean political power or social power that can coerce and compel societal change. Once custom and law are imposed on the culture through political power everyone in the culture is compelled to conform. Of course individuals can resist, but the pressure from political power is intense. When the Christian gospel is interpreted to encourage and justify the pursuit of that power, the gospel is distorted.

Here again there is a thread of truth in Scripture that seems to teach the church’s use of political power to change structures of society that eliminate injustice. Did not Jesus say, “You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world?” Did not the prophets rebuke the Kings of Israel for injustices and call Israel to repentance and restitution? Did not Paul argue for “wrestling with principalities and powers” that are often institutionalized in society?

On the surface these injunctions tend to support a Christian theology and proclamation that is popularly embodied in today’s American political scene as “the Christian right” and “the Christian left.” Advocates on both sides of the political divide claim a biblical and gospel mandate to justify their seeking and using political power. For those on the “Christian right” it is power to eliminate abortion and same-sex marriage. For those on the “Christian left” it is power to eliminate economic inequality and disparity.

But what seems missing from these gospel interpreters is conviction and clarity about a radically different kind of power to eliminate injustices. The power of the gospel that both justifies individual sinners and establishes justice in a sinful society is the power of the Cross. And what is the power of the Cross? It is the power of humble service, sacrificial love and redemptive suffering. Such love may at times be expressed as prophetic protest or, but it must not be equated with attaining and exercising political power since political power assumes and includes the power of police enforcement or military might.

Some may consider the power of the Cross as irrelevant to the complex injustices of society or inadequate for the entrenched evils in culture or even insane in light of the horrible events of world history. But what seems weakness or foolishness to some is actually the power of God for our salvation. and that salvation is societal as well as personal. It is no accident that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a stallion. The symbolism is clear, and the contrast between the nature of Jesus’ power and the nature of political/police/military power couldn’t be more obvious.

When the church is wed to political power and then wields that power in coercive ways, the nature of the gospel is changed and the mission of the church is compromised and corrupted. What if the church (and here I mean the local worshipping congregation) focused its mission on nurturing beloved community both within the congregation and in society? Such community building and work of reconciliation requires willingness to sacrifice, courage to suffer and enduring love. These are cruciform practices, not seeking power over society but powerful persuasion of society by embodying the power of Christ’s cross.

Also, cruciform people are committed to gospel values lived and taught by Christ: love of enemies (political adversaries), welcome to sinners (those outside our comfort zone and circle of friends) and radical hospitality (friendship with all). It is hard to practice these values when we are focused on wielding our collective political will on others.  


"Deacons as Servant and Spiritual Leaders"
Dear Friends,
We are pleased and excited to let you know the deacon leadership development workbook, Exemplars: Deacons as Servant and Spiritual Leaders has been published and is available Here! All of us who have had a part in producing this resource believe that it has great potential to help congregations. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any help as you introduce Exemplars to your diaconate. Our contact information is listed below.
The content and format of this workbook is designed to encourage robust conversation within diaconates as well as between deacons, clergy and other laity. For deacons to reach their full potential as servant and spiritual leaders, thoughtful and prayerful conversation must happen. All of us grow spiritually as we listen and speak to one another with open minds and loving hearts. "Exemplars" was born and has been developed out of conversations and is offered with prayer for the Holy Spirit to use it and the conversations produced to renew today's Church.
The purpose of Exemplars is to encourage and inspire deacons to become servant and spiritual leaders as they seek to be "Exemplars" of Christ. The writing team of Guy Sayles, Mike Smith, Carol Younger and Daniel Vestal explored a matrix or framework for individual deacon development as well as formation for an entire diaconate. We believe it can be helpful as a study guide for an individual deacon but will be best used in a group format where deacons study together, hold one another accountable and offer support and encouragement. See the following testimonials.
Exemplars offers a fresh and practical approach to the "deacon function" within the family of faith. Its gift to us, through the reflections of seasoned practitioners of ministry, is to move the concept of "deacon" away from an office or a job to a way of thinking and a lifestyle. Through thoughtful and substantive observations on being, knowing, and doing, we are led away from thinking of a template used to see if one fits, toward a lens through which one can discover ways of service that connect one's personal gifts with the needs of others. As such, the ministry of deacon is presented as a partnership with Christ that any disciple can embrace as he or she moves from being a recipient of grace to being an agent of it. Those who take these reflections seriously will find their ministry enriched and challenged toward life-long refinement.
-Colin Harris
Smoke Rise Baptists
I just want you to know that since Columbia's deacon retreat in September, we've used the individual exercises and group conversations in Exemplars as the focus of small group sessions during our monthly meetings. It has been gratifying to see how engaged the deacons have been in their discussions which served to help everyone get to know our newer deacons and frankly also provided an opportunity for some of our more seasoned deacons to pass along their wisdom to others.
As we continue to carry out our present duties, I believe this has caused us to think deeper and more intentionally about our roles and that we're now better equipped to seek what other areas of service the Lord may have for us. Thanks again for spending time with us and sharing your wisdom and experience.       
-Blessings, Bruce Barr 
Columbia Baptist Church, Falls Church, VA
Deacon Ministry has been sadly misunderstood in many congregations. Some churches consider the deacons a defecto "Board of Directors," dealing exclusively with business decisions and money matters. In other places, deacons are assigned specific duties and asked to complete a church "to do list." 
Exemplars challenges us to understand the deacon as more than merely a member of a governance board or a part in an institutional machine. Carol, Mike, and Guy remind us the call to be a deacon is a spiritual one which requires a commitment to do (serve), to know (learn), and to be (embody). At Smoke Rise, this book has helped our Deacon Fellowship better understand and embrace their unique calling and better serve God and our congregation.
-Chris George, Pastor
Smoke Rise Baptist 
To order "Exemplars: Deacons as Servant and Spiritual Leaders" from Smyth and Helwys Publishing   click here.

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