Book Promotion: The Power of Healthy Leadership

Leadership is not a title, a performance, or mere occupation. It is a sacred relationship creating ripple effects, for both good and bad. This book is about stewardship leaders, who are both the humblest and stubbornest people on the planet. Today in our “pro-choice” environment freedom is about choosing, the more choices the better. For stewards, freedom is about being chosen, knowing who you are, with assigned roles and tasks.  Thus, healthy results radiate outward into your community, church, or workplace. Life becomes more gracious, business more successful, and the church more effective when you follow a call.

Central Concept: We are in a leadership crisis today. Without proper grounding, self-appointed leaders are harming basic community building from the family to the nation. The thesis of this handbook is that healthy leaders have the hearts of stewards. Properly understanding our unique LUTHERAN HERITAGE releases incredible spiritual and relational power which in turn builds healthy followers.

Takeaway Values:

  • Readers will learn why leadership is harder today, yet be motivated to hear God’s call.
  • Readers will understand that leadership is not a title. It is not even an occupation. Leadership is more an art than a science, less a performance than a sacred relationship. When we face a problem, we almost always start looking for a program, some method with which to attack the crisis. But when God sets out to solve issues, he always starts with a person. The Holy Spirit calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
  • Readers will discover that there is a rich LUTHERAN theology of leadership, underutilized yet critically needed, which puts individual character at the forefront.
  • Readers will gain insights and encouragement to grow in vision, courage, integrity, as they build their team and understand the riddle of power.

Unique Features:

  • Each Chapter focuses on biblical characters, discovering healthy and unhealthy models of stewardship.
  • This handbook is complete, in that all major issues of leadership are included.
  • Personal experiences of the author, his friends, and historical figures, illustrate every point.
  • Rather than focusing on gimmicks for success, each chapter focuses on the theology which produces long-term healthy results.
  • Each section concludes with Reflection Questions for personal or small group discussion

Organization: The book is divided into an introduction followed by six chapters. The first chapter is foundational, sharing the surprising power and freedom God’s calling gives us. The succeeding chapters address the stewardship of vision (two), heart (three), community (four), opportunities (five), and finally power (six).

Click here to purchase the book, published by Pinnacle House Press, and available on Amazon.

Acedia and Appetite

As we entered 2022, and I faced the deadline for this article, I found myself struggling with what to write; what topic did I find compelling enough to spend time seriously reflecting upon?  What in the Church’s life was I passionate enough about at the moment that I thought I could add something substantive to Her discussion and deliberation?

Surprisingly for me, I had trouble identifying that thing.  Oh, sure, there was plenty that concerned me, problems around which my thoughts tend to eddy and swirl as I seek some pastoral, theological, philosophical, or practical understanding, strategy, or stance, but what was lacking was the passion that typically makes me put pen to paper — or hands to keyboard.

Passion… it is a word with a storied history in the Church.  In my first ecclesial job as a youth minister, our church’s youth ministry decorated the youth room wall with the words “Faith, Passion, Service.”  Upon visiting, a colleague commented, “Passion is something I think my youth already have plenty of… I’d think more about discouraging that.”

But the Church Fathers — the pastors during the Church’s greatest period of missionary expansion did not feel that way.  C. S. Lewis has introduced many modern Christians to the distinctions between the four Greek words for love through his book The Four Loves, and as a result, many Christians think of storge (affection), philos (friendship), and eros (infatuation with the beloved, not necessarily sexual) as immature or degenerate in comparison to the New Testament standard of agape, Christ’s own self-sacrificial love.

But this is not the way the Church Fathers spoke.  They spoke of God’s divine eros that burned for lost humanity so completely it agape’d the world enough to give His only Son… to give Himself.  Far from fearing passion, a Church whose largely convert members had drunk deeply of the wine of Roman success, who had tasted fruits imported from every corner of the conquered empire (now redubbed “the civilized world”), who had participated fully in the “good life,” the Pax Romana for which so many had given their lives in labor or battle, had come to realize that far from their passion being too great, it was too small.  This was a Church quite literally world-weary, who would have agreed whole-heartedly with Lewis when he preached in war time,

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[1]

They would have agreed with this because they made a distinction that we post-enlightenment, postmodern, post-truth people, whatever our religious convictions, fail to make.  It has been noted by some that we represent “psychological man,” products of what Charles Taylor terms in his eponymous book A Secular Age.  We are people who, however we think of ourselves — straight or gay, cis-gendered or trans, conservative or progressive, believing or unbelieving, a sack of meat directed by selfish genes or made in the image of God — we are a people who almost ineluctably conceive of our identities as emerging from a murky subconscious that is fundamentally comprised of appetites. 

For us, love is almost always conceived of as downstream from appetites in which we are not fundamentally different from animals.  I have 1600 hours of C.P.E. to my credit, and I can tell you that while theological conversation is by no means absent from my cohort groups, it must always be respectfully conditional (to make room for disparate, even conflicting convictions), but the psychological theories that form the substance of our didactics are not so much deferred to as referenced in ways that establish their authority.  These theories, whether Freudian, Behavioral, Object-Relations, or of some other school, all stipulate appetite (conceived of as need) as fundamental and love as an experience later articulated on the basis of such.  Appetite is the water within which we swim, the air we breathe to nourish our sense of self.

This was forcibly brought home to me by my daughter when at age nine she ebulliently showed me one of her bug-eyed Beanie Baby stuffed animals.  After waxing eloquent about how much she loved it, she paused then thoughtfully added, “but you know, I’m pretty much programmed to feel this way about it because it has big eyes.  All mammals are programmed to respond to their babies that way.”  As she skipped back merrily to her play, I not only celebrated inwardly that somehow the brute biological “fact” had not diminished her childish joy, but marveled that this Christian homeschooled, thoroughly-churched girl without social media or unsupervised internet access had somehow been catechized so thoroughly by our culture’s tacit view of humanity… I hoped she would not later be seduced by its reductionism, the storge of a mother for her child diminished to mere genetic necessity.

The Great Tradition of the Church views humanity very differently, in a way that should not sit as peacefully alongside our modern biological and psychological conceptions, as it too often does. If we are truly made in the image of God, the template of our souls is not the paltry desire that modernity stipulates and Kierkegaard lamented.  Rather, what is fundamental to our identities is love — a divine eros that burns hotter than we can imagine, for “our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)

The ascetic tradition of the Church cautions us about passion, but in this, it does not mean the passion of love — any of the four loves about which Greek is so articulate in comparison to English.  Our elder brothers and sisters in the faith knew well from personal experience that appetite could easily obscure love as the prime mover of the soul, for it offered easier and immediate (albeit temporary and incomplete) satiation of the desire that is one of the many aspects of love.  Love desires the beloved, not as a possession but as simply its object, the sun around which it orbits.  A robustly Christian anthropology would see appetite as parasitically imitating love, seeking to consume or possess the thing or person desired, not as the foundation upon which rarified “conceptions” of love would later be built.

The seeds of ascetic Christian spirituality are already evident in 1 Corinthians. There the Apostle Paul states:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.[2]

We must not let the force of the Apostle’s words here be softened as I have heard too many well-meaning preachers do into weak-kneed warnings, back-handed reassurances that we might not “finish well.”  The salvation that is by grace through faith may be lost — we may be disqualified — if our appetites convince us that their satiation is the face God’s love takes for us, if our trust in them slowly but decisively supplants our faith in Christ.

The sexuality debates that have riven the Church of late should put a recognizable face on the process, at least for readers of this periodical, but I do not wish to direct this warning toward those who have appetites with which I do not struggle; I need this strong medicine myself, as the consumerism of our unbelieving culture’s annual Christmas bacchanal has brought into sharp focus for me.  I say, “brought into sharp focus,” because what I am seeing as I write this reflection is true of me all year around; though I call myself a Christian, though I believe I have faith, the shape of my life (which reflects the shape of my soul) is still largely formed by the unsanctified narratives of our cultural moment.  My life is far more driven by appetite than I would care to admit on most days.  I too often shop for new theological books rather than re-read those in my library whose arguments I have digested but whose wisdom eludes me in the daily practice of Christian discipleship.  I too often tune-in to pedagogic YouTube videos rather than practice my guitar.  I too often numb the pain of a day in which I have dealt with the tragic consequences of life in a world ruled by the power of death and the devil or the sinful choices of people who know better with a scotch or a mindless movie than with prayer and time with the Great Physician who alone can heal my infirmities.  Too often, my appetites direct my activity rather than my faith.

In that last sentence, I nearly wrote, “my appetites dictate my activity.”  The great hope we have — the promise of discipleship and evangelical freedom — is that I used the proper verb, and that with the help of the Holy Spirit, our history need not be our destiny.  To be sure, “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves,” but while we are bound, Christ is not and He may direct us differently.

I am coming to believe we focus so much on what we are saved from that we too often neglect what we are saved for.  The 2007 film Amazing Grace about the life of William Wilberforce begins with his motion to abolish slavery being defeated on the floor of the British Parliament because some of those who had promised to vote for it were given tickets to the Comic Opera by his opposition.  The modern equivalent would be binge-watching a Netflix series when, led by the Spirit through our faith, we should be praying, consoling someone, enjoying time with a friend, reading Scripture or similarly engaged.  How many key moments have each of us missed when, through Jesus Christ, God had a Spirit-led motion upon the floor of our lives?  Appetites distract, dim, and partially satisfy, making us forget — and so fail to enjoy — the promise of the freedom for which we were saved.

The acedia, the sloth, the deadly sin of passionless-ness with which I began this little reflection is a sign to me that I have been too much with my appetites, that they have been directing me in spiritually unhealthy ways, leading me to seek satisfaction too often on the penultimate rather than the ultimate.  I generally love the Christmas season, but this year for the first time I found myself discontent and eager for Twelfth Night to arrive so we could begin the process of undecorating.  This year, for the first time I understood in my bones the words of the twentieth century theologian who said, “the only time I don’t feel like a hypocrite is when I am in liturgy.”

The feast of Christmas is over, and I am ready for the fasting of Lent to begin, not because I cannot bear to feast, but so that the joy of feasting — dining with Our Lord — may return.


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

[2] 1 Corinthians 9:24–27 (ESV)

Why They May Not Hear You

Have you ever preached the Gospel
to people who don’t care about anything but the present moment?  Or to put it differently, can you imagine
sharing the good news with people who don’t believe that the past and future
have any claim on today? 

Past, Present, Future

A Facebook group to which I belong recently shared a “Preaching Moment” video by Thomas G. Long, homiletics professor at the Candler School of Theology, in which he addresses this situation.  According to Long, the so-called “narrative” mode of preaching has become less effective in recent years because fewer people view their lives as a story with a past, present, and future.   

“The narrative mode of preaching addressed this need: the need is, I have heard the gospel; I know the biblical message, but I am not existentially engaged with it,” Long explains.  “And therefore I need to move from knowledge to delight.”  Narrative preaching seeks to move listeners from passive knowledge of the Gospel to a lively faith in it by telling stories that help listeners see themselves within the grand narrative of Scripture. 

Location on the Timeline

But you know how stories work: they
typically connect the past, present, and future, making sense of how one event
touches another.  What if the culture to
which you preach lacks that sense of time? 
That is, what if it lacks not only knowledge of the biblical narrative
but also what Long calls narrative
, the ability to view things in chronological relationship and
locate oneself within that timeline? 

Referencing an Oxford scholar named Galen Strawson, Long points to the rise of people who understand themselves in this “episodic” way.  People who think “episodically” know that certain things happened to them in years past, but they insist that those things don’t have a material effect on who they are today.  Moreover, they don’t view their present in light of any anticipated future. 

Instead, the present moment alone becomes the workshop of identity.  A person’s origins, experiences, and ultimate destination have no necessary bearing on beliefs and moral decisions.  “Who I am today may not be who I am tomorrow” — we’ll have to wait and see.  (You may read Strawson’s argument here.)

You and I, like Long, may disagree with this episodic interpretation of human nature.  It seems, perhaps, a bit defensive, like an argument for how someone wants things to be more than a confession of how things really are.  But now consider some of the trends that we see in our culture and churches. 

Trends and Doom

In the realm of identity politics and intersectional theory, both personal and national identities can be forged through hard breaks with the past that disavow its relevance for the present.  Perhaps the past is viewed as too oppressive or indecent for serious consideration, even to the point of rejecting the literary and artistic accomplishments of prior eras due to their supposed moral degeneracy. 

Likewise, scientific and
quasi-scientific foretelling of the earth’s future can sometimes paint such a
vision of doom as to deny any real future at all.  Ecological prophecy can leave people anywhere
from dismal about tomorrow to blithely unconcerned about it.  The future looks as impossible as the past
looks dangerous, rendering both irrelevant for the present.

Torching the Church’s Past

We have whiffs of this episodic malaise
in the church, too.  Some of its leaders seem
intent on torching the church’s past, perhaps deeming it too white, too
capitalist, or too cis.  Better, they
say, to remake the church in light of present sensibilities alone.  Others, in their radical calls for social
justice, appear almost to despair of any future change, their cries
increasingly vengeful.  Where, one might
wonder, is their enlivening hope in the advent of Christ?  You can always smell a church without a
Christ-centered vision of the future, especially if you’ve had prior experience
in smelling corpses.

How Now Shall We Respond?

So Strawson and Long may have
touched on something significant.  Their
reflections dovetail with what others have noted about the growth of a “new
paganism” in America, given that many non-traditional spiritualities also lack
a clearly linear conception of time.  
But now the question is: how shall confessing Lutherans respond? 

First, we should answer for
ourselves the basic challenges that the episodic mindset poses to our
confession of faith.  For example, speaking
of forgiveness necessarily assumes the relevance of both the past and the
future to the present.  Forgiveness only
matters as part of a story where people are otherwise responsible for their
past action and face condemnation in the future.  But why should that be?  Why should my actions yesterday have any
claim on who I am today?  Don’t Lutherans
believe in a “new Adam and Eve rising daily” before God? 

Why the Past and Future Matter

In response, Lutherans might start
with what we consider the hallmark condition for freedom and life before God: “the
righteous shall live by faith.”  Trust in
Christ justifies the sinner, Scripture says, and just a little reflection on
the nature of faith will reveal why the past and future matter as much as the present. 

Simply put, trust is necessary for
happiness.  It is trust that allows us to
form commitments that provide us with daily security and open the future to
such fundamental things as love and family.  
At the same time, trust thrives on the past and anticipates a future.  Whether it’s trust in God or trust in our
neighbor, faith in anyone depends on the reliability of that person, a
reliability that is only known through the narrative of that person’s past.  As a colleague of mine points out, you may
consider yourself as free of your past as you wish, but your boss may have
other thoughts.  A boss relies on your
dependability in anticipation of the company’s future success. 

Why Trade Freedom for Bondage?

Having reflected on those
connections between happiness, trust, and time, confessing Lutherans may then critique
the episodic mentality and answer its challenges with the renewing Word.  By way of the Law, we may press a culture
that seeks to ignore the past and future with a simple question: why would you
trade freedom for bondage?  Why give up
the necessary conditions for trust
and commitment and love (the life God would have for

Indeed, why not acknowledge things
for how they really are, even if it means finding yourself saddled with a
history of wrong?  Facing our past error ultimately
sets the stage for greater trust, commitment, and love in the future by
exposing our unreliability and asserting that both God and we hope to end

Then, having exposed the happy
life’s dependence on both the past and the future, we may introduce the
narrative of God’s utter dependability.  His
trustworthiness, pictured through the history of Israel and fulfilled in Jesus,
not only justifies the existence of sinners now — they exist for His glory, as
it turns out — but it also opens the future with the promise of their ultimate
healing.  Preaching this faithfulness of
God starts to root a rootless culture into His narrative. 

Rise of the New Adam

It also allows us to grant the
episodic mindset at least one gracious nod. 
Inherent to episodic thinking is the desire to be continually new.  As noted earlier, some might say that
thinking episodically is good Lutheranism. 
“Don’t Lutherans believe in a new Adam or Eve emerging daily?”  Yes, it is essential to faith in Holy Baptism!   Recognizing that the past and future play a
role in shaping identity should never steal from the believer that fresh joy of

But now we can see what makes such joy possible.  The believer only comes to newness of life by trusting God’s trustworthiness over the sinner’s unreliability.  That is, it only comes by way of repentance, and that repentance is made possible only through trust in God’s mighty works and what they promise in the world to come.  Only through this intersection of the Biblical narrative and one’s personal narrative does the New Adam arise. 

A man tries to fix a broken hour glass in the forest.

I’m not writing these reflections to advocate a renewal of narrative preaching.  To the contrary, I agree with Long that the narrative preaching of the last century has probably enjoyed its heyday.  But consideration of how the church and its neighbors divide over one key aspect of narrative (time!) may help us speak the Gospel.  It may lead us to understand better why some people are not hearing us, and how we may overcome that divide with the good news that turns past, present, and future into a really good time.

Weekly Devotional for November 17, 2017

“ . . . so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)

“Just remember, it’s not about you.”  Those were the last words I heard before I preached for the first time.  A senior at Valparaiso University, I was about to deliver the homily at one of the daily chapel services.  The chaplain assistant leading matins, who could probably see my nerves at work, leaned over and whispered, “Just remember, it’s not about you.”

There’s freedom in those words, whatever our walk of life: the freedom to let go of ourselves, even forget ourselves, and simply hand ourselves over to the task at hand.  And according to the apostle Paul, it is this same freedom that stands behind salvation in Jesus Christ.  Even there, it’s not about us: it’s about God demonstrating that He is just.  

While that promise may irritate our old selves (they always like to be at the center of attention!), it makes God’s forgiveness of you even more true and certain.  His decision to redeem, His sacrifice on the cross, and His proclamation of that redemption for you rest not on you, but entirely on Him who is eternal, the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

LET US PRAY: Lord God of hosts, You have raised up preachers, teachers, and martyrs in every age to bear witness to You.  We laud and magnify Your justice; we adore Your beloved Son; and we pray for Your continued grace upon our way; in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau

Weekly Devotional for October 25, 2017

“[Jesus said] to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”  (Matthew 22:21)

What a horrifying statement.  Is our Lord Jesus Christ actually suggesting that some things don’t belong to God?  Is He giving Christians permission to participate in the sinful institutions of man?  Doesn’t He know that God wants us to be perfect, as He is perfect? (Matthew 5:48)

First, no; second and third, yes.  Of course our Lord knows that all things belong to God.  Engaging debate as a good rabbi, He simply makes a thought-provoking distinction with few words and a strong image.  But yes, He is giving His followers the freedom to participate in government, economy, and other institutions of this world, and He does so precisely because He knows that our Father wants us to be perfect as He is perfect.

For the Father’s perfection is known in this: His beloved Son assumed the flesh of this world, and dwelt and worked among sinners, for the sake of redeeming them—He even assumed the sin of the world on the cross.  Thus gifting us with His enduring friendship, God frees us—He frees you—to take on the burdens of your neighbors, too, even in something as sinful as government or (gasp!) capitalism, for the sake of love, kindness, and mercy.

LET US PRAY:  Father, Your perfection makes all things perfect!  Grant me such faith in Your Son’s mercy towards me that I take up the yoke of loving as He has first loved me; in His name I pray.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau