A friend quipped as he was finishing seminary that when asked his post-graduation plans, he would respond, “I’m going to be a celebrity pastor.” While his tongue-in-cheek remark brought laughs, it reminded of a real temptation leaders face.
Five years ago, pastor Jamin Goggin and theologian Kyle Strobel began to see this temptation in their own lives, and noted how an unhealthy desire for power superseded their devotion to Christ. This began their journey to understand where true kingdom power comes from and what it’s ultimately for.
In Search of True Kingdom Power
Goggin and Strobel went to sages of the faith. The diverse group included evangelical theologians J. I. Packer and Marva Dawn; racial reconciliation champion John Perkins; Catholic theologian Jean Vanier (a mentor of Henri Nouwen); James Houston (founder of Regent College and co-founder of the C. S. Lewis Institute); and two prolific writers on spirituality, the late Dallas Willard and Eugene Peterson. This lineup is a major strength of the book (even if one might question a choice or two), providing insights from a diverse set of lives that exemplify kingdom power through weakness.
This journey—documented in Goggin and Strobel’s new book, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’s Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It [excerpt]—exposes how we abandon God’s source of spiritual power for worldly power across different aspects of life and ministry.
You could say the book is a treatise on spiritual power combining Paul’s warning that ministry not built on Christ will be judged by fire (1 Cor. 3:11–13) and his exhortation to “sow to the Spirit” (as opposed to the flesh) and “not give up” (Gal. 6:8–9).
Subtle and Prevalent
A thread running throughout much of the book is the subtlety and pervasiveness of abandoning God’s power in our ministries. We minister in our own strength and gifting instead of abiding in Christ for true spiritual fruit. We rely on our own strength when we “feel” strong and fail to acknowledge our weakness. We minister for personal influence, not out of the overflow of God’s love in Christ. We focus on industry techniques for growing our churches numerically, to the neglect of discipling those entrusted to our care.
Marva Dawn’s insight that Satan and evil powers are the ultimate source of “the way from below,” even in the church, will cause readers in the disenchanted West to examine themselves—and soberly think of evil across religious and societal institutions. If our enemy is “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12), then our warfare needs to correspond—by pursuing the way of the Lamb. If believed and applied, this will change the way believers think about the problems we face in the church and society, and will also deepen our dependence on God in prayer.
A particularly strong chapter deals with Perkins and his warfare of choice: love. As a leader of the civil rights movement, Perkins found himself as an innocent man nearly beaten to death by police. When thinking about his tormentors, he realized their hate reduced them to savages. He couldn’t hate them back; instead, he felt compassion and knew that only Christ’s love could effect reconciliation. In a day when evangelicals are quick to pursue artificial solutions for complex and deep-seated spiritual problems, Perkins’s much-needed demonstration of Christlike kingdom power shines brightly.
These examples highlight the urgency of adopting Christ’s path to power in an age when abandoning it is the norm.
Challenging, Refreshing Paradigm Shift
Though 2017 is barely underway, it’s safe to say The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb will be one of the year’s most important ministry books. Every ministry leader will benefit from this wake-up call for many who’ve embraced less-than-biblical attitudes toward power. It should lead some to weep, as they contemplate how much of their ministry will be burned up in the end (1 Cor. 3:12–14). It should also serve as a fresh call to Spirit-led ministry, flowing from humble abiding in Jesus (John 15:1–5).
Truths from this book have rattled my soul. I’ve wondered how pervasive the way of the dragon is in my life and in evangelical culture. We can so easily conform to the ways of the world as we lead—unwitting tools in the enemy’s hand. We need to grasp where true power comes from (God) and what true power is for (love). In a world trapped in sin and destruction, we offer life and peace.
Goggin and Strobel’s hope (and mine as well) is that leaders will be brought to repentance for misusing power and be compelled to more deeply abide in Christ. Only grasping where power comes from and what it’s for will silence the worldly and spiritual powers as we behold the true power and love of our Savior.