Cutting Edge magazine, Summer 1999. A publication of Vineyard USA.
We said, "Take the gloves off, Dallas. Tell us what we really need to hear." We had read
all of Dallasí books and been deeply impacted by themónot least by his
latest, The Divine Conspiracy. But Brian had just finished presenting some
thoughts on new models of leadershipóleaders marked not so much by conquest
and technique, but by spiritual goodness and wisdom. And so we sat there,
slumped pensively in our chairs, until someone finally said,
"Dallas...please talk to us about how we become those kind of people."
So, during a break, Dallas began listing some of his thoughts on a whiteboard.
And then in his gracious, careful way, he challenged us to become the kind of
leaders this world so desperately needs. The following is some of what he told
1. People are constantly looking for methods. God is looking for men. Methods are often temporary, but what God is looking for is a life. God is
far less interested in your results than the person you are becoming. Many
people in our life have tried to substitute results for what they lacked: joy,
relationship, character. This part of your existence is a very short part of all
of it, and probably you will not be a pastor in the next part.
2. You must be a person who doesnít need his job, who finds his personal sufficiency in God. If you donít have
this one down, you will drive yourself nuts. You will be torn between pleasing
people and pleasing God. You will be torn between your own integrity and what
people who donít understand are saying about you. You wonít be able to lead
like this. You will find yourself caught between two different driving forces,
and your only resource is an internal sufficiency before the Lord.
3. In order to
carry that out, you have to have a strategy for constant renewal. Start by looking at
what has strengthened you in the past and cultivate that. Donít regard such
activities as peripheral, but central. Of course, Iíve written a whole book on
spiritual disciplines, but I think we all know what to do. Sometimes this will
mean giving up sleep, and sometimes strengthening yourself may mean getting
4. You need
things that are not directly a part of your ministry that give you a kind of
rootedness. These could, of
course, include things that would help you in your ministry. For example, if you
love literature, your love of words will help you speak and write. Powerful
language is one of the greatest benefits to a minister. Iíve watched for
decades how ministers who can really use language will know how to say things in
a way that people who are not as adept with words cannot. Part of that, of
course, is knowing the language of the Bible. Memorize it. Soak it in. Make it a
part of your whole life. That will be in itself a strategy for personal renewal.
5. Write. Not to publish, but
write. Writing is one of the surest ways to hone your sense of what you are
saying. You must be able to say things with force and clarity. Write out your
sermonsóeven if you donít use the manuscript. Write out your thoughts. Copy
things out of books. One of your greatest assets in church planting is the power
of your words. People are desperate to hear something good.
6. Know your
Bible. Generally speaking,
seminary training does not make people adept in working with the Bible. Your
life and your Bible should start forming a seamless whole. Wear out your Bible.
Read it in large stretches, and repeatedly. Read the New Testament in one go.
Set aside time so that you can read through the New Testament five times in one
week. Take notes, because you will get stuff that will be life-giving.
pretend anything. Eliminate
pretending from your repertoire. That will be wonderfully helpful in becoming
the kinds of leaders the world desperately needs. We often pretend we are
interested in things we are not, for example, or that we know things we donít
know. One of the lies commonly told in my university context is, "Oh yes, Iíve
read that book." We may pretend to have accomplished things we havenít
accomplished. We can be evasive. To be "an Israelite in whom there is no
guile" is a great strength in the battle of life. Actually, people will
forgive you many things they might otherwise get mad at you about if you are
I have a three step plan for humility:
a. never pretend
b. never presume
c. never push.
Most of the things
that we try to accomplish go according to the saying: "Things that can be
pulled canít be pushed, and things that can be pushed canít be pulled."
Most of what weíre doing canít be pushed; it has to be drawn out at the
8. Listen to
your critics. Proverbs says,
"Rebuke a wise man and heíll love you for it." Listen not with the
attitude, "I donít deserve this, theyíre dead wrong." Lay it down
and just listen, see what you can learn. Practice walking off without reply.
What goes along
with this is, donít defend yourself. Now, sometimes you need to explain
yourself. But this is a fine line. If you are actually doing this to help the
person, you are not defending yourself. When we are in a ministry that is going
through change, then we do need to help people. But to defend yourself is
hopeless. You have a Defender and you let him do his job.
9. Grow in
making distinctions for people. For example, I
believe we should never be in a hurry. But sometimes we should act quickly.
Acting quickly is a form of action. Being in a hurry is a state of mind. Another
example: When talking about spiritual disciplines, one of my slogans that I use
to help people with the difference between works and grace is that "Grace
is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude;
effort is an action." Itís very important to help people grasp these
distinctions, and often once you state them for people, it can be like a flash
of insight for them.
10. Identify what you admire, and stay with it. What do you think is really good in your work, and in others that you know? No matter what it isóand
it will often be associated with someone who you think is really doing that
particular thing wellóstick with it. Vacillation hurts us very badly in
relation to our success as ministers. Find whatís good in your work and stick
with it and make it better.
For example, if you
find some topic that is especially helpful, donít just take one shot at it and
drop it. Develop it. Certainly thatís true of much that I have written. I have
never asked to publish a book; theyíve all come because people have heard of
what Iíve said. Richard Fosterís and my work on disciplines all came out of
a half-page outline that I did in the late 1960s, and we just started working on
How would you balance that with Paulís admonition to teach the whole counsel of God? Iíve
seen churches built around just one or two things, and thereís no balance or
health there. What you do is to
look for the others in the church who contribute in the other areas, and you
develop them. And you must develop a sense of who to bring in to balance things
out. You order things so there is a range of teaching. Billy Graham has a real
gift. But if you had to listen to Billy Graham preach every Sunday, youíd say,
"This is not the best for the church."
Another thing we need to do consciously is talk about
success. In another age it might have been enough for your people to know that
you are devoted and that you are called of God. But we live in a world where
this issue is enough to drive anyone nuts. You have people constantly surveying,
"Is this a success?" I often imagine people handing out little
questionnaires at the end of the Sermon on the Mount about whether or not it was
a success. I would teach about this, especially in the midst of a process where
many groups will misunderstand one another about how we reach a world such as
Would "faithfulness" be a word that should
replace "success"? I donít think so.
I think itís more complicated than that. I think success has to do with
producing results. But what kind of results? Iím not big on the saying that
"All God requires is that we be faithful." Iím sure that thereís a
lot to that, but itís not all. Faithfulness means means more than just doing
the same things over and over. I would say that, in our faithfulness, one of the
things we do is changeóand sometimes we need to change before God will respond
to our efforts.
So what do you
think constitutes success for a pastor in the postmodern era? I think in any era
it must mean the spiritual growth of the people. We may understand that a little
differently in a modern versus a postmodern context, but that has to be a given.
I would suggest that you float the idea that a church could grow not by having
more Christians but larger Christians. Of course, my view is that if you have
larger Christians, youíre going to have a lot more of them, too.
would like to see in the churches for making disciples? Iíll tell you
something very direct and very simple: Preach on the Kingdom of God. People just
donít do it. My general counsel for making disciplesóand something I follow
as much as I have opportunityóis to preach what Jesus preached in the manner
Jesus preached it.
What I mean is that
Jesus preached the Gospel in the style of manifesting and teaching about the
Kingdom of God. And, of course, manifesting will include signs and wonders. But
I think if you dig into the Gospels and do your background studies, you will see
how Jesus taught. He taught in a manner very much like what weíve been doing
here for these couple of days together. He didnít get up and put on a big
production. Perhaps what we need to do is spend a lot of time sitting around
talking to people in this same manner.
This would include
having lots of occasions for lengthy talks of a conversational sort, responding
to questions, bringing the approach Jesus uses in Matthew 13 into playóteaching
about the Kingdom in the context of our ordinary life. Most of Jesusí
teachings about the reality of the Kingdom come out of commonplace parables and
stories from everyday life.
I think Jesus
confused people a lot with the parables. I always feel like Iíve failed people
if I havenít been completely clear, or if I engender controversy and conflict.
Jesus seemed unconcerned with that. Iím trying to give myself permissionóif
I interact with people and they get into lively discussions after I leaveóthat
You have done them
a real favor. I claim that you cannot understand what Jesus taught until you
understand how he taught. The precise point of it is that he did not teach by
systematically laying things out. He taught by catching people in the flight of
their assumptions and letting the air out of their balloons. And they didnít
need a recorder or a pad to jot it down, because their heads were buzzing and
probably they were blushing half the way home. Jesus does that constantly.
whenever you see Jesus teaching, "Blessed are the poor," you have to
see what assumption it is that heís letting the air out of. If you donít
understand that, youíll decide that itís a good thing to be poor. And youíll
say, "Jesus said it." Or, "Woe to you who laugh." You guys
here in this room are in real trouble! Heís not talking about laughing being a
terrible thing. What heís getting at, if you read the "woes," is a
list of precisely what we think of as being "on top of the world:"
Rich, good reputation, good health, laughing it up. So you have to understand
what heís aiming at.
We have to stop
trying to systematically make sure that everybody "gets" everything.
We shut their minds down when we do that. Some of you know that, in many parts
of the world, if you do that to a person they will be insulted! They donít
want you to grab them by the ears and stuff it down their throats and say,
"Have you got it?" They want you to talk in a way that leaves them
free to think and negotiate and come back. Itís regarded as bad taste to lay
it all out as though they were idiots. In our culture our educational system has
trained us to want it all laid out, because weíve had to spit it all back on a
Dallas, how can
you apply Jesusí methodówhich seems like a situational approachóto our
preaching, where we speak to a wide range of people all coming from different
places of maturity and mindsets? The main thing is
to identify the assumptions your people are resting on that are holding them up.
Charles Finney said that the main job of the minister is to study the
assumptions of the people to whom he speaks. What are the assumptions that are
impeding spiritual growth and progress? We must be alive to peopleís mental
Now, of course, we
have to combine this with the realities of our situation. If you fail the
expectations of your people too much, they wonít hear a word you say. So
teaching in this way requires great grace and wisdom. But I would say in that,
in general, even given the dynamics of speaking in a large auditorium, make it
as conversational in style as possible, and give people time to think. Donít
just rattle on. Literally pause.
Watch how Jesus teaches in the Gospels and you will
see that he always discusses things in a way in which he does not state
everything. Many times, he would put something "out there" and just
leave it. So identify the assumptions in a loving, gentle, humorous way, ask
them a question to which theyíre going to give the wrong answer, and then
gently point out why the answer is wrong. (Of course, I will usually say,
"Now donít answer this," because I donít want them to be
embarrassed! I want them to have thought of the wrong answer.)
Are there more things we can do, other strategies? Do something incremental, something in your skills
that keeps growing. For example, writing, or teaching, or praying. Something
that keeps developing incrementally, and which doesnít depend on where you are
living. Donít look for the great leap forward. It will probably not come.
I donít know how much memorization of Scripture you do, but itís one of the most renewing
things I do. I love Colossians 3. Romans 8. The Psalms. To take that stuff in is
to fill oneís self with a literal life-force.
Make sure that you rest well. Enjoy your family. And
be sure you have times when you donít have anything to do.