Why Flourish?

Psalm 1 tree

Psalm 1:1-3
1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 But whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

 

John 15 vine

John 15:1-8
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

 

THE SCRIPTURES AND GOOD LIFE WITH GOD
What are the ways that Scripture presents good life with God? This will not be an exhaustive answer to this question, but a brief overview of some key biblical themes informing its vision of good life with God.

In the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), the basic view of the good life is obedience to God. The righteous are blessed and the wicked are cursed. A prime example is in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 which is an invitation to choose God’s way as the “way of life” over disobedience and death.

The Wisdom Literature, especially the book of Proverbs, gives detailed attention to the nature of human well-being and guidance for the good life. As in the Pentateuch, there is concern for the way of righteousness which is functionally synonymous with the way of wisdom. Wisdom is associated with life and wickedness is associated with death (i.e. 2:18-19; 4:4; 11:19). Consequently, wisdom is like a “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). Wisdom is compared to a “tree of life” (3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4) or flourishing plants (11:18). In the regular rhythms of creation, a well-lived life makes human well-being more possible.

As part of the Wisdom Literature, we then come to the book of Job which calls into question and thus expands the idea that obedience brings blessings and disobedience brings curses. The story of Job raises the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?” Job’s “friends” ask about his sin in order to find a reason to blame him and thus make meaning of the tragedies Job faced. While Job is confident of his righteousness, he comes to God, trying to make sense of his profound losses. God eventually responds and replies to Job with many questions, communicating that He is God and that both God and human experiences (especially of suffering) are mysterious, transcending human comprehension.

Throughout the Old Testament is the Hebrew notion of shalom. Shalom, often translated as “peace,” means that things are as they ought to be. Shalom has three connotations of meaning. First, it refers to material and physical states of affairs, meaning well-being and prosperity. For instance, in Gen. 37:14, Joseph is asked by his father, Jacob, to check on the shalom of his brothers and of the cattle. So, one meaning is physical well-being, meaning the absence of war, disease, and famine. Second, it refers to social relationships. More than positive relationships, it includes right relationships or the idea of justice, including good relationships between nations. The idea of justice and righteousness linked with shalom is envisioned in the future (Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-9 and Jer. 23:5-6). Thus, shalom can mean just relationships between individuals and nations. Third, it has an ethical or moral meaning, and is used as the opposite of deceit. To be a “person of shalom,” means straightforwardness, honesty, and integrity. To summarize, shalom means that things are as they ought to be in the material world, in relationships, and in personal character or as they will one day be in God’s good future. Similar to shalom was the idea of blessedness. Being “blessed” in the Hebrew sense did not merely mean one’s spirit, but included the whole of human existence.

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), “the kingdom of God” is the reign and rule of God that is coming through the person and ministry of Jesus. It is both a futre hope (Matthew 6:9-13) and present in his ministry (Matthew 12:28). The kingdom of God includes the ordering of human life under God’s rule. This re-ordering will eventually result in the renewal of all creation. In other words, the kingdom of God is as wide as the entire cosmos and yet as detailed as the stuff of human existence. This is exemplified by the individual healings, exorcisms, and extensions of forgiveness offered by Jesus. Also in the Synoptic Gospels, the reality of salvation has implications for human flourishing. The Greek term sozo can be translated saved or healed. The concepts of salvation and healing are not synonymous, but interrelated.

When we turn to the Gospel of John, we find less discussion about the kingdom of God (though not entirely absent), and more about the notion of “eternal life.” Eternal life is life in relationship with God, “abundant life” or life in the “light.” Jesus said, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is bound up with loving Jesus and keeping his commandments (John 14:15-24; 15:9-11). The Father and Son abide in one another (John 10:38; 14:10-11, 20; 17:21, 23). The Son and the disciples abide in one another (6:56; 14:20; 15:4-7; 17:23). So, as his disciples, we are to abide in Christ as Christ abides in the Father. The result: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11); Also, “I have come that you may have life and life to the full/abundant life” (John 10:10).

When we turn to the Pauline epistles, we find Paul engaging the churches, reflecting upon what has happened in Christ and bringing it to bear on their life together. In one sense, much discussion is related to their corporate (and thus individual) life “in Christ” and “in the Spirit.” One good example is Paul’s discussion of the fruits of the Spirit versus fruits of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-25). Instead of looking to the law for their identity and righteousness, Paul advocates the new life “in Christ” and the pursuit of life “in the Spirit” which is a life of love in community.

Though a much more detailed and rigorous discussion is required, we can summarize some key themes. From the whole sweep of creation to new creation, in His creating and redeeming, God is clearly on the side of human flourishing. This is very good news. The way of life with God is the way toward a flourishing, human life. Though in the present fallen creation, in the present time when the kingdom of God is present “now” but is “not yet” complete, life is not without challenge, sacrifice, loss, and suffering. Until the resurrection, we do not experience untouchable emotional, relational, or physical wholeness. Such an expectation is a misguided secular or theological fantasy. Therefore, our posture is to be one of gratitude for the many things that God gives us for life and stewardship of the manifold resources we are given for life. In the varied events of our lives, sometimes we are called to prayerfully “fight” for life and other times we can only surrender to God in the circumstances that don’t go how we desire. So, we are to both pray and work for the fullness of the God’s kingdom as well as groan and wait for its fullness. Through it all, we do not relinquish hope of good life with God, but hold onto it until its full realization in the restoration of all things.

 

WHAT IS WELL-BEING?
Wheel of colorsContemporary scientific views of “wellness” are commensurate with a Hebrew anthropology in recognizing that human wellness is about the whole person and all aspects of their lives. For example, Bill Hetler, M.D., co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, recognizes six dimensions of human wellness: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and occupational. Dr. Jack Travis and Regina Ryan, The Wellness Workbook, engage twelve areas: self-responsibility and love, breathing, sensing, eating, moving, feeling, thinking, playing & working, communicating, intimacy, finding meaning, and transcending. These are but two somewhat recent scientific visions of human wellness.

A biblical view of humans (theological anthropology) informs its view of well-being. Since biblical anthropology is holistic, biblical thought on health and well-being includes the whole person, body, mind, soul/spirit, relationships, and even the environment of the creation, indeed the whole cosmos. Theologically and scientifically, we can say that human well-being is holistic, complex, and interrconnected.

Complete well-being and wholeness is reserved until the final renewal of all things. Nevertheless, the various components of human well-being are to be received as gifts, stewarded and managed well, and extended to others as love. It is noteworthy that love is often demonstrated by the care of another’s well-being (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-37; James 2:14-17). Similarly, managing our own well-being can be part of a godly self-love. This has practical consequences especially for those who lead and influence others.

 

THE VITAL MISSING PIECE: THE WELL-BEING OF LEADERS
The “being” of a person may at first sound elusive, yet in vernacular, we refer to a person’s “well-being” when we mean their overall health, physically, mentally, relationally, and spiritually. Good well-being means that one is thriving as a human person. The well-being of a leader is vital for the well-being of churches and other ministries. However, there is now a gap in what is provided for in the formation of leaders.

The “being” aspect of leadership preparation is not often adequately addressed in contemporary Western seminary settings or leadership training programs. To substantiate such a claim, one need only look in two places: (1) the curriculum of contemporary seminaries and (2) statistics concerning the well-being of pastors and Christian leaders. To summarize, (1) the contemporary Western seminary curriculum primarily continues in its approximate two-hundred year old tradition called the “theological encyclopedia” approach with a four-fold division of courses: Biblical studies, church history, theology, and ministry courses. The roots of the seminary can be traced to the European universities. Before the European universities, theological learning goes back to the monastery. During the 12th century, centers of theological and intellectual enquiry migrated from the monastic communities to the cathedral “schools.” From these schools birthed the European universities. With this move, theology came to be located in universities dedicated to the life of the mind, yet separated from the monastic communities which focused on an ordered life and a disciplined community. Seminaries have attempted to hold onto their monastic roots with weekly prayer or chapel or other corporate practices, but have too often neglected the formation of the whole person encompassing the entirety of their life. Consequently, the curriculum of modern seminaries only rarely addresses issues of the pastor’s character, spiritual life, family life, healthy friendships, healthy responses to stress, grief, and conflict, finances or a theology of self-care. Yet, these are the areas which are often the biggest challenges in the life of a leader. For the preparation of leaders today, theological education is needed, yet such education must not be separated from the well-being of the leader, but integrated in the whole of a leader’s life.

The lack of attention given to the well-being of Christian leaders is demonstrated by noting (2) surveys of the health of pastors and Christian leaders over the last twenty years. They report deficits in the pastor’s spirituality, emotional and relational health, responses to conflict, and hence longevity. Dr. Miller’s personal awareness of these needs from his work with leaders in crisis and burn-out since 2004 corresponds with the research data. Current and emerging leaders need formation, training, and support in stewarding their well-being to face the unique challenges of life as a leader in the contemporary culture.

Holding these two realities next to one another, (1) training that does not address the multi-dimensional, interrelated issues of well-being and (2) leaders’ lives and ministries which are challenged around issues of their well-being, calls out for attention, particularly as we consider the formation of Christian leaders and the future of the church. The character – the heart, soul and relationships of leaders– needs to be formed at a depth level not only for the good of the leaders, but for the good of the churches and other ministries. The good news is that by God’s grace practices can be learned which statistically promote the well-being and longevity of leaders.

In his Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas answered the question, “What is the proper subject of theology?” His response was “God… and all things in relation to God.” So, theology can include any subject in relation to God. Similarly, spirituality can include all of life in relation to God. If it is true that the well-being of leaders needs attention today, then what is needed is quality, focused resources and experiences for life formation. Life formation is spiritual formation, if we understand “spiritual” to encompass all dimensions of human life in relation to God. God’s formation of all areas of our lives promotes human flourishing.

Why Flourish? For the sake of God’s glory, for the well-being of Christian leaders, for their good and the good of the church.