January 5, 2013

“And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.” 1 Samuel 14:48

When I was studying for my MBA, I discovered that the differences between business and engineering schools were beyond subject matter.  My engineering undergraduate experience was filled with problem solving.  I was given a specific problem and had to calculate the solution. Engineering is dominated by calculated solutions.

Business school is dominated by the case study.case-studies-word-cloud

There are very few areas in business where there is a nice calculated solution.  That is why case studies are so helpful in teaching business.  Typically, we would study a business and try to determine why the company was either a success or a failure, using our various tools (statistics, finance, accounting, marketing, etc.).  However, there is usually a wider aim to a case study.  The point of doing a case study is not to simply know why something happened to a particular business.  It is to apply the discovered cause-effect relationship into the future – to generalize it. We want to take what we learn from a case study of a specific situation and make a broader generalization of that cause and effect relationship.  That is when a case study becomes particularly helpful.

This is a principle that most of us use whether we realize it or not.

My friend’s car is made by this manufacturer and he has never had any problems;

Therefore, I am going to by a car made by that manufacturer.

Consumer reports tested this product and said it is the best;

Therefore, I am going to buy that product.

The cool people all have one of  “those”;

Therefore, I am going to get one of  “those”.

An author studied common habits of highly effective people;

Therefore, I am going to work on developing those habits.

I want my kids to be like “those kids” and they grew up in a home that did “XYZ”;

Therefore, I am going to use the “XYZ” method.

We all are proficient at implementing our own case studies into our lives.  The problem is that we often don’t understand the precise cause-effect relationships or we make an incorrect generalization into our own lives.

I think that there is a very real danger in relying upon a case study mentality as guidance for the Church and our spiritual lives.  Consider what some may have thought about Saul.  After Saul had become king, Israel was delivered from the Amalekites and the Philistines were defeated.  There were probably some who were making the argument, “See, we now have a king and have been delivered, that was the right decision.” However, we know that it was not the right decision to replace the King of kings with an earthly king.  We know the whole story and what happened to Saul.

It is very dangerous for us temporal Christians when we default into a similar case study mentality.  Yet, we all are seeking answers for what is happening around us. We all have decisions to make and lives to live.

I read the statistics of the decline of Christianity in North America and Europe and wonder what is happening.  I read articles that ascribe the decline in liberal denominations to their liberal theology and make generalizations for the Church as a whole.  I read articles that state the progressive Churches and their approaches are the answer and make generalizations for the Church as a whole.

They both can’t be right.

lakewoodchurch004I have read books that tout their success as evidence of how the Church needs to be done (Church 3.0, Purpose Driven Life, Transforming Church in Rural America).  The problem is that success is the basis for advocating home churches and mega-churches as a generalization of the Church as a whole.


I have read books and articles on how to live the Christian life.  Testimonies are made all the time on a cause-effect relationship with the generalization of “if you do your Christian life like this then you will get the same results”.

I don’t want to start (or continue) a debate about any of these generalizations.  I am not making a comment on the validity of any of those articles or books.  I don’t have a lot of conclusive answers to many of these difficult questions that can be generalized.  Everyone would like to have conclusive answers to, “what should I do about “__________”.  Often, the reason why many charismatic leaders have such a following is due to their conviction of how to fill in the blank for people.  They have “the” answer.  They have a vision that can be generally applied to everyone.  I tend to believe that it is unwise to over-generalize many conclusive answers.  That (among many other reasons) is probably why I am not a widely followed, charismatic, leader.

The problem is when we think that we have a firm answer in a method or system.  We all have a tendency to become followers of programs.  We follow them because we are confident that they will work.  Often, our confidence comes from a case-study.

I just don’t want to make the wrong cause-effect relationship or the wrong generalization.

So, what are we supposed to do?  We all have decisions to make.  I have been a pastor of a church and decisions had to be made.  I have to make decisions about how my family and I are going to live our Christian lives.   Where do we find our conclusive answers if we are to avoid the dangers of a case study mentality?

I think that Samuel’s instruction to Saul, after he did not follow God, is helpful:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry…” (1 Samuel 15:22-23a)

God delights in a person who listens to Him and does what He tells them.

We need to be willing to evaluate any solution as to whether God will be delighted in us. We can rewrite Samuel’s warning”

“Has the Lord as great delight in “mission trips” and “giving-till-it-hurts”, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than “reaching your community,”and to listen than “memorizing Romans 8”. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry…”

It always comes back to our hearts.  It doesn’t matter what a Church is doing if its people are not walking in obedience.  God is not going to delight in that Church. It doesn’t matter what works you are filling your life with if you are not walking in obedience.  God is not going to delight in you.

The only conclusive answer that I have is to do what the Bible tells me to do.  I am a simple man so I do not have complex solutions.  I am going to keep it simple and focus on the two most important things that the Bible tells me to do:

(1)   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

(2)   “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

I can generalize that but what that looks like for me will be different than for you.  What that looks like in my Church will look different in your Church.

However, I believe that if we will get those two conclusive answers right then everything else will take care of itself.  I believe that God will be delighted in individuals and Churches that are faithfully obedient to these commands because these commands drive all the rest.  That is a conclusiveness that you can rely upon.

Let’s not make the error of rebellion and presumption as Saul did.  Let’s strive to be a delight to our Lord and Savior through our obedience; all that other stuff will take care of itself when we are seeking to delight God in all that we do.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me for trying to compensate for the lack of obedience in one area of my life with service in other areas.  Forgive me for following programs or methods.  Forgive me for presuming upon you.  Father, I want to be a delight to you; I want to be a pleasing fragrance.  Help me to have clarity of mind in how you want me to follow you.  Help me be faithful to my own calling.  Lord, I am blown away that you would even delight in me – that it is even possible.  Thank you for loving me and being my heavenly Father.  Amen


  1. Great analysis! On the mark when you said that “famous and successful” leaders are those who can give people an answer they didn’t have to seek after for themselves…2 Tim 4:3-4 is alive and well in our churches today, so we should follow Paul’s advice in the verse before: preach the Word, and all that comes from it, with steadfast love, endurance and patience.

    • Amen!
      Thanks for your comments.

  2. Thank you so much for this! It is spot on! I think it comes back to the difference between religion and a relationship. It is far more important to have an intimate relationship with our Saviour. And so many of us try to compensate for this intimacy with works. All the while Jesus is standing and waiting. Thanks again for this refocus. God bless!

    • You are very correct. The most religious folks were the ones that Jesus was harshest with. They were very good at keeping the law (better than anyone today) but they did not love God. It is about having an intimate relationship with our Savior. That still blows my mind to think that is even possible.
      Thanks for you comments.
      God Bless!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: