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Leadership 101 – Systems

In a recent leadership training this statement was challenging but rang true when Matt Perman said, “The result of management without leadership is that you will never get there.” With that being said, the next logical conclusion is that leadership without management means we will never sustain it. Systems enable us to sustain all of the relational capital we have worked so hard to build. We should never stop building relationships and loving people but we must also develop systems to help care for the relationships we now have.

Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. We get so busy working in the ministry that we do not take enough time to work on the ministry. Francis Chan says, “The pastor is not the minister. The pastor is the equipper. Every member of the church is a minister.” With Ephesians 4:11-12 in view we then have to develop a process for training the team God has called us to minister.

One misconception is how many churches have adopted a culture where the pastor is expected to care for everyone. The reality is that this demands more than one man can handle. It is not the responsibility of the pastor to care for everyone but it is his responsibility to make sure that everyone is cared for. You cannot do that without a ministry care system in place where everyone knows his or her responsibilities. The focus shifts from overseeing everyone to training and equipping key people to help oversee the church and its ministries.

Effective churches utilize systems to carry out the vision that God has given them. The pastor needs a team approach that helps encourage quality. A vision written down on paper does not ensure that it is accomplished – people do! Good systems such as outreach, assimilation, worship planning, spiritual growth, ministry care, ministry placement, finance and reproduction save you stress, time, energy, money, and a lot of headaches. All you have to do is take a look at Moses with his father-in-law Jethro, Nehemiah, and Acts 6 to know this is true.

Here is one thing Dynamic Church Planting International has to say about the importance of systems. “In your church, everyone hopes that someone will be in charge. They hope that someone will think things through ahead of time. They hope that someone will come up with quality ways to attract people, lead them to Christ, disciple them and invite them to serve in ministry. They hope their donations will be handled well. They hope that the services will have quality and continuity. They hope that someone will pray for them, befriend them, and communicate with them.”

The need for systems is not only for church plants. It is also imperative for any church running 40-50 and above. There is a great need to evaluate the systems you have because of how desperately they are needed. DCPI continues on the importance of systems, “They (people in your church) hope that someone will introduce them to a more significant life than they are leading now. This job belongs to the leader. The only way the leader can make this happen is to develop systems that ensure every system works every day of the week, every week of the year.”

Here are a few things to think about in developing systems:

  1. Determine your values because values drive your practices, which then determine your results in the areas of your systems.   DCPI states, “Cars are designed to transport people. Medicines are designed to cure people. Machines are designed to manufacture toys, clocks or other gadgets. The systems you designed are giving your church exactly what they were designed to do, whether you like it or not. So, if you want your church to reach more people and grow in Christ, you will have to design your systems well.”
  2. Train your people how to develop systems. DCPI training covers 10 ministry issues such as designing an implementation plan, teaching the 12 Biblical Principles as applicable to church systems, gives over 25 ministry skills for the phases of church growth, and shows how your church size impacts your ministry. It also helps you think through how to deal with discouragement, difficult people, and time demands. It walks you through what pastoral transitions should look like.
  3. There are at least eight necessary systems that must be undergirded by the word of God and much prayer. Every system must go through both of those filters to ensure you are headed in His direction and not yours. Those systems are Reproductive, Outreach, Assimilation, Worship Service Planning, Spiritual Growth, Pastoral Care, Ministry Placement, and Financial. If you desire to see your team become more effective then you must be committed to giving them the tools they need.
  4. Work ON your ministry not just in the ministry. It has been said before but is worth repeating – Plan your Work and then Work your Plan! Over the next several weeks we will try to unpack what each of these systems might look like and how you can get them up and running. Values determine practices and then your practices determine results. Your values determine your priorities. Remember, people will lose their way if they lose their why!

Never Been Exposed to the Truth

Jesus said that He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” He clearly described what it meant to follow Him when He declared, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A disciple, a follower of Jesus, is defined as a person who knows Jesus and has decided to follow Him. That disciple is being changed and transformed by Christ daily and has committed himself to the mission of Christ. We seem to do well focusing on being biblically sound and relationally connected but somehow fail miserably when it comes to living missionally.

A recent Barna Report has reinforced many concerns about our culture in America moving further and further away from God. Mike Huckabee offers this summary of that report: “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview.”

He continues, “The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out shocking and troubling me the most is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.” Can that really be right here in our own backyards? Have we lost our passion and burden for the lost where most Christians are not even sharing their faith, ever?

J.D. Payne recently shared that as of October 2017 there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here. This is even of greater concern than just being an Unreached People Group because this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time to build a gospel bridge to these people. Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Mike Breen expounds upon a huge problem in the American church when he laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.” Research supports his claim because only 15% of all churches are growing and only 1% of that number is increasing because of conversion growth.

What is your church’s strategy to reach those who are far from God in your city and community? Ed Stetzer challenges us to discern whom the lost are, where do they live, and how will we reach them? Yet it seems that what dominates most church cultures today is attracting those who are already believers and attending church. Without even realizing it we have become enamored with having a better product than the church down the street, which perpetuates a spirit of competition where the church with the best music and programs wins!

First, we need to repent.

We need to ask God to forgive us for our lack of burden and concern for the lost that work and live next door to us. Then we need to recommit to being the salt and light that He has called each one of us to be. Is your light shining? Are you shining as you are supposed to be? Philippians 2:15 says, “We are to shine like stars in the world.” As we are praying we need to put some feet to our prayers through random acts of kindness and to love in word and deed. Can those living in darkness see our good works?

Second, we need to develop a strategy as an individual believer and as a church.

Give people a way and opportunities to share their faith. Dave Ferguson with Exponential and Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, utilizes a 5-step plan that he has called B.L.E.S.S. Begin in prayer. Listen to them because no one ever feels more valued than when we listen. Eat with them to build relationships and get to know them personally. Serve them in a way that blesses their lives. How can you best serve them? Share with them what God has done for you and for them.

Third , we must place tools in our member’s hands.

This can be done at the end of the services and through your small groups to aid and help them in being light. It could be a card with the gospel message in one verse (Romans 6:23) or it could be an invitation to a special event. One thing here, though, is try to change your culture from a “come and see” (which is good) and add to it a “go and tell!” Think of multiple ways and multiple doors of how people can be connected and connect with others. It really is more a lifestyle of “as you go” being light and witnesses than a program.

Fourth, do the work of an evangelist.  

If we want to see God move in the area of evangelism then we must be ready to do the work of an evangelist in the same way Timothy was challenged. It is heartbreaking that the reality is that there are many churches that never see one person saved or baptized. This does not mean that anything goes just so we can get numbers and brag about the notches on our gospel belts. If we desire a movement of God it will require extraordinary prayer, abundant evangelism, a white-hot faith, and sacrifice with God giving the increase.

Leadership 101 – Slow Down

Most leaders I know need to slow down. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of so many different things. It is difficult to find a rhythm that is sustainable with the demands of ministry and the juggling act that it seems to require. Stop and think for a minute, though. What are the usual results of rushing, getting in a hurry, and potentially getting ahead of the Lord? The answer is that it can be disastrous. The Bible gives us multiple examples of impatience in leaders.

Abraham became impatient in waiting on the son God promised him. He and Sarah had a plan but we know that did not turn out well. Moses grew impatient even though he had a great heart to help his fellow Hebrews in Egypt. He committed murder and it cost him 40 years on the backside of the dessert. King Saul grew impatient and offered burnt offering to the Lord instead of waiting on Samuel. His getting ahead of God cost him his throne. Impatience does not pay off.

The book of Proverbs has several references about the wisdom of the prudent. The idea is being careful and sensible. A prudent man is marked by sound judgment while being cautious and possessing great awareness of each situation. What are the consequences of inadequately discerning God’s will before moving forward? They can be tragic and devastating. We need to develop a rhythm in all areas of our lives of slowing down and sitting in His presence.

Here are some areas where we need to slow down.

  1. Slow down in your daily personal life. Develop the daily discipline of slowing down long enough to listen to the Lord. Find a place of solitude where you can be more mindful of His presence.   That is what will carry you through those crazy and hectic times when it is full steam ahead. If you have not slowed down to see Him in times of solitude it will be very difficult to see Him and sense His presence during the busy times.
  2. Slow down in your family time. Build boundaries to protect quality time with your wife and children. Make sure you have a date night where it is just you and her enjoying time together. Schedule family time on your calendar and when asked if you are available tell them you already have an appointment. Make sure you are there for the important events in your children’s lives. Your church will not remember many of the sacrifices you make for them but your children will.
  3. Slow down in your sermon preparation. Develop a system that enables you to best utilize your time. When is your most productive time to study? Schedule it on your calendar and then protect that time. You can get a lot accomplished when it is quiet and uninterrupted. If it means getting up an hour earlier to spend that time in the word it will be well worth it. Early mornings work well because the phone does not begin ringing until about 8:30 a.m. Find a study rhythm that works for you.
  4. Slow down by enjoying your favorite hobby or pastime. What recharges your battery? What is it you enjoy doing that refreshes you, makes you laugh, and puts a smile on your face? Find that outlet that gives you the opportunity to release the tension and frustrations that build up inside of all of us. Whether it is running, bicycling, hiking, golf, or cross-stitch it will be time well spent. All work and no play usually leads to burnout!
  5. Slow down in your leadership style. Make sure people really do understand where you are headed. This requires slowing down long enough to articulate clearly and allowing people to process the information. Bringing them along with you on the journey will slow down the process but it is worth the investment. Also make sure there is appropriate accountability. It is not wise for any single person to possess absolute power in a church. Lord Acton said it well, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
  6. Slow down and develop leaders. If you are too busy to spend time discipling and pouring into leaders then you are too busy. Take a close look at the things you should not be doing and pass those responsibilities on to someone else. Focus in on those three just like Jesus did. Look for those who want more and then challenge them to meet you at 5:30 a.m. for coffee to see if they are serious. Do not spend time chasing them or trying to persuade them to be dedicated. If they are called to a higher level of commitment they will pursue you.
  7. Slow down and enjoy the worship service. All too often we are focused on so many things Sunday mornings that we feel like a one-eyed cat watching 15 mouse holes. Involve as many people as you can in making sure the worship services are well prepared and planned but let them handle it so that you focus on two things, worship and preaching. Train and develop a team to oversee all of the details from greeters, altar workers, ushers, sound booth, announcements, song service, and everything else. Slow down and worship.
  8. Slow down and define what success really looks like. People must know that you will seek God’s will above all else. Remember, when we push and rush in decision making there will almost always be problems. Take time to sleep on it, seek wise counsel, and listen to the Lord. The greatest thing people need to see in a leader is a life that is characterized by, “Lord, not my will, but yours be done!”

The key words for church planning and strategy are slow down!

The Heart of Leadership

As a leader, what is that others need to see more than anything else in you and me? What is the essence of leadership that churches need to see modeled and exemplified? There are several great answers that could be given but the best example, of course, is Jesus. As we study how He led and mentored those He did life with there are truly nuggets we notice such as washing their feet and telling them He came to serve not be served. Many have written well on servant-leadership.

There is a passage though that gives us the very “heart” that is required to lead like Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus faced the cross He was struggling. He then prays in submission to the Father, “Not My will, but Yours be done!” At the toughest moment of His journey Jesus cries out to the Father as His sweat fell as great drops of blood. We see the anguish as He transparently asks, “Is there any other possible way?” before He obediently submits to the original plan.

The problem for us is in the struggle between “my” will verses “His” will. That is the core issue of leadership. Unfortunately, as a matter of confession, I fear that I have spent far too much of my time making plans “for” God instead of getting plans “from” God. The heart of leadership is leading the same way Jesus did and that means that other people must continually see in us, “Not my will but Yours be done!” We have to come to grips with this truth and act submitted when we really are not!

Someone has said well, “A struggled, learned, prayed for obedience is the best and truest obedience.” God shapes us by taking us to the cross not once but at multiple times (even daily) throughout our ministries and leadership journeys. This is the essence of the leadership that is needed in our lives and in our churches. Hebrews 5:7-8 says, “During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Though He was God’s Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.”

What are the elements necessary for us to develop the leadership style of Christ?

First, we need to be willing to go down the same path He did.  

Following Christ requires accepting the crosses He brings into our lives. The challenge is to stay on course even when the dark days and nights come into our lives. There will be those times we want to quit and may cry out as Jesus did, “Is there any other way possible?” Crosses are necessary for resurrection and new life to occur.

Second, realize that there will not always be a miraculous deliverance.

Jesus basically asked for a miracle; if it was possible. Why should we expect to get a miracle to avoid our crosses and be upset when we don’t when Jesus did not receive a miracle either? It is at those moments that our wills and God’s will clash the most because we are tempted to quit rather than endure. The cross is necessary because that is where the greatest transformation occurs in our lives.

Third, we learn through cross bearing two very important lessons.

  1. We learn to die to self and that takes place when we let go of what we want. Brokenness of our will and our desires is required and there is no way around it. We learn to relinquish so that we can learn to trust completely.
  2. We also learn submission. Even when we do not have all the answers and do not know how things will turn out. We surrender… trusting Him even when the outcome is a mystery to us.

Fourth, when we take up our crosses to follow Him it is then that we can abide in Him, as we should.

Once we have relinquished control He then fills us with His presence and power. John 12:24 teaches us this principle clearly, “I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” We discover in times of dying to self that what we have relinquished and given up does not even compare to what He fills us with and gives in His presence. That is why Jesus said He that loses His life will find it!

Fifth, as we begin to abide in Him there are two things that happen in our leadership.

  1. We gain great discernment. We are shown what He wants us to do. We discover His calling and direction for our lives as we abide in Him. Once we are broken and submitted we fully understand that He is the Shepherd and we are His sheep. We begin to hear His voice more clearly and obey it more completely. We stop making plans “for” God and begin getting His plans.
  2. We also gain discretion. Discernment is discovering what He wants us to do while discretion addresses when. By abiding in Him we trust God’s perfect timing and He gives us the ability to wait on Him. Discretion is not acting even when we know we could go ahead but God is asking us not to do so. God has a plan for us and He also has a timetable in mind that fits us perfectly. Jesus was fully aware of the mission, the methods, and the minutes.

The best leadership and the real heart of leadership is to lead like Jesus. The heart of leading like Christ is understanding that those we are leading need to see a leader who leads out of “not my will but yours be done!” That is the best gift we as leaders can give to our churches, ministries, those we are discipling, and most of all to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Be the Light of Jesus

Tony Dungy is well known as an NFL player, coach, and now commentator. In one of his books he shares that when he was still coaching he was often asked how he could justify working in the football “world” and be a Christian? They would point out how violent the game was, how bad the language used was, and that it was played on Sunday. His answer was, “I try to be careful to bring Christ’s light to that “world” without getting swallowed up by it!”

That is a great answer because God can only use us in the “world” if we are in fact “in” the world. There will be much debate and tension created in different scenarios of when we cross the line (and by the way, who determines that line?) and go too far. This will require godly wisdom that is only found in listening close to His leadership. Maybe we should focus on where we draw our own lines instead of judging and criticizing other people who seemingly cross the line. Check out Mark 3.

The world God has placed you in is exactly where you are to shine as His light. God gives you a platform from which you are to share Him as you allow your light to shine. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have to influence and add value to the lives of others? People need to see the light of what a person looks like who is abiding in Christ. Have we lost our focus on how God wants us to be His light? Have we even forgotten that we are called to be light?

Today’s reality is that so many churches seem to have forgotten why they exist and there is very little evangelism going on. It seems that all too often our focus, even in church planting, is finding those already in the family of God instead of those who are outside! In Barnabas Factors, J. D. Payne says, “Since biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, team members will naturally spend the greatest amount of time with unbelievers prior to the birth of churches.”

Most agree that church plants need to see at least 50% of their growth come from new converts but all too often it is not even close. Before church planters think that this is an attack on them, the fact is that it is even worse in most established churches. We seem to be more focused on those we can get from other churches and who are already believers instead of pursuing the unsaved who are far from God. How intentional are you being in building relationships with unbelievers?

First, Pursue a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are truly in love with Jesus then we will love others and have compassion on the multitudes as He does. It is out of our intimate and individual walks with God that we are able to minister to those outside the kingdom effectively. Unless we abide in Jesus, we really have nothing to offer others. Our inner life with Christ is what will determine what our outer work will look like.

Second, Begin building relationships and friendships with people who are far from God.

One suggestion would be for pastors and those on staff to spend one day a week hanging out with unbelievers. Where could you volunteer or what hobby could you develop that would put you in the middle of unbelievers? Start with your neighbors and invite people into your home for a meal.

Third, Make sure you are praying for unbelievers regularly.

Are you daily praying for 10-15 people by name to which you are personally trying to show the light of Jesus? Why not? Sometimes we just want to hang out with the believers we are comfortable with and already know. In Mark 5, a man who had been freed from demon possession wanted to stay with Jesus. But He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you.”

Fourth, Just Do it!

One version of Mark 5:19 says, “Tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Just do it and allow God to bless your efforts to let them know that Jesus loves them. The reality is that most will probably never feel ready to share Christ with others. The best news though is that God is bigger than all of our inadequacies, fears, and mistakes. So even if you cannot quote the Romans road just tell them how much the Lord has done for you!

Fifth, Remember that your light will only shine brightly as you walk with Him and abide in Him.

It is out of our inner lives that we do our outer work. Who you are on the inside is as important, actually much more important, as what you do. You cannot give what you do not possess and you cannot help but give others what you do possess. If you are full of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness it will come out. But if you are full of grace, love, and forgiveness it will be given also!

Your light shines brightest when you are walking with the Lord. Abiding in Christ is the best way to insure that our best intentions turn into consistent action. Our close communion and connection with Jesus is what produces vibrancy and vitality. When we drift from Him we become spiritually dysfunctional and our lights begin to flicker. How we serve Christ and how we love others reflects what is tucked away in our hearts. It is a mirror that reveals who and what we really love.

Be the light that Jesus intended you to be! Bring Christ’s light to “your” world without being swallowed up by it! Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

You have probably seen the hotel commercial that asks this question in song, “Should I stay or should I go?” Many pastors ask that question at many different times and most of the time it is motivated by a genuine desire to do what is best for that local church. Leaders desire to be in ministries where they can be effective and have as godly an impact as possible. The reality is that far too many pastors may leave too soon at a time when their effectiveness could be optimum.

There are studies that show the wisdom of a long tenure of a pastor but we also cannot discount the leadership of the Lord. The problem so often is that the decision to leave is made for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time. If you’re not careful when going through a valley you will move from a valley at a familiar location to another valley in a new location. We must make sure that we learn the lessons God wants us to learn when we go through the valleys and the difficult seasons that will come in any ministry.

The greatest problem might be being able to hear His voice clearly when we are in the middle of difficult circumstances. Wise counsel would be to get away, get refreshed, and seek to hear what the Lord is truly saying He wants us to do. Make sure you have a prayer retreat, sabbatical, or time focused on discerning his perfect will as best you can. There certainly are reasons and times to move to a different ministry but here are some reasons that are not good reasons to leave or move on.

Don’t leave just because of problems and difficult circumstances.

Paul makes this clear in I Corinthians 16:9 because he says a great door was opened to him but then says there were many adversaries. J.D. Greear puts it this way, “Paul saw the presence of adversaries, obstacles, and closed doors as opportunities to keep pressing, not signals to give up!” We think that just because there is opposition maybe we should move on but maybe we need to stay and work through that difficulty.

Don’t leave just because difficult people are being vocal in their opposition.

Maybe no one has ever confronted them in a biblically centered and loving manner. We are instructed to speak the truth in love and let people know when their behavior is not pleasing to the Lord. A church fellowship needs to hold its members accountable if they have fallen prey to sowing discord within the fellowship. It is never enjoyable to face difficult people but spiritual leaders are willing to face opposition that others have been unwilling to face.

Don’t leave because you are unwilling to pay the price that is required to work through the difficulty.

The normal reaction is to shy away from confrontation and conflict but someone has to work through it. Another characteristic of true spiritual leadership is the willingness to pay a price that others are unwilling to pay. Get a plan to work through the challenges and then begin to systematically work on solutions one problem at a time. List the problems, prioritize them, and then work on them one by one.

Don’t leave because you were unwilling to make the hard decisions no one else was willing to make.

Three things need to be determined by using the following questions. What is the problem? Who needs to be involved in correcting the problem? And then, when does the problem need to be worked out by? You can never get as much accomplished in one year as you think but you can always accomplish far more in five than you think.

Don’t leave thinking that things will be much different and much better in a different ministry.

They very well may be but there is no guarantee. All churches and ministries have challenges and difficulties. People are people and a lot of the ongoing problem is that no one has ever been shown how to work through them and learn how to biblically handle conflict. Challenge people that they can either become a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Adrian Rodgers said, “A change of scenery has never guaranteed a change of character.”

When you add all of these together it should encourage us to realize that all ministries are different. Be careful of comparing your ministry to others who seem to be getting blessed far more than yours. A look at Hebrews 11 shows us that the hall of faith includes those who shut the mouth of lions, were delivered from many great challenges, and were blessed with great victories. There are also those who were tortured, those who experienced mocking and scourging, and seemingly experienced great suffering.

God is glorified in both as long as we are faithful where He has placed us and to the calling He has given us. Do not interpret God’s calling to only be validated by good circumstances. Just ask John the Baptist who sat in prison after the accolades and applause had ended. No one was flocking to hear his teaching anymore and the multiple baptisms were a thing of the past. His reward for faithfully preaching the gospel was being beheaded. Yet Jesus said there were none greater then him. He had said, “I must decrease and He must increase!”

Ministry Support and Care

The ministry is not easy and we know that Paul warned Timothy and others of many challenges. The need for a team of others you can count on cannot be overstated. At running the risk of saying the same thing too often, allow me the opportunity to say it again, “The speed of the leader determines the speed of the team.” If you, as a spiritual leader, begin to struggle spiritually then before long others around you will begin to struggle also.

Protecting your walk with the Lord is paramount. You cannot allow yourself to get to the point of running on empty by not constantly abiding in Him. You must develop rhythms in your life where you daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually build systems in your life that continue to stir up the passion you have for Christ and the gift within you. What are you studying right now that is helping you to know Him better and develop a closer and more intimate relationship with Him?

On a regular basis I challenge church planters and pastors to properly care for themselves because if they are not spiritually healthy their families, friends, and ministries will not be far behind. One important aspect is to build a ministry care plan of support and accountability…having people around you that keep you on track and encourage you. They love you enough to tell you what you need to hear and provide a role in your life that you desperately need for balance and direction.

There are five roles I have told these leaders they all need to have. They need a supervisor, a coach, a mentor, a pastor, and a friend. The roles are important but can be adapted to fit your context. This does not mean you have to have five people because one person can fill two of the roles such as a friend can also be a mentor. There are certain roles that are harder to be fulfilled by the same person such as a supervisor and a coach. Lets take a look at each one of these roles.

The first is the role of supervisor!

This is the person or persons you answer to whether that is a boss, a committee, a group of elders, a board of trustees, or even a pastor accountability team. This is a team of individuals who plan with you, dream with you, and help you process God’s direction in your life. This person or persons serve as a sounding board and is far from being “yes” people. There will be tension at times but that is a good thing as wisdom is sought through prayer.

The second role is that of a coach!

According to Keith E. Webb’s definition, “Coaching is an on-going intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling.” There is skill set that is necessary for being a good coach. It involves being a good listener and then asking good questions. We never show someone we value him or her more then when we are willing to listen to them. Do you have someone who listens well and then asks you the right questions?

The third role is that of a mentor!

The best definition I have heard of a mentor is that it is someone who has been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there. A coach pulls out but a mentor pours in. They know what you need to know and they are willing to take the time to share it with you. The best biblical example of this may be Paul pouring into Timothy but there is also Moses to Joshua and Elijah to Elisha. Do you have that individual in your life that can pour into yours?

The fourth role that everyone needs is a pastor!

We all need a spiritual shepherd who cares for our spiritual walk.   The reality is that we need someone in our lives that has a pastor’s heart for us and always wants what is best for us. They protect us from the wolves waiting to attack and devour us. They not only have a heart to protect us but they want to make sure we are properly nourished. They will always go to the word of God to direct us, correct us, reprove us, rebuke us, and strengthen us.

The fifth role is that of a friend!

Do you have that friend in your life that you know you can always count on and with whom you can always be completely transparent? True friends are very special people. David had his mighty men and there is wisdom in building a team of three friends around you. Those friends that you can always call on knowing they will be there to listen and encourage us. They are the kind of friends that you count on 24/7 who don’t walk out on you when times are difficult. You can always depend on them to be there when you need them.

Ministry care requires that we focus on our spiritual walk by building a team around us that will provide these critical roles in our lives. Can you name the people who fulfill these roles? Are you meeting and talking with them on a regular basis? If you are do not have this support system are you ready to prayerfully begin looking for them? Who fulfills the role of supervisor, coach, mentor, pastor, and friend in your life? Spiritual health requires accountability and spiritual care givers.

Lessons From the Shepherds

At Christmas we are once again introduced to programs, cantatas, and musicals that have all the familiar characters of shepherds, magi, and the manger. We are use to seeing boys dressed up in a bathrobe with a towel wrapped around their head, and holding a staff in one of their hands. They are absolutely adorable but they are far from what the shepherds were actually like at the time of Jesus birth. The shepherds were hardened men who lived lonely, obscure lives and were scorned by most people of that day.

The shepherds were the people group who were given the privilege of being the first to know about and be told the good news of Jesus birth. They were very uneducated, untrained, and unskilled laborers. They were smelly, rough characters and probably the most unlikely people of that day to be invited to the party. These shepherds offered a meager but necessary service of watching over the herds believed to contain the sacrificial lambs being raised for the temple and the Passover.

Shepherds were not trusted by very many people back then. They were not allowed to testify in court even if they were eyewitnesses. It is quite ironic that the very men who were not permitted to testify in court are chosen by God to be the first to testify of the virgin birth. Yet, when the Pharisees referred to the tax collectors and the sinners the shepherds were most likely at the top of their sinner list. Wow, what a God that announces the birth of His Son to the poor, uneducated, despised shepherds.

What can we learn from these shepherds and their involvement in the birth of the savior?

  1. This Bible story makes it very clear that God loves the outcast. God always reaches out to those who will come to Him no matter what society may say or think of them. Those who the world sees as the least important are the first that God seems to be interested in. Even the religious elite of the day wrote shepherds off as unclean and pagan but God chose to reveal the truth of Christ’s birth to them.
  2. God reminds us that following Him requires sacrifice. Jesus did not come to just make slight alterations to our lifestyles but has called us to live for a completely different Kingdom. We are commanded by Him to die daily and to take up our cross and follow Him. The shepherds knew what it meant to sacrifice for their sheep as they cared for them day by day. They understood that the sacrificial lambs they helped care for were a picture of the coming Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
  3. The shepherds and the manger scene remind us to never interpret God’s love based on our circumstances. Jesus was not born in a palace with a silver spoon in His mouth but rather of the most humble beginnings. You would think the creator of the universe should of made sure that Joseph and Mary had a reservation for a room in the inn but they didn’t. Just because God does not provide for us the way we think He should does not mean He does not love us and have our best in mind.
  4. The manger and the cross settle forever how God feels about you. He loves you and you should never doubt that truth. Whenever your circumstances make you wonder where God is you must remember that He has already proven how much He loves you by dying for you. Even when He does not answer every prayer request the way you think He should you should be very careful of ever trying to use Jesus to get what you want more than you love Him for who He is. As the good shepherd He always has your best in mind.
  5. The shepherds teach us that Jesus invites all to come to Him. He invites those who are poor, uneducated, despised, and outcasts like the shepherds.   He also invites the rich educated, respected, and well thought of like the Magi. John 3:16 and Romans 10:13 reminds us of God’s invitation to everyone because “whoever believes will have eternal life” and “whoever calls on His name will be saved.” Whether they are outcasts or the uppity ups Jesus invites all to come to Him.

The shepherds teach a lot about the heart of God for the lost, the last, and the least. Most people of that day were unaware of the shepherd’s existence because they did not see them nor were they around them. They never gave shepherds a thought nor would they have given them the time of day. They had no desire to get to know them personally; but God did! Isn’t that just like Him? He pursued a relationship with them and sent angels to invite them to worship Him.

The shepherds show us the heart of God. He takes the initiative to invite those considered last on the social ladder to be first on the heavenly invitation list. J.D. Greear in his gospel prayer says, “As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.” The shepherds teach us that God’s love is not based on our earning it or deserving it but rather totally based on who He is; a God of love. Oh, that we would learn first hand with this truth the shepherds experienced that first Christmas morning.

May we testify of his greatness as they did of His in Luke 2:20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.”

Just Check the Box

A couple of years ago my son, Matthew, asked me why I use to be so legalistic. My first reaction was to justify and emphatically convince him that I was not legalistic. Point made. There are a lot of reasons for leaning toward legalism such as your personality and/or your environment. In my case it was both. It is very easy to have a checklist of what makes you think you are spiritual and others unspiritual. We must, however, fight the temptation to add our specifics where the Bible is very unspecific. Unfortunately, I had drawn lines in the sand where God has not.

We do this in many areas of our lives such as dress, music, and others. Matthew likes to remind me of the time he asked me if he could listen to Phillips, Craig, and Dean and I told him we were not going to listen to rock music. Oh, by the way, I really enjoy them now and a couple of their songs are among my favorites. There are some who will see this as compromise and I have even wondered about that myself at times. When I asked one friend if we were compromising he wisely, I think, said, “Nope, we are growing up and maturing.”

J.D. Greear has written, “You’ve been waiting for the bottom line. Fallen human nature loves laws, because we love self-justification. But laws keep us from dealing with the real issue—the heart. The law is easier to preach too—. Laws preach nicely. But the gospel writers resist the temptation to reduce Christianity to laws. They focus on the hearts.” If we are not careful we can be like the Pharisees found in Matthew 23 who appeared beautiful on the outside but Jesus said that on the inside they were full of every impurity.

Legalism has been defined many different ways but here I am referring to it as a preoccupation with the obeying of rules and regulations. The tricky part is that my list might be completely different than yours. For example, there are cultures where if you smoke there is no way in their minds that you are born again. If we are not careful we become very judgmental and place all of the emphasis on obeying rules instead of a daily relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, there are commands we are to obey and we must never minimize what God is specific about.

Alistair Begg says it well, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” So often we get caught up on the things that are not plain in God’s word and we hold other Christians to our standards instead of God’s. My music, my clothes, or how many times I am in church each week makes me far more spiritual than you. Romans 14:1, “Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. Paul lists different preferences and then in verse 13 emphasizes that we should not criticize one another.

First, we must be honest about our nature.

We must never forget the total depravity of man. We are shaped from birth with the sin curse that causes us to naturally lean away from God and lean into sin. The power of the flesh in our life is real and if we are not walking in the power of the Spirit daily we will lean away from God’s best. This can cause us as Christians and churches to become hyper critical of anyone and everyone who does not have the same checklist that we have.

Second, we must not allow our freedom in Christ to be reduced to a set of manmade rules.

Then our faith becomes a religion of human achievement and we want others to notice how spiritual we are by how much we give, how much we fast and the rest of our checklist. Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are shadows of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.” The reality is that many settle for the cheap substitutes instead of Christ.

Third, remember that Jesus said the world would know us by the love we have for one another.

This has been referred to as the final apologetic. “The word apologetic comes from the Greek word apologia. The original idea was that it was a defense or an answer given in response to a charge…So in Christian apologetics, we’re making a case as to why what we believe is true and accurate and logical.” The world will know that what we have in Christ is real and true when the love of Christ for one another is evident.

Fourth, be careful about how you use social media.

It is sad to see many Christians seemingly airing their dirty laundry or pet peeves in a way that a lost world must be shaking their head saying, “And they are suppose to be all about loving one another?” Social media is a wonderful tool that enables us to share the good news and encourage one another to love and good deeds. The temptation seems to provide a venue where you can hide behind a keyboard and say things you probably would not say to that person if they were present.

Fifth, lets build churches that are gracious, longsuffering, and kind.

Nowhere did I mention being weak.  I love this quote a pastor tweeted recently, “I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with grace.” Am I more focused on my checklist than I am on knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection? Am I more disturbed by some things Christians are not doing on my checklist than people who are lost and far from God and headed to hell? Is my life characterized by love and encouragement for my church and the body of believers?

Dealing with Conflict and Criticism

How do you please people without being a people pleaser? Pastors have a desire to get along with their members and have a strong burden for unity. Sometimes that is quite a challenge with so many different opinions on how people think churches should be run and what they believe the pastor’s responsibilities are. People can sometimes be difficult and when conflict comes we must be ready to have a plan in place for how we will handle it. Will we handle it biblically?

The greatest challenge is to make sure you respond to conflict rather than reacting to it. The biblical standard given multiple times throughout the Word is that we are to refuse to guard (hold on to) resentments. We must refuse to carry grudges or nurse hatred and anger. Oh, we will get angry and we will get hurt so we must be ready to zealously banish all resentment and anger from our life. We will have to choose over and over again whether we will get better or get bitter.

When you do get hurt or mad the first thing to do is take a really good deep breath. While taking that moment it is your opportunity to ask God for strength and wisdom. You might not be able to handle the stress and conflict but He always can. The key here is choosing to be under His control and direction instead of your own. It is hard but it is possible because we can do all things through Christ who gives us the strength we need when we need it.

I Peter 2:23 says, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly!” Jesus did not retaliate! When conflict or criticism comes we will have to decide how we will respond to it. Will we choose to allow Him to be in control or will our flesh be in control? Jesus chose to not retaliate and to trust the Father to handle the judgment end of things. Do we trust God enough to allow Him to handle that end of it?

There are a lot of options but let’s take a look at four. We must choose how we will handle difficult people and difficult situations daily. You should not judge a church by whether it has problems or not but by how they handle their problems. That same principle applies to leadership because the real litmus test is how we respond to and handle conflict. A pastor posted this sentiment on Twitter, “I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with grace.”

First, you could choose to give in and pander to the criticism or conflict. The temptation is to just agree with them even when you do not agree with them. You do not want to offend them, upset them, or rock the boat. Everyone has a desire to be liked but that desire should not override the truth and must confront the difficulty in love. Remember that Proverbs 15:1 says that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” So often it is not what we say but how we say it.

Second, you could choose to isolate yourself from them or ignore them. The temptation here is to hope that if we ignore the problem it will just go away or solve itself. The truth is that almost never happens. It is sad when people in a church will avoid certain people and use a different entrance to make sure they do not have to speak to them. That could be called stealth avoidance but a more correct description would be escapism and an unbiblical approach to conflict resolution.

Third, you could get defensive and power up for the confrontation. This is where you try to overpower the difficult person using intimidation. You have the mindset of straightening them out, showing them once and for all, and telling them a thing or two. The focus becomes more about changing them rather than being the person Christ wants you to be. Powering up is where you want to blow them away with what you say and shut them up once and for all.

Fourth, you show courage and stay calmly connected to them. This is the most biblical approach where you speak the truth in love. You refuse to see them as the enemy and ostracize them. Your focus is on biblical resolution and restoration of the relationship. In Acts 20:17 Paul said, “For I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.” Later in Galatians 4:16 he says, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

The biblical response to conflict and difficult people is found throughout the scriptures in verses like Romans 12:17, “Do not repay evil for evil.” And also in I Peter 3:9, “Not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this.” Once again, the key is not necessarily what you say but how you say it and the love you have for the one to whom you are saying it.

Nehemiah is an excellent example of handling conflict but not allowing it to distract him from the task God had assigned him. You must continue to labor and press forward even when you conflict and criticism comes. Nehemiah in chapter 5 says he was “extremely angry” when he heard their outcry and their complaints but in verse 16 he says he “devoted” himself to the work. When the detractors asked him to stop the work and come down and discuss it he refused.

Nehemiah made it clear that there was nothing to the rumors they were spreading and even told them in Nehemiah 6:8, “you are inventing them in your own mind.” He knew that their attempts at intimidating him were focused on trying to discourage him and bring their work to a screeching halt. Then in Nehemiah 6:11 he says something we should all remember when faced with conflict and criticism, “Should a man like me run away?”