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R.E.A.L. MEN

What is a “real” man?  What does a “real” man look like?  Do you have a picture in your mind of John Wayne (is it just me) or some other iconic American standing off the forces of evil single-handedly?  You are independent and you hear an inner voice saying, “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do!”  There is a huge difference between taking responsibility for our lives and trying to live independently of God and godly counsel.  The reality is that biblical community is required for us to grow and develop into the men God desires for us to be.

When you ask men for a biblical description of a godly man what kind of answer would you get?  There will be some excellent characteristics and spiritual qualities mentioned but can the men in your church give a clear, concise, and compelling vision of what a man of God looks like? Yet that ability is exactly what will enable every man in your church to pursue the goal of looking like what you have described.  You then have a benchmark that holds every man in your ministry accountable to that standard.

Robert Lewis went on a quest to define Authentic Manhoodin developing a ministry called Men’s Fraternity.  Luke McCown (recently retired NFL quarterback) shared with me that when he was playing with the Detroit Lions the chaplain, Dave Wilson, took those four benchmarks and with Robert’s permission developed the following acronym for R.E.A.L. Men:

  1. Rejects Passivity
  2. Engages with God
  3. Accepts Responsibility
  4. Leads Courageously.

These give every man a biblical standard to be held accountable to and pursue.

The greatest challenge for most men in this journey will be accountability. This does not set well with many because men by nature have a desire to be in control of their own lives and to chart their own courses.  The culture has convinced us that independence is a characteristic that must be pursued by “real” men but that is not what the Bible teaches.  Many are raised to believe that they do not need to rely or trust anyone else.  This builds a self-reliance where a man would rather go it alone than to risk the pain of being disappointed or let down by others.

We need a good definition of accountability and fortunately Pat Morley gives us one in his book, Man in the Mirror. 

He states, “to be regularly answerable for each of the key areas of our lives to qualified people.”

The scriptures show us the importance of this truth repeatedly.  Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens” and admonishes us to restore those who fall.  Solomon makes this principle very clear in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 and tells us rather matter of fact, “Two are better than one.”  Proverbs 27:6 says, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.”

First, we must be answerable.  Everyone answers to someone and we tend to stray when we are not.  We need godly people in our lives that will ask us the hard questions about the goals we have set but also about the standards by which we should be living.

Second, we answerable in the key areas.  There is so much below the surface that needs to be examined and much of that tends to be the areas of highest risk in our lives.  That which is unseen and not carefully looked at can cause the greatest damage just like an iceberg.

Third, we must be held accountable regularly.  It needs to be frequent and somewhat systematic.  Studies have shown that when men do not meet weekly that eventually they stop meeting completely.

Fourth, we must be held accountable by qualified people.  People who love Jesus and who also have a burden to be held accountable themselves.  They want you to succeed and practice confidentiality.  Accountability in this kind of relationship is required to work properly.

R.E.A.L. men (Reject Passivity, Engage with God, Accept Responsibility, Live Courageously) refuse to be cultural Christians where we never go deeper than discussing the weather, news, sports, and our jobs.  We desire to go deeper with godly mentors who can hold us accountable for our spiritual walk in such areas as our faith, family, friends, fitness, and finance. Accountability takes friendship and fellowship to the next level where we intentionally and willingly decide to live in a fishbowl.  Accountability only works when individuals willingly submit to it.

Unfortunately, we are told that only about 15% of men in our churches will submit and follow through on biblical accountability.  Have a plan on how you can begin to connect them with one another.  The number four seems to be a good number of men in a group to ensure real accountability and that the hard questions are asked in love.  One-on-one accountability seems to fall prey to the stronger personality overpowering the weaker.  The stronger willed individual can convince one person far easier than three that they are not doing anything wrong.

Having three others walking this journey of accountability with you provides flexibility when one of them is unable to attend one week.  Remember that Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him.  A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”  There is great wisdom in looking for three godly qualified men who will on a hold you answerable on a regular basis in the key areas of your spiritual walk.  They ask the hard questions on the goals we have set and the standards we are called to live by in God’s word.

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!

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!”

I Am Thankful for You

The message is pretty clear that church is a team sport. We are meant to work alongside each other and make this journey together. Spiritual maturity is seen in loving God well and loving others well. In studying the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 there is an overriding theme. You notice that the emphasis is on what our relationships with other people are like. The focus is not about how you have been treated but rather on how you treat others. No matter what someone else has said or done to you, you are always responsible to God for your response.

The real mark of a spiritually mature believer is engaging with others in meaningful relationships. God has given us three things to help us in our spiritual journey to become more like Him. First, He has given us His word. This is where our doctrine comes from that describes who He is and enables us to see who He is. We are not to worship the God we envision or imagine but the God of the scriptures who is described in detail through all of His attributes. We must be careful of manufacturing our own God and not recognizing the God of His word.

Second, He has given us the Holy Spirit. The word describes Him to us but the Holy Spirit delivers the power and the energy we must have to be transformed into His likeness. We know that sanctification is possible because of the power that works inside of us.

Thirdly, He has also given us the people of God who demonstrate to us how we are to love and to live for Him. Paul said it well, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We should be thankful for all of the godly examples He has placed in our lives both in the word of God and in our daily lives.

Relationships give us a clear example of how to live out the information we are learning from the word of God and the Holy Spirit. True biblical spiritual maturity occurs in the dynamic of spiritual maturity and cannot happen apart from it. We are to be connected to one another and do life with together. Mature spiritual relationships are one of God’s means of pouring into our lives. If we do not have a spiritual family we will soon get off track or we will be running on empty. We should be thankful for those who lovingly challenge and correct our behavior.

This method of passing on what God is teaching Paul is very clear. Paul   taught Timothy, who was to teach other faithful men, who in turn were to teach others. Paul also tells Titus that the older women are to encourage and pour into the younger women. We need the church family, but it goes deeper than just attending worship. Jesus invited many, invested heavily into twelve, but was intimate with three. There is a big difference between being friendly and polite to people and developing real live-giving relationships.

We should be thankful for godly examples that are willing to invest in our lives and build deep relationships with us and hold us accountable. Here are a few characteristics that we should be thankful for in these spiritually mature examples God has placed in our lives. Christian author and counselor Larry Crabb observed that 90% of the problems he encountered with his clients could have been dealt with and solved by a good friend. This is why we should pursue honest godly relationships that connect us with those who are spiritually mature.

Be thankful for those who say what you need to hear not just what you want to hear. We need people in our lives that speak the truth in love. Those who are willing to tell us when we are about to make a huge mistake and challenge us to reconsider and spend more time in prayer about our decision.

Be thankful for friends who give us sound biblical advice and not just their opinions. This is very close to the one just mentioned but we need a word from the Lord more than we need public opinion. Look for friends who know the word of God are striving to obey it every day.

Be thankful for those who stand firm on the word of God without abandoning you when you mess up. Spiritually mature people stand strong on the word of God but they do not isolate themselves or withdraw fellowship from us. They are spiritually mature enough to not ostracize you even when they disagree with you.

Be thankful for those who help you to grow and become spiritually mature yourself. Spiritually mature people do not just feed those they are mentoring but they teach them how to feed themselves. The goal is to give you the skills to stand strong for the Lord.

Be thankful for those who help you bear your burdens. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Then in verse 5 he says, “For each person will have to carry his own load.” They teach you how to trust in the Lord and lean on Him when the challenges and trials of life come.

Be thankful for those who teach you and prepare you to trust more in the Lord than in them. Remember, the real marks of spiritual maturity are loving God well and loving others well. Be thankful for those who are always pointing you to the Lord who is the real source of strength and the only One worthy of our worship. We remain centered on Him and we refuse to have any other gods before Him.

Be thankful for all of the people He has placed in your life to encourage and pray for you. We are blessed when people in our lives are always pointing us to Him and help us in our spiritual journey.

LEAN IN TO JESUS

Keeping your church focused on Christ will be an ongoing and unending pursuit. There are faith habits that you must show new believers how to develop. Also, the reality is that you should not assume that those who have been in church for years know what to do. Develop an environment that teaches how to “lean” into Jesus both personally, in small groups, and corporately as a church. When you study His word you are “leaning” into His presence to hear His voice and His direction for your life?

The total depravity of man means that in our natural state we will always lean toward sin and away from God. Yes, we are created in the image of God and even evil people are capable of doing a good deed but they remain far from God and without hope. The depravity of man means that even a saved man is capable of an evil act if He is not in the Word and walking with the Lord. That is why it is so crucial to develop a rhythm of praying and being in God’s word daily.

There are four habits that will help your church lean in toward Christ for His presence, power, and direction.

First, lean in by spending time in His word. Here is a great quote from Alistair Begg, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” Look for the obvious and begin to obey and follow those directions. Many are running around looking for a word from the Lord when all we have to do is open His word and begin to obey.

Determine how you will come along side your people to assist them in their spiritual progress. Consider publicizing a daily Bible reading and teaching them how to S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) through journaling. It is great to write down the verses and then circle the key words to consider what God may be saying to you. Suggest a great study Bible and other study tools they might use to go deeper in the word. Lean in and look at what He says.

Second, lean in by developing the habit of spending time with God. Show them what prayer looks like and how they can cry out to God and that He hears them. Four elements of prayer as seen in the model prayer are praise, repentance, ask, and yield.   One idea would be to meet with several of your disciples and teach them about prayer but more importantly show them what it means to pray by praying with them, for them, and over them.

In prayer it is also good to stop and listen for a time. When you pray remember that it is communicating with God and that involves both sides. It is wonderful knowing that He is listening to us but it is just as wonderful to know that He speaks to us also. In your quiet time develop the practice of having a pen and pad in hand. Stop and listen to what He is saying to you through His word and the Holy Spirit. Take 3-5 minutes and be quiet in His presence. Lean in and listen!

Third, lean in by developing the habit of tithing. This is far more than good stewardship but teaches them what God requires as a part of our worship. This principle is far more than the amount but teaches the Lordship of Christ through placing God first in our day, our finances, and in our relationships. The principle of putting God first in everything must be taught and reinforced regularly. We must be willing to give Him everything including time, talent, and treasures.

Philippians 4:18 says, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked this church for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Once again we know that giving is an act of worship not just a matter of stewardship. You lean into His presence by giving with the right heart and the right motive.

Fourth, lean in by developing the habit of fellowship. The importance of community cannot be overstressed. We need one another and the New Testament is written from the “we” perspective not “me.” Natural Church Development says, “Loving relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Jesus said people will know we are His disciples by our love. Practical demonstration of love builds authentic Christian community and brings others into God’s kingdom.”

They go on to say, “Loving relationships is the area in which churches tend to extravagantly overestimate their spiritual quality…they fail to see how outsiders can have a hard time finding access to a clique. These Christians consider themselves as ‘warmhearted’ and ‘open’ toward newcomers, but they communicate-most unconsciously-the message: ’You don’t belong here.’” We need to lean into stronger, deeper, and authentic relationships. It is important to develop these four habits of leaning in toward the Lord in the context of worship services, small groups, leadership development, and our personal walks.

The attractional approach (come and see) will connect an individual usually through a worship service or an event that, well, attracts them! The incarnational approach (go and tell) focuses more on relational evangelism and tends to connect people in smaller group settings. Being attractional or incarnational is not an either/or decision but rather a both/and. As a member of my church reminded me recently, “God sent us a little reminder that our mission field is not where we go to, but where we take Him!” Hopefully, you will continue to lean into His presence through developing godly habits that will enable you to mature spiritually by coming to age in Christ. This process will keep you from leaning away, then drifting away, and eventually maybe even dropping out.

Help your church to lean in through worship, small groups, and personal discipleship!

THE ARMY WAY

“Leadership is influencing people – by providing purpose, direction, and motivation – while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization!” Where did this excellent quote on leadership come from? Interesting but it comes directly out of the official Army Leadership Manual. This description fits exactly what the church, the army of the Lord, should be focusing on. Three words stand out needing more of our attention and understanding.

The first is influencing! This means motivating and loving others in the mission for the mission. As leaders we are to influence people into an active relationship with Christ, with the church, and in their community. We need to develop a system that gives people the tools they need to stay on the path of spiritual vitality. Church systems are to be reproducible and interconnected processes by which the church actualizes and achieves its mission.

The second is operating!  As leaders we are called upon to create plans, develop systems and manage their execution so that the mission is achieved. Our role is to help people find and follow Jesus. Do we have a clear discipleship pathway and a leadership development pipeline? Do people know what “next steps” they need to take as they progress in their spiritual maturity? Please notice the emphasis is on the mission and not on the individual. God is all about the team!

The third is improving! There is always room for improvement and we should all want to get better in everything we do. A great way to improve your team is by dedicating ourselves to adding value to those around us and to the organization for the betterment of the mission. If we want to change tomorrow we need to begin doing the necessary things and taking the necessary steps today. Once again make sure you think of a clear process of next steps people need to take.

The key concept is reproducible and it is not reproducible if it is too complicated and confusing. Confusion on what to do next paralyzes any organization and brings an advancing army to a screeching halt. This is why II Timothy 2:2 defines a clear process. “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Our responsibility is to create the pathways to a clear and understandable goal.

Systems are needed and necessary to sustain the relational capitol you have work diligently to build up. Gary Rohrmayer writes, “Functional structures are the links that enable all the church systems to function harmoniously.”

Here are five areas with key questions that will help you keep your structures effective.

  1. Mission outcomes – what results are you looking to achieve?
  2. Ministry flow – what are the steps needed to achieve those results?
  3. Focus on organization structure – who will ensure that those results are being achieved?
  4. Organization flow – how do we keep people informed and involved as we achieve our goal?
  5. Focus on charting the course – how do we keep our structures effective? We need to know where we are headed and what success looks like to us. Focus on goals, steps, who is responsible, how do you cast the vision, and how can you be effective.

What do healthy and unhealthy systems look like? Here are a few thoughts I heard recently on healthy systems while attending Courage to Lead preconference at Exponential West 2017.

You must place high trust in your leaders by allowing them to lead. Sometimes team leaders are given a position with no authority but that will eventually create problems and frustrate them as they realize they have responsibility but are powerless to do anything about it.

They need to earn that trust with a proven track record. The trust level increases as information is given with clearly defined job descriptions. Remember, confusion paralyzes so a trusted leader is one who communicates well where they are headed, how they are going to get there, and how you can best help them in that journey. Resist the temptation to micromanage. Empower them to make decisions and oversee their ministry in a Christ honoring way.

Have very few committees but have a lot of conversations. Being over structured almost always guarantees less effectiveness. The best decisions are always made as a team in a group and not on an island. Those you lead will not buy-in unless they are given the opportunity to weigh-in. Develop an information process that gives everyone the right to be creative and to offer feedback. Allow decisions to be made at the lowest possible level.

Celebrate the right things and have fun along the journey. When you see something that is being effective you first want to celebrate it but you also want to do more of it. Do not allow team members to sit around with frowns on their faces. Remind them that the joy of the Lord is their strength. The question we must ask is whether the frowns on their faces are because they are imitating us? Someone creates the atmosphere and environment so make sure it is a positive one.

Stay simple and do not allow the system to become too complicated. If you are having meeting upon meetings and nothing is really working then the system is broke and needs an overhaul. Think about downsizing the busyness and focus on becoming simple. Bureaucracy is defined as an administration characterized by too much red tape and routine. Make sure you are not just meeting to meet. There must be a defined purpose for the meeting.

Think through the “Army Way” by focusing on influencing, operating, and improving. This way you can focus on executing the mission you have been called by the commander-in-chief to carry out!

 

Unrealistic Expectations

In our Dynamic Church Planting International training we have a lesson on avoiding landmines. One of those landmines is “Unrealistic Expectations.” We tell them, “Church planters often have unrealistic expectations of themselves and the churches they plant. They may try to set goals by the standard of someone else’s church plant. Faith can sometimes be confused with presumption or wishful thinking…..Planting churches is a lot like raising children. Every child is unique. Each one
has its own growth rate, and every child grows to a different size and shape.”

Leadership is always faced with the reality and pressure from their flock in this area. Many people have unrealistic expectations about how their church and staff should care for them and expect their pastor to have the strength of Hercules. It is not a one-sided problem though because expectations not only need to be realistic but they also need to be clearly articulated. Someone may be upset when they are not visited and prayed with before surgery. The reality is that there could have been four surgeries on that day making it impossible for the pastor to be there.

Truth: No one has the right to have an expectation that you did not agree to.

Whenever they do, it is a golden opportunity to disciple them and mentor in that area. One pastor’s wife was asked, “Why were you not at our event because we expected you to be there!” She responded, “Where did you get that expectation from because I never agreed to be there!” This certainly is not always easy but if unrealistic expectations are not confronted they can potentially continue to create stress, anger, and misunderstanding.

Truth: Unrealistic expectations can create an over-functioning environment.

This is defined as when you do for someone else what he or she can and should do for him or herself. One example of this would be the criticism that someone is leaving the church because they “just are not being fed.” The reality is that yes there can be shallow preaching and that needs to be corrected but every child of God should develop into a self-feeder. Those who under-function will continue to allow those who over-function to care for them as long as they will do it.

Truth: If unrealistic expectations flourish the leader will become frustrated, stressed-out, and eventually experience burnout.

Here is a great quote, “Those who make love their goal in life are going to hurt deeply when they are rejected, unappreciated, exploited, or let down by the very people they attempt to love.” People will hurt us and when they do we need to see it as a golden opportunity to seek God afresh. Refuse to stop loving deeply and even if you have been burned before it is worth the risk to love again.

Truth: We should expect challenges and we should embrace them.

We should resist the temptation to ask, why me? The real question is, why not me? Jesus is the only one who ever truly had the right to say “why me” because He was without sin. We deserve far worse and instead of focusing on how we have been mistreated we need to focus instead on how good the Lord has been to us. Quoting again, “The thrill of being ministered to by God more than compensates for the pain that people inflict on us.” David encouraged himself in the Lord.

Truth: Our identity, security, and significance are in Jesus Christ.

The Bible tells us that Jesus knowing who He was, got up, laid aside His robe, took the towel, and tied it around His waist. Jesus knew who he was (identity), where He came from (security), and where He was going (significance). Before Jesus’ servanthood is illustrated we are first shown His exalted status. When you know who you are in Christ that truth frees and liberates us to serve Christ. We do it for Him and not for public approval and the applause of man.

Truth: You need to stop over-producing and require that others do what they can and should do for themselves.

If you refuse to develop them as servants of the Lord you are promoting spiritual immaturity by not properly discipling and mentoring them. You would think the motivation of over-producing is being helpful but actually it is fear. Afraid of losing control, of what others might think of us, and that God will not do what He said He would. The goal is not being a workaholic but in equipping others for the work of the ministry.

Truth: You can face the crosses on life’s path with His help.

No, the path we are on will not always be easy. There will be times it will be a very difficult path but it is not impassable or insurmountable. We can pick up the mantle of our Savior and when faced with bearing His cross we can choose the same path He chose knowing He will be there with us. We must desire what He desired when in John 12 He considers the costly sacrifice He was facing, “Father, glorify your name.” The Father answered Him, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”

Following Christ is not an unrealistic expectation. He tells us, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” When we are faced with the challenges and crosses of life we will find out if the driving desire of our heart is the same as Christ’s – obedience and glorifying the Father. It is not unreasonable nor is it unrealistic but rather it is our reasonable service after all He has done for us. Psalm 27:10 makes it clear, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord cares for me.”

Healthy church leadership addresses unrealistic expectations by clarifying that you only have a right to an expectation if I have agreed to it!

Pray For Those Who Oppose You

Do you pray for those who oppose you? Prayer is probably the most neglected spiritual discipline in a leader’s life. Especially when a leader is a “doer” it can feel like they are not really doing anything at all when praying. It can be very hard to slow down and stay focused on God long enough to spend ample time in prayer. The commands and admonitions are clear: “Men ought always to pray!” “Pray without ceasing!” and “Always remembering you in our prayers!” Prayer is actually the first thing we should do and all too often it is the last.

In Spiritual Leadership, Henry and Richard Blackaby say this, “For leaders to have this kind of relationship available to them and then choose to not communicate with the One who wants to guide them is a gross dereliction of duty.” If you are complaining or griping about someone’s lack of cooperation or opposition in your church the first thing to do is to pray for them! Luke 6:27-28 says, “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Are you listening to what God’s word says? We have all been mistreated, treated unfairly, and experienced opposition in our ministries. What does Jesus tell us to do for those who mistreat us? Pray for them! We pray for many different things in our churches but what might happen if we prayed fervently for those who constantly seem to be against the direction you are trying to lead them? What might happen if we prayed for those who oppose us the way we would want them to pray for us? Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Easy, no – difficult, yes, but it is so necessary. John Piper challenges us that the best place to start in praying for those who oppose us is with the model prayer. He gives the following example; “Father, grant that my enemies — my colleague who snubs me, my wife who belittles me, my child who disrespects me, the ISIS member who wants to kill me — grant that they would come to hallow your name. Grant that they would treasure you above all, and reverence you, and admire you more than anything.”

“Father, grant that my enemies would come under the saving, purifying sway of your kingly rule and that you would exert your kingly power to make my enemies your own loyal subjects. Grant, Father, that my enemies would love to do your will the way the angels do it in heaven with all their might, and without reservation, and with the purest motives, and with great joy.”

“Grant, Father, that my enemies would have all the physical resources of food and clothing and shelter and education and healthcare and transportation that they need to fulfill your calling on their lives. And forgive my enemies their sins, as you bring them to repentance, and make them forgiving people, and protect them from overpowering temptations and from the destructive power of the devil.”

Henry and Richard Blackaby offer this wisdom, “Leaders who neglect a close relationship with Christ will be unable to accomplish God’s will through their organizations.” They give these reasons for why leaders need to pray:

  • Nothing of eternal significance happens apart from God. It is easy for a leader’s schedule to be all consuming but the reality is that nothing of eternal significance will happen without prayer!
  • Prayer is essential because one must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Are you under His control and direction? Are you constantly and consistently listening to His still small voice?
  • Prayer brings God’s wisdom. The reality is that God knows more than the best informed, most educated, best trained, and most read leader.
  • Prayer accesses God’s power. He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all we ask or think. Why do we not ask more often and especially for those people who are prone to be difficult.
  • Prayer relieves stress. Everybody needs someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, and someone they know they can trust with confidentialities. There is no one better than God.
  • Prayer reveals God’s agenda. The Blackabys’ definition of leadership is “Moving people onto God’s agenda!” This will not happen apart from prayer especially in perspective of the first five reasons we should pray more. Jesus modeled this truth every day here on earth as He pursued His Father’s agenda and not His own!

Here are some applications to ponder as you consider praying for your opposition.

First, it’s hard to be mad at someone you are praying for! When we pray the model prayer for those we are angry with or hurt by it first changes our heart. We then are not driven by anger or overcome by bitterness.

Second, we stop trusting in our abilities more than we trust in His. We realize we cannot always fix it…but God can. He will work it out one way or the other but we trust Him enough to leave the solution in His hands.

Third, we realize that He knows what our opposition is thinking more than we do. He is the one who sees their hearts, but remember He sees our heart also. In Uncommon Life, Tony Dungy put it this way, “Even though we can’t always choose our circumstances, we can choose our attitude in the circumstances.” That will be determined by how closely we are walking with the Lord.

Fourth, prayer can change hard hearts and bad attitudes. Many times reconciliation can look impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Prayer of course is important but whom we pray for is also important. Pray that God will restore relationships with those who oppose you and mistreat you!

The Struggle in the Middle

Sometimes the hardest place to be is in the middle. There seems to be more adrenaline in the beginning of a new project and a lot of excitement on completion, but when you are in the middle it can be challenging. Just like a new year with new commitments and a new resolve. We want to do better and we are determined to make changes but somewhere along the line we lose steam. Any project can start strong and fizzle as quickly as it began.

One example is in the area of prayer. We know we need to pray more and we believe prayer makes a difference but then the reality of the discipline required sets in. Eph. 6:18 describes this well, “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” Did you see it? Perseverance is required once we begin doing what God has asked us to do. Paul says to stay alert about the need to not only start praying but to continue!

In a study on the effectiveness and fruitfulness of pastors, Thom Rainer has discovered stages where we struggle in the middle. Years four and five and years eleven and beyond have proved to be crossroads where the challenges can be overwhelming. Years six to ten have proven to be the most fruitful but many never make it there because in years four and five most pastors decide to leave and go elsewhere. Could it be that this is because we struggle in the middle? During these crucial years it is easy to see progress and be productive, but if not careful, you can lose your passion.

Here are some things you need to know about any new project or endeavor you begin. Whether it is a new position, new church, new program, new building, or new initiative there are some steps you need to be aware of to help you while in the middle. The reality is that we hear a lot about the excitement of what is new and the commitment to finish strong, but we also need to be aware of how to remain faithful when we struggle in the middle. Think through these four natural phases we go through.

First, there is the initial excitement and passion. Everyone likes something new, such as that new car smell, but it only lasts so long. They have even produced a spray to give your car that fresh new smell again, but it just is not the same. There is also an initial adrenaline rush when we tackle a new project that propels us forward at a breakneck speed, but it usually cannot be maintained long. This time period lasts anywhere from three to six months and can even last a solid year. Has anyone ever heard of the honeymoon stage?

Second, reality begins to set in with a little bit of time. We begin to see, as the newness wears off, that there are many problems and challenges we did not notice in the beginning. You may even begin to wonder what in the world were you thinking? You also may even begin to question why you got into it in the first place. Remember, this is natural and is why so many can struggle in the middle. Use this time well and leverage it to evaluate your present reality.

There are two great dangers here to be aware of with the first being an unwillingness to evaluate. It is not comfortable for us and can be very difficult because of the transparency required. The second thing is, when we finally do evaluate the temptation, to do nothing about what we discover. The change it requires causes us to struggle in the middle because it requires an unbelievable amount of energy, effort, and cooperation. Capitalize upon this opportunity to determine what changes must be made in order to see the needed improvement.

Third, figure out what you do not want to do anymore. This sounds cold but please listen closely. We struggle in the middle sometimes because we are unwilling to admit what we have been doing is not working. We default to doing what we have always done while desiring different and better results. Webster defines the word default as, “a selection automatically used by a computer program in the absence of a choice made by the user.” Has anyone ever heard, “that’s the way we have always done it?”

A second definition for default is, “a selection made usually automatically or without active consideration due to a lack of a viable alternative.” You must be careful about settling for the same old same old and being unwilling to consider that there are other options. Innovation can be scary but it is necessary. When you consider your present reality and envision a preferred future you must be willing to prayerfully consider “viable options” even if you have never done it that way before! You struggle in the middle when you default to what you have always done and expect different results.

Fourth, a clear vision and plan of where you are going. It takes time to observe, build relationships, develop team atmosphere, and communicate that vision clearly. Systems must be developed such as outreach, spiritual growth, assimilation, ministry placement, worship service planning, pastoral care, and finance. It takes time to train and recruit leaders to lead the ministry teams and keep these systems functioning properly. The initial passion can wane and we struggle in the middle when we have to dig in and work on the ministry creatively and diagnostically.

God’s plans are discovered, discerned, and defined in God’s presence. The beginning excitement and adrenaline rush will last only so long. You need to be prepared for the crossroads that often occur in years four, five, and eleven. Remain passionate about your ministry and your church by maintaining a passionate relationship with Jesus Christ!

Get started because the speed of the leader determines the speed of the team.

Planning in His Presence

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In Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, Tony Dungy says that one of the keys to life is self-control, discipline. He says we need to “discipline ourselves to do what we need to do so that at a later time we can do what we want to do.” This truth focuses on our core, our inner most being. The necessity for disciplines in our life that will insure that our core is strong and that it remains strong. Paul prayed for believers in Eph. 3:16, “I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit.”

Prayer is one of the disciplines that is crucial to keep our spiritual core healthy and strong. When our prayer life begins to diminish then everything else begins to deteriorate. It requires discipline to dedicate oneself to prayer but our primary job is to listen to His voice. The exciting thing is that when we do our job, listening, then He promises to do His job, guiding and directing us. Prayer is the key to opening our lives to the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit. Planning is necessary in our lives and in our ministries.

First, realize that you become empty on the inside before it shows up on the outside. We have even learned to fake it, put on a mask, and appear to be spiritual when we are not walking closely with God. The truth is that your life will eventually catch up with your heart. Putting it very plainly, you will burn out sooner on the inside than you are able to see on the outside. Our prayer must be, “Holy Spirit, would you show me what You can do through me?” Remember, He is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think.

Second, the primary purpose of prayer is to get into God’s presence. You must desire and pursue prayerful planning because the plans of God are only revealed in His presence. You will be tempted to trust your instincts and hunches but the Holy Spirit’s direction is so much better. You want to figure it out and come up with a better idea on your own but even the smartest people in the world are not always right. You may think you will just work harder and longer than anybody else. A good work ethic is admirable but God’s power is better.

Third, believe in the power of prayer to accomplish great and mighty things for Him. It has been quoted often, “The Christian should work as if all depended upon him, and pray as if it all depended upon God.” You know you are not perfect but He is working to perfect you. You do not always know what to do but He knows how to direct you. You do not have the strength or stamina to do all that He has asked of you but He gives you the strength. In Draw the Circle, Mark Batterson says, “When you pray to God regularly, irregular things happen on a regular basis.”

What does prayerful planning look like? It begins by praying with a reason. Paul says, “For this reason I kneel,” and prays a specific prayer for the Ephesians to receive spiritual power. In Gen. 24, Abraham’s servant asked God to show him who would be Isaac’s wife. The Bible says in verse 15 that “before he had finished speaking there was Rebekah.” Jesus prayed specifically for His disciples in John 17 that they would be protected, have joy, be sanctified by truth, and live sent lives as He did. Be specific! What is your need right now?

Prayerful planning continues by praying with an attitude of humble intensity. Paul said he bowed on his knees. The normal Jewish prayer posture at that time was standing, with hands stretched out, and eyes looking heavenward. By kneeling he submitted, bowed, to the reality of his total dependence on God. The intensity is determined many times by the severity of the circumstances. Sometimes our prayer is a casual conversation with our heavenly Father but other times it is intense intercession. The leadership of the Holy Spirit determines the need!

Humble intensity means that we are not just fixated on getting an answer or victory over our circumstances but learning how to live, grow, and glorify Him in and through our circumstances. It is not only praying, “get me out,” but also asking God to “see us through.” Quoting Mark Batterson again, “The primary purpose of prayer is not to change our circumstances. The primary purpose is to change us!” As Jesus faced His greatest challenge, the cross, He prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify You.”

Then we need to pray with a focus. In Eph. 3:14 Paul said, “For this reason I kneel before the Father.” The focus of prayer is not on what you are asking but whom you are asking. Prayer is more about our relationship with Him than Him meeting our needs. If we desire His direction and guidance we must press and lean into His presence. This is where He outlines His agenda for us and shows us what to think, how we should feel about it, and what we are supposed to be doing. It is being in His presence to allow Him to work in us so that we can become more like Christ.

Healthy churches are always asking, “What do we need to be praying for specifically right now?” They seek to plan their work and then work their plan but that is a plan that is bathed in prayer!

God’s plans are discovered, discerned, and defined in God’s presence!