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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!

10 Steps to Make the Most Out of 2017

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Another year, 2017, is upon us and 2016 is about to be a part of history. Where does your church go from here and how do you enter this new open door of opportunity? There is a place for planning and strategy as you prayerfully seek what the Lord has for your ministry. Here are some thoughts about how to approach the new year so that you can intentionally lead those of whom God has given you the oversight.

First, plan a prayer retreat as soon as possible! If you have not already planned some time alone to seek God’s face and ask Him for direction, do it now. You must be very practical about this and pull out your calendar to schedule it. If you do not block the time off, it will not happen. A prayer retreat has been defined as “a time you set aside to go away and be alone with God.” You may want to fast from food but especially fast from your phone, the internet, and social media. Be still so you can hear His voice.

Second, utilize the S.W.O.T. analysis to determine where you are. Be willing to evaluate 2016 with other leaders in your church and determine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (or challenges). Every church has strengths and it is good to celebrate what you are doing well. Yes, look at your weaknesses and challenges but do not overlook where God is blessing and be thankful for what He is doing in your midst. Then begin to focus on where you can improve in 2017 to be the church Christ designed you to be.

Third, become strategic and intentional. What practices do you need to put in place to accomplish what you believe God is leading you to fulfill? We say we value certain things like evangelism and discipleship but are there consistent patterns evident in our lives that support what we say we value? If people look at our schedules can they tell we value these things? If an outsider looks at our church budget what would they say your church values?

Fourth, remember that church culture begins to change with the language we use. Do you have a clear, concise, and simple mission statement? Have you developed a simple strategy that clearly articulates how you plan to carry out that mission statement? A mission statement is not a fix everything solution but it is a great place to begin the journey. We must remind our congregation regularly that God is able to do above and beyond all we think and even beyond what we can imagine.

Fifth, schedule a leadership-planning meeting to cast the vision for the future. There are several components that need to be a part of this process. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear from everyone about what they think should be the church’s focus. There are some helpful guidelines to follow but do not be afraid of constructive criticism and input. A creative think tank approach can accomplish great things. There should always be honest transparency with your leadership or you will never be able to move forward.

Sixth, determine some strategic imperatives that prioritize what you must focus on first. What are 3-5 items that you feel must be focused upon first? Be sure to remain focused on God’s heart and where the Holy Spirit is working right now. What are the “most” important things you must do to achieve your vision. We are assuming at this point that you know why you exist and what you desire to accomplish as a church. Make a list of what your leadership believes are imperatives and narrow it down to 3-5.

Seventh, develop goals for each of these imperatives to move you forward in reaching them. These imperatives can be new ministries, improving present ministries, or even stopping unproductive ministries. The key here is to list at least three goals for each strategic imperative that will help to make them a reality and not just an idea. You need to know what you need to know but that is only information. You also need to be passionate about that information but that is only inspiration. Involving the head and the heart is necessary but the next step through goals is involving the hands and the feet.

Eighth, designate what needs to be done and who is responsible for making sure it happens. This is where leadership can really drop the ball. Committees tend to be a group of people not involved in a particular ministry telling those who are involved what to do. Leadership teams always focus on what needs to be done and who is responsible. You must determine measurable objectives and then assign who is responsible for making sure it happens. Values are good but values with goals are even better.

Ninth, develop the leaders around you by giving them the resources they need. We say we want to develop more leaders but how much time are we actually spending doing that? We say we value defining and developing leaders but no mentoring or apprenticeship is occurring. The process is clear in the word of God that everyone needs a Paul as a mentor and then they need to find a Timothy to mentor. Find receptive, willing, and teachable potential leaders. Then develop a process to intentionally and consistently train them.

Tenth, seek others outside of your church and ministry to help. There is something to be said about “outside” eyes. We know the scriptures tell us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. Somebody knows what you need to know, so find him or her and find out what they know. Somebody has been through what you are going through so listen to his or her story and learn from it. Somebody has been where you want to go so find out what that looked like for them. These godly advisors can talk you in off the ledge or they can motivate you to take that step of faith that you need to take.

Healthy people and healthy churches lead prayerfully, intentionally and strategically!

 

Help Is Available

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Where do you go and whom do you call when you need help as a leader? Is there something out there that can help our church to grow and be more effective in reaching lost people with the gospel? The answer is yes, and the great news is that it is not a one size fits all. There are many consulting groups (can be cost prohibitive), coaches available (much more affordable), great resources, and even denominational programs (we prefer calling ours a process). Where can I look or whom could I call?

First, there are some excellent resources out there that lead you through processes that will enable you to think through improving your ministry. One such resource is Advanced Strategic Planning by Dr. Aubrey Malphurs. This helps you to prayerfully consider what kind of church you are, what kind you desire to be, and what process will you use to get to that preferred future. What will that look like? Malphurs defines vision as, “a clear, challenging picture from the heart of what we must be (future).” He challenges us to “See it clearly, say it continually, and share it creatively.”

Malpurs has two more books that have been a tremendous help to me. Being Leaders and Building Leaders, which is co-authored by Will Mancini. The second book has the sub-title of “Blueprints for developing leadership at every level of your church.” These books have some excellent tools that will help you better evaluate your leadership and your church. He is always giving direction in how to establish your core values, establish your mission, develop a vision for your church, and then implement a strategy to accomplish God’s purpose for your church.

Second, consider the Activate program we have through DiscipleGuide. Even though there is a waiting list, the process is helping pastors to be a part of a learning community. These “huddles” meet regularly and are led by a coach who walks the path of church revitalization and health with each participant. You make this journey with your own small group as you learn how to evaluate where your congregation is, recruit a leadership team within your church, and then work together to see your preferred future become a reality.

This is what the website says about Activate, “Is there hope for the local church that is plateaued or is on the decline? Yes! However, struggling churches that turn their ministries around and begin to experience growth and life-change do not do so by accident. An intentional process of evaluation and plan of action must occur…Activate is a total church process that can help put declining churches on the road to health and growth.” You can contact them through email; info@discipleguide.org, or by phone; 1-800-333-1442.

Third, there are some other excellent tools that can be utilized such as one by Dr Hal Seed at www.pastormentor.com where you can enroll at whatever level you are comfortable with. The eBooks are only $4.99 each and are well worth the small investment. He has different levels of programs available to help pastors and give them tools to help them in their ministries. All the way from signing up for his emails, to being able to watch his systems training videos, to being coached and mentored directly by Hal.

Systems are what help you maintain and capitalize on the momentum you have gained through your relationship building. Hal has training on eBooks along with video training on these systems: assimilation, finances, outreach, small groups, spiritual growth, ministry placement, worship planning, and more. In the trainings he also gives insights and helps about personal matters, health, family, time management and much much more. These materials are the best investment I have ever made toward being a better leader in the local church.

Fourth, connect with some other ministry leader, pastor, conference or consultant you have an affinity with. Make sure someone is mentoring you. The best definition I know of a mentor is by Dynamic Church Planting International; “A mentor is someone who has been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there.” There has never been a time in the history of the church where more resources and tools were available. We are without excuse in reaching out and asking for help.

Here are a couple of pointers to consider as you look to the best approach for you and your church.

  1. The worst action is inaction. Whatever you decide to do, please make sure that doing nothing is not an option!
  2. Pray about whom you could contact and talk to about helping. Be sensitive to God’s direction because it is His church.
  3. Look for a process that reinforces implementation. Accountability is a good thing and will keep you on task.
  4. Trainings are great but learning communities, “huddles”, will remove the temptation of going to the training, filling out the notebook, and placing it on the shelf never to be visited again.
  5. Get your church leadership on board. There must be an ability and a willingness of leaders in the church to evaluate and act upon the evaluation.

There are church structures that inhibit this process. Listen to what is said in Building Leaders, “For example, a committee selects a young man as committee chairman. The committee, however, does not function as an actual ministry team. The committee members may make decisions about ‘ministry,’ but they are not doing ministry. While committees may be important and necessary, and while leadership is about decision making, a church with too much decision-making structure inhibits leader development because there is more ‘talk’ than ‘walk.’”

Healthy churches are willing to look outside of themselves and learn from other churches and ministries!

Priorities

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To what will you give your time and energy? What are the most important things in your life and ministry? It has been suggested to make a list of the things you find yourself doing that really don’t make a significant difference. It is very easy to get caught up in busy work that is not very productive. All of us can find ourselves just like Martha did in Luke 10 where she was distracted by her many tasks.

The next step is making a second list of the things that are truly important. This includes things like sitting at the feet of Jesus (Mary; Martha’s sister), investing in building relationships with people far from God, and discipling those who are hungry for God. These are the things we should be giving our lives to with all of our time and energy. We must be careful not to nickel and dime our time away on the less important.

  • Decide what is truly important and what is not. Priorities are like banks of a river that keep the water flowing in the right direction. Every day you must be intentional and make choices about what you will do, where you will go, and how you will spend your time. Jeremiah 42:3, “That the Lord God may tell us the way we should walk and the thing we should do.” Saying yes to one thing means you must say no to something else.
  • Discipline yourself to focus on what is important. Time alone with is a priority and that means you must discipline yourself to schedule that time. You have to protect it and be willing to say no to other things that you could be doing. Determining your priorities requires a decision about what are essentials and non-essentials in your life and ministry. You cannot be everywhere and you cannot do everything so you must make wise choices.

Here is a good checklist from Leaders Who Last by David Kraft.  It is a process that helps you stay focused on what is of the greatest importance. You can apply this to your personal life, your entire church, or an individual ministry your oversee. You must be concerned and focused on being productive not simply busy. Leaders must be proactive and intentional compared to reactive and always putting out fires when they ignite.

First, determine your purpose! This is what you are called to accomplish in your life and in your church. Our calling is to passionately follow Jesus and to help others find and follow Him. In Luke 24:48 Jesus told His disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.” What steps are we intentionally taking to build relationships with people who are far from God so that we might demonstrate the love of God to them?

Second, be passionate about your purpose. This is a sense of enthusiasm about your purpose and direction. Passion comes from spending time with the Lord and allowing Him to set our hearts on fire. When Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus they later said in Luke 24:32, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the scriptures to us?”

Third, you must develop goals. What do you want your life to look like in two to three years from now? What would you like your discipleship program to look like in that time frame? What does your preferred future look like? How many books would you like to read this year? How much weight would you like to lose this year? Goals help you to make the right choices to get where you want to go.

Fourth, write out a plan to accomplish those goals. Every individual and church would be wise to determine their present reality and then envision their preferred future. The plan is what you are going to do to get to that preferred future. What steps are you going to take to make that happen? What needs to be done next to move forward and who needs to be the one doing it? Make sure everyone knows who is responsible to make the plan work.

Fifth, place the plan on a timeline. When does each step of the plan need to be accomplished? Deadlines help us with follow through. Is this doable by the time you have designated? Are the goals you have established SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) goals? Place the goal and plan on the calendar and then be willing to hold yourself responsible for its completion.

Sixth, then you must execute the plan. Nike has said it well, “Just do it!” At some point and time you must pull the trigger and move forward. It has also been said many times, and is still true, “Plan the work and then work the plan!” The everyday choices you are making are your priorities. Are they producing the outcome you desire? Brian Tracy says, “Eighty percent of what you do on a daily basis needs to be intentional as opposed to responsive and should be directly tied to your purpose.”

Seventh, make sure you evaluate your progress. Always be assessing your progress and how you can improve. In Leaders Who Last, David Kraft says, “If I don’t create a daily plan that is a reflection of my God-given purpose and direction in my life, there are sufficient numbers of people who will create a plan for me. I have those in my life who would say with smiles on their faces, ‘Dave, God loves you and I have a wonderful plan for your life!’”

Healthy Christians have a plan to intentionally prioritize their lives and ministries in order to accomplish God’s purpose.

 

Lead With Passion

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What ingredient would you consider to be the most crucial for effective leadership? Maybe you would say that character is the most important, and character certainly does matter. What we do does come out of who we are. The number one characteristic important to employees in a recent survey was honesty. People cannot hear what you are saying over what they see you doing. Character counts if you are going to have the ability to influence those you are striving to lead.

Character leads into another important leadership quality – credibility. We live in a time where there is very little trust in leaders. It does not necessarily have anything to do with the individual in leadership as much as it is that they just hold a leadership position. Many have become suspicious of all and it takes patience and time to build credibility. The unfortunate truth is that credibility and trust can be lost in seconds. We live in a day and time where credibility must be earned by the lives we live!

Another important leadership ingredient is capability. Peter Drucker was quoted as saying, “Other than president of the United States, the three most difficult jobs in America today are president of a large university, administrator of a large hospital, and pastor of a large church.” The skill set for a pastor is off the charts with what is being expected and asked of this leader. Paul, when mentioning difficulties he had gone through, also listed the daily pressure on him from the care of the churches.

Perhaps a commitment to learning is the most important characteristic. There is no doubt that a leader must be a lifelong learner. Aubrey Malphurs says that, “a lack of teachability is the potential leader’s cardinal sin.” It is very important to remain flexible and to not think you have all of the answers. There is a trap with our egos when we think we have been doing this long enough and have it figured out. While experience is important, we should always remain teachable.

However, I believe that the most important leadership ingredient is passion! In Being Leaders, Aubrey Malphurs defines Christian leadership as, “the process whereby servants use their credibility and capability to influence people in a particular context to pursue their God-given direction.” Yes, character counts. Credibility and capability are also crucial ingredients as leaders but without passion they will not endure. A key to leadership is remaining close to Christ so that our hearts burn with His fire.

Lyle Schaller wrote, “I think passion is the critical variable. It has taken me a long time to come around to that, but if a pastor does not have a passion for the mission, you can forget the rest. I would insist that the number one quality of a leader is passion.” Aubrey Malphurs agrees, and so do I. If we are not passionate for our church and our city then maybe it is time to step aside? Or at least we must find a way for the passion to be rekindled! Paul told Timothy to “keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you.”

Malphurs defines passion in Being Leaders as, “a God-given capacity to commit oneself fervently over an extended period of time to meeting an objective. Here is a breakdown of this definition:

  • God-given: The only way for passion to burn within us is to spend time with the Lord. Luke 24:32 says, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” Passion comes from intimate time with Jesus!
  • Commit: Passion is not just the “rah rah” of a pep rally but it carries also a game plan. There is an intentionality and commitment to planning a strategy to do something about what we say we are passionate about. James 4:17, “So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.”
  • Fervently: Who will reach their cities for Christ? Those who are passionately in love with Him. What are you contributing to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment? If we truly feel strongly about something it then propels us into action.
  • Extended period of time: This is not a short-term commitment, but rather, it means we are in it for the long haul. Malphurs says, “Passion has tenure!” It is what we have dedicated ourselves to until we have met the objective. Casting Crowns sings, “Until the whole world hears!”

The temptation is to think that passion is only for the extroverts and the outgoing.

In Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft says, “Personality is a God thing not a personality thing!” Passion is equal to conviction and as you read the book of Acts you see that the early church was passionate. They were on fire with a boldness that created fearlessness in their lives. You do not see them obsessed with safety or comfort. They were ready to place their lives on the line for the cause of Christ and they did!

We read about the apostle’s passion when they were threatened and told to quit sharing the gospel in Acts 4:19-20, “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Paul later says in Acts 20:24, “But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Passion is produced from a genuine joy that flows from being in love with Jesus. Healthy Christians, healthy leaders, and healthy churches are passionate!

Shifting Gears

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The very first car my wife and I bought together, right before we married, was a 1974 Mustang II. It did not have an automatic transmission but, rather, was a five-speed manual. She had never driven a stick shift before, so the training began. Nothing like learning to drive a five-speed to see how well you will really be able to get along. She was doing quite well until one day we had an errand to drive where the area was quite hilly.

Unfortunately, the traffic light caught us where the hill was the steepest, and now the real test was about to begin. When the light turned green she tried, but we rolled backwards. Again, she tried but the result was the same. The man behind us was quite concerned waving his hands and honking his horn. I pulled up the emergency hand break in the middle console, told her to gun it, pop the clutch, and I let the brake down.   You can get rubber even in a 4-cylinder!

She became very proficient with a manual transmission, which proved to be quite useful while we were living in Romania.   Learning to know when to be in the right gear at the right time allows the engine to function at its optimum. In the wrong gear at the wrong time and the engine labors and can even shut down. Being in the right gear at the right time is also important in our lives for us personally, our families, and wherever we may work. If you are in the wrong gear at the wrong time damage can be done.

The following gears are used in the book Five Gears: How to Be Present When there Is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram. The key is being aware of the gear you are in, the gear others are in around you, and then being willing to shift into the needed gear for the moment. We will run over people if we choose to continue at the speed we are traveling and are unwilling to down shift, slow down, and be fully present and focused on them where they are at the moment.

  • First Gear is the Recharge Mode. This is where you completely unplug and are able to get refreshed, recharged, and reenergized. This is your time alone with God and making sure you get the rest and relaxation that you need. This is why there is a day and a night, a Sabbath, a time to work and a time to rest. God placed these rest rhythms into our lives for our health and well-being. Do not skip over first gear and try to start off too fast in another gear because eventually you will damage your engine.
  • Second Gear is the Connect Mode. We must learn to be fully present with our families. The people we love the most deserve our best in the area of our undivided attention during quality time together. We cannot afford to always be distracted and guilty of being physically present but not emotionally. Are you connecting appropriately with your wife and with your children? The reality is that miscommunication grows exponentially the busier our lives become.
  • Third Gear is the Social Mode. This middle gear gives us the ability to shift down or up pretty easily. We can downshift into second gear where we can spend quality time with someone that allows up to get to know them more personally. Look for these opportunities and capitalize on them but also be ready to upshift to being able to multi-task. The key to third gear is being aware of what is needed at the moment and having “EQ” which is emotional intelligence.
  • Fourth Gear is Task Mode. This is where we are multi-tasking and working hard in several different areas. It is interesting that 85% or people are usually in this gear but you cannot stay there forever. It is not good if the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night is to check your email. There is a time that all of us need to learn to shut it off and to shutdown. This gear can be exhilarating and bring a lot of personal satisfaction as we check things off of our to-do list.
  • Fifth Gear is the Focus Mode. Now you are 100% focused on the task and you are uninterrupted as you complete it. This has been described as being “in the zone.” I have asked several what that looks like in their particular field. A policeman shared with me that it is when he is able to help someone. An owner of a factory shared with me that it is that 2-3 minutes every day when everything and everyone is working in perfect harmony. An NFL quarterback said it is when he can see the whole field and knows what everyone is going to do and how the defense will react, the opposite of tunnel vision.

When are you in “the zone?” Where is your sweet spot when you are at your best and can be the most productive you can be? It may be in 90-minute segments, early mornings, or right after lunch. Maybe you need to get around people to be “in the zone” or you need to be locked in a room by yourself with a white marker board as you dream and visualize. Once again, though, you cannot stay in fifth gear forever. There will be time to downshift into multi-tasking and then even downshift again to be social again.

To properly drive a five-speed transmission you must be aware of how the engine sounds, the terrain, the correct speed needed, and sensitive to what is needed at the moment. The same is true in our lives as we become more self-aware of the gear needed for us to be productive and personable. You cannot always be the social butterfly because there is work to be done nor should you continually be all about the work while ignoring relationships.

Healthy Christians know when to shift gears!

 

The Time is Now

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In The Making of a Leader, author Bobby Clinton states that only 30% of leaders finish well. Unfortunately, time takes a toll on many leaders who quit, throw in the towel or disqualify themselves. Too many lose heart, lose their joy, and become casualties of the pressures of leadership. All of us have been disheartened by news of a well-known leader who did not finish well. Sadly, the temptation is to only focus on what caused their demise instead of many contributions they made to the kingdom.

The truth is that most people will remember how we finished not how we started. How can we stand the test of time? How can we make sure we finish well? How do we make sure that our spiritual life, passion for Christ, and joy is not choked out of us? In How to Lead & Still Have a Life, H. Dale Burke describes a lot of leaders as “Busy, Buried, and Behind.” They have slowly but surely become overworked, overloaded, and overwhelmed. Many leaders talk far more about burnout than how blessed they are.

First, you must stay centered on Jesus! It is way too easy to make the ministry and our work the center of our universe, but it isn’t. Following Christ is first and foremost about developing an intimate relationship with Him. It is not about fulfilling obligations, checking items off our to-do list, or following a list of regulations. In Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft says, “Great men and women are great because they enjoy exceptional intimacy with Christ.” Do not fall in to the trap of thinking it is all up to you! The power of God works in you and through you but it is not from you.

Second, you must stay focused on your calling! You cannot do it all and here is the good news; God never asked you to! Andy Stanley has said it this way, “Opportunity does not equal obligation.” It is imperative for you to determine what God has called you to do and then remain focused on that calling. If you are already overloaded and overwhelmed you must decide what you will say no to if you are going to say yes to a new project. If you have not written out your own personal purpose statement you should consider taking a prayer retreat and asking God to reveal that to you. Take a look at Jeremiah 42:1-3.

Third, be willing to place your to-do list through a filter. We must seek God regularly to guide our use of time. Wayne Grudem says it like this, “I find the most helpful thing I do regarding use of time is to spend time in prayer each morning bringing my plans and my ‘to do’ list before the Lord and seeking his direction.” How can you best leverage your time to have the greatest influence and impact for Christ? Change takes time and it is wisdom to remember that you hardly ever accomplish as much as you would like in one year but can accomplish far more than you thought in five years.

Fourth, reignite your passion for the great commission and the great commandment. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, wrote: “For many years, one of the first things I do every morning is to evaluate all the day’s competing demands against a single criterion: How will each opportunity enable me to maximize my contribution to helping fulfill the Great Commission? I prioritize accordingly. Some of the demands go to the top of my list, some down the list, and some get eliminated.” How will you meet and build relationships with those who are far from God?

Fifth, remember the example of the apostle Paul. When Paul went before King Agrippa he once again shared his salvation story on the road to Damascus and says this in Acts 26:19-20, “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance.” He testifies that He received “Help that comes from God.” He not only provides saving power but also sustaining power.

Sixth, know that Christ wants more for you than you can imagine. It was Paul who wrote in Philippians 1:6 “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Now is the time to go back to the basics of point number one and remind yourself not to fall into the trap of thinking it is all up to you! God wants to do greater things in your life and in your ministry than you do. Paul goes to the next level in Philippians 4:13, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Seventh, make sure you are getting enough rest. Fight the temptation of thinking that if you are not busy then you are being lazy! David Kraft also says, “Sometimes our schedules and egos are writing checks our bodies cannot cash.” If we are travelling at a break neck speed the best thing we can do is to slow down. Where can you find margin in your life to get some much needed rest? Everyone needs to make sure they are able to find ways to get refreshed, recharged, and renewed. You can only run on empty so long before everything comes to a screeching halt.

Healthy Christians and healthy churches find rhythms led by the Holy Spirit of God that allow them to stand the test of time!

Authentic Values

Businesswoman hands holding white card sign with What is important to you ? question text message isolated on grey wall office background. Retro instagram style image

Much has been said and written about values. Are our values preferences or practices? In Acts 2:42-47 we are given the core values of the early church as teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They were not just preferences but daily practices. We know this because we are told they “devoted themselves” to these values. The passage does not say they sat around discussing or debating them but, rather, they were the daily practices of their lives.

In his book Value Driven Leadership, Aubrey Malphurs describes values as either “actual” or “aspirational.” Is there a difference? James 2:18 makes a clear distinction between the two in stating, “But someone will say, ’You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.” James also states in 1:22, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Malphurs describes actual and aspirational values in the following ways:

First, Actual Values are the beliefs we own and act on daily. These values come from inside of you and are who you are. It is authentic because they exist now, in the present, and describe what is true about you right now. Actual values are not just preferences but what you practice daily. When you share your actual values people around you shake their heads in affirmation because they see it and agree with you.

Second, Aspirational Values are beliefs you do not currently own. You know you should own them but you are not quite there yet. Aspirational values deal with what should be, not necessarily what actually is. These are values we would like to adopt such as being evangelistic. We desire to reach people with the gospel, but the truth is, we are really not that evangelistic; not yet. We aspire to be!

With these two descriptions of values by Dr. Malphurs, allow me to share a couple of observations we need to be aware of about values:

  1. Our Biblical values will be tested! For example, it is one thing to say we value loving people but we must realize that unconditional love can be put to the test daily. I John makes this very clear, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen.”
  2. Are Biblical truths our values or our goals? We say we are burdened for the lost but what are we personally doing to reach them? It is wonderful to have the goal of reaching the world for Christ but what daily practices are we involved in that are helping us in that direction? The results will never change if we do not change our daily practices. What will we begin doing differently?
  3. Are Biblical truths our actual practices or just aspirational preferences? Jesus said that “men ought always to pray” but how much time are we actually spending in prayer? We say we value the word of God and should study it daily but is it our daily practice to have a quiet time in the word with our Lord? For our results to change our daily practices must change also.
  4. You cannot fake Biblical values! What you really value always shows up! If you really believe in the importance of sharing the gospel with people far from God, then you are constantly building relationships and bridges to them. You do not just talk about what you are going to do but you actually practice what you preach. Matthew 6:21 says it well, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
  5. Make sure your values are genuine and authentic! Be honest about it! At our church I like to say, “We want to be the friendliest church in the world!” I never say, “We are the friendliest church in the world, state, or even our city!” There is nothing wrong with openly admitting what goals you would like to adopt without claiming you have arrived. You cannot intellectualize values nor can you rationalize them.

Malphurs challenges us to examine our values to determine whether they are actual or aspirational. You can determine this by whether they are verbalized preferences and goals or are actual daily practices. Here are some excellent questions to ask about ourselves and our ministries: What values or beliefs should we adopt? What values and beliefs have we adopted? What would those looking in from the outside say we value? What are our real values? What key value ingredients are missing?

This is where many churches get in trouble and struggle because they resist what they need most; a complete or partial transition from one set of values to another. Do we value keeping members happy or do we value reaching our neighbors with the gospel? Do we value our traditions or do we value reaching our children and grandchildren with the gospel? Do we value our personal preferences or being culturally relevant while remaining Biblically sound?

Realize that conflict in churches often arises from differing values. Some value safety, comfort, and routine. Others value risk, sacrifice, and shaking things up. Every church must decide what they really value and if those values are not consistent with God’s mission for His church they must be willing to do whatever is necessary to be obedient to His plan for His church. Values can be measured by what our calendars contain and by our checkbooks.

Healthy churches and healthy Christians are authentic about what they value and are willing to change to make sure God’s values are genuinely theirs!

Are You The Older Brother?

other-brother

The reports of great Easter services yesterday are already coming in! One church plant, not even two years old, had 212 in attendance and ten joined. Another report of a church plant not yet five years old had a record attendance of 539 with six baptisms. Our church exceeded our average attendance by 150 and had 495 present on Easter. How did these reports cause you to feel or react? Were you able to rejoice or did it make you skeptical or envious?

In the story of the prodigal son there are actually two prodigals. One took his inheritance, squandered it, and finally came to his senses and returned home. When his father saw him he rejoiced and the celebration began but the older brother was not a happy camper. The older brother was angry and said, “Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends!” (Luke 15:29)

The real story in the parable of the prodigal son is actually the older brother. In context, these were the kind of people to whom Jesus was telling this story. The older brother was actually more lost than the younger because he could not see his lostness. His goodness and respectability had blinded him. Sadly, he was living with the father but was far from him. He was more concerned about keeping score of how others were serving more than taking care of his own relationship with the father.

The older brother serves as a warning to us that it is possible to obey God’s commands and be lost. It is possible to faithfully attend church, read your Bible, pray—and be lost! As you work for God you can appear to be very close to Him and yet actually be very far from Him. If you still need a little convincing then you should take a look at Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 18:9-14. The older brother did not have the same heart his father had!

How do you know if you are the older brother? Are there signs to look for that should cause us to repent and ask for the Father’s forgiveness? Maybe we are not the older brother but are acting like him at times. What should we look for? Here are things to watch out for to make sure our hearts are like the heart of our Father:

First, when you cannot rejoice when prodigals return home you are acting like the older brother. The father was dancing and celebrating but the older brother could not. There was no rejoicing in his heart because he was angry and believed he was justified in being mad. The issue was not that it made him mad but what he did with that anger. The older brother was seething because he had saved up this anger for years and now it was boiling over.

When you harbor and hold onto offenses over a long period of time they can lead to depression, ulcers, insomnia, and outbursts of anger. They give you a negative attitude and rob you of the joy of the Lord. The key is always to get before the Lord, admit our anger, and then ask Him to help us to rejoice the way He rejoices. If you are always skeptical when a prodigal son returns home you acting far more like the older brother than you are the father!

            Second, when you are constantly griping and complaining you are acting like the older brother. He says, “This son of yours!” He does not even want to admit that he is his brother. It appears that he does not want him back in the family and would just as soon go on without him. The older brother is condescending, proud, and faultfinding. He hears the music and wonders why he was not invited? He sees the celebration and is jealous that they were throwing a party for his brother and not for him.

How do you know if you have become like the older brother? When you are always negative. Especially about the things that makes our heavenly Father rejoice! Philippians 2:3-4 says this about jealousy, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” You can tell a lot about a person’s heart if they cannot rejoice when others are blessed and they are not!

Third, when you have a hard time forgiving you are acting like the older brother. Are you prone to holding grudges? Do you often think, “I may forgive but I will never forget?” Do you struggle with harboring bad feelings when someone has chosen the wrong path and then returns home? Are you actually sympathizing with the older brother and feeling like he is really getting a raw deal here?

Where do you start in this process of forgiveness? You need to grasp the enormity of your debt and realize it is much greater than you can even imagine. John Newton said this, “I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great savior.” Ephesians 4:32 states it clearly, “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. “ The heart of the father is to forgive while the heart of the older brother is to hold a grudge ‘til Jesus comes!

Healthy churches and healthy Christians rejoice when God does great things!

Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care Team

How do you make sure that you are caring for the people in the church properly? Is pastoral care completely the pastor and staff’s responsibility? Is it possible that pastoral care is actually keeping many churches from reaching more lost people? How do we balance loving people more and the call to love more people? We have the challenge to help and care for people but also are to share the gospel with those who are far from God.

In Lasting Impact, Carey Nieuwhof makes these observations. “Practically, churches cannot run simply on paid staff. The model is unfeasible and the work is simply too great!” Also, “Ironically, it’s in caring for others that most leaders make the mistake of neglecting self-care!” He has even written a blog article on how pastoral care stunts the growth of most churches, which is well worth the read, at careynieuwhof.com. It will challenge you!

The early church had a problem in this area that we are told about in Acts 6. When the apostles saw that there was a lack of adequate pastoral care they did not work harder or try to do all the work themselves. They did not work longer hours and neglect their families because they were the only ones who could do the work of the ministry. They did not rebuke the widows and tell them they were too demanding but, instead, chose seven other men to help in the needed pastoral care.

Your church will struggle to grow, and the pastor and staff will become overwhelmed, if the church does not take steps to appoint a pastoral team. When we follow the biblical model it ensures that people are properly cared for and that a few are not so overloaded that they eventually burn out. Here are a few ideas from Dynamic Church Planting International’s New Church Dynamics on how to develop a pastoral care team:

First, find someone with a pastoral gift to lead the team. Prayerfully ask the Lord to raise up an individual who has a passion for this ministry. They need to be someone who loves loving others and visiting people in their times of need. If you structure small groups to oversee those in their groups, they are the first responders. Then, this leader can help come alongside of the small group to make sure they are properly ministered to and cared for.

Look for people with the gifts of shepherding and mercy. There may be retired individuals in your church who would love to help in making hospital visits, home visits, and even calling to check on shut-ins and those who are sick. Remember, the number one reason many say they have never volunteered in the church is because no one ever asked them. There are those who would love to help if they were asked and shown what to do. This brings us to the next step:

Second, make sure you give this individual the training they need in this ministry. Here is a simple, but effective, four step process:

  • Model care ministry by encouraging your potential leader to accompany you as you care for people. Never go alone, but always strive to take someone with you so they can see first hand how to handle different situations.
  • Mentor the leader by sharing what you are doing and why you are doing it. They will learn a lot by watching how it is done and then discussing it after the visit has been accomplished. Answer their questions when you debrief immediately afterwards.
  • Monitor the care leader as you begin to give care assignments. Always be prepared, ready to give encouragement and guidance, because you will need to continue discipling them in this area. Continually ask what you can do help and resource them.
  • Multiply by asking the leader to recruit others to the care ministry. If they truly are a leader they will easily recruit others to help in pastoral care. If you do not see multiplication then you will need to pray that God will raise up another leader who can multiply themselves.

Third, empower care team members to visit on behalf of the pastor and staff. Like an ambassador represents his country’s leader, your care leaders represent the leadership of the church. Ask team members to make it clear that they are representing the pastor of the church. People should feel loved and cared for by the church when they are visited by members of the pastoral care team, small group leaders, or any other designated individuals you have trained to provide care.

If you want more out of your team then you must put more into your team. Make sure you have clear expectations spelled out for those serving in this area. Also, they need to know who to call if they are unable to follow through on their visits. There must always be a back up plan. The goal here is that they are loved, cared for, and prayed with. This can be full time job and the pastor does not have the time to do all of this himself.

The model of the pastor doing it all will only lead to people being mad, a lot of frustration, and the pastor becoming totally overwhelmed. Jethro said this to Moses, when he saw the way he was trying to do it all himself, “You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone!”

Healthy churches develop pastoral ministry teams!