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Dealing with Conflict and Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Sacrifice of Worship

J.D. Greear emphasizes the importance of worship, “When we see the size and beauty of the God who speaks to us, the power of sin and idolatry over our hearts is broken! The way we will stop sinning is not by being told over and over to, ‘Stop sinning!’ but by seeing the majesty and glory of God in our hearts. As we see the beauty of God and feel His weightiness in our hearts, our hearts begin to desire Him more than we desire sin. Before the Bible says, ‘Stop sinning,’ it says, ‘Behold your God!’”

When we have seen the beauty of God and felt the weightiness of God’s majesty in our soul, sin’s power is broken over us. The problem is not that our desires for other idols are too large; it’s because our desire for God is too small. Lesser urges can only be expelled by stronger ones. Our affections for idols are brought under control only when they are taken captive by a stronger more enchanting affection. You will only hate sin when you start to love God!

That occurs through worship, as we desire to see Him high and lifted up more than anything else going on in our lives. Remember, idolatry literally means “weight” and it is anything that we assign and give more importance than God. Worship enables us to see God as “weightier” than any sin in our life and we cannot imagine life without Him.

Worship has been described as “worthship.” You worship what you give worth to…those relationships or possessions or goals that you supremely value. Worship has always involved sacrifice. The Apostle Paul uses sacrificial terminology and outlives for us four tangible sacrifices we can offer God as an act of worship.

First, is a Surrendered Life. Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” The essence of worship is found in yielding our lives to the Lordship of Christ. Nothing hinders personal and corporate worship more than lives that have crawled off the altar and have chosen not to surrender themselves to the care and control of Jesus.

Second, is a Sacrifice of Praise. Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore through Him let us continually offer up the to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.” A big part of worship is offering words that acknowledge God’s character (who He is) and thank Him for His goodness (all that He has done for us). Worship is not a spectator sport but rather requires our participation as we pray, sing, and listen to the word of God.

Third, is our Service and Generosity. Hebrews13:16 , “Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.” From the greeters to the safety team to all others who come early to serve in some capacity, please realize that your worship begins when you show up! Through your acts of service and your willingness to be generous with your time you are offering a sacrifice to God (worship), which is pleasing to Him.

Fourth, is our Financial Gifts. Philippians 4:18, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked them for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Giving to the Lord is an act of worship not just an act of stewardship. Is what I am giving to the Lord and the spirit by which I give it pleasing to the Lord? When it is, it is worship!

Everyone involved in making sure that the worship service gets up and running needs to see themselves as priests before God. An attitude of service and sacrifice is key for providing a holy atmosphere for people to encounter a holy God. We must have our hearts prepared to worship God through personal examination, confession of sins, and the resolution of any conflicts. During a worship celebration God is to be exalted with a focus on His goodness and eternal mercies.

Our worship services exist for God. He is our focus. We want His fame to spread throughout the world. We want Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. The sole purpose is to meet with God because He is the only one who can meet our spiritual needs. Our public prayers should reflect this adoration. They should lift the weary soul up before God just as much as our music does. Does this mean we need to pray in our God voice? No, it simply means we get our hearts and minds ready for leading people before His throne of grace.

The leaders must be spiritually focused to guide God’s people in worship. They must have their hearts prepared to worship Him through personal examination, confession of sins, and the resolution of any conflicts. There should be a celebrative atmosphere during the worship service. Music sets the tone of our worship and whether it is hymns or choruses there must be an inspiring aspect that lifts God’s people out of their ordinary lives into the presence of God.

There must also be a clear emphasis on the character of God. The sole purpose is meet with God, the only one who can meet our spiritual needs. We want Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. He alone is the one who is worthy of our praise, adoration, and worship. Any sacrifice of our time, effort, or energy that we give Him is well worth it. When the motive is right, these offerings are well pleasing in His sight!

Pslam 96:9 says, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness;
tremble before Him, all the earth.”

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!

SEQUENTIALISM

Now there is a word you just do not use every day. At least I don’t but when leading your church to have a mission’s strategy it needs to be addressed. There are several missiologists who have even warned churches of the “heresy of sequentialism.” Sequentialism is “separating into components what really ought to be embraced all at once. It is a very linear approach to our outreach where we begin to believe and think that we must reach our Jerusalem, and then reach our Judea, next our Samaria, and then and only then do we reach out to the ends of the earth.”

In Church Planting Movements David Garrison talks about deadly sins of church planting and one of those is sequentialism. It is the idea that things have to be done in order where first you do this and then you do that. It affects the way we view worldwide missions but can also negatively impact discipleship in the local church. We imply, and even teach outright, that you cannot effectively share the gospel until you reach a certain level of discipleship. When a person steps over the line of faith they probably know more people far from God and have a closer relationship with them then they ever will.

Acts 1:8 gives us the focus of our church mission’s strategy but the text makes it clear that it is to be done simultaneously. Some churches seem to be arguing over choosing one location over the other. You hear things like, “What about about us?” or “Why aren’t we going where people are responding?” Implying that we must choose between focusing locally or globally but that is not the biblical approach. Matter of fact it says “all” of Judea, which should cause us to also have a burden for church planting right here in America. The reality is we do need more churches here and everywhere!

First, develop a biblically sound and comprehensive strategy for how your church needs to be involved in the Great Commission.

How are you helping to reach people with the gospel in your Jerusalem, “all” of Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth? What strategies do you have locally, regionally, nationally, and globally? In Philippians 1:5 Paul thanked those who had decided to partner with him in the advancement of the gospel. It is a privilege to help church planters and missionaries in their gospel efforts.

Second, seek the Lord in prayer on what “next steps” your church should take to be obedient in all of these areas simultaneously.

Jesus prayed all night about whom He should ask to be the leaders He would develop to champion this movement. The church in Antioch set aside and sent out Barnabas and Saul following a focused time of corporate prayer. Think through the P-5 multiplication process of praying, preparing, partnering, parenting, and planting. How can you become more intentionally involved in those areas?

Third, make sure to cast the vision and get the entire church involved in the process.

When it is birthed in prayer everyone owns the vision. It is not a few leaders who decide what should be done and who the church should support. The Holy Spirit is able to speak to the entire congregation so that it will be “their” vision and “their” responsibility given to them by Him. As a church, decide how you will best leverage your gifts, talents, and resources for carrying out the Great Commission.

Fourth, use wisdom in how you use your financial resources.

David Garrison says, “Money, though not inherently evil, is also not essential to Church Planting Movements, but it can produce a quick burst of energy. When a missionary’s hunger to see quick results prompts him to hire pastors and construct church buildings with foreign funding, he has bit the Devil’s Candy!”

“Building a movement on foreign funds is like running a machine with an extension cord that stretches across the ocean. When the movement reaches the end of the cord’s length, it will abruptly stop. A Church Planting Movement must have an internal engine and internal fuel if it is going to flourish.”

Fifth, set up some principles that guard you from building ministries that are not sustainable over time.

Consider a plan of thirds on projects. The rule of thumb here is to never proceed on a project where the local congregation cannot invest a least a third of the necessary funds. The congregation should be investing in the project as well. Make sure the focus is on finding people and reaching them with the gospel and not just providing a facility.

Whenever you give too much or give it for too long you are potentially creating an attitude of dependence. The temptation will almost always be to accept the funds for as long as they offered. Amazingly and quite often when the congregation is forced to step up and move forward in faith God provides their needs though their own sacrificial giving. The receiver of funds may not ever change as long as the giver of the funds is willing to continue with their generosity. Yes, you can give too much and for too long!

As you focus on simultaneously being obedient to His command in Acts 1:8 make sure that whoever you partner understands this principle: under promise and over deliver. As you develop your plan to be missional locally, regionally, nationally, and globally consider that you invest in the harvest by investing in church planting. The harvest is the future and we need to be willing to put our gifts, talents, resources, and money where our mouth is. It will involve risk and there is never a 100% success guarantee.

“Risking for God is dangerous, but not risking is more dangerous.” – J.D. Greear

TIPS FOR YOUR CHURCH MISSIONS STRATEGY

Have you begun working on your church’s mission strategy? Have you determined how you can become more involved than just giving a monthly percentage of your tithes and offerings? Are unreached people groups in your vision and conversations? Have you prayerfully considered how your church might plant a church? How will you determine your level of involvement in God’s mission strategy? You can pray, prepare, partner, plant, and be a parent. We must continue to be committed to the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches!

Missions-minded churches jump from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Missional churches focus on Jerusalem, “All” (emphasis added) Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Gary Rohrmayer says, “Church planting is the way a denomination invests in the harvest. The harvest is the future.” How true and never forget that your church was once a church plant. A church’s mission strategy begins by building a sending culture where it becomes natural because that is what churches do! They equip, empower, and then release leaders to live sent.

First, we really are better together!

Philippians 1 gives a great overview of how a local body of believers helped support the ongoing church planting efforts of the apostle Paul. He expresses his gratefulness to them in verse 5, “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Every church must decide whom they will work with in the furtherance of the gospel. That is the purpose of an association of churches so that together they can be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission. With whom will you cooperate for the advancement of the gospel?

When we examine our motives of working with others for the sake of the gospel we must remember that our main impetus is not how many will be saved. Certainly we hope many will find Christ. Our primary motivation must remain that God has commanded us to go and make His name known to every tribe and every nation. That parameter includes all of Judea and all of Samaria. Yet one church-planting leader commented, “The hardest money I have ever raised is for North American church planting.” This will not work without partnerships.

Second, we need to have a system in place that assesses those we support.

In Phil. 1:7 Paul says, “you are all partners with me in grace both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel.” Are those we are sending and supporting qualified? In Acts 13 the church decided to send Barnabas and Saul. They had proven themselves in their local church. We cannot afford to be sending people out who are not biblically sound in the gospel. Also, have they been faithfully sharing the gospel with others?

It should be apparent that they are able to defend the gospel and that they have also put their knowledge into practice. Have they already used their Great Commission skills in sharing the gospel, discipling converts, and developing leaders locally? There are assessment tools that enable us to better evaluate skill sets but we should always look first to how they are serving, or not serving, in their local church. If they have not been faithful in their local church it is unwise to expect a change of location to correct the problem.

Third, we must be willing to do whatever it takes to advance the gospel.

Paul says this in Phil. 1:12, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel.” We know that Paul is referring to his imprisonment and the hardships he endured such as beatings, shipwreck, and being stoned. He is saying that it was all worth it and was all in God’s plan. Really, we usually are not sacrificing by what we give but we are being given the privilege and blessing of investing in kingdom work.

Recently, I read of a missionary who was offered a very nice position back here in America. The person who contacted him let him know there were 100 other people ready to take this job but he was holding it for him believing he was the person for the job. While it was meant as a compliment the missionary heard it differently. He did not want to move to a ministry position where there were 100 people ready to do the job when there was no one standing in line for his. We must be willing to accept the positions no one else is lining up for!

Fourth, we must live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Phil. 1:27 goes on to say, “working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel.” How do we give credibility to the gospel? We begin by teaching that if someone says they believed, but they have never obeyed, then they probably never really did believe. Biblical belief is repentance in action. If you have truly believed you will obey – but if we don’t obey we really don’t believe. A changed life happens because of a relationship with Jesus Christ and that individual’s life will back up their testimony.

Your church may have to overcome a bad testimony in your community. If you have been known for your disunity then you must confess, repent, and seek to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind.” How is your church viewed in your community? Are you known for your love and compassion? Do most people believe that the community is better off because of your presence there? Do they see a unified body of believers “working side by side” who love one anther and love them as well? Do they see your church practicing what you preach?

Developing a Church Missions Strategy

Does your church have a strategy of how to fulfill the Great Commission? A system is needed to improve the challenge and the calling to carry the gospel to every nation. It involves mobilizing our body of believers to be the hands and feet of Jesus locally and globally. J.D. Greear says it correctly, “If a church is not engaging in mission, it really has no point in existing.” The Great Commission is not a calling for a special elite few but a mandate for every follower of Christ.

Greear asks some pretty poignant questions. “Are there mission fields in our backyards that could contribute to the global spread of the gospel that we have overlooked because they don’t enhance the bottom line of our church? Are we evaluating ministry opportunities only by how they benefit us, or are we looking at the benefit they can bring to Jesus’ kingdom even if there is nothing in them for ours?” How is your church involved in the spread of the gospel around the world? How could you improve your church’s involvement?

Your church must first have a solid biblical, doctrinal, and theological foundation to direct His mission. Have you clearly developed and articulated your Christology, Ecclesiology and Missiology? Here are some values that we must embrace if we are going to be obedient in reaching our Jerusalem, and in ALL (emphasis added) Judea. Recent surveys tell us that there are well over 160 millions unclaimed for Christ. The mission field is right before us and there is still a great redemption flow in this country.

In II Corinthians 5:14-15 Paul says, “For Christ’s love compels us; since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died: And He died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised.” Most of what God wants to do in society happens outside the church facilitated by the hands of ordinary people. In the book of Acts, 39 of the 40 miracles recorded occurred outside the church. The greatest obstacle is not finances but rather people willing to live on mission daily.

First, we must look at our motives!

Paul states that His motive is the love of Christ as he looks at Him and is amazed by His grace. As we learn to adore Jesus we are then glad to renounce everything we have to follow Him. It has been well said, “In Christ, I can give up all that I have because in Christ I have all that I need.” When we consider His unconditional love, and we worship Him for who He is, then we will want to serve and sacrifice for Him. Our motive is to make the glory of the Lord known to every tongue and tribe.

Second, we must measure what it will require to fulfill the Great Commission.

Paul says that he sacrificed so much for the mission that people thought he was a mad man. We are willing to sacrifice for what we worship. Risk is scary but not risking for God should be even scarier. Are we more concerned with our own comfort and concerns then living radically for Christ? J.D. Greear says, “We who live by His death should therefore no longer live for ourselves, but should lay down our lives and resources for others as He laid down His for us.”

Third, we then embrace our call to a ministry of reconciliation.

You need to think about those you know who need to know what you know. God has placed you where you are to utilize your gifts and talents as a platform to spread the gospel. Whatever vocation you are in is God’s means of blessing the world and when you do what you do with excellence it gives you the opportunity to tell others about Him. How will you leverage your gifts, talents, and assets for the advancement of God’s kingdom?

Fourth, be willing to pray dangerous prayers.

All too often we pray safe prayers such as God bless me, help me, protect, heal me, and provide for me. Dangerous prayers are risky and life stretching. They are filled with boldness and daring faith. Here is one dangerous prayer, “Lord send me wherever you want me to go and reach whomever you want me to reach.” This is a missional prayer that aligns you with His mission and promotes His glory. This prayer positions you to be usable by Him in any way He chooses.

Fifth, accept that it is your responsibility.

It is God’s will for every one of His followers to be involved in His mission from the moment they decide to follow Him. The Lord has strategically placed you on mission for Him. Ministry and sacrifice is not a secondary experience that happens to only a few, privileged Christians. Every one of us are called to be ministers and to also be missionaries in “All” of Judea.  How will your church leverage your gifts, talents, and resources to be involved in the partnership of the advancement of the gospel?

Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things.” Many lack confidence in their ability to share the gospel. Maybe you do not feel qualified and worry you will get something wrong.   We are responsible for handling the gospel correctly but here is some good news, pun intended. The power of the gospel is not in us or in our presentation. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to open a heart and transform a life. We must clearly articulate the gospel and then trust the Holy Spirit to work on the heart of that individual!

Prayerfully consider how your church can leverage its influence to make a gospel impact in your community. Who has God placed in your community and circles of influence that needs to hear a clear presentation of the gospel from you?

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!

AN AUDIENCE OF ONE

The first time I remember hearing the phrase “for an audience of one” was when our good friend, Buddy Mullins, was singing in our church. He spoke of how God had impressed upon him that it was not about performing for people but it was all about worshipping Him. In Joe Gibb’s book, Game Plan for Life, he also talks about performing for an audience of one. We must remember that He is always watching and it is far more important what He thinks about us than anyone else.

Recently, Tony Dungy reminded me about this principle again in his daily devotional book, Uncommon Life Daily Challenge. His perspective is that this principle should be “unbelievably liberating.” It reminds us that it is God who keeps score and His scorecard looks a lot different than ours. Even in ministry we can become more concerned about what others think of our ministry rather than being focused on how God feels about what we are doing.

How do we define success? How do we measure the impact we believe God wants us to be having? This thinking does not advocate giving up or settling for less than God intended but making sure that we are in tune with God’s agenda for our lives and for our ministries. Are we faithful where He has placed us? Are we daily being faithful in the little things so that we can be faithful in bigger things? God looks on our desire to serve and follow Him…no matter what the outcome may be.

The key to this principle of “an audience of one” is finding our identity in Christ Jesus. The reality is that only Jesus can tell you who you are. Three times the heavenly Father declared who Jesus was, affirming that He was His Son, and that He was pleased with Him. Psalm 73:28 says, “But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.” We must be close enough to Him so He can whisper in our ears what we need to hear from Him.

First, our crises can become opportunities for a fresh experience of the glory of God’s affirmation.

We all face challenges, trials, and difficulties in this life. When a crisis comes it is our opportunity to draw up close to His presence and listen for His voice of assurance that we belong to Him, He is with us, and that He is looking after us. When the Father affirmed the Son He was saying, “Son, we’ve got this!” Our God is able to handle every situation and He will not abandon us along the way.

Second, our goal is greater than avoiding the pain that crises create.

When our identity is in Christ we are driven by a desire to obey and do the will of the Father. None of us take to sacrifice naturally. It hurts and the hurt is real but we push through and we press forward. Why? Because there is a deeper desire than simply avoiding the trial and it should be so that our lives will glorify Him. Jesus said that His food was to do the will of the Father who sent Him and to finish that work.

Third, if you find your identity in what others say about you – praise can corrupt you.

All of us must be careful to not think too highly of ourselves. Years ago my dad’s mom finally got to hear me preach for the first time. I had already been pastoring about seven years and I was excited she was there. When the service was over she took my hand and patted it while saying, “It’s ok, Larry, you keep working on it and you will get better.” Remember that pride comes before the fall.

Fourth, if you find your identity in what others say about you – criticism can crush you.

Words do hurt and we must be mindful of what we say and how we say it. The reality is that people will criticize you for decisions you make as a leader, for stands you take as a minister, and even for preaching the truth. Remain humble, realizing that God will provide you with strength and perseverance in the midst of adversity. It is difficult, but we must have thick skin while maintaining a sensitive heart and spirit.

Fifth, find your identity and security in His presence.

In the first fifteen verses of Psalm 73 the Psalmist is struggling with his apparent failure while the wicked are prospering. It is a sustained dirge about what he sees as the futility of the righteous life verses the success of the wicked. Then every thing changes in verses 16-17, “When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their destiny.”

The change occurred when he went into the temple. Then, we assume, he lingered in the presence of God. When we are only interested in an audience of one and get into His presence the change occurs. Our attitude, perspective, and behavior begin to be shaped and formed into who He wants us to become. The audience of one reminds us that the nearness of God is what we need more than the applause of man, the accomplishments for which we have been striving, or accumulating wealth.

The journey can become difficult and trials will come our way. We sometimes wonder, “Will we make it?” Doubts arise and fears come as we ask, “Can I do this?” Then our loving heavenly Father whispers in our ear, “I am faithful!” As we perform for our audience of one He affirms that “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Leadership Distinctives

What makes a leader a leader? Even more importantly, what makes a leader worth following? There are several reasons leaders are followed such as position, power, and personality. The lowest level of leadership is being followed only due to the position you hold, but at some point leadership influence must be earned. People may follow you for a period of time, but eventually you will earn or lose the right to be followed. Leadership influence is a lot like trust because it takes a long time to earn but can be lost in a second.

In The 5 Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell describes level one where people follow you because they have to or believe they should because of the position you hold. The second level is permission where they continue to follow because of the relationship they have built with you and have decided they want to follow you. The next level is based on your ability to lead well and they follow because of what you have accomplished through your leadership. Leadership then moves to reproduction because of how the leader has poured into your life and mentored you.

These five levels move from rights (position) to relationships (permission) to results (production) to people development (reproduction) and then on to respect (the pinnacle). This is where people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. The reality is that sometimes the closer we get to some leaders the less we want to follow them because we discover they are not who we thought they were. What a joy it is when the closer you get to a leader the more you desire and want to follow them. Familiarity should breed respect not contempt in leadership.

Distinctive #1 is spirituality. There is a huge difference between leadership and spiritual leadership. Of more importance than your leadership skills, those following you need to be able to see you are walking with God. You should not have to convince people you are walking with Him because it should be apparent to all that you are. Even though leadership can be accomplished by many, spiritual leadership only occurs by those who are walking closely and intimately with the Lord. Manipulation will not be necessary when the Holy Spirit is present.

Distinctive #2 is prayer. For emphasis sake and because it is so vital to the leader’s effectiveness allow me to quote again from Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby speaking on the importance of prayer in their lives. “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.” Prayer reminds us of who is really in charge and gives us a confidence that He is able to do above and beyond all we could ever ask or think.

Distinctive #3 is a great work ethic. Leaders are not lazy and they are not afraid of hard work. They lead by example and have a servant’s heart meaning they are willing to do what others are unwilling to do. The Blackabys ask this, “If the people in my organization worked with the same intensity as I do, would they enhance the operations of this organization or would they reduce it to a crawl?” If the goal of your leadership is respect then you should not see your position as an escape from sacrifice but as platform to demonstrate what sacrifice looks like.

Jesus set the example here by washing the disciples’ feet but some leaders act more like they seek privilege and entitlement. Maybe you should not have to do a particular task but you should always be willing. Remember, the greatest way to influence others is by example. If we want those who follow us to go an extra mile Jesus said we must be willing to go two. It cannot be “do as I say” but rather “do as I do” and our actions back it up. Church leaders we need to work hard at showing our people that we know what it means to work hard.

Distinctive #4 is answering questions before they are even asked. Communicate your vision and how you will carry it our over and over again. One of the greatest lessons I learned was that what I often thought was opposition was simply just individuals who needed more information. We can easily think that because of the journey we have been on that people will automatically fast forward to where the Lord has brought us. Anticipate that there are “late-adopters” who by their nature will need their questions answered before they can move forward.

Distinctive #5 is having good spiritual mentors and counselors. Make sure you check out the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4:9-16 with verse 10 saying, “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.”   In Proverbs Solomon also tells us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. You do not have to have all the answers as a leader, but you must have the wisdom to seek counsel and listen to other godly leaders. It is not about your agenda or their agenda but getting on God’s agenda.

These distinctives of spiritual leadership are important…but there are more. Leadership is not easy and actually it is very hard work. It can be draining and overwhelming at times so here are a couple of other suggestions. Be sure you do not take yourself too seriously and be able to laugh at yourself. Protect your personal walk with God because the attacks of the devil are real and he especially focuses on those leading the charge against the gates of hell. Lastly in the words of Paul, “I tell every one of you not to think of himself more highly than he should think.”