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Just Check the Box

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

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

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

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

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

First, we must be honest about our nature.

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth, be careful about how you use social media.

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

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

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

Dealing with Conflict and Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Am Thankful for You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEAN IN TO JESUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ARMY WAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Over-Functioning

When I first began working as the BMA Director of Church Planting, I remember being at the office one day overwhelmed with the amount of work that was on my desk. Many days I felt like I ran from one fire to the next doing my best to extinguish them. The workday was over according to the clock but wanting to get all the work accomplished on my to-do list that was staring me in the face. One of my heroes and mentors, Jerry Kidd, stepped into my office and told me to go home. He then gave me two great pieces of advice I have always remembered.

First, he told me that it would be there when I got there the next day and it could wait until then. Secondly, he informed me that it was not going to get any better. There would be many days ahead when this same overwhelming feeling would be present and I would need to accept that there would be times to just step away and begin afresh the next day. Yes, it is important to prioritize but you also need to accept that interruptions will occur. We must remember that people are always more important than the task.

If you are in full-time ministry you need to know that it is hard work and no one should work any harder than us. In I Corinthians 15:10 Paul says, “But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. However, I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me.” Wow, Paul declares that none of the Christian leaders of his day worked any harder than he did! A minister’s work ethnic should always be exemplary but also realistic. Being a workaholic does not mean we are spiritual or pleasing God.

Over-functioning is defined as “doing for others what they can and should do for themselves.” This may make us feel good and give us a sense of accomplishment, but it is far better to train people to develop the leadership skills they need to meet their own needs. When they begin feeding, teaching, and learning themselves then they will be able to begin teaching and training others. The reality is that most projects do not require you to take care of all the details personally but instead delegate those items to your team.

Here are some things to think through as you build a team that can accomplish so much more working together.

First, look for the right people to help you. Two things that should be non-negotiable are that they have a teachable spirit and they will be loyal. That does not mean that they are a “yes-man/woman” but that they understand confidentiality and there is a good chemistry between everyone on the team. Everyone should enjoy working together and look forward to the time they focus on the project.

Second, know what to delegate and what not to delegate. All too often the leader is actually the bottleneck that keeps the project from becoming a reality.   Spend some time deciding what cannot be delegated and then write it down. Then you should seek out a leader/mentor who could talk over that list with you. Is it realistic or are you being too controlling? After that, you should make a list of everything you can delegate on that project or responsibility. Once again, seek counsel from another leader or leaders and then tweak both lists.

Third, realize that the best ideas will probably come from the others on your team. Embrace the truth and enjoy the fact that you do not have to be the sole producer of great ideas. Listen to them and give their ideas merit.

Fourth, give them permission to risk and you must be willing to take a chance on them. In a church planting training I heard Rick Warren said, “If it does not require faith does that mean we have been unfaithful?” John Piper says it this way, “The Christian life is a call to risk. You either live with risk or waste your life.” According to Matthew 25:16-30 the servant who refused to risk was called “wicked’ by his master. J.D. Greear says, “Risking for God is dangerous; but not risking is more dangerous.” Yes, you may get burned and someone may drop the ball, but we must risk by being willing to invest in raising up more leaders.

Fifth, give them permission to fail. Two things are very important here. First, if someone never fails that means they probably are not doing very much. Second, keep reminding yourself of those who took a chance on you. I personally am so thankful for those who believed in me enough to give me a chance and then when I did mess up (and the stories are plentiful) were supportive of my efforts but then were also helpful in showing me where and how I had messed up. Walk them though a W.I.N. What did they do well? Where do they need to improve? What will they do next after having evaluated?

Sometimes we are over-functioning because there is no one else available to help us but other times it is because we refuse to equip and empower others. If the second is true then we are hindering others from developing their leadership skills and utilizing their spiritual gifts to be a blessing to our ministry. God has put a lot of leadership capacity in other people around us. We do not serve our team well by leading in their place and not allowing them to step up and lead themselves. Do not allow the “if I want it done right I must do it myself” to control your leadership style.

Dave Ferguson of Exponential says when we approach other people we should remember these four letters and share what “ICNU!”

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.”

Pray For Those Who Oppose You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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