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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!

Eye Candy

The story is pretty universal where you go “just to look” and you come home with something you said you never meant to purchase. More furniture than you intended to buy, or even needed, but you came home with it and are now wondering how you will pay for it. Or you went to the car dealership with a plan to not go above a certain monthly payment but left with far more than you bargained for. The sales world knows that a very large percentage of Americans are “impulse buyers” and they are trained on how to capitalize on that reality.

What happened to our resolve to only “look” and especially to stay within our budget? One explanation could be that the “eye candy” got the better of us. Eye Candy can be defined as: “visual images that are superficially attractive and entertaining but intellectually undemanding.” We see something we like and it is appealing to what we want and can even be an item we need. We begin to rationalize a way we can go home with something we never intended to buy in the beginning of the process.

This shows up in our lives when we realize we are unable to give to the Lord the way we should. Our budget is so stretched by what we just had to have that now there is little room for our tithes and offerings. We make sure we have all the things we desire but forget about investing as we should into the Lord’s work. Haggai 1:4 says, “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” What a blessing to see many who do with less so that they can continue to remain faithful to giving cheerfully unto the Lord.

Churches can also give into this temptation when their budget becomes so strapped by membership “needs” that the ability to fund ministry, help the needy, and support missionaries becomes impossible. It is not easy to keep this in balance. Take a look at your church budget and all too often 80-90% is used to take care of the membership. There is not a biblical percentage that guarantees you are spiritual or not but we should be challenged to do more for our cities, our communities, other churches, and to reach those who are far from God.

Churches also need to be aware of “eye candy.” We begin with a particular vision and core values and we are determined to never stray from them but something happens along the way. We see what other churches have and certainly God wants to bless our church with those same things? One area that is especially challenging is when it comes to buildings. We have bought into the American phenomenon that “bigger is always better.” Certainly there is a time to build and buildings are necessary tools for the ministry.

Please consider that maybe there is a kernel of truth in this following question. Are we preaching against our people’s consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses while our church is guilty of the very same thing? This is not meant to cause us to judge anyone’s motives except our own. We should rejoice when others have more or better than us and be careful of coveting or thinking that is the only metric for successful ministry. We all must be willing to admit that the “eye candy” of buildings, programs, technology, and a host of things can be tempting.

Have we so focused on growing bigger that we are doing so at the expense of kingdom growth, multiplication, and reaching entire regions with the gospel? Has our vision become so focused on our own individual congregation that we are unwilling to consider the damage it could be doing to advancing the gospel? We hear things like; “we need to take care of our own members first.” Here are a couple of things to consider before investing too much into a building, programs, or other potential “eye candy” that could keep us from carrying out God’s purpose.

First, do you really need it? That is difficult to discern at times, but there are ways to determine the answer by beginning with prayer. Also, have you considered the long-term growth and trends in your area? If a 15 or 30-year note will restrict your ability to minister and help your community maybe there is a better or other option?

Second, are you willing to look at other options? Maybe you could go to two services or even three! Almost every situation is different but what is the best way to invest the resources God has given you? Certainly, we do not want to bury what God has given us or hold onto it too tightly, but maybe He has another way He wants us to invest them.

Third, will it divert funds that should be going to bless your city and evangelism? Many see the church as more interested in what they own than in helping those in need. Yes, the poor will always be with us but we should be willing to think functional and practical far more than extravagant and fancy. What percentage of your church budget is designated for reaching people who are far from God?

            It is easy for a church, even without realizing, to give into the temptation of the eye candy of nicer, bigger, and newer! People want to know that they matter and are loved. Relationships have been the currency that matters the most to people for a very long time and that will not change anytime soon. The thinking of “build and they will come” came and went a long time ago. A good friend said, “They will come where it is exciting but they will stay where they are loved!”

What Does Spiritual Leadership Look Like?

Much has been said and written about leadership. Quotes such as, “Everything rises and falls on leadership!” “Leadership is influence!” “The speed of the leader determines the speed of the team!” There are volumes of books on leadership from the business world and from the church world. There are two books on leadership from a biblical perspective that really stand out to me. They are Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders and Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby.

The Blackabys define spiritual leadership as “moving people on to God’s agenda.” It is not about the leader’s agenda but God’s. The leader must be careful not to think that he is the only one who can hear from God on a matter. There is definitely more wisdom in the multitude of counsel. The greatest ideas for ministering to people who are far from God will probably come from your members more often than from the leaders. That is not a negative, but they are rubbing shoulders with them and listening to the Holy Spirit as He directs them on how to reach them.

In Gaining by Losing, J.D. Greear says, “Furthermore, if the majority of what Jesus wants to do He wants to do in the community, it shouldn’t surprise us that He puts His best vision into the hearts of the people who live and work there for the majority of their hours each week.” God has a way of doing extraordinary things through very ordinary people who are willing to obey Him. Remember, Paul told the church in Corinth that not many wise, powerful, or noble have been called. Instead, He has chosen the foolish, insignificant, and weak.

Here are some thoughts on being a spiritual leader…First, your people need to see that you are walking with Jesus. You should not have to prove to them or tell them, but it should be noticeable and evident that God’s hand is upon you. More than anything else, can they tell you are walking with Jesus and in close fellowship with Him? Your number one responsibility as a leader is to seek God’s face and His agenda. You must have a face-to-face relationship and daily encounter with God.

Second, your people need to know that they can trust you. Leadership is primarily built on trust that stands on top of honesty, which gives the leader credibility. Simply said, “Your yes is yes and your no is no.” You are a leader that does what you say you will do. Your word is your bond and is trustworthy. A good rule of leadership, on both sides, is through clear communication and to stay away from surprises and blind-siding someone.

Third, your people need to know that their opinions and input are valued. Many times the insights of other leaders around you can save you a lot of heartache. They may think of things that you may never have considered. No one enjoys following a leader who thinks that the only good opinion is his or hers. Some act like they do not want to be confused by the facts because their mind is already made up. Be open and teachable to other perspectives and ideas.

Fourth, your people need to understand there can be beauty in being challenged and in creating good tension. This works hand in hand with number three but let me quote Ed Stetzer who said, “Surround yourself with strong voices who have permission to disagree.” A great thing to remember here is that just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are your enemy. Usually, the biggest need is more information and answering unanswered questions.

Fifth, your people need to see a leader who is courageous enough to take a stand but also willing to admit when they make a mistake. Always try to make sure that when you do make a mistake that your motives were pure and not selfish. This way they will know that it was not a mistake of the heart but a mistake of the head. A true spiritual leader is someone who is willing to stand alone when they have to but who never enjoys or desires that to happen.

Sixth, your people need to see a leader with a servant’s heart. This cannot be just verbiage but must be shown by example. You should not have to do everything but you should be willing to do whatever needs to be done. Remember, there are a lot of volunteers giving of their time to serve and help in any way they can. They appreciate a leader who is willing to roll up his or her sleeves and pitch in. A core value of leadership needs to be that no can lead until they first serve.

Seventh, your people need to see a leader who is faithful in the little tasks and smaller details. The word is clear that “he that is faithful in little will be faithful in much.” Don’t be looking for greener grass but instead plant, water, and see the grass grow and flourish right where you are. The Blackabys say this, “The problem is, too many people want to bypass the small assignments and get right to the big jobs—the ones with the influence and prestige.”

L.R. Scarborough once issued this challenge, “If your place is not great enough to suit you, make it so. The minister who is unable to make a place great is too weak to hold a great one.” Resist the temptation to look for “greener” grass and focus on your responsibilities right where God has placed you. My wife likes to say, “Bloom where you are planted.” The great missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Influence Over Influx

The outward focus of the local church has been stated many different ways. Many have said things like, “It’s sending not seating. It’s Releasing not Keeping.” In Ripple Church, Phil Stevenson says, “By choosing influence over influx, ripple churches have sacrificed their own comfort and security in order to bring forth the next generation of Christians. They have abandoned contemporary notions of success in order to bring about Kingdom growth.”

Bigger is often seen as better in the church world. Two terrible assumptions are made there. First, that being a large church guarantees spiritual health. Second, that if you are a small church you cannot make a difference for the Kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Counting numbers is an accurate metric and it is important but it is inadequate. It is not enough and you must look deeper to determine spiritual health, impact, and influence.

Stevenson describes those who focus entirely on ministry by influx. “The leaders ask, “How many people can we gather at one place at one time?” A regional ministry is built on a different philosophy – ministry by influence. Leaders of regional ministries ask, “Whom are we influencing with the gospel?” We must bless others, share the gospel, meet people’s needs, and demonstrate the love of Christ even if it does not impact our churches “bottom-line!”

We are not in competition with other Bible-believing churches. Recently one of our young people got saved at another Baptist church in town. I received this text from their pastor, “Hey, one of your Cornerstone kids came to Jesus at VBS today! We will get his information to you soon. Partnership beats competition any day.” Then I sent him this text, “Today the young man made a public profession of faith and declared that he wanted to follow his Lord in baptism. Wanted you to know.” His response was, “That’s terrific!”

Everyone in your area will not attend your church. We need every Bible-believing, New Testament, and gospel preaching church to get onboard with reaching our communities for Christ. J.D. Greear tells what happens when we overly focus on influx in Gaining by Losing. He says, “We gather throngs of people to bask in the Spirit’s anointing on a few megastars and call that ‘mission accomplished’…Jesus’ vision for the church was not a few mega-geniuses with thousands of foot soldiers at their behest, but millions of believers filled with the Spirit, following His lead directly.”

The key to your ministry and your church, no matter its size, is the power of God and seeking His face. Henry and Richard Blackaby have defined spiritual leadership in their book Spiritual Leadership as “moving people onto God’s agenda.” Are we willing to move from our agenda to God’s agenda? What if God’s agenda is radically different than yours? There have been several times in my ministry that I was 100% convinced I was on the path He intended me to be on for the rest of my life but my plans were not His plans.

First, refuse to trust in your wisdom and instead seek His. We make our plans asking God to bless them, and then expect Him to make it happen. The key is not for God to bless my plans but for me to discard my agenda in favor of His will. Even Jesus did not set His own agenda but sought and prayed daily for the Father’s agenda. It can be spiritual disaster to add to God’s will and assume that we must take things into our own hands. Just ask Abraham! (Genesis16)

Second, realize that just because it worked before doesn’t mean God will automatically bless it again. The easiest course of action is often the one previously taken. This is especially true when something worked before and was “successful.” God refuses to allow His work to be reduced to a formula. Instead, He requires us to seek Him and His agenda. There are no shortcuts!

Third, resist the temptation to copy what someone else is doing. We can and should learn from other ministries. When we stop learning we begin to die a slow death but we should not envy what others have just because we don’t. We cannot remove our need to seek His face daily and make sure we have His mind and will on the matter. What if what another church has was never God’s intention for us?

Fourth, remain focused on the cause and not on the symptoms. You will never be able to meet all of the needs in your community, but remember a relationship with Jesus Christ is always a higher priority than meeting people’s physical needs. Yes, we should do what we can to help. Yes, we need to demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways but our trust must remain in the power of Christ and that alone. A program never transformed anyone but Jesus can.

Fifth, remember that revelation comes from the Lord. We sometimes talk about dreaming big dreams for God and thinking big things for God. If we are not careful the emphasis is on our dreams and goals that originate with us. Vision is sometimes seen as being produced by us while revelation is God given. Make sure your focus is on the source of your plans and agenda, which is God.

How are we influencing our communities for Christ? What are we doing to influence those we live next door to and with whom we work? J.D. Greear points out that “of the 40 miracles recorded in Acts, 39 happen outside the walls of the church…You can safely conclude from this that the main place God wants to manifest His poser is outside the church. In Ripple Church, Stevenson says, “We convince ourselves that gathering more people around us in a single church will ensure the existence of the species. It won’t”

Influence over Influx!!!

 

LETS GET REAL

Are we building genuine real relationships or are we settling for superficial friendships? We are comfortable talking about the weather, sports, and our family, but are we willing to go deeper? An essential part of building disciples requires nothing less than allowing other followers of Christ to become our close intimate friends. Our connection groups (small groups, Sunday School classes, etc.) need authentic relationships that will hold us accountable in our spiritual journeys.

II Timothy 2:2 says, ”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.” Yes, this verse points to the fourth generation but also notice how it speaks to a community of believers by using plural nouns. It mentions witnesses, men, and others. These words have the same thing in common in talking about a group of people. Biblical discipleship occurs through relationships.

We all seek meaningful relationships yet they seem to be painfully absent aspects of discipleship. People are not looking for a friendly church but are looking for friends. Here are some great questions to ask about the authenticity of your relationships. Are the people in your connection groups friendly? It starts there but it must go deeper. Are the people in your group open and honest with one another?

We must not settle for shallowness but strive to build a strong support team. Do the people in your group check on and care for one another beyond and outside of the group meeting? Do you notice when others are not present and check on them to see if they are struggling? Remember, your connection groups are the first responders in your church for ministry and pastoral care. Spiritual growth occurs best when other believers share the same goals.

How well do you know the people in your connection (small) group? Are they just acquaintances or do you know them well enough to know their strengths and weaknesses? What are they struggling with the most? How can you best pray for them and encourage them? We are not called to walk alone but to walk in the light together. The biblical picture of real relationships in community is described clearly in Acts 2:42-47 where they “held all things common.”

In Real-Life Discipleship, Jim Putman defines a relational environment this way. “A relational environment is characterized by authenticity. A relational environment includes mutual accountability. An intentional leader creates a safe relational environment.” Here are a few suggestions on how to build real relationships that help everyone grow and mature in Christ.

First, keep your eyes open for those who are hurting and struggling. If they miss does anyone contact them or reach out to them? Do not take it for granted that they are ok but instead see if there is anything you can do to help them. Whether it is a call, a text message, an email, or even a visit they need to know that someone does care when they are absent.

Second, faithfully pray for those who are experiencing illness. Prayers are appreciated but it also might require doing something to help. Maybe they need someone to drop a meal by or to clean up their yard for them. What practical service could you perform for them that would be a blessing to them and encourage them? Make sure someone is handling this and accepts the responsibility of assigning contacts.

Third, connect them with someone who knows what they need to know. Someone in your congregation can help them when they need it but you will have to be very intentional to make sure they connect with them. When they are overwhelmed with finances, health, marriage, or a multitude of other challenges the beauty is that someone else in your connection group has probably been through what they are going through. They need to know that they are not the only ones.

Fourth, listen to them to hear where they are spiritually. We show someone how much we value them when we are willing to take the time to listen to them. As you listen make sure that you are ready to give them biblical answers to their situation. The importance of authenticity and transparency cannot be overstated. What are they really saying when they express their concerns? What are they not saying about their spiritual walk?

Fifth, speak the truth in love. Real relationships do not offer up false flattery or superficial pleasantries. They seek to speak the truth in love because they care about one another enough to even risk the relationship. This is especially true when you see that the other person is about to go against God’s word. For example: we are all a product of our past but we do not have to be prisoners to our past. They can have victory over their past hurts and habits by trusting in the Lord.

We need to pray for and seek to have an energy that causes us to remain connected and help others to stay connected. When we become disconnected from other believers it is a very dangerous thing. It will not be long before we begin to drift away from our church family and the Lord. Real relationships do not walk away from our family when they are struggling or if they fall into sin. Real relationships cause us step in closer, speak up more, and seek to restore.

Get to know those in your connection (small) group more intimately. Find out what their hobbies are, what fears they have, and what temptations they struggle with the most. Then pray for them, encourage them, and hold them accountable. We cannot grow spiritually as we should without other followers of Christ who are there to challenge us and inspire us in our walk with the Lord!

Heart Test!!!

All of us need to examine our hearts to determine if we are true disciples of Christ or not. In order to administer a test, the test first has to be developed and written. If you are going to ask a question then there needs to be a definitive answer. When you ask many church leaders to define a disciple you actually will get a multitude of answers. How does your church define a disciple? What elements are necessary to say a person is a fully devoted follower of Christ?

There are three tests every believer should test himself or herself on to determine where they are in their personal journey.

First, do you know and are you following Jesus? Have you decided to follow Him and make Him Lord of your life?

Second, are you being changed and transformed by Christ regularly? Is Christ consistently at work in you so that He might work through you?

Third, are you committed to the mission of Jesus? Are you focused on what He has called you to do?

This heart test requires all three…not just two of them. If you are having physical heart problems think about how different tests intensify and are more in-depth. First, you may be given an EKG to see if there are any irregularities in the patterns of your heart (“Follow me”). Second, you may then be asked to take a stress test that challenges your heart under a more difficult situation (“and I will make you”). Third, they then may require a heart catherization (“fishers of men”).

Do not stop at the first or second level because a true test of the heart of any disciple is that they must be living on mission for Jesus. Matthew 4:19 makes it unmistakable, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A clear and concise definition of what it means and what it takes to follow Jesus is how we can test our hearts. Honestly, many Christians and many churches need to rediscover and recommit to the mission of God. Each level is a more in-depth test of where you are spiritually.

A huge part of this process, “and I will make you,” happens in community and with other disciples. We were not made to follow Jesus alone, but together, because two are better than one. Someone has said, “You should be willing to stand alone for Christ but you should not ever have to!” There is not just strength in numbers but those numbers being together in community strengthens us. That is what the Bible means when it speaks of iron sharpening iron. It is one hard object striking another hard object to improve effectiveness.

Bill Hybels gives a great definition of biblical community, “Knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served, and celebrating and being celebrated.” Three necessary ingredients to properly test our spiritual hearts are the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and the people of God. This is why connection (small) groups are so important to spiritual maturity. We grow as God intended when we are following Christ together in community by praying for one another, loving one another, serving one another, and even correcting one another.

There must be an environment of authenticity and transparency for this to work. In larger groups we are able to hide behind superficial relationships that never really get beyond pleasantries. We are comfortable taking about the weather, sports, fishing, our jobs, but God forbid we ask someone what sin they are struggling with the most. If we are not careful, we create pretend relationships…not authentic ones. Honesty in a safe environment is what develops trust. Here are three areas that test our heart and our authenticity.

First, you do not need to feel like you have all the answers. As a matter of fact, J.D. Greear says, “The greatest ideas for ministry are likely in the minds of congregation members…Furthermore, if the majority of what Jesus wants to do He wants to do in community, it shouldn’t surprise us that He puts His best vision into the hearts of the people who live and work there for the majority of their hours each week.” Allow creativity and listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to others around you.

Second, make sure you have not surrounded yourself with “yes men.” Ed Stetzer said, “Surround yourself with strong voices who have permission to disagree.” That is not always easy and challenges us but we must give permission to spiritual people to speak into our lives and we must be willing to give what they say a fair hearing. Greear and Stetzer have hit the nail on the head by stressing the importance of promoting creativity and valuing everyone’s opinion on your team. A true test of spiritual maturity is that you do not have to have your way.

Third, trust the people around you by equipping them, empowering them, and releasing them. Craig Groeschel says, “You can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both. You have recruited great people, trust and empower them.” That may not fit your situation exactly but learn from the principle. If they are not in the right position then help them discover the right one. If they are not sure about what to do give them the training that would help them be more effective.

Leaders, we need to test our hearts on our willingness to “be changed and transformed by Jesus.” Are we listening to His leadership in making disciples who make disciples? Are we willing to realize that the people God has placed around us have as much vision and ability as we do? Do we really believe in the priesthood of the believer and are we willing to practice it? Let me close by quoting Greear again, “Shouldn’t pastors see themselves as servants of the movement rather than celebrities of the moment?