Rss

  • twitter

Vitality vs Vulnerability

Encouragement + Accountability + Intentionality = Spiritual Vitality

We must be on our guard against the attacks of the devil. Temptation is everywhere and we must realize that anyone can stumble or fall if not properly prepared. Paul told the Galatians, “watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.” Solomon gave the warning that we need to guard our hearts. The challenge is to protect our eyes, our ears, and our thoughts in order to keep our hearts right before God. Here is a great question to consider, “Are you living with good intentions or are you living intentionally?”

The reality is that you can dry up on the inside long before it shows on the outside. We have been programmed to act like we are walking with the Lord when we are not. We know what “churchianity” looks like and while we are drying up and needing a fresh wind from the Lord, we can easily be guilty of going through the motions. Do not think that this is not possible because in Revelation 3 Jesus told a church, “Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and have need of nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”

There are three elements that make you very susceptible to temptation. Time + Hardship + Deprivation = Vulnerability (Bill Hull in The Complete Book of Discipleship). The devil is always looking for just the right time to push our buttons. Remember that the devil is working overtime all the time. You cannot afford to ever let your guard down because at our most inopportune time the devil will see it as his golden opportunity. Peter makes this very clear when he says, “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”

The second element is Hardship. Trials and difficult times can be guaranteed. It is easy to stand for the Lord in church when everyone is saying amen but it is another story in the real world. We commit to follow Jesus and think we have a “let’s do this” mentality but we will be tested greatly when hardships come into our lives. You must expect trials and hardships and you must be prepared for them when they come. We are told in God’s word to on our watch and to be ready to “stand against the attacks of the enemy.”

The third element is the most important in not becoming vulnerable. That element is deprivation. If you are not walking with the Lord you have no foundation to stand on and no inner strength from which to draw. Are you abiding in Christ? Are you allowing His fullness to work in you and through you? If we do our job, getting daily into His presence, then He will do His job of providing us with His power and guidance. David makes this declaration, “I have treasured your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.”

Vitality is a choice we make by pursuing God. We develop the daily habits of prayer and being in His word so that we will be have spiritual vitality. Hebrews 3:13 says this, “But encourage each other daily, while it is called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” Here we are given a simple Biblical formula of three important elements. Encouragement + Accountability + Intentionality = Vitality. While we are 100% responsible for our spiritual walk, here is a clear pathway of how we can help one another on a regular basis.

The first element of vitality is encouragement! All of us need encouragement and all of us need to encourage others. There are enough people around who drain the energy out of us and this makes encouragement of paramount importance. The idea of exhortation is being a cheerleader to others. Do you have someone like that in your life? Are you being that cheerleader to someone else? We all need that individual in our life who believes in us, believes in what God is doing in our life. They encourage you to not listen to the naysayers.

The second element of vitality is accountability! We are told to encourage “each other.” We not only need the word of God and the Holy Spirit of God, but we also need the people of God speaking into our lives. Yes, we need a body to belong to and to grow with but all too often the missing ingredient is that individual to whom we voluntarily make ourselves accountable. Do you have someone you can vent to and know that they will then speak the truth in love back to you? There are many times you need that trusted confidant to bare your soul to and be 100% transparent.

The third element is intentionality! We are to encourage each other “daily.” Do you have an intentional plan in place to keep you on the right track spiritually? You cannot afford to be haphazard in this area. Tony Dungy says one of the keys to life is “to discipline ourselves to do what we need to do so that at a later time we can do what we want to do!” If you want to run a marathon you must begin the physical training today and increase your workouts along the way. If you want to finish the race Christ has placed you in you must also increase your spiritual workouts.

Healthy churches and healthy Christians build an environment and a culture of spiritual vitality. They strive to ensure that there is a system of discipleship and mentoring that facilitates these three elements of encouragement, accountability, and intentionality. Who are you encouraging and who is encouraging you? Who have you agreed with to hold one another accountable? Are you communicating regularly and have you developed a good rhythm? Remember, “so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”

The Struggle in the Middle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Steps to Make the Most Out of 2017

value-strategic-planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Creating Buy-in!!!

got-collaboration

Allow me to say it again. For the dream to work the team must work. The emphasis is not about team effort as much as it is about chemistry and cooperation. It is hard work to build a team that can work as one unit and it requires even more effort to keep it that way. You must communicate where you are going, why you are going there, and how you will make the trip.

In The Disciple Making Pastor Bill Hull says, “Any system for church organization that allows the unspiritual and disobedient to dictate is wrong.” Strong words but this truth cannot be ignored. How will you handle conflict, especially, if it is in a leadership position? What will you do when there is a vision clash that challenges team harmony and threatens to derail the mission of your church? Expect there to be opposition and know that you will never be able to make everyone happy.

One of the first steps in understanding team dynamics is to realize that everyone has a primary voice they speak from. In 5 Voices: How to Communicate Effectively with Everyone you Lead Jeremie Kubick and Steve Cockram cover in depth what these 5 different voice look like. We will look at them briefly asking, “What is my primary and secondary voice?” All 5 voices are valuable and contribute to the team.

First, are the nurturers! They are always concerned about other people’s feelings and work hard at making everyone know they are valued. They are very compassionate and often have a very large dose of mercy. They are great listeners and will fight for the highest possible good in others. Their temptation is to be very slow about getting on board with an idea because they want to make sure everyone on the team is in agreement before they will commit.

Second, are the guardians! These individuals are always watching the core values of the church very closely. They are protectors and stewards of the church’s traditions, resources, and what they believe to be the established paths already determined by the church. They ask the hard questions that need to be asked. Their temptation can be to allow traditions to become traditionalism where legalism can place the traditions over the word of God. Remember, their voice is needed!

Third, are the creatives! They have great ideas and love to think outside of the box. They give perspective from a unique angle that many will never think of. They love to challenge the status quo and often ask, “why not?” They really do not understand why others may struggle with their concepts believing from their heart that their idea is a great idea. Their temptation is to “always” have a better idea. They believe so strongly in their ideas that they may struggle listening to others.

Fourth, are the connectors! They enjoy networking and getting everyone in the right seat on the bus. With a good understanding of the team concept they busy themselves in helping everyone to see their role on the team. They move quickly and easily in a group but will sometimes struggle in slowing down enough to get to know the people on their team well. Their temptation is to overly focus on the group and not focus enough on individual’s relationships.

Fifth, are the pioneers! They are forward thinkers and blaze new trails. The pioneer is very comfortable with problem solving and making tough decisions. They are risk takers and if it has never been done before they believe that is exactly why it should be attempted. They have the courage to make difficult decisions and communicate an attractive vision of the future. Their temptation is to not give everyone’s view a fair listening because their mind is already made up.

Creating buy-in comes from listening to everyone on the team and how you communicate to different team members. There are basically five responses that are common to your leadership and vision. There are the innovators, the early adopters, the middle adopters, the late adopters, and unfortunately, the never adopters. How you speak to each one of these groups is crucial and you must have realistic expectations for each group.

  1. The innovators are looking for involvement! They want to know how they can help and are ready to get started right away. You should immediately look for ways they can be directly involved.
  2. The early adopters are looking for support! They may not be directly involved but they love to champion the cause. Their support is an active endorsement and you know they are on board with the direction God is leading you.
  3. The middle adopters will give their acceptance. Their support is more of a passive endorsement but remember they are not against you. When your team has agreed upon the direction of the ministry and the next steps required they are ok with it.
  4. The late adopters will hopefully tolerate your decision. You are not expecting their buy-in but you are asking their commitment to withhold negative comments until there has been adequate time to give it a try.
  5. There is not much you can do with the never adopters! Listen to Bill Hull again from The Disciple Making Pastor, “Sadly, many church problems find their origin in the immature and selfish agendas of church leaders. Commonly, the hardest group to get along with in the entire church is the leaders. They often are argumentative, close-minded, power hungry, and dedicated to keeping a firm hold on their territory. Once the church’s core becomes corrupt, you have almost no chance of renewal.”

Healthy churches seek a team leadership approach where everyone’s voice is valued and heard.   They move forward with those who are ready to get on board while understanding some need more time before they are ready!

Help Is Available

help pic

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priorities

priorities picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lead With Passion

PASSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character That Counts

character-that-counts

We live in a world today where it seems that competencies and skills are valued far more than character. Character counts to God and it should matter to us also. In the two primary passages on leadership for churches (I Timothy 3 and Titus 1) the qualifications overwhelmingly focus on character not ability. There is one exception: teaching! But God is far more interested in who we are than what we do. The scriptures make it clear that God’s focus is character and the heart of man, not outward appearances.

John 7:24 says, “Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” Matthew 15:16-20 says, “But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Following all the outward rituals does not insure the having right heart!

Here are some great quotes on character:

  • Howard Hendricks: “The greatest crisis in the world today is a crisis of leadership and the greatest crisis in leadership is a crisis of character.”
  • General Norman Schwarzkopf:  “99% of leadership failures are failures of character.”
  • Coach John Wooden:  “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
  • Arthur Friedman:  “Men of genius are admired.  Men of wealth are envied.  Men of power are feared but only men of character are trusted.”
  • David Star Jordan:  “Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it!”

Unfortunately, all too often we focus too much on ability and skill and too little on character. In Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft compares capacity and competence to gliders. They can fly and stay up in the air soaring for a while but not indefinitely. They eventually will come down and they do not hold up well during turbulent times. Maybe this why some leaders come crashing down so hard. They have been elevated too quickly because of their charisma or capabilities but their character is not equal to the task?

Kraft goes on to say, “Who you are will take you much farther than what you can do. Character will stand the test of time and hold up when the winds howl and the storm rages around you.” So how do we develop character like he just described? Kraft also points out, “Character development is not a short-term project, but a lifelong pursuit.” It is walking with Christ daily and developing an intimacy with Him. If we desire Christ-like character then we must spend time with Him and abide in Him.

The importance of our daily spiritual disciplines cannot be overstated. Hopefully, we do not come to our daily quiet time with the Lord just so we can check it off of our list, fulfill our obligation, or feel good about doing what we should have done. Following Christ is about developing a relationship with Him. Great men and women of God are great because they enjoy exceptional intimacy with Christ. Here is an excellent example from John Ortberg in his article, “Motorboats, Sailboats, and Rafts,” on how to approach our daily habits of the heart:

“One of the analogies that has been kind of helpful to me is the difference between a motorboat, a raft, and a sailboat. In a motorboat, I’m in charge. I determine how fast we’re going to go, and in what direction. Some people approach spiritual disciplines that way. If I’m just aggressive enough, if I have enough quiet times, I can make transformation happen on my own.

Some people have been burned by that kind of approach, so they go to the opposite extreme and will say, “I’m into grace.” It’s like they’re floating on a raft. If you ask them to do anything to further their growth, they’ll say, “Hey, no. I’m not into works. I’m into grace. You’re getting legalistic with me.” So they drift. There are way too many commands in Scripture for anybody to think that we’re called to be passive.

On a sailboat, however, I don’t move if it’s not for the wind. I can’t control the wind. I don’t manufacture the wind. Jesus talks about the Spirit blowing like the wind. But there is a role for me to play, and part of it has to do with what I need to discern. A good sailor will discern, “Where’s the wind at work? How should I set the sails?” Practicing spiritual disciplines is like sailing.”

It is important to remember Zech. 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” And Acts 2:1-4, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in once place. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” We cannot control the wind, nor can we manufacture it, but all too often we try to produce His presence and power ourselves. Phil. 2:13, “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and the ability to work out His good purpose.”

For Him to work on us we must place ourselves in the position to be filled with His presence and power. How do we do that so that we can develop Christ-like character?

  • Make sure you are relying on His energy – not your own!
  • Make sure you are pursuing His plans and purpose – not your timeline!
  • Make sure you desire His presence in your life more than His blessings!
  • Make sure you are abiding in His presence daily!

The Time is Now

Finish Well Pic

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You The Older Brother?

other-brother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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