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Be Thankful Not Anxious

Thanksgiving is once again upon us, which hopefully reminds us not to allow anxiety to control us!  Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  The translation is literally don’t be “anxious.”  It carries the idea of being pulled in different directions.  Warren Wiersbe says, “Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us the opposite direction; and we are pulled apart!”

In leadership there will be anxious moments and how we react in those moments can make us or break us.  Wiersbe chimes in on this challenge, “From the spiritual point of view, worry is wrong thinking (the mind) and wrong feeling(the heart) about circumstances, people, and things.  Worry is the greatest thief of joy.  It is not enough for us, however, to tell ourselves to ‘quit worrying’ because that will never capture the thief.  Worry is an ‘inside job’ and it takes more than good intentions to get the victory.” Well said!

Edwin Friedman says this about anxiety, “To the extent that leaders…can maintain a non-anxious presence in a highly energized anxiety field, they can have the same effects on that field that transformers have in an electrical circuit.”  Transformers are there to either increase or decrease the wattage and a leader must realize his responsibility in this area.  Remaining cool, collected, and in control can sometimes be easier said than done. The reality is that we can damage our ability to lead by how we react and handle life in the pressure cooker.

Fear is often louder than reality!  All too often our minds and emotions leap to the worst possible scenarios. Actually, your worst fears are not realized most of the time.  In The Unstuck Church,Tony Morgansays, “This is another example of how pride is the enemy of courage.  When fear or worry creeps into my thoughts, I’m admitting that I believe I am in control.” Leadership requires courage to obey Christ and follow the path He is leading us on even when people do not understand or decide to criticize and/or even attack us!

In People Pleasing Pastors, author and pastor Charles Stonereveals eight F’s of chronic anxiety.  They describe the ways we are tempted to respond when our emotions cause us to react with a very defensive and wounded posture.  We are far more susceptible to reacting in an unbiblical manner when we are tired, angry, hurt, or under verbal attack.  We must learn how to stay cool under pressure and avoid melting down.  The damage may hinder the advance of His kingdom work.

Stone’s first reaction we are tempted with is to fightback.  We allow our emotions to cause us to no longer think clearly and therefore we choose to lash back and defend ourselves at all costs.  Secondly, some choose to fleeand decide to pull away from others whenever tension begins to build. Their preference is to get out and get away from it and unfortunately the tension does not go away until it is faced. The third reaction is to freeze.  Whenever caught off guard the temptation is to take no position at all.  The goal here is to stay neutral and make everyone happy!

Some respond to conflict by trying to fusewith the naysayers.  Their motto is that it is better to join them than stand against them.  Normally you end up compromising your convictions and seeking unity at all costs, which never brings unity.  Another incorrect response is to fixate upon it.  We begin talking to everyone about the problem, looking for his or her support without ever confronting the one who is creating the problem.  This is how we handled conflict in junior high school.

Then there are the fixerswho kick into overdrive.  They strive to over perform in order to fix everyone else’s problems.  Unfortunately, they drive everyone crazy in the process. The opposite of this temptation is seen in those who flounder.  This position causes us to become passive and we begin to consider giving up.  We underperform and do not address the problem. All to often we think if we ignore it that hopefully it will go away. But the truth is it usually gets worse.

Lastly, Stone uses three words to describe potentially the most dangerous temptation to our spiritual walk: Feed,fornicate, and finances.  This is when we yield to inappropriate impulses to satisfy or pacify the emotional hurt we are going through.  We turn to our comfort foods, impulse buying, pornography, or some other sexual sin. If we are not in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25) we can easily look in the wrong places for contentment and joy.

Where and to whom will you turn when anxiety tries to control your emotions? Especially when you are overwhelmed and your emotions are causing you to not think biblically.  Philippians 4:6-8 gives us the formula to persevere in these challenging moments.

The first thing is prayer!  Get alone with the Lord and cry out to Him. Stillness is the precondition to His presence! Resist the temptation to be distracted and focus on who He is!

            The second thing is to guard your thoughts!  Someone has said, “My thoughts cause feelings. My feelings provoke intentions. My intentions become actions.  My actions form habits. My habits create a lifestyle.”  Make sure that your thoughts are biblical!  Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.”  Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from who He is and keep your eyes focused on Him, even in the battles!

LEADING WITH MISSIONAL PURPOSE

It was the day after Christmas in 1979 when my wife and I arrived at my first pastorate in Marion, Illinois.  To say that I was excited as we unloaded the U-Haul would be an understatement.  The parsonage was small, but big enough for us as we focused on our new ministry with West Blvd. Baptist Church.  The next day I took my one box of office items to the church.  The office was a tiny nook above the foyer area with a very steep stairwell.  I had my “license” to preach and my freshly signed ordination certificate to hang on the wall.  The rest of the box contained a name plaque my brother-in-law, David, had given to me to make me “official” and about ten books to place on the book shelves.

It took about 30 minutes to get all set up and then I sat down in the chair behind the small desk thinking, “What do I do now?”  I was overwhelmed with the realization that I did not have a clue on what to do next. The irony was that just a month earlier I had decided to leave Central Baptist College to go into the pastorate because my youthful zeal had convinced me that I was ready.  Side note: STAY IN SCHOOL!  The adrenaline high did not last 48 hours after arriving on assignment.  The goal was to preach the word and shepherd the people but I did not have any plan or strategy beyond the first Sunday.   There have been many ideas through the years, some good and some not so good, that have started strong but lost steam quickly.

This is where “Entropy” enters the door.  It is defined as “a measure of the disorder that exists in a system.”  It is a physics term that describes how energy decreases because of the loss of heat and slowly but surely you no longer have the get-up-and-go you once had.  In Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeirodescribes entropy as “the gradual decline back to a mediocre lifestyle defined by a habit and reaction.”  It is the opposite of the abundant life and we must realize that unless we have an intentional plan to remain fresh and on fire, entropy is the “natural” outcome. How do we keep entropy from setting in? How do we lead others to live with a purpose for their lives that does not diminish nor lose momentum?

There are three ingredients very important to remain fresh and on fire.  All three are necessary if we are going to lead with purpose.

First, take care of the spiritual. Leaders must lead by example in the area of their spiritual walk.  Any gathering of God’s people must involve His word and prayer.  We are not meeting just to meet but as Philippians 3:10 says, to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”

Second,take care of the relational.  We must focus on authentic relationships that hold one another accountable and move past the shallow friendships our culture endorses.  The need is great to have people in our lives that can speak the truth to us when we’re out of line and challenge us.  Then we need to be mature enough to listen and accept the challenge.

The third item is the one most often neglected.  We must be missional.  We must have a plan and strategy to lead others to live with purpose.  Many Christians and churches are good at being spiritual and relational but drop the ball when it comes to leading people to live on mission.  The spiritual and the relational cannot be underestimated, but when leaders do not lead to intentionally live on mission, entropy will set in with mediocrity and apathy not far behind.  We must lead others to be missional in their personal lives, church family, and associational cooperation.  When we focus on the spiritual and relational but ignore the missional ingredient we become inwardly focused and neglect our purpose.

What could you, your church, or your local association do to lead others to live with a purpose beyond themselves?  What would happen if we were the friend of sinners that Jesus was and is?  In their song, Jesus Friend of Sinners, Casting Crowns say it well,“Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away.  We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing.  Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see. The world is on their way to you but they’re tripping over me.”  Maybe people are not rejecting Jesus Christ as much as they are rejecting the lack of compassion they see in us!

J.D. Payne says this, “Missional Living Requires…Both actions and words are requirements for missional living.  Kingdom Citizens are to “let their lights shine before men that they may see the good works and praise the Father Who is in heaven.”  But Kingdom Citizens must also “preach the gospel in season and out of season.”  We cannot do one without the other.  While some situations will require that we spend most of the time living out the Kingdom Ethic before unbelievers (e.g., 1 Peter 3:1-2), we must proclaim the gospel.  Missional Living Occurs…when Kingdom Citizens live according to the Kingdom Ethic in the world.”

Leading with purpose and intentionality means we have a holistic approach of carefully giving attention to our flock’s spiritual growth, relational dynamic, and their missional involvement with their circles of influence. We refuse to accept the thinking that, “two out of three ain’t bad” and remain dedicated to reaching outwardly to those who are far from God.  It is not only loving people more but also focusing on loving more people.  Let’s live missionally – on mission for God and with God!

Should We Have A Strategy?

Some seem to think that having a strategy or planning out our ministry is unspiritual. We just need to pray, trust the Lord, follow His leadership, and allow Him to work out the details.  Certainly, we can sometimes lean way too heavily on our plans, methods, and strategies but God has always had a plan from the very beginning.  The word strategy is a military word that is used to refer to large-scale planning and directing of operations toward a certain goal.  A method usually refers to a scaled down way of going about a task. Studying Paul’s life we see that he did have a strategy as well as a complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

We must be very careful of not organizing Christ right out of our ministry, planning, and our churches.  Dynamic Church Planting International gives an excellent perspective for making sure we proceed with prayerful planning.  This training stresses 12 Biblical principles. The first is  “The BOSS Principle.” Christ is the Lord of church planting and
He has a vision for your new church. Christ has a vision for the church that He wants you to plant. Your job is not to
invent a vision. Your work is not to appropriate a successful vision from another church planter and church.

The second is “THE POWER PRINCIPLE” that states prayer is the indispensable source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting. As often as possible, emphasize the need to prayerfully seek God in all stages of the church planting process and not to move to the next stage until you have a clear vision from God for the new church plant. Your job is to prayerfully discern the vision that Christ has for your church.  We should be strategists and tacticians and applying biblical church growth principles can help us. Good research is essential. Learning good leadership skills is crucial.

The right kind of practical church training and planning is vital but the message of the gospel will have impact only through prayer. Unless the gospel is proclaimed, no one will be saved. But without prayer, hearts will remain closed to the transforming power of the gospel. Prayer is as essential to the harvest as preaching the gospel.  DCPI gives great advice in their training on how to have the proper perspective about strategy and methods with the goal to always be driven by principles and not models.  While it is almost impossible to remove all models from any training these principles are pretty universal.

A Time Driven Approach
 means moving forward in your planning based on pre-set dates, no matter what progress you’ve made in building your team and planning your strategy.  In this approach, the calendar rules and you must keep moving, but sometimes we need to wait on the Lord.  You may be pressured to move ahead, ready or not.  You have a group of people eager to get going and you may feel pressured to start your project before you feel fully prepared.  There definitely are some challenges to taking a purely Time Driven approach.  The reality is that your timing might not be God’s timing

An Objective Driven Approach means moving ahead based on reaching objectives and goals you have planned for.  Paul’s plan was to go into Bithynia and reach the people there but the Lord had a different plan.  Have you communicated the vision to all of your team well?  Have you answered their questions and do they understand what your expectations are in reaching the goals you have agreed upon?  Even though you have a plan that was agreed upon, you need to make sure that everyone has “bought” into the vision and they are ready to execute the plan and carry it out.  There must be team buy-in.

A Spirit Driven approach combines the time and objective driven approaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is by far the best approach.  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25 ESV).  A Spirit Driven approach looks at the calendar plus the objectives and brings everything before the Lord for His timing. Timeline dates are pre-planned, but are always “written in pencil” so they can be erased and changed based on the Spirit’s leading.  You make plans and decisions only after intense prayer and waiting on the Lord. Everything is subject to revision by the Holy Spirit!

  1. Herbert Kane puts it this way, “We might begin by asking: Did Paul have a strategy?Some say yes; others say no.  Much depends on the definition of strategy.  If by strategy is meant a deliberate, well-formulated, duly executed plan of action based on human observation and experience, then Paul had little or no strategy; but if we take the word to mean a flexible modus operandideveloped under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and subject to His direction and control, then Paul did have a strategy.”  It is wisdom for us to learn from the 2,000 years of trial and error as churches have tried to plan and effectively reach people with the gospel.

David Hesselgrave says it this way, “church planters and planners should always be faithful to biblical principles, and they should always be attentive to biblical precedents.  In every phase of both planning and planting they should both give themselves to prayer and exhort coworkers and converts alike to do the same.  Little or nothing will be accomplished without prayer!  Little or nothing will be accomplished without thinking and working. Ask the apostle Paul.  Consult the biblical record!”  Yes, we should plan our strategy as we seek His face and ask for Him to direct, guide and help us is in every area!

Mission – Why we exist?

Vision – Where are we going?

Strategy – How do we get there?

Team – Who will do it?