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Sifting Does Occur

We must expect trials and tribulations to come our way. We have already discussed the importance of learning to read the Bible honestly. Jesus told Peter in Luke 22:31-32, “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Leaders should especially be ready for the attacks that will come our way. There is a bull’s-eye on our backs and the devil has us in his crosshairs.

Here are some excellent questions from Spiritual leadership by J. Oswald Sanders: “How well do you handle criticism? When have you profited from it? The humble person can learn from petty criticism, even malicious criticism.” One rule of thumb in this area is to always be open to any kernel of truth there might be in the criticism – whether it is constructive or not. Sanders then asks, “In what situations have you been a peacemaker? A leader must be able to reconcile with opponents and make peace where arguments have created hostility.”

Sifting can occur many different ways but it is never enjoyable. It is like discipline of which Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” The sifting we go through produces a stronger and more vibrant faith. James tells us that the testing of our faith produces endurance and enables us to grow into spiritual maturity. Jesus told Peter, “And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Sanders also asks, “Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without taking offense? Leaders always face opposition.” He then adds, “Do you depend on the praise of others to keep you going? Can you hold steady in the face of disapproval and even temporary loss of confidence?” We may face health challenges, financial challenges, but the most difficult can be relational challenges. Especially when they come from those closest to us. This sifting can hurt the deepest and take the longest to overcome.

First, we must make sure that we talk to people not about people. Make Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15-10 a value that you live by and practice. Conflict resolution training is needed and must be implemented into your ministry. In Irresistible Church Wayne Cordeiro says, “The DNA of any conflict resolution involves bringing people together and getting them to talk and listen to each other.” Unfortunately, we worry far too much about pleasing people instead of producing results that will honor God. It is difficult to balance at times.

Second, learn from your mistakes. Make sure that you are not building up a standard so high that no one can live up to it. Wayne Cordeiro refers to this equation; “Experience plus reflection equals insight.” We can always learn from our experiences by stepping back and asking simple questions such as “how could I handle that better next time?” Also, seek other people’s opinions and “debrief” with them how you handled the situation. Listening to other people’s viewpoints ensures that you are not only looking through your lens, which can create tunnel vision.

Third, realize that you will not be able to fix every situation. There are times to lament a situation as found in the scriptures. What does that look like? When a person comes to you and it cannot be easily resolved, you point that person to Jesus and invite them to honestly pour out their heart to the Lord. We acknowledge that God is good and sovereign, yet life is not always as we would like it to be. We learn that our emotions are permitted, that it is right to express them, even when those emotions include anger and injustice when done correctly.

Fourth, be good with a time of prayer and reflection if resolution does not occur immediately. You may not ever have all the answers for people when they are struggling. Unfortunately, life is unfair and people do not always act the way God would have them act. So we repent, we strive to improve, we listen to concerns, and we try to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit. All of us are challenged to remain sensitive to the real pain and needs of people. We must learn to be patient with people who are wading through many difficult issues in their lives.

Fifth, embrace the paradoxes of leadership. Wayne Cordeiro continues, “The challenge is to stay balanced when criticized, to avoid taking the criticism personally, and yet not to become calloused and cynical. In leadership we are called to a paradox of personalities: sensitive but not easily offended, empathetic but not weak, flexible and yet filled with convictions.” God desires to reconcile and heal unhealthy relationships and He will when it is what we truly desire. The question we must ask ourselves is, are we willing to yield to His principles for reconciliation?

Avoidance of a broken relationship should not be an option. Having right relationships is more important than having church according to Matthew 5:23-24. We must get together in order to work the issues out in a godly, Christ honoring fashion. If apologies need to be made then you must offer them. If rumors need to be cleared up then you must communicate the truth. Most importantly, everyone must be reminded of our goal to honor and glorify God in all we do. John 13:35, “By this all people will know you are My disciples, If you have love one for another.”

Riding the Roller Coaster

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I remember it all too well.  It was the last time I rode a roller coaster.  The location was Six Flags Over Texas and the ride was the Titan.  As we ascended upward I remember thinking, “What are you doing on here?”  There were terrifying screams and cries of others around me but when the ride was over they said, “Let’s do that again!”  Not me.  I was done, finished, retired, and I tried to recover from a throbbing headache the rest of the day.  I wonder, is that how you are feeling about ministry or church?

Life is full of ups and downs, struggles and victories, mountain tops and valleys, celebrations and disappointments.  It is a part of life and should be expected.  Ministry is kind of like parenting. It is a joy to be a parent; most of the time!  This Christian journey of faith we are on is not about perfection but progress and continuing no matter what challenges may come our way.  I read recently that there are two kinds of wilderness experiences: The kind you do not choose and the kind that is self-imposed!

Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) church planter training teaches that there are “seasons” and “cycles” in our journey.  That truth is applicable to anyone seeking to serve the Lord.  Sometimes it is hot and sunny, sometimes rainy and cold.  Serving and following Christ begins with the same three stages that are linear but they can lead to seasons or cycles of a “high road” or a “low road.”  Trials and tribulations will come and then the roller coaster ride of reoccurring loops of celebration or discouragement begins.

First, ministry normally begins with a vision of what God wants you to accomplish.  Excitement burns within you to fulfill your calling and make a difference for Christ.  DCPI training says, “This is a time of great excitement and some trepidation, as God’s vision for your ministry begins to take shape in your heart and mind.  The magnitude of the eternal impact you could make, captures your heart and energizes your mind.  The joy of knowing God has planted this vision in your heart, and the closeness you feel with Him.”

Step two is planning and implementation.  You want to make sure your vision is not just a pipe dream.  You begin to put the vision God has placed on your heart down on paper.  DCPI says, “Prayerful planning enlightens your vision and gives detail to what the vision will become.  This is the time when you really begin to work, when you pray and plan and begin the important steps necessary to move toward God’s design for your ministry.  Without this stage, there will be no realization of God’s vision.”

These are the linear “stages” that begins both cycles.  There is vision, planning and implementation, and thirdly, trials!  Yes, there it is, trials!  This is where the roller coaster of life can really get rolling.  There are basically three kinds of people; those with problems, those coming out of problems, and those about to have problems.  The trials you will experience are inevitable.  Your faith will be tested.  The enemy will attack.  Our DCPI materials make it clear that potential trials often occur in some predictable areas.

  • Spiritual Warfare – The goal of every ministry is to retake ground occupied by the enemy. Establishing a dynamic church is nothing less than an assault on the gates of hell. Jesus Himself promised victory in such an ambitious offensive campaign, but it can be full of tribulation and danger.  If you still have your doubts take a look at Eph. 6:11-18.
  • Family Pressures – Ministry can place strain on a marriage. Normal family conflict and difficulty is only made more intense by deciding to follow Christ and be faithful in every area of your home life.  This is why we teach DCPI’s Balance Principle: “The church planter’s walk with God, family life, and ministry must be in biblical balance.”  Take a look at Eph. 5:22-6:4.
  • Unrealistic Expectations – It starts with vision but that vision, its shape and magnitude, needs to be determined by God, not by an unhealthy comparison with some other pastor or church leader. Setting the bar of “success” based on how God has blessed someone else is both dangerous and potentially discouraging.  (Jn. 21:20-23)
  • Leadership and People Challenges – Ministry demands leadership skills.  One pastor said the challenge of pastoring is taking all the different groups in a church and forming them into one unified body.  The other side of leadership is remaining humble and always striving to lead biblically as a servant-leader.  It is not about power or position but godly example.  (I Pet. 5:1-7)
  • Loneliness and Isolation – The worst thing you can do is to try to face the trials and tribulations of the ministry alone.  Ministry Grid says, “Transformation is a communal experience, not an individual exercise.”  Everyone needs a mentor or a coach in their life to help them through the roller coaster experiences that come along!  Take a look at partnership in Phil. 1:3-5.

Established churches and church planters realize that any one of the trials mentioned above can be devastating but knowing that it is a normal stage of ministry can help you get through it!  Check DCPI training out at www.dcpi.org