Tag: leadership (page 1 of 2)

Trump, LifeWay, and Eugene Peterson—Conservative Evangelicalism Personified

Life has a way of putting things right in front of us—if we’re willing to see them.

Though much has been said in attempt to cast light on the true essence and nature of conservative Evangelicalism, perhaps nothing in all the universe speaks more clearly than when it all gets personified so poignantly in human flesh. Look no further, search no longer—Trump, LifeWay Christian Stores, and Eugene Peterson are conservative Evangelical Christianity in living color. They serve as both a window into the true desires and ethos of right-wing Christianity, and a mirror giving an honest reflection, if only its adherents should dare to look within.

Debate all you want about President Donald Trump, at the end of the day, he bares a strong resemblance not unlike that of many a conservative Evangelical pastor, leading with a male-driven patriarchal sexism and a vision of personal power, imperialism, and greed—all spiritually justified of course, and often at the expense of the “least of these.” As a former Evangelical pastor myself, I know it all too well. It begins with good intention and the best of aspirations, but quickly the tractor-beams of the Evangelical Death Star can’t be overtaken. Slowly, but surely, the erosion overcomes.

There’s no denying, much of conservative pastoral leadership has adopted some of the most cruel, immoral, anti-Jesus, and evil behaviors and attitudes on the planet. Brutally lording over people, insisting on ones own way, demanding allegiance, fear-mongering, childishness, blatant double standards, and putting character and truth aside as long as you’re willing to be a player in the Evangelical game. Keeping it all predominantly white, male, Evangelically conservative, privileged, and culturally dominant are some of its greatest unwritten leadership priorities. Inside handshakes, closed-door meetings, all conspiring on how to quickly demonize, marginalize, and even give exit to nearly any barrier or perceived enemy. Virtually nothing is off the table when it comes to defending and taking territory in the name of conservative Evangelicalism. Bullying, shaming, emotional abuse, spiritual exploitation, and political adultery—no matter how overt or subtle, is all spiritual justified by a militant, vengeful, intolerant, gun-carrying, homophobic, hell-addicted, sexist, racist, and imperialistic distortion of Jesus.

No wonder why so many couldn’t help themselves but to elect him as President, for chances are, he most closely resembles their local conservative Evangelical pastoral leadership. Nearly everything you see in our President Donald Trump is hauntingly intrinsic to much of conservative Evangelicalism—especially its leadership. Want to know what it feels like to be under the mantle of many a conservative Evangelical Church? Ask yourself this simple question, how does it feel to be under the leadership of President Donald Trump?

Feel a bit uncomfortable or believe it’s unfair for me to make this kind of comparison? May I ask you a simple question—then why did you elect him President? If he makes you embarrassed or is lessor in character, maturity, and vision in comparison to your pastor, why do you still vehemently support him? Besides, by your own faith understanding and declaration, wasn’t he sent by God—appointed by the Father, as are all leaders? Not just to merely be your pastor, but to be the President of the only nation you declare is under God—how much more important and requiring is that?

LifeWay Christian Stores is a revealing display and manifestation of the state of many a conservative Evangelical church. With it’s consumer-driven franchising of Jesus and their unique conservative brand, it centers itself around preserving its future, protecting conformity, and paying the bills—sounds a lot like “church” of most any flavor.

One is most certainly welcome to come and buy all you can, they’ll gladly take your cash—no questions asked. They might even let you sweep the floor or take out the trash—if you’ll put on one of their logo-embroidered t-shirts, of course. Yet, try to become a valued contributing part of their community, and you’ll find an endless supply of tests, hoops, and checkpoints you’ll have to pass. For, at the end of the day, Jesus is big business, and there’s a lot of right-wing conservatives to please and lost people with money to spend.

Giving Christians and the spiritually vulnerable more and more to do, consume, become, believe, fear, and achieve is an evil religious concoction not many can resist. In fact, they’ll lay down a lot of dough to keep up with the latest Christian trends and make doubly sure, they’re being faithful enough and becoming successful for Jesus. LifeWay, and many a conservative Evangelical church, have mastered both creating the addiction and seductively pimping the drug that feeds it. In fact, put a worship service in your local LifeWay Christian store, and you’ll hardly know the difference.

Yet, perhaps most telling of all, is how they shoot their wounded and send those they deem to be wayward to the curb. Just ask Jennifer Hatmaker, to be sure. For nothing resembles many a conservative Evangelical church more than big business, demanded conformity, self-preservation, consumerism, and the eating of their own.

Enter Eugene Peterson, a gentle, humble, wise, and good Christian man who has greatly contributed to the evangelical Christian community through his famed leadership, writing, and teaching. As is characteristic of most every member of your typical conservative Evangelical Church, his intentions have always been noble and His pursuit of truth and the growing of His relationship with Jesus undeniably genuine.

Yet, when recently, his spirituality grew to a place it colored outside conservative Christian lines by affirming gay marriage, he experienced the full wrath and weight of the monster that is conservative Evangelicalism. Quickly, he became the fear-driven church member that is imprisoned by the shackles of conservative ideology. Like countless others, his free-thinking theological transition of belief was met with punishment, shaming, excommunication, and threats. No matter his reasoning, biblical revelation. or honesty with it all, he was nailed to the cross and fearfully enticed to surrender and come down—or else.

In fact, LifeWay Christian Stores pledged to remove his books—go figure. Websites were swiftly created to denounce and demonize him—surprise, surprise. The biggest question many conservatives asked wasn’t, “What can we learn?,” “Is he onto something?,” or “How can we find a positive way to agree to disagree?” No, it was, “Can we still read his stuff and be seen as genuine Christians?” God help us all—that this is the kind of atrocious people we have become.

Sadly, instead of standing strong and going the full distance of resistance, Eugene Peterson, like many others, buckled under the pressure in compliance with Evangelical conformity and tradition. In fact, he threw in the towel and retracted it all—a suspiciously sudden change from his recent gay-affirming position. In the end, it seems he must have concluded, the cost is too costly to pay. In Eugene Peterson, we need not look any further, this is the hell, this is what it looks like to be a conservative Evangelical Christian and a prisoner of its machine—with seemingly no way out.

As hard as it may be to hear, it’s even harder to say.

Everything you need to know about the truth of much of conservative Evangelical leadership, church-life, and membership can be tragically found in this sad trifecta—Trump, LifeWay, and Eugene Peterson.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

10 Relationship and Leadership Standards to Live By

Relationships and leadership go hand in hand. And to be sure, navigating both can be complicated and difficult at times. We all want healthy relationships where we can love and be loved in return. We also want our workplace relationships and endeavors with people to filled with harmony, fulfillment, and happiness.  Yet, some of the time, we find our relationship and leadership experiences falling short.  What we hope for is not exactly what is actually happening.  Conflicts, challenges, and change (to name a few) find their way in and make relationships and leadership more messy than we would prefer.

As a pastor, I am certainly not perfect. On any given day, I probably make more mistakes than I do in getting things right. Yet, these 10 standards have definitely helped in improving my leadership and relationships, if for no further outcome then enabling me to have an inner sense of assurance and calm in the midst of times when leadership and relationships are not so easy. But well beyond that, I have found these standards to go a long way at fostering healthy relationships and leadership for all involved.

The good news is, these standards reflect the Christ that lives in you and the new person you already are in Him. You are already fully capable of living these out as God has graced you with His mind, a new heart, and His power. These standards are not about things to strive for, but rather aspects of who you are already. Believe that these standards are already within you, because they are!  As you believe it, you will live it in your relationships and leadership.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #1- never handle conflict through email, texting, or fb.

If you can’t deal with it face to face, don’t deal with it until you can. No, we shouldn’t avoid dealing with conflict, but handling it prematurely through ways that avoid or delay face to face dialogue can be highly problematic. What about a phone call or Skype? That is a good option “b” when getting your bumpers in the same parking lot is impossible or highly difficult.  60-70% of communication is non-verbal, and people often take a much different posture towards issues when they are face to face then when they can hide behind the distance and disconnect email, texting, and social media provide. If you want people to respect you and your leadership you are going to want to handle conflict personally and relationally through means that bring you face to face as much as possible. Every one brings two pails to issues of conflict, one is full of gasoline, the other full of water. Whether or not gasoline or water is poured on the issue will largely depend on how personally the issue is handled.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #2- when receiving criticism, don’t take it to heart without first carefully considering the source.

Criticism can be very valuable, but also destructive. One of the determining factors is the source of the criticism. The main question I have when discerning the source of criticism is, “Does this person have my best interests at heart?” If I conclude they don’t, my willingness to open the door to taking their criticism to heart diminishes. Helpful criticism usually comes from people who genuinely care about you. Does that mean we shouldn’t consider all criticism as having potential value? Of course not. Good criticism can come from bad people. But be very careful how you receive it and what you do with it. For sure, though all criticism should be considered, not all criticism should be taken to heart. Furthermore, not all criticism deserves your response or your action.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #3- assume the best about people and focus on their goodness, but entrust them in steps, not leaps.

There is goodness in everyone. People are a gift from God. Focusing on what is good about people and their strengths is a powerful way to live. Unfortunately, we often fill in the blanks about people and their actions with the most negative conclusions. We think this protects us, but it often serves in depressing us and missing out on the value of people. Assume the best about people.

However, this does not mean entrusting people in leaps and bounds. It does not mean turning off common sense and fair discernment. You wouldn’t give your car keys to a 10 year old. Neither should we entrust people beyond what they are ready and capable of, even if they believe otherwise. This is a disservice to them and you. Entrusting in steps is key.  Those who are faithful with a little will be faithful with much. It’s important to see what people do with a little before you give them much. This will benefit them and you in the long run.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #4- don’t waste your time trying to drag people into or keep them caring about you and/or your vision. If they can walk away, let them walk away.

Oh, how we want to be liked and loved. Unfortunately, not everyone will like and love us.  It’s our insecurities that attract us to people who aren’t good for us or who aren’t interested in us.  We somehow think we need to get them to be interested in our lives to prove that we are lovable and worthy.

Yet, trying to drag people into our lives and keep them caring about us and the things we care about is a royal waste of time. People will walk into and out of our lives for various reasons. You will likely only have a few over the course of a life time that will truly be “with you” for the long haul. If people can walk away from you, they were never really “with you.” They may have been “with” aspects of you, but not you as a whole. If you find yourself having to drag people along to be interested and involved in your life, stop wasting your time. Do your best to be a person of reconciliation and lasting relationships, but if they can walk away, let them walk away. Spend your time nurturing relationships of mutual love and respect.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #5- connect the tubes of your identity, emotions, value, and merit to Jesus. Connect the tubes of your giving and blessing to people.

One of the keys to healthy relationships is to not turn to them for your everything, especially for you value, merit, and identity. Only Jesus can supply your deepest needs and fill your emotional tank. We run into trouble when we turn to people for what we should be turning to from God.

With God it is best to receive, with people it is best to give. Let God be your supply, and people, the recipients of your blessings.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #6- Be generous with forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean what they did is now somehow o.k, or that the relationship is automatically back to normal. Forgiveness is emotionally releasing the person of the debt that they owe you, for your sake and potentially theirs.

Forgiveness makes sure we don’t write people off, but it doesn’t mean we automatically write them back in. Reconciliation and restoration are totally different from forgiveness. Forgiveness is what makes reconciliation and restoration a possibility not a guarantee. It takes two people to reconcile, it takes only one person to forgive.

Being a forgiving person means not hold grudges or harboring bitterness, but always keeping the door open (however slight) to the possibility of reconciliation.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #7- Love negative people from a distance. Don’t stop loving, but don’t let their negativity stain your outlook or the outlook of others.

Some people and relationships can become highly toxic. People who are negative to a fault certainly fit into that category. Unfortunately, negativity is highly contagious, and can even rub off on ourselves if we are not careful. Many negative people love attention, and have for whatever reason, decided that utilizing negativity is their best (and maybe only) way to get attention or control.

Not everybody who has an opposing view or points out problems is negative. We need people who are willing to look for challenges and speak the hard truth we don’t want to hear. But negative people thrive on problems, drama, gossip, bad news, and things that could go potentially wrong.

Sometimes, as hard as we try, we cannot inspire them away from their negativity. The best we can do is to love them from a distance as we pray for God to do what only God can do in their lives. Allowing them too close to you and those around you in terms of having a voice, gaining an audience, or spraying their negativity around can be highly problematic. At times, loving them from a distance can even mean taking measures that remove that person from a project, group, or team as the best context to help a clinically negative person is outside of the context their negativity feeds upon. However, usually politely communicating that you have heard their views, but ignoring them in your mind and in your decisions will take the wind out of their sails for you and those around you.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #8- with people, exchange the ideal for the real. Nobody is perfect. Surround yourself then with people who truly care about being in relationship with you. Nearly any imperfection can be worked through in that context. Mutual love is the glue to relationships, not perfection.

Love covers a multitude of things in relationships. Love everyone unconditionally, and draw people close to you with whom mutual love and respect occurs, not perfection. Some of my closest relationships are with people with whom I have differing views and beliefs. Furthermore, I and they have made numerous miscues in the relationship. The glue that holds it all together is mutual love and respect. Mutual love and respect in a relationship brings the ability to agree to disagree, say “sorry” when sorry is what is needed to be said, work through misunderstandings, and just about anything else.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #9- When confronting a conflict or issue with a person, do it face to face and begin with questions. Questions like, “Help me understand, I heard…” or “Would you be open to some feedback about…” or “Maybe you could help me clarify something, what was your thinking behind…” etc. etc. Clarify first with questions that don’t accuse.

The worst blunders we make when confronting issues come from either confronting them too soon without all the facts, or never confronting them at all, no matter the facts. The solution is to confront with the mindset of an investigator, not a judge. Then, when all the facts are in, people have had their voices heard, and you have had time to seek wise counsel, then begin to make decisions about how to move forward. Rarely, do we need to press the accelerator when confronting conflict, most of the time, what is needed is to apply the brakes. Slow down, be thorough, objective, and gracious.  And remember, face to face!

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #10- Don’t make a big deal about figuring out and living some great plan for your life. You becoming the person you already are in Christ is God’s big plan for you. In Him, you are already big and anything you do and pursue is big. The significance and magnitude of you and your life has already been taken care, God wants you to simply enjoy it. Life is God’s great plan for you.

The purpose of your life is to awaken (through faith) to the Savior (Jesus) who has already saved you, become the person you already are in Him, and live the life He has already given you… filled with power, authority, significance, and divine celebrity.

In Christ, anything you do, pursue, create, or endeavor is filled with perfect purpose and divine power and significance.

Enjoy your life, and live it. That’s the plan.

 

Is Your Telescope as Big as Mine?

As a Christian leader, I have seen the value of having “vision” and “purpose.”  Both are important aspects of leadership and life. If you look at my ministry, Identity Church, you will see lots of it.

Yet, I believe there is something deeper and more powerful than the concepts of “Vision” and “Purpose.” In fact, I am inclined to say that the concepts of “Vision” and “Purpose” have perhaps been overplayed, giving the impression that Christian leadership and life is simply about discovering and living with purpose and casting a vision of a preferred future for people to follow.  Some Christians and leaders have a kind of telescope envy. Who has the biggest vision, projects, accomplishments, and sense of the cultural trends for the future? Are you completely and thoroughly dialed into God’s exact, specific, and surgical purpose for your life?  Is your telescope as big as mine?

Make no mistake, God uses vision and purpose, but believe it or not, they are not foundations for Christian life or leadership. Rather, I believe the biblical concept of “Promise” is the foundation for Christian life and leadership, and missing in so much of modern, Christian life and leadership. We have indeed, in my humble opinion, placed the cart before the horse. We have placed vision and purpose, before promise.

What do I mean?

“Vision” and “Purpose” are things you work on.  Like putting together a puzzle, we see the big picture and it’s function and start working to put the pieces together.  We see the top of the mountain, believe we are called to reach it, and begin our climb.  Our faith may be utilized and required along the way, but the foundation is our sense of calling and our efforts in climbing.

“Vision” and “Purpose” are inspiring as they bring to our life levels of meaning and direction. But, for many, the attraction to these concepts is connected to the adrenaline that comes from  believing in and clinging onto a hope that one can become something greater and do something better through primarily our actions and efforts.  God may give us a sense of “Vision” and “Purpose,” but we must “work it” for it to materialize. Therefore, “Vision” and “Purpose” typically end up appealing to a desire to perform our way to a better future and becoming a better person who has a better, more significant life.  They call up the resources and hope of our flesh to bring us to a better reality and future.  We all love visionary and purposeful phrases like, “I think I can, I think I can” and the courage for progress these words solicit.  Yet, the inner warrior they conjure up is merely that, an inner warrior of flesh and bones, who is at best, trying to work out something spiritually great in and through one’s physical resources.

Conversely, the concept of “Promise” can’t be worked on, it can only be “lived out” through faith.  As Christians, we are all heirs of “Promise” (not “Vision” and “Purpose”) given to us through Abraham.  The powerful “Promise” that was over Abraham’s life is over our life, through Jesus Christ. It is God’s promise over our lives (and the lives of others) that is foundational to all life and leadership. It was this promise that led, enabled, and assured Abraham his destiny, identity and his significance.

In fact, in the verses below that articulate the promise of God over Abraham’s life and ours, notice the absence of vision. Abraham was directed by God to go to a land that God did not reveal to him from the beginning. He would only see it when he arrived. Furthermore, notice that the pendulum of blessings and accomplishment are heavily leaning towards God’s working, not ours. The foundation is faith, not vision and purpose. Abraham was never applauded for being a man of leadership-vision and life-purpose, but for being a great man of great faith.

 

Genesis 12:1-3   The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 22:15-19   The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Galatians 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Philippians 1:6 “He who began a good work in you will carry it onto completion…” 

 

There are many other passages that speak to God’s “promise” over our lives. Comparatively, there are significantly less that speak of vision and purpose.  The Promise of God over our lives is not future reality to be obtained, but present realities to be lived out.  What are the details and applications of this Promise for us in the here and now?

In addition to our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ , there are several profound applications from these verses…

Because of the “Promise” God has over our lives, we…

1) Reign in Life – We live above our circumstances and surroundings. This is not a future possibility, but in Christ, a current reality. It’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are and what has been promised over your life. The Name of Jesus has become your name through faith. His Name is above all names.

2) Rule with Christ- We have divine power and authority now and in the future. The Kingdom of God is a “now and yet to be” reality. Present or future, in Christ, we are rulers with Christ. The world does not rule us. We are leaders in every way in every place. This is our position. Faith is what brings this reality into reality.

3) Blessed to Bless the world- We have prosperity from God that leads to generosity. True Grace received never leads to living a selfish, lazy life. Rather the opposite. God’s prosperity is attracted to faith in the Promise. Prosperity… spiritually, emotionally, and physically are ours now.

4) Relational Prosperity- We are whole and complete in Christ and able to truly love others from and out of that completeness.

5) Divine Greatness- We are the righteousness of Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly realms. This is a current reality, promised over us. You are greatness before you ever do anything great, and because you are great in Christ, everything you do, by faith, is great. Greatness is not something you achieve for Christ, it’s something you are in Christ.

6) Constant Significance– Regardless or where we are and what we do in life, we have divine significance because of who we are in Christ and God’s promise over us. Before your actions are ever significant, who you are has become significant through faith in your new identity in Christ. When you truly take hold of your identity in Christ through faith, you can’t help but change the world whatever happens from there.

These are the real-life realities of the “Promise” that we are heirs to, right here, right now.  All of these applications of God’s promise over our life happen effortlessly through our faith. They are promised over us and received by us and worked out through us by our faith. They will prompt our actions for sure, but they will not require our work. Big difference.

“Promise” begins and ends with God working in and through us. Our faith is what materializes the “Promise” in our lives.  The foundations of promise our not connected to our performance but rather God’s working and our faith.

The “Promise” of God over your life does not require having “vision.” In fact, our own sense of vision may in fact eclipse our ability to sense what God has “promised” over our lives. Where “vision” bends our sense of purpose in life as being centered around our actions and accomplishments, “Promise” directs our sense of purpose in life to be centered in our faith. One leans towards relying on human responsibility for its fruition, the other leans on believing in God for its fruition.

In fact, “Promise” is a current reality that is lived out in life now. “Vision” is a future reality that is worked on for it to be materialized in the future

Should we throw out “vision” and “purpose?” No, absolutely not! Both are valuable and important. But they must never become foundational nor birthed from anything less than faith in the promise of God.

How can you apply this teaching? Here are a few suggestions…

1) Focus on who you are now in Christ more than what you should do for Christ in the future. Place your focus on what Jesus has and is doing in you today, not what you will do for Him tomorrow. Put much more value on the size of your faith in the present work of Jesus in and over your life, not the size of your telescope into the future.

2) Believe in your position in Christ as one who reigns in life and rules with Christ. This will change your whole mindset and living as you deal with challenges, circumstances, and responsibilities in your life.

3) Don’t spend your energy on becoming significant and successful, put your trust in Jesus that because of Christ and His promise over your life, you are and everything you do is significant, right now. You are great because He is great in you. Live from greatness, not towards greatness.

 

Grace-Centered Leadership

A Foundation Misplaced?

If you are into leadership, there are a lot of fast food leadership troughs from which to consume.  Six steps to this, five principals to that. Talking point after talking point. A pithy tweet here, a 45-characters-or-less quote there. Well intentioned and valuable I am sure. But have you ever just thrown up your hands and said, “How am I suppose to remember (let alone do) all that in the real world?”  To be sure, the functions and behaviors of leadership are and will always be critical and worthy of much study and internalization. But if the foundation of leadership is faulty or malnourished, there is more going on than fast-food-leadership can remedy or redirect.

In fact, I wonder if our foundation for leadership within the realm of church ministry isn’t whole-heartily askew. For example, in relationships and organizations, the less trust there is, the more rules are created. Rules become remedies to what’s broken or missing. Pretty soon what was a foundation of trust and shared vision becomes replaced by a foundation of rules, policies, and procedures.

In the same way, I wonder, with all the rules, principals, techniques, steps and do’s and don’ts of leadership being articulated in waterfall proportions, if this is perhaps indicative that the foundation of ministry leadership has been misplaced.  Whether it has or hasn’t is a topic better suited for another post, but what is critical to articulate is the foundation of ministry leadership.

The Gospel of Grace

In simple terms, the foundation of ministry leadership is the Gospel of God’s Grace.  It begins and ends with the Gospel established through Grace.  The Gospel provides everyone, through faith in Christ, what they need. They need to become a completely new person, with a new identity, that they may have a new life. The foundation of leadership is not what you do, but who you are. Who you are is determined and defined by your belief (trust) in the pure Gospel of God’s Grace in making you into a new person, with a new identity, and thus a new life. Ministry leadership is from the Gospel, by the Gospel, for the Gospel.

Yet, for many in ministry leadership, their trust is not fully in the Gospel of Grace, but more in their skill, capacity, and insight.

“Grace is a gift only the non-religious can accept. They’re the only ones who can understand it, and put it to use. ‘Religious’ folk see grace as soft and weak, so they keep trying to manage their junk with willpower and tenacity. Nothing defines religion quite as well as attempting impossible tasks with limited power, all while pretending that it’s working.” -John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, & Bill Thrall

My sense is that the sentiment of this quote is easily and additionally applicable to “religious” leaders and segments of the current state of ministry leadership.  Much of today’s ministry leadership focuses largely on willpower, tenacity, skill, principals, strategies and alike while pretending it’s all working as we create large, multi-campus ministries of primarily relocated, re-baptized, or rededicated Christians who are commissioned to try to live better lives by following the rules, all while America becomes the only country in the world where Christianity is declining.  Our ministry mindset concludes that Grace doesn’t work in leadership nor discipleship, so we’d better focus on willpower and skilled leadership. Indeed, we live in the age of performance-driven church and leadership culture. The sad reality is we think it’s working.

Here again, nothing wrong with skills, principals, churches with large multi-campus ministries etc. as long as the foundation is the Gospel of God’s Grace. Leadership is a serious calling and should be taken very seriously with a desire to steward the gifts and calling of leadership vigorously. God loves excellence. However, foundations in leadership matter. The only foundation of which can be…  from the Gospel, by the Gospel, and for the Gospel of God’s Grace.

What does that look like? Here are a few thoughts…

Grace-Centered Leadership

Believe it or not, ministry leadership is actually about you, that is, who you are in Christ. It isn’t about what you bring to the table, but it is about your trust in Who God has brought to the cross and what God brought to you through the cross on your behalf, received through your faith.

We say leadership isn’t about us, but “do” leadership as if it is.  The truth is, it is about us. That being our faith in the Gospel of the Grace of God. When it becomes about our faith in God’s grace, it is our work and skills that no longer matter, but His. The focus shifts as faith turns our eyes onto Jesus, away from our old selves, and onto who we are in Him (provided and protected solely by Grace).

Faith is not a work, it is a trust.  Through the Grace of God, by faith we can look at ourselves and see Him. If we don’t see Him, we do not believe, nor can we truly lead.

Grace-centered Leadership is leading from primarily three things…

From Righteousness

When we lead from righteousness we are leading from Christ. He is our righteousness. Further than that, we have become righteousness through Him and of Him.  Don’t rush past that last sentence, it’s gold. By God’s Grace, the moment we believe, our old self is killed with Jesus on the cross, our sins past, present, and future are put to death, we are no longer worthy of shame or guilt, our sin no longer defines us, and we are partakers of the divine nature, because He lives, and now lives in us and as us.

As leaders, because of Christ and Him making us into our newly created self, there is nothing wrong with us. We don’t lead from any nuance of depravity whatsoever.  We aren’t leading to become, we are leading from. Cosmic difference.  We are trusting in the quality of the new person God has made us into by trusting in the quality of  the One who remade us, Jesus.  We are leading from our identity not for our identity. Don’t rush past that last sentence either, it’s leadership changing.

Personal assessment changes into Christ assessment. We will never be any worse or less than Him.

From Blessing

In addition to a new identity, through faith, a genuine believer has been given every spiritual blessing. And by the way, everything is spiritual. You lack nothing. Not one thing. Your “Strength Finders” (if you are familiar with this assessment tool) assessment has become a riches-of-Christ assessment. He is your strength, and all His strengths have become yours. Through the Holy Spirit, you have been graced with a mix of spiritual gifts, especially crafted for you. These gifts compliment the wholeness you already have. They are a kind of grace upon grace. The grace of spiritual gifts upon your life position and empower you to fulfill God’s plan for your life to help others discover and live the Gospel of God’s grace. From God’s blessings, everyone has the capacity for leadership and is created to lead, some in different ways, settings, and platforms than others. If you have the Gospel, you are a leader. We don’t lead for blessing, but from blessing.

From Rest

In Christ, you are already as great as you can and need to be. The moment you believed, the highest level of greatness in your life was realized and established. The true work in your life was finished, and now it’s time to rest as God accomplishes the work of your life for His Kindgom through your faith. Rest is a posture of the heart and soul that is satisfied with trusting God, not the presence of inaction. When we rest, God works through us. When we work, God rests. He is willing to let you muscle and burst ahead unproductively. Faithfulness is responding to God’s action in our lives, it is not work. Work steps ahead and in place of God, faithfulness steps with God initiated by His movement. Laziness is not rest, it is the absence of rest. Rest is trusting God to work and expectantly waiting on the moments and opportunities of faithfulness. Rest convinces our heart that we don’t have to do anything for God, we get to do things for God. It is a privilege nor a performance. In the same way, we don’t have to be faithful, we get to be faithful.

Our highest leadership job is to trust and to be faithful, anything more or less, is founded on doubt. We don’t lead in order to rest, we lead from rest. We don’t rest from leadership, we lead from rest.

Grace-centered Leadership is leading for primarily three things…

For the Gospel

When we lead for the Gospel, we speak it and live it, trusting in Jesus to be our message in word and action. The Gospel is our success, not a means to it.  Don’t blow past that last sentence, there is a lot of meat on that bone. It is for the Gospel of God’s pure Grace that we were created to lead. We are to promote it, give it, live it and protect it first and foremost it.  The Gospel of God’s Grace is the answer for all of life and living. It is not a theology, confession, strategy, or idea, it is a person… Jesus. It is God’s unmerited favor, forgiveness, and future freely given for all, received through faith. When people become a new person, with a new identity, living a new life, free from guilt, shame and rule keeping, everything changes. This the Gospel of Grace.

What the world needs now is the experiencing of the pure Gospel Grace of God, seldom trusted by modern ministry leadership.

Like the manger was to Jesus, the Church is to the Gospel. It is the carrier of the Savior from which Christ is to be born into people’s lives providing new birth to the spiritually dead and lost. The Church is the package, not the present. We are not church leaders first, we are Gospel leaders first.  Leadership is not about the church first, it’s about the Gospel first. Our churches are not the Savior, Jesus is the Savior. Ministry leadership is not for the church first, it is for the Gospel first. We become faithful carriers of the Gospel only when we first become leaders for the Gospel. The Gospel is not for the church, the church is for the Gospel.

These nuances of distinction shift foundations, values, strategies, approaches, and vision. Far too much of ministry leadership is church-success-minded and far too less, Gospel of Grace-minded.  When we lead for and from the Gospel first, effective church ministry flows out. God never meant for us to put our faith and trust in “church” to transform lives. It is only the Gospel that can perform the miracle. The church is the very important manger of the Gospel. But we worship and focus on Jesus, not the manger. Our leadership priorities and values should reflect that.

By the Spirit

Grace-centered leadership is solely enabled by the Spirit. It is the sailing vessel on the ocean that doesn’t (can’t) move without the power and placement of the Wind. It’s role is not to create the Wind, replace the Wind, fabricate the Wind, nor deter the Wind, it is to respond to the Wind in ways that best harness its power towards the purposes of God. Grace-centered leadership will not and cannot go where the Spirit does not enable.

Grace-centered leadership trusts the Wind. In it’s presence and absence there is equally present purpose. Grace-centered leadership is the art of sailing the Wind of God as the icing on the cake of our Salvation. It is from Jesus, for Jesus, and by Jesus.

 

Looking forward to your thoughts…

 

Church Impossible

I love the television show, “Restaurant Impossible.”  This real life show is about how expert chef and restaurant entrepreneur Robert Irvine of Food Network spends two days trying to fix “failing” restaurants that have sought out his help. He and his team of designers diagnos and address the many layers of issues that have led to the failure of the restaurant.  Most restaurants have significant debt, management problems, poor service, bad food, and unsightly disrepair issues.

Every time I watch this show, I am astounded by the many crossovers that can be identified that directly compare to leading churches and seeking to minister to people.  There are a lot of successful and faithful churches out there, and there are a lot of successful and faithful Christians. However, there are also what could be called, “failing” churches and Christians as well.

Over the course of my ministry thus far, I have served as the Lead Pastor of two churches that could be considered, “failing” churches. The similarities between the issues that needed to be addressed in those churches and these restaurants are uncanny.

Here some of the many crossovers from Restaurant Impossible to Church Impossible…

1) Failing Churches and Restaurants don’t set out to fail

Most churches and restaurant are started by good-hearted people who want to succeed.  Many churches are started by people who have a passion to see the Gospel change people’s lives and the Kingdom of God built through their ministry. They love Jesus and want to see His Church be the redemptive hope of the world. Many existing Churches don’t have within their mindset the desire to fail, in fact most want to be faithful to God. In the same way, I have never seen an episode of Restaurant Impossible where the leaders of the restaurant ever desired it to fail.  They started it with good intentions and probably still have many good intentions.

2) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often led by people in a certain amount of denial

In one episode of Restaurant Impossible, a restaurant owner/chef was convinced that his “homemade” barbecue (which actually wasn’t completely homemade) was the best. It tasted great to him, but obviously the customers believed differently. Even his own staff thought is was lacking (though a few faithful customers liked it). Otherwise, they would be filling the place with more business and new business. The barbecue recipe’ had been past down through generations, but for whatever reason, it not only didn’t taste good, it wasn’t homemade, and the customers were not buying it.

Part of Robert Irvine’s challenge was to help the owner/chef come out of denial about his barbecue recipe and see that what may taste good to him and honor a family tradition is actually working against the purpose and success of the restaurant.

Obviously, the goal of a church isn’t to solely please the customer, but it is to present the Gospel in ways that people can digest and taste and see that the Lord is good. Churches should never change the meat of the Gospel, but the way we present it should always be changing.  The traditions of man have often become the enemy of church effectiveness.  Like the chef/owner, failing churches are often serving up traditions and ministries that taste good to themselves, but are not reaching people far from God with the Gospel. Churches that are merely keeping their members happy and maintaining their existence are in my mind, “failing” churches in the sense that they are failing to reach their redemptive potential and their calling by God to reach people far from God at all costs. In the Kingdom of God, maintenance does not equal success it equals failure.

Unfortunately, the follow up to this episode of Restaurant Impossible found the chef/owner actually going back to the old barbecue recipe despite the overwhelming response from customers regarding their delight in the new recipe provided by chef Robert Irvine.  This same response is common among some churches as well. At the end of the day, they would rather hold onto traditions and what serves them then succeed at their ultimate calling and purpose as a church. In a sense, they have become comfortable with failing and blaming everyone else but themselves.  However, where when a restaurant fails, it costs the owners most of all. When a church fails, it costs lost people most of all.  Worst case senario for the church and its members, they have to close the door and find another club with a cross on top. Worst case senario for lost people, they spend eternity separated from God.

The cost of denial in church world is far greater than restaurant world.

3) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often led by discouraged people.

By the time a restaurant or church comes to the place where they are willing to admit that they need help, they are often discouraged. Some people/employees surely bolted long before they sounded the alarm, but those who remain are likely frustrated, burned out at some level, and scared. Which in some instances adds to their stubbornness against the very things that can make them well.  Some are so discouraged that they would rather just give up or resist change instead of taking a new path towards success and wholeness. Yet for those who have a flicker of passion remaining, a fresh sense of vision and hope can spark revitalization.

Unfortunately, the very discouragement than can press an owner or a group of leaders to get help and implement fresh ideas and strategies, can be the very discouragement that once removed by new success, can lead back into negative patterns.  Some people are attracted to conflict and drama, and success scares and intimidates them more than failure. For these types of leaders and groups, a deep change in their core mindset is needed to move into the potential of their restaurant or church.

4) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often resistant to change

It’s amazing for me to see how many restaurants ask for chef Robert’s help and then are blessed with the tremendous wisdom, fresh vision, new effective ideas and strategies that come from chef Robert and his team that prove to be successful in their context, only to weeks later go right back to the very behaviors and strategies that caused them to fail in the first place.

It reminds me of a scene where Jesus sees a man who said he wanted healing, had been sitting near a healing pool for years, and had all kinds of excuses why he never had gotten in and become healed.  Jesus senses the irony and asks him, “Do want to get well?”  Jesus knew, just because you say you want something doesn’t mean you are willing to do what it takes to get it.

So many churches, people, and apparently restaurants say they want to get well, but when the reality of it meets their life, they are resistant and even rebellious to make the necessary changes. Everybody wants change without changing anything, especially themselves.

Many churches and restaurants that are failing are led by the same people, in the same ways, doing the same things, with the same methods, but expecting new results. That is insanity and will prove to be unsuccessful.

5) Failing Churches and Restaurants often don’t see their irrelevance to the needs of people.

From having restaurants that have way too many items on their menu, to having outdated and tacky decor. From having food that is tasteless, processed, and flat out gross, to having items on the menu nobody is buying.  Many of the restaurants chef Robert seeks to revitalize don’t realize how irrelevant they are to the needs of their potential customers. Many owners, in fact, think their customers like the very things these same customers actually say they don’t. Furthermore, some restaurants even have a distasteful smell about them that the owners no longer recognize, but their customers certainly do.

In the same way, many failing churches don’t see the irrelevance of their ministry and the bad “smell” they are wafting, other than perhaps how it serves their own likings. For example…

Many failing churches try to serve too many items on their ministry menu.  Instead of accomplishing a few areas of ministry with excellence, they try to be all things to all people, and thus end up doing many things, but none of them very well.

Many failing churches are serving ministries that lost people could care less about.  A vision of reaching people far from God and maturing believers should be at the heart of every church.  Yet, typically, failing churches do much more to take care of believers than to reach people far from God. In fact, I have never seen a church “fail” because they cared too much about people far from God and adjusting their ministries and priorities accordingly.  Rather, I have seen just the opposite. When we begin to ask the question of each and every ministry within the church, “How does this effectively reach lost people or prepare believers to do so?” we begin to know best how to align our ministries and trim the ministry vine.

Many failing churches don’t realize how poorly they are doing ministry.  Unfortunately in the name of trying to be loving and friendly, many churches surrender to a mindset that believes being a spiritual organization of volunteers requires us to significantly lower our standards of excellence and effectiveness. Yet, God designed people to serve in areas of their passion, spiritual gifts, maturity level, and in line with the overall vision of the church so that ministry can be done skillfully, purposefully, and with excellence.

Unfortunately, many failing churches tend to do whatever, with whomever, in basically any old way that seems to fit. A maintenance ministry mindset has caused them to conclude that it doesn’t have to be done well and with excellence, besides, “Jesus will understand,” and “we are all family anyways.”  Furthermore, “that will cost too much money.”

Often times, chef Robert has to convince the chef/owner of what should already by very obvious… the food stinks, their methods stink, and their organization is flawed. This if often a tough reality to hear, but an important one.

Many failing churches don’t realize how their outdated and tacky decor, image, and style is eclipsing their ministry effectiveness.  I am amazed how restaurants and churches try to attract 21st century people with 19th century architecture, design, music, imagery, and decor. More and more, we live in a visual culture that is influenced by visual communication.  Yet, somehow we think that when it comes to church, people will flip a switch and not care. This, is absolutely not true.

Jesus used the communication tools and languages of his day, we should too.

6) Failing Churches and Restaurants often have internal conflicts of power and control

With every episode of Restaurant Impossible, chef Robert has to deal with some kind of internal disfunction amongst the leadership of the restaurant. Usually, it has to do with issues of power, control, and a lack of centralized leadership. Either people who should be leading aren’t leading (for whatever reason), or people who shouldn’t be leading are trying to run the show. Whatever the case, the dysfunction is obvious.

Failing churches often have internal conflicts along with issues of power and control. In the same way as these failing restaurants, typically it stems from the reality that people who shouldn’t be leading are in fact the ones running the show. Perhaps they shouldn’t be leading because they lack the calling, maturity, skill, discipline, knowledge, vision, or heart, but nonetheless, they are leading.

In the same way that chef Robert’s seeks to remedy these issues, failing churches need to establish who the earthly God-called leader is, give them appropriate authority to lead, clarify roles, define goals and values, and align people around them.  Furthermore, once this has been established, the leader(s) must follow through with their responsibilities. Defining clear roles, establishing specific goals, organizing people and processes, and having good leadership is critical in both churches and restaurants.

7) Failing Churches and Restaurants want to be successful, but some aren’t willing to do what it takes

With every episode of Restaurant Impossible, chef Robert along with restaurant leaders are required to make tough calls. Whether it be in changing an entire menu, revamping the whole interior and look of the restaurant, firing employees, removing long held traditions or practices, or calling people into accountability, revitalizing a restaurant is difficult work.  And even though many of them play along while the show is being filmed and the romance of a “new” restaurant is still present, many of these failing restaurants go back to some if not all the very things that backed them into a corner to begin with. The opportunity was there to move forward, but when it mattered most, they weren’t willing to do what it takes.

Many “failing” churches say they want to grow, want to be relevant to culture, and want to reach people far from God, but when it matters most, they simply aren’t willing to do what it takes to see it happen. They aren’t willing to make the difficult decisions, take the needed risks, and face the necessary challenges.  Good intentions don’t make great restaurants, nor do they build the Kingdom of God and lead churches to reach their redemptive potential.

8) Failing churches and restaurants must be changed on the inside not just the outside

One of the highlights of Restaurant Impossible is the big reveal of the inside, physical renovations of the restaurant.  It’s amazing what changes can be made and an entire restaurant be visually turned around in a matter of a couple days. But, as chef Robert has often said on the show, the physical renovations don’t mean much if the other areas of needed renovation don’t occur.

One of the most important lessons I have learned about “failing” churches is that even though you may be able to renovate their style, ministry practices, and image, if you don’t renovate the hearts of the core people of the church it will eventually come crashing down. Unfortunately, as it is in restaurant world, so it is in church world. Renovating the heart of the core group in the church or restaurant can be challenging and sometimes (even often) impossible. Only God can change a heart and break through the deep seeded issues that are likely present in the hearts of the core people of a “failing” church. But with God, all things are possible. With Jesus, Church impossible becomes church possible.

9) Failing churches and restaurants are filled with great hope and potential

There has never been a Restaurant Impossible episode thus far of a restaurant that was beyond hope and potential for a great turn around. Every church is loved by God and filled with great potential. Whether a restaurant or church reaches this potential and comes into the hope they have is up to their willingness to receive and apply wise counsel. For churches this counsel is grounded in God’s Word, His purpose for His Church, and the faithful leadership of called pastors and leaders.

Servant Leadership Misunderstood

Matthew 20:28  20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down,asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”“We can,” they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I want to start  this post with a statement… If we serve people, we may never serve our gift. If we serve our gift, we will serve both our gift and people.

Sound confusing? That’s o.k. Hopefully by the time you are finished with this post it will not only make sense, but revolutionize your life and leadership. I know this understanding has profoundly impacted me.

To understand what I am getting at, we need to start with understanding our “gift.”  Before we can truly serve people as God purposed us, we must understand what God has put in our hands to give. Otherwise, we end up trying to give people what we don’t have and meeting desires in people instead of needs.

Serving happens when we give something of ourselves so that a person(s) may move further into God and His agenda for their life.

I believe this was a dimension of Martha’s problem when she and Mary encountered Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).  Mary had a sense of what would honor  and serve Jesus because she knew her “gift.”  Her “gift” was, in part, to bless the Lord with her attention and devotion. She knew what Jesus, in a sense, “needed” and what  she could best contribute to Him. Martha was distracted because she was making sandwiches Jesus never ordered. She wasn’t serving her gift, but serving the anxiousness of the moment and what she thought was needed.  If being hospitable and having things domestically prepared was part of her “gift” she wouldn’t have been complaining about doing it herself nor would it have been left to the last minute.

Still a bit confused? That’s o.k., I think it will become clear.

So let’s talk about your “gift.”

In simple terms, our “gift” is the combination of our 1) salvation 2) calling 3) spiritual gifting 4) platform and 5) resources.

Salvation- As Christians, the greatest aspect of our “gift” is our salvation. It is the gift that ushers in all the others. God has given it to us freely, and by faith we have received it. We serve our gift by working “out” our salvation. This means two things. 1) That we share the Gospel with people with care and effectiveness. Everyone Christian has a ministry of salvation to people because we have been given and received the “gift” of salvation. We serve our gift by growing in our willingness and capacity to share the Gospel.  We best serve people when we can share with them clearly and articulately the reason for the hope we have. 2) We grow in living the Gospel through our actions and attitudes. We serve our gift of salvation when we strive to give people an inspirational example that makes them hungry for what we have in Christ because of how they see us live. Everyone needs salvation, but we cannot serve that need if we are not first serving our gift. This is the essence of servant leadership. We should all be leading the way in the salvation business because we are first serving our gift, and then our gift to people.

Calling-  We serve our gift by establishing and living our calling. Your calling is the specific, unique purpose God has placed in your life.  Obviously, there are general callings upon our life. For example, if you are a mom, you are obviously called to be a great mom. If you are a husband, than you are called to be a faithful husband.

Yet, there is a unique, specific calling that God has placed over your life.  This calling is related to the unique person God wants you to become and the specific thing He wants you to accomplish with your life. Moses was called by God to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land. Nehemiah was called by God to lead the rebuilding of the temple walls of Jerusalem and the restoration of the people. Jesus was called to be and provide the Way by which all people can be saved. Ever person in and outside the Bible has a specific calling upon their life, including you.

We serve our “gift” by fervently discovering our God given calling and living it passionately and tenaciously.

Unfortunately, many people either don’t know what their calling is or they are’t following it.  Some are told early on that the burdens, passions, and dreams placed within us from God’s heart are unpractical, unattainable, or unrealistic. Others get lazy or content with simply making ends meet throughout life.  So, what happens? Many surrender to living ordinary, safe, and significance lacking lives.

This is a deep tragedy as so many people could be profoundly served through our calling, but if we don’t serve our calling, people will never be served to the fullest nor will we know best how to serve them.

This is why if we truly want to serve God and people we must first serve our “gift” through continually discerning precisely and living passionately our calling from God upon our lives.  When we know what are calling is, the needs are calling meets in others begin to appear in the lives of people we encounter.  It’s then that we gain a sense of our divine purpose and all the sudden we see all the divine appointments God sets up on a daily basis to live our calling into people’s lives. However without first serving our calling we would not fully see the opportunities God desires us to take hold to serve people. Instead, like Martha, we end up making sandwiches Jesus never ordered.

Spiritual Gifts-  We serve our “gift” by discerning and developing our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given by enabling us to accomplish our calling. Our gifts from God are always connected to our calling. They give us the spiritual power to accomplish our spiritual calling. Our calling from God will lead us to pursue things that we cannot accomplish apart from God. Along with a healthy dose of faith, spiritual gifts are purposed on enabling our spiritual calling to be realized.

Spiritual gifts and talents are different.  Spiritual gifts come to believers supernaturally through the Holy Spirit, talents come to us naturally.  If you only follow and develop what comes naturally to you ( your talents), you can miss your supernatural calling and the gifts that come with it.

Where your calling gives you direction on what you are to accomplish with your life with the specific things you are to become and do, spiritual gifts show you how you should be doing that. For example, God’s calling upon your life might be to bring healing to sick people. So, your spiritual gifts would determine how you are to do that. Perhaps your gifts are centered around teaching, so instead of being a hands-on medical doctor, you should perhaps be an educator of doctors.

When you are getting clearer on your calling and developing your spiritual gifts to accomplish that calling, you begin to get into what I call “the zone.” The zone is where we are most exercising true servant leadership in that we are effectively moving people onto God’s agenda for their life. But none of that can happen until we first serve our “gift” by discerning and developing our spiritual gifts.  Great people in the Kingdom of God work very hard at developing their spiritual gifts for maximum impact. People who are passionate about serving people are first passionate about serving their spiritual gifts by developing them t their fullest potential.

Platform-  We serve our gift by understanding, stewarding and maximizing our platform. Our platform is the specific role God gives us from which we are able to live out our calling.  For example, God has given me the role or platform of being a pastor in His church, and more specifically certain churches at certain times and locations. Serving people means I need to understand, steward, and maximum that role or platform.

God has a place (or platform) for everyone from which to be a servant leader.  Everyone has a God given, unique platform.  Our overall calling in life rarely changes, but our platforms can and will.  Yet, while we are in that role or platform, we need to understand that role, steward it, and maximize it.

Your platform comes with God’s favor and authority. With your platform comes God given power and the authority to accomplish your calling. God is not opposed to us having the authority that comes with our platform/role. In fact, He gave it to us. He is, however, concerned with how we steward that authority.  There is a difference between Lordship and Leadership.  Lordship uses authority as a first option and leadership as a last choice when it comes to influencing people. Leadership uses leadership as a first option and authority as a last option when it comes to influencing people. Notice that Leadership isn’t absent of the use of authority, the difference is in how it is stewarded.

There are plenty of people who want to minimize or completely remove the authority God has given you through your calling and the specific platform or role He has given you. Think about fathers and how are modern culture has tried to minimize, mock, and even remove their God given authority in the home. When we serve our gift we are careful to steward the authority of our platform that has been granted by God by both safeguarding it and using it wisely.

Stewarding your platform/role may also mean sharing it and delegate certain aspects of it.  Not every platform God gives you is necessarily an exclusive role but  may be a shared one.  Yet, how you fill that role or platform will be unique in a way(s) only you can accomplish.

In simple terms, part of your “gift” is the reality that God has a place for you, and a specific role to play. That role comes with power and authority. Serve your “gift” means understanding what that role is, to what extent God has given you power and authority within it, and stewarding and maximizing your use of that role for God’s glory.

Unfortunately, we end up wanting everybody else’s platform but our own. We want other people’s jobs, success, geographical locations, positions, and circumstances in life.  In short, we get platform envy. Therefore, we try to be who were not meant to be, have what we were not meant to have, and do what we were not meant to do. Meanwhile all the good things and potential greatness that God graced us with within the platform of our calling goes wasted and unrealized.

Additionally, some allow people and circumstances to minimize or steal from their platform/role of their calling through intimidation, insecurity, and a misunderstanding of leadership. If we want to truly serve people, we cannot let that happen. Leaders develop people into leaders, this is true. However, there is a common statement in leadership that I believe is a bit misguided.  The statement is… “the goal of leadership is to work yourself out of job.” I understand the idea behind this, but I don’t believe God wants us giving up the very platform He gave us. Rather, our job is to help people discover their gift and the platform that comes with it. Jesus didn’t try to work Himself out of His job/role/platform.  No one can do what He did and does, nor has God given anyone else that exact platform. Jesus rather delegates His authority and power and develops people to lead His cause.  Jesus serves people while first serving His “gift” which includes His platform.

Insecurity in leadership is put to death when we take care of our “gift.” Because, when we do, we realize our platform/role is ours and ours alone, given to us by God. With this awareness, we are free to develop others and rejoice in their greatness. Within a church ministry context, understanding your role and platform should be done through the discernment and counsel of the pastor and ministry leaders of the church.

Resources- We serve our gift by stewarding and investing our resources.  In the Kingdom of God you only get to keep what you are willing to give away. God has given you many resources that God desires to be leveraged for the purpose of moving people onto God’s agenda for their life. Serving our gift means valuing what we have been given, and understanding the greater purpose for our “stuff.”

Summary

I believe servant leadership is not about serving people first, but serving our “gift” first so that we can best serve people. Servant leadership isn’t about giving up who you are and the unique calling and role God has for you, but rather serving it in such a way so that you can freely and effectively help and develop others to serve their “gift” into people’s lives for the glory of God.

Jesus is not opposed  to greatness. In fact, He is even willing to teach us how to become great. Serving our “gift” so that we might best serve people enables great Kingdom work to be done through us.

When I read the Gospels it’s clear that Jesus indicates that He came to serve rather than be served and as Christians we are to have a servant’s heart as we live and fulfill God’s purposes for our lives.  Yet, it some circles this mindset has been translated into a brand of “serving” that means we are to serve people by making them happy as we fulfill their desires and impact their needs.

This all sounds well and good until the moment a person’s loving leadership of people requires influencing them to a place that may temporarily reduce their happiness and even contradict their desires, even asking them to sacrifice their needs instead of meeting them. Furthermore, I am hard pressed to find examples of Jesus serving religious-spirited people.  Again, by “serving” I mean a kind of goal that is to make people happy as we fulfill their desires and impacts their needs.

Rather, I believe what Jesus displays is that we are to serve our “gift” to people as we live to glorify God and build His Kingdom.

The important distinction is that we are to serve our gift first and foremost, and then we serve our gift to people. There is a vital difference between the idea of “serving people” and “serving our gift to people.”  If we serve people, we may miss meeting true needs by being enticed by a person’s desires and emotions. If we serve people, we may miss utilizing our gifts and realizing our calling. If we serve people, we may lose ourselves instead of giving ourselves. If we serve people, we may miss God and His purposes. If we serve people, we may mislead them.

However, when we serve our “gift” to people, we end up serving from God, through us, into people’s lives. When we serve people, we serve from people, into us, to God. The result is the difference between doing what God is blessing and asking God to bless what we are doing.  When we serve people, God may or may not be involved. When we serve our gift to people, God, we, and people are always involved and in the right order.

Many times, we simply serve people without much thought to what we are to give nor what God is up to in that person’s life. When we see our “gift,” we see why God has uniquely positioned us and put us into people’s lives. Our gift gives us an important glimpse into how, when, and why we are to serve people.  Our gift gives a sense of purpose for what should be the desired result in the person’s life that we are to serve.

That, to me, is true servant leadership.

Looking forward to your thoughts…

Building Trust

One of the most important factors in any relationship is trust. The closer the relationship the higher the level of trust required. Trust is a kind of glue in a relationship that strengthens it and holds it together. In the Bible we see both the value of giving trust and withholding trust in our personal relationships. Additionally, we see there are levels of trust, each based on certain dynamics of the relationship. In simple terms, when it comes to trust, one size nor amount fits all.  To one group, we observe in scripture “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.” Yet in another place, we read the words of Jesus “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”   Trust is a sacred treasure that, like all things God gives us to share, should be stewarded carefully.  “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

Typically, most of us fall into one of two categories… we either withhold appropriate levels of trust even when it’s safe, or we give too much trust prematurely.  To be sure, the giving of trust into a relationship is an art and balance that is forever learned.  Regardless of which side you tend to err on, here are some principals that have served me well as I seek to be better at building trust in my relationships.

1) Give trust in steps–  For those who are hyper-sensitive to giving trust, if you learn you don’t have to give all your trust at once, it will help you to feel safe in giving a little bit at a time. Instead of never trusting, warming up to the waters of trust one step at a time can be very helpful and healthy.  God operates under this same principal as His word says, “Those who are faithful with a little will be faithful much.”  God first starts with a “little” before He ever gets to “much.” In fact, people who expect you to quickly trust them and become offended when you don’t, are typically people who aren’t very trustworthy anyways. There are some who may want you to prematurely give them all your trust at once (or lots of it) because they know, if you don’t,  you might figure it out that you probably shouldn’t give them any of it.  People who pressure you for trust (especially early on) are typically people who won’t respect it when it is given. When it comes to giving trust, sometimes less is more.  Small steps overtime are much better than no steps at all. Yet, small steps overtime are also better then one immediate big step. For those who are too free with your trust, taking steps will help you to have the self-control that doesn’t pile on more trust into the relationship than it can handle.  This is contra-productive. The relationship could have handled a smaller amount of trust and grown to build more, but instead too much was given prematurely, the trust was not honored, you are disappointed, and the relationship is worse off than if trust had been allowed to grow over time. Giving too much trust too soon might feel like it builds relationships and makes you a loving person, but in fact, it can make the relationship into a house of cards that easily falls down in ruin.

2) Go out of your way to show yourself to be trustworthy-  I am often amazed at how we expect people to trust us while at the same time we aren’t willing to earn it , intentionally show we are trustworthy, and give trust time to grow. Rather, sometimes we display behaviors and attitudes that erode trust and expect trust to be given in return.  The Bible contradicts this thinking saying, “A man reaps what he sows.” It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect or demand trust from another while either untrustworthiness is being displayed or you are not extending yourself and showing yourself to be trustworthy.  Don’t expect trust to be the outcome given from poor communication, withheld  feelings, flattery, manipulation, violated boundaries, hidden agendas, selfishness, lies, gossip, or division.  These are a few among the definite trust busters of relationships.  Instead, if you want to build trust, take the initiative to do your part in preventing the person or group from having any real reason to withhold the giving of trust over time.  If it’s with your boss, show up on time to work, go the extra mile, don’t participate in the office gossip. If it’s with your spouse, be open and honest, be emotionally available, communicate consistently and frequently,  explain your decisions, resolve conflict promptly and completely, and communicate your activities.  If it’s with a friend, show your devotion, communicate your heart, don’t let assumption go without clarification or confirmation.  In all relationships, ask the trust building kind of questions, “How are we doing?” “Are we okay” “Anything we need to talk about?” “Are we on the same page?” “How are you feeling about things?” “Help me understand, why did you do ________?

3) Put your ultimate trust in Jesus- All our relationships with people  are to be an extension from our relationship with Jesus. The trust we have with Jesus first and foremost is to be carefully extended into our relationships not replaced by our relationships. I find it staggeringly profound that Jesus entrusted himself to no one, that special level of trust was reserved for His heavenly Father.  When people fail us, Jesus does not, will not, and cannot. With this anchor to our soul and well-being firmly secure, we are able to extend portions of that trust we have found in Christ into our relationships so that the work of God can be done in and through them.


Do Celebrity Pastors Smell?

Within recent years, the term “Celebrity Pastor” has become commonly used. Typically it refers to a pastor who has a large church or ministry, speaking schedule, and has probably authored a book or two.  Because so, other pastors, followers, and folks in ministry desire to honor them, learn from them, follow them, and encourage them.  We all want to be successful, and benefiting from the success of others in various ways is usually a noble pursuit.

Also, within recent years, there is a growing culture of people who have become highly critical of celebrity pastors in general.  Some have even used their platforms (usually blogs, radio, and websites) to focus their ministry on the criticism of other ministries, and usually it has do with a celebrity pastor. Sadly, one of the things I have noticed is much of the criticism is based on heresay, speculation, personal opinion, and denominational differences.  Rarely does it originate from real, credible, and firsthand personal experience.

During a season several years ago, I joined in the frenzy of critical Christians who seemed to have a spiritual gift in bashing celebrity pastors and their ministries, particularly those of the contemporary flavor.  All you need to do is go blog hunting and you too can easily get caught up in it. Gratefully, I have grown up and moved on from that herd.

So the question becomes, is their something intrinsically wrong or flawed with becoming a celebrity pastor? Are all celebrity pastors alike?  Are they all arrogant, unapproachable, self serving, bible twisting, snobby people as some portray them?  In my humble opinion? Absolutely not!  In fact, every “Celebrity Pastor” that I have developed a personal relationship and have first hand experience with, have what I see as a deep passion for Jesus and seeing His Kingdom built. I think it’s very unfortunate when pastors of any flavor get criticized or have judgments made about them from those who have never truly walked in their shoes nor closely walked with them in their ministry.  Many have a very limited perspective on what it truly entails being a Lead Pastor. Until you are completely in that role, you can never fully understand nor appreciate.

Are there people who idolize celebrity pastors? Yes, unfortunately. Does that mean the celebrity pastor desires that? No.  In my humble opinion, as we first and foremost follow Jesus, we do well to come under a spiritual leader giving them honor, loyalty, and our best followship. While Paul was following Jesus and leading others to do the same, He also said, “imitate me.”

Don’t assume that every celebrity pastor’s heart has gone hollywood.  In fact, it’s typically furthest from the truth. Rather, pray for these leaders and give them the benefit of the doubt. Chances are, if you were in their shoes,  you would want the same and be frustrated when you didn’t get it.

Do celebrity pastors smell? Yes. Does their poop stink? Of course (though in this I have no firsthand experience).

So let’s look for the best in what God is doing in and through them as they pursue their calling. Let’s stop focusing on what we don’t like or agree about how another pastor or leader is fulfilling their calling, and focus on doing our best to follow ours. God is not going to hold us accountable for what they do, but He will want to see a return on what He has given us.

Let’s move away from the Great Criticism and get back to the Great Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Key Ministry Relationships

Leadership Stages

Critical Stages of Leading People

Jesus was and is the Master of leading people. One of the most powerful things I have observed in His example is the stages He goes through, overtime, with the people He is leading and developing. The way Jesus handles leadership at the beginning of His interaction with a person or group is different from His style and methods later on.  There is something sacred and necessary within the stages Jesus goes through that make His leadership successful. In fact, when followed, these stages do well at preventing us from microwaving leaders or bottlenecking them; both are which are not healthy.

Stage One: Directive

Mark 1:15-20  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news! 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

This passages marks the beginning of Jesus’ leadership of the disciples. Notice, Jesus is directive, not democratic. He doesn’t begin with consensus-style leadership nor does He call for a vote on His teaching of the Kingdom or try to get these fisherman to agree with His strategy and tactics.

Jesus simple says, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men”

Leaders must have and understand their God-given authority and the need to be directive at certain stages of leadership. Jesus didn’t poll the disciples and ask, “O.k. guys, what kind of people do you want to become and what do you think we ought to do together?” Rather, Jesus came with vision and a sure sense of direction. He didn’t ask the disciples to give Him vision, He asked them to give Him their followship.

In the beginning of leading people, the directive stage of leadership is critical both for the leader and the follower.  It prevents the leader from the early stage temptations of morphing into a managing people pleaser, political player, or an insecure, indecisive gatherer. Yet, it also helps the follower to not overestimate their readiness for the journey, become arrogant, assume false expectations, or develop their own personal preferences and agenda.

Jesus knew, at this stage, giving clear, decisive direction was in the best interest of all involved. He wasn’t interested in managing their lives, He was interested in leading them.

As the common saying goes, “Managers do things right, while leaders do the right thing.”

When we start on a new trail in pursuit of a God-vision, we need a strong confident leader to show us the way.  There will be a time for consensus building, for gathering and listening to opinions from those that follow, but that time is not best placed at the beginning stages.

Stage One dynamics…

The Follower has : High enthusiasm, high confidence, low experience, low competence

The Leader gives: High direction, high example, low consensus, low explanation

 

Stage Two: Visionary Coach

Luke 12:32-34“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus, in this stage, adapts His style into more of a coaching style. He increases His time with the disciples in order to help them work through their developing insecurities and fears.

Leaders do well to help their followers go through the doubts and insecurities that occur as one pursues anything of God. Growing in relationship with Him and leadership capacity within His Kingdom is not always pleasant nor easy.  People are often excited at first about moving forward with you and God, but soon they realize there are challenges, internally and externally. It is during this time that a leader must help their followers along, knowing that some may choose to abandon ship and go back to the bliss of stage one with someone or something else.

Continually coming back to the vision and articulating it is critical at this stage.  Vision helps us see where we are going when we can’t see it for ourselves and those we lead. Vision is what reminds us of our calling and keeps our eyes on the prize. Vision is what rekindles the flames of our hearts and brings us back to centering on Jesus and His purposes and plans.

Helping followers understand that what God has called us to become and do is impossible apart from Him is a key accomplishment in this stage.  Vision is what enables our souls to expand with increasing room for faith.  Without leading people to develop their faith and character, the potential of what God has and can do with them will never be reached.  A coaching style enables a continuation of the directive style of stage one while adding a dimension of developing responsibility and personal growth for the follower, and developed trust levels between the follower and the leader.

Stage Two dynamics…

The Follower has: Low enthusiasm, low confidence, low experience, low competence

The Leader gives: High direction, high discussion, high example, high accessibility

 

Stage Three: Coaching / Pastoral / Team

John 15:12-17  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

This is the stage where Jesus starts to shift to a “You do it, and I will help and watch” style and strategy of leadership.  Over time, the followers have demonstrated increasing levels of loyalty, shared vision, competency and spiritual growth and are now ready to be given new levels of responsibility and intimacy.  Their relationship with Jesus has been strengthened, and now it’s time for more of a team approach as Jesus opens the door to input, ideas, and consensus building.

It is during this stage that Jesus begins to introduce the idea that one day, Jesus will be much more distant from them. This is a kind of pre-commissioning stage.

The major challenges of this stage is to ensure that the vision has been passed off to your followers through tests as you give them increasing levels of responsibility, decision making, and influence with you.  At this level, the leader needs to learn the art of watching without being noticed so as to create an environment where risk is minimized while testing the follower for readiness for increasing levels of leadership.

It is tempting for leaders to rush this stage, so it’s important to remember it essentially took Jesus three years to get to stage four.  As in a relay race, the passing of the baton is highly practiced, carefully timed, clearly communicated, and very critical.  A bad transition can undo months of hard work.

Leaders do well to help the follower understand the expectations and pacing of this transition period so as to be in continual communication and connection with the process.

Stage Three dynamics…

The Follower has: Increasing enthusiasm, growing experience, intermittent confidence, growing competence

The Leader gives: Lower direction, higher consensus, high discussion, high accessibility

 

Stage Four:  Vision Reproduction / Delegated Authority

Matthew 28:18-20  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus is preparing the disciples to spend less time with Him. He is reducing their hours of contact with Him because He is now delegating authority.  They are now becoming extension and representatives of Him.  Jesus has moved them from “Come follow me” to “Go be Me, stay true to the vision, and do what I taught you to do!”

When the leader sees the individual or team is highly competent, spiritual developed, loyal, trustable, and deeply shares the vision, it is time for delegating authority and responsibility at higher levels.  It’s not about perfection, but it is about progress.  To be highly directive and restrictive when the follower is ready for delegation is to squelch the potential and work of God in and through the follower.

Delegating before stage four at high levels is a recipe for disaster.  The follower may think they are ready for it, but until they have completely gone through stages 1-3, they are not.

At this stage, the closeness with the leader and follower remains, but it is not defined by the amount of time together, but rather the openness, loyalty, and shared vision they have with one another.

Stages of delegation:

1-    I do, you watch

2-    I do, you help

3-    You do, I help

4-    You do, I watch


Stage Four dynamics… 

The Follower has: High enthusiasm, high confidence, high experience, high competence

The Leader gives: Clear but lower direction, high consensus, clear but lower example, high explanation

Older posts

© 2017 Chris Kratzer

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: