12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

4 Ways to Failed Leadership

Tags: , , ,

This is a true story.

“If the Lord, Jesus Christ, came down out of Heaven to lead these people, it wouldn’t have been good enough,” the Pastor’s wife said to the Student Pastor as he was departing the church a little over a year after his celebrated arrival.

There had been meetings both large and small.  Every time it seemed like things would get worked out.  Communication would be had.  The Pastor guided almost all of them, trying to bridge the gap.  Eventually, he would give up and offer the young minister and his family a lifeline.  He played a little politics, went to the Personnel Committee, and came up with a severance package.

Despite the Pastor’s recognition that some within the Student Ministry simply were not following their leader, he had some frustration with the Student Pastor, too.  He hadn’t always been wise. Sometimes naive. Sometimes temperamental.

But the guy was under so much stress, constantly being undermined and picked apart in ways that no one could withstand.

But then he gave them so much ammunition.

Failed Leadership: A Mixed Bag

Failed leadership is always a mixed bag.  Everyone bears some blame.  Frequently, however, the failure becomes inevitable when some or all of the participants quit listening and refuse to bear any responsibility.

When everyone is still willing to work, to grow, to repent, to try… Well, frankly, leadership success is almost guaranteed, with a slight nod to the unforeseen catastrophe that no one but God could anticipate. If everyone comes to the table with humble and honest hearts, a willingness to work through what is stalling the team, and a passion for the task, how can that team be stopped?

Well a breakdown, of course.  Here are a few things that can derail the team.

Breakdowns

These can be found in either the leader or the team.

  1. A limit.  Someone decides they’ve had enough and are no longer willing to work with the other person or persons.  I have to admit that there is a time to stop, but that is when the other person is no longer trying.  You can still lovingly part ways and be gracious.  If, however, you are the one who gives up while everyone else is trying, then the fault is with you.
  2. A catastrophe.  This would include a moral collapse, but not a mistake, or even a sin repented of, such as an unkind or thoughtless word.  Be careful not to assign “moral failure” to someone who is no less righteous than yourself.
  3. Self righteousness.  Speaking of people no less righteous than yourself, there are no people less righteous than you.  We are all sinners.  All rebellious.  All unrighteous.  When we come to the table with a belief that only the other person is to blame, it is only a matter of time before the gears grind to a halt and repair becomes impossible. They will never live up to the moving standard of slippery perfection set in the mind of the self righteous.  No one can.
  4. Silence. It is not polite nor God honoring to be silent unless you can easily forgive and forget the fault of another. Since this frequently does NOT happen, bringing the issue out, in love and grace, is the only other option afforded the believer. Failure to address the issue will only lead to someone reaching their limit (see #1)

Any other ways that you can think of that would break down a team?

Pastoral Authority and Trust

Tags: , ,

I’ve frequently observed to anyone who would listen, that a church works best when the congregation trusts its leaders and the leaders are trustworthy.  If either is failing, the church will suffer and disaster is imminent. If both are failing, disaster is upon you.

The author of Hebrews describes the relationship this way:

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. – Hebrews 13:17 ESV

Of course, those who’ve spent much time in church have heard, if not seen, abuses by pastors who are not using their authority to watch over their congregation, but for their own worldly desires.  Just as likely, the same people can retell stories that center on the abuses members of congregations have heaped on faithful servants of God.

Still, if you’ve ever been a part of a healthy church, one where the Pastor and congregation treat each other Biblically and carefully, you know that there is no sweeter group of people with which you can journey this life.

Here are a few observations about being a part of such a family:

  • Healthy church relationships are easier to maintain than to regain.  Water over the dam and under the bridge, once a set of relationships become overwhelmed with sin and selfishness, it’s hard for us to reconcile.  Not that we shouldn’t give everything to do it.  We should.  It’s just that, most times, people won’t.
  • Healthy church relationships require correction & humility.  Everyone needs to be humble in order to receive correction when necessary and to have it received from them when the time comes.  Without correction, injustices (perceived or real) fester and trust breaks down.  Humble correction and repentance builds trust and takes relationships deeper than they’ve ever been before.
  • The congregation bears the lion’s share of the responsibility.  True, it is the responsibility of the leaders to correct those who are rebelling against the Lord, but it is also the responsibility of every other believer to correct their brothers and sisters.  Humbly, with love, out of compassion for them and a desire for their good, we must all bear the burdens of correcting those we love.  But practically speaking, if the congregation does not correct the brother or sister who is tearing down the body, it will be assumed that they are all in agreement with the ever growing grumblings resonating from the heart of the offender, whether that offender is pastor or congregant.  In short, what is done in the body must by done by the body, in unity, with humility.

Anything you would add?

The American Church Grieving the “Loss” of American Culture

Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been an engaged observer of the church in America and it’s interaction with the culture in which it is immersed for some years now.  Last week, I watched through news articles and social media as Christians in America convulsed, reacting with deep emotion, ranging from anger, to sorrow, to bitterness, some even to satisfaction all in response to the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Prop 8.

On the other side, as the previously linked article noted, there was jubilation.  One quote I read in the social media wash of commentary was from an advocate of these laws being struck down, and it read something like this: “And now, in respect for our opponents, a moment of silence, as they have lost ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”

The sentiment struck me as extremely myopic, though I can’t fault the person for being so.  After all, Christians in America have not been overly sympathetic to those with whom we’ve disagreed, nor have we communicated our values or motivations in a way that was easy for others to understand, even if we do differ dramatically.

So, to those outside of our tribe, let me clarify the motivation for the strongly negative reaction of some in the Christian community.  They have lost an American culture that more accurately reflects their deeply held religious beliefs.  This had become an expectation for many. An inheritance that they believed they had a right to pass on to their children.  It feels to them that people have stolen their lives, or at least their lifestyles, and that of their children. And that of their grandchildren.  They grieve the knowledge that their line of descendants will look more like their “opponents” than like them, at least in what they value and accept as “normal.”  They know they’ve lost something significant.

That begs the question, “Do these people have the right to such an expectation?” and of course, different worldviews collide in the answering.  Hopefully in a respectful way, but if history is any indicator, probably not.

So let me now speak to the Christians of our nation, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Why do you expect that the world not be worldly?  Is it wise or in any way Biblical to expect that those who do not hold your values to act as though they do?

Let me share with you when this American culture you value so greatly was lost.  It wasn’t last week.  Though I can not point to a single event or even a string of events, I can easily say that the American culture was lost to the American church when the church began to rest on the expectation that the culture would look like it instead of working to ensure that the culture would actually be transformed by the power of the Gospel.

You see, by and large, we’ve become quite a secluded lot. Not all of us, to be sure, but undeniably most of us.  We prefer the holy huddle of the frozen chosen in our Sunday gatherings.  A smaller bunch than years before, meeting in aging buildings that are far larger than are necessary and falling apart because we can’t keep them up as well as we once did.  After all, we are older, on fixed incomes, and our children have left our buildings.

And those large buildings where some of our children attend are flooded with just that: attenders.  Loads of people who show up, sing, drink lattes and frappuccinos, listen to whatever is being served up this week, and then go home and go about their business.

Again, not all of us are in that situation.  Not every church looks this way.  But to say that the majority of American Christianity doesn’t fit one picture or the other is, to put it not so gently, not really in touch with reality.

Still, I want to offer a word of encouragement to us all.  We believe in something miraculous and transformational.  We don’t have to be the people who simply shout dismay at those who value different things and see the world contrastingly.  We can be the people who offer the Gospel to people who need to know that God does not hate them because they are pushing back against Him, but loves them in spite of it.

The power to change the world, is in the Gospel.  That is not a word commanding conformity to an outward morality.  It is a word of redemption.  That healing can come to the wounded.  That fulfillment can come to the empty.  That those who are in prison in this world can be set free.

If we are failing to speak that to our world, and many of us are, then it is no wonder that our culture thinks we have no stake in this conversation.  They don’t know that they are the stake for whom we are to live and die, because we’ve not told them nor have we showed them.

Leadership and Direction within a church

Tags: , ,

There seems to be nothing less needed, in fact, nothing more detrimental to the well being of God’s Kingdom in this world than yet another church started by, planned by, moved by, and sustained by the machinations of man.  Such an entity is a waste of time, energy, and Kingdom resources, only serving to divert those within and without from experiencing the true transformative power of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

The Kingdom and the world are in need of a body of believers whose true leader is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. It must be directed by, empowered by, and satisfied by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The earthly leadership of such a church must come from those who are deeply sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit,  conscious of its dependance on the Holy Spirit, and content in obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Such leadership, in contrast, can not be full of their own ideas, assuming that because they think something that the thought automatically came from the direction of the Holy Spirit.  As Scripture commands, such things must be “tested,” not assumed.  Further, such leadership must understand that the best efforts of men are not enough to move one soul closer to the redemption that God offers through Christ.  The only power available to the church is that given it by God’s presence.  Finally, such leadership must know that obedience to God’s direction will be the only thing that earns the “Well done” of the Father.  No earthly goals or worldly acclaim will satisfy the commission that God has always given to His people, that “obedience” is better than sacrifice.

Why is it?

Tags: , , , , , ,

Why is it that after a prolonged absence, we feel the need to explain where we’ve been to the odd half dozen or so folks who still check in from time to time?  Really, most of the traffic (I still get some, can you believe it?) comes from search engines that are funneling folks to specific articles I’ve written in years past.  A few still hit my home page, lately to find my last article from October 31, 2011.  Yes.  8 months ago.

It almost begs an explanation, though I recognize that I’ve already published several over the last couple of years.  The only thing to do is ignore it or come clean.  Never one to miss an opportunity to over share, let’s go with coming clean.

Several things have conspired to to keep me from writing.  Among them

1) Discovering an emptiness in the topics of political observation within the SBC.  Old news and no reason for further comment.

2) Busy-ness within the responsibilities of the Pastorate that kept me from managing this blog and my church responsibilities.  I was new to the pastorate in 2006 and new to my church as well.  It takes a while to become fluent with the minutiae of any job and I had plenty on my plate.  Add to that the changes that we were working through and I was tired of writing.

3) (This is the coming clean part…) I had several church members that were frequenting my blog, often misconstruing or just misunderstanding what I had written (sometimes years before) and then repeating their misconstruction/misunderstanding to others at the church.  It’s no secret that change is rarely embraced readily by all and we had all our plates could handle moving through ours.  When some were adding the misinformation coming from others claiming this blog as the source, it just wasn’t worth it.  So I quit writing to remove a source of misunderstanding.

I should add that I am not accusing everyone from my church who read my blog of misrepresenting me to garner political support within our church.  I think that was actually quite rare.  Nevertheless, any stream of misunderstanding that can be removed, should be.  I prioritized the church over this blog and I doubt anyone would second guess that decision.

So what’s changed? Several things!

I’ve had a personal spiritual growth like I’ve never experienced before.  Call it a Gospel Awakening.  I’m sure we’ll get to that in the near future.  For now, simply consider that God, in His mercy, considered it His pleasure to crush me in order to shape me in an image more like His Son.  For this, I am grateful.  Honestly, “grateful” doesn’t cover it.  Even for an aspiring writer, I have no words for how I feel about this.  I consider it worth everything.  More later.

The church has come to a place of peace.  We still have some issues and we honestly need to move forward in some areas, which means change.  Small ones, but still…  Nevertheless, Earlier this year, God wrought a situation that allowed us to finally air our heart in a loving way.  It has brought a tremendous peace on the church and we gather together without fear of dissension breaking out.  We are praying for Spiritual Awakening and have been since the Spring.  We are beginning to see the fruits of it and have enjoyed God moving among us significantly over the last couple of months.

With my life and the church in the throws of burgeoning renewal, the desire to write as presented itself once more.

And since I’m paying good money to host this blog, I thought I would be a better steward of that opportunity.

If you’d like to subscribe to an email notification, there is a box at the top right to let you do that.  Every time I write a new article, it will let you know and should give you a preview of what’s here.

Grace: Why I am grateful for the hard Grace I’ve received

Tags: , , ,

Grace is not just the soft comfort of God loving the broken.  That is a part of Grace, but not the whole of it.  Grace is also God denying us those things that we chase that are not Him.

Grace is God pursuing us in redemption to establish that relationship with Him for which He longs and for which we were created.

But the brokenness of us is often pursuing cheap substitutes.  We crave satisfaction but are only briefly numbed by infatuation with one relationship after another, chemical distortion of drugs and alcohol, sexual exploits that mock true intimacy, money and possessions that trick us into thinking that we are valuable or important or even cared for by those around us who really just want our stuff.

But God is gracious and will, in His mercy toward us, kill that cheap thing and rip it from our clutching hands so that we will realize the shallow nature of that which we’ve worshiped.  He does it so that we will turn to Him and find what we really need.  We find what will actually satisfy and in which we will find ourselves complete.

We find Him.

I have always been moved by the love and acceptance of others.  There are many reasons why, but for now let us just say that need for approval is just the way I’m broken. It numbed me, temporarily, to the reality that I was a mess.  I felt good about myself, for a minute.

So last year I found myself in the process of having that idol crushed and torn away.  When acceptance and adoration of others is your idol, the way God kills it, at least in my case, is public contempt by others.  A year ago, I faced several public meetings where people I cared about assaulted my character, my skills and my value.

The good news is that, though some of those relationships remain wounded, others were restored and our church experienced healing, unity and peace during this year.

The best news is that in God taking from me what I should not have worshiped, He replaced it with Himself.  In that, I have found myself in the greatest time of growth and peace in my walk with Him.  I’ve never been more close to Him than I am.  I’ve never loved Him more. I’ve never been more sure of His love for me.  I’ve never needed public adulation less.

And I owe it all to the hard Grace of public ridicule.  Thank God for His Grace.

To the pure, all things are pure

Tags: , , , ,

Paul writes to Titus these words concerning the distinction between those who are regenerate and those who are not:

“To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but the deny Him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient and disqualified for any good work.”   -Titus 1:15-16

Titus was commissioned to correct false teachers and to “rebuke them sharply.” (1:13)  Apparently, a part of the false teaching that was in need of correction was the constant need for ritual cleansing from those things considered “impure.”  Paul’s word here says that if the heart is impure, one finds impurity in everything.  The inherit filth of the corrupt heart drives people to perceive filth in all things and attempt to perfect (according to their warped perception) themselves and everything around them in hopes of pleasing God.  Moreover, they hold others to the same twisted ideals and teach them to conform their hearts to what can not please God.

It is so contrary to the Gospel.

The Good News is that if Grace has cleansed our hearts, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:35-39)  Which is not to say that we don’t struggle with sin or even that we shouldn’t war against it in our lives, but it is to say that contact with that which would once have made people ceremonially unclean can no longer do so.

Once covered by Grace, it is impossible to offend God by the touching of a dead thing.  Once covered by Grace, it is impossible to offend God by being imperfect by anyone’s standards, including His.

Sadly, even within the body of Christ, I have often been confronted by the hearts of those who perceive impurity in everything.  Everything that is not perfect in their own perceptions, and nothing ever is, is unclean and ungodly, rejected by the Lord and certain to bring condemnation and ruination. They see the spending of money this way as “wrong” or the counting of people in that way as “wrong.”  They become bitter and in their bitterness, they become hurtful.

While I wouldn’t say that such a person is not a Christian (they may or may not be), I would say that their heart has surely not comprehended the fullness of the Gospel of Grace.

Grace covers the imperfections of our lives. Grace not only gets us to eternity, but Grace also gets us through the day.  When we are confronted with either the willful rebellion of our hearts or the inadvertent shortcomings of a fallen mind, Grace covers all.

And when we are covered by Grace, when our hearts are satisfied in the free gift of God’s unmerited favor, it is not just easy, but it is also natural, to extend grace to others around us.

The heart that wallows in the Grace of God takes no offense in the rebellion or imperfection of those around.  When the service of a waiter is slow and lethargic, Grace manifests itself in a generous tip, rather than the stinginess of heart that counts wrongs against another.  When you are verbally attacked by another parent at the game because their child didn’t play the position or time they expected, Grace listens patiently and realizes that the person spewing venom is in need of something much deeper than they have.

The extension of Grace to them in that moment will likely be the rare exception in their life and will surely be the clearest picture of the Gospel that they will see that day. Month. Year? Lifetime?

To the pure, all things are pure.

Making a difference among the impoverished

Tags: , , , ,

A few thoughts:

This is not about immigration, but poverty.  Immigration is just an example of one thing we do poorly and say we are making a difference.

World poverty will be eradicated when the individual economies that are producing the radically poor are stabilized and access to opportunity is given to all.

Some of this is beyond our control.  Politics, both local and global, are not always accessible to us beyond grass roots engagement.

The improvement in economic conditions can work in America and around the world. We should do our best to affect both arenas, according to the doors open to us.

One thing left out of this video is the role of Education in economic development:  it’s vital.

For the church, specifically, the better educated and more economically stable/advantaged, the higher the receptivity to the Gospel.  It’s vital.

The question left to us is whether or not we have the responsibility to develop the economies of the poor around us locally and globally.  My answer is yes.  To the best of our ability.

To someone considering the ministry…

Tags: , ,

I’ve had a few people I’ve known consider going into the ministry at one point in time or another.  A few things to consider as you discern your path.

  • Obviously, be convinced God is leading you to this.  I’ve known people in ministry that God never called there, but they thought it would make a good career.  Aside from the bumps and bruises that you might avoid not being where you should be, you will actually be in the way of God’s work, since you will be attempting what you are doing on your own.
  • If you are able to lay out a plan for higher education, get an undergraduate degree in something other than theology, ministry, Christian education, etc.  You can get your theological training in Seminary afterward and then you will be very broad in your knowledge and abilities.  It might come in handy one day when you are called to a mission filed, bi-vocational ministry or even if you are fired from your church.  Hey, it happens.  A lot.
  • Tend to your personal spiritual growth.  Education is important, but it is no substitute for a deep walk with God.  Leadership of the Holy Spirit means more than your IQ ever will.
  • Develop organizational skills.  You have to be organized to lead.
  • Develop personal relationship skills.  You have to love people to lead.
  • Develop thick skin.  You will be critiqued (fairly and unfairly) when you lead.
  • Be the example.  You can’t ask others to do what you aren’t doing in giving, service, passion, discipleship, positive talk or friendship.
  • Don’t let your failures get to you.  You will make mistakes and you will not be the shining example you want to be.  Confess and do better.  This is called growth.
  • Don’t let people hold you or your family to unreasonable standards of perfection.  They aren’t the Judge. (But don’t take that whole, “Only God can judge me” thing as a license to be an idiot.)

Other thoughts?

Great Expectations

Tags: ,

I had a church member say something last year that was quite profound:

“Expectations are premeditated anger.”

It’s true, though I would modify it to say that expectations are premeditated frustration and division.  Anger is also an option.

Are expectations wrong?  No.  Some expectations are necessary, such as the expectation that your children will grow in maturity and take on more and more responsibility.  This is, most times, a healthy expression of expectation being placed on people around you.

On the other hand, unhealthy expectations are that described premeditated source of anger, frustration and division.  What are unhealthy expectations?

I would say that, mostly, they stem from prideful arrogance, though we rarely see them that way.  But what else can you call it when you anticipate that those around you will do things the way you want them done without first evaluating whether or not the way you want them done is anything other than your personal preference?

I suppose the final modification to the saying would result in this, “Expectations stemming from unevaluated personal preference are premeditated anger, frustration and division.”

Doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, does it?  Still…

© 2012 12 Witnesses. All Rights Reserved.

This blog is powered by Wordpress and Magatheme by Bryan Helmig.