Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Theological arrogance, humility and gracious respect

It is often hard for us to understand that others in our congregations can have a theological grid that is different than ours. And we hold our theological convictions very closely so when others have significant differences it is difficult for many individuals to graciously respect those views.

I am not talking about views that are outside the definitions of orthodoxy as expressed by the historic creeds of the church. Evangelicals are generally bound by those orthodox beliefs and I am assuming that in these comments.

The truth is, however, that within the bounds of orthodoxy there is a great deal of latitude for differences in theology. This is seen in the reformed vs the non-reformed as an example. Or in covenant theology vs. dispensational theology. And within each camp are those who are more strident than others. So, within the reformed camp there are individuals whose theology is moderately reformed, very reformed and ultra reformed.

When these views are held with humility it does not bring division to God's people. After all, if even the great scholars of theology cannot agree on these matters why should we assume that our version is the truth and that others are untrue? The study of theology ought to engender great humility as it is not possible to plumb the depths of God - we will be doing that for all eternity. Humility understands that we see through a glass darkly this side of eternity and that while some matters are crystal clear many nuances of our theology are not and must be held with humility.

It is theological arrogance that creates division in the church. It is holding so hard to positions that are not central to the faith but are part of our theological grid which we believe and expect others to believe as well. Most people do not understand how their views on many theological issues are determined by their own theological grid that assumes certain matters. Is it possible that none of our grids are completely right as they are simply human attempts to systematize theology. Thus if my grid is rigidly dispensational I may not believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available today. If my grid is otherwise I won't understand why people don't see them as operative today. Very much is dependent on our presuppositions and the grids we were raised with or have adopted.

One of the great needs among believers is to spend more time studying the Scriptures than reading about the Scriptures. The more I am immersed in His Word, the less I am captive to a theological grid about the Word. We have our theological gurus who are a gift to the church but if their truth supersedes my own study of the Scriptures I have made a grave error. Equally when I take shots at those whose interpretation is different than mine on minor issues of theology I have made a grave error. Theological arrogance is a sad commentary for believers as none of will find that we understood perfectly when we see Jesus. 

All of us should be clear on the key issues of orthodoxy because the Scriptures are clear on them. The church has historically guarded these fences very well. On the non essentials of orthodoxy the Scriptures are less definitive which is why believers differ. Here our posture needs to be one of humility and gracious respect. And certainly these should not be divisive within local churches. 

My new book, Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

When churches need to reconcile with staff and members who have been treated badly

Dysfunctional church leaders, elders or senior pastors hurt people and many of those folks quietly move on to deal with their pain in a healthier place. The wound inflicted, however, is the responsibility of church leadership who allowed people to be hurt and mistreated. In one church I worked with, it included almost every staff member who had resigned over a fifteen year period. In other churches it has been lay leaders who were marginalized and mistreated by senior pastors who were threatened by the leadership of others. In essence they moved out anyone who they perceived to be a threat.

Reconciliation means that we seek to make things right where we suspect that they are wrong. Sometimes leaders must apologize on behalf of those who went before them or for a senior leader who is no longer there. But to leave those relationships scarred is both sinful and the opposite of what Jesus would do. To the extend that we need to humble ourselves and apologize that is what we must do if we are in church leadership.

It saddens me that church leaders who are responsible for creating cultures of wholeness and health often inflict wounds on others or ignore those who do. Instead of a place of healing, many churches are places of hurt. The way out of that behavior is to take responsibility for past hurts that we know of and to seek meetings whether those individuals are still in the church or not. Often, we figure that if they no longer attend it no longer matters. To the contrary, they may well no longer attend because of wounds we have inflicted. 

I have interviewed scores of deeply wounded former staff who were let go and abused by dysfunctional pastors. It will take years for them to heal from a wound inflicted by a bad shepherd. I have also encountered and interviewed many former church leaders or members who were treated badly by church leadership and quietly left their church. Again with deep wounds. 

What is the responsibility of church leadership to address those wounds? I suspect that there will be readers of this blog who long to hear words of apology for wounds inflicted on them. Most will never hear them but I pray many do. If we as leaders will not seek reconciliation where we need to, how can we expect those in our congregations to heed our teaching on the matter?

One church I know made a list of 30 plus cases they knew of and systematically worked to get meetings of reconciliation. It was amazing how many old wounds still raw were healed in that process. I know of churches whose list would be even longer but that means the healing will be that much greater. 

As a church leader, you are responsible to seek healing for those who have been wounded by leadership in your congregation whether it happened on your watch or not. Our willingness to do so is a matter of our humility and whether we have hearts like Jesus.

My new book, Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Heresy hunters in the church

The rise of the internet has flattened the information age and made access to opinions, facts and fallacies equally easy. This has been a bonus for professional heresy hunters who are quick to judge the theology of individuals, churches and movements through their particular lens and set of theological grids (often exceedingly narrow).

Now there are individuals and groups with bad theology out there, or let's say terrible theology. It is theology that seems to bear no resemblance to what one reads in the Scriptures. But there are many others who are attacked not because their theology falls outside the bounds of the broad tent of evangelicalism (defined by the Gospel or the historic creeds of the church) but because their theology does not meet the narrow definitions of some self appointed critic. 

Those critics are numerous and their definitions are often exceedingly narrow. They sweep up well known Christian leaders and movements in their heresy hunting vacuum. Not only that but those who read, listen to or affiliate with the accused are equally suspect for they too must be heretical by association. My own denomination, a solid evangelical movement has been the target of a number of these hunters over the years (EFCA). 

There are also those who get caught up in the charges of these heresy hunters and are self appointed hunters in their own congregations to keep the body pure and to root out heresy. What usually occurs is that they create unnecessary division and confusion instead.

When I meet those who accuse others of heresy based on what they have read or heard on the internet my first question is this: Have they listened to or read the individual being accused or have they simply relied on the analysis of a third party who accusing?

My second question is this: If I disagree with something this individual said, does that make it heresy or does it mean that my own theological grid is different. Armenians, Calvinists, cessationists, non-cessationists, complimentarians and egalitarians, to name just a few major differences among evangelicals are all orthodox, but they also disagree with one another's theology. So there are many things we can disagree on within the definition of orthodoxy.

There are things great theologians of our own day say or write that I don't agree with but it does not mean they are not orthodox. And I will defend their right to their position within the broad definition of orthodoxy. I am sure that after writing several thousand blogs there are things my readers might not agree with but would not charge me with heresy. (Perhaps I should brace myself).

My third question is: Do I really want to create division over differences in theological positions in the name of Jesus? All of us have our theological preferences. But theology within the broad creeds of the church was never meant to divide but to unite us under the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have a right to my preferences and others do to theirs but there are many admonitions in Scripture not to divide the flock (just read 1st and 2nd Timothy). 

When I label as wrong or heresy positions that simply don't agree with mine I am often a guilty party in creating unnecessary division within the church. Interestingly enough, obviously heretical theology, creating division and ongoing egregious sin are the three wolves that church leaders are tasked to guard the flock against. Sometimes the professional heresy hunters are the threat to the church rather than the supposed heresy they are hunting. 

In one final irony, much of the so called heresy hunters focus on the role that the Holy Spirit does or does not play in our lives and how He does or does not manifest Himself. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit and how He works is very much a matter of our theological grids and presuppositions. But, is it possible that we are actually setting ourselves up against God Himself if we are not careful on this one? It would be very sad to find out one day that we were guilty of quenching the Holy Spirit because we made assumptions that were not accurate - and called it heresy!

My new book, Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Want to know how your staff is doing? Try asking these questions

I meet a lot of ministry staff who feel disempowered in their jobs. Often, those above them don't know what those issues are that bring down the happiness factor of their team because they don't ask the important questions that would uncover issues and make the workplace happier and more effective. Try asking these questions of your staff in a safe (maybe anonymous way). What you are looking for are themes. 

Is your assignment clear?

Are you empowered to do your job?

Do you have what you need to do your job well?

Does your supervisor coach and help you or micromanage and control you? Explain.

Does your supervisor give you helpful feedback on a regular basis?

If there was one thing that you wish were different and that would allow you to do your job better, what would it be?

What practices in your work environment disempower and discourage you?

Are you regularly encouraged to grow and learn? 

Do you have to ask permission to do things that you feel you should not need permission to do?

Is there anyone in your group who causes regular negative issues for others? If so, explain.

What do you think those above you need to know about your work environment?

If you were in charge what would you do differently?

Seven things to understand about church conflict

Anyone who is in church leadership for very long, either as staff or board members will experience church conflict. Unfortunately the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17 and which Paul asked for in Ephesians 4 is often missing in the church. We live in a fallen world and fallen people have a hard time getting along. 

As a veteran of helping churches negotiate through and out of conflict there are seven things that one needs to keep in mind when it happens.

First, the presenting issues are very often not the real issues. This may be counter-intuitive but it is true. Often in trying to negotiate conflict staff and  boards take what is said by an opposing side as the truth. Often, the real issues are hidden behind the presenting issues and one should not assume that the presenting issues are the real issues. It can take a skilled individual to ferret out what the real issues are an until one can identify what the actual concerns are it is not possible to resolve the conflict.

Second, some involved have no first hand knowledge of what the real issues are but have taken up the offense of others.Often, friends and relatives of those who are unhappy will be caught up in conflict even though it is not their issue and sometimes without even knowing what the underlying issues are. This is one of the things that makes church conflict so confusing. Some people are just caught up on either side because they identify with other people but don't really have a stake in the issues.

Third, truth often becomes a victim of emotion. In the midst of church conflict a lot of words are written and spoken that are often not accurate but they are taken as truth. One person says something which gets repeated as truth when in truth it is not at all true. Emotions are stronger than rational thinking in many instances and those emotions often get in the way of truth. It is sad. When I was the target of disgruntled people many years ago, much of what they said was blatantly false. But in the heat of emotion, it was taken by their friends as truth.

Fourth, some individuals are unable to modify their positions even in the face of irrefutable evidence. This is the result of emotions taking precedence over truth. Once a position is taken in the heat of emotion many individuals are not able or willing to modify that position even when presented with evidence to the contrary. This is one of the reasons that conflict cannot always be resolved in a win/win scenario. When entrenched opinions and emotions do not allow individuals to respond to evidence to the contrary there is little hope of those individuals ever seeing the situation differently than they do.

Fifth, it is not always possible to satisfy everyone. This goes back to what I have already said. This side of heaven some conflicts will not get resolved either because two sides are so far apart, or because logic is lost in emotion or because individuals who have become entrenched in a position are unwilling to move. Sometimes in order to resolve conflict individuals need to say they are either sorry or were wrong. Some will never go there.

Sixth, the longer the conflict remains unresolved the more that truth gets lost. Conflict thrives on rumor, assumptions about motives, emotional triangles and the demonization of those who we disagree with. The longer the conflict remains unresolved, that these poisonous issues flourish and the messier it gets to clean up. Sometimes after a long period of conflict the two sides don't even know what started it all. All they know is that they no longer like each other or want to work with each other.

Seven, conflict flourishes in darkness but not in the light of day. One thing I have learned about conflict is that once brought into the light so that everyone in the congregation is informed of what is going on, things become resolved far faster than when the issues are kept in the back room. We are often fearful of just telling God's people what is going on and what the positions are. Yet, the sooner that is done the less harm comes to the body as a whole. If we believe that each individual has the Holy Spirit within them, we then need to trust that if the congregation knows what is going on they will make decisions that are best for the body as a whole. I always suggest transparency over secretiveness.

My new book, Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If it doesn't stick it's not vision - the six descriptors of good vision

Vision is what we ask God for in faith as opposed to mission which answers the question of why we exist. There are six descriptors of good vision.

First, it is a God sized ask. If we can accomplish it by ourselves it is not vision. Vision requires God's direct involvement and requires faith.

Second, it engenders enthusiasm. It resonates with those in our ministry to pray for and work toward a goal that we can all get excited about.

Third, it is simple and clear. It does not require a lot of explanation and can be instantly understood. Complicated vision is not vision because it will not stick.

Fourth, it does not need to be fully quantifiable. Remember, it is a big, faith ask. One should be able to show examples of that vision being accomplished but it need not be about counting and keeping score.

Fifth, it mobilizes people in a common direction. That is what vision does. Good vision encourages people toward common God sized goals.

Sixth, it sticks. If you share "vision" and it does not stick it's not vision.

In ReachGlobal we are praying that God would raise up one million disciplemakers to allow us to impact 100 million people with the Gospel and see 100 Acts 19 locations where the Gospel penetrates whole cities or regions rather than just a neighborhood.

That is our vision. What is yours?

My new book, Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why it's so easy for leaders to fake it - from Francis Chan

Francis Chan: Why It's So 

Easy for Leaders to Fake It

If you are serious about authentic leadership, my book Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership is now available for pre-order on Amazon. It directly addresses the issues Francis Chan talks about.