Thursday, May 31, 2012

What is stalling your personal development?

There are a number of keys to personal growth but one of the most important is removing barriers to that growth. Thus the question: what is stalling your personal development?

We often strive harder when we want to grow but often it is not a matter of working harder but rather in addressing those issues that are inadvertently stalling our growth. Remove the barriers and we grow.

I spoke with someone recently, for instance who had struggled for years with certain personal disciplines regarding time, schedule, time with God and a number of other things. This is a highly successful individual by the way which indicates that such struggles are common to us all. 

In the last year he was able to put structures in his life that enabled him to live out the disciplines he so desired and he is on a spiritual growth spurt that is like his initial years with Christ. He is the happiest and most productive he has ever been and it is all the result of removing a significant barrier to growth.

Barriers to growth are like dams. Once removed the river of growth flows unfetterd by the dam that held it back. Those barriers are as diverse as are people but usually we know what they are in our lives. 

The question is not about not knowing but in determining what we are going to do about them - precisely because we don't want to stall out in our personal growth.

Take some time this week and ponder what barriers are holding you back. What barriers need to be removed to allow you to go the the next level spiritually, professionally or personally? Taking action will allow you to move forward.

Unempowered, unhappy and undervalued staff

I have met my share of people in ministry positions recently who have been working for unempowering leaders, hierarchical structures, controlling leaders or who have been sidelined or unappreciated by the leadership structure above them. 

They feel like they are swimming upstream, their voice is not heard, that they cannot use their gifts to the fullest and while they love the ministry mandate of their organizations they feel like they no longer fit. It is a sad commentary on many ministry cultures. In many cases the controlling and unempowering culture causes great pain to those who are caught in its grip.

Whenever I have conversations with folks like this I think of the great waste of ministry potential, the frustration factor for good staff and the net loss to the kingdom. I cannot help think that God may hold leaders accountable for not fully releasing other ministry personnel for the sake of His kingdom.

What is more sad is that the leaders who cause this dysfunction don't even know they are doing it, or don't care. I have had leaders tell me how happy their staff are but when I ask some questions of those staff I find a radically different story. It is clear to me that the leader has assumed much and probed little. 

One of the trends I am watching is high quality staff who are leaving these dysfunctional cultures in their fifties as they realize that life is short and they want to be in a place where they can experience convergence between their gifts, God's call and an empowered ministry culture. 

The beneficiaries of those moves are ministries that value their staff, create empowered cultures, collegial teams, and value the gifts, voice and ideas of their ministry colleagues. For those who have been in the bondage of dysfunctional or unempowered ministries it is a breath of fresh air.

If you are a leader and value your staff, think about the culture you are creating. If you are a staff member in the wilderness of unempowered cultures, know that there are ministries that will release you to use all of your potential. Life is short and the opportunities are huge.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When leadership boards become the barrier to church growth

Leadership boards play a significant role in whether congregations grow or hit a plateau or even go into decline. 

Here is a general rule. The more time a leadership board spends on managing the day to day affairs of a church the greater the barrier they will be to church growth. The more time a leadership board spends on thinking and praying about the future the greater the chances that ministry growth will occur. 

Why? Because a focus on the status quo will give you more status quo while a focus on the future will lead you toward that future.

This is why leadership boards should allow staff and volunteers to do the managing of day to day affairs and spend the majority of their time (50 % or more) thinking, praying and planning for the future.

How does a leadership board get to a place where it can afford to spend a good portion of their time in praying, thinking and learning so that they can move the ministry forward? 

First plan your agendas around the big rocks not the small rocks.

Second, task others with coming up with systems or solutions to the small rocks and third delegate whatever they can to others so that they can do what they should be doing.

This is why the Apostles delegated the looking after the widows in the early church to others. It was the first known ministry team!

Whatever boards focus on will be the thing that gets done. It is a simple but important principle. 

My book, High Impact Church boards, goes into greater detail if you need to refocus your board.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Leadership self evaluation

As a leader I have high expectations of those who work in our organization. These include integrity, being focused on our common mission, creating a healthy atmosphere for our staff to flourish and then small things like returning emails and phone calls. In fact, we have a short document called "expectations of a leader" that spell these out.

From time to time I need to evaluate myself to ensure that I am living by the same standards I expect of others. It is all too easy for leaders to develop a sense of entitlement that the rules do not apply to them. And we know that others will not generally call us on it - we are their leader. It doesn't mean they don't notice, however! 

Not only do staff notice but it directly impacts the opinion they have of their leader, either creating great trust and respect or cynicism and disrespect. It is easy for leaders to miss this point because no one is calling them on their failure to live up to the leadership expectations. 

Here is an interesting scenario. It is possible for a leader to be well respected outside his/her staff because they accomplish good things but have far less respect within their staff because those who know them the best don't see them living out staff expectations. The real test of our leadership is whether those who know us the best respect us because we keep the common commitments well. We live what we expect from others. 

From time to time I directly ask those who report to me if there are things I do or don't do that negatively impact them - or that they wish I would do differently. If there are areas where I am falling behind I want to know about it so that I can rectify my shortcomings. 

All of us have shortcomings but wise leaders ensure that they are living out what they expect of others. It is a matter of leadership!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Avoid the comparison trap. It is toxic to us.

Too often our view of ourselves deeply flawed. Rather than seeing ourselves for who we are we do so instead through a lens of comparison with others. That comparison creates a distorted view of ourselves: We see not who God made us to be but something different and someone different.

It is bad enough that we compare our own self worth against other people but we further complicate it by comparing our circumstances, positions, opportunities and wealth against those of others. These comparisons often create envy of others which directly leads to a lack of peace in our own lives.

Why are comparisons with others toxic for us? First because God uniquely made us as He wanted to, gave us the gifts He designed for us and a work to do that He created only for us (Ephesians 2:10). If we don't like who we are our argument is not with others around us but with God Himself. The problem is that God does not create anything but the best and it is only in embracing His purpose for our lives that we experience the greatest happiness and satisfaction.

Second, we tend to think that if we had the gifts, opportunities or wealth of others that we would be happy. Ironically, those we compare ourselves too are no less or more happy than we are. Their joy, like ours, depends on embracing the calling on their lives. And behind the good looking exteriors we all put up are issues struggled with, pain dealt with and their own set of challenges to work through.

Looking at our lives through the lens of the lives of others is like looking through a highly distorted window. No longer do we see who God made us to be with the gifting and purpose He designed for our lives but we distort our picture with what He intended for others. That distortion skews our thinking, robs our joy and more important sidetracks us from the role He uniquely designed for us to play. 

Our joy and satisfaction comes when we embrace who God made us to be, how He uniquely gifted us and how He wants to use us. Try to embrace someone else's gifting and calling and we lose our joy (and it cannot be done anyway). Stop comparing and start embracing and we experience the joy of a life God made for us. 

God has given us amazing, mind blowing gifts (Read Ephesians 1 and 2). One of those specific gifts is the making of the unique us (Ephesians 2:10) along with a specific mission in life. Embrace it, thank God for it and live it out and we will be the most joyful and satisfied of people. Distort all that by comparing ourselves with others and the joy and satisfaction is robbed.

Avoid the comparison trap. It will rob you of what God intended for your life.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The cost of freedom

As a reader of history I am always amazed and deeply appreciative of the cost that was paid for the freedoms we enjoy and which most of the world does not. Men and women who willingly went into the line of fire knowing the risks and who were willing to pay the price - often the ultimate price. Memorial day is a sober day for anyone who has walked the graveyards of Normandy, Manila, Hawaii and others scattered around the world.

As one who regularly travels to countries where our freedoms are non existent, I am all too aware of what freedom means - or the lack of it. 

There is another kind of freedom that is even more important - that of the spiritual freedom that the Gospel brings. And there is a long list of God's servants who have given their lives, and do every day around the world. There is no freedom in this world, political or spiritual without a cost. 

Just as our world is in need of those like my nieces and nephews who are in the armed services defending our freedom, the church needs those who will go to hard places for the sake of the Gospel in spite of the risk. Political freedom brings temporal freedom. The Gospel brings temporal and eternal freedom.

I thank each member of our team in ReachGlobal who have given their careers to the cause of the Gospel. And to every member of every mission and every Christian worker in hard places. Your willingness to answer the call of Jesus is paying eternal dividends of men and women and children who have found freedom in Jesus.

Freedom is costly. It is also worth it. God's army is still waiting for those who will join it!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Those who need to control and how to recognize it

I am convinced that the desire to control others is a result of the fall and our sinful nature. And there are many people who are very good at controlling others. Often we feel the uncomfortable nature of someone's control but cannot always pinpoint the source of the control or its dysfunctional nature. 

Sometimes we don't realize the controlling nature of the relationship until we are out of the relationship. An abused spouse, for instance, often does not realize what freedom is until they have been out of the abusive relationship for a period of time and it is in retrospect that they are able to pinpoint the sources of the control.

People and even groups of people control others in a variety of ways: actions; anger; flattery; attitudes; words; money; organizational structure; friendship or lack of it; intimidation; closeness or marginalization. In each case, the effort is to control the actions, thinking or behavior of others. 

How does one know if there is control going on? Here are some signs:

  • I am feeling pressured to act or believe a certain way
  • I feel the displeasure of another when I act independently
  • My relationship with another is based on how I respond to them
  • I feel intimidation
  • I experience flattery when doing what the other desires and anger or distance when I don't
  • I experience threats: implicit or explicit
  • The other wants an exclusive relationship with me and is not comfortable with me having a variety of relationships
  • There is not freedom to disagree or push back
  • The other has an attitude of "you are either my friend or my enemy", "you are either for me or against me."
  • The other feels free to critique me but does not give me the freedom to critique them
  • I often feel an air of condescension or superiority
  • I feel used in certain circumstances where I am expected to act on their behalf when they need it but there is not reciprocation
  • I am often wrong but they are not - at least they make me feel that way
What these kinds of feelings are telling us is that there is dysfunction in the relationship that is violating our sense of personal freedom. If a relationship has these kinds of feelings to it we are wise to do some introspection on the relationship because it is usually going to end badly. 

The reason it will end badly is that this is not a true and healthy friendship. Rather it is a relationship where one is being used - and when no longer needed will be discarded. Those who control people ultimately use people for their purposes. Otherwise they would have no need to control. 

Beware of controlling relationships. Someone is ultimately going to get hurt and it will not be the controller.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What your pastor might want to tell you if he could

Dear congregation:

It is a joy to serve you, most of the time. I love you and I love what I do but there are things that irritate me too. The problem is that while you have full freedom to tell me those things that irritate you, it is harder for me to tell you. So, this anonymous letter.

I know that Sundays are convenient days to talk to me about concerns you have, or criticisms, but it is not convenient for me. Nor Monday's. I work so hard to be ready for Sunday when I preach and teach and it is really discouraging when I get sideswiped by issues on those days. Can you wait till at least Tuesday?

Also, as a pastor I have a congregation with 500 adults which also means 500 people who have an opinion on almost everything. I want to know what you think if you can share it nicely and without an agenda to force me to do something. Part of being a body is being flexible enough to deal with the varied people we have and to learn to live together in harmony. I try to be flexible. I hope you can be as well.

On that matter. Remember that this is not the church you left to come to this one. I know they did things a certain way but we are not that church (remember why you decided to leave there?). We are a different church with our own DNA and way of doing things. So please don't expect us to do things the way your past church(s) did them.

Sometimes I do things that irritate others. I guess it is part of being human. I know that as the pastor that is not really allowed but it can and will happen. Can you forgive me as I get to forgive a lot of others on a regular basis? It is hard to preach to people who are holding grudges and issues that they won't let go of. Maybe you could sit in the very back instead of the front row if you can't let it go :). 

I am learning to not be as defensive as I sometimes am. I guess one can become so when they care so much about something and I care a lot about the church and its people. Easy criticism is hurtful to me because I am doing my very best. Thoughtful, loving dialogue is something I can handle a lot better if you have constructive ideas.

I know it bothers some of you that I cannot be at all events. The truth is that I have a family like you and I do my best to balance my family and ministry responsibilities. I also get tired from the many heavy issues that people have and bring to me. I love to minister to hurting people but sometimes I just need to get away and regain my perspective and rest. Thanks for understanding.

Oh, another thought. On a lot of things you really don't need me. You need someone to help but not necessarily your senior pastor. We need to learn to minister to one another and not expect the pastor to do all the ministering. I am pretty sure that is why the Holy Spirit gives gifts to everyone. Let's spread out the caring and ministry so that we are all in ministry because otherwise I will burn out. I cannot carry the load but I will gladly share the load. And you?

Really, most of the time my work is a joy which is why I do what I do. But I did need to share with your my perspective on a few things. Thanks for listening. I love you (most days).

The pastor of a typical church, maybe yours.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Conflict avoidance creates greater conflict: four ironies regarding conflict

Here is an irony. In the name of peace we often avoid conflict - addressing issues that we know are real issues but that we don't want to have to work through. What results is usually even greater conflict because existing issues were not addressed and at some point in time those unresolved issues erupt and create a much greater mess than one would have had if they had addressed the issue earlier. 

In our effort to avoid conflict we actually create greater conflict down the road. In fact, the greater the blowup the longer the underlying conflict has usually been avoided. So those who choose avoidance as a strategy set the group up for a larger confrontation at a later date.

Here is another irony! We consider conflict to be a bad thing. In fact, it is usually a helpful thing because the fact that there is conflict is an indicator that there are issues that need to be resolved. Conflict is simply an indicator that there is an underlying issue that must be addressed. 

In itself, conflict is neither good or bad, simply an indicator, like a tachometer going into the red zone that you better shift into another gear or the engine is going to get too hot. Ignore your tachometer and you have engine trouble. Avoid conflict and you have relational trouble. 

A third irony. It is in the working through of conflict - usually competing agendas, philosophies or critical issues that the best solutions are found. Conflict avoidance solves nothing. Resolving the conflict by addressing the competing ideas or issues actually makes the organization a stronger one. The resolution may not satisfy everyone but getting everyone on the same page is far better than allowing competing agendas or ignoring issues.

We often avoid conflict out of fear that in naming the issue we will look like troublemakers. Ironically, our fear is usually unfounded. In most cases everyone is in the know that the conflict exists already. So in pretending that all is well when everyone knows it is not is pretty silly and solves nothing. How often do church boards or ministry teams ignore the elephants in the room that everyone knows exist.

In many cases, the other members of the group are glad that someone has simply named the elephant and at least opened the floor so that it can be discussed. Until someone names the issue that underlies the conflict nothing can be done. Once named it is an issue that can be discussed. 

As a leader I have had to work through conflictual issues with other leaders or staff on occasion. In every case, it has revealed either fault lines of misunderstanding, philosophy, direction or agendas. Without resolving those fault lines our ministry suffers from the divisions that fault lines bring. Resolution (which can take different forms) can bring unity and strength.

Whatever you do, don't ignore conflict which is an indication of fault lines you want to resolve.

Leadership challenge 101: managing our schedules

Managing our schedules so that they don't manage us is one of the most critical challenges every leader faces. Not only are leaders action oriented (we do stuff) but we face significant pressures from others for our time to say nothing of the many outside opportunities that come along. We find ourselves pulled and pressed and sometimes, don't have time for the most important things, or time at all!

If we are not careful, our schedules will manage us and it won't be pretty. If we can learn to manage our schedules life is a lot more productive. Leadership 101 is learning to schedule by priority in order to achieve the results we desire rather than to live accidentally. If you are a leader and struggle with your schedule you are in good company. We all do and learning to manage it better is key to maximizing our influence.

Managing our schedules starts with personal clarity about what we are called to do. There are people around us who have many ideas for what we could or should be doing (all good) but choices must be made and they need to be made on the basis of what we know is important for us. This presupposes that we have done the work of understanding who God made us to be, what He wants us to do and what is most important in our leadership role.

I know, for instance that I have four main responsibilities in my role. Having defined those, I am able to ensure that these key areas are not pushed aside by other activities and that they get scheduled first. 

Here are some practical pointers for managing one's schedule.

1. Identify what is important for you to do and what things others can and should do. As a rule, don't do what others can do.

2. Schedule ahead and ensure that the priorities for your work get scheduled first. Put in what is critical for you and then back-fill with other less important things.

3. Leave some margin so that the unexpected does not completely blow up your plans.

4. Talk to a trusted colleague about your schedule and allow them to weigh in on what is truly important and what is nice but ancillary. My wife can be irritatingly correct about some things I say yes to which she knows are not the highest priorities and which will steal my margin.

5. Evaluate your schedule monthly to ensure that the big rocks are being accomplished and not being pushed out by the sand and pebbles.

6. Get comfortable about saying no to nice opportunities that should not have your name on them. 

7. Think grey about opportunities until you need to commit to them. Doing so gives you the opportunity to think and pray them through without committing prematurely.

8. Always schedule in think time so that you are doing the leadership work of thinking for your team or organization. No one else will do your thinking for you. It is part of  what leaders do.

9. If you are consistently behind or missing obligations it is a sign that one needs to rethink the schedule and commitments. If it is important it should get done - on time (speaking to myself here).

10. Develop rhythms. Doing key work consistently develops habits that allow you to work efficiently.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fear based leadership

There are ministry leaders whose primary leadership trait is that of fear. Before any decision is made, there are endless discussions of whether the decision is right, lots of second guessing, revisiting of the issue, dragging feet on pulling the trigger and anxiety about whether they should move forward or not. If some leaders are too impulsive, fear based leaders are so risk adverse and fearful of something going wrong that they become paralyzed by that fear.

This is crazy making for staff who want to get on with things and become frustrated when their decisions or recommendations get the same scrutiny, questions, and reservations as their boss's. Endless meetings are had, issues rehashed time and again, decisions made and then revisited. 

Why? Because the senior leader is so driven by not making a mistake, not communicating something improperly, not doing something that might fail. It is caution gone amok. It causes him or her not only to scrutinize their own decisions but those of others and leads to micromanaging the work of others out of the same fear. It is fear based leadership and is not true leadership at all.

Fearful leadership comes out of a lack of self confidence, deep anxiety about making a bad call and fear of what others will think if they make a poor decision. The fear paralysis of the leader becomes a paralysis for the organization as a whole. Because leading is about being in front of others, leading them into the future, fear based leadership is not leadership at all but is really just the opposite: keeping the organization from moving forward out of an abundance of caution. 

Fear based leaders need serious coaching or counseling to get at the root of the fear that haunts them. Unless they can understand those fears and face them they will not be able to lead or if they do will not attract and keep other good staff. 

If you suffer from decision making fear ask yourself, "What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if the decision went south?" How likely is that worst thing to happen? If it did would it be so bad? One soon realizes that the fear is not only unfounded but silly when you play out the scenario. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Empowerment that actually disempowers.Leadership by benign neglect

Think of empowerment as a horizontal line. On the left hand side is the manager or leader who micromanages - highly disempowering to those they lead. At the extreme right side of the continuum is total empowerment or actually neglect of staff which is equally disempowering.

Leaders on the right end of the continuum often think that they are highly empowering leaders. After all they rarely if ever tell staff what to do. But what they are actually doing is neglecting their staff to the point that staff must figure out what their job and priorities are without any structure, framework or guidance. They also have to solve problems without the help of their leader. This is leadership by benign neglect. More accurately it is a lack of leadership that usually makes for frustrated staff.

Leaders who lead by benign neglect think that they are doing their staff a favor. In reality they are not doing their staff any favors.

Here is why.

First, when there is a leadership vacuum, someone will fill it. If a leader or manager is not leading someone else will exert their influence. That someone else may or may not be a favor to the rest of the team. They are free to control others and drive their agenda, however, because the organizational leader is not providing adequate oversight.

Second, people want and need clarity about their role and what the organization is up to. I have actually had staff who work for benign neglect leaders tell me that they don't know what they are supposed to be doing or what their role is. Staff who must fend for themselves are generally frustrated.

Third, staff often feel as if their manager or leader is not engaged in the team or organization. The truth is they are right! The leader is engaged in his or her personal agenda but not in helping the staff of the organization if they lead by benign neglect. Neglect is of course not leadership but an abdication of leadership.

In my experience this situation occurs for a number of reasons. It may be that the leader has grown an organization by the force of their vision but does not have the skills to be an organizational leader. It may be that the leader is more interested in their own world than providing the leadership that the group needs. Either way, their staff feel disempowered.

If a senior leader is not wired to organize, lead, provide clarity to staff, mentor and coach staff they need to find someone who can and will. This is where a strong COO role is needed but in order to be successful, the senior leaders needs to cede organizational authority to the COO and then stay out of staff and management issues. In the absence of a strong internal leader, benign neglect leaders will eventually stall or plateau their ministry because the larger a ministry the more critical clarity and good organizational structures become.

Back to the empowerment continuum. The place to be is in the middle. Not micromanaging but not neglecting. It is empowerment withing boundaries with clarity and accountability. No favors are done staff with micromanagement an no favors are done with benign neglect. Both disempower rather than empower.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The fear factor

Fears: we all have them. It is what keeps us up at night and lives in the pit of our stomach, rearing its ugly head over some trigger that sets them off. They may be real fears or imagined fears (what if that happened?) but in a world where bad things do happen and the nightly news is mostly bad (and exaggerated)  we cannot escape our fears.

But we can manage them with the help of God. It fascinates me that the most often repeated command in Scripture is to fear not. Do not be afraid! Often coupled with the statement "I am with you" (see Joshua 1). This is because faith is the currency of God's Kingdom while fear is the currency of our world. Fear kills faith (which is why the evil one loves it) while faith builds confidence in God's ability to handle any situation we could ever face. Fear holds us back while faith drives us forward. 

The great pantheon of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 all had much to fear - and most of them paid for their faith dearly. But in each case they chose faith over fear, trusting even in what they could not yet see because they believed the promises of God. They countered fear with trust and faith.

One of the great advantages of memorizing scripture (yes even adults can do it) is that the truth of God's word is a powerful antidote to the many untruthful or fearful messages stored in our brain. The Holy Spirit is a master at pulling out of our minds the very truth that we need at the moment we need if - if we have been diligent in putting it there. 

King David, the head of state in Israel made constant reference to the words of God that he had hid in his heart. Those words were the realignment mechanism for him when he faced even the most difficult circumstances.

When I was in a Thailand ICU wondering if I would live or die, on a ventilator and unable to do anything about my circumstances and in excruciating pain, fear was very real! I battled that fear with the words of Jesus to Peter when Peter got out of the boat in the storm. "Fear not." "Why are you afraid?" "I am with you." Those few, simple words fought back the storm of fear, kept it at bay and allowed me to trust God in a very hard time. It was not without a colossal struggle but faith won over fear. And it can for you as well.

Fear is a normal human reaction but faith is the currency of God's Kingdom (Hebrews 11). Fear can only be fought back with the truth of God found in His word. Put it in your heart and the next time fear raises its ugly head, counter attack with God's word.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Choosing joy today

It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) but how many truly joyful Christ followers do you meet? Living with joy is both a gift (the Holy Spirit gives it to us) and a choice (I will choose to live in His joy). He gives the gift. We decide whether we will choose joy over pessimism, sadness or sorrow.

Unlike typical self help talk, the joy that Jesus gives is not the discipline of talking ourselves into a happy state regardless of our circumstances. Rather it is a joy based on the presence of Christ and the hope of Christ in the midst of our circumstances. He is the source of our hope and joy. He is the one who never leaves us or forsakes us (Romans 8). He is the one who promises to work His will in our lives, go before us, provide us with what we need for the day and be our advocate for the circumstances we face. 

This, then is no self help "joy" but a joy based on God's presence and promises. In those days when we don't feel joy we can choose joy, knowing that it is a gift from Him. In those days when our circumstances don't dictate joy we can choose joy knowing of his presence in our circumstances. 

Living with joy is choosing to see life through God's eyes and in light of His promises. It is living in His presence and remembering His promises. It is rejecting pessimism in light of God's gifts which He showers on us. It is choosing Him and hope over our circumstances and all the problems we see around us.

Joy is a wonderful gift. I choose joy today.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Five reasons we don't confront needed changes

Because of the work I do, I am surrounded by ministries - churches, mission agencies and Christian non-profits who need to make major changes or face significant issues if not decline and death. Here is what they need to know:

If you don't like change
you're going to like irrelevance even less

What keeps so many leaders and ministries from confronting the need for significant change in order to grow, take advantage of new opportunities and re-envision for the next run? There seem to be some common factors.

First, we become comfortable and change is uncomfortable. I am amazed at the ability of comfort to cause people to ignore even major risks they face by choosing comfort over change. Comfortable is the nemesis of faith, vision and new ideas. 

Second, we don't want to confront the idea that major change is needed. This is simply intellectual laziness that does not want to put in the hard work of figuring out what needs to change in order to go to the next level or simply avoid falling to a new low. 

Third, we resist the idea of getting outside help when it is most needed. In our self sufficiency and pride, we choose to keep the discussion in house with the limited knowledge that got us to where we are today (in need of change) rather than reaching out to someone who can look with fresh eyes at the challenges you face and suggest fresh ideas.

Fourth, we underestimate the pace of change around us, thinking that we have plenty of time to address it. You don't! Change is rapid and our turtle pace responses often overwhelm us leaving us with few choices when we could have had more choices. 

Fifth, we lack the courage to name our current reality in honest, candid, stark terms which would create a crisis among thinking people. In not naming the true nature of the threat we allow ourselves and others to minimize the need for change.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When it is time for ministry founders to transition

Ministry founders are special people. They took risks to get the ministry up and running and took it through the hardest period - the early years. The ministry vision was theirs. The decision making was theirs and others largely acceded to their wishes because the founder represented the vision and heart of the ministry. Often, for many years their decisions went unchallenged even by those who they brought into leadership around them. The ministry is seen as the founders ministry.

Founders often forget, because of the role they play that the ministry is not theirs. In fact, once a ministry goes beyond one person (the founder) it is no longer His or Her ministry and they are simply stewards of that ministry. 

Once there is a board there is an acknowledgement that there is also accountability to others and the ministry is no longer a sole proprietorship. In other words, even though the founder played and plays a special role, it does not belong to them and they are now accountable to steward well and accountable to those in leadership above them.

The transition from being in control to being accountable to others is often a hard transition for founders to make. After all, they are entrepreneurs who figured out how to get the ministry to where it is today. In their minds, nothing has really changed except that the ministry is larger and they now have more structure. They believe that they made the right calls in the past and can and should continue to make the calls in the future.

In reality, though, a lot has changed: The ministry is not larger but different, there is now a formal leadership structure that even the founder is under, others legitimately want a seat at the leadership table and what was once "mine" is now "ours" and the founder is just one of the players. Whether the founder realizes it or not, the whole world around them has changed and it is a new day that relies much less on them than it once did. 

In addition, and this is a very hard thing for founders to grapple with: there often comes a time when the leadership needs of the organization have moved beyond the leadership skills of the founder. This poses a delicate issue for them and their board. For founders, because admitting that they are no longer the needed leader is very tough - they got the ministry to where it is. It is in their minds their ministry. For boards, because they need to make a transition while acknowledging the special part that the founder has played.

I have watched high profile ministries do this well and do it poorly - it depends on how the board handles it and how the founder responds to it. However, these dynamics hold true in small ministries and churches as well. Many times, founders hold on and their fingers need to be pried open to allow the ministry to move on and flourish in the next run. Sometimes, when founders hold on tenaciously they end up seeing the ministry they built go into a sad decline.

In ministry, founders are not owners but play the start up role. Whether they can transition from the start up role to that of leading a different and more mature organization depends on their skill set. Some can and some cannot. Both boards and founders, however, need to acknowledge that the ministry does not belong to the founder. It is not unlike parenting. My kids grew up and now make their own independent decisions - and organizations grow up and start to make their own independent decisions. 

Founders are special people. Most people cannot start something like they did with their faith, courage and entrepreneurial spirit. But they and their organization need to understand that this does not mean that the ministry belongs to them. And there will come a time when they need to release the ministry to the next leader.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Conflict, reconciliation, Jesus, the church and us

The church, in general, has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to one of the most fundamental calls of the Christian faith - reconciliation. As a church consultant I have seen the road kill and carnage of congregations that fight with one another, people who don't forgive one another, spirits of animosity that poison relationships, recrimination, power plays and church splits. 

Pastors are guilty, board members are guilty and paritioners are guilty. Sometimes, whole congregations are guilty. All of us at one time or another have been guilty. Think of the conflicts we experienced with friends early in life let alone as the years went on. 

Paul, himself, who I will quote below had severe conflict with his partner Barnabas, John Mark as well as with the Apostle Peter. None of us are exempt in a fallen world. Fortunately it seems there was reconciliation in later years. Time has a way of bringing perspective and healing.

While I understand the sinful nature we still deal with as Christ followers, I cannot help but believe that the heart of God is deeply grieved over the divisions within His family - especially the unwillingness of people to seek reconcile their differences (however that is able to be done) and at the least live at peace with one another and at the best understand each other. Our inability to do so is really a rejection of that which Christ did for us in His death on the cross. 

The story of God with a rebellious creation is that of reconciliation. The overarching story, of course is that through Jesus we can be reconciled to God - because of His substitutionary death on the cross for us. This reconciliation brings forgiveness of our sin and therefore peace, fellowship and friendship with God which is what our Creator meant for His created in the first place.

This reconciliation, however has further implications. In Jesus, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). The many things that have divided us, race, ethnicity, social status, education, political party or gender have all been broken down by the cross where we meet God and one another as equals. In God's family, the distinctions that divided us are erased by the Holy Spirit who has made us part of a new family.

Jesus anticipated this breaking down of barriers when He prayed His high priestly prayer in John 17:23: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Likewise, Paul, wrote frequently of the unity of the body because of our adoption into God's family and the work of the Holy Spirit. Consider these words in Ephesians 4:1ff. "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

Here is my question: If God was willing to send His very son to make reconciliation with us possible why, after receiving that gift, are we not willing to go the smaller distance to seek to reconcile ourselves with others in the family of God?

Is it any wonder that society as a whole is cynical of the work of God when His own people cannot live at peace with one another and fight the same personal and political battles as are fought in Washington between differing political parties? We can be just as nasty, just as vociferous and just as unforgiving and stubborn as the most unregenerate unbeliever. Yet we claim the name of Jesus!

We cannot control what others do or don't do but we can control what we do or don't do. Are we willing to be peacemakers rather than divisive? Are willing to forgive rather than to live in bitterness? Are we willing to overlook the failures of others since love covers a multitude of sins?

I also believe that we need to do a better job of helping our congregations understand the central place that reconciliation is to  play in the life of a congregation. The church should look different than the rest of society! We are, after all His people with His Spirit which is a Spirit of unity. This is an issue that needs to be addressed regularly in a world that is so deeply divisive. 

Living on this side of eternity conflict is inevitable - even among God's people. It is how we handle that conflict that is the important issue. Reconciliation is all about how we choose to handle conflict and broken relationships when they occur. 

What reconciliation does and does not mean:

It does not mean that the conflict was wrong or bad. Without disagreements important issues do not get clarified and addressed. Conflict itself is not bad. In fact it can be exceedingly healthy because it reveals the need to clarify some issue. What it does mean is that we choose to resolve the conflict in a way that is God honoring. As much as it is possible!

It does not mean that we must agree with the other party but it does mean that we can choose to disagree and not hurt one another any longer. Some issues will not be sorted out until eternity when we see fully and where our emotions are no longer in the way.

It does mean that there must be a cease of hostilities, slander, gossip and bad attitudes toward one another. The reputation of Jesus trumps my personal need to be right or vindicated. Carnal behavior in conflict is sin and must be resisted.

It does mean that we try to understand the other party's point of view even if we believe it to be wrong and misguided. The ability to listen, empathize and understand (even if we don't agree) goes a long ways to damper hostilities.

It does not mean that we need to change our minds on an issue if after discussion we remain convinced that we are being true to our beliefs and the facts as we understand them. 

It does not mean that we need to be close friends, or even friends. It does mean that we will not be enemies any longer. We can choose to bless one another without trying to be friends or to force relationships that have been broken. Sometimes keeping a distance is smarter than closeness when conflict has been severe and where it is clear that there cannot be a common solution.

It does not mean that we will always be able to sort through the issues. It takes reasonable, humble and teachable people to sort through issues and that is not always possible. Sometimes we must simply choose to put the issue behind us for the higher value of Christian unity. It does mean that if we have sinned in our attitudes during the conflict we ask forgiveness for our part. 

It does not mean that we forget the offense. That may or may not be possible. It does mean that we choose to forgive the offense because we are commanded to by Jesus who forgave our offences.

It does not mean that we pretend that the issues did not matter. Often they do and pretending that they did not or that all is now well when this is not true is a disservice to the concept of reconciliation. The hardest kind of reconciliation is when we cannot fix the issue but we choose to live at peace in spite of the issue.

Who do you need to reconcile with?

See these other blogs:
Incarnation and reconciliation
Reconciling irreconcilable differences
Unfinished business

Monday, May 14, 2012

Small shifts of truth - the Evil one's tactics

Have you ever thought about the lies that the evil one loves for us to believe? His strategy is to move the ground of truth ever so slightly but that tiny move makes all the difference in the world in reality. Think about these lies:
  • God is good most of the time. 
  • You need to earn God's favor.
  • Some of the Bible's moral commands are irrelevant in today's sophisticated world.
  • You are just an ordinary person and not equipped to do much in ministry.
  • God will never be happy with you given what you have done.
  • Since God is love He will not condemn anyone to eternal hell. In the end it will be OK for most people.
  • God does not heal today. That was for New Testament times.
  • If someone is sincere they will be accepted by God no matter what their religious path.
  • Believing in demons is pretty silly.
  • You cannot afford to be financially generous with God. In a few years you will be in a better position and you can do it then.
  • Some people are not worthy of God - or for that matter of my attention.
  • Grace is for the lost, not for us who already know God. 
The evil one is skilled at customizing lies to fit our circumstances and our particular vulnerabilities. Often they play like tapes in our heads and we are hardly aware of them.

How does one counter the lies of Satan? Daily time in God's word where we constantly evaluate our lives and our thinking against His eternal, unchanging, life giving truth. The Psalmist says, "I have hid thy word in my heart that I might not sin against thee." Put another way, I have saturated my mind with God's truth so I know the difference between the lies of the evil one and the truth of God. And I know that one is life taking (Satan) and one is life giving (God).

Remember: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life,and have it to the full (John 10:10)." 

You can only counter the lies of Satan with the truth of God. Spend time with His truth regularly and you will recognize what is not truth. The reason so many Christ followers don't recognize the lies of Satan is that they have not spent enough time in the truth of God. Without knowing truth we cannot know the lies. Scripture matters to our daily lives in more ways than we realize.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

If this was your last day on earth would you be OK with what you accomplished for Jesus?

Every day for each of us is a day of grace - undeserved and uncertain. It is the reality of life. 

Here is my question: If this was your last day on earth would you be OK with what you had accomplished for Jesus? In a fallen world, all of us have regrets but wise people seek to minimize those regrets and fortunately the grace of Jesus covers our many shortcomings. How grateful I am for God's grace, without which we would be lost.

But, we also make choices as to how closely we follow Jesus, how engaged we are in making His name well known and His reputation great, how much we invest of our resources in His Kingdom and how often we spend quality time with Him. Those kinds of choices make the difference between few regrets and many!

The only way I know how to answer this question is to live every day in a way that I believe would please Jesus. Living a life of few regrets is done one day at a time. There is no need for a grand design, just a need for daily faithfulness.

In the end, life is pretty simple:

  • Did I love Jesus and pursue Him?
  • Did I seek to follow His leading?
  • Was I a good husband, father and grandfather? (speaking for my situation)
  • Did I use the gifting God gave me for His purposes?
  • Was I generous for His work?
When all is said and done, most of the rest of life doesn't matter much. We are great at complicating life but when it comes down to the basics it is pretty simple - and lived one day at a time.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What characterizes great ministry organizations?

All of us desire to be part of a great organization. Who wants mediocre or average? A great organization can be a small local church, a large ministry or anything in between. But they are characterized by five key elements.

First, they have great clarity about what they are about and they focus on that clarity with a lazer like focus. Great organizations are not scattered but highly focused. That focus allows them to go after specific results and know when they have achieved their goals. Everyone in the organization is aligned around that focus and those goals. Great organizations are not distracted by all the things they could be doing but focused on the few things they must be doing.

Second, great organizations treat their staff well. They hire the best, compensate the best they can and empower staff to use their gifts and energies to achieve the goals without micromanaging. Staff morale is a significant marker of the health of any organization. 

No matter how strategic a ministry is, or how driven to meet their goals, if they do not treat staff well, develop them and have a high retention rate, one cannot claim to be a great organization. Staff culture and health is a major indicator of the true health of the organization. 

I recently stayed in a hotel in Kenya where I interacted with many staff. I asked all of them how they liked working for their organization and to a person they told me how happy they were with the General Manager and the empowered atmosphere he had created. At the end of two weeks I knew that this was a great organization just from watching and interacting with the staff. Staff culture reveals the true DNA of any organization.

Third, great organizations are team led and driven. The strongest organizations have strong leaders and strong teams. Teams provide far more synergy, energy and creativity than any one leader. Further, if that leader was to be hit by the proverbial "bus" there are others who can step in and continue on. Any organization that is dependent on one key leader is unlikely to be a great organization. The creation and deployment of teams is indicative of a collegial and empowered atmosphere.

Fourth, great organizations are always developing the next generation of leaders. I believe that the test of our leadership is not simply what happens when we are leading but what happens after we leave. Did we leave the organization stronger then when we came? Did we leave behind the next generation of leaders who could take the ministry to the next level? A culture of leadership development is a sign of a great organization. In making this a priority we are committing to the long term health of the organization rather than simply short term success.

Fifth, great organizations are led by humble, intentional leaders. This applies not only to the top leadership role but all the leadership roles within the ministry. Humble leaders create a culture of dependence on God and collegial work, knowing that life is not about them. Humble leaders create opportunities for others and develop others. Humble leaders are open and approachable. Humble leaders serve others rather than use others. Pride is incompatible with Christian leadership.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Leaders as moving targets

One of the most frustrating genre of leaders to work for are those who move at the speed of lightning, have a plethora of ideas, are on to something new regularly and are idea people who often want their staff to deliver on those many ideas. In short they are moving targets that rarely get pinned down.

Moving target leaders create a lot of chaos for their staff. They are hard to keep up with, are rarely on a consistent course and therefore create uncertainty, lots of extra work and consternation of staff. 

This is why staff turnover for these leaders is generally high and the more capable the staff member the more likely it is that they will leave after a short tenure since constant change is an unempowering and uncertain culture in which to work. 

By their very nature, leaders who move at the speed of light rarely are able to empower other significantly because they are constantly determining the direction themselves. Issues like planning, annual plans and consistent budgets are tough since things change regularly. It can be crazy making for staff.

The challenge is that moving target leaders often can get an organization to a certain size by their sheer energy. And as the ministry grows, the challenge of keeping it moving in an consistent direction increases. As do the staff challenges.

This type of leadership can work in the early entrepreneurial ministry start up stage. However, at some point, unless the leader can transition to a true organizational leader rather than an individual producer who kicks up a lot of dust, the organization starts to suffer, staff get weary and boards become concerned. 

If you are a moving target leader or a board member for one and the organization is at a size and place where it needs more stability what do you do?

One option is to get executive coaching for the leader to help them transition to a more stable leadership culture. In my experience about 50% of of moving target leaders can make the transition with a lot of work and coaching. But they must truly want to make the changes necessary and it is not easy.

Another option is to hire a COO for the ministry who is the buffer between the moving target leader and the rest of the staff. This can work with a lot of negotiation and will on behalf of both parties but it will remain a constant challenge for the CEO and the COO.

Another approach is to suggest to the moving target leader that the organization needs a different kind of leadership style at this stage of their existence and that they need to make a transition. This often takes the leader by surprise because they are rarely tuned into the chaos that they create by their leadership style. However, boards that see the chaos and dysfunction on staff will sometimes make the call for the leader. They may not even recognize the true reason for their discomfort but they know that the organization is weary of the constant flow of new ideas and directions.

A final approach is to recognize that this is the way it will be and live with the chaos and uncertainty. This will generally mean significant staff turn over and good leaders who will choose not to serve on the board or staff for long. 

Small entrepreneurial ministries can live with leaders who are moving targets. The larger the ministry grows, however, the more problematic it becomes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A theology of life

Think of the amazing gift we have been given in being made in God's image, in being “image bearers” of the Lord of the universe:

·       We were created for eternity with an eternal soul
·       We were made for a relationship with our creator
·       We were given the gift of relationships with one another
·       We were granted the gift of moral freedom
·       We were given the amazing capacity to create
·       We were given the ability to love deeply

The apostle Paul puts all this in perspective in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The word “workmanship” means a unique work of art, a one of a kind. As unique works of God we were created for a personal relationship with him in Christ Jesus, in order to join him in His work in this world (good works) which God prepared for each of us “in advance.”

In endowing us with His image, He gave something of Himself to mankind. Our very ability to know and love him and one another is part of that gift. I can adore and love my spouse and my children and have meaningful relationships with others because He chose to make me in His image. I can know Him, serve Him, join Him in His work in this world because he made me in His image. I can use all my creativity in loving and caring and serving and living because He made me in His image.

I remember meeting my son Jon for the first time knowing that this was my flesh, my offspring. The day I met my first grandson, Gavrel, was even more profound, Again, here was a precious child with my DNA, flesh of my flesh of my flesh entering the world. In making us in His Image, God deliberately planted something of Himelf in His created. Just as I look at my grandson with a love too deep to describe, so He looks at us with a love that is able to see beyond all of our brokenness for He sees His image in us, however flawed by the entrance of sin into our world – deliberately planted in us by Him.

Our news is full of stories of the brokenness of our world. It is easy to become numb to the human needs and issues we become aware of. But stop for a moment and put on the lens of God. Your neighbor who is hurting is made in God’s image. The thousands of children who needlessly suffer from malaria every year for lack of mosquito netting are made in His image.

The disabled who are so easily treated as throw away people in much of the world are made in His image. Those who suffer from chronic dysentery for lack of clean water are made in His image. Those young slaves of the sex trade internationally are image bearers of God. The millions who are aborted annually are stamped with His imprint. The elderly who are shuffled off to a lonely existence are made in His image.

Seen in that light, we cannot ignore the spiritual and human needs around us or of our world and be like Jesus. Life is precious. People are precious. Even the most broken individual is a potential son or daughter of the king because all were stamped with His image. 

No other part of God’s creation was endowed with an eternal soul or an eternal destiny. To care for people and their situations is to see people as Jesus sees them and to love them as He loves them. To live selfishly, immune from the suffering of others is to reject the nobility God placed within man, even though sin has made much so ignoble.

Every time we uphold the dignity of human life, uphold biblical sexuality, treat our spouses well, care for those that society throws away: widows, orphans, AIDS victims, those with unwanted pregnancies, the disabled, the sick, those in dire poverty, the elderly, we join Jesus in bringing value to life made in His image. We join Jesus in His prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” How is it done in heaven? Perfectly! 

When we join Him in meeting the physical and spiritual needs of our world we start bringing little bits of heaven and His values to a world that is lost and dehumanizing to those He created. We join Him in His quest to reimage an image made wrong by sin and bring out the beauty of what God originally intended.

We cannot meet all the needs of our broken world but we can make a difference for someone who is an image bearer of God. Every act of compassion that meets physical and spiritual needs is an act of obedience to our Father who cares so deeply for every human being. He hurts when they hurt, and wants every image bearer to find Him and be ReImaged into His likeness. 

Every time we go out of our way to bring life to a situation, we make the heart of God glad. Each word that encourages, touch that shows love, help that brings hope or Good News that speaks to the soul mirrors the heart of God toward those He created. None are beyond His grace, none are too broken for his healing or beyond His divine touch. 

Do you see people through human eyes or Jesus' eyes? 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Leaders who need to be liked by those they lead

The greater our need to be liked by others the less personal freedom we have to be ourselves, follow God's leading and be self defining about what is important us us. It is a trap that keeps us from being us and from leading well! 

I have no desire to be disliked. In fact, I believe that leaders who lead well will be respected and liked by most, probably not by all. Leading well, treating people well and creating an environment for staff to flourish all contributes to respect for a leader. 

Many leaders, however, are not after respect but want to be loved and liked by those they lead. Wanting to be liked is a symptom of a lack of self worth - needing therefore to get our worth from the love of others. But for a leader, it is a trap because our desire to be liked can get in the way of our leadership.

Leaders who desire to be liked often are not able or willing to push into missional issues with their staff where results are needed but not forthcoming. It is a choice to keep a perceived friendship intact by not pressing on issues that might be considered contentious. In reality, the need to be liked is holding the leader hostage from addressing issues that need to be addressed. Ironically, they lose respect from their staff  when this happens.

Leaders who desire to be liked also become hostage to the expectations of others. Self definition - the ability to state one's position, even if it is not popular is a key leadership trait. But if my desire to be liked is strong, it will be difficult for me to self define in areas where that might not be liked. I am therefore hampered from making directional calls that might "compromise" my perceived friendship with those I lead. In doing so, I actually hurt the organization I lead.

Leaders who desire to be "one of the boys or girls" do so at the risk of their leadership because one cannot be best friends with all the staff and lead well. Once a leader becomes one of the boys or girls they are identifying with their team rather than with the organizational leadership role they carry.

Here is an interesting thought. Most staff do not have a need to be best friends with their leader. They want a collegial atmosphere where issues can be discussed and decided and they want to be respected. In turn they want to respect their leader but do not have an expectation of being best friends with their leader. It is the leader's insecurities that drive the need to be liked, not the staff.

Healthy leaders are highly collegial but they keep an appropriate social distance from the staff they lead so that they are able to see beyond the "friendships" and keep the missional agenda clear. It is in leading well that they earn the respect and appreciation of they staff even if they are not the staff's best friends.

See also:
Leaders and those they lead
Transitioning staff from family to team

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Core ministries, ancillary ministries and focus

I recently had a conversation with a ministry where I asked what was truly "core" and "central" to what they did? They looked at me with confusion and said "everything."  So I went at it a different way and asked, "If you had half of the money you now have, what ministries would stay and which would go?" Their answer to that question got them on the road to identifying what was truly core and central and what was in fact ancillary.

Scarce resources are often the thing that force us to make the choice between core and ancillary. When you have to choose you have to make decisions as to what is truly central and what is not.

Here is the truth. For most ministries, there are core and ancillary sub ministries. Knowing the difference is critical because the majority of your time, energy and budget should be focused on the core, not the ancillary. Furthermore, you need to know what is core and central and what is nice but non-essential.

One of Steve Job's upsides as a leader is that when he returned to Apple for the second time, he helped them focus on a few core products and shed what was ancillary. He knew that the organization could not deliver excellence over a broad number of products. He ruthlessly shut down what was not central and they focused on the few products that have made Apple a very wealthy company today.

Ministries pick up all sorts of ancillary activities like a duster picks up dust. New stuff sticks all the time, often diminishing the core ministries as energy and focus is spread ever thinner. Disciplined organizations are very clear about what is core and central and they resist the temptation to add new and novel ministries that might be good for someone but are not core for them. 

Here are some important questions to be able to answer with your ministry team:
1. What is central and core to what we do and what is ancillary?
2. Do the central and core ministries get the energy, focus and resources they should get?
3. Are there ancillary ministries that are diminishing our attention to the core ministries?
4. Do we need to refocus around our core ministries and shed what is ancillary?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Holistic Missions: Cautions and Opportunities

Let me say up front, I don't like the word holistic much when it comes to ministry. As if holistic ministry were an option or a special kind of ministry. No! Holistic ministry is really Jesus ministry that ministers to the whole person: body, mind and soul.  All ministry to Jesus was holistic. He always cared about the whole person. So I simply prefer Jesus ministry.

I am delighted that there is a new emphasis on ministry to the needs of people today and much of the focus from the West to the Majority (poor) world focuses on those needs. This includes medical ministry, micro enterprise, clean water, orphan ministries, poverty alleviation and the list could go on. It is refreshing to see the church minister to the needs of people rather than simply doing evangelism.

However, and this is where the caution lies: If in the past we neglected the needs of the whole person for the needs of the heart, today we run the risk of neglecting the needs of the heart for the physical needs alone. This is not Jesus ministry. He never ministered to physical needs without caring for the needs of the heart. It was always both, never one or the other. If I give people clean water without the living water of Jesus I have solved a physical problem but neglected the greater eternal problem.

In a poor world there are many opportunities to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of people. Let's not relive the mistakes of the past where we neglected the physical needs for the spiritual by neglecting the spiritual needs for the physical. Jesus simply ministered to the whole person and so should we.

If your church is involved in meeting physical needs among the poor, ask the question whether you are also meeting the spiritual needs of the heart. Is the balance right? What will you answer the one who says on the brink of eternity that you gave them clean water but never told them about living water?  

Clean water is the number one way we can directly impact a majority of those living in poverty globally. Living water is the number one way we can impact them for eternity. The greatest need for every man, woman and child on our planet is a spiritual need so as we minister to physical needs, lets be sure that we are also meeting spiritual needs. Lets take our cues from Jesus where ministry was always about the whole person.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pedestals are dangerous places to be and to prop up

One of the risks of Christian leadership is that others often put them on  a pedestal, looking up to that leader as if they were from another species, seeing only the good stuff and none of the bad stuff. It really is a bad place to be for any number of reasons, least of which is that when the pedestal breaks it is painful for both the leaders and those who put them there. 

I also know leaders who love to be on the pedestal. They like the adulation, the otherness and the position it gives them. And, it insulates them from much of the scrutiny because the more removed they are the less others are able to challenge them. You don't say honest or hard things to unapproachable people - like leaders who foster a certain elevation from others. 

My advice to those who work for leaders who like the pedestal is that one does not treat them with deference, but like everyone else.  They may not like it but allowing them to be treated as special only feeds the unhealthy side of their leadership. I resolved long ago that I would always be respectful but never feed the egos of unhealthy leaders.

For the rest of us who may be put on pedestals by others, I have four suggestions. First, be candid about those things you can be candid about. We have the same struggles as everyone else. Being honest about those struggles helps others understand we are not different.

Second, be approachable. The more approachable we are the more human we will be while the more unapproachable we are the more "otherness" we foster. Let people get to know you as much as possible.

Third, be real. Pretense is dishonesty while just being real about who we are is honesty. The more transparent we are, the more human we are and the less others will elevate us.

Fourth, be humble. Humility is self effacing while pride elevates self. 

I have a good friend about whom people say, "He is without guile." I love that description. It is who I want to be. As such, I will not cooperate with anyone who wants to live on a pedestal or put me on one (God forbid).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The amazing gift of hope

Hope is one of the most wonderful gifts that we have as Christ followers. The word is used 76 times in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 13, the three things that remain for all time are faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13: 13). Hope is a gift that we gain when we give our lives to Jesus and it remains with us forever.

 Consider these contexts:

  • We boast in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2)
  • We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19.
  • Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1)
  • Set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming (1 Peter 1:13)
  • the hope of eternal life (Titus 1:2)
  • We have put our hope in the living God (1 Timothy 4:10)
  • so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
  • I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you (Ephesians 1:18)
In every challenge of life we have the gift of hope. No matter what our circumstance we have hope. On the verge of death we have the ultimate hope - that of eternal life with Jesus. For those of us who lose a loved one we have the hope of the resurrection and the greatest family reunion of all time. Hope is our constant companion, our daily gift, our sustaining anchor. It is the antidote to despair, discouragement and hurt. 

Hope is a gift given but it is up to us to claim it and live in it. We choose either to embrace the gift of hope or to allow ourselves to move toward discouragement and despair. God is the author of the gift of hope, Satan the author of hopelessness. The gift is ours. Will we embrace the hope we have in Jesus today?

There is much in life to be pessimistic about but if you consider all the gifts and blessings we have in Jesus Christ, in this life and the next, how can we live in pessimism? In the end, Jesus prevails over all things and we with Him! There is no circumstance of life that is not covered by the hope we have in Jesus. None. 

Choose hope today!