Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spiritual maturity and its responsibility. For those 50 years old and older

Congregations can be messy places. They are a constant challenge of relational issues, diverse points of view, differences in the "way we should do things" and the list goes on. Things can get messy! Oh, and there is that issue of change and people who mess with the way things were or should be. 

I have been around the church for a long time now, some 58 years and my observation would be that some of the most difficult people in the church are those like me who have been around a long time. We have opinions. We may have influence from our long tenure and, well, as we age, we can become less tolerant of change and get cranky about it.

Before I say what I really want to say, I would add this caveat. What irritates me personally is not change or the way we do things but young pastors who think that those who are over 50 are irrelevant to their plans, dreams and future of the church. And who because of this ignore them or marginalize them. I have seen it happen all too often and it is plain wrong. It is also stupid (did I just say that?). These are the folks who for the most part pay the bills and who have been faithful through the years. The church is not about the young, it is about all people which some people would be surprised includes those over fifty.

Having said that, those of us who are older and who have been in the faith for a long time have a special responsibility. We need to model relationships, behavior, responses to change that are Godly, loving, conciliatory, and mature. It is true we may not like everything we see but it is also true that we need to live up to the maturity to which we have (hopefully) come. 

I am sad when I see cranky seniors (I am technically one so I think I can say this) who seek to keep the church from moving forward because it violates the way things have been done in the past. I see them on church boards and they cause conflict and often bring more disunity than unity. Differences of opinion are not the issue but the way they are expressed and the way people are treated can be. Those of us who have a history in the faith ought to be the best at loving, accepting, graciousness and peace making. 

I have watched former denominational officials threaten to sue church boards because they didn't agree with their direction (it had nothing to do with theology). Former pastors who were divisive when the church didn't look any more like the church they were used to. Threats by folks to withhold funding when things did not go their way and just plain bad attitudes. It is sad and it does not reflect the character of mature believers. And this in the church, the Bride of Jesus! Sometimes it has taken the "blessed subtraction" of a home going to bring peace to a congregation.

As a young senior, I don't want to be a barrier to the church moving forward as I age (hopefully with grace). There are far more important things than the things that often divide congregations and as a believer of many years I (and many reading this) have a special responsibility to model the very best behavior of Jesus - for the sake of His church. 

(Posted from High Point, NC)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The tragic killing of Christians at an Afghanistan hospital

The tragic killing of Christians at an Afghanistan hospital a few days ago demonstrates the love and power of the Gospel in the face of danger and hatred. Why would Christ followers go and serve those who are not like them and why would they do so in such a dangerous setting where their very presence was an invitation to danger? Why would they serve a people who have many among them that would like to kill them?

These men knew something. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus is of such great value that it is worth our lives. As the news of these killings reverberates across our globe how can one not ask "Why such hatred of Jesus?" and "Why such love of Christ followers?" From the earliest days of the church, God's people have gone into harms way to demonstrate the love of Jesus - compelled by the love they have experienced. They have started schools, cared for the sick, established hospitals and taken in "the least of these." Often in the face of persecution, hardship and danger.

Every time those sharing God's love are targets of hatred, the chasm between God's amazing love and man's amazing lostness is highlighted. What the gunman did not realize is that no weapon can win against God's love lived out by His people. It is for this reason that we have the ancient saying that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Our Savior is the only one who can take absolute tragedy and redeem it for His sovereign purposes. Nothing happens in our world, good or bad, that does not first pass by the hand of God and which He does not use to build His church.

Against the hatred that prompted this act, is the response of the wife of one of the lost. ""Our family and friends have suffered a great loss and our hearts are aching,"Jan Schuitema told reporters in front of the couple's Kenwood home Thursday afternoon.  "While our hearts are aching for our loss, we're also aching for the loss of the other families as well as the multiple losses, that the Afghan people have experienced." See the article in the Chicago Tribune.

In spite of this terrible act, God's people will continue to go to Afghanistan and every place where He is not known. His love compels us. Once we have truly experienced His Grace, how could we not share that most awesome of news. These servants of God join a long procession of those who have given their lives for the Gospel, a crowd that grows until the coming of Christ. Compelled by His love!

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Taking responsibility for our own spiritual lives

One of the unintended consequences of the amazing array of programs and worship options available to us today in the west is that it is easy for people to assume that all of their spiritual needs will be met by a good church. And, some churches seem to promise this to be the case. And then they wonder why people eventually become dissatisfied with their offerings.

It is a false assumption and a false promise. We can never outsource the responsibility for our spiritual lives to any church, no matter how wonderful. No church will satisfy the thirsting of our souls - only Jesus can. No church will meet all of our spiritual needs - only Jesus can. Ultimately we must take responsibility for our spiritual lives and make the investment in living daily with Jesus. 

In our church we find a community of pilgrims with whom we share the journey of faith. How people negotiate the issues of life without a faith family I don't know. It is God's plan for us. But, it is not a substitute for our own need to grow daily with Jesus. Many complaints about the church are pointed in the wrong direction. The church was never meant to meet all of our spiritual needs. Only Jesus can.

Healthy ministries keep people oriented toward Jesus. They encourage us to live in His presence, stay in His Word and live out the Gospel in every relationship and circumstance of our lives. No one can do that for us. He is the source of our joy, our satisfaction and the object of our worship and lives. 

If we are pastors, we ought not promise what the church cannot deliver. And all of us ought to make the investment in our relationship with Jesus. 

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why passive leadership is so disempowering to staff

Actually the term "passive leadership" is an oxymoron since it is not leadership at all. It is someone who is in a leadership position but who does not lead his/her staff. It is deeply disempowering to staff for a number of reasons.

First, non-leadership leaves staff in a quandary. They often lead a team and a ministry. How do they contribute to the whole when there is not overall missional direction? They are forced by virtue of the passive leader to determine what that direction should be and you end up with multiple directions as different staff members fill the void of leadership in their own way.

Second, none of us want to waste our lives. Good staff see the potential around them and deeply desire to make a difference. The opportunity they see and the lack of missional direction create great frustration over opportunity wasted. The end result is cynicism toward the non leading leader and often the loss of good staff who are looking for meaningful direction.

Third, just because a leader is passive does not mean that they don't have opinions and this is one of the most frustrating aspects of passive leadership. Because passive leaders don't set the directional agenda their staff end up doing so. But, passive leaders often don't like what they see so they step in and either change or challenge the hard work that has been done. Thus staff are in a double bind. They are not given the information up front as to the direction and they face the prospect of being disempowered on the back end after they have done their work. It is truly a no win proposition.

Fourth, passive leaders are often threatened by those who step in to fill the void and good staff will try to do just that as organizations need and want directional focus. This creates tension between the passive leader and his/her staff and it is not the staff's doing but the natural result of a passive leader who is not leading. The passive leader wants to be in charge even though they don't know how to steer a healthy team in a healthy direction. Thus they live with an inner conflict that spills over into the team in unhealthy ways.

The bottom line is that no matter how good someone is in some area of work, if they cannot lead they should never be put in a leadership role. Passive leadership is not only bad leadership but it is deeply disempowering to everyone around the passive leader.

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spiritual discernment in ministry leadership

Individuals who have the gift of spiritual discernment are needed components in any ministry leadership team or board. Spiritual discernment is the ability to identify aberrations in theology or character issues in those who propagate those aberrations, who use theology for their own agendas or who are engaged in church power plays.

In First and Second Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to stay away from individuals who promote theological controversies. In 2 Corinthians (10-11) he takes the congregation to task for following so called super apostles who were using position and theology to rally people to their followership. Wherever there are people there will be those who use leadership or theology for their own agendas and it takes people of discernment to call it for what it is. 

Paul called it for what it was: "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an agent of light. Is it not surprising, then if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)." 

What is interesting is that there were many in the church in Corinth who did not discern the issues Paul is talking about. Obviously the spiritual cloak these individuals wrapped themselves in was effective in hiding their true motives.

The reason discernment is so critical is that when one is using Scriptures to make their case, there is enough truth that it takes discernment to identify its misuse. For instance, when a leader is always talking about money and the need for the congregation to give more and is using Scripture to try to force or manipulate individuals to give, you have moved from inviting people to be generous to "spiritual coercion." While it sounds Scriptural its application has become more about manipulation than the Holy Spirit's leading. 

As one who works with troubled churches what often fascinates me is that members of the congregation are often more discerning than the leadership of the church. When Scripture is being misused for the personal agenda of the pastor for instance, prescient  individuals often quietly leave while elected leaders remain unaware of the issues. And it is not necessarily pastors but others, especially who have the ability to teach and who have theological agendas who can promote controversies in the congregation that if discerned early can be dealt with.

Spiritual discernment also comes into play when there are people with power agendas in the congregation. We are often naive in the name of grace to name power games for what they are. As a congregational consultant they seem blatant to me but leaders have been reluctant to entertain the notion that a nice guy (or gal) might have poor motives and personal agendas for the church. Those with spiritual discernment usually read those situations for what they are. The fact the boards are often clueless tells me that we have too few with this ability in church leadership.

The early warning system of any church should be found in its leadership rather than the congregation at large. But that presupposes that there are individuals in leadership who are deeply spiritually discerning. And listened to! Can you point individuals in leadership of your church who have the gift of spiritual discernment?

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

We play our role and then yield the stage

At 58 I am acutely aware that there is a finish line to my professional life lurking in the next decade or so. Not my influence as that can continue long after my final paycheck but our jobs don't last forever. We play our role and then yield the stage.

At least that is the way it should be. My predecessor yielded the stage to me with grace. Not only did he not meddle with me but he chose to support me even as I made significant changes to the organization. I had so much trust in his character that I invited him to a new part time role that allowed him to do what he loved to do.

Yielding the stage is a hard thing to do. Our ego is often wrapped up in our work. We have put strategies and philosophies in place that we believe in and don't want others to mess with them. We hired staff who we will be leaving behind and who will be giving allegiance to a new leader. And, it is hard to reconcile that our time is now over at least in the official sense. If one has had a job they loved and seen some success I doubt this is ever easy.

While not easy it is a test of our maturity and character. Maturity to understand that there are seasons and they come to a close so that new seasons can begin. Character to leave in a way that blesses the ministry rather than hurting it in any way. How many pastors, for instance, hang on long after they should and elders must literally pry their fingers from the ministry so that they can move on. Or board members whose time has come. And ministry founders who need to allow the ministry to go to a new level that they cannot lead but cannot yield their control.

Humble leaders understand the concept of seasons and that it is not about them but about the mission of the organization. The moment I lose my passion for the job I have is the moment that I need to hand it over to another even if that comes before the end of my professional career. It is true for all of us.

Think about this issue long before you need to implement its principles. The day comes for all of us to yield the stage, often faster than we expected or wished but come it does. How we handle the end of our careers is just as important as how we stewarded our role along the way.

(Posted from Atlanta)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Who is responsible for the well being of the staff of a church?

In most cases, the responsibility for the staff of a church falls ultimately on the senior pastor, whether or not he directly supervises them. But here is an irony. While senior pastors usually want staff reporting up through them (makes sense from an organizational point of view) those same pastors don't always take the time to care for their staff (an abrogation of their responsibility). Some ignore them altogether while others go through the motions of leading and caring in a superficial way. Fortunately some take the responsibility seriously and develop cultures that are life giving.

Here though is an irony. While churches talk about transformational ministry many staff cultures are far from transformational: being instead marginally healthy or even toxic. Often this stems from a senior pastor's focus on the congregation at the expense of his staff. Untransformational staff cultures cannot contribute to a transformed congregation so this is a great disconnect for the ministry.

Where this is the case there are at least four possible explanations in play.

One: The senior leader is so self absorbed that they don't see the necessity of building into their staff who actually make their own success possible. This form of narcissistic behavior is damaging in the long run to the trust and strength of the staff team.

Two: The senior leader is ill equipped to supervise, not having the training to supervise well. In this case, if the leadership of the church cares about staff health (and most do) why not get your senior leader management/supervisory training as they are ultimately responsible for the well being of their staff.

Three: The senior leader has not learned that his greatest leverage point is a strong team that is aligned and focused on the same things. This only happens when the leader has taken the time to make this a reality. 

Four: The senior leader just is not interested and therefor thinks they don't need to pay staff much attention. After all they are professionals, let them do what they do and fare for themselves. Caring for your staff, building mutual trust, being on the same page, contributing to their growth and success is not only the job of a leader but a responsibility of a leader. One should not lead if they are not willing to take the time to build and nurture a team.

None of these possible explanations are good excuses for not nurturing, growing and supporting the pastoral and support staff of a church. There are things we do because we like to do them and other things that come with the territory. If we are not going to care for staff then we need to empower someone else to do so but the issue cannot be ignored. 

I believe strongly that boards should hold their senior leader directly responsible for the health and happiness of the staff. It is one of the most basic requirements of leadership. How the senior leader chooses to organize for the health of staff is their business. But it is ultimately their responsibility and they should be held accountable for the result. 

(Posted from Santiago, Chile)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How do we know if we truly empower our staff?

How do we know if we truly empower our staff or simply pay lip service to the concept. None of us as leaders would want to believe that we disempower staff, but it is often exactly what we do. Because leaders are intent on what they are doing they often do not realize that their actions can be disempowering to those around them. If you lead others, think through these behaviors which can disempower and annoy/irritate those who work for us.

We expect our staff to be flexible with us but we are not flexible with them.

We frequently make last minute changes without explanation that have a ripple impact down the line. An example would be pastors who make changes to the service on Friday after everything has been planned and expect that folks will simply comply even though it means a whole team of people must then respond at a most inconvenient time.

We feel free to be harsh or critical because we can with people who cannot push back. Leaders have an unfair advantage in venting on their staff as they do not have the freedom to vent back. Just because we have the positional authority does not mean we can be careless with our words, emotions or attitudes. In fact, it is precisely because we have authority that our standard must be higher.

We delegate responsibility without full authority. This happens when we give someone the responsibility to solve a problem but we still feel free to change the solution at the last minute. If we feel that we have that freedom we should solve the problem ourselves rather than giving someone else responsibility and then ripping the rug from under their feet.

We tell people what to do rather than dialogue and ask for their input. This feels very much like a parent communicating with a child rather than a colleague talking to another colleague. Every time we choose to tell or demand without conversation we lose valuable relational points.

We make assumptions about motives or actions without first ascertaining the facts. Facts matter a lot. If I hear something and say something without first getting the actual facts which includes talking to those involved I will inevitably make unfair statements that hurt. It is careless and hurtful on our part.

We don't prepare for and lead meetings well. When this happens we communicate to staff who must be at the meeting, "you were not important enough to me to prepare for you." Waste your staff's time in meetings and you create cynicism and irritation. Many leaders are guilty of this one.

We don't spend quality time with our staff. If we ignore our staff, do not engage with them beyond a surface level, they pick up on this quickly. They know what it means: "We are not important to you." "You do not value or trust us." It is a dangerous move because when push comes to shove, staff will only go to the wall for leaders with whom they have a healthy relationship.

We shut down discussion on issues we are uncomfortable with. This communicates to staff that they are not free to interact with us except on those issues we are willing to talk about. If this becomes a pattern it effectively keeps staff from telling us what they think, as if that means that all is OK. It is not. Those same staff will talk to one another and to others if they cannot talk to the leader leading to dysfunctional relationships that the leader is responsible for creating.

We are passive leaders. How does a passive leader disempower staff? By not creating a vision, cohesive mission and the missional clarity that is at the core of leading a team. Passive leadership is one of the most disempowering of all leadership actions. Even worse than bad leadership. Why would I want to invest myself in an organization that is going nowhere? Passive leaders squander the gifts of their staff and should not be in leadership.

(Posted from Santiago, Chile)

Monday, April 21, 2014

From theological foes to personal friends: An example of civil discourse across a great divide

One of my bedrock convictions is that if people of differing points of view would develop friendships and relationships and seek to understand each other, much of the rancor and uncivil discourse we encounter in the church would fade. This is not about compromising our convictions but it is about relationship, a willingness to talk and a willingness to understand rather then to simply throw stones and vilify. 

In my observation, there is a whole cadre of Christians out there whose sole purpose in life is to vilify those who engage in dialogue with the "wrong people." And so the industry on the web to discredit people by their association with other people (Rick Warren's friendships with non-evangelical or Christians display number one). If person A, and evangelical, becomes friends with person B, a "heretic" that must make person A suspect as well. So lets go after person A. 

We have lost the ability to have civil discourse among many evangelicals (see my BLOG on this). This is amazing from my point of view when you consider who Jesus hung around with. What do you think He was doing when He  ate at the homes of sinners and Pharisees? Was He not developing relationships? Was He not developing the relational equity necessary to have a conversation about matters of the heart or life? I suspect that if the blogosphere had been around in His time, Jesus would have been castigated for all kinds of relationships.

So, with that introduction, let me share a recent article on what I wish was the case more often. "Two Ministers who forge a relationship across a church divide." I applaud these two men, who come from very different theological places, who started to talk, developed a friendship and in the process started to bring healing between two congregations. If peacemaking is part of the character and heart of God, these two are demonstrating God's character, while their critics in the blogosphere are often not. 

I wish more of this were happening within the evangelical community and that the professional heretic hunters would be seen for what they are when they demonstrate ungodly attitudes in order to castigate Godly enterprises.

(Posted from Santiago, Chile)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On this day

On this day:
  • Satan was defeated
  • The Father's face was no longer turned away
  • Sadness turned to joy
  • People could be reconciled to God
  • The Holy Spirit would become available to each of us
  • All distinctions between individuals were erased at the cross
  • The church was the logical outcome as His bride
  • It became possible through the Holy Spirit to walk in the Spirit rather than in the flesh
  • Despair turned to amazed hope
  • The empty cross became the mark of the church
  • Reconciliation between brothers could mirror the reconciliation between God and us
  • All sin had been paid for
  • Jesus' scars would remain forever in testimony to the cross
  • God's D-Day had been won. Now it is just a matter of time before evil is put away for good.
  • A thief was already in heaven
  • Jesus honored all women by appearing to Mary Magdalene first
  • A cosmic spiritual shift took place in creation
  • We could now also look forward to resurrection
  • Every principality and power was defeated
  • Satan realized that his apparent victory was a colossal defeat
  • We live with resurrection hope
  • The law was eradicated and completed
  • The tomb was empty
  • Because His tomb was empty, our tomb will one day be empty
  • "He is Risen" changes everything!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The day after Good Friday

What do you think it was like the day after the crucifixion of Christ? Did Pilot wake up with a guilty conscience and wonder if he had done the right thing? Did the guards who had mocked Jesus and then seen Him on the cross, wonder if an innocent man had died? Did the crowds who had called for His life keep an embarrassed silence in a quiet Jerusalem? Someone was nervous for they asked the Roman garrison to post guards at His tomb. On the day after, Jesus' friends mourned, the Romans were nervous and some who had watched the execution were sure He was the Son of God.

It had to be a day like no other in Jerusalem. It had to be a day of quiet and consideration. It had to be a day of sober doubt after a day of impetuous action. I'll bet there were many disturbed consciences that day. The day between death and resurrection. A day of uncertainty and guilt. A day of hopelessness and sadness. 

We have days like that! I have experienced whole periods of life that hang between hope and despair. Uncertainty reigns. Sadness is prevalent, maybe dominant. It is the time in between life as it was and life as it will be - but not yet knowing what will be. It is the dark night of the soul with all the questions, uncertainties and unknowns.

It is the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is real and it hurts and all of us experience it just as the disciples did, only in different ways. But there is another day coming...we know and we look forward to that day of hope. Always remember in the day of despair. The morning comes, and it comes with hope and resurrection power and salvation. In the in-between times, we need the words of Habakkuk, "Be still and know that I am God." Easter comes and so does Hope. 

Jews told to "register" in east Ukraine by pro Russia group! What does this remind you of?

USA Today reported this story on April 17. It should give one pause as to the intentions of the pro Russian groups in the region.

Here is the LINK to the USA Today article.

Good Friday: Things are not always what they appear to be!

One of the lessons of Good Friday is that what appears to be true is not always true. On this day the cosmic battle between Satan and God culminated in what Satan thought was his greatest victory. That battle had been waged from the time of the fall (Genesis 3:15) where God made it clear that one day Satan would be defeated. But on this  day, Satan knew he had won. The Son of God is on the cross, alone, abandoned even by His Father who didn't seem able to rescue Him. Thirty pieces of silver was all it had taken, the best deal ever in the history of evil.

The disciples knew it was over. Jesus' friends knew it was over. The Jewish authorities knew it was over - their problem solved, a rival gone. Not only that but for those who cared, evil had won over good and righteousness. For the followers of Christ, this was the ultimate sadness. They had expected righteousness to triumph and instead, evil had prevailed. The one who had called Himself the Son of God, dead on a bitter cross. 

Little did they know that what appeared to be the final chapter was only the beginning of a new chapter because out of the jaws of apparent defeat, Christ would not only be resurrected but in that resurrection he sealed the fate of Satan and evil and unrighteousness for all time and made it possible for the created to have a relationship with the creator. Apparent defeat was only the prelude to total victory! 

Not for one moment had the events of Good Friday been out of the control of the heavenly Father even though it looked like the Father had lost all control. He is sovereign and nothing under His control can ever be out of control. The world learned that on Easter Sunday.

Think about your own life for a moment. Where are the areas that seem to be out of control? Where does it feel like evil has won? Where are the apparent areas where you feel defeat, discouragement, sadness or pain? It is easy to see the Good Friday moments in our lives when it is clear that God has not acted and we need His help. It is harder to wait for the resurrection moments when God shows up as He always does and redeems what we thought was unredeemable - often in surprising and unique ways.

Whatever your circumstance you can be sure that Easter is coming and that things are not always what they appear to be. In the end, nothing that is in His control can ever be out of control and God always prevails. Our job is to walk by faith in the Good Friday moments of life when life is hard and hope is scarce, waiting for our Easter to arrive when He shows up and redeems our situation. The fun thing about Easter was that it was such a surprise. Invite Jesus to surprise you in your situation today.

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

If there had been no Good Friday or Easter Morning

We take much for granted. As you walk through this week, consider the gift of the death and resurrection of Christ. Because if there had been no Good Friday or Easter Sunday….

You would have no church

There would be no Holy Spirit resident in our hearts

Funerals would be the final farewell

Guilt would last forever

Good News would be absent for all

Life purpose would be absent

Prayer would be futile

Reconciliation with God would be impossible

The evil one would have the final say

Evil would not be mitigated by God’s love – anywhere

There would be no New Testament

The failures of our lives could never be redeemed for a greater good

Suffering would have no meaning

Future hope would be non-existent

The One Friend we can always count on would be absent

Love motivated by Jesus would be non-existent

There would be no final justice

It would be a life without Jesus

There would be no Easter

Take time this week to reflect. Good Friday and Easter Morning are the game changers in human history - and in our own history.

(Posted from Wayne, PA)

Praying for the persecuted church this Easter week

Most who read this blog will celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday in safety and security. For those of us who do we need to remember and be praying for the many Christians around the world who live in places not only hostile to the gospel but who also fear for their lives and those of their families.

April 18 is Good Friday, it is also the day that the Zirve murders occurred. Zirve is located in Turkey and in 2007 three Christians were murdered by several Muslims. The perpetrators were caught literally with blood on their hands and they sat in the criminal system these 7 years. As reported in Turkish papers and by Timur, the statute of limitations expired and they were released. You can read about the situation here.

Many believers in Turkey live in fear. This is also true of many believers in other Islamic states and in large parts of India. While we take our right to freely practice our faith, they do not.

I would urge us who live in safety to pray for those who do not this Easter week. Pray for their encouragement, their protection and their efforts to share the Good News of Jesus with their friends and neighbors. As one who works around the world, I meet many of these saints and am always amazed at their courage and tenacity in the face of great adversity.

(Posted from Wayne, PA)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Practices that help leaders see clearly

All of us want to see the issues of life clearly and this is nowhere more important than for leaders whose actions, perceptions and decisions impact teams and organizations. This does not happen automatically as the busyness of life, demands of leadership and lack of appropriate margin often cloud out clarity leaving us seeing through a clouded rather than a clear lens.

Seeing clearly starts with renewed hearts and minds that are regularly in the presence of God: Scripture, prayer, meditation, and living with an ever present awareness of our need for His wisdom and empowerment. Inherent in a renewed mind is a clear conscience where we are living in God's grace and forgiveness and not allowing known sin to cloud our lives. Sin has a way of skewing our perspective and is antithetical to personal clarity.

Seeing clearly also requires an open mind that listens to the input of others, is non-defensive in spirit and does not go it alone. None of us see clearly by ourselves. We need others and the gifts and thinking of others to see what we ourselves cannot see. Those leaders who see the best have surrounded themselves with wise individuals whom they listen to. Almost all leaders who get themselves into trouble allowed themselves to become isolated from good counsel.

Clear thinking requires time to consider, mull and consider. The out of control schedules of many leaders lives do not provide that time and decisions made on the fly are rarely great decisions. Thus our schedules have much to do with our ability to see clearly.

All of us have personal issues. Resolving those issues is a huge part of seeing clearly as our own stuff often clouds our perspective. Healthy leaders who are aware of their baggage and who seek to minimize that baggage see far better than those who carry it around unresolved. Distractions are fewer, and life less complicated when we have resolved our own stuff.

Much of this comes down to personal health: Emotional, spiritual and relational health and a life lived with intentionality. Healthy leaders see better and end up making healthier decisions. Their hearts and lives are less clouded than others. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A pastor takes his life

On Friday of this week, an acquaintance who is in ministry took his own life. I know none of the details and don't need to know apart from the fact that no one takes their life unless there is overwhelming pain they are dealing with. As one who has suffered deep depression in my past I know that pain and count it God's grace that I did not act on some of my own thoughts.

We are deeply broken people. I am more aware than ever of my own brokenness and need of God's grace and am so thankful for Good Friday and Easter morning that we soon celebrate. I often say that everyone has either public or private pain. It is the result of a fallen world. My acquaintance was a victim of a fallen world but the evil one was defeated at the cross and resurrection and will not prevail in this "apparent victory."

John 10:10 says that the evil one comes to steal, kill and destroy. Since he cannot get at God he goes after those who are made in His image. But the rest of the verse says that Jesus comes to give life and life abundant. In the end God wins. In fact, He has already won on the cross and Satan now fights a losing battle. But he fights on and there are losses. 

I am deeply sad for a young pastor who gave into his pain and for his wife and family and congregation. I am deeply thankful for the truth of Good Friday and Easter which proclaim victory over the evil one. 

One lesson I take away from this is that there are people around us who live in pain, public or private. I pray that we will be sensitive to them and their situation, come around them and offer them hope. Ironically, this pastor offered hope to many every Sunday yet needed that hope himself in a deep way. Never assume that the individual or friend you rub shoulders with does not need encouragement and hope. Even your pastor who lives in the same fallen world that we all do. 

And if it is you who need encouragement, seek it. In Jesus there is always hope, always redemption, always grace and always forgiveness and always healing. Satan will not prevail in this instance for the resurrection comes and He has been defeated. But lets care for one another this side of heaven.

(Posted from Wayne, PA)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ten things pastors hate to admit publically

A great article, and very true. Ten things pastors hate to admit publically

(Posted from Wayne, PA)

God speaks our language

Contributing Writer
Mary Ann Addington

Our oldest son, Jon lived in China the year after high school studying Chinese and doing tech support for an NGO. One day he went into a store and asked the clerk in Chinese to help him find something. The clerk looked at another employee and said, “I don’t know English, do you know what he wants?” The other clerk said something to the effect, “He is speaking Chinese, stupid!” Because he did not expect to hear Chinese from this young Anglo, he didn’t recognize his own language!

Sometimes I think we don’t hear God because we don’t think He speaks our language. We don’t really expect him to answer directly when we pray. Prior to seeing God work so powerfully in healing Tim, my own prayer was more like wishing rather than expecting. I would talk at God wishing that he would do something. I frankly lacked the confidence that I really was good enough to ask God for big things.

Have you ever felt unworthy to ask God to answer your real needs? This is where grace and faith collide! The great giant of the faith, Daniel, understood this truth. In one of the great prayers of the Old Testament, Daniel says, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy” (Daniel 9: ).

Living on the high wire of faith is actually believing that God hears us because He said he would hear us and answers based on His mercy, not on any worthiness (or unworthiness) on our part. God wants me to ask for big things because he is honored when he can show his power. And He loves His kids!

Several days into T.J.’s first hospitalization I was sitting in his room in the ICU thinking that this was going to be ugly. As I watched T.J. struggling to breath, I specifically asked God to show me how to pray. Immediately I heard back, “It is going to be really close, but he is going to make it.” Jon came into the room a few minutes later and said, “Did you just feel a real peace come over this room?”I told him what I had just heard.

Other people who were close to us, including our prayer team, confirmed it and we were in a situation where I could not afford to second guess God. (Did you really say that? Do you really talk to us? Can I trust that this is from you?) God also sent a lot of encouragement to stay on the wire and I believed that He was going to act.

One evening T.J.’s nurse was checking all of his equipment (nine IVs, a feeding tube, a monitor with several wires, a chest tube, cooling blanket, and of course, the ventilator), and she left the room rather abruptly. She told me later that as she was assessing all the stuff, she was overcome with the knowledge that Tim was going to survive. She started to cry and said, “God just told me that he is going to be okay!” Many of the people who followed the blog told us that God repeatedly gave them the confidence that He was doing a miracle.

I realized in a new way that God not only speaks my language but that He could speak very specifically to me about the situation I faced and it was His voice that I could hold onto.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ways that pastors disempower their staff

I frequently talk with church staff who live with disempowering pastors. Ironically, these same pastors are often deeply loved by their congregations who experience a life giving leader while those who work for him experience a life taking leaders. While almost never intentional, the actions of pastors who disempower staff cause discouragement, mistrust and cynicism among staff. Pastoral staff rarely have received training in leading, developing healthy teams or supervision which may be the reason that staff dysfunction is so common.

Here are some common ways that senior pastors disempower their staff.
  • Do not develop cultures where robust dialogue can take place. Too many senior pastors take any disagreement as a personal attack which means that they effectively shut down discussion on important ministry issues with those whom they work with.
  • Using the God card to manipulate staff. "I am concerned about your spiritual walk," or "Your theology is wrong." Such God talk shuts down conversation rather than inviting it.
  • Not preparing for staff meetings. The vast majority of church staff I talk to indicate that their leader is not ready for meetings and seems to be bored by them. Of course, that is a waste of time for everyone present and it sends a message that staff are not an important investment of their time.
  • Not giving feedback unless it is negative. Lack of encouragement is deeply discouraging.
  • Changing their mind. A common scenario is that senior leaders ask a staff member to work a certain issue and after the work is done, unexplicitly change their mind and either change what has been done or go a different direction completely.
  • Make last minute changes to programs or weekend services which sets off a chair reaction of people that need to be redeployed to meet the leaders's wishes.
  • Are not open to suggestions or feedback. They expect staff to jump to their needs but are not open to hearing the opinions or feedback of staff.
  • A mentality that staff are there to serve them rather that they are there to serve their staff. A disconnect with what Jesus has to say about leadership.
  • A lack of significant relationships with staff. Trust comes with relationship and in the absence of relationship that trust is often non-existent.
  • Lack of empowerment of staff to do their jobs. Micromanagement kills staff morale.
The fact is that many church staff cultures are toxic and unhealthy and when that is the case, the person responsible is the senior leader who has not created a healthy ethos. Often it reflects a pastor who has problematic EQ. Church boards need to hold their senior leaders accountable for the health of the staff as well as the health of the congregation. Allowing toxicity in the staff is not consistent with what we espouse as a church.

When we disempower or mistreat those who work for us in the name of ministry or Jesus we have a major disconnect. When we talk of the fruit of the spirit and transformation but it is not reflected in our own staff relationships it is a sign that attention needs to be paid to the culture of our ministry. Our internal culture must reflect our external culture. 

If you hare a senior pastor are you willing to ask your staff if any of these examples apply to you? If you are not, it is an indication of your own fear. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so.

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Wise engagement with current cultural issues

Increasingly Christian leaders are faced with the need to deal with cultural issues of our day. That we need to engage is not the issue but how we engage is a critical issue.

Many Christian leaders are quickly reactive to issues of concern to them and in doing so have spoken to these issues without the benefit of careful thought. This was true on issues of gay marriage, the recent World Vision decision and retraction of that decision, and reactions to court decisions that seem to erode morality or religious freedom. Reactive statements are rarely wise responses and rarely help produce productive dialogue.

Some suggestions to help us move from a reactive to a proactive stance in controversial issues.

First, reactive statements are rarely helpful. We need to think before we talk or write. I am always circumspect in my first thoughts on controversial issues. 

Second, think about how what you say will be perceived both by your constituency which will probably agree with you and by those on the other side who will not agree. If those on the other side perceive your words as ungracious, insensitive or an attack on them it is not helpful. Never mind others don't always play fair, as Jesus' disciples we need to play fair and be gracious in our truth.

Third, civil discourse beats uncivil discourse every time. Civil discourse invites dialogue and understanding while fighting statements do not. For instance, the Duck Dynasty controversy could have been avoided if Phil Robertson had thought about his audience and how he said what he said. One may defend his right to free speech but wisdom could have avoided the noise around what he said. Christians are often seen for what they are against - mainly because of how we say what we say. What are we for? And are we gracious in our communication?

Fourth, we need to consider our audience. For instance, is what one says to their church or constituency the same as one says to the public? I suspect not. The public will often not understand the reasons that believers take certain positions. To them it sounds restrictive and narrow. Again, this was the issue with Phil Robertson. When he quoted Paul from Romans, he missed the fact that Paul was not communicating to a pagan audience but to the church itself. Taking into account the audience on controversial issues is critical.

All of this takes wisdom and thought. Waiting on our response until we can speak with wisdom and care saves us a lot of controversy and may also help us develop productive dialogue with the other side of the issue. 

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Monday, April 7, 2014

14 things missionaries might want to tell you but probably won't

This is an insightful article

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Is your heart rested or restless?

How is your heart today? Rested or restless? A restless heart is often a sign of inadequate time with God who is the One who brings profound peace and perspective to our lives regardless of our circumstances. We are restless precisely because our focus is more on ourselves, our work, and our challenges than it is on the source of our lives - Jesus. Ironically this is true for many in Christian leadership who are so busy doing things for God that they miss the point of being with God.

A rested heart, on the other hand, is one that is at peace with itself because it has the perspective of God. Truly rested hearts come only out of regular time with Him and a daily life that is deeply interconnected with His in prayer. 

It is not based on the circumstances of life but on the person of God. It is expressed well by the Psalmist when he says, "Be still and know that I am God." And that is the key - being still before God and understanding that He is God - and we are not! Being reminded daily of who He is brings a perspective on life that nothing else can bring.

Leaders are especially prone to restless hearts because we run too hard and must deal with too many pressing issues. We of all people need rested hearts as our perspective will spill out to others whom we lead. Restless hearts are anxious hearts, impatient hearts and even angry hearts. Rested hearts are peaceful, patient and trusting hearts in a sovereign and good God who can be trusted in all situations. Which kind of heart do you have today?

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

People are not always what they look like on the outside

See this moving story and video and be reminded that people are not always what they seem. They have a name, a story and may well surprise you when you get to know them.

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Do we expect too much from our church and too little from Jesus?

I suspect that in the United States, we expect too much from the local church and too little from Jesus. Let me explain.

Church hopping is endemic today. American evangelicals are consumers of the local church and often deeply dissatisfied with what they have. Often for good reason. We want the best preaching, the best music, the best programming for our kids and the best of everything else. And we hope that our experience will change our life with Jesus - making us happy, fulfilled, and be there for us always.

I understand the frustration. Healthy churches are hard to find and even then they don't always fill the hole in our hearts. But perhaps we are looking in the wrong place for the fulfillment we seek. Not that the local church is unimportant, it is the Bride of Jesus and we are to be connected to the Bride. We need the people of God and the community of Jesus. They are our our encouragement, our help and our ministry partners.

But - if the church  becomes our substitute for our personal relationship with Jesus, if we expect that the church will fill the hole in our heart that only God can fill, perhaps our dissatisfaction comes from substituting the church for what should be a close personal walk with Jesus. The fact is, no church and no person can bring the joy that Jesus does. It can help us walk the pilgrimage of faith and we are called to walk that walk with others. The church is the bride of Jesus but it is not a substitute for Jesus in our personal lives.

We will never find the perfect church because we are in it. We can find the perfect Christ because that is who he is. We cannot  abandon the church which is the community of God but nor can we substitute the church for a deep personal relationship with Jesus. He is the source of life and satisfaction. The people of God are a necessary bonus and the church is the constant reminder of the God we worship. The church contributes to the walk we have with God but it never becomes the substitute for a relationship with the Lord of the Church, Jesus.

Something to think about.

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)

Christianity is alive and well in Cuba

I just arrived back in Miami from Cuba. I had the privilege of working with a large denomination there that is actively planting churches, both traditional and house churches (thousands of these) and doing ministry in a very transformational way. It was most encouraging to see that the Gospel is prospering in a very difficult environment. The Christian population is greater than 10%.

One of the things that impressed me was the sacrifice made by those who pastor these congregations. Most must work full time in addition to their ministry. Jobs are hard to come by, the economy is very difficult and unemployment may be as high as 30 - 40%. Yet there is an optimism and a deep commitment to see individuals and communities transformed with the Good News. One leader I met has planted 40+ churches in a new community and oversees their ministry.

As an aside, Cuba is a beautiful place and the people very friendly. And, the response to the Gospel is an indication that there is a hunger for deeper meaning in life. Pray for Cuba and the church there. They are committed to loving on their country in order to see God  bless their nation.

(Posted from Miami)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Leadership friendly environments

I asked a group of church leaders this week, if it was easy or hard to make decisions. They said "hard." What they were really saying without knowing it is that they do not have a leadership friendly environment. This not only makes it hard to lead but it robs good leaders of a lot of joy and it keeps leaders from being more effective. Their answer is an indication that their structures or ethos need to change.

This scenario is all too common in the local church where the ethos is more often than not a permission withholding structure rather than permission granting. Some like it that way as it prevents leaders (staff or lay) from making decisions. But the end result is that ministry opportunity is left on the table and the missional agenda is compromised.

What does a leadership friendly environment look like?
1. Leadership is valued as important to the organization. In many Christian organizations and ministries it is not! In fact, many churches don't want to support leaders on the mission field (they don't do real missions) even though they would never think to have staff with no leader or accountability in their own organization.

2. The structures and ethos are such that it is easy to make decisions. This allows the organization to move quickly when it must and empowered within appropriate boundaries at all times. Generally this means that leaders have appropriate authority to act with clear boundaries without getting additional permission. bureaucracy is kept to a minimum.

3. There is room to fail. Not all decisions get us to where we want to be and not all strategies work. The tendency when something does not work is to become even more cautious, pull our heads into the shell and get blamed for the "failure." Yet, if there is not room to fail, innovation never takes place. Leadership friendly organizations allow for failure which is why they see innovative thinking.

4. New leaders are regularly mentored and released. No organization is truly leadership friendly if it is not training the next generation of leaders. Leadership that does not train the next generation is selfish leadership while those that do display an unselfish leadership. The intentional development of new leaders makes it clear that leadership is a priority for the organization.

5. Leaders have both authority and responsibility. One of the most disempowering actions is to give someone responsibility without the requisite authority to accomplish it. This is not leadership at all but is rather an abdication of leadership. In addition, leaders who are regularly second guessed by their superiors after they have made decisions with due process are likewise disempowered and kept from leading well.

6. Good leadership is modeled and lived out at the top of the organization. Senior leaders always set the tone for what leadership will look like within the organization. Poor leadership at the top is always an indicator of a leadership unfriendly environment.

How leadership friendly is your environment and how leadership friendly do you allow others to be?

(Posted from Havana Cuba)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Where everyone in the world is migrating in one gorgeous chart

Check this out

World migration

(Posted from Havana Cuba)

Is your ultimate focus on Scripture or Jesus?

I do not worship Scripture, doctrine or theology. I worship Jesus and there is a big difference! It is easy to substitute the word of God for the person of God even though the word points to the person. The word without Jesus and His transformative work is dead and can lead to little else but legalism. The word understood and Jesus worshiped leads to freedom and life.

In my years of consulting with churches some of the most damaging and dangerous people have been those who knew the Scriptures the best. They could quote Scripture (and used it against other people), knew fine theology (and loved to show it) and often were the most rigid and legalistic people in the congregation. To say nothing of the lack of grace. These individuals worshiped the Scriptures at the expense of worshiping Jesus.

The word is designed to lead us to a living Lord and the transformation of our lives through the Holy Spirit. It does so only when we engage with Jesus (John 15) and are organically attached to Him. Jesus did not tell us that the Scriptures were the vine and we the branches but that He is the vine and we are the branches. It is as we remain in Him that we find life.

The word is truth about God but it is not God. Furthermore, without the Holy Spirit working in our hearts the word cannot transform our lives but only add to our intellectual knowledge and lead to a dead orthodoxy (if one can call it orthodox without the living Lord).

I love Scripture and read it through almost annually. But I love Jesus more and worship Him. He is my savior, not the Scriptures. He gives me life while the Scriptures help me understand him better and align my life with His. 

Never substitute the word of God for the person of God. The first can lead us to the second but it is the second that gives us life. Together His person and His truth are a powerful combination for life transformation.

(Posted from Havana, Cuba)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

When supervisors go south on you

In a healthy workplace it is unusual but in any workplace it can happen: a supervisor takes out his or her frustration on those who work for them in an unfair or unhealthy way. It may be in the form of public criticism or a biting email. Whichever, it leaves the staff member feeling disempowered, demoralized and sometimes angry.

What should one do?

Nothing - until the emotions have cooled. But, once they have it is usually prudent to express one's discomfort with the kind or tone of the communication in a respectful way. This does several things. First, it makes it clear to the supervisor that you are unwilling to be treated in a disrespectful way. Second, it clears the air. Third, the supervisor will usually back down and apologize. If they don't they know that they cannot be careless in their communications.

Supervisors are human and get irritated. We need to give them space and we hope they give us space. But, we need not accept careless behavior on their part toward staff. Respectfully pushing back sends a message that you will not tolerate disrespectful behavior.

(Posted from Miami)