Self-Interest or Selflessness

Thoughts on Leadership

God has created each of us for greatness. Not necessarily a greatness that can be seen with the naked eye but one that is visible to the God who sees all things.

We have, over the last several years, witnessed a phenomenon in the Christian world – the rise of the “celebrity pastor.” In his article, The Evangelical Industrial Complex and the Rise of Celebrity Pastors.[i] Skye Jethani argues that the “market-driven cycle of megachurches, conferences, and publishers results in an echo chamber where the same voices, espousing the same values, create an atmosphere where ministry success becomes equated with audience aggregation.”  As pastors gain more celebrity, it is not uncommon for them to become more and more isolated from their congregations. We know of many churches where it is almost impossible for a church member to have a conversation let alone a relationship with their pastor. As Bob Hyatt blogged “It should not be easier for CNN to get in touch with a pastor than people in his/her own congregation.”[ii]

It’s my contention that this same sort of process often takes place on a smaller scale between the pastor of a small to medium sized church and his congregation. Because we are created for greatness, there is something inside us that seeks affirmation of that greatness in the wrong place – the eyes of man instead of the eyes of God. Like those pastors whose celebrity is more wide spread, we all must check ourselves to see that our actions are not motivated by a desire for notoriety, influence, or some other sort of personal prestige. We can feed these desires when we position ourselves in the church in ways that make us indispensible. Sometimes we’re looking for notoriety, influence, or prestige in the eyes of God by trying to produce something that will make Him proud. On the surface, this seems logical but it causes our own performance and ego to get caught up with the church in an unhealthy way.

One of the keys to leading your church to greater fruitfulness is to set your own agenda aside. Make it less about what you want to see happen and more about what you see God doing in and through others. In this way, your agenda moves from being about accomplishing some predetermined goal and more about releasing others to follow the path to fruitfulness God has ordained for them.

In recent blogs, I have already said much about Jesus’ admonition that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26) Servant leadership is a description we all hope would describe us but we don’t often take time to consider what it really means. Jesus is talking about us becoming slaves of others. Does this mean that we should put ourselves in position to be dominated by those we are supposed to lead? I don’t think so. But it certainly doesn’t mean we should expect others to serve us or our agendas. To be a servant leader, we must put the best interest of those we serve ahead of our own. We must seek to draw out their giftedness and help them enter into their full potential. This requires supernatural wisdom and a firm belief that God is able and willing to work in the hearts of His people. Servant leaders will find themselves pleading with God to fill the hearts and minds of His followers with love, patience, kindness, wisdom, etc. Servant leaders will listen to the dreams and aspirations of those they lead and help them to take steps toward realizing them.

One of the biggest hurdles for the servant leader to clear is the reluctance of Christians to believe it’s possible for them to live as fruitful servants of God.  Ephesians 4:11,12 says,

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.

Notice that the word “work” is singular. I think this hints at the idea that a major step in the process of equipping followers of Christ is helping them come to a place where they are willing to set aside their own will for the will of God. Just as we are saying that leaders need to move from selfishness to selflessness, be believe every believer who wishes to follow Christ must do the same. The apostle Paul agrees,

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:1-2)

For our churches to thrive, we must promote a culture that is constantly reinforcing these truths and expecting nothing less than full surrender to the cause of Christ. As you and those you lead begin to act on these truths you will find that God will meet you in very personal and intimate ways and that the transformation Paul spoke of will become a reality in your experience.

From me to you…



[i] http://www.skyejethani.com/the-evangelical-industrial-complex-the-rise-of-celebrity-pastors/1166/

[ii] http://www.outofur.com/archives/2012/02/the_dangerous_p_3.html#more

Position or Submission?

Thoughts on Leadershipking on throne

“…Jesus called them to Himself, and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.’” (Matt. 20: 25-27). With these words Jesus forever changed the paradigm of leadership in the body of Christ, or at least it should be so. If authority is not to be understood as the right to control others, what is it? It is the right to build up those who are willing to follow in ways that will enable them to become all God wants them to be so that they may accomplish all that He wants them to accomplish in the time they have on this earth.

Speaking of his God-given authority for the church in Corinth, Paul says that such authority was given to build them up and not to tear them down (2 Cor. 10: 8). Jesus made it clear that “all authority in heaven and earth” belongs to Him. This means that no legitimate authority exists outside of Christ. That is a thought with profound implications.

If Christian leaders use their position to influence others to do things that are not ordered by Jesus Himself, the source of their authority is illegitimate. In a very real sense, a leader who does not understand submission will never truly understand authority. All true authority begins with submission to the one True Authority. If you do not know how to submit, then you do not know how to lead. This is because all the authority resides with Christ, not in any position or chain of command.

In the church, the extent to which you are in submission is the extent you have access to the authority of Christ. The truth is that when Christ died and rose again to secure our forgiveness and provide us with eternal life, He also set us free to live no longer for our own will but for the will of God. As Rick Warren says in the opening line of The Purpose-Driven Life, “It’s not all about you.” I believe that this message is obscured when the extremes we go to in order to attract listeners scream, “It’s all about you.” Because of this, many, Christians are lulled into the habit of participating only in those Christian activities that are comfortable or enjoyable for them. They willingly acquiesce to the idea that their part in the expansion of the kingdom of God is to attend the church’s programs and give financially to support them. All this serves to further the misconception that the people in authority do the work and everyone else is there to provide support.

I believe that every believer has a special role to play in the furtherance of God’s rule on this planet. If the majority of them are lulled into believing that their role is minimal, the whole of the body of Christ will suffer for it. Every believer needs to be taught to follow Jesus and then be released to do exactly that. Believers in Christ, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, are the most powerful beings on the planet, yet Christian leaders continually underestimate this reality and settle for churches in which these glorious beings remain stabled. They must be built up to understand their place in the cosmos and the kingdom. A leader who understands that he or she has been given the authority to do just that will do well.

Because humans are created as free moral agents, following Jesus is a choice. So even though Christ has been given “all authority in heaven and earth,” not all people follow. God could insist, but He doesn’t. This should tell us something. If Almighty God allows His creatures to resist His will, who are we to do otherwise? Christ has given us an example to follow. He chooses to woo His followers into obedience. He provides them with everything they need through His never-ending grace. As leaders, we must do everything in our power to help all believers reach their full potential as children of God.

My friend, Neil Cole, remembers having a conversation with one of his mentors, Carol Davis, about some calendar dates. Twice in the conversation our CMA leadership meetings interfered with what they were trying to plan. Carol asked him how often our leadership board met and he said, “Every month.” She paused, looked back at him with sad eyes and said, “Oh you poor thing.” he responded, “No, it’s not like that, not at all! We like meeting; our times together are usually the highlight of our month.” In fact, at that time two of our team flew to LA for the meetings every month at their own expense! Imagine having meetings that people will pay to be a part of!

We have learned in Church Multiplication Associates to meet regularly without an agenda or a leader. We actually believe that the Head of the church has an agenda that we can discover if we listen. It has become our practice to meet and pray and wait until the Lord gives us direction. When the Lord does give direction, all of us are in agreement about what that direction is because we discovered it together. Our leadership team comes together on the basis of submission, not strategy. This will not work well if the people in the room all come with a personal interest in how things turn out that dominates their own thoughts. When leaders meet, they need to lay aside their own agenda, reputation, and ambition and practice mutual submission under the Head who has all the authority. When that happens you may have a meeting that will blow you away.

Typically, a business meeting with a stacked agenda does not accomplish as much. Why not schedule a retreat, alone or with other leaders, to seek the Lord’s direction. Spend time in prayer, and don’t be afraid of silence. Listen for the still small voice of God, and begin to make the changes He asks for. Every journey begins with a first step.

As for the church, constantly remind people of who they are in Christ. Encourage them to pray for guidance and listen for answers. Teach them to trust the direction they receive and take their own steps in obedience to their master. Jesus is, in fact, the Head of His body, the church. Let’s lay aside our own position, acknowledge His, and let Him lead.

From me to you…

December 17, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Engaging Jesus!

Engaging Jesus!

thoughts on church leadership

Its All About Disciples!!!

In my last blog post on church leadership, I highlighted the difference between management and engagement. In discussions with various church leaders, I’ve found that the concept of engagement is often hard to grasp, not because it’s difficult but because we often think we already get it. So, if you already get it, great! But if not, maybe this excerpt from Church Transfusion, a book I wrote with Neil Cole, will help. I’m pretty sure it can’t hurt. So read on…

We believe that the essence of discipleship is a vital personal relationship with Christ. This personal ongoing encounter with the Creator is the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christ follower.

Imagine that you lived next door to Kobe Bryant. (We’re both Laker fans, so this illustration works for us. Any notable person of interest will do.) As you watch out your window, you see him coming and going. You know what kind of car he drives, what sort of clothes he wears, what his schedule is like, and other little details about his life. You might even overhear conversations between him and his wife, his children, and others he might know. You would probably make sure all of your friends knew about your special connection to Kobe, wouldn’t you? You’d tell them all the little secrets you know (especially if you heard him and his wife fighting) and remind them that, after all, you do live next door.

In this scenario you know a lot of things about Kobe Bryant, but you don’t really know Kobe. To get to know him, you would have to engage him. You’d have to go out your door and talk directly to him. And once wouldn’t be good enough. You’d have to spend some time with him. Maybe talking over the fence or in the driveway or inviting him over for dinner. The more time you spent with him, the more you would get to know him. You’d discover his likes and dislikes, his personality quirks, and maybe even his dreams and aspirations. One thing is for sure: none of this is possible if you never get out of your house and engage him in a personal way.

We believe that many Christians find themselves in a similar position. They listen to stories about Jesus on the radio or in sermons. They might read the Bible and therefore see Him from a somewhat closer vantage point, but unfortunately, this is as close as they ever get. Seeing Christ in the Scriptures is not good enough. Believers must be challenged to engage the living Jesus in an intimate personal way every day. We are only truly followers of Jesus when we look to Him for direction and do what He tells us.

Some will say that Jesus has spoken to us in His Word and that’s all we need. In contrast to just hearing the Scriptures, God states that, “in these last days, He has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1: 2). And “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him” (Mark 9: 7). And “My sheep, hear My voice and follow Me” (John 10: 27). We could go on. Christ’s promises to dwell with us, always be with us, and never leave or forsake us are further testament to the intimacy necessary if we are to experience His power and presence in the accomplishment of the mission He has given us. Think about it. Has He commissioned us to make disciples of all the nations and then left us to our own devices to accomplish the task? Absolutely not! As Paul says again, “It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2: 20). If we are to make disciples, true followers of Jesus, then we must help them, first and always, connect with Him. He must become their teacher, and they must become His student. They must learn to hear His voice and follow Him and Him alone.

Getting those who have become used to depending on human leadership for direction to transfer that allegiance to Christ is a tall order. Once people are set in their patterns, it’s difficult for them to change. Don’t, however, fall into the trap of believing that it’s impossible. What is impossible for humans is in no way impossible for God. Our whole thesis comes down to the belief that the Almighty God is present and at work in His children. Miguel Labrador of Missional Outreach Network has said, “We don’t establish the DNA of a disciple in the making of disciples. If indeed they are a disciple of Christ, He already did that. We help them to unveil, understand, and unleash their genetic potential.”

God has a vested interest in seeing His children fully matured and doing His bidding in this world. We believe that if we help each and every believer see this truth, it will have a profound impact on the church and the world. After all, it’s His command through the pen of Paul: I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. [Rom. 12: 1– 2]

The choice to surrender to the will of God is a choice every believer must make. It is the task of leadership to clear the way so that decision can and will be made. May the Lord, Himself, bring every believer to yield his or her heart completely to Him and to His good, acceptable, and perfect will. Amen.

From me to you…

Management “vs” Engagement

Management “vs” Engagement

Thoughts on Church Leadership

Management implies the efficient use and exploitation of available resources to accomplish a task or goal. If the church is organized in such a way that its primary focus is on the accomplishment of tasks and goals, it becomes an organization that needs to be managed. Most businesses are operated this way because they are organized around the purpose of making a profit. Good managers work hard to order and use resources in the most effective way possible. This minimizes waste and maximizes productivity. In this kind of a system, people are resources just like money, time, commodities, etc. Organizations and businesses need to be managed to accomplish the desired outcomes. We must draw a distinction, however, between the type of leadership necessary in an organization and that needed in a living organism. It’s our contention that the church is not a business or an organization but a living organism.

A body is organized quite differently than a business. Each part is designed to work in concert with the rest so that health and growth are achieved for the whole. Each part is directed by the head to accomplish its work in the most effective way possible. The functions of a healthy human body are directed by the brain. Some are directed consciously and some are directed unconsciously, but all are directed by the brain. The brain emits a signal that is carried by the spinal cord and an immense network of nerves to the particular part it wishes to communicate with. That part then responds by obeying the command it has received. There is effectively no organ between the brain and the rest of the body.

Most churches are structured in a way that marginalizes the communication between the Head of the church and His body. Instead of asking, “What can I do for God?” we should learn to ask, “What does God want to do through me?” And this question should be asked not by church leaders alone but by every believer on the planet. We must teach all believers to engage the Head, and to seek direction from Jesus and His Spirit. He is the leader and His direction is vital to the continued health and effectiveness of His body.

If we can shift our focus from results and outcomes to health and vitality, we will find that we will have them all. The focus of church leadership must be a healthy body with healthy DNA. For us DNA is divine truth, nurturing relationships, and apostolic mission. A knowledge and experience of divine truth implies more than just knowledge of the Scriptures and what they mean. Jesus is the Word, the embodiment of the truth, so any knowledge of divine truth has to include and focus on a profound knowledge of Him. This is relational knowledge. We acquire it by spending time with Jesus, being taught by Him, empowered by Him and directed by Him. Because of this, church leaders should put their time and effort into helping people learn to listen and respond to Jesus and His Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 2, we are told, “Who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.” No one can know what another is thinking until the one thinking it reveals it to them. God’s Spirit reveals to us the deep things God wants us to know about Himself. If we connect people to Him, we will find that He will reveal Himself to them and that He can and will lead them to life and fruitfulness.

A spiritual leader in Christ’s church should be more concerned with the success of the people they are engaged with than they are in the overall success of their own vision and plan. This is a sacrifice, but it will mean a better church in the end, much better. A leader in such an environment must learn to be comfortable without a few things:

1.   Constant clarity of direction.

2.   A plan that is measurable and unchangeable.

3.   Control over outcomes.

4.   Measurable success.

5.   Security in institutional resources.

It is essential that a leader engage people in such a way that they are hearing the voice of the Shepherd and are able to follow Him by faith in whatever direction He desires. This might result in people moving outside of the walls of the institution and into mission beyond the scope of the organization. A manager might see this as a “waste of resource” because the individual isn’t necessarily benefitting the goals of the organization. A spiritual leader, though, will see the greater benefit comes from encouraging people to engage with the Lord, His people, and His mission (See how the DNA of divine truth, nurturing relationship and apostolic or sending mission is reflected here?) The greater benefit comes because the true architect of the kingdom is putting the resources of His body to work in the most efficient and helpful way possible.

When individuals and groups are encouraged to seek direction directly from God, they begin to see themselves and their value differently. They begin to understand that they really have been uniquely created to fulfill a purpose God designed just for them. This realization leads them to have greater faith and confidence in themselves and their God. They start to look for opportunities to live out their new found purpose in a way that blesses others with the gifts they’ve been given.

The converse is also true. When individuals and groups are reliant on church leaders to decide what needs to be done and to be told how to do it, they will be less likely to see themselves as uniquely gifted and qualified to serve. They will derive some joy from a job well done but miss out on the joy that comes from knowing your doing the will of God.

In our view, it’s time for church leaders to spend less time trying to manage outcomes and more time building up people to serve the living God.

It’s said that President Reagan had a saying on his desk that went something like this, “There is no limit to what a man can accomplish if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” As church leaders, we will do well if we set aside our agendas and encourage and release others to follow Christ’s agenda. He, after all, is the One who has all power, all knowledge and all wisdom. He is also the One who loves them with an everlasting love and can and will guide them into all truth and righteousness.

Much of these ideas come out of the book I recently wrote with Neil Cole, Church Transfusion. I’ll be sharing more of them through this blog but if you would like to check out a fuller treatment of how the organic principles of life can transfuse your church, this book is a good place to start.

Form me to you…

You’ve Gotta Die if You Want to Live

You’ve Gotta Die if You Want to Live

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” When Jesus spoke these words, He laid out a prerequisite for being one of His followers. Those who lived in first century Palestine were quite familiar with crucifixion. Criminals were regularly hung on crosses erected along busy thoroughfares to die a painful death in the sight of all. Just as Jesus carried His own cross, those who were condemned to death did so as well. The imagery couldn’t be clearer – if we wish to follow Jesus, we must be willing to die.

Die how? You might ask. The answer lies in the phrase “he must deny himself.” Christ’s expectation is that the one who wishes to follow Him will make a choice every day to put aside his or her own hopes, dreams, aspirations, and desires and live their life for the will of God. We must choose what God would choose and want what God would want. Jesus set the example. “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something

He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner’” (John 5:19).

There are two steps necessary to follow Christ by following His example. First, we must choose to let go of our own stuff. That’s dying to self, taking up our cross, and losing our lives. And second, we must seek direction from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as to what our desires and actions should be. We replace one with the other.

Think about what the cross meant to Jesus. “No one has taken it (His life) away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:18). Even for Jesus, death was the path to life. The power of the Christian life lies in the resurrection!

When we lose our life, we find it. When we choose to live for Jesus, or more accurately, to allow Jesus to live through us, we find the life we were meant to have, a life full of meaning and purpose and power, a life that does good and brings good into the world. Paul echoes these thoughts when he proclaims his highest aspiration to be, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). And again when he urges us to make this choice by saying, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). This is the normal Christian life. Unfortunately it’s not the normal life of the Christian. We each have the power to change that. We simply must choose to do so.

My friend, Dezi Baker, is known to say, “The Christian life is nothing if not an exercise in willingness.” I think He’s absolutely right. Let’s choose to put our lives in the hands of our loving heavenly Father and trust that the life He will give us in return will be far more beautiful and fruitful than the life we would make for ourselves. Follow Jesus! Choose it or lose it!

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