Thy Kingdom Come!

Thy Kingdom Come!

It’s been a few months now since the reelection of Barak Obama to the presidency of the United States of America. Since that time it seems that the imagination and attention of us who live in this nation has been captured by one manufactured crisis after another. There is no clear path and many I talk to are despairing of the future. It may well be (even though I hope not) that the America we have known is quickly becoming something we will have a hard time recognizing in the years to come. We would do well to remember that our God is over all, nothing escapes His notice and His precious and magnificent promises are true and sure.

As people of God, our mandate is to follow Christ. Many people mean many things when they use those words. I believe Jesus wants each of us to connect with Him in a personal and profound way. He wants us to know Him, talk to Him and always to submit to Him. We can’t do this if we are pursuing our own desires. We must learn to put what He wants first. The kingdom of God exists whenever a child of God submits to the rule of God. If you want to enter that kingdom, you start by surrendering everything you have and everything you are and everything you hope for to Him. Then you present your body to Him as a living sacrifice. Considering what He’s done for you, this is the only reasonable course of action any human being should take.

At the time of the election, some German friends, Wolfgang and Merci Simpson, sent a couple of open letters to believers in the U.S. I have found these messages to be insightful and think that all Christians, not just American Christians would do well to seriously consider the thoughts they shared.

Perhaps you saw these letters when they first arrived. Now that we are a little further down the road I would encourage you to take another look. If you didn’t see them in November then dig in for the first time. Interact with the content… disagree and argue with it, this is how we learn and form convictions. Then share what you’ve found with others. It is time for the will of God to be done in and through His people! Amen!

Our Dear America (PDF)

Follow Up to Our Dear America (PDF)

February 25, 2013Permalink 1 Comment

Control or Order?

Control or Order?

Thoughts on Leadership

Leaders often have a vision of how things should be. In pursuit of this vision, they often employ tactics and strategies of control that are meant to maximize desired outcomes. They do this because they believe the outcomes they desire are right and good but don’t often ask whether or not the tactics and strategies themselves may have a negative effect. I’d like to take this opportunity to share what I hope, to borrow a phrase, is a more excellent way – a way that maximizes the possibility that Christ will actually have His way. Is it possible that the good things church leaders hope for can be achieved and even surpassed by reducing the amount of human controls we inject into the process? I believe it is.

“Nothing will ever get done!” This is a common objection to moving from a highly controlled and managed environment to one that encourages freedom and spontaneity.  Leaders worry that without their constant input and vigilance, those they lead will be lost when it comes to useful effort. So how do things get done in the body of Christ? Believe it or not, people can and will do far more than you might imagine. The secret is in moving from control to order.

For many church leaders, control and order are synonymous. It’s hard to even conceive of order in the church without control. As we (Church Multiplication Associates) train people all over the world, it is common for people to express the fear that if they stop controlling things chaos will ensue and all sorts of unhealthy things will take over the church. Heresy will break out. Immorality will consume lives. All spiritual growth will be stunted or stopped. But are these fears legitimate? Without control will disorder rule the day? Is it not also true that, even with the strictest controls in place, people still make bad decisions? Order and control are two very different things and control does not necessarily lead to order, and order is not dependent upon human control.

In previous blogs on leadership, I’ve already demonstrated that Christ has rejected the command and control model of leadership common in the world and the church. (Check out Kingdom or Cosmos?) Instead He opts for one in which leaders take responsibility for serving others by helping them to reach their full potential and releasing them to accomplish it.

At first this seems impractical but on closer examination its genius is revealed. Control has a way of hindering innovation and stifling full and complete effort. People will often do what’s asked of them and nothing more. In a church environment where believers are asked only to fulfill roles that further the particular goals and aspirations of that church or that church’s leadership, they often miss seeing other opportunities God might put in their paths as legitimate and, therefore, fail to act on them.

Dee Hock, founder and CEO emeritus of VISA USA and VISA International, addresses similar organizational issues in an article entitled The Chaordic Organization: Out of Control and into Order.  Concerning management techniques common to business and the church, he opines, “the most abundant, least expensive, most underutilized and frequently abused resource in the world is human ingenuity; the source of that abuse is archaic, Industrial Age institutions and the management practices they spawned.” We would take it a step past human ingenuity to the genius of the presence of Christ. Hock blames the mindset of the Industrial Revolution for spawning management practices that seek to control others to produce predetermined uniform outcomes but I believe it is the sinful human nature within us that desires to control outcomes. Because these approaches make sense to our fallen minds, we must double our efforts to fight against them.

For Hock, the truest and most virulent form of organization is the one that removes artificial controls and relies instead on characteristics common to human nature to bring about order. Capitalism is a similar theory. It relies on human self-interest and the forces of a common marketplace to create an atmosphere where people are free to pursue their personal interests in a way that benefits them and others.

In practice, capitalism caters to a fallen human nature and it works because it sees the world how it is. But for the believer there is something more. We are individually and corporately indwelt by the Spirit of God and the person of Jesus. The believer who freely follows Jesus is not just acting out of self-interest but is able to act out of love. A true follower of Christ is not “out of control” but is being controlled by the living God (2 Cor. 5:13-15).

If you think about the way a human body is organized, you will recognize that each part does what is necessary to fulfill its particular role without knowledge or care for what the other parts are doing. As each part fulfills its role all the other parts benefit and the whole body becomes healthy and productive. Imagine if you will, trying to manage every function or process that takes place within the human body. Not even the most powerful computer in the world could accomplish that task.

If we are going to see the body of Christ healthy and flourishing, we will need to learn to trust Christ’s ability to actually control His own body. Larry Richards calls this “radical supernaturalism.” I’m not sure it’s really radical at all. It may seem radical but think about it. We serve a God who has promised to be with us always and to use us to accomplish good works which He Himself has prepared for us to do. It seems to me that “radical” is not to believe this. Answer this simple question. Is the God who created and sustains the universe capable of actually leading and empowering His people? If you can answer in the affirmative then you have taken a step toward organic living.

There are two things that should quell our fears that things will get out of control. The first is the presence of Jesus in the life of each believer and the second is the presence of the DNA in each believer. At CMA, we see the DNA of the believer and the body of Christ as Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships and Apostolic Mission. If a believer is listening and willing to obey, Jesus will lead them into fruitfulness just as He has promised.Control Cartoon Jesus established the DNA of the believer and His body, the church, when He said, “I Am with you always,” “Love one another,” and “Make disciples.” His presence produces a life that reflects and embodies these three things. This DNA will not only produce order but effectiveness beyond our wildest imaginations. Just as your body relies on your internal DNA to orchestrate the growth, outcomes, and usefulness of each part of your body, so the DNA of Christ’s kingdom will do the same for His Body.

If we desire to lead people to lives of fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God, we will have to learn to trust the ever present Jesus to do as He’s promised to prepare His people for the good works he designed for them to do more than we trust our own ability to control others to produce the outcomes we desire.

From me to you…

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

Kingdom or Cosmos?

Kingdom or Cosmos?

Thoughts on Church Leadership

As I talk to pastors and other church leaders, I find that many are discouraged. They accepted the responsibility with a sense of hope and purpose but are often overwhelmed by the expectations of the position and the consistent lack of progress those they lead are making in the faith. I have experienced many of those same feelings of frustration. That frustration set me on a course to discover what I was doing wrong. In the process, I came to believe that most of what passes for good church leadership is resting on a faulty foundation. In our book, Church Transfusion, Neil Cole and I address a number of shifts that leaders can make to become more effective at the task we’ve been given, helping people become disciples of Jesus. The first shift we address is the shift from Cosmos to Kingdom. I hope you will find these ideas helpful. I’ll be sharing some of the other shifts in the days ahead.

For years the Christian church has looked to the world for effective leadership methods and structures. The result has been a church that more closely resembles a business than a family. It’s time that church leaders measure their current ways of thinking against the Holy Scriptures. A great place to start is with a look at how the original twelve were challenged by Jesus to think differently about leadership and authority. They were steeped in the leadership ideals of their generation. They had visions of fame and power and wanted to secure their position in what they saw as a coming hierarchy. Their desire to be first is seen clearly in the arguments they had over which one of them was greatest. It’s hard to find fault with their perspective since the world around them operated in such a way as to exalt some and put down others. Power was based on position, with those on top wielding it over those beneath them. Sound familiar? The world hasn’t changed much has it?

This system of order is still an ever-present reality. The Bible calls it the cosmos, the system by which the world operates. All of us, like the disciples, have been immersed in it and often find it difficult to imagine an alternative. The difficulty is that this system came into being through the fall of humankind, is dominated and operated by Satan, and by its very nature is opposed to the rule of God. So here is the problem we must face. When we look to this system for answers to the hows and whys of leading the people of God, we find methods and mind-sets that will never yield the results we hope for.

When Jesus began His public ministry, He came preaching the kingdom of God. He made statements like “the kingdom of God is in your midst” and “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I believe that there is one day coming a literal, physical kingdom in which Jesus will rule as king. I also believe that God’s kingdom exists right now wherever and whenever an individual or group submits to His will. The kingdom of God implies the rule of God. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we are first and foremost asking that our hearts, minds, and actions be submitted to the will of God in Christ Jesus. Whenever a believer submits to God, the kingdom of God is present. So now in the world there are two opposing systems, the cosmos and the kingdom. For the church to be what it is meant to be in Christ, it must operate on the principles of the kingdom and not the cosmos.

When the disciples were fighting over which one of them was greatest, Jesus said to them, “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” (Matt. 20: 25). This phrase “not so among you” should be ringing loudly in our ears. Jesus is telling His disciples in no uncertain terms that leadership in His kingdom is not about the top-down exercise of authority or control. Let me say that again. Leadership is not about top-down command and control. It is a travesty that most books on Christian leadership encourage just that, a system of leadership drawn from the wisdom of the cosmos instead of the wisdom of God’s kingdom.

In the kingdom, our task is to connect people to Christ’s authority and leadership, not expect they submit to our own. There is no chain of command in the kingdom— that is a cosmos idea. Authority is not delegated downward in the kingdom; it is distributed outward. Each person is connected to Christ who holds all the authority, and each person is to connect others to that same Lord.  Jesus is the one to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given. Jesus is with us always and it’s Jesus we must entrust His own people to. In the Kingdom of God, where Christ is ever present and ever working, there is equal access, equal empowerment, and equal status for all His subjects. He is the Head and we are His body. Church leaders should make it their first priority to teach people to hear the voice of Jesus and do what He tells them. Our problem is that we just don’t trust people to make right choices. Why do we trust ourselves to make right choices for them? Is it because we think we know more or because we know Christ is leading us? If it’s because we know He’s leading us, why can’t we trust Him to lead others also?

The truth is this. The Holy Spirit is in each of us and He is more than able to instruct and empower those He indwells. Yes, He does often use one Spirit filled disciple to lead another but we should be very careful about taking authority for ourselves that rightly belongs to our Lord. Approach those you lead with humility and pray that Jesus become as real to them as He is to you. If we continue to operate from a cosmos foundation, we will stunt the growth of those we seek to help. Each of us is “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which He prepared beforehand for us to do.” If we lead from a command and control perspective, we run the risk that our lack of omniscient wisdom will keep someone from the very work they were created to accomplish.

From me to you…

Where Do We Go from Here?

Where Do We Go from Here?

I watched last nights’ election returns with a pit in my stomach and, even now, I admit to feeling a deep sadness for the country I love. I am very aware that not everyone feels as I do. In fact, some probably feel excited and optimistic. I sincerely hope my sadness turns to joy and your optimism proves itself well deserved.

No matter how you see the election results, there are some truths we do well to remind ourselves of…

  • Our citizenship is in Heaven from which we have a Savior and King, Jesus the Messiah
  • Our Savior has promised to never leave or forsake us and to be with us always
  • We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son
  • We receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken by anything
  • We await the return of Jesus who will rule this world in righteousness and glory
  • We have an inheritance reserved in heaven and protected by the power of God
  • We are sojourners and aliens in this present world
  • We look forward to an eternal city whose designer and builder is God
  • We are right now His children and His people and nothing can separate us from His love
  • Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in the heavenly places
  • We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared ahead of time for us to do
  • And I could go on and on…

Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in (good, bad or indifferent) we are here for a purpose. We are the chosen instruments of Almighty God to bring His grace and love to a lost and dying world. His commandment remains; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength… and your neighbor as yourself.” And our commission hasn’t changed either; “Make disciples… teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” The world may be changing around us but God still wants to use us to change the world. We do this one life at a time by helping them learn to follow Jesus.

So, where do we go from here?

  • Pray without ceasing
  • Love without compromise
  • Always speak the truth in love
  • Continually seek direction from Jesus and do what He tells you
  • Present your body as a living sacrifice to God on a moment by moment basis
  • Abide in Christ as a branch abides in the vine so that you will bear much fruit for the kingdom of God
  • Remember that apart from Him you can do nothing

As we rely on Christ and offer ourselves to Him and His will, we will see hearts changed and God’s rule in this world increased. After all, “Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

And don’t forget the words of Micah…

 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 From me to you

 

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