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…



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…

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…

Recipes for Life!

Recipes for Life!

I like to cook. It’s one of those things that lets me focus my mind away from daily struggles and enjoy the creative process. Plus… I like to eat too.

When I’m cooking, I like to experiment with various ingredients to see how they impact the taste and texture of whatever dish I’m preparing. Sometimes I like the result and sometimes I don’t but every time I gain more insight and knowledge into the nature of the ingredients and how they mix and mingle to create the tastes and textures I’m looking for. It’s important that I accurately assess th faculties of each ingredient so that when I use them in varying amounts, I get the desired results.

Life is much the same. As we live each day, we experience the moments, meditate on the possibilities and gain insight and knowledge about ourselves, those we have relationship with, the world around us and the God who made it all. As these ingredients mix together, they form in us a view of the world that will impact the way we live our lives. This worldview will have a profound effect on our thoughts, our feelings, our actions and our relationships. This is true for all of us. There are no exceptions. Because of this, it is vitally important that we assess things accurately, truthfully. If we don’t see things as they really are, the tastes and textures of our lives will be adversely affected and the resulting thoughts, feelings and behaviors will end up giving us indigestion.

My goal with this blog is to raise issues that are relevant to life and offer up insights into the truth of things that have aided me on my journey and will hopefully help you too.

I am painfully aware that the discovery of truth and how that truth applies to everyday life is a daily process and that missteps and mistakes are sometimes made but our God is ever present and has promised to lead us into all truth. We don’t discover truth on our own but as He reveals it to us. If we mess things up, He is more than able to instruct and correct us. Our goal is to let the truths He teaches us mix together in ways that produce ever increasing wisdom and love.

Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” I believe the abundant life Christ offers is deliciously tasty and fulfilling. As the psalmist says, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” My hope is that we can learn together how to live our lives in the most abundant way possible.

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