Category: Leadership (Page 2 of 4)

Leadership: Pleasing God First

“We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:4

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else.” ~1 Thess. 2:6

Paul and Silas and Timothy tell the church in Thessalonica that they all ought to follow their model of Christian leadership: We “make ourselves a model for you to follow (2 Thess. 3:7, 9). A critical component of their leadership style is their commitment to pleasing God instead of people. Paul’s ministry — his whole life! — is characterized by this attitude.

“Am I trying to win the approval of people, or of God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” ~Galatians 1:10

Paul is not one to take a vote or check the opinion polls before doing what he knows needs to be done in his capacity as a Christian leader. President Harry Truman had a similar disdain toward catering to the whims of the people:

“I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt? What would Jesus Christ have preached if he’d taken a poll in Israel? Where would the Reformation have gone if Martin Luther had taken a poll? It isn’t the polls or public opinion of the moment that counts. It’s right and wrong and leadership, men and women with fortitude, honesty, and a belief in what’s right that makes epochs in the history of the world.”

We’ve been entrusted with the Gospel (1 Thess. 2:4) as stewards of God’s Good News. So we are responsible to God, not people. We seek to please God first, not people. This was Peter’s leadership style, too. In Acts 5, Peter tells the Sanhedrin in the face of Jewish persecution, “We must obey God rather than people!”

But there’s such a strong temptation to please people. It’s human nature. We want to please people, not just to be popular, but because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We don’t want to make enemies. We don’t want to come across as mean. We want to keep the peace. Elders want to keep their members. Preachers want to keep their jobs.

Well, hold on. We don’t want to offend or upset our weaker brother. We’re responsible for our weaker brother.

You know, that passage in 1 Corinthians 8 is one of the most grossly misapplied passages in all of Scripture. The weaker brother Paul’s talking about is a brand new Christian. He’s just been baptized. He’s still wet behind the ears, figuratively and literally. He’s from a pagan, idol-worshiping, bacon-loving background. He doesn’t know anything. He hasn’t had time. He’s just a baby. That’s the weaker brother of the Bible. But I’m afraid sometimes it’s the men and women who were born and raised in the faith, baptized 20, 30, or 40 years ago, who are using weaker brother arguments to thwart Christian leadership.

When I was interviewing here at Central almost six years ago, the leadership told me, “We’re a Church of Christ. We’re always going to be a Church of Christ. We’re proud of our Church of Christ heritage and we uphold our Church of Christ traditions. But when those traditions come into conflict with the Gospel, we’re going to go with the Gospel every time.”

Sold! I love that!

Strong Christian leaders keep their eyes on the goal, they’re focused on the big picture. They lead with courage in the will of God, to please him. What’s going to challenge us and mature us? What’s going to lead to Christ-likeness? What’s going to move us toward more sacrifice and service? What’s going to make us more accountable to God and one another?

Well, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m not comfortable with that.

Who said anything about comfortable? That’s why they put crosses up in church buildings, to give you a clue that this is not about being comfortable!

Leaders worth following don’t pay much attention to the polls or public opinion. Pleasing God, not people. Remember, Jesus was OK with letting the rich young ruler walk away.

Peace,

Allan

I Am the Good Shepherd

shepherd3Almost two centuries before Jesus was born, Judas Maccabeus put together a Jewish militia and fought the Syrians who had taken control of Jerusalem and had desecrated the temple. Antiochus IV Epiphanes had established Zeus worship inside the Lord’s temple, including the daily sacrifice of pigs. The Maccabean revolution was a bloody three-year struggle that resulted in Jewish oversight of Jerusalem and the rededication of the temple to the Lord. You can research the origins of Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication to get the full story. But on the 25th day of Kislev, in the year 165 BC, the temple was rededicated and Ezekiel 34, the passage about Israel’s shepherds was read aloud.

The eight day celebration was not just about rejoicing in God’s great deliverance. It was also a time to reflect on the events that led up to those awful years in Israel’s history. It was a time to ask questions about failed leadership, hard questions about Israel’s bad kings or, as they’re called in Scripture, false shepherds. How did the leadership of God’s people lose its way so badly? Where were the shepherds? And how must we shepherd our people today?

Since that day in 165 BC, Ezekiel 34 has always been a part of the worship liturgy for the Feast of Dedication. In John 10, we’re told explicitly that Jesus attended these worship assemblies.

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonade.” ~John 10:22-23

imyselfYou can bet Jesus heard the readings just like everybody else. And, yeah, Jesus knew about lousy leadership and sorry sheep. So did a lot of God’s people listening to the readings. The man who pays three-fourths of his wages every month to his neighbor who’s paralyzing him with outrageous interest rates. The lady who’s not allowed to come all the way in because she’s divorced. The couple who gets told “You don’t dress right or talk right or act right and why don’t y’all find another temple to worship in!” Ask the woman at the well if she felt like people were staring at her. Ask the lady at Simon’s house if Simon acted like a jerk when she showed up at his dinner party with his well-connected friends. Ask the man in the Gerasenes who was driven away by his own brothers and sisters and chained to a tombstone. Ask the crippled man at the healing pools who always got pushed out of the way by people who were also crippled — just not as crippled as he was. And they all hear the Scriptures being read at Hanukkah. They hear it ever year. God says, “I myself will be their shepherd.”

And the people say, “When?”

“I Am the Good Shepherd! The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep!” ~John 10:11

Right in the middle of the questions and doubts and hopes and anticipation that someday God himself will personally shepherd his flock, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd! It’s me! I’m here!”

imyselfbig“I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I Am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.” ~John 10:11-16

See, in Ezekiel 34, God says I’m going to personally do what the bad shepherds have failed to do. I’m going to do what my people obviously can’t do. God promises to personally intervene. God says you don’t strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bandage up the injured. You have not brought in the strays or searched for the lost. But I will! I will bandage up the injured and strengthen the weak! I will search for the lost and bring back the strays! God’s solution to the long history of lousy leaders and sorry sheep is not a new model, not a new system. He replaces the bad shepherds with the Good Shepherd. God comes to us in Jesus. Christ Jesus comes here to, in his own words, seek and save the lost. He comes here to comfort the weary and heavy burdened, to heal the sick and bring Good News to the poor. Jesus is our Shepherd, fixing things, restoring things.

Jesus knows how to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. To those who rely on their own righteousness, those of us fat sheep who’ve been doing this church thing for decades and think we have all the answers, Jesus rips away all the excuses and he forces us to see our desperate need for him and the Gospel. He says, “I Am the only way, I Am the only truth, and I Am the only life! No one comes to the Father except through me!”

To those who are burdened and marginalized, Jesus pulls them to God. He shows that God does not delight in their death, but he begs them to come to him for eternal life. He makes it clear that there is a place in God’s flock for all weak and sinful sheep. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

The Lord Jesus Christ is our Shepherd. He is bold and courageous and single-minded in his mission to seek and save the lost, to restore the lost sheep of Israel. And he’s so committed to it — he’s so committed to us, his sheep! — that he lays down his life for us. He dies for us. He stands in the gate — he is the gate! — between us and the ravenous wolves and murderous robbers who would destroy us. He’s unwilling to sacrifice even one of us to the enemy. He would die first.

And he did.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

bobbywilson6Another walk off win. A two-out, two-run, game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth. The 45th come-from-behind win for the Texas Rangers this year. And the magic number is down to six.

Peace,

Allan

Lousy Leaders & Sorry Sheep

imyselfbandage“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them… I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered… I will bring them into their own land, I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel… I will tend them in a good pasture… I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.'” ~Ezekiel 34:11-16

God speaks through his prophet in Ezekiel 34 about lousy leaders. God points out the kings and elders, prophets and priests — shepherds — the leaders of God’s people who only cared about themselves. The leaders were fat and full and happy. But the people were neglected and forgotten. The shepherds ruled harshly and tough. They didn’t pay attention to the weak. They didn’t minister to the sick. They didn’t care for the injured. They only thought about themselves. Their first priority was to maintain their control. Their main goal was to hang onto their position. They enjoyed the power. They relished the status. And God’s people suffered. They were scattered. They didn’t have any guidance or support, so they looked to the idols in the high places. They made deals with the world and the world ate them alive. And nobody cared.

And God says that’s not going to happen anymore! “I myself will be their shepherd! I’m going to fix this. I’m going to restore everything. I’m going to make everything right. I myself will be their shepherd!”

badsheepEzekiel 34 is also about sorry sheep: older women who think they run everything, younger men who think they know everything, rich people who think they own everything. And they only care about getting their way. They use their experience and knowledge and education and wealth to get it. They don’t just want the blessings of God, they want the blessings you’re getting, too. It’s not enough to have a lot, they want more. And if they need to take it from others, they will. They assert their opinions about everything. They ignore or completely discount the opinions and feelings of others. These sorry sheep push and shove and they leave a trail of devastated people behind them. Hurt feelings and broken relationships. And it’s driving the sheep away.

And God says that’s not going to happen anymore. “I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep! I will save my flock. I’m going to fix this problem. I’m going to make this right. I myself will be their shepherd!”

I read Ezekiel 34 and sometimes it makes me sick.

badshepherdsBecause sometimes we can be really lousy leaders. God rips into the bad shepherds because they’re ignoring the fat sheep who are running over the other sheep. Sometimes church leaders don’t want to challenge church bullies because they don’t want the conflict. Sometimes the fat sheep are the big givers. Sometimes preachers just preach safe messages — they don’t confront the pushing and shoving — because they don’t want anybody to leave. Elders and ministers don’t always take care of the weak sheep like we’re supposed to. Taking care of wounded sheep is hard and painful and time-consuming. It’s work. Sometimes we pay more attention to and rule in favor of the fat sheep who can yell down or outspend the broken sheep. Sometimes church leaders crave the attention themselves. Some of us are tempted by the spotlight. And sometimes we do want our own way. Sometimes we’ll do something or say something only to save our own necks. And our selfishness and inconsistencies can sometimes drive people away. God help us.

If you have ever felt run over by anybody in church, I’m sorry. If you have ever felt like your feelings have been dismissed or your opinions have been discounted by any church leaders, I’m sorry. If I have ever used my position as the preacher to shove you or run over you, please forgive me. I’m sorry. I’m know I’m capable of those things. God, help me.

We can also — all of us — be sorry sheep. We can be territorial about our ministries or our preferred practices or our pews. We can not let anybody in. We can shove our brothers and sisters out the door by being dogmatic and unyielding about our own personal beliefs. We can push people to the curb by insisting they believe and think and worship and parent and dress and pray just like me. We’re so good at it, sometimes we’re oblivious to it. We can actually use a weak sheep position as an 18-pound sledgehammer to bully and head butt and ram other sheep into my comfort zone and inside my lines and behind my boundaries. There are sheep in your flock who’ve been in your flock for years and don’t have any friends. That’s the truth. There are sheep in your church who don’t feel like they matter because we’ve run over them on the way to our next committee meeting or service project. There are people in your congregation who sit by themselves every single Sunday. In your building. God, help us.

If you are a broken sheep, if you’re wounded and weak, if you’re tired, if you feel neglected or ignored or flat-out pushed aside by the people or the programs or the culture of your church, please forgive us. I’m so sorry. I know we’re capable of those things. God, help us.

Peace,

Allan

A Safe Place

PrayerCongregation

Since last summer’s Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage, the leadership here at Central has engaged in what we’ve called “conversations” about the issue. We’ve spent a few Saturday mornings together, elders and ministers, talking and studying and praying about our God’s will and listening for his clear direction. We started with “Scripture and Theology,” an in-depth look at what God reveals about homosexuality through his Word. We moved to “Gospel and Church,” listening to a panel of our own members whose children and siblings experience same-sex attraction. We mainly listened to our own brothers and sisters share their pains and their heartaches, share the experiences that, frankly, most of us elders and ministers don’t have. Then two weekends ago we went to “Ministry and Mission.” We brought in Sally Gary, the founder and director of CenterPeace, our sister and partner in the Gospel, to meet with our families, to talk and teach with our leadership, and to address our entire church during our Bible class hour on Sunday morning.

It was a powerful weekend for all of us.

Yesterday, Mike Robertson, one of our shepherds here at Central, talked to our church about our leadership conversations, a couple of key conclusions, and some next steps we’re already taking as it relates to ministry and mission in this volatile issue. I’ve condensed the text of his announcement here. This is for Central members who were absent from yesterday’s assembly, those who might want to be reminded of what was said, and anyone else who might benefit from our feeble efforts to walk faithfully with our God and his people.

“After the Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage, your elders and ministers began studying what God says in his Word about the subject. As a result, it’s clear to us how God feels about sin — not just sexual immorality, homosexuality, or pornography; not just the sins we elevate and place on a high platform. Scripture lists dozens of sins Satan uses to tug at our hearts to pull us away from God. To be honest, some of the lower profile sins like greed, obscenity, course joking, and gossip hit much closer to home.

It has become painfully evident over the past few months that some of our own members at Central struggle with same-sex attraction. Also, a number of our Central families have children or other relatives who experience the same thing. We’ve listened to families describe the emotional scars they hold inside for fear of what their Christian brothers and sisters might think. One family here told us it was nearly six years before they could share their burden with their close friends at Central. One family feels their Bible class to this day is not a safe place for them to share their struggle and pain.

We should have been talking about this issue and the resulting pain ten years ago, not just beginning it now because the Supreme Court pushed us!

Once our deficiency became excruciatingly obvious, our staff led us to reach out to Sally Gary. We thank God for Christians like Sally who are willing to stand up and share their personal struggles and help others walk with God. But ministry on a deep and personal level like Sally’s can only occur where there is a safe Godly place for support and love.

I hope that you were blessed as I was by her presentation during our class time two weeks ago. I know there were a number who weren’t excited about the topic and a little fearful as to what would be said. Initially, I was there with you. But God has been working on my heart through this process. Sally’s story impacted me not because of the topic but because of the message. She grew up in a loving, Godly family and, as she said, a “good little Church of Christ girl.” But her family, both physical and spiritual, was one with which she could not share her struggles. As a father of three grown children and three additional children by marriage, a grandfather, a husband, and now an elder, I’m not sure I have been that loving, nurturing person with whom my family, physical and spiritual, can feel safe sharing their hurts, their pains, and their sins and still know they’re deeply loved. I may have been the firm, strong father rather than the safe, loving, nurturing father. Since Sally’s presentation, I have asked God to show me how to be the safe, loving father and husband and elder and servant of Jesus Christ. I refuse to be an un-safe servant of Christ. Hopefully, soon, I will know what that looks like and I pray that you strive with all your being to be a safe place through which God can work and minister. Our vision at Central is “Becoming Like Christ for the Sake of _______.” I personally feel like over the past few months, my blank has gotten bigger.

So, what’s next for Central?

~ We envision that the body of Christ at Central will be a safe place for everybody. As a leadership, we pledge to do the hard work necessary to make Central a place where we can talk openly and honestly about our struggles without wondering whether or not we’re going to be loved and accepted.

~ We may not always know what this looks like, but there are those who have walked this road and gone before. On the issue of same-sex attraction, one such individual who has walked a lonely road is Sally Gary. We will utilize her experience to guide our efforts. Her CenterPeace ministry offers numerous retreats and resources for both those who experience same-sex attraction and for their families who struggle with them. If you or your family feel like you could benefit from a CenterPeace retreat, we’d like to help you make that happen. We want to minister to our church family.

~ We do pledge to listen to where God is calling us to minister. Don’t be surprised if God taps you on the shoulder and asks you to be a safe place for ministry.

~ Please do not let your fears or your opinions or pains on this issue build this into something it’s not.

~ We all need safe avenues within the church for honest conversation. We are going to be safe elders and safe ministers. And we all envision a congregation full of safe brothers and sisters who can talk openly about anything in a context of unconditional love and support.

If you have any questions, please visit with an elder or minister. If you or your family are currently struggling with any sin — any sin! — or any issue, please know that the leadership here is a safe place for sharing and walking side by side.”

I’m grateful to belong to a ministry-minded church like Central. I praise God that he placed my family and me with a congregation of brothers and sisters who are not afraid to learn new things, who display little fear in branching out to try new ministries in new areas of need, and who tackle all new opportunities with gusto. And, man, our elders! What a great bunch of godly men who pray without ceasing and who would much rather err on the side of love and grace than write policies and rules.

May we be wide open to whatever our Lord is sending our way. May we love and minister, console and teach, in the name and manner of Jesus. And may our God’s will be done here at Central and in Amarillo just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

The Counter Cultural Way

JesusPraysInPainThe Word of God confronts us with two ways. The Law and the Prophets, the Psalms and Proverbs, the Gospels and Letters all present us with the choice of two ways. It’s not where you’re going to live or what career you’re going to pursue or who you’re going to marry or where you’re going to eat. The choice given us in Scripture certainly encompasses and impacts all the daily choices we make while we live in those places with the people we marry and in the work we do and while we’re eating lunch. But there’s only one choice in the Bible: the way of life of the way of death; the way of blessing or the way of curses; the way of God or the way of the devil.

Jesus says, “I am the Way.” I am the Way to God and I’m also the way God comes to you. I’m a two-way Way. And so we choose Jesus. And when we choose Jesus, what is it specifically that we’ve chosen? What are we signing up for when we say “Yes” to Jesus?

Well, the Gospels tell us plainly that Jesus’ Way is counter cultural. Popularity and power mean just about everything in our society, but popularity and power mean absolutely nothing to our Lord. In the Gospels, it looks like Herod has the power. The governing officials in the Roman Empire have all the power. So the Roman soldiers. The religious leaders have a lot of power. The chief priests and teachers of the Law and the Sanhedrin wield plenty of power. And all of these people and groups seem to have their way with Jesus. Jesus is the lowly servant who’s despised and rejected, beaten and crucified. Cursed by God and man.

But remember the centurion clearly sees the truth when he sees how Jesus dies: “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Jesus’ way is upside down. It’s counter cultural. Our default, though, is the pursue the ways of the world. As disciples of Jesus individually and as churches of God collectively, we’re not very careful with this. Without even thinking about it, we embrace and adopt the ways of the culture. We imitate the ways used by powerful people who run large companies and corporations, high profile people who lead political parties and nations. By threat and force and power; with money and might; by out-yelling and out-insulting others; by demonizing those who disagree with us; by walling ourselves off from anyone who may do us harm. And we don’t even consider that those ways are totally at odds with the way of Jesus.

We see accomplished men who’ve achieved great success by using these worldly methods and we make them elders of the church. We make these guys preachers of the Word. Whatever the culture decides is exciting and successful and influential, whatever gets things done, whatever will gather a crowd.

We usually have to take four or five different looks at guys whose main character traits are gentleness and humility before we consider them for leadership roles — if we even look at those kinds of guys at all. Shouldn’t the man who lives only to serve others be moved to the top of the list? Shouldn’t the guys who consider the needs of others more important than their own, the guys who refuse to advance their own agenda, the guys who you’ve never heard say one bad thing about anybody else, shouldn’t they be the frontrunners for leadership positions in our congregations? Shouldn’t they be the ones to set the tone in our churches?

Peace,

Allan

Church: No Whining Zone

“Do all things without complaining or arguing.” ~Philippians 2:14

The Greek word in the original text is panta: all things, everything, total, complete, whole, every kind of, all of it, the whole enchilada. No matter how you translate it, there’s not one part of your life as a disciple of Christ that is not implicated here. Most of us, I think, are pretty good at doing most things without complaining or arguing. Most of us. But all things? Everything?

Just so you’re fully prepared for what is about to follow, here’s the whole text:

“Do all things without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” ~Philippians 2:14-16

Paul takes complaining and arguing very seriously. According to the apostle, God’s purpose for you, what God is working in you, what transforms you into blameless and pure children of God, what allows you to shine like stars as a powerful witness to the difference he makes in the lives of his children, which is God’s whole plan for you — all of that begins with “Do all things without complaining or arguing.”

When you’re complaining or arguing, your Christian witness is hindered, if not completely destroyed. You have no credibility with the world.

You claim to be a child of the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth, you claim to be a subject of the eternal Lord who has defeated sin and death and Satan and reigns right now today at the right hand of God, you claim to be a citizen of heaven, a citizen of the Kingdom that cannot be shaken, you claim to belong to a God who promises to always protect and provide, but when you complain and argue you’re telling the world you don’t believe a word of it. Your behavior contradicts your belief. You live like those things don’t really matter, like they have no impact on your life. And it wrecks your testimony. Why would anyone think that your belief and your faith work for all the massive eternal questions, why would they suppose your allegiance to Christ and his Kingdom provides all the answers to sin and suffering and death, if it won’t even work at the Whataburger drive-thru or in line at the post office?

Sometimes I think we actually reward this godless behavior in the Church.

Church positions should never be formed and church decisions should never be made based on who’s going to complain. Church policy can’t be based on complaining or arguing because complaining and arguing have no place in the lives of God’s people, much less a prominent place in an important decision-making process. When we allow the complainers to dictate the direction — or non-direction — of the congregation, we’re honoring and rewarding the outright disobedience of one of God’s direct commands. It’s like finding a dozen people in the church who are suffering personal bankruptcy or presiding over failed businesses to chair the church’s finance committee and set the annual budgets. It’s the same as allowing six or seven guys who are currently cheating on their wives to teach the young marrieds class.

Why do we honor the complainers?

In Deuteronomy 32, the grumblers and complainers were punished by God. They were declared by God to not be his children anymore because of their complaining. Yet, so many of our church leaders honor the complainers by bowing to their grumblings when it comes to charting the direction of the congregation.

I would gently suggest that we all — panta all — pledge from this moment forward to take complaining and arguing as seriously as the apostle Paul does. Vow to stop doing it. Church leaders, promise to stop rewarding it.

Peace,

Allan

 

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