Tag Archives: leadership

Loving Obedience is Caught, not Taught

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22

loving GodMy dear (now deceased) friend and Board member, Warren Clark, loved telling a story about teaching some of our materials on reconciliation in a church in Eastern Ukraine some years ago. He was in the middle of the teaching when people started getting up and leaving the church building. Not all at once…just a few here and then a few more there. During a break in the conference, he asked the pastor if he had done something wrong to offend them, since they were leaving. The pastor smiled at him and said, “No, brother, not at all! They are hearing a word from the Lord about reconciliation and they are going to reconcile with brothers and sisters. Isn’t that what you want?” Well, of course it is. We in the American church would just never have expected it.

Immediate and complete obedience is really the only obedience.  Anything less (delayed obedience, partial obedience, etc.) is just a form of disobedience. That was Saul’s lesson in 1 Samuel 15. And that will be the lesson ultimately for the American church, I fear. We talk a lot about God and Jesus and God’s Word and other such spiritual things…we can argue theology all day long, thanks to 200 years of freedom to study it…we can write books and blogs about building churches and vision and preaching and small groups and creative programming…but in the end, it is going to matter to God that his people followed some social or political or personal agenda first, and His agenda second. Any agenda, you see, which comes before God’s …

Creating a Culture of Bible Study

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

Bible StudyAfter some 40 years of studying the Bible and some 25 (or so) years of teaching it, I can safely say I am more thirsty for it today than ever before. My prayer is that God will keep me ever more thirsty for it my whole life. So far, so good.

Today’s post begins a Summer Tuesday series on Spiritual disciplines which church leaders should be practicing and fostering. These are valuable habits in making and growing disciples…routines about which the church should be intentional. You should be teaching these disciplines and, in some cases, you should have a system in place for insuring their practice in the lives of your congregants. The first of these disciplines is Bible Study.

At my church, we call it our Re:Verse system. We all study the same passage all week long, meditating on it each morning, reading our pastors’ daily devotional thoughts on it. We study it again in our Sunday morning Bible Study groups, and we hear a sermon on the same passage in any of our Sunday morning worship services. Lastly, in the following week, we look back at the passage in our small accountability groups, gently pressing the truths from that passage into one another. Of course, the details of the system are not the point. Having the system in the first place is the point. It is important that a church’s structure and programming and culture all hold Bible study as a high value. Few spiritual disciplines will have a bigger impact on our people.

But getting our people to study the Bible …

We Should Have Credentials to Talk About Love

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

One of the negative impacts of social media on our society is that anyone who knows how to communicate well is automatically accepted as an expert, or at least as someone to be followed and quoted.  In truth, maybe all they really need is an opinion that happens to fit well with other people’s in order to get followed. There are no credentials necessary. There is no life experience necessary. Credibility is “earned” merely by being a particularly gifted or innovative communicator. That notion is both refreshing and scary at the same time. And nowhere is it becoming more of a nuisance than in the church.

love credentialsLast week’s Christian social media posts were filled with comments about World Vision’s President, Richard Stearns’ comment to Christianity Today that his organization would now be willing to hire legally married gay couples to work there, and then the organization’s subsequent quick reversal of that decision.  As you might imagine, Facebook posts and blog posts (and Christ-followers’ comments on both) lit up the internet.  No surprise…it was just the next in what has become a long series of school-yard brawls around LGBT issues within the church. They always draw a crowd. And, of course, the damage to the church is immeasurable. You can hear the chorus of those outside the church: “And THAT is why I will never go to church again.” 

Terrific.

There are a lot of reasons why Christ-followers are going to be on opposite sides of the LGBT issues for some time to come…too many reasons to get into here.  Maybe we will explore all those reasons in other posts.  In the meantime, it is this Christian mediator’s professional opinion that agreement …

5 Reasons to Consider a Unified Bible Study Curriculum

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:27, 32

I am struck by the change that took place in Cleopas as a result of Jesus’ teaching of scripture.  It was not just Jesus conveying information about God’s Word. It was a life-changing encounter with the Word become flesh.  It gives us all cause to re-examine how that process of teaching scripture  happens in our own churches.

scriptureAt my home church, we call it Re:Verse.  It is not just a method of studying scripture…for many of us, it is a lifestyle.  The pattern is simple: we all read through the same passage all week long, meditating on it daily. Our Sunday morning Bible Study groups all teach it and discuss it. Our sermons in all our Sunday morning worship services are from that passage as well.  Our small groups (we call them “Circles of 6”) meet during the following week and discuss the same passage even further, pressing practical applications into one another.  In the end, there is not just an understanding of what the passage says, there is actual, measurable change in our lives.

So, as a believer in this system, I offer you these reasons why you might want to consider some similar type of approach in your own church:

1. Gathered worship is much more “gathered” when every participant has spent the week studying the same passage.  There is just a common frame of reference, which makes the worship all the more special.

2. The scripture becomes central to my day…it becomes the lens through which

Compelling Vision

Tuesday Re-mix:

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  Mark 8:17-18

Where there is no vision, the people perish… Proverbs 29:18

I sometimes wonder if we in the church are guilty at times of confusing “leadership vision” with “ambition”?

It seems to me we place a great deal of pressure on our shepherds with regard to “vision”. We expect even our newest pastor to have a 5-year plan for where we are headed just as soon as we get him in the office.  I have even heard of one pastor search team asking a prospective candidate what his “five-year vision” is for their church.  Oh my!  How would he know that?  In fact, I would be wary of anyone who claimed to know before he had even set foot among the congregation.

Pastoral vision (i.e., leadership vision for the church), it seems to me, has much less to do with entrepreneurial foresight and ambitious goals and much more to do with actually seeing what God has been doing and what He is doing right now in the life of a congregation.  It is not so much casting my eyes out on the vast horizon before us as it is casting my eyes across the lives of the people I am leading and understanding what God is doing there.

Jesus did not shame his disciples for not being smarter venture capitalists or for not having keen insights into the trends of the day.  He did not rebuke them for failing to see what was coming or even for not anticipating the needs of the …

Seeing Jesus in the Church

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  Luke 19:1-4

stained glass JesusMake no mistake. God was at work in the heart of Zacchaeus, drawing him toward Him.  God placed a yearning in his heart that would make this wealthy businessman climb a tree like a child in order to get a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by.  God still does that.  He is still in the business of drawing people to Himself.  And whether or not all the marketing surveys show it, He is still drawing those people to the body of Christ…His church.

The question is, are we doing our part to make sure an unbelieving world can actually see Jesus in us when they look?  When God stirs their hearts to go to some lengths to “climb trees” in order to get a glimpse of Jesus in us, are we conducting ourselves in a way that helps?

When a watching world looks at our social media posts, do they see Jesus?

When the gay waiter serves our table, will he see Jesus?

When our  banker sees how we handle our finances, does she see Jesus?

When those people who voted for the other party in the last election show up at our church, do they see Jesus?

When that  telemarketer calls our house, will he hear Jesus in us?

When that staff member gossips about us, will he look and see Jesus in us?…

Careful with Open Doors and Straight Paths

Tuesday Re-mix:

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  Acts 16:26

I’m intrigued by this story in Acts 16, not only because Paul and Silas did not leave through the open door of their jail cell, but also because they were apparently able to convince all of the other prisoners to stay as well.  Just a few chapters earlier, Peter left jail under similar circumstances (I know, I know, he had an angel directing him to leave and that is definitely a distinguishing feature!), and I cannot help but wonder if I might not have interpreted an earthquake and chains miraculously falling off me as a sign from God that I should leave!

I think there is a lesson here for the church.  Discerning God’s direction for a church is never quite as simple as walking through every door that seems to miraculously open…never merely a matter of seeing God in isolated circumstances.  That is true because, as it turns out, there is usually more than one possible interpretation of circumstances!  The danger in discerning God’s will in that case is that we all tend to see what we want to see.

What about the scenario where a wealthy church member walks in and agrees to write a check to cover some dream the pastor has always had?  Is that necessarily God speaking?  What if your church has prayed and asked God to pave the way for a relocation and someone leaves the church a large tract of land in their estate?  Is that God saying “move”?  If the pastor has always dreamed of starting a half-way house ministry in the house the church owns, and the city planning …

Planning for the Unplanable

Tuesday Re-mix:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  Acts 8:26-29


About 5 years ago, my church got a phone call from Catholic Charities about 40 or so refugees from Burma whom they were helping to relocate into our city.  Our church had been an emergency shelter during Katrina and I suppose that helped put us on Catholic Charities’ call list.  “Sure, we can help!”  After all, providing this small group of dear people with some much-needed help as they acclimate to their new home here in San Antonio would not exactly tax our church’s human resources.  But, rest assured, this was not a ministry we had identified in our strategic planning process.  This demographic was nowhere on our radar screen.  There was no grand plan for this ministry at all.  All we had was a sense that God had used Catholic Charities to place this opportunity before us, so we said “yes”.

To me, it seems similar to this passage from Acts 8 about Philip.  We are not privy to very much of the “planning meetings” by the Apostles or by the other leadership of the early church…we do not know what kinds of ministries they had put into place that were aimed at the spread of the church in the face of serious oppression and …

Being One of the Seven

Tuesday Re-mix –

 those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”  This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.  Acts 6:1-6

I think I was made a partner in my law firm pretty close to the same year I was ordained as a deacon in my church.  To be honest, they felt quite a bit the same to me.  In both cases, I felt like I was being recognized for some qualities and characteristics which, in reality, I may or may not have possessed.  In both cases it felt like an achievement, an honor, a privilege and a terrifying responsibility all at the same time.  In both cases, it would cost me, but I was more than happy to pay the price.  In both cases, it meant stepping up into both servanthood and leadership.  Both occasions were spiritual markers in my life…and, in both cases, the “honor” raised a great deal more questions in my mind than it answered.

You see, in the “law …

What’s Your Payoff for Leadership?

Tuesday Re-mix –

I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace…I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:23-24, 33-35

match-thermometerThere are surely thousands and thousands of possible reasons people choose to be a church leader.  Money is probably not one of them.  Oh, I know there are those few high profile ministers (particularly in evangelical circles) who have profited tremendously, but let’s be real, that is by far the exception, not the expectation.  Rather, there are other kinds of “payoffs” which I believe attract some people into leadership positions in ministry.  Some of us just like to be in charge.  We like the power which comes with being the leader.  We like to chart the course and then expect those who are following to, well, follow.  For others, it is just the attention alone which draws them in.  They are otherwise lonely people and the “payoff” for them is the “friends” who gather around them as leaders.  Still others choose leadership by default, because they just cannot handle following.  They ascribe to the philosophy: “He who refuses to lead is doomed to be led by someone lesser than himself.”

As I read …