Tag Archives: shepherd

The Lure of Approval

And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?… Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 1 Samuel 15:13-14, 24

Am I the only leader who struggles from time to time with disappointing people? No. I didn’t think so. My guess is, it is a relatively universal struggle. We tell ourselves that, in order to be a Godly influence in people’s lives, in order to be able to say the hard things to people, we need their approval. And we tell ourselves that, as shepherds, that is what love looks like. There are some seeds of truth in that thinking. But the rest of that truth is, for leaders of God’s people, approval ratings (i.e., how much everyone likes you) are insidiously addictive and massively overrated. That was the lesson for Saul (Israel’s first king) and it is likewise the lesson for all of us as Christian leaders today.

As I read 1 Samuel, God clearly did not want a human king for His people, Israel. But when they insisted on one, God relented and gave them one. And Saul was His choice…and was the people’s choice as well. He had the look. He had the demographics. He had the attitude. In short, he was (to use today’s parlance)…presidential. But he was also unbelievably insecure, on so many levels.

So, when he and his rag-tag group of soldiers walked up to the school-yard bullies (the Philistines) and punched them …

What is the Evidence of Your Authority?

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up… “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:1-2, 5-6

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. Exodus 34:29-30

Sometimes, I find myself concerned about how easily we as church leaders throw around the notion of God speaking to us. It seems to me that we are often guilty of speaking about that possibility as if we’re describing what we had for breakfast. In scripture, when God makes an appearance and speaks to one of His servants, or when one of His servants has just come from being in the presence of God, it is never a small thing. It is something that forever changes that servant, and that change is evident to the rest of God’s people.

burning bushSo, as I ponder Moses’ friendship with God, I come away with a few observations that I find …

The Lion, the Sheep and the Bathrobe

Tuesday Re-mix:

I have a sort of recurring day dream about my first appearance before God at Judgment time. It’s probably horrible theology on a number of levels, but I just can’t seem to shake the picture, and it is all because of a cool little comment Jesus makes in John 17:12… While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

I am haunted by those words, “…none has been lost”. I have this embarrassing picture in mind of my standing in my bath robe in front of God and Him asking me about all the people He placed under my influence in the church and who left the church at one time or another and I never heard from them again. I’m talking about members of Sunday School classes, choir members, committee members, etc. for whom I had some leadership responsibility (or at least a friendship) and who have disappeared from the church’s radar screen. Oh, how I wish I could look up and say (with Jesus) “None has been lost.” But I cannot. Can you?

It is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 18 in his parable of the lost sheep. The context in which Matthew recalls that parable is a very different context from how Luke uses it. Maybe Jesus told the parable more than once. In Matthew, Jesus is clearly talking about the church and “sheep” who wander off. Jesus poses this question: what kind of shepherd would not leave the entire flock in order to go after the one lamb who wanders away? Of course, it makes perfect sense in that scenario that any of us would do that. …

The Leader’s Problem with Pretense

Tuesday Re-mix:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15

transparencyMy friend Scott is a gifted teacher.  I remember one of his illustrations using a bunch of unmarked tea bags.  He had everyone pass them around and smell them to see if we could tell what kind of tea each one held.  Then he said something really profound: “Tea bags are a lot like people…you don’t know for sure what’s inside them until you put them in hot water.”  It was a beautiful illustration about integrity and transparency.  Together, those are the currency of leadership in the church.

What was truly transformative about Jesus (and what has been transformative about Christianity for over 2,000 years now) is not the power nor the persuasion nor the perfection of Jesus.  Rather, it was the almost spellbinding “connection” he had with everyone he met.  He connected with the Samaritan woman at the well.  He connected with the Pharisee, Nicodemus.  He connected with fishermen and tax collectors and soldiers and prostitutes.  What changed people was his ability to see right into their souls, and at the same time allow them to see right into Him.

That was the founder of this revolution for which you and I are contending.  And we should reflect that same level of transparency and connectability.  It is important to our mission.  In fact, the revolution depends on it.

But in our efforts to work harder to do all the things good Christians should do, and in our efforts to manage our people’s perception of us, we often tend to lose the transparency.  In our churches’ efforts to elevate our leaders …

Church Leaders and Our Hard Hearts

Tuesday Re-mix:

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”  Hebrews 3:7-11; Psalm 95:7-11

heart of stoneAs it turns out, hard hearts come in a pretty large variety of shapes and forms…even among church leaders.  It is rarely as overt as Israel’s rebellion at Meribah.  More often, it is a mild arrogance or self-reliance or pride at the heart of our hard-heartedness.  So, as I study the above passage, I am reflecting on some of the less obvious (but more common) ways I have seen leaders “harden their hearts”…including me and my own heart.

Hardening our hearts to the power of God’s Word.  Every time we catch ourselves thinking, “what this text needs is a little more of me…a little of my flash and polish will go a long way in helping it hit home in this sermon…” our faith in the power of God’s Word diminishes just a little more.  Every time we receive a compliment for a lesson well-taught and we fail to acknowledge that it was God’s Word and not our communication skills that caused the real transformation, we steal God’s glory, and our heart hardens just a little more to the miracle of His living word.

Hardening our hearts to the power of prayer.  When the priority we give gathered prayer meetings falls somewhere between  repairing the hems of the …

Letting Your People Mess Up

Thursday Re-mix:

And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” 1 Samuel 8:7-9

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”  C.S. Lewis

Here is a fundamental truth for church leaders (including pastors): the church is not for you (not really), nor is it about you.  If you think about it, that is actually a rather freeing reality.  That means it is not your responsibility to manipulate every outcome.  Rather, it is your responsibility to speak God’s truth to the best of your ability and to love your people well…and love often means letting them mess up royally.

Asleep in ClassMost of my own best illustrations of this leadership principle come from parenting.  If you are a parent, you already know the phenomenon well.  There are times when a parent can see a wrong direction a child is headed and the very best way to teach this lesson is to simply warn them and then let them make their own decision (and live with the consequences).  Take bedtimes, for example.  Toddlers are simply told when they will go to bed.  But, as they grow older, we eventually get to a point where they must learn to use their own judgment about sleep …

Seeing Through the Flaws in Your Shepherd

Thursday Re-mix:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  1 Samuel 16:7b

Most of the church conflicts into which I get called are swirling (at one level or another) around a pastor.  And most of the opposition parties I meet eventually get to a point in the conflict where they are saying, “We never should have called him as our pastor…we made a terrible mistake.”  And that conclusion is always based upon a (sometimes very long) list of flaws which, in their eyes, disqualify him/her as their shepherd.

finding flawsIt always reminds me of the life of Israel’s most effective King…King David, the “man after God’s own heart”.  So much of God’s story in this world was written through David’s life…so much scripture…so much poetry…so much history…it is hard to imagine anyone being used more profoundly by God.  His passion was extraordinary, his love for God immeasurable.  His leadership was undeniable, and his lineage would produce the Savior of the world.  Not a bad spiritual resume, if you ask me.

Did I mention his poligamy?  His adultery?  The murder?  The “divorce” from his first wife (she apparently had a problem with his dancing in the streets in his underwear), the attempts by his father-in-law to kill him, and the subsequent re-marriage to her?  Did I mention his eight other marriages (and that number is just the number of wives whose names we know…there were apparently many others whose names are not mentioned in scripture)?  How about David’s first son’s rape of his half-sister…followed by her brother’s murder of that same son in retaliation?  How about the attempt by that second son to overthrow David’s reign as king?  Did I mention that David’s own men …

Confession and Your Leadership

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you…
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:13, 16-17

confession

I have often said I could not fully invest in a pastor who has never suffered deep loss. “Grieving with those who grieve” is a critical part of the pastoral responsibility, and how can a church leader who has never grieved before possibly know how to start doing so now, over somebody else’s pain?

Similarly, I think I would have a difficult time listening to a pastor or teacher or spiritual leader call me to repentance and to confession unless I first know that he/she knows the humiliation of being laid bare before God in a moment of confession. That, it seems to me, is what gives a leader the credibility to “teach transgressors [God’s] ways” and to cause us sinners to return to God.

David expresses this brokenness so very well in Psalm 51, after his sin with Bathsheba. In this Psalm, he shared with all of God’s people his heart broken before the Lord. “Against you and you only have I sinned…” “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” It is a confession filled with remorse and humiliation. And it calls us to have that same contrite heart before God.

Moreover, Psalm 51 cries out to God for the very type of forgiveness which would later become the earmark of Christ’s church and of Christ-followers around the world. As a leader of other Christians, we must therefore have experienced this very intimate level of confession before we …

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 …

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 …

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