Go First! (part three)
We’re looking at a ninth characteristic of courageous Christian leadership.
Rather than taking a straw poll to see what the prevailing opinions are, a leader will go first.
And sometimes this means going alone… for a while.
It’s nothing special.
It what leaders do.
As we investigate going first, we’re reminded that Christ gave three distinct ministry gifts to the church: apostle, prophet, and evangelist to compliment that of the pastor-teacher [Eph 4:11]. Yet, since the Reformation, pastor-teachers have been leading in a vacuum.
The over-emphasis on shepherding and teaching has produced both the Church and the society that we have today.
Going first, I assert, includes restoring the apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic graces to Christian leadership. Last time we considered the apostolic; what it brings to leadership and what’s lost when it’s absent.
So, what becomes of the Church when the prophetic is marginalized?
You get an indistinct, mushy, shallow, and disingenuously “nice” message week after week.
The trumpet blows an uncertain sound. [I Cor 14:8]
And where there’s no prophetic voice, there’s no distinctively Christian lifestyle either. Sin can thrive in an atmosphere like that.
And, it does.
The prophetic grace brings clarity when the church and her leaders wobble and wander.
The prophetic brings courageous correction. It is the scalpel that cuts between the diseased and the healthy tissue around it. It provides a clear word from God (or from God’s Word) when the Church is blurring the lines of biblical acuity.
Think about Nathan’s role in the life of King David [2 Sam 12:1-14]. Where might David’s arrogance, selfishness, and entitlement have taken him were it not for the timeliness, the clarity and the strength of the prophet’s rebuke? When you mix the kind of power that many ministry leaders have with their human frailty disaster often results. When it does, innocents are hurt and the veracity of the Christian faith is undermined.
What if the prophetic voice was just as visible, authoritative, and influential in the Church in North America as the pastor-teacher has been?
Imagine if they stood side-by-side to mature the Church and to improve her efficacy in society.
More imperative, how much more mature, godly, and authentically Christian might the Church be today?
Allow yourself to consider the moral, spiritual, and ethical condition of American society if the prophetic had been as influential as the shepherd-teacher has for the last couple hundred years.
“Christ gave some to be apostles and some to be prophets, etc…”
Since Christ has given them to the Church, don’t you wonder where they are?
Go First! (part two)
To the Church at Ephesus, Paul wrote: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… Yet, since the Reformation, the Church in the West has been dominated almost exclusively by those with the pastor-teacher gift.
An apostle is a “sent-one”. Walk into the dozen churches closest to your home and send the members out into the community to minister there. Call them to establish the Kingdom reign and rule of God out there. Challenge them to pioneer fresh and meaningful expressions of ministry that make sense to the prevailing culture — outside their walls.
The Christians in those churches will look at you like you’re nuts!
And the longer they’ve been “churched” the more aghast they will be. If they’ve been in church their entire lives, their incredulity will be nearly insurmountable.
The religious culture in which they’ve been steeping has been training them to be scandalized by the assertion that they’re supposed to minister regularly, routinely, naturally, and passionately among those who are not followers of the Christian way. The culture believes that’s what ministers are paid for. “Ministers minister. We come and sit and listen and sort of tithe…”
Trust me on this.
I’m close to a few Senior Pastors who challenged their people in just this way — and the power brokers who control their elder boards — ran the pastors out. Out of the church. Out of town. Out of pastoral ministry.
It is heartbreaking for the pastors. It’s far more disastrous for the congregations left behind, mired in meaningless maintenance of impotent programs and life-sapping control. The greatest catastrophe, however, is for those the Church continues ignore, insulating them from what would have been provocative demonstrations of Christ’s transformative presence in their midst.
They just go to Hell.
Does this remind you, at all, of Jesus’ words: “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. [Mt 23:13 NLT]
See, the apostolic impetus ignites action.
It generates ground-breaking innovation. It leads change. It is consumed with whatever could expand the reach and impact of the Kingdom of God. The apostolic is risk-taking, not safety-centered. Its orientation is forward.
Christ gave the apostolic to the Church for her effectiveness.
And, where it’s missing, minimized, or marginalized, you get, well… you get what we have today.
Go First! (part one)
Could you imagine the impact of a largely leaderless Church for, say, 400 years?
Well, look around…
We’re heading for the home stretch on this examination of courageous Christian leadership. The impetus for my challenges and observations is Edwin Friedman’s wonderful book: A Failure of Nerve. Thus far, we’ve made eight observations about leadership amidst a culture of cowardice:
One: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge. It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Four: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Five: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
Six: Undermine the 80/20 Rule.
Seven: Reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life.
Eight: Disengage an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.
This brings us to the ninth principle: Go first.
Ever wonder what happened to the Church the Apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians chapter four? A Church in which the saints are the “ministers.”
Paul is clear:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… and become mature… Then we will no longer be infants… Instead… we will grow to become in every respect the mature body… the whole body… grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Ephesians 4:11-16]
In Paul’s conception, Christ gives ministers to the church to train, develop, and equip the members to minister, to mature in every respect, and to w-o-r-k.
Religious educators who teach, and teach, and teach the saints who sit, and sit, and sit while they learn, and learn, and learn.
The saints serving.
The body maturing.
Every part working.
What if the culprit is not so much the laziness and lethargy of the saints but the focus and function of the clergy?
See, Christ himself gave apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, and teaching gifts to equip his Church for maturity and ministry.
An overwhelming super-abundance of pastor-teachers.
Imagine a softball team in which all nine positions are played by catchers. Very well equipped catchers.
Can you see it?
Catcher’s glove. Catcher’s mask. Shin pads. The whole get-up.
Now, put that catcher on the mound and ask her to pitch… Put her in left to run down a deep fly ball… Or, at shortstop to turn a ground ball into a double play.
This is the Church in the West today.
People who learn lots of things, important things, and not much else.
I’m not denigrating the teaching gift. I’m denigrating the notion of the teaching-only ministry.
I’m inviting you to look at the results of recurring generations of pastor/teacher-dominant ministry in the West.
Are you impressed by what you see?
The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part five)
Within a larger conversation concerning courageous leadership we’ve been examining the outworking of placing “an unreasonable faith in reasonableness” – a central tenet of much of post-Enlightenment Christendom in the West. I am indebted to Edwin Freidman’s A Failure on Nerve for illuminating this characteristic of the anxious, shallow, quick-fix orientation to leadership.
This kind of leadership is ruining the Church in North America in our time.
We’ve pointed out that when you preach what you don’t practice, the dissonance repels people – not just from your sanctuary – but from Christianity and Christ. The implications for a society are deeply profound and can infect it for generations.
And, men leave the church in droves.
Or haven’t you noticed?
I subscribe to an excellent book reading service called Leader’s Book Summaries [www.StudyLeadership.com].
I highly recommend it. In a summary of David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church I learned that only one third of church attendees are men—and most of them are over 50. It’s almost impossible to find adults – of either gender — under age 30 in church.
Consider these two lists of values: The first list: Love, communication, beauty, relationships, support, help, nurture, feelings, sharing, harmony, community, and cooperation.
And, the second list: Competence, power, efficiency, achievement, skills, results, accomplishment, technology, goals, success, and competition.
Which list of values are most consistent with the culture that predominates the North American Church today?
The two lists come from John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and distinguish culturally “masculine” from “feminine” values.
In our commitment to be reasonable, among other major shifts, the Church in the west has been emasculated. Neutered. It’s been feminized.
The Leaders Book Summary points out that numerous studies reveal “there is widespread agreement among both the religious and the secular that to be a Christian is to embrace feminine values.”
Consider this: those most absent from church (men and young adults) value challenge over security. Again, taken from the Summary, the key values of this missing population include adventure, risk, daring, independence, variety, and reward.
as core values.
Since values are revealed in behavior, not belief systems, what does your lifestyle reveal, pastor?
When the time has come to take a courageous stand, what does your behavior reveal?
- When the opportunity came to stand up to that manipulative, obstructionist power-wielding elder, what did you do?
- When you thought to lead your parish out into the city to serve and love those outside your tight-knit congregation – and push-back came, as it always does – did you lead courageously or cave under pressure?
- When a clear biblical injunction has become as unpopular in your denomination as in the culture at large, have you censored your own voice?
- When the Holy Spirit stirred you to put your hand to the plow in pursuit of some great, challenging work for God’s glory, did the fearful complaints of the cowards prevail in the end?
As leaders, we get to champion our people to become who they always wanted to be, by taking them where they never wanted to go.
And, since life is always lived from now on, your past behavior is no predictor of the greatness you’ll accomplish before you breathe your last.
So, before you see Jesus face to face, what great, rewarding, daring adventure will you and your people give yourselves to?
What’ll it be?
You get to choose.
The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part four)
Pastor, who you are is more important than anything you say.
In fact, who you are is more important than everything you say!
This Leadership Courage Series is a call to embrace the courageous, risky life that leaders lived in the Church of the New Testament. It stands in glaring contrast to the lifestyle of the professional clergy that, more often than not, resembles tenured professors at our nation’s universities…without the taxpayer-funded salary package.
This is primarily troubling because you are not primarily an educator… you are a role model.
Just like Timothy, Paul, Priscilla & Aquila, Barnabas, John, and Stephen.
Yes, just like them.
If not you, then who?
Who else is to model the vibrant, sold-out Christian life than you, your elders, and leaders?
Those who write books, like those who traverse the Christian speaking circuit, don’t provide the regular proximity and access that you, as shepherd of a local congregation, do—unless you hide in your study and only emerge when it’s time to preach or lead a meeting.
Think about those words: proximity and access.
If the lyrics and music of your preaching and your life don’t align, those words will strike fear in you.
If, however, you’ve raised your way-of-living to match your preaching or aligned your preaching to the faith you actually live, those words will resonate with your heart right now.
See, when your life is “Chamberlainian” [see the last blog], the dissonance between it and the biblical message undercuts your effectiveness as a leader of God’s women and men.
And, when your living is “Churchillian”, the bravery to which you call your congregation is the same as the courage you routinely summon to bring God’s reign to the chaos and disorder that has besieged your community.
One of my favorite preachers is Mike Erre. Mike’s always been an amazing Bible expositor and communicator. Biblically-sound. Funny. Profound. Engaging. Illuminating. Winsome.
In recent years, a medical crisis has befallen someone very dear to Mike and Justina. A crisis from which there’s no recovery. None.
Mike’s preaching gained gravitas. Like Jesus had, when the scholars marveled at his understanding [Luke 2:47] and demons quaked in his presence [Mark 5:7]. You can sense it when you’re around Mike. This man knows what it is to follow Jesus no matter what.
When you live in harmony with the Biblical message, you have gravitas.
So does your preaching.
When you don’t, your sermons are hollow. And that hollowness drives folks away.
The first to go are the true believers. The uncompromising. The bold. The spirited. The gutsy. Those who read their Bibles and believe that it says what it says. That it means what it means.
The people who long for authenticity. Not theory.
They want to associate with a faith community that will live this stuff – Jesus’ stuff – like it’s real.
Because it is.
The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part three)
In this series, we’re examining a distinct type of leadership that is essential when anxiety is afoot—as is certainly the case in the Church in North America. You may attend a strong, confident church: one that is largely free from disquiet and emotional volatility.
Good for you.
But the Church as a whole is a dreadful mess. Hemorrhaging people and funds, closing buildings and selling off property, many once-dominant denominations in the US are failing. Even more troubling, her leaders, destabilized and evacuated of courage, are fearfully and fretfully overseeing the demise.
It’s in this context that clear, decisive, non-anxious leadership is non-negotiable.
We’re looking at nine characteristics of such leadership. Each one modeled for us by Jesus. Currently we’re looking at the seventh: Disengage an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.
Realize that there was nothing “reasonable” in Jesus’ call to be his disciple. His standards were unmistakable. Like this one: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other… [Lk 16:13]
As a leader, who you are is more important than anything you say.
In fact, who you are is more important than everything you say.
But talk that’s not backed by a life has a hollow ring. And that hollowness drives people away… away from church… away from the Church.
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
His words, then as now, ring true.
Because Churchill didn’t give in.
And if he had, it would never have been remembered.
The words didn’t match his life.
The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part two)
It seems that the Church in North America is reasonable if it is anything, and that reasonableness has got us stuck.
“Syncretism” is what scholars call it.
I call it a blight … and a foundation to the culture of cowardice that’s commonplace in the Church today. One way to regain our verve and our nerve, it to take an axe to the roots of our commitment to being reasonable.
Trouble is, there’s comfort in reasonableness. There’s a degree of security there, too. The moderation it provokes can masquerade as wisdom after you’ve had any number of flame-outs when taking bold steps of faith.
I was discipled as a new Christian in a church that regularly twisted scripture and abused power…scarring people both emotionally and spiritually. Annie and I invested ourselves without reservation in a church plant that imploded after an extra-marital affair. Years ago we donated what for us was a breathtaking sum of money for a church building campaign, and later learned that someone on the inside misappropriated tens of thousands from that campaign.
If you’ve been around the Church for any time, scandals are nothing new. How the perpetrators can sleep at night remains a mystery. What is not mysterious is the pressure these setbacks have exerted on my enthusiasm to live “all-in” for Christ. It’s as if powerful spiritual forces conspire to soften my commitment to live boldly for Christ.
A “voice of reason” resonates within coaxing me toward moderation. One popular paradigm suggests that we hold our faith as one of many important commitments. Important, but not essential.
Nothing to lose your head over.
Yet, in the scriptures, moderation in living for Christ is never esteemed.
Who was moderate in their allegiance to Christ?
Thomas, while doubting?
Jesus is unambiguous: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23]
Clear as a bell.
The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part one)
We’re been looking at Christian leadership from what I hope are refreshing and resourceful perspectives. The genesis of this entire series is A Failure of Nerve by the late Edwin Friedman. I am indebted to him for sparking today’s thoughts with his charge to “disengage from an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.”
Pastor, after all the years of disappointments, setbacks, and betrayals in your experience as both minister and disciple, have you become reasoned, balanced, measured, composed in the application of your faith?
I wonder how this impacts those you seem frustrated to inspire?
We are, after all, talking about leading with courage…
If the Christian faith is but one among many, then a sensible, reasonable approach to applying its teachings is appropriate.
If Christianity is just one philosophy among many then holding your faith as you do your political convictions is understandable.
If church involvement is one of several “membership commitments” then you are wise to be measured in your investment therein.
The thing is, Christianity cannot be any of these, for any of us.
If it is but one among many anything — then it is a lie.
The reasonable thing to do with a thing like that is to have nothing to do with it.
The claims of Christ are so radical, singular, and exclusive they can only stand alone. Without rival in any of our lives.
So, Christian, the one question: Is it true?
If Jesus Christ is the completely unique son of God… the way, the truth, and the life… the only route to the Father… the one in whom the fullness of God dwells… then to be reasonable in your commitment to your faith is the most unreasonable thing you could ever do.
To be reasonable in your commitment to Christ is the most unreasonable thing you could ever do.
No reasonable person would declare “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil 1:21]
Maybe you rationalize: “Well Kirk, that was Paul. The Apostle Paul. He wrote half the New Testament. Paul’s was a highly unusual commitment to Christ and Christianity.”
Yet, Paul was either crazy or he fully expected the Christians in Philippi to do the same with their lives.
Paul, like Jesus, was no reasonable person.
Gripped at his core, from his core, to his core with the unreasonableness of faith, everything Paul wrote and modeled indicated a radical, all-in embrace of faith.
Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part five)
My friends were approved by Habitat for Humanity several years ago. Working the graveyard shift in a manufacturing plant, driving a cab, and doing odd jobs whenever he could still wouldn’t provide the down payment my buddy would need to own a home. Habitat, however, had a pathway to home ownership.
Richard and his wife Jackie, donated their time – lots of it – to help other Habitat recipients build their homes over a period of months and years. Then, when the time came to work on their home, dozens of others were there to help out.
It was a blast.
Richard and Jackie had “skin in the game”. They got far more than a home. They invested themselves in their home in a way that changed them.
Why doesn’t Habitat just hand out homes? They could. They could use a lottery system to select the fortunate few who’d get a nice new Habitat house for free. But they don’t.
Pastor, if you’re in the disciple-making business then you’re in the business of changing people.
Changing people into the image of Christ. Provoking people to live and love and give and care and serve the way Jesus did—motivated by what motivated him.
And, that rarely happens when you keep handing people fish.
You might have read, back in installment # 16 of this Series, I was struggling my way through a character-development workshop in Honolulu with Dan, my trainer and mentor. Dan’s life-changing counsel:
Kirk, we’re not here to give people fish.
We’re not here to teach them to fish.
We’re here to provoke their hunger.
Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part four)
Here’s another look at the 80/20 Rule and its connection to the culture of cowardice in the North American Church. And, it may be hard to hear.
Could it be that a distorted substitute for biblical grace has taken the Church?
Consider how little the Church asks of Christians… in the name of “grace”.
And, consider the abundance of resources we make available to Christians who are expected to contribute next to nothing in return. Churches, in general, are so transfixed with providing for their own that they have little time, energy, and resources with which to serve those outside.
Think about it:
Baby dedications. Baptisms. Child care. Mom’s nights out. Children’s ministry. Youth group. Relationship counseling. College and career ministry. Pre-marital classes. Weddings. Marriage counseling. Divorce recovery. Grief counseling. Financial management seminars. Debt counseling. Bereavement care. Memorial services.
Our churches provide cradle-to-grave services to the saved— most of which are free of any call that the recipients contribute their time, energy, or money to the community of faith from which they take, take, take.
Is it any wonder that fewer than 10% of church-dwellers tithe?
Ever attended a church while it undertook a major capital campaign?
For a capital campaign to succeed, two things have to occur: those who already give must dig deep and give more—usually a lot more—and they often do. And also, those who rarely give and who only gesture at giving are called upon to sacrifice as well—and that’s where the commotion commences…
A capital campaign–like the claims of Lordship that Jesus so clearly articulates–calls each of us to painful sacrifice. In Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, and 14:27 the gospels record Jesus’ clearly: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Yet, in our commitment to be visitor-sensitive, we communicate in dozens of ways that cross-bearing is optional. Not expected. And, certainly not insisted upon. And then, when we finally call our people – all of them – to get in the game in a sacrificial way, many of them pack up and leave for another church. Or, no church at all.
And, look where all this visitor-sensitivity has got us.
Do you see maturing disciples all around you?