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 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 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 three)
We’re looking at another characteristic of the culture of cowardice that’s become normative in North American Christianity: the 80/20 Rule is flourishing!
As senior pastor, elder, or lay leader, what can you do to Undermine the 80/20 Rule in your congregation?
Last time, we proposed that you and your staff think like people-developers, not gatherers of passive spectators.
Instead, fix your attention on those who are making a difference for Christ.
Decide what maturing in Christ looks like in your context: serving the un-churched, giving sacrificially of one’s money, time, and talents, etc. Count those who live this way. Those who contribute, who serve, who minister outside as well as inside the church.
Count only those who do.
Focus on their progress. Use them as examples when you teach and train. Make them your ministry’s visible heroes.
Pay attention to their growth. Who among them is God stretching, growing, maturing, and strengthening?
What are the experiences that seem to contribute to the development of their character, confidence in ministry, trust in Christ, and tenderness of heart?
What can you, as a senior leadership team, do to provoke your people to love and good works? [Hebrews 10:24]
And, while you’re doing that, wean yourself off your fixation with how many attend this or that. To undermine the 80/20 rule, stop yourself from caring about how many come and listen… to you. Stop asking about how many came and sat and took and left.
Three: Innovate ways to involve everyone, every time.
A lot of people come to my church, several services a weekend. So …
- What if, routinely in our services, we formed groups and asked them to find someone with whom they discover they have something in common, then turn that common ground into prayer?
- What if our greeters grabbed the first ten strangers who walked in, and asked them to help?
- What if our ushers randomly asked people to help them?
- What if our trained prayer team folks picked a handful of people who they quickly trained to pray then had them come alongside and assist them when praying for others?
- What if every ministry team, the weekend before they do some local ministry, randomly ask people in the service to come and do it with them? What if the service was suspended until 15 people agreed to come and help?
What if you made it clear that this is a community where everyone gives. From day one.
Where everyone contributes.
Where everyone plays.
What if giving, and contributing, and playing is how maturing disciples are made?
Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part two)
In other words, re-think why you’re in Christian ministry.
Decide to jettison the notion—promoted by almost three hundred years of post-enlightenment Church culture—that your role primarily is to educate and entertain church dwellers. Instead, become primarily a disciple-maker and maturity-provoker. When your purpose is to catalyze people to live like Jesus, so much of the activity that fills and frustrates your workweek will change.
Think about it.
What if your senior staff took 80% of the hours it devotes to preparing for and pulling off a slick service –- an education and entertainment event – and dedicated that time to imagining ways to provoke Christ-likeness in your people?
- What skills would you be sure to have them practice? Let me propose a few: discerning God’s voice, praying for others effectively, listening well, succinctly sharing the story of their introduction to Christ.
- What would you have them role play? Communicating parts of their Christ-story so as to connect with a variety of people in any number of typical life situations, responding biblically to universal ethical and moral challenges, selecting appropriate scriptures to support people facing common difficulties, life experiences, and perplexities.
- What field trip experiences would be core to your disciple-making process? Serving those outside the church who are culturally similar to your trainee, volunteering with secular service organizations, interviewing community leaders about the true needs of neighboring residents [police officials, mayor’s office, school administrators, YWCA director, city council members], meeting and befriending their actual neighbors.
- How would you insure that your people apply whatever is taught when you do an education event? Pave pathways in advance of your weekend education events so that every person can take action in line with their new learning.
In the people-development business the options and opportunities available to you are virtually unlimited. Challenging your people to trust God in real-time and to discover God’s goodness as, and after, they do, can become central to your congregation’s experience.
It’s up to you.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty seven)
We’re unpacking the sixth leadership principle for pastors who find themselves immersed in a culture of cowardice that in my observation has taken over the Church in North America.
UNDERMINE THE 80/20 RULE!
Consider this: what expectations are communicated to those who gather at your weekend services?
Don’t smoke in the building.
Sign in your kids. Take a pager.
Leave your coffee outside the sanctuary.
Give something, if you want to.
Take part in this class, that event, the other small group experience.
You can boil down the “contract” you make with most of your folks this way: “Just come back and we’ll take care of everything else.“
And, if they come back, they do exactly what you’ve asked: nothing.
And you’re relieved if they do this this for years…
Now consider: how frequently and how clearly do you teach your congregation about giving?
Jesus spoke more about money than any subject other than the Kingdom of God. Why? Because what you treasure reveals your character. [Mt 6:21]
Yet, most pastors dread speaking about finances. “People will think that all we care about is money” some of you say. So, you rarely teach the topic and how closely allied it is to all issues of the heart of your people.
And, here’s the irony. Pastor, if you’re honest, you think about money all the time!
See, if you’re in the business of packing the pews and parking lot [what I call the “religious education and entertainment business”], you’ll avoid all the topics that invite people to take offense (and reveal their values).
Strange that Jesus wasn’t smart enough to remember this, since he addressed the topic so very, very often? In fact, of you study his behavior, you’ll conclude that keeping the crowds coming back for more wasn’t nearly as important to Jesus as it is to us.
What was Jesus’ priority?
Why did Jesus say what he said? Why did he teach, tell the stories he told, and live among people the way he did? I assert that Jesus was in the people-development business. Jesus was making Kingdom citizens of people. And, when it happened, these people lived in very distinct ways.
“Discipleship”, to Jesus, had everything to do with how people live, and why they do what they do. The heart-posture and motivation of one’s actions. Discipleship began with the renovation of the heart… and that heart-posture expressed itself in a way-of-being in the world that was…well, remarkable. [Acts 16:7]
Yet, in North America, church dwellers’ way-of-being in society seems anything but remarkable.
Funny, too, that when pastors teach about finances, giving almost always increases… at least for a while.
Ever wondered why cults get a following? I offer that one reason is that they communicate clear expectations of their members. Very rigorous expectations. Often misguided. Theologically corrupt as well. Yet, people by the thousands “pony up” whatever is required. Maybe the cult leaders abuse the scriptures that you avoid…
Still, Jesus said: “If anyone will come after me, he (or she) must take up their cross daily and follow me.” [Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34] Yet, such preaching is rarely heard in the seeker-sensitive, politically-correct Church of our day.
I wonder what prices we pay, as a result.
I wonder what prices American society is paying, too.
Undermine the 80/20 Rule
What if we who lead have actually established the culture that reinforces 80/20?
What are we communicating such that the vast majority of church dwellers feel great about coming, taking, and contributing nothing?
And, though you’re unaware of it, pastor, what if this is exactly what you want?
I invite you to ponder: what are you doing to perpetuate 80/20 in your congregation? And, since, according to Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve “No one has ever gone from slavery to freedom with the slaveholders cheering them on” I fully expect to encounter your resistance to this claim: 80/20 is yet another evidence of the culture of cowardice that is alive and well in much of the American Church.
So, take a breath. Set your resistance aside, and gather your key leaders together. Lock yourselves in a conference room until you can identify at least ten ways your church communications, culture, and leadership promote and preserve 80/20.
Think about it.
One: what do we model when, every time the doors are open, a relative handful minister to the many who simply spectate?
When a thousand gather for “worship” what do they see?
Another one does announcements.
One or two run the soundboard, show the videos, dim the lights.
Maybe a dozen play instruments or sing in a worship band. Or, maybe you have an organist. One organist…and a soloist. One soloist.
A couple dozen function as greeters and ushers.
And, several dozen teach the children—but that happens elsewhere… out of sight of most of the adults.
What you model reinforces a culture in which very few exercise their gifts and very many do next to nothing.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty five)
We’re examining the adventurous life: a life that, for every Christian, should be completely normal. I’m just one of dozens of examples I know.
I keep ending up in dilemmas that are completely beyond my ability. This was almost never the case before I surrendered my life to Christ. Now, it seems, the adventurous life beacons everywhere. Something inside urges me to sprint into the center of my untidy life and to look for God there, as my provision.
Traveling to consult the board and staff of a conflicted church, I discover I’ve completely underestimated the severity of the situation into which I’m about to step. All that I’ve prepared must be scrapped, and there’s no time to adequately develop a new plan. I have no idea what to do, and I go anyway…
Leading a Bible study, I’m summoned to the phone and learn my son has been in jail for two days, out of state, and unable to reach me. I book a flight to leave the morning…
Delivering groceries to the needy, I learn that a woman with whom we’d prayed has been cured of an infection. She insists that I go to see her friend. On the way, I learn that her friend is dying of brain cancer. We go anyway, I lay my hands on the woman’s head and pray for her healing…
Driving from church to a Father’s day celebration, traffic is inching past a fire engine positioned to block the view of drivers when there’s a particularly gruesome accident. Glancing to my right I see the wreckage of a blue Mustang convertible…
It is the car my daughter and son were driving— the car is flipped onto the hood, windshield flattened. There is no room for any human to have survived. Driver and passenger must have been thrown from the car … or decapitated.
There can be no other explanation.
Crying out to God, I jerk my car to the curb and sprint toward the shattered remains of Lauren’s car…
I’m shocked to learn that a massive sum of money is missing from a capital campaign. The only person with access to the funds is a nationally-respected executive with whom I’m scheduled to meet in the next few minutes. If the conversation doesn’t go well, end my career. I go and raise the concern, head-on…
While praying, I’m impressed by God (I guess) to “deliver a message” to our Mayor. For the next several days, I endeavor to dismiss the thought as a ridiculous concoction of my overactive imagination. The longer I struggle, the stronger the conviction that I’m to make an appointment, sit down with the Mayor, and ask him a very specific question. I make the appointment, meet with the Mayor, and ask the question…
Throw your body into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it!
To fully participate in the life God’s given me, knowing that in myself I’m not enough, is to apprehend the adventurous life.
It’s waiting for you, too.