Meanderings of a Minister

What Makes A Great Leader?
May 5, 2017, 2:48 pm
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Over the years, there have been some fantastic works on this subject.  Oswald Chambers’ Spiritual Leadership, Henry Blackaby and Henry Brandt’s Power of the Call, Henry Blackaby’s Spiritual Leaderhsip, Aubrey Malphurs’ Leading Leaders, James Garlow’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Tested by Time, Os Guiness’ When No One Sees and Tony Morgan’s Killing Cockroaches are just some Christian examples.  But when you get down to the basics of leadership, you really only have to deal with one definition.  What is that definition?  Simply…are people following?  If they are, you are a leader.  If they are not, you are not a leader.  It is that simple.  It actually has nothing to do with degrees (and, yes, I do have some of these).  It has nothing to do with how many leadership books you have read (I have those, too!).  It also has nothing to do with how many positions of leadership you have found yourself in (yep, this is also me!).  The simple question is…are people following?

Jesus was a great leader.  He had followers.  Paul was a great leader.  He had followers.  Peter was a great leader.  He had followers.  James was a great leader.  He had followers.  John was a great leader.  He had followers.  These men were all great leaders.  In our day, Billy Graham was a great leader.  He had followers.  Beth Moore is a great leader.  She has followers.  Anne Graham Lotz is a great leader.  She has followers.  John Piper, John MacArthur, Luis Palau, Crawford Loritts, Chip Ingram, Stormie Omartian.  All great leaders.  All have followers.  But what does it take to be a great leader?

Gordon MacDonald, in his book, Building Below the Waterline, lists four key strengths of great leaders.  I find these helpful and would encourage all of us that lead to look for these in our own lives.

Are you able to communicate vision?  Jesus told His disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven in terms they could understand.  He described it as a field to farmers, as a net of fish to fishermen, as sheep and goats to shepherds and so on and so forth.  What Jesus was doing in this was casting vision to His followers, so that they would get of glimpse of what He could clearly see.  Perhaps the reason that we don’t have more people following as leaders is because we can’t communicate vision because we have none.  We just want to get through the week without killing anyone or losing our jobs.  The height of the Christian experience for most Christian leaders is simply measured by how many times I gave in to whatever temptation I am struggling with at the moment.  A great leader sees a great vision with great clarity and communicates it the same way.

Are you sensitive to people?  This is another trait of a great leader.  Too many times, we see people as an interruption to the ministry we could have.  We tend to think they need to lead, follow or get out of the way.  While this might be right for them to wrestle with, a great leader is also sensitive to their needs, fears, limitations, etc.  Perhaps that person that seems like a wet blanket to all of your plans just can’t see your vision and maybe it is because they have been in this situation before and were hurt through it.  Maybe they need time to process what you have communicated.  Maybe they are just afraid of the unknown.  A great leader with be sensitive to these possibilities and will consider them when communicating his vision.

Can you assess situation accurately?  A great leader must be able to walk into a situation and realize who is in charge by title and who is in charge by personality.  A great leader must be able to recognize people whose expertise puts them in charge and who is simply in charge because they draw their self-esteem from being in charge.  He or she must also be able to recognize when the ship is driving itself because no one is in charge.  Additionally, a great leader must be able to look through the smoke and mirrors and see what is really going on.  (Notice how these competencies complement each other?)

Lastly, a great leader must also know him or herself.  Too often, we don’t know ourselves very well and that lack of knowledge makes communicating our visions tough.  It keeps us from being sensitive to people and it prevents us from properly assessing our situations.  We need to know if we are leading from some of the motives listed earlier.  We need to know our physical, emotional and spiritual strengths and weaknesses.

Leadership is simply defined as…is anyone following; however, people will want to follow leaders that can effectively see and communicate vision.  They will gravitate to those that are sensitive to people.  They will get on board with those that can assess situations with clarity of purpose.  They will be drawn to work with and serve a leader that knows his or herself with honesty to keep from using others to simply achieve their purposes.  Know of any leaders like that?  Are you one?  Would you like to be?  I would like to be some day.  How about you?


Lord, Teach Us to Pray!

Lord Teach Us to Pray

That was the request of the disciples one night after they had watched Jesus praying and speaking with His Father.  One of the disciples spoke up and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray just like they had seen John the Baptist teach his disciples.  Basically, they saw in Jesus a means and method of communicating with the Father that looked so much more intimate and vital than the rote prayers they were used to praying and they wanted to learn how to lean in to that kind of a relationship with the Father.

Jesus began by teaching them to call God their Father.  This was a new way of referring to God as through a personal relationship of love.  This would assume that they believe God loved them.  It would also assume that God wanted to hear from them.  Not because He did not already know what they were going to say or what was going on in their lives, but because God desired relationship with them even more than they desired the relationship with God.

Next, he told them to ask that God’s Name be hallowed.  Since we don’t use the word, hallowed, much, it would be helpful to think about what Jesus was saying.  He was saying that His disciples should make the entire basis of their prayer and their life to be the lifting up of God’s Name as holy, awesome, powerful, mighty, and wonderful.  They were to pray that people would think much of God’s Name and would want others to do the same.  This prayer is hard to pray honestly, if we are not living this day to day, so asking God is also a way of asking Him to help us to live that way.

“Your Kingdom come” was the next phrase Luke recorded in Luke 11.  This was to pray that God would come and rule the world like He rules in Heaven.  Not meaning that He is sovereign, because that is already the case everywhere you look.  God is sovereign, but what the disciples were to pray was that God’s reign would come to earth or that God’s plan for His world would be consummated.  Again, this is hard to pray if we are not living this out daily.

Jesus then taught them to pray that God would give them each day their daily bread.  While you and I know that all we have comes from God, Jesus wanted to make sure that they recognized God as the source of their sustenance.  For those of us who do not live with a lack of resources, this is even more important because we have a tendency to take for granted that what we have comes from our hard work instead of appreciating that even our ability to live, move, breathe, and work comes daily from God.

The next part of the prayer seems to come more natural for most Christians I know.  “Forgive us our sins”.  But Jesus did not stop there when teaching His disciples to pray.  He went on to teach them, “for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us”.  Jesus taught us to daily, or even periodically, to tell God that we have forgiven those who have done us wrong.  This is a tall order.  Even this week, I have experienced a hurt that I am struggling with and want to be able to put it behind me, but find myself struggling.  Jesus said in Matthew that if we did not forgive, we would not be forgiven.  This part of the prayer sends me back to my knees to beg for God’s help.

He ended with teaching them to pray that God would not lead them into temptation.  What did He mean by that?  Surely God would not lead someone to sin.  Would He?  Of course He would not.  This part of the prayer is a request that makes us aware of the times God gives us the way of escape.  It reminds us that we must lean on and follow God in order to avoid the temptations or to resist the sin to which the temptation might lead us.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray that their lives would be a constant advertisement for the awesomeness of God’s Name, as an example of His rule, as a testimony to His faithfulness, and as a surrender to his leadership.  When people look at your life, do they see any of that?  Maybe we had better start praying like we have been taught.

Who Are You Following?
May 12, 2016, 8:57 am
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In the book of Judges, we find an interesting story.  The Israelites had been sinning against God, so God allowed Jabin, the king of Canaan, to harass them for twenty years.  During this time, Barak was the commander of the Israelite armed forces.  During this twenty years, Barak did nothing to fight against the foreign king so God raised up Deborah as a judge to deliver Israel.  Deborah told Barak to gather his forces together and to go to Mount Tabor and attack Jabin’s forces.  In Judges 4:8, we get Barak’s response, “If you [Deborah] will go with me, then I will go; but if you [Deborah] will not go with me, then I will not go.”

In other words, Barak was saying that he would not do his job unless Deborah went with him.  Now, there are a variety of reasons for this, but notice how different and how similar Barak’s statement was to that of Moses earlier in the Israelites’ history.  In Exodus 33:15, Moses said to God, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.”  Did you catch that?  Moses was saying that he would not lead if God did not go with him.  Barak was saying he would not lead if Deborah did not go with him.  Before you jump to wrong conclusions, allow me to make this observation.  The main difference was that Moses appealed to following God while Barak appealed to following a person.

That brings us to the title of this article.  Who are you following?  Many times people in churches follow a pastor.  When the pastor leaves, the people leave.  In Bible Study groups, people follow the Small Group leader.  When the leader leaves, the people leave.  For people who are following God, the leader, while important, is not the ultimate reason for attending, serving, and working in the church.  So, when the leader leaves, the people following God continue following God and doing what they have been called to do.

Now, you might object, “What about Paul?  He told the people to imitate him as he imitated Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1)  Doesn’t that mean that Paul wanted them to follow him?”  Actually, the key to what Paul is saying is when he said AS HE IMITATED CHRIST.  What Paul wanted of the Corinthians more than anything was that they would follow Christ.  He told them earlier in the book not to divide up in church over what person you follow, but to follow Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:4-5)  He even went so far as to tell the Galatians that if he were to begin preaching another gospel, other than salvation by grace and through faith, they should remove him from leadership and treated him as an unbeliever. (Galatians 1:8-9)

So, who are you following?  Why do you go to church?  By the way, can I say that the people in the pews (or chairs) are not the only ones who easily succumb to this pressure of following people instead of following God.  Pastors and leaders can fall into this trap as well.  First, everyone likes to be liked, so there is a pressure to only do what will make the people of your church like you.  But what do you do when that Cult of Personality hijacks following God?  As leaders, we had better follow God, but this is not always easy.  Sometimes there are situations in which there is no clear, one-biblical-way, to do something.  We know what we need to do, but how to do it becomes a different situation.  Who do we follow then?  And how do we know we are following God and not just pridefully resisting someone we want to not have to follow?  How do we know if we are bowing to financial pressure, popularity pressure, or even job security when the way is not right before us?  It comes down to our relationship with God and whether or not He has given us enough direction to know we must die for our decision.  If we are following Him, we will persevere.  If we are going our own way, we will walk away.  If we are following someone else, we will follow them.

So, church leaders, church members, regular attenders, and even guests of churches would do well to ask the question, “Who are you following?”  Having asked that question, we need to be able to respond, “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Who Gets Promoted and Who Doesn’t and Why (probably not because they read this book)
July 23, 2014, 9:18 am
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Donald Asher is well-known by many in the business community as the author of a book, now in its second edition, that outlines for them how to get promoted.  He includes both how to get promoted and what to avoid to keep it from happening.  His subtitle is “12 Things You’d Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead”.  Since this is a business book, it make sense that he draws all of his illustrations from the business world.  While Asher has some great things to say, many of these are self-evident and his mentioning of them is not all that helpful or insightful.  For instance, he talks about anticipating change and offering yourself as the solution to the problems or opportunities that change presents.  The problem with his encouragement to ride the wave of change comes from the assumption that a person can see all changes and that a person can remain nimble and trained up enough on potential futures to be the answer to anything that might come up.  While this would be the best scenario, it is not always possible, nor practical.  I realize the reader might be thinking that I am merely claiming sour grapes and not wanting to change and that this reluctance is driving my criticism.  My point is simply that it is not always possible to know what is coming, nor economical to train for every potential future.

Asher presents a  pyramid for getting promoted in the second chapter of his book.  I found this both helpful and a little presumptive.  He says that doing your job well is the foundation for future success (again, very obvious), but goes on to say this is not enough.  You have to:

1. Do your job well.
2. Make yourself known to the right people.
3. Develop the skillset needed for advancement (see note above).
4. Be available when opportunity knocks.  Package yourself for promotion.
5. Win the promotion.

While all of these steps are helpful, they are also nothing new.  What is new is that a person would approach their current situation with an eye always on promotion.  And herein lies the true power of Asher’s book.  Asher suggests that doing one’s job is no longer that best indicator of who is eligible for promotion.  For instance, he suggests that anyone who becomes so good at their job so as to become irreplaceable has actually worked against his or herself for promotion.  The military has seen their way around this conundrum for a long time, but they have the endless pockets which come from your tax money.  For businesses with limited resources, and profitability at stake, this is too often the case.  Many employers and senior managers would rather not take a chance on moving someone with a known skill set to a position they may not be able to fill.  They do not want to lose the productivity or mid-level leadership.  So, while a bit confusing, a person is to do their job well, but not too well.

Asher’s main contribution in Who Gets Promoted and Who Doesn’t and Why is that he challenges the average person to be become more than average and to seek to reach their full potential.  He suggests this through being a constant student of the company, people, the art of selling yourself and your company, and the art of reading and managing people.  This is worth the cost of the book for the person that has not considered such things before.  For those that read this type of material, and for those who have worked in the business world for any amount of time at all, this is obvious and need not be shared.

If I sound like I am confusing and ambivalent towards Who Gets Promoted and Who Doesn’t and Why, it is because I am.  The book is the same, so it is fitting.  If you have not read any material on promoting yourself, get the book.  If you have, don’t bother.  If you work in a company that leaves the door open for promotion, and you are not sure how to step through, get the book.  If you don’t work in that environment, save $15.  If you need a motivational push to get going, read the book.  If are already motivated, don’t get bogged down in reading the book.  You are probably already doing what Asher recommends.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from The Crown Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Church: A Three Layer Cake or One Layer Plate?
May 23, 2013, 8:32 pm
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Happy Birthday

In a recent article in Your Church Magazine, Ed Stetzer wrote that many churches, and many Christians, have created a three-tier system of ministry that is hurting the church worldwide.  What is the three-tier system and why is it so hurtful?  Good questions.  While I don’t normally mention articles or magazines in my newsletter articles, I found this one salient to our situation at First Southern Baptist Church as we move into another busy summer of activities during which we hope to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Stetzer says this three-tier system is comprised of Tier One:  Lay People.  This is the lowest tier and represents the majority of people who attend a church, but do not serve in any kind of leadership position.  Stetzer says, “While most pastors would never openly say this, often they look at this tier’s main job as to pay, pray and get out of the way.”  I would add to his comments that many of the people in many of the churches of our day see themselves this way.  They might never openly admit it, but, when it comes to ministry, “That is what we pay the staff to do!”

Stetzer goes on to say the second tier is made us up Pastors and Church Leaders.  These are those “called to ministry”.  These are the people serving in ministry from which they receive pay.  They are paid to lead the church while all others are expected to yield to their leadership because of their expertise.  They often see themselves as the only voices that matter and the congregation often agrees.

Finally, there is tier three.  This is made up of missionaries.  They travel far away, give up their lives to work cross-culturally, don strange garb, eat bugs for breakfast and are often introduced as the only real missionaries when they visit churches.  Many in the congregation see them as uber-Christians with a calling that sets them above the average person.  Many of the pastors and staff see them as a cut above and feel guilty that the Pastors and staff don’t live up to that calling because they are only called to ministry and not called to missions.

While this is an accurate picture of the way many people look at the segmentation of the church, is it Biblical?  Hardly!  One of the hallmarks of the ministry of First Southern Baptist Church is to empower and equip every member to be on mission.  In the Orientation to First Southern Baptist Church seminar required for membership, we state “every member is a minister”.  We could just as easily say, “every member is a missionary”.  As a pastor, I love to hear about a church member that has led a friend to Christ, has reached out to meet a need, is discipling a co-worker or is heading off on a “mission trip” to their neighbors.  I believe this is the essence of what Jesus meant when He told His disciples that they would do many more wonderful works than He did (See John 14:12).  He meant that they would do more in number because they were more in number than He alone.  As we all minister and all are on mission and all are praying, studying, sharing, serving, meeting needs, worshipping and fellowshipping, we are the Church as Christ intended.

As Summer approaches, it is a time of vacation, longer days, outreach, family gatherings, Sunday School, cookouts, swimming, worship, camping, theme parks, travel, and ministry.  Join me as a fellow follower of Christ as we reach out in His Name.  Whether it is inviting people to an outdoor movie, passing out water, watching inflatables, making sno-cones, or grilling in the backyard with friends and family, going to a family reunion, or camping with your own family, let’s look for and take advantage of opportunities to reach out to people with the love of Christ, share with them the message of Christ and attempt to introduce them to the Lordship of Christ.  Let’s buck the trend and get rid of tiers that must cause Christ tears and be the Church!

Who Are You Following?
February 15, 2013, 7:21 pm
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I know this title has been used before in this very article, but it bears thinking on periodically. I was reading my Bible this morning (imagine that!). I was reading Proverbs 30:5-6 where the Authorized Version of the Bible reads this way:

Col imraht el loah tserupha mah gain who lahosim boh al toeschah al debarahn pen yocheeach bekkah venickzahvtah

Okay, perhaps we had better use a more modern translation to understand it better! Here is how the New American Standard Version renders the verses:

“Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar. “

As I read this passage, I was struck with a few thoughts that made it into my journal for the day and into my prayers this morning. Perhaps I would just copy it here:

“Lord, I thank You for Your Word and the way that It is timely to teach, train, and temper exactly the temptation and the tempter. When I meet with people for counseling, I want to make sure I represent Your Word faithfully and that I explain and apply Your Word accurately. When I preach, in the church and outside of it, I want to make sure that I am able to know that I have presented Your Word accurately and have not shortchanged You or It because of a desire to be liked or accepted. When I preach a funeral for a family with no knowledge of You, or relationship with You, I want to be sensitive to their needs, but more than that, I want to be faithful to You. When I am at home, I want to follow You. When I am in my own thoughts, I want to represent You well. No matter what I am doing, may Your Word always be the lamp to my feet and the light to my path. And may I be able to see it clearly and plainly so that I can point others to Your Light as well.”

Is this your heart’s cry as well? Is this the cry of your pastor, minister, elder, or priest’s heart? If so, learn from them. Watch them. Imitate them. Follow them. Respect them. Help them. If not, be very careful to make sure that you only follow them in the ways that they are following Christ. In fact, you might want to think about going to church somewhere else, if the pastor’s heart is not to follow Christ, because of the influence they might have over you.

I have been blessed to have had some great examples in coming up through the church. I am blessed to be able to serve alongside pastors in the Liberal Ministerial Alliance. Some of them are great examples to me as well. I hope that I can be to others and return the favor. So…who are you following? Or maybe, whose following you? And what are they learning?