Friday, January 27, 2012

Rubble University: Part II, Love Don't Lead

I can hear Andy Stanley's voice, "Leadership is a stewardship issue, and you're accountable" - the opening refrain to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast and I've absorbed them all. According to Bill Hybels, "a leadership crisis" inspired him to engineer Global Leadership Summit which "exists to transform Christian leaders around the world." Do not forget the 13,000 strong Catalyst Conference designed to target the next generation of leaders.  I have also heard, from inside informants, that one reason Churches of Christ are in decline is because we train our staff to be theologians rather than leaders. These examples are a dusting of how my generation of preachers are inundated with leadership propaganda. We learn that leadership brings success.  Leadership makes things happen. Leadership is where it is at...Churches need leaders.

While I agree that leadership is vital for healthy congregations, the supersaturation of leadership pills prescribed to aspiring preachers (and ministers) often leads to an unhealthy and unrealistic view of your role.  As a result, you enter ministry believing your primary purpose is to lead -  to cast vision and raise the sails that will take the community into genuine Kingdom work, to enlighten the hearers with a theology that will transform their life, and to organize staff and volunteers into a well-oiled redemptive machine.  You tend to focus on "moving people" rather than focusing "on people."  You become more preoccupied with results and progress where people are tools to help you fulfill your Kingdom ambition rather than investing in relationships.

I have come to believe that your primary purpose as a preacher is not to lead but to love.  As you settle into a new ministry you should ask yourself, "How can I love these people?"  You should pray, "God, help me to love these people." You should tell the search committee during the interview, "My primary goal is to love this Church!"  Then you should go about the business of loving the people. 

Your "love strategy" will vary according to congregational size and positional expectations, but the task remains the same: to love.  For example, if you are a sole minster in a small church, you are going to be better off investing heavily in the pastoral care of your members, especially at first.  People will forgive average preaching if you dropped by the hospital to check on Nanna.  Or, if you preach at a multi-staff Church, and your role more narrowly defined, express your love for the congregation in public prayers, the language of your sermons, your tweets, blogs, and Facebook status updates. Be liberal but sincere.

If John Maxwell is right and leadership is simply influence then "loving" is the most effective way to lead.  Those who have the most influence in your life are those who you know love you the most: parents, spouses, mentors, long-time friends.  They influence your decisions, your actions, your movements.  You will have more influence in your congregation if they know you are there to love them rather than lead them. 

Jesus, whether you are a Christian or not, is arguably one of the greatest leaders in history. His influence transcends culture, age, time, and race. It spans the globe.  In John 13 Jesus gathers, for one last meal, with his closest companions.  Jesus will pass the torch of leadership to this group of followers.  They will be the first and most important leaders of the church. Jesus takes this opportunity to model a leadership lesson they would not soon forget.  The text says, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he [Jesus] showed them the full extent of his love."  He took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist and washed their feet.  The LORD, hours before they would all abandon him, lowered himself to the position of a servant.  He loved them, and called them to do the same: to love not lead!

"May the Lord grant you his heart and compassion as you walk with, minister to, and fight for those entrusted to your care."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rubble University: Part I, You are NOT a Preacher

Although I wouldn't recommend it: pain, trials, and sinful choices are a full semesters worth of Life credit. Despite the last three years being the most challenging and failed of my short existence, I still believe I have lived, by the grace of God, an easy and comfortable life.  I feel, today, God's favor on me, a heavy hand of favor that makes me cower undeservingly.  It is the cherry on top of a 3 year journey in humility.  I'm not saying "I'm humble," but rather that I have been humbled...forced against my pride to rely fully on an a life in God.  In short, I've learned a lot from my failures: moral failures, failures born of ignorance, and failures from immaturity.

This post is the first in a series where I offer a brief summary of "leadership/ministry" lessons.  Lessons I've scavenged from the rubble, lessons I wish I knew earlier (probably should have known).  I tailor them toward preaching and ministry but you can apply them to any role involving leadership and responsibility (even parenting).  I hope something in the next several posts can encourage and challenge you.

1.  You Are NOT a Preacher (Minister):   You are not a preacher.  You are a child of God gifted and called to preach.  If you woke up today and the pulpit was gone, your office empty, and the name plate on your wall replaced, would you know who you are?  Yes, you would grieve the loss.  But would you be lamenting the loss of a loved job or the loss of your identity? When you make preaching your identity, it becomes your god, and all idols eventually rust, break, and leave you bloody and exhausted after dancing and shouting for hours on end with no response (I Kings 18).  And when preaching becomes the god to whom you sacrifice, you hinder the effectiveness of your ministry and the Kingdom of God.
    First, when your value and self-understanding rest on the soft foundation of preaching rather than the steadfast love of God, your ministry moves away from God to yourself.  Preaching becomes about your influence, your reputation, your ability, your growing number of "gigs", your skill, your eloquence, and your notoriety. Instead of pointing to the cross, you use the story of the cross to point to you.  When preaching becomes your identity it ceases to be preaching mutating into a religious talent show.  Preaching, by definition, is "A word from the Lord" and not a word about you.

    Second, you can expect an emotional roller coaster ride from hell...Highs, when you will look in the mirror and whisper to your dashing self, "You are awesome!" Lows, when you will want to crawl into a hole and die (no one would care anyway).  Your contentment will bob around like a buoy in a midnight squall, because it depends upon the congregational response. When the congregation praises your preaching, when they write raving reviews, you will feel amazing about yourself. But, when the criticism comes, you will not see the criticism as directed at your preaching but as criticism directed at you.  As your mood tettertotters with the congregational response, temptations arise: First, to tickle the ears of the hearer; second, to bounce from place to place in order to remain in the "honeymoon" stage; third, to ignore and/or avoid constructive criticism; fourth, to foster bitterness and resentment against the congregation when things go poorly.

    You are NOT a preacher. You are a Child of God. His forming you, his breathing life into your fragile frame, his delivering you, his inviting you to participate in his life...that is who you are. So, how do you remind yourself you are NOT a preacher?
    1. Take your DAY OFF (I made the mistake of not doing that).  
    2. Talk with your elders about rearranging your schedule to fit around family life rather than forcing family life to fit around your ministry schedule. For example, if you have young children at home, go to work at 9:00 AM instead of 8:00 AM.  You you can help get them to school.  Make that hour up studying from your house after they go to bed at night
    3. Find a hobby: running (should be manditory), hunting, fishing, cooking, shopping (within reason), Call of Duty, high school basketball, etc.
    4. Be gracious in sharing the pulpit.
    5. Bring in preachers who you know are better than you.
    6. Invite others to help you plan and brainstorm for your sermons. 
    7. Find a group of people you trust, who love you for you. Invite them to provide honest sermon feedback. 
    And I'm sure there are 100 other ways to live out of the reality that you are NOT a preacher; you ARE a child of God.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    Spaghetti Cats and a Man Named "Fool"

    Do you remember this commercial?

    If you are that guy, what is your first instinct? "Woa, Babe! This isn't what it look likes," or "Honey, umm, I can explain." When people misunderstand our words or actions the dominant tendency is to clarify, to justify.  We want to justify ourselves before others, to let them know that we are "okay."

    The urge to justify does not come simply at the hands of a misunderstanding.  It also comes when someone unfairly attacks or criticizes us.  That's when we dress justification up as defensiveness.  Even when we are wrong, when the accusations are correct and the understandings on target, we want to justify ourselves, "I know I did that horrible thing, but I'm not really that horrible person. Look, I've done this good thing...and this good thing...and I rescued a starving gerbil and bottle-fed it back to health."  We want people to think we are "okay" whether misunderstood, criticized, or guilty!

    A few months ago after a breakfast with Randy Harris, The Church of Christ Monk, I sent him an email saying, "I hope I don't sound like I'm telling you, 'I'm okay, Randy!  Really!'  I just 'feel' okay - but may not be!" He replied:

    "You are NOT ok.
    I am NOT ok.
    Thank GOD, Thats ok!"

    None of us are okay and that is why we need Jesus, but how much time do we waste, how many words do we use, and how much energy do we expend, whether misunderstood or guilty, attempting to convince people that we are okay? We cannot make ourselves okay.  It is impossible to justify ourselves.  "It is God who justifies" (Romans 8:33b). 

    I Samuel 24-25 reminds us, on a grand scale, that "it" is God's to justify.  In chapter 24 King Saul is pursing David with intent to kill.  He arms himself with 1000 soldiers.  During the pursuit, Saul feels the need to tinkle, and Nature's Call waits on no one - not even the king.  Saul enters a cave (I'm sure one clearly marked with a little man figure) to take care of business.  It just so happens David and his men are hiding in stall number two of that same cave.  David's men encourage him to seize the opportunity and to take matters into his own hands, to kill King Saul.  David refuses and moments later explains to Saul why, although easily accomplished, he spared his life:

    I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life.  May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.

    Although innocent, David leaves the "making it right" to God. In the very next chapter, David is wronged again, this time by a man called 'Fool'- Nabal. David and his men have been protecting Nabal's land and so when hunger strikes David sends his men to request lamb chops from Nabal.  "Fool-boy" denies the request inciting David to anger.  David draws his sword and leads his angry men (we all know hunger makes men grumpy) to uproot Nabal's family tree.  On his way to the slaughterfest, Abigail, Nabal's wife, meets David and pleads with him to ignore her foolish husband, to take the food she offers, and to let God settle the score:

    And now, my lord, as surely as the LORD your God lives and as you live, since the LORD has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal.  (v. 26)

    David quickly acknowledges her wisdom (V. 32-33):

    “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 

    The David examples are extreme, but they make the point.  In both cases, once through self-initiation and the other through the gentle reminder of sly Abigail, David restrains from doing what is God's to do.  It was God's to make it right.  It was God's to settle the score. It was God's to avenge. It was God's to justify.  And it is STILL God who justifies.  It is God who clears up the misunderstanding.  It is God who defends us. It is God who makes us "okay."

    Although it is God's to justify most of us seek self-justification. Self-justification is about just that, SELF.  It focuses on how we appear to others.  It focuses on performance. It plays the comparative game, and it is impossible to accomplish.  So, how do we fight that urge to justify ourselves before others?  How do we live out of the truth "It is God who justifies?" How do we trust in his work? SILENCE!

    • When someone misunderstands your actions or words - "Shhh! Don't explain." Silence.
    • When someone unfairly criticizes you - "Zip the lip. No need to defend." Silence.
    • When you blow it and people question you and you desperately want them to know you are okay-  "Hush! You can't undo no matter what you do." Silence.
    Over the last 4.5 months my breath prayer has been Romans 8:33b "It is God who justifies."  At first, I recited it over and over again just to fall asleep and now, although I pray it less frequently, it centers my life.  It is REALLY hard to let God justify.  I want so badly to explain, to clarify, to prove, and to demonstrate but I have found in those moments when I live out of this prayer, when I let God justify, I am free, relaxed, and at peace. 

    I guess that is enough said ;-)

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    God Isn't Enough

    I've heard several preachers say, "God is enough." I know what they mean but I'm not sure if God agrees. Let me explain.  Yes, fulfillment and peace come from a genuine and intimate relationship with the Father, but getting there requires other people.  Your relationship with God is not an individual pursuit.  It is a team effort.

    Take David before he was King David.  In the second half of I Samuel David is running for his life.  His success on the battlefield, his growing fan-base, and his dose of the Lord's favor had stirred up King Saul's competitive spirit.  So Saul plans to protect his throne by putting David on the top of his army's hit list.  Shepherd boy makes Israel's Most Wanted and so David goes Bear Grylls.  He kicks into survival mode: lying to priests, eating holy bread, pulling a Hamlet by pretending to be insane (drool and all), and hiding in deserts - whatever it takes to stay alive.

    During this time, David's charisma and leadership rallies a small army of screw-ups 600 strong and King Saul has had enough.  To make sure his servants know he means business Saul kills 85 priests!  (No, these were not televangelists but Israel's priests). He then turns up the heat in his pursuit of David.  While David hides out in Kelilah he hears rumors of Saul's plans to "storm the castle," and so he inquires of God to determine if the rumor is true.  Here is the exchange between God and David (I Samuel 23):

    11 Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? LORD, God of Israel, tell your servant.”
       And the LORD said, “He will.”
     12 Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?”
       And the LORD said, “They will.”

    Not sure how God spoke to David, but the text suggests the message was clear. Clear enough for David to pack up and "Get out of Dodge.  Yes, David is on the run. Yes, he is having to be a desert nomad for awhile, but God is on his side.  God is his alarm, his adviser (I wish God spoke to me in that way).  That should be enough.  But it wasn't (I Sam. 23:16):

    16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God

    It was not enough that David heard from God; he needed Jonathan to help him make sense of God in his current situation.  Perhaps if Jonathan had not come to David's aid at this critical and challenging moment he might have stepped away from God instead of closer to him.  Our relationship with God is not a straight line connecting you to God. It is a triangle connecting you to others to God.

    Your relationship with God is not up to "you."  It is up to "us." Unfortunately, at times church is the least likely place to admit that your relationship with God is struggling, that perhaps you and God are even separated.  "Everyone at church seems deeply in love with God; I could not tell them of my difficulties.  After all, it is up to me."  But it is not, the church is there to help you find strength in God.

    Do not be afraid to seek help in your relationship with God.  Lean on others' understanding, experience, struggles, confessions, stories, suffering, joys, etc. Be courageous and grow in your relationship with God by approaching and engaging others.

    I want to offer my wife's and my help.  If you feel your faith community is unsafe or if you do not have a faith community, our ears are available.  We don't have a lot of answers and, compared to many, not a lot of life experiences, but what we can offer is a non-judgemental, honest, and safe place to wrestle with, celebrate, or question your relationship with God.  Drop us a message on Facebook and we will make sure and get in touch with you.

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Wright's Right

    NT Wright is one of my favorite biblical scholars.  I refer to him as The Bishop!  He's a genius, but that's not why I like him.  He doesn't write for the sake of publishing or to promote his academic career.  His pieces are not ideology, theology, and theory for the classroom. NT Wright crafts texts of hope, texts which open our eyes to the relevancy of Jesus, not as eternal life insurance, but as the difference-maker for right here and right now!  Here are his words on forgiveness:

    Forgiveness, indeed, is a sort of healing.  It removes a burden that can crush and cripple you.  It allows you to stand up straight without pretending.  It spreads out into whole communities... Forgiveness has the claim to be the most powerful thing in the world.  It transforms like nothing else.  It ranges from the top of the scale, 'forgiveness' of massive financial debt, all the way down deep to release from the quiet, secret horror of personal guilt and shame, which can, quite literally, paralyze you.

    NT Wright, Simply Jesus

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    I Run

    January 1, 2012, 54 degrees and sunny... I run.

    • I run because I can.
    • I run because one day I can't.
    • I run because of the its rhythm.
    • I run because of my past.
    • I run for my future.
    • I run because there are no mountains.
    • I run because of the mountains.
    • I run because there are no refs.
    • I run because there are no rules.
    • I run because there are no sidelines or "out of bounds."
    • I run because there are skyscrapers.
    • I run to feel the sun on my face.
    • I run to shower in the rain.
    • I run because of Ryan Hall.
    • I run because of the 300 pound guy who gets off the couch determined to run his first mile.
    • I run to escape.
    • I run to reflect.
    • I run because without a language or creed I join a brotherhood of Kenyans, Chinese, South Africans, Brazilians, and the native chasing his food in the remote jungle.
    • I run to sweat.
    • I run to feel the cold sting on my ears.
    • I run to the beat.
    • I run because it is a good friend.
    • I run to cry.
    • I run with a smile.
    • I run because gas will reach $4.
    • I run because it is free.
    • I run because of 9 to 5.
    • I run because it's my body telling me, "You ARE ALIVE!"
    • I run in 2012.