Can I Talk You Out of Ministry?

design[32]When I meet with young folks who think they feel a call by God to do ministry, I’m sometimes not very successful at hiding my skepticism. I’ve had a hundred of these conversations. In my experience, many who think that they are being asked to enter full-time ministry, aren’t. Please understand, all Christians are called to ministry. Regardless of your role in life, God expects you to do great things for Him. But only a few are asked to be vocational ministers. We have seen those who mistake feelings of guilt or regret as a call. Others are experiencing a religious awakening and their fervor can feel like a pull into ministry. Still others think the ministry sounds glamorous and they relish the idea of leading a great church (and preaching to thousands!). The problem is, I’ve seen many of these guys who have gotten into ministry and it did not turn out the way that they had anticipated. A few weeks or months later, they experienced a change of heart and were no longer in ministry.

Here is a harsh reality: If I can talk you out of ministry, either you aren’t called or something else would have talked you out of it later. Either way, you wouldn’t have lasted. So I’m going to try to talk you out of ministry before you get started. Is that cruel? If it comes across that way, I apologize. And not being called into ministry doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It’s about knowing who you are in Christ.

When you are genuinely called by God to do ministry, no one should be able to dissuade you. When I was young wannabe preacher, I approached my then Overseer several times requesting that he place me in a church to pastor. I recall the passion in my voice as I nearly begged this man for a place to minister. I located an abandoned church that our denomination owned. It was boarded up and padlocked and had been for years. I felt like this was my chance. The good Bishop promptly disagreed and said, “if you want to pastor a church, start one.” For years, I was frustrated at this man because he didn’t see anything in me that was redeemable. Now I understand more about his approach and response. He was trying to talk me out of going into ministry – but he couldn’t. He only strengthened my resolve. I did start a church and I have been in ministry ever since. His words discouraged me but they eventually helped to reaffirm my calling.

If you think God is calling you into vocational ministry, you won’t be able to ignore it and you won’t get over it. “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)
You won’t be able to find fulfillment in anything else. You will be miserable until you are doing what God asked you to do. If you think you are called, here is what I want to say to you: start doing the things that reveal your ministry heart. Start serving others. Start being an example for others to follow. Work behind the scenes. Clean the church restrooms. Visit a widow. Cut the neighbor’s grass. Tithe 10% and give an additional 10% of your earnings. Pray through the night. Never miss a church service. Forgive someone who hurt you. Teach a children’s Sunday School class. These activities aren’t proof that you are called, they simple will be an opportunity for you to explore what real ministry is. If, in time, you are called by God to preach – you and everyone else will know it. Don’t expect others to pave the way for you.

If you can do anything other than preach and maintain your submissive relationship with God, I suggest you do it. I don’t say this because ministry is hard work – it is an honor and a joy. I say this because if you can walk with Christ without being a preacher, you’re not called to be a preacher!


Leading with Contrast

leading with contrastSome things to look for:

  • Being counter-cultural.
  • What if no one follows?
  • How should we to measure success?

Read: Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

My initial reaction when reading this passage from a leadership framework is to be reminded of the call to be an agent of contrast to the world in which we live. It is tempting to fall into a pattern of fitting in with our surroundings rather than being counter-cultural. Going with the flow comes naturally to most of us. As Christian leaders, we should not expect to be accepted or honored for our faith and we surely shouldn’t be surprised if our faith costs us. We have to be different and we have to be ready to deal with the fallout when we are different. The world doesn’t need us to be like everyone else – the world needs us to be like Jesus.

Jesus’ words are pertinent for leaders today because we struggle with the need for people to follow our leadership. We are called by God to lead others; when we do not have constituents, it is difficult (ok – impossible) to lead. The temptation when followers are few is to lower the bar of what it means to be a follower. Many leaders have come to the conclusion that if the rules eliminate people, we can just eliminate the rules. The problem with this approach is leaders become liable for misleading followers. We must never compromise our Biblical approach to leadership in order to gain followers. Remember, your success as a leader is not a matter of the numbers of people you lead but rather the life-change that is being experienced by those you lead. While this may not be a new revelation to you, I hope it is a refreshing reminder of our priorities and expectations as we move forward into an uncertain future.

What do we do with this info? My plan of action is to try to measure my leadership effectiveness, not in consideration of quantity but rather quality. Let’s avoid the trap of thinking that bigger is always better. A good analogy may be your choice of restaurants. You can chose a cheap buffet where you can eat all the bad food you want or you can chose a gourmet restaurant with world class food. If it’s one or the other (and if someone else is paying!), I’ll take the gourmet food every time. Hopefully, in life and ministry, it is not one or the other. I believe that if we are diligent to lead with contrast, God will take care of the increase of our influence.

Lead with Contrast. Be the difference the world needs.

Be encouraged and lead on!


4 Essential Elements of Leadership

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I am delivering this lesson tomorrow to a group of ministry leaders. Rather than limit it to one presentation, I thought it may be helpful to readers of this blog.

Leadership is a trust. I Corinthians 4:2 “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Like other spiritual gifts, leadership is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:8 “if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

The spiritual gift of leadership is closely related to the gift of administration and, interestingly, the spiritual gift of pastor/shepherd.  The Greek word for the spiritual gift of leadership is proistemi.  This word means to lead, to assist, to protect and to care for others. http://www.spiritualgiftstest.com/spiritual-gift-of-leadership

The gift of Leadership is the God given ability to lead people to accomplish God’s vision and goals. The biblical image used when describing leadership is “shepherd”. A Shepherd does not force his will upon the sheep, rather he tends and cares for them. The sheep instinctively follow a good shepherd. Jesus describes himself as the “Good Shepherd”, and calls Church leaders his “Under Shepherds”. The “Under Shepherds” must faithfully follow the example of the “Good Shepherd” and lay their lives down for the welfare of the sheep (John 10:14-18). The person gifted by God with Leadership abilities, will display the same servant leadership principles evidenced by Jesus and the Apostles. (http://www.assessme.org/about/spiritual-gifts/leadership.aspx)

Like with others gifts, God expects us to nurture, explore and utilize the gift of leadership for His glory.

We have become stewards of the gift of leadership. We must make the most of it, as ones who will give an account to God. See the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. (If you don’t use what you’ve been given you may lose what you’ve been given.)

Are leaders born or made? “Leaders are neither born nor made. Leaders are summoned. They are called into existence by circumstances, and those who rise to the occasion are leaders.” (Leonard Sweet – Summoned to Lead)

Let’s be the best leaders we can possibly be for God’s glory!

 4 Essential -(imperative, indispensable, necessary_- Elements of Leadership:

Note that the title is 4 Essential Elements – not THE 4 Essential Elements. There are many more! In his book, Spiritual Leadership: Principle of Excellence for Every Believer, J. Oswald Sanders lists: discipline, wisdom, decision, courage humility, integrity and sincerity, humor, anger, patience, friendship, tact and diplomacy, inspirational power, executive ability, etc.

  1. Authentic

(adjective: not false or copied; genuine; real.)

Synonyms: credible, real, genuine, legitimate, pure, reliable, trustworthy.

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Paul’s declaration of authenticity: “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” Philippians 4:9

“Followers trust leaders to lead. When leaders don’t lead, followers stop trusting their leaders.”

There is no leadership issue more important than trust. Without trust, we are not leaders.

Trust is fragile: it takes a lifetime to build trust and only a moment to lose it.

For discussion: Name some things that can compromise our authenticity:

  1. Visionary

The ability to look forward to God’s plan.

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Leaders must be solutions oriented; anyone can point out problems, it takes a leader to fix them.

“The term vision is a key buzzword in today’s ministry world.  I believe that vision is vital to your people seeing what “could be” – what our great God can accomplish through them (Eph. 3:20) in your ministry community.”  (Aubrey Malphurs –Advanced Strategic Planning)

Leaders must 1) accurately assess the current situation of the group they are leading, 2) discern where God wants to take the group and 3) implement the best plan in order to get the group there.

Vision is not just a pipe dream. Vision isn’t fantasy. Vision is not wishful thinking. Vision is hard work, directed by the Spirit, demands great sacrifice, requires faith and embraces risk.

Three of the most renowned Biblical visionaries: Moses, Nehemiah, Paul.  Study their leadership!

Visionary leaders must have foresight. “A mark of leaders, an attribute that puts them in a position to show the way for others, is that they are better than most at pointing the direction to go. Foresight is the “lead” that the leader has. Once leaders lose this lead and events start to force their hand, they are leaders in name only.” Robert K. Greenleaf

Leaders, ask of the group you lead…

  • What is?
  • What could and should be?
  • What will it take to make it happen?

For discussion: What are some of the things that may prevent leaders from being visionary?

What are some Biblical responses to these things?

  1. Industrious

 design[29](Paul) II Thessalonians 3:7-8 “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.”

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” (Colin Powell)

It is reasonable to expect full time ministers to work 50 or more hours per week.

Make the distinction between selfish ambition and godly ambition.

“Pastors of 50 or fewer people – if you work and pray as though you have 100 people, you may soon have.”

We must guard against time wasters: (social media, non-essentially long meetings, extended lunch or coffee breaks).

It is necessary to not only work hard, but to also work smart. Learn to utilize tools and innovations such as the Internet, teams within the church, and resources from other pastors/leaders.

Be diligent in your work for the Lord. We cannot hide laziness!

 For discussion: What things might contribute to the reputation that pastors are not hard workers?

  1. Spiritually Deep

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I Corinthians 11:1 “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (NIV)

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (NLT)

 

One of the most sobering identities of a leader: Example. People actually follow!

 Remember: As goes the leader, so go the followers.

“If the preacher always preaches shallow messages, the church members will never learn how to swim in the deep waters.“

It has been said, “Whatever you see exemplified in church members can be traced back to the pastor.” While there are exceptions to this statement, there are elements of truth to it.

A few indicators of spiritual maturity:

  • Stability – we will not be wishy-washy in our spirituality.
  • Humility – we think of ourselves less and others more.
  • Practicing sound doctrine – Not prone to flaky theology or bandwagon gimmicks.
  • Thick skinned (Not easily offended) – it is hard to hurt our feelings.
  • Faith – God has proven Himself over and over, we do not doubt Him!
  • Persistence – we refuse to quit.

For discussion: What must we do in order to assure our spiritual stability?

Conclusion:

Are you as effective as a leader as you would like to be?

In what areas is God speaking to you about your personal leadership development?

What is your plan of action?


Leader’s Devotional

design[25]This morning, I was praying for my grandbabies for the New Year. I was asking God to keep them safe and trouble free. I never want to see them suffer for any reason. Then the thought struck me – how will they be strong; how will they be prepared for what God has ahead for them in the future if they never have to endure any trials? I (reluctantly) began to ask God for His will for them, that He would prepare them to do awesome things for Him in the future. Because I am not naïve, I realize that, if we never struggle in life, we will be weak. I don’t want that for my grandbabies or for anyone I love.

Phillips Brooks said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.“

Leaders – God has plans for you. They will require that you are strong and equal to the task. The only way to get strong is to endure difficulties, learn from them and grow.

Meditate on this verse: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” – 1 Peter.5:10

Don’t be discouraged by the difficult times you are enduring or the ones that are ahead. If you remain strong, learn from your environment and trust God – you will be ready for whatever comes your way in the future!


6 Great Reasons to Read Through the Bible in 2016

design[20]I am about to wrap up reading cover to cover through the Bible again this year. I don’t even know how many times I’ve been able to do this – every year for several years. I’ve heard some criticism of the idea of going all the way through the Bible. Ideas like religious rituals and mindless habits usually are mentioned. While different things work for different people, I have found a few things that make a commitment to read through the entire Bible in a year very beneficial. Maybe they will help you, too.

  1. You have to stay on track. Skip a couple of days of reading and you get really behind. On the days when the spiritual motivation is lacking, the thought of digging a hole is motivation enough for me to read daily. In my opinion, reading the Bible out of obligation is better than not reading the Bible at all.
  1. You visit unusual passages. Most of us have our favorite Scriptures and we like to hang out there. Reading through the entire Bible will push you into books that you rarely think about. And they are important! Greater Biblical knowledge balance will result from a cover-to-cover reading.
  1. Your get a picture of the “whole counsel of God.” This phrase was coined by Paul in Acts 20:27, and we utilize it to identify the entire doctrine of the Bible. If you don’t commit to reading the bizarre dreams of Ezekiel or the genealogies of Matthew, you could miss some important counsel from God. Yes, there is great value in and much to be learned from seemingly abstract or repetitive Bible verses.
  1. You can make notes this year that will be meaningful for you in the future. Dates and current events noted next to a verse might provide great encouragement next year when you are reading in the same place. The ability to measure spiritual growth and progress will be a result of reading through the Bible.
  1. Exercise spiritual discipline. Reading through the bible in a year will take you approximately 15-20minutes a day. You must read 3 or 4 chapters per day to stay on track. Avoiding the “just get it done” approach and treating your Bible reading time as communion with God will create a sense of closeness with Him. Overcoming a short attention span and disciplining yourself to sit down with Jesus for 20 minutes in the middle (or at the beginning or end) of a busy day will change your perspective on life.
  1. You can pass down a legacy. I’m reading my deceased father-in-law’s Bible this year. It feels great to have spent time reading his insights throughout the year – and I’m going to miss that time next year. But I plan to start a new Bible with my daily notes. I hope to hand that Bible down to my grandchildren one day. If they will read through it on a daily basis in a year, they will be able to spend time with me even though I am gone.

I am for whatever gets you into the Word of God. If you prefer a different approach, take it! But if you don’t have a plan, don’t criticize mine. Whatever you do, read the Bible. It is God’s Word and He wants to talk to you!


Relational Leadership: Growing Beyond our Organizational Bureaucracy

IMG_021450 years ago, people were perfectly happy being treated like a number. Employees were expendable and assembly line workers were interchangeable. If you expected to be affirmed by your employee, well, that’s what a paycheck was for.

Today’s team members want to be valued beyond their monetary compensation; they rightfully expect to be treated with respect. Leaders can no longer be perceived as dictators. The days of the intimidating boss are fading and employees will no longer tolerate a company that undervalues their workers. In fact, most people no longer want to be seen merely as a worker or a cog in a corporate machine; they prefer to think of themselves as team members, vital partners, an important piece of the larger mosaic. Leonard Sweet says that, “people possess a desire for a higher purpose – a mission that will change the world.” By connecting with your organization, they can participate as a key component in a bigger mission.

If you are a leader, you must connect in a relational way with your team members. If your organization is too large for you to offer hands-on care for everyone, you must structure so that someone is doing hands-on care for everyone. Individuals matter!

Allow me to clarify a few things that are often mistaken for relational leadership:

  • Telling you what you want to hear. We must care enough to challenge one another to grow. Stretching is uncomfortable but a necessary part of personal and organizational development.
  • Always agreeing. Just because I disagree with you does not mean that I am a “hater”. Sometimes my love for you compels me to disagree with you. Relational leaders care enough to lovingly confront when necessary.
  • Presuming your leader to be all things to all people. We must have reasonable expectations. If your leader has 10 or more direct reports, she may not be accessible every time you need her. An extremely high capacity leader may be able to effectively connect personally with 50 or more people but you must not place them under extreme performance expectations as they relate to accessibility.
  • One-sided relateability. Relational leadership is a two-sided coin. If you expect your leader or team member to initiate every conversation, you need to further study communication. Two-way care is required. (Part 2 of this post will address relational followership.)
  • Organizational acquiescence. While modern thinkers need to know they have influence, they cannot expect everyone to instantly comply and conform to their ideologies. Regardless of how impatient we may become, deep influence and trust takes a lifetime to earn.

However, any leader that plans to remain effective must assume responsibility for building authentic relationships with their associates. People must know that they matter more than the organization. Regarding connectivity: as goes the leader, so goes the team.

We must grow beyond our organizational bureaucracy. In order for institutions to continue to survive they must embrace a systemic relational ethos. If you find yourself in a leadership conundrum where morale is low but angst is high, try making more relational investments in the lives of team members. Strategically and intentionally provide emotional equity; let them know you care!

You are important far beyond what assets you bring to your organization. Your value as an individual and friend far exceeds the contributions you make to the institution as a colleague, associate or employee. Relational leadership will affirm this over time.

On a more personal note, the organization that I serve (the church) is experiencing great transformation in the area relational leadership. Much of our structure is being evaluated and adjusted. We have as our model, the Lord Jesus Christ. He always put people ahead of the institution. In fact, the purpose of His structure was to serve individuals. The church must lead the way in growing beyond our organizational bureaucracy and embracing relational leadership.

(Len Sweet, Summoned To Lead)


Before You Decide to Skip Church (or 7 Great Reasons to Go to Church)

IMG_0184 copy(This article was originally posted on June 4, 2012 under the title, “I Go to Church.”)

I make a living in the church, actually through the church. Worship services usually happen in the church but they are only a part of what we do. I went to church before I was paid to go and should I lose my job in ministry, I would keep going to church.

I usually emphasize a missional expression of ministry, or carrying out in our culture what Christ tells us in the church. But today I want to discuss what I get out of worship services. In addition to the usual (worship, prayer, learning more about God, etc.), I find many personal benefits to regularly attending worship gatherings.  These things have nothing to do with my being a pastor. They have everything to do with me going to church services.

Here are some of the benefits I get out of church:

I encourage others at church. Many people don’t believe it, but their very appearance in a church service is an encouragement to other people. Obviously if you are not there, they will not get that encouragement. So I go.

I get to experience “the moment”. God’s Spirit works in unique ways while His people are gathered in a group. That moment cannot be recaptured or transferred. If I miss it, I just miss it. There is power in spontaneity. God might tell me to say something or do something for someone “right now”. If I’m not there, I will miss the spontaneous.

I get to use my gifts that are intended for worship gatherings. The Bible is clear that some of the talents given to people are given for the purpose of building up others while at worship. If I don’t go to church, I cannot use those gifts anywhere else.

I am made aware of the right-now needs of my church family. A simple look in the eye can inform you of someone who is hurting or frightened or angry. I can respond, on the spot, to that need. If I am not at church, I won’t even know of the need. So I go.

My fellow leaders speak into my life. Messages or sermons or teachings are the best counsel and advice that a pastor can offer. Watching on the Internet or on television or listening online is great, but it is not the same as in person. D. L. Moody said, “The difference between listening to a radio sermon and going to church…is almost like the difference between calling your girl on the phone and spending an evening with her.”

I am “in the know” with the immediate direction of our church. I don’t want to hear through the grapevine about something special that God is doing or a change that is taking place. I want to see and hear it first-hand.

I am able fulfill my responsibility as a member of my church. Among our responsibilities are: prayer for others when they need it, responding to crisis at the moment, providing support when it is needed, and participating in the forward movement of the church. If I am somewhere else, none of this can happen…until maybe later. Sometimes, later is too late.

These things cannot happen outside of the church, so I go. Often. I love going to church and my life would be incomplete without it. So I go. Whether or not I am a pastor, I go to church.

So before you decide to skip church, or before you allow something else to push your church service to the back burner, please know that your attendance and involvement is important.

Don’t miss something important. Go to church.


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