Our Church Has a Bad Reputation

design9“Our Church Has a Bad Reputation.” We’ve all heard the stories. A lying preacher. A stealing deacon. An immoral elder.

In the last few months, no fewer than a dozen pastors and church members have used the above phrase to describe their church to me. Like people, the church has a name among the citizens of the surrounding area. Our conduct has an impact on how people perceive us. Church leaders and members should remember that we represent the church. Unfortunately, many churches are paying the price of the misbehavior of the people involved.

So what do we do when our church has a bad reputation in the community? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t give up! Reputations can be repaired. In John 4, Jesus spoke with a woman who had a jaded reputation. She was living in sin and everyone knew it. But Christ forgave her, restored her character and actually used her brokenness to heal many others. Read the story in John 4:1-42.
  2. Do the right thing. Pay bills on time. Don’t gossip. Tip well at restaurants. Manicure the church lawn. All of these things help others to determine their attitude about your church.
  3. Sometimes you have to start over. New churches are planted every day because so many old churches won’t or can’t recover from a bad rep in the community. But let me encourage you – while God begins new things, He also specializes in reclamation projects! God’s Spirit made a valley of dry bones into a powerful army! (Ezekiel 37). Church revitalization is as important as church planting.
  4. Recognize excuses. While there is little doubt that some churches have been guilty of causing irreparable damage, this “excuse” can be manipulated. If you are a church leader or a member of a church, please don’t allow a checkered past to serve as your reason for not accomplishing something great for God. Job speaks of the potential of a tree stump. Even though it has been cut down, “at the scent of water it will bud and sprout again like a new seedling.” There is a time to get over a bad past and create a good future.
  5. Recognize blaming. Not every critic of the church is authentic or right. Some simply want to find fault with the church. When this happens, there is no need to try to defend the church – Jesus can handle that. But let’s not assume guilt for something that we haven’t done.
  6. Pray for, work toward and lead a renewal process. Assume responsibility for turning around the reputation of the church. Take ownership of the ministry (under Christ, of course). Throughout history, God has utilized men and women to influence the culture on behalf of the church. He can do that through you!

As a closing note, if you are a victim of a transgressing church; if you have been hurt or mistreated or injured by a church, a ministry leader, church members or a denomination, I sincerely apologize to you and pray for your healing and restoration. Hopefully you can find renovation for your brokenness. Please don’t allow bitterness to control your life. Jesus has healing for you.

Let’s pray for our churches and do all we can to represent Christ and His Church well!


A Culture of Conflict

img_0290Not unlike the culture of the iconic Wild West, America is currently enthralled with fighting. From political elections to reality TV to road rage, we love our conflict. It is not uncommon to witness a verbal altercation on the subway or in the boardroom. Metaphorical “shootouts at the OK Corral” happen every day in the classrooms, courtrooms and bedrooms of the U.S.

This is a culture of violence. It is a culture of disrespect. It is a culture of conflict.

Even something as simple as sports teams rivalries are steeped in conflict. Good-natured trash-talk goes, in my opinion, way too far to the point of dividing friends and family.

Let’s not confuse debate, confrontation and conflict.

We need to be able to discuss matters of difference and do so in a civil manner. When we are wrong, those who care about us must possess the responsibility to lovingly confront us. Conflict, however, is a collision, a war, a clash. The Latin conflictus means “a striking together, to contend, to fight; combat.” According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, a conflict is a turning point during which an individual struggles to attain some psychological quality. (https://www.verywell.com/what-is-conflict-2794976) One researcher defines conflict as “a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.” (ohrd.wisc.edu) I would add that conflict often includes a response to those perceptions; and many times the response is ugly.

It is one thing to fight for one’s family or freedom. But many in today’s culture thrive on conflict. Some people just love a good argument. I literally had a women tell me last week that she was a Hatfield of Hatfield and McCoy fame; and she proceeded to explain that this was the reason for her position of quarreling in her church.

We have become so accustomed to conflict, it feels normal. But it should not be normative for Bible believing Christians. Church fights have been known to be bloody, vicious and eternally destructive.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Lucado says: when those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

Why?

I am of the opinion that the foundational issue behind our propensity to conflict with one another is spiritual. There is a deep-seeded discomfort or irritation that, when fueled, becomes a source of contention. Many times, those who fight with others are also fighting with themselves as well as with God. The enemy of our souls wants to make us miserable. An effective way to accomplish this goal is to cause us to turn on one another.

It is a matter focus. When we don’t focus on what we are called by God to do (the mission), we focus on one another. When we focus on one another, we fight. I love the writings of Max Lucado when he said:

   When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

   When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive.

   Instead of casting nets, we cast stones.

   Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers.

   Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved.

   Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers. 

http://pastorhow.com/tanseowhow/when-fishermen-dont-fish-by-max-lucado/

We can concentrate on minutia or we can concentrate on mission, but we can’t do both.

When we are not fulfilling what God called us to do.

We are frustrated. We know there is more to life.

We have a divine purpose and we are not fulfilling it.

They are focused, on the wrong things. Other people.

And when this happens, we are failing.

So, the question really isn’t, “why do we have so much conflict?” but “how can we get back on mission?”

We must get good at conflict resolution. However, we must get even better at conflict prevention. Let’s embrace the responsibility we have to do what God told us to do so we won’t fight with each other. More importantly, let’s do what God wants so we can honor Him.


It’s not the “What” but the “How” (when your approach to leadership damages your leadership)

IMG_0279Most great leaders expend a lot of energy studying the nuances of leadership. We focus on improving our skills, growing in our capacities and becoming more effective as influencers. We are taught to zero in on mission and vision and goal setting. Our coaches stress topics such as authenticity, character and integrity. All of these are great and necessary parts of being a leader.

But there is something more that we may want to consider: How a topic is addressed may be as important as the topic itself.

How you approach and are perceived by the people you lead can make or break your leadership effectiveness. The best leadership strategy in the world can be shipwrecked by a lack of effective communication.

We know what we are thinking. We are sometimes task-driven and we expect everyone to be on the same page. In moments of pressure, we may cut some corners in regard to treating people with dignity and respect. And when this happens, it matters little what your intentions were. How you engage people overshadows what you hope to accomplish with them. Whether or not you intend it to be this way, people will perceive that the task is more important that the team.

How can this happen?

Am I inadvertently sending an unintended message?

Am I accidentally sabotaging organizational progress?

In what ways may a leader push the “how” rather than the “what”?

  • Disengaging from conversations before they are finished. A lack of patience is obvious to people and it sends a message – one that speak very loudly.
  • Allowing the emotions of the moment to drive the conversation. A raised voice, swear words, threats…these have no place in a mutually respectful leadership setting.
  • A cold shoulder. The silent treatment is for Jr. High. Professionals don’t behave in such immature ways.
  • Misleading followers. Your word is your most valuable asset. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Verbal game-playing destroys trust.
  • Practice what you preach. When you make a commitment to a team member or colleague, please fulfill it.
  • Building people up just to let them down. A common strategy for leaders who have to censure someone is to “sandwich” praise/rebuke/praise. While this may work with children, most adults simply want to know the truth. If you choose this method, expect people to think you are disingenuous.
  • Communicate only when you need something. I attempted to connect with a colleague for some time. He ignored me until he started consulting and needing clients. I then heard from him quite often. Message sent and received.
  • Using the wrong pronouns. Lewis B. Ergen said, “The ratio of We’s to I’s is the best indicator of the development of a team. “ If it’s always I, the how crushes the what.
  • Sitting behind a desk rather than sitting at a table. It may not seem like a big deal but people may interpret the barrier of furniture as protection or insulation. Even if they don’t, sitting at a table or in side chairs communicates togetherness and equality. Don’t derail your leadership by unintentionally communicating aloofness or, even worse, arrogance. I don’t want a desk to hide behind; I want a table to share.

These and many others are examples of how leaders can limit their effectiveness by getting the “how” wrong. When this happens, the “what” is never realized.

Let’s work as much on the “how” as we do the “what.” Our relationships will improve, our constituents will trust us more, and we will be more effective leaders.

Agree? What would you add to the list?


Healthy Pastor Healthy Church

13557721_10154376814459214_6871678460088746686_nIn order for churches and ministries to be healthy and productive, their leaders (pastors) must be healthy. When we think of health, we usually think only in terms of physical health; but a more holistic approach is needed. Too many of us limit our definition of health, and possibly limit our effectiveness in the ministry.

Let’s focus on our wellbeing in regard to a spiritual, relational, emotional, mental and physical point of view. Balance is needed in order for us to remain productive for the long term. The demands placed upon an individual by modern ministry are significant. We’ve all seen friends who did not survive the rigors of church leadership. It takes a strong person to remain active in ministry for many years. While we all agree that we must be spiritually healthy, let’s not ignore things like our physical condition. In today’s world of authenticity and transparency, we can appear hypocritical if we preach a Gospel that doesn’t include every aspect of our lives. If we are perceived as inauthentic or disingenuous, our ministries will suffer. If we are not growing intellectually, if our relationships are unhealthy, if we are unstable emotionally, our message will be hindered. Let’s fast and pray but let’s also gain education and work out.

Here is an idea to consider: these things are all connected. When we are healthy spiritually, our emotions, our health, our relationships and our mental capacities are impacted. We can’t truly say that we are healthy spiritually if we are ignoring vital aspects of our being. We can’t segregate the elements of our health. If the pastor is out of balance, the church will be out of balance. That’s what we call leadership.

Pastors, let’s take care of ourselves so that we can lead healthy and productive ministries but let’s also take care of ourselves so we can enjoy the benefits that God provides for healthy people.


Does Servant Leadership Create Entitlement?

Does Servant Leadership Create Entitlement carterNo one can argue with the insistence that leaders be servants. Jesus modeled it and Greenleaf made a million writing about it. But there may be an issue.

Is there a connection between the rampant entitlement mentality that we see in our culture and leaders who humble themselves to serve others? I think maybe so.

Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. It is unthinkable that the Creator of all things stops to wash the crusty smelly feet of 1st Century fishermen. Unless you fast-forward a few days and observe Jesus hanging by nails on a cross. He did all of this for the purpose of serving the people He loved. They needed a Savior and He volunteered. Notice, He did not volunteer to do something they didn’t need. It would have been pointless for Jesus to offer to stay on earth to keep walking on the water or turning water into wine. They didn’t need that. But they sure needed a Savior.

We may have some indicators of the issue we are facing.

  • I believe that some servant leaders are serving in ways that are not really needed. Leaders who show themselves to be willing to do anything for the people they love are an inspiration. People are impressed when leaders sacrifice their own good for the good of those they lead. But if this sacrifice makes no difference, what’s the point? Example: The pastor of a church may refuse to be paid a salary in the interest of the financial constraints of the church. I have seen this happen. It may be a good thing. But it may result in people who renege on their financial responsibilities. By serving in a way that is not needed, the servant leader may be doing more damage than good.
  • I believe that some servant leaders are serving themselves. It’s tough to admit but some of us like the attention we get when we “serve.” People are beholden to a leader who is in the trenches, on the frontline. Independent people who can carry the load alone are heroes to many. But there are two problems here: the focus is on the leader and the people are taught to become dependent – they aren’t needed in the process. Healthy organizations involve multiple people. A servant-leadership approach that has ulterior motives is damaging to everyone involved. True servant leaders serve with pure motives.
  • I believe that some servant leaders are doing more harm than good. Mono-personality leadership is unscriptural. Lone leaders who do all of the work choke out the operation of Spiritual Gifts. Leaders who spend all of their time waiting on people while never moving them forward do God’s people a disservice. It is possible that a wrong perspective of servant leadership can severely damage an organization.
  • Some “servant leadership” is a veil for a leader’s weaknesses. Because of my introversion, I sometimes find it easier to mop the floors after an event than to speak face to face with people. Real servant leadership is sometimes just to be with people.

The goal of servant leadership must be to create more servant leaders. The goal is not for people to feel sorry for us or for people to talk about how noble we are. Leaders serve like Jesus because people need it.

Now, back to the original question: Is entitlement connected to servant leadership? Possibly. Many people feel they deserve something for nothing. The world owes them. We’ve got to combat this ideology. The best way to do so is to serve like Jesus served. Wash their feet; but teach them to wash the feet of one another. Otherwise, they think your job is to keep their feet from stinking. While someone needs to do that, it’s not on the leader.


Before We Throw Out That Tradition

IMG_2929I’ve never been a real traditional guy as tradition is considered in the church. In fact, I’ve spent the good portion of the last several years trying to enact change. It seemed as though many of the things that defined the church were actually a hindrance to what we were supposed to be accomplishing. Well, I must be getting older. I’m coming to the place where I am a little slower to eliminate older ideas. My young friends may call me a sell-out.

I came across a few Bible passages that have me thinking.

 

Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (II Thessalonians 2:15) and “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.“ (II Thessalonians 3:6b). The Greek word for “tradition” means instructions in Christianity. It’s the same word Paul uses in I Corinthians 11:2 “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.” Some more modern versions replace the word “tradition” with teaching”; still many say “traditions.” For this article, I’m going to use the idea loosely to mean: “the way we’ve been taught to do church.”

Here is the point of this post: There are traditions in the church that should stick around. Simply because something is traditional doesn’t mean we should get rid of it!

Let’s be clear; if it is harmful, get rid of it. If it is damaging, stop it now. If it impedes the fulfillment of the mission, it is your responsibility to purge it.

However…

If a tradition is not harmful, it may be helpful to just hang on to it.

Here is the problem. Some things that, a few years ago, I thought were harmful turned out to be helpful. But they’re gone now. An example: in the 90’s, we minimized discipleship ministry (Sunday School, etc.) and focused more on worship. We’re living through the results of that now when Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. Another example may be eliminating evening and midweek services. While times have changed, we now find ourselves struggling to get people to attend services once or twice a month. There was a time in my ministry that I thought eliminating these things would help us. Turns out, we should have held onto the traditions and revitalized them.

But some of us are absolutely certain that we know what is best for the church, both now and in the future. Please allow me to challenge your thinking for a minute.

Dare we be so presumptuous as to assume that we presently have all the knowledge that we will ever need?

We have gotten rid of some things that, at the time, didn’t seem valuable. We now realize that they were. Surely we will keep growing in knowledge and wisdom. It is remotely possible that one day, we will realize that way back in 2016, we didn’t know as much as we thought we did.

We find ourselves in a culture where people are longing for the tried and true. Predictability and stability aren’t as old fashioned as they used to be. Liturgy, ritual and tradition are making a comeback.

A message for emerging leaders: please don’t discard the things your elders worked so hard to achieve. You may not see value in them now, but one day you might. Then, if they are worthless, drop them. And one day, when you are an elder, maybe you will reap what you’ve sown and the kids will not kick your ideas to the curb.

Before we throw out that church tradition, slow down. Give it some time. Consult with an elder. If, after thorough examination and prayer it needs to be eliminated, you can do it then. But once it’s gone, it’s sure difficult to get it back.


You’re More Influential Than You Think

design[4].pngMost of us sell ourselves short. We think we’re not making much of a difference. We assume that other people aren’t all that impacted by what we do. Let’s discuss it.

I believe you influence more people than you think and I believe you influence them in a deeper way than you might know.

Think about it:

  • Those whom you don’t know but know you; maybe the two of you never speak. It could be a neighbor or a friend of a friend. It could be the barista or a flight attendant. Just because you don’t know them doesn’t mean that they are unaware of you. They have an opinion about you.
  • Those you know: maybe those with whom you work or play sports or go to church. You impact them. You may think it is no big deal but if you interact with them, you are making some kind of difference in their life.
  • How about those who know you the best? Your spouse, parents, kids, best friends… I’m sure you are aware that you influence them but maybe you don’t know to what level. I can assure you – your impact on their lives is massive.

The purpose of this post is to help us take full advantage of the relationship opportunities we’ve been given.

You see…

Influence can be positive or negative.

Every word you speak, your body language, even the clothes you wear are noticed. If you return the shopping cart to the corral or don’t pick up after your dog, people notice. I realize we can’t live in the bondage of trying to always leave everyone with a positive impression. But how you treat people matters – a lot. They either feel better or worse after interacting with you.

You are an influential person. I encourage you to use that influence for good; make a positive difference. The world and the people in your life really need it.