you can’t lead from your office

The island thing didn’t work out so well for me. You’ve heard, “No man is an island” (John Donne 1572-1631). This statement basically means that none of us were created to do life alone. Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others. I just came through an especially isolated season, not because of any deliberate decision on my part, but more as an evolutionary thing. The administrative load at church was pretty heavy and I found myself stuck in the office way too much. I was saddled with lots of intense decisions and pressure. More computer time – less human contact. More head-down pushing through the grind and less head-up looking for life.

Some things resulted:

  • detachment from people outside my immediate circle
  • minimization of my impact on others
  • discouragement

So a few weeks ago, I made a very intentional decision to personally engage more people and a wider variety of people. I started making appointments with some people I did not know well. I reached out to some friends that I haven’t spent much time with recently. I started meeting more guys for lunch and coffee and hang out time. I found this to be energizing and invigorating. I learned lots of things I did not know. I got feedback I did not know existed. I made some new friendships and strengthened some old ones. The cloud of discouragement hanging over me dissipated. It was life-giving! I am a much happier person right now.

I came to this conclusion: I cannot lead this church from my office. I have to be out among the people.

Administrative stuff must happen. I have to spend some time away from others, alone with God. I can’t run around every day yucking it up with the boys. But I must remain intentional in my relationships. I have plans to keep this idea rolling. You probably would benefit from doing the same thing.

creating a “yes” culture

Many church leaders are tired of never having enough ministry volunteers. Maybe we need to create a “yes” culture.

There are times when the answer is “no”. There are situations that are not open to discussion, compromise or consideration. When considering ministry responsibility, leadership and qualifications, there are obvious cases when people are disqualified from participation. The kleptomaniac will never be allowed to count the offering!

However, a “no” culture is counterproductive in ministry settings as well as being non-Biblical.

In some faiths and religions, there is a distinct separation between “clergy” and “laity”. All ministry is accomplished by professional ministers, the leadership is provided by a narrow and specifically designated group. No one else need apply. If there is an inquiry about ministry involvement by the average person, the answer is a quick and resounding “no!”. The place of non-professionals is to give in the offering and submit to spiritual authority. The Protestant Reformation addressed this with the affirmation of the “priesthood of all believers”. This simply means that all believers in Christ have equal access to Christ and the ministry to which He has called His church.

While most Protestant churches understand the theory of the priesthood, they have difficulty practicing it. Their leaders lead with a “no”.  A “no” culture is when the first response to a ministry inquiry is automatically negative. Leaders must learn to lead with a “yes”. We must create a different culture.

There are reasons for a “no” culture:

  • Past failures. History has proven that many, if not most people, fail in their efforts to be involved in ministry. Leaders have been burned one-too-many times.
  • Confusion between excellence and perfection. The desire to offer nothing but the best to God sometimes translates into demanding perfection. Perfection is unattainable, so people are doomed to failure.
  • Misunderstanding of priesthood. Some leaders misinterpret scripture as it relates to who is responsible for what types of ministry.
  • Control. “I’m in charge here – let there be no mistake about that!”
  • Insecurities. Some leaders are afraid of not being needed. “No” is the best way to provide personal job security.

There is a healthier approach available: “Yes, unless”. “Yes unless” means the that the first response to a ministry inquiry will be positive, unless there are valid reasons to say “no”. “Yes unless” creates a positive atmosphere where people are encouraged to explore ministry, leadership responsibilities and personal development. This is not a cart blanche affirmative response every time someone off the street wants to lead the church. But it is a positive initial response contingent upon certain criterion. Example: Q: “May I volunteer for the nursery?” A: “Of course! Contingent upon your tenure at the church and experience working with children and successful completion of a background security check and …” You get the idea. This affirmative response provides encouragement for the potential nursery worker while establishing high expectations. Guideline are intact. Too many times, the initial response is “no” and the potential volunteer is discouraged, if not insulted. A positive response, laying out all the expectations, can provide motivation, even for a person who is not presently qualified.

While leaders must be protective of the church (“guard the flock under your care” Acts 20), we must not be controlling. God has created a “yes” culture. This explains why He chose some of the people He did in Scripture (Moses, David, Peter…).

If told “no” enough times, people eventually quit asking. Is it possible that people are not asking because they assume the answer is “no”?

The goal of a “yes” culture is not to lower the standards and requirements for those who lead or are involved in ministry.The goal is to equip more people for ministry and to get more people involved in ministry. Recall, the primary responsibility of “professional ministers” (pastors, teachers, etc.) is to “equip people for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4). We are not the guardians of the church. We are not the watchdogs. We are the equippers. That means we are to help people to get from where they are to the place where they are qualified to lead in various aspects of the work of God.

Are we leading a “yes” ministry culture? If not, it’s not too late to turn it around. Let’s begin today.

Let’s discuss some practical ways of employing a “yes” culture in our ministry setting.

i’m not praying for your dog

OK, let’s begin by saying that I am a dog guy. I don’t like cats so much (I’m allergic and they’re aloof). This post has nothing to do with my appreciation or lack thereof for animals or those who love them. A couple years back, when our 14 year old Yorkie, Princess was sick and eventually died, I did not pray for her. I did pray for my family, however.

But this is becoming a topic of discussion and a disconcerting issue for me. For those of you who aren’t aware, we live in Palm Beach County, Florida which is, shall we say, an interesting place in which to live. It is not uncommon to see dogs at the mall, wearing jewelry, in baby strollers, or riding (not driving) in a Mercedes Benz. I have seen dogs in upscale restaurants. And yes, we even have people who bring their dogs to church. We do not, however, include them in attendance numbers.

On a weekly basis, we receive prayer requests for animals. I’m dead serious. These do not come from children, they come from adults. The requests range from arthritis to digestive problems to sight and hearing problems (no fleas requests yet). To top it all, last week we were asked to perform a memorial service for the dog of someone who attends our church. We politely declined. Doggonit!

I don’t pray for dogs (ok, on occasion, I have prayed for a child’s pet – but for the benefit of the child).

Only people are created in God’s image. Regardless of how much humans are devalued in our culture, in God’s eyes, they are more important than animals. Jesus died on the cross for humankind, not animals. I cannot seriously go to God’s throne in prayer on behalf of an animal. While I care very much for what is important to people, the provision of God’s mercy and grace at the cost of the blood of Jesus cannot be relegated to animals.

For the record, I despise animal cruelty and abuse. There is never an excuse for mistreating an animal. And we have done a miserable job of caring for our world – we are destroying natural habitat at an alarming rate. But I can’t bring myself to pray for your sick hamster.

Here’s the way I look at it: once all the people in the world are saved and healed and clothed and fed, then maybe we will have time to start praying for the animal kingdom.

Please don’t call the Humane Society on me. I’m afraid they’d have to put me down.

is it a sin to take off 2 days a week?

I heard something taught last week that I’d like to run by you.

Kind of out of no where, I heard a respected teacher say that if we take 2 days a week off, we are breaking God’s commandments regarding Sabbath. This was based on what Scripture says in Exodus: Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day. (MSG)

While the speaker did not elaborate, I assume that he was not teaching that we have to work on our jobs 6 days a week. The topic was productivity and prosperity and he was saying that it is no wonder that we are not more productive if we lose 1/6th of our work time. Most people I know work 5 days a week and then spend one of their two weekend days off working at home: landscaping, cleaning, cooking – the stuff that makes life flow the rest of the week.  Of course, we all know people who never take a day off which is clearly not what God planned. The speaker did not discuss the number of hours we work per week.

I almost always work 6 days a week, but I found myself a little defensive when I first heard the teaching. I’ve been processing it since then. And I can’t come up with a Biblically based argument to refute what the guy said.  If you disagree with the speaker, don’t shoot me – I’m just the delivery boy. But I’d like some input from others.

One thing I know for sure: there are lots of people who work on their job 6 days a week and then take God’s day, the Sabbath, as their day off. They can’t worship God because they need a break form their work. That, for certain, is wrong.

Any feedback?

I changed this week

Today wraps up a solid week for me of learning from a bunch of phenomenal leaders. We have been at the Church of God State Camp Meeting in Wimauma Florida. This is an annual gathering for leaders and pastors in our denomination. In five days, I have listened to over 20 hours of teaching and preaching. Guys from all around the country came to share their hearts and the Word of God. It’s been a great week to spend time with friends and colleagues and to be challenged to grow spiritually and in leadership skills. Kudos to our Administrative Bishop, J. David Stephens and his team, who put this whole thing together.

With all of the speakers and all the venues and all the topics, the one thing that funneled down to me, the one big idea that most of the speakers touched on in one way or another was: I should just be who God created me to be and be very good at that. I was encouraged to dream big the dream that God has put in my heart. I was told again and again to stop trying to do what other people are doing, don’t spend time trying to please other people. Be comfortable in my own skin, know what God called me to do and do it with excellence. According to what I heard, if God put the idea in my head, He will provide me with whatever I need to accomplish it, provided I am obedient and submitted to His plans. Don’t allow anything to derail God’s vision for my life. Focus on the main thing, that one thing that God asked me to do, and God will give me the desire of my heart.

This did wonders for my attitude. While I am not the easiest guy to motivate, I come away from these meetings with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. I have been praying about things this week that I haven’t prayed for in a long time. Weariness and frustration had drowned out my vision and passion in some important areas. After this week, it feels like the fires are burning again. I am dreaming again.

I am trying to ask myself two questions that were asked of us by Mitchell Tolle (a phenomenal and creative artist and speaker). For me, these questions help summarize the week, what God said to me.

If you could do anything you want, without fear of failure, what would you do?
When you are in God’s presence and He asks you what you want, what do you say?

Great questions, huh? I am motivated to answer these questions. I hope you will be, too.

It’s been a good week. I hope I can ride this wave for more than a little while.

learning from a killer

I had a brief discussion with a friend yesterday. He is suffering from Leukemia. Is it getting the better of him, but he is clearly becoming better at some things through this process.

I was stuck by his poignancy when he talked about how he now realizes that all the things he worked so hard for, for so many years – houses, property, cars… mean nothing. He cares desperately for his family right now. He wants to see his kids one more time.

His quote nailed me: “I hate the disease but I love what it has done for my perspective.”

We briefly talked about the wrongness of human nature to emphasize temporary stuff. I learned a lot in our few minutes together.

What is shaping your outlook today? Do you have a view of eternity or are you still caught up in the stuff that’s all going away?

Let’s not wait for a killer disease to be our teacher.

one slip of the tongue

Pastors, and any public speaker for that matter, live with the pressure of knowing that one word misspoken can cost them their career. An off-color joke, a curse word, a racial slur, even something that simply appears insensitive to listeners can prove fatal. Addressing a crowd has huge responsibilities attached to it and anyone who has this task should be very aware.

I think this is becoming more of an issue as languages expand and people become more exposed to cultures around the world.

Of special concern to preachers are the increase of double entendres. These are words or phrases that have two meanings (like the title of this post). One meaning is pure and innocent, the other may be inappropriate or profane. Many times, the speaker may not be aware of the profane definition and may utilize the word(s) being unaware that some of his/her listeners are embarrassed by this language. Changing definitions are frightening. And they change rapidly. It is a terrible feeling to say something in innocence and then watch people start to giggle. So pastors have to be culturally aware, we must keep up with current language. I don’t recommend that preachers try to utilize the latest words flying around the entertainment world – this can really backfire. But I know for sure that we can’t be guilty of using a word one way and all of our listeners think about it in another way.

Let me tell you some reasons why this is becoming a larger problem:

Everything is recorded. Years ago, a pastor could say something stupid and only those in attendance would know it. Now, is full of outtakes and bloopers. It’s every pastor’s nightmare to go viral.

In addition, there is less grace. I think that many people are looking for a reason to not trust public speakers, especially those in the church world. There is little or no benefit of the doubt. So, if a statement can be taken two ways, many people will assume the worst. Even if they know the speaker’s motives were pure, they use the faux pas as an excuse to be offended.

One more thought: many of our listeners often gain access to some of the finest public speakers and preachers in history. Some of these media preachers have teams of sermon writers and speaking coaches and make up artists and million dollar stage sets. Some of them have no responsibility other than sermon preparation. And some people who sit in our churches have just come from watching some of these world-class preachers. And they are comparing their pastor to the the TV preacher.

So, my public speaking friends – the pressure is on. You will speak maybe 2,500 words in your next public message. You’d better think them through. Every one of them. You’d better run some of the language past someone who is younger and more connected to modern culture than you. You’d better be aware that some people are hoping you mess up. And you’d better be reminded that everything you say can be used against you.

Now, who is ready to jump up there and give the next message?