Author Archives: rickwhitter

How Should Christians Expect to be Treated?

designPerhaps some modern Believers have misguided expectations regarding how we will be treated in today’s culture. We seem to get very frustrated and even defensive when others do not respect our opinions. We get offended and become defensive of our beliefs, our rights and our convictions. Some of us are quick to fight to preserve what we believe we deserve. A few even think that we deserve honor because of our faith.

In times past, many Believers had a different expectation. Their response to opposition and resistance didn’t involve protests, boycotts or public outrage. Opposition and persecution were considered the norm for Christians.

Teresa of Avila wrote to the Lord, “Since worldly people have so little respect for You, what can we expect them to have for us? Can it be that we deserve that they should treat us any better than they have treated You? Have we done more for them than You have done that they should be friendly to us?

Apparently our forefathers and foremothers had no concept that they should demand fair and equitable, perhaps even favorable treatment by their contemporaries.

Recall, Jesus tells us, “whoever rejects you rejects me.” (Luke 10:16) Perhaps it would be healthy for us to not expect to be honored, but rather to be rejected for the cause of Christ. In fact, if the world accepts and honors us, could it be because we have distanced ourselves from Christ to the point that the world no longer sees Him in us?

Modern Christian, embrace the very strong teaching of our Brother, James. “You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.” Truly, we are placed on earth to lead others to Christ, and that mission necessitates love. But in that process, we cannot love the world more than we love our Lord. And if the world holds us in positions of honor, perhaps it is because we have become friends with the world.

Let’s consider changing our expectations. If we live holy lives, the world is not our home and we shouldn’t get too comfortable here. We should expect to be uncomfortable for the cause of Christ. The moment we begin to demand our rights or rise up to defend our honor or fight for what we think we deserve, we have accepted this world as our domain. I don’t think that is what Christ expects for us.

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Can you Play the Theme Song from Charlie Brown?

Several years ago, I knew a guy who could play the song on the piano, and he could play it very well. At many church social events, he would find his way to a nearby piano and begin to play the song. People would stop and listen and laugh along and talk about how awesome he was. He kept doing this for a while, until people got used to it.

This happy little song brings about warm feelings for many. They think of holidays as a kid. The title of the song is “Linus and Lucy” and it was released in 1964 by jazz pianist, Vince Guaraldi. I’m guessing the song will stay in your head the rest of the day.

At one event, I talked to the guy at our church about his remarkable talent to play the piano. And he told me something unusual. This was the only song he knew how to play. He never took lessons, he didn’t study music. He explained that, as a kid, he spent a lot of time alone. His parents had a piano, so he taught himself how to play that song – only that song. So, apart from the occasional show off session at church social functions, his talent was useless. It served no productive purpose. In addition to being really unusual, it always seemed like such a waste to me. Obviously he had some natural ability. If he had honed those skills and invested his time and energy in something in addition to that one song, who knows what he could’ve done?

Many leaders are “one song leaders.” They have one skill; one talent. Maybe they can sing well or preach powerfully or perhaps they are a good-looking person with a magnetic personality. They ride this talent as often and as far as they can. But much like the guy who could play only one song, they are limited in their effectiveness because they never develop anything more than their “go to” skill. They are able to put on a show, and initially attract a crowd, but eventually people get used to the same old offering and begin to ignore him or her.

Here is the sad part. That guy kept playing that song although people were no longer impressed. This was the only way he knew to get attention, and it no longer worked. I wonder how many of us are still doing the same thing that used to work – but it no longer works? Listen, sometimes, what was effective 10 years ago may no longer be effective today. That is why good leaders grow. They develop new abilities. They are smart enough to recognize when the same old song isn’t cutting it anymore.

Leaders, this is no time for pride or stubbornness. If what you are doing is not working, you need to adjust. If you find fewer people willing to follow, learn a new song. Even better, learn how to “play the piano”, not just one song.


Who Should Be A Pastor? (10 things a pastor must be able to do)

There are a few jokes about the perfect pastor that continue to make the rounds:

35 years old with 30 years experience.

Doesn’t dress too flashy or too trashy.

Has a lovely but modest wife, and 1.5 well-behaved children.

Can preach, teach, sing, play, administrate, cut grass, clean toilets, visit all the sick and elderly, attend all the church kids school plays and ball games and find time to pray for 3 hours every day.

These are jokes.

But it’s not funny when we see a person trying to serve as a pastor when they lack some basic necessary gifts and abilities.

From my 30 plus years in ministry, I have a few (10 for now) indispensable skills a successful pastor must possess. Please, let’s take some for granted. In other words, don’t scold me for omitting praying or whatever. These things are obvious. The points I want to cover may not be as obvious.

1. Must be able to personally lead someone to Christ. It is shocking to learn that some pastors have never led anyone to salvation outside of a church service. If the pastor doesn’t, the people won’t.

2. Must be able and willing, even eager, to work hard. Sometimes the work is manual, sometimes it is intellectual, but it is always strenuous. In my opinion, pastors cannot work less than 50 hours per week on average if they hope to build a growing, effective church. While we must prioritize our family and health, excessive television, golf, napping or any other “recreation” is a sign of slothfulness. Please don’t be guilty of adding to the “lazy preacher” perception. Of course the above numbers are considering full time pastors.

3. Must be humble. Arrogance, pride and an inflated ego by a pastor will destroy a ministry quickly. Get over yourself.

4. Must be a learner. Whether the education is formal or informal, there is no space for intellectual anemia. You never know it all so learn until you die. You speak on behalf of God; know what you’re talking about.

5. Must not be a racist. Now, this should be a given, but it is not. Pastors cannot discriminate against people of other races or nationalities. Mistreating anyone is not allowable. If you cannot love all people equally, and minister to anyone, you disqualify yourself from effective ministry, and perhaps Christianity altogether.

6. Must be compassionate. Some score higher on the mercy scale than others, but a hard-hearted pastor is an oxymoron. Shepherds must care.

7. Must value other generations. If you can only lead people who are close to your age, you have a very limited harvest field. If multigenerational ministry doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it. The long term effectiveness of your ministry is at stake.

8. Must not fall in love with methods, style or genres. If you simply must preach a certain way, or if you only allow a certain type of worship music, or if you insist that church ministry be conducted in your preferred method, perhaps there is an ownership problem. The ministry does not belong to you; the ministry belongs to the Lord. God never changes. But times change, people change, and what’s effective in ministry changes.

9. Must be accountable to and for others; must be responsible to and for others. Independent pastors (those who answer to no one) are operating outside of biblical guidelines. Followers should not follow this type of a leader.

10. Must be able to increase the impact of the church they serve. If a pastor cannot lead the church to grow, the church will die. A pastor that leads a church to die isn’t a good pastor.

Well, there is the list of 10. Of course, there are tons more, perhaps they will come in the future. In the meantime, pastor on!


On Mentoring

37641041_10156573501694214_6934824908186714112_nI’ve recently been considering how important it is for us to invest our knowledge, wisdom and experience in the next generation. I cannot overstate how important this concept is. If you are an adult and you have some semblance of a well-structured life, you OWE it to those coming behind you to impart what you know.

Specifically, I am considering Christian leaders. If you are a pastor of or a leader in a church, you simply must identify someone (or several people) to mentor. It is your spiritual responsibility to invest in those who will carry on the work once you are gone (and help you to carry it out right now).

I see a few necessary steps in this process:

Identify: Use your discernment. Observe behavior, attitudes, habits. When you sense that the Holy Spirit is calling a younger person into service – call them out!

Grace: Don’t look for the perfect candidate. No one is perfect. You must look with eyes toward redemption. The people you are observing are not yet fully developed. Part of your responsibility is to develop them.

Time: If you are too busy to spend time with younger folks, you are too busy. Farmers are not too busy to plant seeds.

Find your replacement: This is scary for some. But here is a news flash – you won’t live forever. If you leave your post and do not consider your replacement, you are negligent. And if you are intimidated that this person may take over before you are ready, well, you are already in serious trouble. Insecure leaders aren’t leaders.

They may leave you: Some do not invest in others because they don’t want to waste their time on someone who will leave. This is shortsighted and close-minded. If you train up a leader and they leave, your influence only grows.

Train but don’t dominate: Your responsibility is not to make a clone. Invest but allow freedom for your protégé to be their own person, their own leader.

Prepare to be disappointed: Some, perhaps several will abandon you. You cannot control the decisions of others. But neither can we fail to invest in others because of the decisions of some to depart.

Pursue: Don’t sit and wait for a young person to approach you, odds are they won’t. You are the leader – take the lead!

Expect them to go farther: When we invest, we expect growth. Our replacements had better be capable of taking the work farther than we ever could. When they succeed, celebrate! There is no room for jealousy – only celebration!

We simply must stop starting over. Too many of our key roles and positions are being left to the wind once the leader departs.

Two final thoughts: 1) Mentoring is a matter of spiritual stewardship. We have been given leadership gifts. God never gives us gifts so we can hoard them – He expects us to invest those gifts in others who will produce. 2) Paul sets the perfect example in II Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Share what you’ve been given with those who will share what they’ve been given.

Leader, I am challenging you. Regardless of your age, look back. Who is coming along behind? Please connect with them and bring them forward. The future of the Mission depends upon it. And if we fail to raise up the next leaders, we are culpable for its demise.


5 Quick (and Easy) Things You Can Do to Improve Your Leadership Skills

design1. Strategic Reading. No one who leads has a lot of extra time to read everything. And so much of what is available is redundant or shallow. Find your theme, do your research and read. Read less but read deep. Don’t try to retain everything or read too much, but read, and do so strategically.

2. Network with Similar Souls. You need to know you’re not alone. Isolation is dangerous. You need to be encouraged and you need to encourage another leader. Find a friend with whom you can commiserate. Make one another better.

3. Network with Someone who is Different. Don’t sleep with the enemy but find someone who opposes you, stands for the “other side” of things. Don’t argue; dialogue. Don’t seek to change them, seek to gain info, understand more deeply, and learn.

4. Commit to Grow (until you die). When you stop improving, you start failing. Keep learning new things; stay challenged. This requires humility and passion.

5. Serve someone. Don’t look for someone who can pay you back. Don’t serve to be seen. Find someone who doesn’t deserve it. Serve them. Keep quiet about it. Service is the core of leadership.

Ok, I misled you. I said in the title that these things are quick and easy. They are neither. In actuality, these things are hard, sometimes very hard. However, the more you practice them, the quicker and easier they will become. And the impact they will have on your leadership skills makes them well worth the effort. Put them into practice, you and those you lead will be glad you did.

A Call for Humility

IMG_2194There is irony in anyone writing an article on the topic of humility. How does one become arrogant and presumptuous enough to address the need for humility in others? Indulge me for a moment.

Andrew Murray said, “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” It seems that not enough of heaven is living in our world today. We know that until the Kingdom of Christ is established, we will struggle with the human dilemma of pride. But the pain of division, strife and war, much of it caused by our arrogance, is staggering. It seems that some adjustments must be made.

We think that our way is superior. We believe that we are better than others. We dare to assume we know more about others than they know about themselves. We have the nerve to determine the best course of life for those around us. We presume that our opinion is God’s opinion. “The proud wish God would agree with them. They are not interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s.” (Ezra Taft Benson) The whole time, we ignore our lack of humility.

Humility may be defined as “a modest view of one’s importance.” We are not to demean or disrespect ourselves. But the Bible instructs us to not think too highly of ourselves. (Romans 12:3) It is a struggle for many. We think our opinions are always right – it is human nature.

But the damage that is done in relationships by a lack of humility is immeasurable.

Not only does a lack of humility destroy relationships, it destroys us. “Time and time again does the pride of man influence his very own fall. While denying it, one gradually starts to believe that he is the authority, or that he possesses great moral dominion over others, yet it is spiritually unwarranted. By that point he loses steam; in result, he falsely begins trying to prove that unwarranted dominion by seizing the role of a condemner.” (Criss Jami, Salomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile)

I feel compelled to ask you, please consider a more humble approach to life. If you spend time pointing out the faults of others. If you assume that you know more than others know. If you think that you are superior to others. If you disrespect others. If you refuse to consider that you could be wrong. If your opinion is God’s opinion. There is a problem.

The problem with humility is, if it is missing, one may not detect it. We can spot it in others, but we can’t detect it in ourselves.

A moment of quiet reflection: Take a few minutes to sit still and listen to the Lord. Allow Him, if necessary, to point out areas where you may be suffering from a lack of humility. I promise you, I am doing this right now and I have much work to be done in this area.

And hence, as I write about humility, I must be humble enough to consider that I could be all wrong!


Poison for Pastors

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Socrates’ hemlock.

The Borgia family’s arsenic.

Claudius’ “nightshade.”

These are some famous poisons and the victims done in by them.

Their effects were swift, and effective. The poison did its job; the people died.

Just as sure as these historical figures were contaminated to death, modern pastors are being poisoned. Hopefully the Deacon Board is not involved! Yet subtly and painfully, the toxins are working to destroy the hearts and lives of countless ministers of the Gospel.

We may assume a pastor’s poison to be sexual or involving money or some other type of moral corruption. But the venoms I am concerned with today are perhaps more subtle, yet more common. They do not destroy the organs like the chemical poisons do; rather, they destroy the spirits, hearts and souls of their victims.

Let’s discuss 3 very common enemies (poisons) of today’s ministers.

Cynicism

While not as newsworthy as an illicit affair, cynicism has destroyed more than it’s fair share of pastors.

Cynical is defined as: distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others. Bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.

If you’ve met a few ministers, odds are you’ve seen this on display. A cynical attitude is impossible to hide. It usually shows up when others are optimistically discussing a concept, a new idea, or a vision for the future. Cynics have lost the ability to trust. So they reject optimism as impossible or unlikely.

The reason so many pastors become cynics is simple: they have endured too much disappointment.

Skepticism

Closely related to cynicism is skepticism. A skeptic is “a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.” They question the authenticity and validity of things that others believe to be accurate and trustworthy.

It is easy for a pastor to become a skeptic. They may still hold to the integrity of the Scriptures (although some do not) but the behaviors of the people around them have caused these Pastors to learn to doubt. Mistrust is a rallying cry for many in today’s culture. There is no benefit of the doubt; people are guilty until proven innocent.

It is sad to see good leaders project such a negative and poisonous attitude. But it is common.

Following closely behind cynicism and skepticism is:

Sarcasm – “a harsh or bitter derision or irony.” Sarcasm is made visible with a sneer, with a cutting remark or with a verbal taunt. Sarcastic leaders are dangerous in that they often openly share their sarcasm. I have heard more than one preacher reveal his sarcastic heart while preaching the Word of God. It is not a pretty sight.

Though these poisons are different, they share the same source – pain.

Leading is painful. Leaders get hurt. It is impossible to avoid the pain that is associated with leading. So the solution is not to hide from pain.

In my opinion, there are 2 approaches to protecting ourselves against the poison of pastors:

Prevention and antidote.

Pastor friends, please protect yourself, not from the pain of leading, but from the hardening of your heart that comes as a result of the pain. You already know Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Keep your heart safe. Keep it tender. Keep it vulnerable. But keep it free from poison. If you fail to keep the poison out of your heart, you ministry, life and future will be contaminated.

But the truth is, many of us are in need of the life-saving antidote. We’ve already been poisoned and we are feeling the effects. We’re now searching for remedies. We need an antitoxin to nullify the effects of skepticism, cynicism and sarcasm.

The antidote for these poisons is the Holy Spirit. He can make all things new. He can heal our brokenness. Only the Holy Spirit can reverse the effects of these soul toxins.

Leaders, if we do not address these issues, the outcome will not be good. Not only will we destroy ourselves but others will also suffer.

  • Cynical leaders lead bitter followers.
  • Skeptical leaders produce faithless followers.
  • Sarcastic leaders develop hopeless followers.

We can and must do better. If you need help, reach out. You’re not alone.

Prayer: Father, make our hearts tender before you. Heal our brokenness. Forgive us for becoming hardhearted. Remove the poison from our systems. Teach us to love and trust and serve once again. And protect us from future attacks of these dreaded poisons. In Christ’s name, Amen.

(all definitions from dictionary.com)