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.

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?

The 5 Hardest Things I’ve Done as a Pastor

The 5 Hardest Things I've Done as a Pastor

When you are a pastor, you have a lot of really great days. But you also have your share of bad ones. These are the times when your responsibilities force you into spots that you’d rather not be in. In thinking back over the last 25 plus years, I have mostly good memories, but some difficult times stand out.

Warning: the list below may not be what you’re expecting and it may be difficult to read.

The 5 Hardest Things I’ve Done as a Pastor:

Watch a child die. While we’ve had that unfortunate experience a few times, the day a little boy hemorrhaged to death while his mother held him in her arms is burned into my memory.
Inform two children their father had died. This is a conversation that no one wants to have. I still recall their response.
Identify the bodies of a father and his four-year-old daughter who died in a fire. The sight and smell created lasting trauma for me.
Watch a young leader and friend die a slow and excruciating death. I still argue with God about that one.
Preach the funeral of a 17 year-old suicide victim. There is no adequate way to prepare for that.

No, these events were not about me. But I was there. This is not an effort to garner sympathy. Of course, I did not hurt as much as the family members of these people hurt, but I did hurt.

Notice something about all of the above events – they all involved death. They did not involve a church fight or an argument over money or even a moral failure. Here is the purpose of this article: Sometimes the things that we think are serious are not. The things that really matter involve life and death and eternity.

I hope that the Church can begin to focus more on issues of eternity.

5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

As a pastor of a local church for over twenty-five years, I had my share of buildups and letdowns. Sometimes I recall the discouraging times more. I know that I was not supposed to get down because of people and circumstances, but it happens. I also know that the people who discouraged me did not always mean to do so. But it happened.

The purpose of this post is to let you in on a few things to avoid (unless you want to discourage your pastor). If you are bent on discouraging him or her, here are 5 surefire ways of doing so:

1. Be a no show at Sunday service. Vacation, kid’s sports, sleeping in … pretty much any excuse for not going to church serves as a way to frustrate a pastor. Of course, there are legitimate reasons for missing church. But the general lack of commitment to the church by members is a major source of discouragement for most pastors. Here is why: non attendance is a statement that whatever we chose over church is simply more important to us at that time; that is discouraging to a pastor, and understandably so.

2. Don’t support the church financially. Statistics show that an overwhelming majority of church attenders give little (or nothing) to the church. Although they are limited in what they can say on this topic, pastors get upset about this for a few reasons. There are spiritual implications and consequences. Lack of generosity indicates a lack of gratitude to God. Lack of giving limits the blessings that God will provide for individuals and churches. It’s no wonder why Pastors get discouraged about this issue.

3. Don’t grow as a disciple of Christ. Good pastors will want to measure the progress of the church members. We preach, teach, pray and counsel with the goal of spiritual maturity for the people. While we see with physical eyes and spiritual growth is difficult to measure, it is frustrating to perceive people as stagnant and stuck in their relationship with Christ. It’s sometimes enough to make a pastor want to quit.

4. Fight progress and growth; refuse to accept change in the church; don’t welcome new people into the church. I once had a church member say to me of our church, “the smaller, the better.” Spiritual leaders take people on a journey. They are assigned by God to move people toward God. They discover where the church is and where God wants to take it. There is no such thing as a leader who remains motionless. When God places a vision for growth in the heart of a leader, it can be devastating if people refuse to go. Certainly, there are many conditions that are required which pastors must observe. They must earn the trust of the people and be able to discern the direction of the Spirit. But once this is realized, the refusal of participation by church members is one of the greatest sources of frustration that a pastor can experience.

5. Leave the church. Although many people approach church as consumers and change every time something happens that they don’t like, pastors hope for more dedication. When someone leaves the church, it hurts personally. It is rejection. Pastors suffer when people leave.

The list could go on…

Most people don’t want to hurt their pastor; I hope you don’t. But please don’t overlook the possibility that you may be doing so inadvertently.

Grace and peace to you!

The Great Equalizer in Preaching

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You’re pouring your heart out. You preach like a man possessed (in a good way). You wax eloquent. And then it happens; you make eye contact with the one person in the crowd that can truly humble you – your spouse.

You can fake it with others, but not with her.

Possibly the most difficult part about being a preacher of the Gospel is that at least one of the listeners knows everything there is to know about you.  I think God plans it that way. The great equalizer for many preachers is that their spouse knows better.

It is easy; very easy to impress some crowds. Say the right things in the right way with your best preacher voice and you can wow the crowds. But when someone siting there knows the intimate secrets of who you really are, that is another story.

Preach about faith; she knows your doubts. Preach about prayer; she knows your prayer life. Preach about integrity; and she may smirk (inside).

I think God plans it that way. To keep you humble…to stay real…God reminds you that, no matter what you say, one other person there besides you and Him knows your bathroom habits.

I think the toughest part of being a preacher is that my wife sits there, amening me, nodding her head and being supportive, but knowing full well all my flaws. And still she graciously receives the Word. Quite humbling, I must say!  And good for us preacher-types, lest our arrogance get the best of us. Without these humbling realities, our heads would probably explode with pride. The way it is, it’s sometimes difficult to hold your head up while preaching when she’s in the crowd.

I’m thankful for grace from God and from my wife.

By the way, any preacher who won’t admit to this is either a liar or more spiritual than I am (which isn’t always saying much).

Pastor, There is a Target on your Chest!

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Pastor, you are being targeted. It is no secret that if the enemy can take you out, many of your followers will also be taken out.

In Matthew 26:31 Jesus informed His disciples that they would scatter when He was attacked: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ He was referencing the prophecy in Zechariah 13:8 which detailed His brutal death.  He was also telling them that none of them would be there for Him in His darkest hour.

If you are a spiritual leader, make no mistake; the devil is zeroed in on you. He has you in his crosshairs.

Should you be afraid? No, but you should take some precautions:

`Surround yourself with a prayer covering – both from yourself and from other people. This needs to be more than casual. Intentional and strategic prayer is needed.

`Don’t take unnecessary risks: don’t go where you don’t belong, stay away from the things that tempt you, avoid people that pull you the wrong direction.

`Maintain your spiritual disciplines. It is in prayer and meditation and fasting and the Word that you remain strong.

`Stay accountable. While solitude is important, too much time alone is unhealthy. Be close to your spouse, your family and your friends.

`Stay close to God – it is in Him that you are secure.

There is a target on your chest! Don’t underestimate your vulnerability and don’t undervalue God’s protection.

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 (in the late 1800’s) 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.

How about you? Why do you go or not go to church?

you may not like this but…it is truth

Living in south Florida is an adventure for a pastor. The people here are great, we love our church and friends are the best. But this is a very liberal place regarding issues of morality and sex.

I am responsible to tell people the truth, even when it hurts. At our church, we are finding, in increasing measure, that we need to say things to people that they don’t like, but that are necessary. Many of these episodes involve sex. It is common, I mean absolutely mainstream, for people to openly admit to having sex outside of marriage; cohabitation is the norm. There is no shame or guilt, and people are shocked when I share with them that this kind of behavior is not acceptable to God. And this happens very often within our church with people who know Jesus and study His Word.

I am so careful to speak truth in love. We try hard not to be condemning at our church. We are grace based and motivated by love. We are fully aware of the dangers of judging others – because none of us are perfect.  But I preach against sexual sins because it is covered thoroughly in the Bible. Heterosexual sex, homosexual sex (the Bible is against homosexual marriage), cyber sex, pornography – if you are not married – God forbids sexual activity. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been with your partner or the fact that you own a house together or have kids together. If you are not married, sex is wrong; the Bible prohibits it. I know that sounds like something from outer space in our culture – but it is truth.

Some people are shocked by this fact. They get offended. They get mad. They think I don’t love them. They think I am picking on them. And some of them leave, they walk away and continue with their lives. It is pretty easy in South Florida to find a church and pastor that will agree with them or ignore dealing with real issues. But most people just ignore what we say and go on about their lives. Please, if you are part of our church and are living with someone – we want you to remain as part of our church. But please listen to what God is saying to you. God wants to bless you and He will not bless a relationship that is outside of His will.

This all hurts quite a lot. It hurts to see people making decisions that are slowly destroying their lives. It is painful to lose friends because they think you are crazy for adhering to the Bible. I am troubled about this issue. It’s not going away, in fact it is becoming an even greater problem.

I have no choice. As a pastor, I have to navigate these treacherous waters. I will give an account to God one day for how I represented Him on these issues. I commit myself to tell the truth on these issues, regardless. I am not sorry for doing that, but I am sorry that it doesn’t always turn out well.

You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32) Be free!