Ministry Leadership Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:27:16 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Would Jesus Be Pleased With Our Cowering?

Like most people, I love my comfort. I love my church, life and my family.

When I think about the future, I don't want to imagine a world that is so radically different from the one I know now—a world in which the dreams I have for my children won't come to fruition.

In general, I like being happy and I don't like anything to disturb my happiness. I'm pretty sure that's how most of us feel.

That may explain why we typically don't watch the news. It's mostly bad news. And we don't like negativity because ... well, it disturbs our happiness.

It should come as no surprise then how little most Americans know about what goes on in the world beyond our borders. However, I'm sure some have gotten wind of the recent rise of ISIS and its quest to establish a Muslim caliphate in that region of the world. It would be pretty difficult to escape that since you can hardly turn on your television without hearing something about it.

I have both heard and listened with interest. Though I can't bring myself to watch those graphic YouTube videos, I have read articles online, seen pictures on Facebook, and even read emails from those on the front lines giving aid to refugees. To be clear, I am neither a masochist nor one that considers himself nobler than others.

I pay attention because those are my brothers who are being massacred by Muslim extremists and I think that warrants some concern. The stories range from grisly accounts of the systematic beheading of children for refusing to denounce Jesus, to the desperate pleas of missionaries for Christians everywhere to pray for their protection and strength.

As is typical with us though, we can hear of these atrocities and easily dismiss what we've heard. I wouldn't say that we, as a nation, lack compassion. On the contrary, Americans are some of the most compassionate and benevolent people in the world. But I think we might not see the connection between what's happening in Iraq and Syria and what our response should be. And after all, isn't there always some kind of crisis in the Middle East?

Lest we in America think we are exempt from persecution, let me simply remind you of America's newest religion: Political Correctness. PC has provided a framework from which to reinterpret laws, most of which infringe on the rights to free speech; particularly when that speech comes from Christians with conservative values.

The recent subpoena of pastor's sermons by Houston's openly gay Mayor, Anise Parker, is only one example. Pastors who fail to comply would be held in contempt of court and subject to arrest. Imagine that.

As a pastor, I shudder to consider the implications if Mayor Parker were to prevail. While our kind of persecution may be softer in comparison to that of our brothers in the Middle East, it's a chilling reminder of how quickly our liberties are slipping away.

Before we absolve ourselves of any responsibility to the persecuted church caught in this crisis, let me remind you of the words of Jesus: "... Truly, I say unto you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:42). That we should help the suffering is a personal matter to Jesus. So much so, we'll either be judged or rewarded by how we use our power on their behalf.

Inconvenient though it may be, there is something that is expected of us. I know that messes with your happiness, try to think of this as an opportunity to put a smile of Jesus' face.

What You Can Do

  • Pray for God to strengthen our brothers to stand and honor God in the midst of this crisis, even if means dying.
  • Give. Food and clothing are needed. There are many credible relief organizations already on site through whom you can give money.
  • Adopt. You can adopt either a child or an entire family for just a few dollars a day.
  • Wear your cross. Iraqi Christians wear theirs to let the extremists know they are not afraid. Wear your cross as a sign of solidarity.

Bishop Reford Mott is the senior pastor of Family Christian Center in New Rochelle, N.Y.

]]> (Bishop Reford Mott) Culture Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:00:00 -0400
8 Idols Church Leaders Still Worship Today

Have you ever asked yourself as a church leader, do I worship something or someone other than God? It's a great question to ask and great heart check.

I'll stick my neck out and suggest that you do have idols you worship instead of God. At least I do. Once you identify them and root them out, you'll become a better leader.

You're an Idol Factory

I get challenged about my personal and leadership idols every year when I read through the middle part of the book of Isaiah.

Chapter 44, for example, is all about the futility of worshipping idols, which in those days were mostly wood or stone carvings.

So what's an idol today? You don't need wood or stone to create one. An idol is anything that takes our focus and reliance off of God.

John Calvin was dead on when he said, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols." Discard one, and you'll simply create another.

8 Idols Church Leaders Still Worship Today:

The list could be much longer than eight, because Calvin was right. But here are eight I struggle with or have seen other leaders struggle with. These are in no particular order, because, well, any idol is bad enough to be No. 1:

1. Strategy. So I'm a strategy wonk. If you read this blog, you know that. I think many churches fail for lack of a clear, coherent strategy. I wrote in detail about how mission, vision and strategy interrelate here.

But strategy is no substitute for trust. As valuable as strategy is (and it is), no strategy is a substitute for trusting God. Strategy makes an excellent servant and a terrible master.

2. Skill. By all means, get better at what you do. Learn, listen, polish and perfect your skills. Skill alone can get you far, but the church is a supernatural thing.

God changes hearts. You can't. I can't.

You know what's better than a skill set? A surrendered skill set. Having a B-level set of skills that's surrendered is better than an A-level set of skills you're trying to use without God.

3. Size. There is no merit in size. Some leaders think only bigger is better. But idolizing big can be a thin mask for ego. (Your self-worth rises and falls with big.)

Some idolize the romanticism of small. Yet idolizing small can be a thin mask for insecurity. (You love small only because you will never be big.)

There is no magic to size. Focus on getting healthy, and size will take care of itself.

Or to switch metaphors, pull some weeds, till the soil, plant some seeds and trust God to grow things at the pace and to the size he wants.

4. Stats. I love stats too much. I watch attendance, baptisms, givings, group participation and volunteer rates like a hawk and then am disappointed if they don't meet my exaggerated expectations.

I watch my blog and podcast stats too much, and—if I'm not careful—I'll even allow them to dictate my emotions.

Before you gloat a little, ignoring stats can be another idol. Being the slacker-who-doesn't-care/I'm-too-hip-for-that leader can close you off to God as readily as being the leader who rises and falls with the numbers.

Stats tell you things. But they don't measure your worth, nor do they measure God's faithfulness. Watch them. But don't believe they're a barometer on how awesome (or awful) you might be.

5. Alliances. I wish I had a better title for this, but 'alliances' simply refers to the group we do ministry with.

In some cases, it's your denomination or a church planting group. Or in my case, as a North Point Strategic Partner, it's North Point Church.

Alliances are often strategic and helpful. They have been for me. But they are not your savior.

It's tempting to think, "If we join X group, our church would take off." No ... it probably wouldn't. Just so you know.

Alliances help. But they will not save. God does that.

6. More. Too many times, I've caught myself worshipping the idol of more. If I had more staff ... more money ... more lights ... more team ... more square footage ... more fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-your-current-obsession-is, then our church would be awesome.

Nope. God is awesome.

And again, there's nothing wrong with having more. It's just that more will not be your salvation.

Faithfulness is measured in what you do with what you have.

And if you steward what you have well, guess what? Often (not always, but often), you eventually end up with more.

Focus on what you have, not on what you don't have. That's better leadership.

7. Progress. I seem to be far more addicted to progress than God appears to be. Or at least what would define as progress (I'm quite sure God makes more progress on things than I do).

I often think I would be the worst biblical character. I would not be good with being in prison for years like Joseph or Paul. Or wandering the desert for 40 years like Moses while people complained. Or waiting to be king for what must have seemed like an eternity to David.

If every graph is not up and to the right, I get worried.

But God seems to use wilderness seasons in your life and in the life of your church to grow your character.

Besides, if your platform ever outgrows your character, you're doomed anyway (I wrote about that here).

I know God has used seasons when I'm frustrated with progress to grow me.

I am still a reluctant convert to patience and trust. But I am thankful God is patient with me, even when I am not patient with God.

8. Balance. Some of you may be frustrated by now because this appears to be yet another leadership post written by yet another driven leader.

I know. I get that. Those are my demons.

But there is another idol lurking under the guise of work-life balance that's worth identifying.

Often in the pursuit of a 'balanced' life, people can lose passion and commitment.

Don't get me wrong: I am all for rest, balance, margin and a life that doesn't drain the life out of you.

But balance can become code for barely working. Balance can become a synonym for not throwing your heart or weight into anything. (I wrote more about the trap of work-life balance here.)

If that's a temptation, just understand that's an idol too.

We have a God who asked us to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

Most of the people I know who have accomplished significant things are not balanced people.

They are passionate people.

So be passionate in your work, in your family life, in your rest and in all you do.

When you do, you will glorify God.

Those are eight idols I see and often struggle with in leadership. What do you see?  

In addition to serving as Lead Pastor at Connexus Community Church north of Toronto Canada, Carey Nieuwhof speaks at conferences and churches throughout North America on leadership, family, parenting and personal renewal.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Carey Nieuwhof) Personal Character Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Forgive Us: Leading With Humility

In April 2001, an unarmed African-American teenager named Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by Cincinnati police. Thomas's death was the latest in a series of intriguing deaths of unarmed African-Americans by city law enforcement, and for a few brief days, the city's racial tensions erupted into uprisings and rioting.

At the time, Chris Beard was pastor at First Christian Assembly of God, a historic Pentecostal congregation in the heart of Cincinnati. Of the more than 500 regular attendees, roughly 98 percent were white. The congregation did not reflect the demographics or the experiences of First Christian's neighborhood. Beard's first response was to repent of a history of blissful ignorance and lack of deep concern for those who lived in the same neighborhood as First Christian.

In the aftermath of Thomas' death, Pastor Beard made a commitment to transform his congregation into a church that looked more like its neighborhood and a church that looked more like heaven, rooted in the heavenly vision of Revelation 7:9 (NIV): "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb."

Since 2001, First Christian Assembly has lived up to Pastor Beard's vision. The congregation is now 25 percent African-American and 25 percent international and other ethnicities. The church is speaking out for racial justice, advocating for the voting rights of blacks in Cincinnati, and working to dismantle the devastating effects of the war on drugs and mass incarceration.

One of the more amazing stories of transformation at the congregation now known as Peoples Church involves Terry Thomas, Timothy's younger brother. Terry was 16 when his older brother was shot in 2001. He is now a member of Peoples Church, a growing follower of Jesus and a loving father and husband. Peoples Church is a congregation whose transformation is rooted in a spirit of humility, repentance and transformation.[i]

The above story is but one example of the amazing redemptive role repentance can play within our congregations and communities. Recognizing and acknowledging when and where we have failed can have a powerful role in advancing the cause of Christ.

Admittedly, the church has often embraced a redemptive role in our society. This conviction historically has led to many important movements, including the faith-filled work in Great Britain to outlaw first the slave trade and later slavery in the British Empire and the abolitionist movement to end slavery in the United States. Jesus' followers in the U.S. played important roles in ending child labor and ensuring women's suffrage in the early 20th century, and in the Civil Rights Movement half a century later.

Unfortunately, the church has too frequently remained silent or even perpetuated grave injustices in the name of Jesus. In the recently-released book Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, co-authors Mae Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson and Soong-Chan Rah explore the historic sins of the American church in the public arena against African-Americans, immigrants and the LGBT community, among others. The examples in the book include Christian complicity with slavery and Jim Crow segregation, the rabid anti-immigrant sentiments that marked our faith during the early 20th century, and what has all too often been a hate-filled response to the LGBT community over the past 40 years.

This history leads us to call for confession and repentance and to plea for forgiveness from the culture around us. Our nation and our world are filled with people who so desperately need Jesus, and we believe a posture of humility can help lead people to a relationship with God's Son.

Part of the challenge we face is the way the church can appear to the world around us. Too often we adopt an approach that is not too different than that taken by the crowd who caught a woman in adultery as recorded in the Gospel of John. Led by faith leaders, including teachers of religious law and Pharisees, they bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. According to the text, they made "her stand before all of them." They inform Jesus that such actions warrant stoning and death.

In this story, the leaders adopt a posture of judgment, arrogance, pride and even hatred. They would fit in nicely at a Westboro Baptist Church rally picketing a soldier's funeral. They use the woman as an object to demonstrate their righteousness and superiority. By parading her in front of Jesus and the crowd, they humiliate her and dehumanize her.

Rarely are the conflicts played out in the public arena in the same way in the 21st century. Instead, followers of Jesus can troll message boards and Facebook or Twitter, spewing vitriol, hatred, judgment and arrogance, and somehow connect this to the name of Jesus. In the end, this approach widens the gulf between those needing the grace and mercy of Jesus and the body of Christ that is here to share this good news with them.

We might be well served to take some lessons from a parable Jesus told, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:

"He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income." But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted'" (Luke 18:9-14, NRSV).

What if we adopted the way of the tax collector and encouraged those in our churches to set aside self-righteousness and arrogance and instead adopt a posture of humility? What if we chose to pursue forgiveness and repentance in the public arena as a starting point?

Shortly after this writing, superstar basketball player LeBron James, as a free agent, made a historic decision to return to Cleveland, where he began his NBA career. James played for Cleveland for his first seven seasons and then decided to go to Miami in a less than gracious way in 2010. Following what was called "The Decision," a bitter Cavaliers' owner [Dan Gilbert] wrote an open letter to the fans in which he called James a coward and a poor example to young people.

In his recent negotiating meetings with James, one might ask if Gilbert retracted those remarks, seeking forgiveness for his letter and comments. Apparently some restoration in that relationship took place, as James agreed to return to Cleveland.

If this approach is clear in the world of sports, might we not be well served to adopt and encourage this approach by followers of Jesus in our neighborhoods and communities? What if we led with a humble attitude of confession? What if we asked those far from God to simply forgive us, and were specific about what we have done that has been a disservice to the name of Jesus and caused injury for people created in the very image of God? What might God do to soften hearts and heal wounds if we simply confess and repent?

What if the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NRSV), "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land," are not meant first and foremost to be applied to our culture in judgment, but rather are meant first to be embodied by followers of Jesus? The call in 2 Chronicles is, after all, for those who are called by God. Shouldn't the church apply this text to our uneven history of complicity with injustice and hate in society?

Let me say that humility and confession should not preclude a passionate engagement in the public arena for causes of justice. We desperately need followers of Jesus to be advocates for vulnerable children in our urban centers and around the globe. We need to be working to stop human trafficking and to end abortion.

We ought to work to fix a broken immigration system in a manner that communicates God's love to the undocumented immigrant, and we should support fair wages for hard-working single moms trying to make ends meet on substandard pay from a big multinational corporation. We should commit ourselves to fighting for racial and economic justice for all, and particularly work to defend and protect people of color who have so often borne the brunt of church-sanctioned injustice in our land.

We should do all this in a spirit of humility, confession and repentance, recognizing our need and dependence on God to use our words and actions for God's glory and for justice. The change we wish to see in the world will never come to pass by our self-righteousness and zeal, but rather through the righteousness and power of our all-loving, gracious and mighty God.

What if, sometime over the coming year, you led your congregations and communities through a season of confession, repentance and forgiveness? What might God do to transform our congregations and to heal our land? I long to see what God will do in and through our humble submission and repentance.

[i] Taken from Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (Zondervan, September 2014). © 2014 by Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Shannon Harper, Troy Jackson and Soong-Chan Rah.

Troy Jackson (Ph.D., University of Kentucky) attends Peoples Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is interim executive director of the AMOS Project, a Cincinnati faith-based organizing effort for racial justice, and co-founder and director of Ohio Prophetic Voices.

]]> (Troy Jackson ) Personal Character Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
20 Contrasts Between the Box Church and the Kingdom-Centered Church

Ever since the fourth century when the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal, the church progressively went from a decentralized "saints movement" to a temple-centered, "clergy-dependent" movement.

We went from focusing on marketplace presence to building elaborate cathedrals with clergy-led rituals. We went from people "being the church" to people "going to church." I call the latter mentality "the box church."

This clergy/laity divide and emphasis with a ritual-centered approach in a building was not only a challenge in the past but also in the present (even though our evangelical rituals now have more pizzazz). Consequently, the leaders of the church held a monopoly upon things sacred—which kept the "holy elite" in power and in wealth. The sad thing is, similar concepts are still prevalent in the church today.

The following are some of the contrasts between the "box church" and "kingdom-centered" church:  

1. The box church Christians go to church. The kingdom-centered believers are the church. Whenever we say, "We are going to church" it shows we are still trapped within the mindset that the church is primarily a building we go to.

2. The box church focuses most of their energy into the Sunday experience in a building. The kingdom-centered church equips believers for Monday to Friday. The kingdom-centered church not only has a good Sunday experience but also equips the saints for the work of the ministry related to their primary vocation from Monday to Friday.

3. In the box church, only the professional clergy are ministers. In the kingdom-centered church all believers are equipped to minister for God.

4. In the box church, only the clergy can understand the Word. The kingdom-centered church equips all believers to interpret and apply the Word. In the box church, people are taught to be dependent upon the "man of God" to feed them the Word. In the kingdom-centered church, the focus is to teach all believers to interpret the Word and feed themselves.

5. In the box church potential leaders are equipped to preach in a building. The kingdom-centered church equips people to lead in the marketplace. In the box church a small percentage of people with potential are trained to become full-time clergy and preach the Word. In the kingdom-centered church the focus is on equipping one hundred percent of the people to influence culture through their vocation.

6. In the box church, only Sunday is celebrated and sacred. In the kingdom-centered church every day is celebrated and sacred. In kingdom-centered churches every day is viewed as a sacred opportunity to demonstrate the love, wisdom and power of God in all of life. 

7. In the box church the real mission is Sunday. In the kingdom-centered church the real mission is Monday to Friday. In the box church the people are trained to try to make it to Sunday to get encouraged and filled. In the kingdom-centered church the Sunday service equips the believer to bring the lordship of Christ to every facet of society.

8. In the box church wealth creators are only used for their tithe to support programs in a building. In the kingdom-centered church wealth creators use their business to advance the kingdom in culture.

9. In the box church the temple is the sanctuary. In the kingdom-centered church the earth is His sanctuary. The Scriptures say that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof (Ps. 24). Hence, we should experience the activity of God as much in city hall as we do the fellowship hall inside a church building.

10. The box church depends upon a building to function. The kingdom-centered church depends upon believers to function. In the box church ministry is limited or expanded by the capacity of their building. In the kingdom-centered church the ministry is limited or expanded by the capacity of the disciples they are equipping and sending.

11. In the box church Jesus is only the savior of the sheep. In the kingdom-centered church Jesus is also the King of Kings over nations. In the kingdom-centered church saved people view Jesus as the president of all presidents, the CEO of all CEOs and the Judge of all lawyers and Judges of the earth (Rev. 19:16). Hence, they speak truth to power as God's representatives.

12. In the box church the Bible is a book about escaping the earth. In the kingdom-centered church the Bible is about stewarding the earth. The Bible is the most practical book ever written about how to live upon the earth. Hence, the biblical focus is for believers to experience inner transformation so they can transform their surrounding culture (internal transformation without external goals of engagement result in narcissism and passivity).

13. The box church focuses on bringing the community into a building. The kingdom-centered church focuses on sending the saints to serve their city.

14. In the box church the gifts of the Spirit operate on Sunday. In the kingdom-centered church the gifts of the Spirit operate every day.

15. In the box church our purpose began when we were born again. In the kingdom-centered church our purpose was evident immediately after physical birth. God's purpose for us was in motion even before we were saved since He anoints and sanctifies our God-given natural gifts, talents and past worldly experience to advance His kingdom.

16. In the box church people come to be entertained. In the kingdom-centered church people come to be equipped.  

17. In the box church the lead pastor is called to shepherd a congregation. In the kingdom-centered church the lead pastor is called to shepherd a community.

18. The box church is mystical. The kingdom-centered church is spiritual. The biblical use of the word "spiritual" does not necessarily mean thinking of spiritual things—but it has to do with having power over your flesh to be a witness of Christ on the earth. Hence, mysticism and biblical spirituality imply two different things; Mysticism implies spirituality with no practical application to the earth while true spirituality empowers us to deal with earthly realities.

19. In the box church believers come to escape their problems. In the kingdom-centered church they learn how to become problem solvers

20. In the box church people passively wait to be caught up into heaven. In the kingdom-centered church, we bring heaven down to the earth. Jesus told us to pray for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). He prayed that we would not be taken out of the world (John 17:15). He told us to occupy or engage in business until He comes (Luke 19:13).

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church and Christ Covenant Coalition in Brooklyn, N.Y. Visit him at

]]> (Bishop Joseph Mattera) Culture Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:00:00 -0400
7 Reasons Why Church Leaders Should Practice Fasting

Fasting—not our favorite topic. We don't usually like to talk about not eating.

In fact, nobody talked to me about fasting when I was a young believer. I didn't learn about this spiritual discipline until I was already a local church pastor.

I've since learned that my experience is not unusual among evangelicals. The fact that many of us have never emphasized fasting, though, is not positive. Here are some reasons why church leaders ought to be fasting:

1. The Bible assumes believers will fast. The early church fasted before sending out missionaries (Acts 13:1-3) and before appointing elders (Acts 14:23). Jesus expected His disciples to fast after He returned to the Father (Matt. 9:14-17), just as much as He expected them to give and pray (Matt. 6:2-7, 16-17). Leaders must lead the way in being obedient in this discipline.

2. Fasting requires us to focus on God's kingdom. The kingdom of God is already here (Luke 11:20), but also yet to come (Luke 22:18). We fast while we wait for the bridegroom to return for His bride, and doing so requires us to focus on His kingdom—not ours. Fasting might well show us that we are building our own kingdom.

3. Fasting leads to us to slow down and reflect. Leadership usually means activity and busyness. Always there is something else to complete, somebody to visit, the next meeting to conduct, another book to read. Often left behind is our private, personal, intimate walk with God. Fasting is one means to redirect our attention to Him.

4. Fasting calls us to consider our deepest longings. We do not fast to "get stuff" from God; we fast because we want God Himself more than anything else. Fasting exposes whether we truly believe encountering the eternal One is more significant than the temporary satisfaction of food (and sin, for that matter). It forces us to determine what we really live for.

5. Fasting reveals who we really are. It was John Piper who taught me this truth. When hunger consumes us during fasting, we sometimes find ourselves grumpy, short-tempered, anxious or faithless. To state it a better way, fasting brings to light our true self. Most of the time, repentance becomes the next necessary step.

6. Fasting reminds us that we are not simply spiritual beings. God created us as spiritual and physical beings, but we tend to focus on caring for our spiritual side. We often ignore our physical well being, thus also ignoring the truth that we are wholly created in the image of God. Fasting calls us to a faith that affects our entire being.

7. Fasting is a reminder we are not as strong as we think we are. Leaders are often by nature tough, persistent and resilient. Fasting, however, quickly reveals our limitations. Even a short fast uncovers our struggle to deny self; a longer fast reminds us we are finite beings who die without nourishment. All our knowledge training, and experience mean nothing when the body has no sustenance.

If you're a church leader who has not fasted for some time, consider these questions:

  • If the Bible assumes our fasting, should I at least pray about it?
  • Do I need private, focused time with God?
  • Am I willing to examine what I'm really living for?
  • Am I open to bringing to light my true self—and then repenting as needed—through fasting?
  • Do I emphasize my spiritual being to the neglect of my physical being?
  • Do I consider myself strong?

Here's the bottom line: fasting is a spiritual discipline that calls us to slow down, seek God, confess sin, deny self and embrace weakness. It reveals whether the kingdom we are living for—and longing for—is God's or ours. Any Christian leader must answer this question.

What lessons have you learned about fasting? What suggestions do you have for leaders who have not fasted regularly?

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Chuck Lawless ) Fasting Tue, 21 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
5 Ways to Excel in Your Ministry and Leadership

God is more concerned with your progress than your perfect performance. The very nature of discipleship is progressive. God's purpose is that you become more and more like His Son, Jesus, and He will use your entire life to work that process out.

As ministry leaders, we are not exceptions. We are examples. If we aren't growing and challenging ourselves to move to the next level, personally and professionally, we can't lead a congregation or a team to do so.

Excellence, in and of itself, isn't a core value at our church. We'd rather launch things imperfectly than wait for perfect conditions, which never really arrive. Having said that, excelling or growing and improving is another matter.

While we don't have to have reached perfection to serve God, we must be willing to grow. Some pastors and leaders excel and grow, while others don't. What makes the difference? The Bible mentions at least five factors that cause us to excel...

1. People who excel work with enthusiasm. Emerson once said "Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm." Regardless of whether the job is big or small, give it your best. Great performers give their best effort, no matter what the size of the audience. The Bible says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters" (Col. 3:23).

2. People who excel sharpen their skills. They never stop developing, growing, learning or improving. Eccl. 10:10 says, "If the ax is dull, and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success." It takes more than desire to excel; it takes skill. Remember—you're never wasting time when you are sharpening your "ax".

3. People who excel keep their word. They are reliable. They can be counted on to do what they say they'll do. So they excel because people of integrity are rare in our society. "Everyone talks about how loyal and faithful he is, but just try to find someone who really is!" (Prov. 20:6, GNT) Reliability trumps talent in the long run every time.

4. People who excel maintain a positive attitude. Even under pressure or change or unrealistic demands, they don't allow themselves to become negative. Complainers never excel at anything except complaining. "Do everything without grumbling or arguing ... then you will shine among them like stars in the sky" (Phil. 2:14-15). And remember "If the boss is angry with you, don't quit! A quiet spirit will quiet his bad temper!" (Eccl. 10:4 TLB)

5. People who excel do more than is expected. This is a secret that every successful leader has discovered. You'll never excel by only doing what is required—the bare minimum. Jesus said, "If anybody forces you to go a mile with him, do more, go two miles with him" (Matt. 5:41, Ph).

Oscar Hammerstein told that story of seeing the top of the head of the Statue of Liberty up close from a helicopter. What impressed him was the incredible detail the artist had sculpted on an area of the statue that the artist never expected anyone to see. The artist had no idea man would someday fly above his statue.

When you are tempted to cut corners and think, "No one will ever know," remember God is looking down and sees everything you do. Give it your best this week!

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Rick Warren ) Personal Character Mon, 20 Oct 2014 19:00:00 -0400
7 of the Most Amazing Things Jesus Ever Said

Somewhere around the house I have an old book with the wonderful title of 657 of the Best Things Ever Said. It would not surprise you to know most of them are silly.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, doubtless it's true that the "best things ever said" is also arbitrary—with one exception.

Literally hundreds of millions of people across this world agree with the judgment of those early Galileans that "No one ever spoke like Jesus."

Our Lord spoke a solid one thousand mind-boggling things never heard before on Planet Earth, all of them surprising and wonderful and memorable. And, let's be honest, many who heard Jesus also found His words provocative, offensive, and even blasphemous.

When Jesus stood to preach, no one was bored.

May I direct your attention to Matthew chapter 11, verses 21 through 30?  These seven words from Him are as amazing as anything He said.

Matthew 11 is pure gold. A mother lode, for sure. This treasure trove deserves far more attention than it has usually received.

Confession: Working on this over the past week, I have repeatedly cried out in my heart, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it" (Psalm 139:6).

True enough. I'm so out of my depth here. When we finish, we will have but touched the hem of His garment; this is so rich.

And yet, let's give it a try anyway, while admitting that there is far more to any of this than our finite minds can comprehend.  If the Lord's people see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12), it's no stretch to say that we write through a glass darkly too.  In the words of Paul, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Rom. 11:33).

Now, on to Matthew chapter 11, the last third.

1. "It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you" (referring to the hard-hearted citizens of Capernaum, and just before that, the unresponsive population of Chorazin and Bethsaida)" (Matt. 11:21-24). The Lord's audience must have been outraged by this. The very idea that wicked Sodom will fare better at the throne of judgment than they! But, there it is.

Some people are going to have it tougher at judgment than others in the same way that some will receive a greater Heavenly reward than others.

I would never have thought of that. We did not make it up. Jesus said it.

In 1 Cor. 3:11-15, Paul spoke of Christians whose works are "wood, hay and stubble," rather than the more imperishable "gold, silver, and precious stones." Perhaps they never grew beyond carnality or were caught up in a cult and spread falsehood from door to door. Whatever the reason for their unworthy works, Paul says, "If any man's work is burned up (in judgment when "it is to be revealed with fire"), he shall suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." Clearly, there are degrees of reward in Heaven with some people entering glory, as we say, "by the skin of their teeth."

My understanding of the principle that comes to play here is: What you did with what you had. Those given only slivers of light but who served God well are the champions of faith. Likewise, those who had it all and became hypocrites and deceivers and abusers are destined for the lowest regions of hell. The inimitable Leonard Ravenhill made this point in a book titled Sodom Had No Bible.

Heaven's champions are those who served God consistently while enduring the greatest opposition, while carrying the heaviest burdens, while persevering to the end.

The implications of this are enormous.

2. "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and have revealed them to infants" (Matt. 11:25). The intelligentsia in the audience was offended.

I imagine, as the Lord spoke, some people were shaking their heads, refusing to believe Him even before the words left His mouth. Every pastor knows the feeling. You preach your hardest to get across some wonderful insight from Scripture and some close-minded hearers reject the teaching without even considering it.

I can imagine some Mensa member wondering why Scripture seems like so much foolishness to him. With his unparalleled intellect, certainly he should be able to figure out God, if such a Being actually exists, and the mysteries of the universe should unfold before his scrutiny. To his everlasting consternation the living God has made them off limits to him and has given them to the children. Imagine the very idea.

On numerous occasions, Jesus said, "Except you humble yourself and become as a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (See Matt. 18:16 and Luke 18:16). People unwilling to do this will miss out on the greatest wonders of the universe. No one will get to heaven by his own efforts. No one will arrive at the gates of glory boasting about having figured out God and circumventing the cross.

In Bethlehem, the entrance to the Church of the Nativity was partially bricked in during the Middle Ages (to keep enemies from riding their camels inside, we're told) so that one has to bow to enter.  That's a great metaphor for the eternal life.

The implications and applications of the Lord withholding His truth from the self important while freely revealing it to the humble are enormous.

3. "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight" (Matt. 11:26). Why did God set things up so that the Nobel Prize winner has to struggle to get to faith and the childlike walk right in? Jesus gave us the only answer that makes sense.

"He wanted to." Not very theological, is it?

Some things God does simply because doing so pleased Him. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believeAll authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (1 Cor. 1:21, KJV). A lot of people would like to change this. They don't like sermons and have little use for a system that centers around preaching. Tough cookies (said with a smile). We're not given a choice in this.

We self-important earthlings who set ourselves up as Divine Advisors will just have to deal with this. It's how things are. "Without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Heb. 11:6).

Ps. 115:3 states it unequivocably: "Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases."

God has His plans and He knows what they are. I do not. I will trust Him or be forever frustrated.

4.  "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father ... " (Matt. 11:27). Just before delivering the Great Commission commanding disciples to take the gospel to the world and make additional disciples, Jesus announced, "All authority in Heaven and earth has been handed over to me" (Matt. 28:18). He's in charge.

He has the right to issue commands to God's people.

How the religious authorities must have become enraged over this! The Lord Jesus is clearly acting in the place of the Almighty. He forgives sin, gives new interpretations of Scripture, and points to Himself as the Savior and the coming Judge. He is either a usurper of the first degree or the Son of God in the flesh.

The epistles enlarge on this truth in numerous places. This one is mind-boggling: "(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created ... all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything" (Col. 1:15-18). And this: "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority" (Col. 2:9-10).

Jesus is Lord. He's in charge.

There are no areas of life on earth in which this truth does not pertain. Jesus is Lord of all.

5. "No one knows the Son except the Father ... " (Matt. 11:27). This one must have driven His hearers up the wall. The nerve of Jesus; who does He think He is? We know Him. He's the carpenter of Galilee. (They should wait. It gets worse).

The full identity of Jesus—His being all God and all man in His earthly body—eludes us. It did then and it does now. And yet, scholars of every generation try to figure Him out.

"Who is this man?" the crowds wondered as they listened to Jesus teach and saw Him work.  "Never man spake like this man."

Jesus Christ was the Son of Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth, and the Son of God. He was Son of Man and Son of David.  He was Mary's Son and Mary's Lord and Savior.

Good luck trying to figure all that out.

What are the implications of this?  They are enormous; far reaching, life changing.

6. "Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Matthew 11:27).

This may be the most enraging thing the scribes and Pharisees heard from this itinerant rabbi of Galilee. (The word "know" here is epignosko and means "full knowledge," not just a passing acquaintance).

What I find delightful and more than a little humorous is the sheer gall of this. Imagine saying, "No one knows God except me and the people I introduce to Him." And then you turn around and say, "I am very humble."  But that is precisely what Jesus did. Both realities are there.

What are the implications of Jesus being the only One who knows the Father and thus the sole access to Him? In John 14:6, He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

Clearly, if you want to go to God (and thus Heaven), you'd better come to Jesus. He is the door. And that is where the self-important know-it-alls stumble, at the idea of Jesus being all of this.

He is indeed. Jesus is Lord. It's all about Jesus. Take Him out of your religious faith and you end up with a bunch of pretty nonsense. The Apostle John said, "The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him" (John 1:17-18).

7.  "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my load is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Come to Me. I will give you rest. Learn from Me. My yoke. My burden.

It's all about Jesus. Do not miss this.

We must not divorce this wonderful invitation from all that went before. Only after realizing that all authority in Heaven and earth is in the hands of Jesus, and that He alone knows the Heavenly Father and is the sole access to God, only then do we see the significance of "Come to me."

It was not a foregone conclusion that the Savior, the Lord Christ, once on Earth and doing His thing would be available, approachable and kind. If there is only one God in the universe, nothing says He had to be good.  He could have been the worst tyrant imaginable, toying with mankind as playthings, acting like a spoiled brat who delights in torturing his pets. (That, btw, is the precise charge militant atheists hurl toward Him. But it's just so much foolishness. They read one another and feed off each other's anger.)

God is love.

Heaven is available. Salvation is free. And we are invited in.

To the leper who, against all regulations, ran to Jesus and fell down before Him, saying, "If You are willing, You can make me clean," our Lord said, "I am willing." (Mark 1:40-41)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a willing Savior.  Rejoice!

The only precondition to knowing Him and receiving Heaven's blessings is humbling ourselves and becoming as children.

Since we are indeed humble and childlike in the face of all the mysteries of this universe, the puzzle is why this is such an ordeal to many of us.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel, and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Joe McKeever ) Preaching Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
10 Lessons Learned From the Resignation of Mark Driscoll

This week I learned that Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, resigned from leading his church. While those involved with him denied he was disqualified for ministry, the overseeing board of Mars Hill concluded Driscoll had "been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner," but had "never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership."

My heart goes out to Mark, his family, the Mars Hill church, and to all those negatively affected by this situation. I hope and pray Mark and his wife have someone they trust who will minister to them and love them back to their divine calling and destiny.

It is very interesting to me that, in the past several years, other well known evangelical pastors in the Reformed camp have stepped aside for similar reasons (C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace for arrogance, and John Piper took a leave of absence from the pulpit because of pride and to work on his marriage). This indicates a new and important trend in leadership expectation since, in the past, well-known ministerial leaders would only step down for the scandalous sins of adultery, financial fraud and other so-called "big sins."

I have followed the story of the challenges related to Mark's leadership style since it broke several months ago, and the following are important lessons we can all learn from his unfortunate situation.

1) There is less tolerance for a top-down leadership style in today's culture.

Today's culture is much more egalitarian than the previous generation. In the past decades, most churches and people would sneeze at the charges laid against Mark Driscoll—but not so anymore. God-glorifying leadership has to go beyond a one-man autocratic leadership style to one who leads through empowering teams around him to accomplish the mission. Strong, secure leaders are not afraid of pushback from other inner-circle leaders, and they enjoy having others involved in the creative process of vision, problem solving and execution. 

2) There is much more scrutiny today because of social media.

In past decades, Mark Driscoll would probably still be the pastor of Mars Hill. What helped take him down was the vast social-media enterprise that elucidated many of his remarks and retorts from his opposition on the blogosphere. Right or wrong, everybody in the pew has a voice now, and they can say whatever they want about their pastor, the sermons, the church and others on Facebook, Twitter and other social-media platforms. The result is, every leader is now living with the most scrutiny than ever before in human history—and it will only get more intense as time goes on! (Which is why every leader should have a social media task force to deal with unwarranted and negative things said about them on the Internet.)

3) Love is more important then achievement and results.

First Corinthians 13 teaches us, the greatest of all attributes is love! God is not impressed with what we accomplish as much as He is interested in why and how we do the things we do. When we objectify the people in our church to get the results we want we are de-humanizing them and are missing the point—even if we seem to get great short-term results!

4) All executive leaders and lead pastors need both internal and external accountability.

It seems as though there was nobody in the group of elders of Mars Hill with a strong enough voice to stop Mark from his abusive leadership style (which he has acknowledged in public). When the internal structure of accountability fails and/or if an elder cannot stop their leader from deleterious behavior—then said elder should have an outside overseer to go confront their lead pastor. There always has to be several layers of recourse in an organizational infrastructure to deal with malfeasance or toxicity in the corporate culture and/or leader.

5) The church often elevates gifted people who are not emotionally mature

Over and over again I see Christian churches and organizations elevating people who are emotionally broken and immature people—merely because they have great charisma or preaching or singing ability. All of us have to grapple with the fact that at times our talent can outpace our level of spiritual formation and character. Not every popular preacher is an emotionally healthy and mature Christ follower.

6) When we do not build on character and integrity, our foundation is sand.

We need to build our life upon the foundation of character and integrity—not our gifts and talent. Jesus speaks about the "be attitudes" before He calls us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:1-16). A life built upon gifts and talents without commensurate integrity and character will not finish well; it is a train wreck waiting to happen!

7) There are no shortcuts to success.

One of the things Driscoll was accused of was the way Mars Hill used its vast mailing list to purchase a newly released book he authored (supposedly) from church members to ensure that said book would make the New York Times best-seller list. While what they did was not illegal, it was not ethical in regard to the biblical ethic according to some critics. Consequently, Mark repented of this and took the NY Times best-seller status off of his bio.

8) Know who your true friends are before the crisis hits

Too often leaders hit a wall, lose their influence and find out they have few friends who will stand with them and help restore them. One important lesson here is to identify leaders and friends who love you for who you are and do not need or desire your influence and power. These are the only ones who will love you unconditionally if the day comes when you are in a vulnerable place. Woe to the one who falls and has no one to pick him up! (Eccl. 4:10)

9) Leaders need to prioritize spiritual formation in the midst of a busy schedule

One of the ways the enemy gets us to fall is to get us so immersed in the "Lord's work" that we neglect our walk with the Lord. There are times when I am so busy I know I am doing violence to my soul! When we do not have a sacred rhythm in their life with times of regular Sabbath and renewal, we are not allowing God to have space in our life to bring inner transformation. This will eventually lead to burnout and a career crash.

10) It is not how you start but how you finish that matters most 

Many young leaders have started out well with amazing church growth and popularity. Consequently, thousands of other young leaders are enamored and begin to emulate them and model their life, ministry and doctrine. I have learned a long time ago that we can never judge the ministry or mettle of a man until "they go through the fire." Jesus told us that only those who build their house on the Rock will be able to stand once the storms and fiery trials of life hit (Matt. 7:24-27).

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church, Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Visit him at

]]> (Joseph Mattera) Ministry Leadership Fri, 17 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Pastors of Houston, Shout It From the Rooftops This Sunday

In an outrageous act of overreach that the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) rightly branded "an inquisition" and a "witch hunt," the city of Houston has demanded that certain pastors preaching on themes relating to homosexuality and gender identity turn their sermons over to the government for inspection.

So much for the idea that electing a lesbian activist for mayor would have no negative consequences on the religious freedoms of the people of Houston. So much for gay-activist "tolerance."

It was bad enough when Mayor Annise Parker undermined the will of the state by campaigning nationally for the redefinition of marriage when the people of Texas had declared in overwhelming fashion that they did not want marriage redefined.

And it was bad enough when she began to refer to her partner as the "first lady." (What does that make Mayor Parker?)

But it went beyond bad when Parker made clear that getting an LGBT ordinance passed in Houston was an "intensely personal" thing to her. Yes, she said, "The debate is about me. ... It's not academic. It is my life that is being discussed."

What happened to her being an elected official who was put in office to serve the people? What of the massive outpouring of calls to other elected officials protesting the bill?

As the Rev. Max Miller of the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity stated in response to Parker's public comments, "One thing we did hear: It's personal. You cannot represent the people of this city on a personal matter."

Or, as expressed by conservative City Councilman Michael Kubosh, also responding directly to Parker in the same public meeting, "I know you say it's about you, but, mayor, this is really about all of us. It's not really about you; it's about everybody here."

At the heart of the opposition to the bill was concern expressed over the transgender bathroom ordinance. This would allow anyone who identified as transgender to use the bathroom of their choice, regardless of their biological sex, thereby ignoring the rights of a multitude of women and men who would find this a real intrusion.

As noted by Steve Riggle, senior pastor of Grace Community Church and an Executive Committee member of the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC), "Forcing women in particular using city facilities to be subjected to cross-dressing men invading their privacy is beyond the pale and offensive to every standard of decency."

The bill also would open the door to potential sexual predators who could use this ordinance as a guise for their perversion.

Unfortunately, Parker was able to push the bill through, despite the opposition, also succeeding in having a petition thrown out that challenged the bill. (It appears that the petition was wrongly rejected as well.)

Now, in a ridiculous attempt to retaliate against those pastors and bully them, Parker's office is demanding that these Christian leaders turn over their sermon texts relating to homosexuality and transgender issues. Pastor Riggle was even "ordered to hand over 'all communications with members of your congregation' regarding the non-discrimination law."

For good reason, the ADF stated that the mayor's actions were "overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious," and they should be flatly rejected for those very reasons. As the ADF explained, "the city is illegitimately demanding that the pastors ... turn over their constitutionally protected sermons and other communications simply so the city can see if the pastors have ever opposed or criticized the city."

In light of this egregious example of gay-activist bullying—the very kind that I and others have documented for years now—I urge every pastor in the city of Houston to address the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism this Sunday, announcing this for the entire world to hear but at the same time, refusing to obey the unrighteous decree of Mayor Parker's office to turn your sermons over for government scrutiny. (This should be done respectfully, in the spirit of Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29.)

I also urge every congregational member in Houston to tell your pastors that you are standing with them, encouraging them to stand up for what is right in the face of bullying and intimidation.

To my fellow leaders in Houston and around America, let's seize this moment and use it for the glory of God, preaching His love for all people and His real interest in those who identify as LGBT while at the same time proclaiming that His ways are best, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and that gender distinctives are not to be discarded or despised.

You have been given a unique opportunity in American history. Now is your time to shine boldly, publicly and without shame.

We are all standing with you.

Michael Brown is the author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or at @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.

]]> (Michael Brown) Culture Thu, 16 Oct 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Pastors to Houston Mayor: Don't Mess With Texas Pulpits

Christians across the nation are mobilizing to defend a group of Houston pastors who were ordered by the city to turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender-identity issues or Houston's mayor. Their message is simple: Don't Mess with Texas Preachers.

Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, is one of the five ministers who received a subpoena. He said he will not be intimidated by Annise Parker, who is the city's first openly lesbian mayor, nor will he comply with the city's demands.

"My answer to that is: 'Bring it on,'" he said.

Houston's city attorney issued the subpoenas in a response to a lawsuit filed related to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (H.E.R.O.), the city's new non-discrimination ordinance, also known as the "Bathroom Bill."

The new law, which has yet to take effect, would (among other things) allow men who identify as women to use the restrooms of their choice—and vice versa. Opponents launched a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot. 

However, the city threw out the petitions claiming there were not enough legitimate signatures. Opponents then filed a lawsuit, which led the city to issue the subpoenas. 

Ironically, none of the five subpoenaed pastors are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Welch told me pastors across the Lone Star State are mobilizing and in the very near future they plan to hold a "Don't Mess with Texas Pulpit Sunday" event.

"We are dealing with bullies used to getting away with abuse of power," Welch said. "We called their bluff on this."

But City Attorney David Feldman told me that doesn't matter. He said in an interview Tuesday that the five pastors were actively involved in leading the fight against the Bathroom Bill and launching the petition drive.

"They are not party plaintiffs but they certainly appeared before council repeatedly regarding the ordinance and the petition," Feldman told me.

The city attorney defended the decision to issue the subpoenas.

"This petition was organized at the churches," he said. "That's where the organizing drive took place. That's where rallies were held. That's where signing parties were held."

Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission told me the city needs to mind its own business.

"The government has absolutely no reason to bully congregations who are speaking out about what they believe," he said. "It's none of the government's business."

Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm specializing in religious cases, is representing the pastors. They accused City Hall of going on a fishing expedition. 

"City council members are supposed to be public servants, not 'Big Brother' overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge," ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. "This is designed to intimidate pastors.

Attorney Feldman denied that was the case.

"I'm just doing my job," he said. "I don't have any issues with these pastors. What I'm doing is defending a lawsuit that was brought against us."

Moore said he could not believe the city had taken such drastic steps.

"It didn't sound like something that would happen in America," he told me. "It is shocking in its audacity and it is buffoonish in its strategy. I can't imagine who in City Hall thought this was a good idea."

And that brings us back to Attorney Feldman—who dutifully took full responsibility and said the mayor had absolutely nothing to do with the subpoenas. He said she was never informed.

So at what point was Mayor Parker informed that her administration had declared war on the fine Christian pastors of the nation's fourth largest city?

"When you guys broke the story," he said.

I'm not sure what's harder to believe—that the mayor wasn't involved or that she reads my column.

Moore called the Houston incident a case of "legal bullying" and addressed it in a recent blog posting:

"The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever."

Ultimately, this is not about gays or lesbians or a Bathroom Bill. This is about the U.S. Constitution. This is about religious liberty.

This is about a group of pastors refusing to comply with the demands of the government. And they do so at the risk of being held in contempt of court.

Heaven forbid that happens. But if it does, I for one will gladly fly to Houston with a toothbrush in hand and join these brave men of God—behind bars.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is God Less America.

]]> (Todd Starnes) Culture Thu, 16 Oct 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Radical Left Fully Tips Its Hand in Houston

As reported Tuesday, the city of Houston has issued subpoenas for several pastors to hand over all their sermons regarding homosexuality, gender identity or Mayor Annise Parker.

The far-left has now finally fully tipped their hand. Years ago when it came to laws related to human sexuality and marriage equality, they told us they did not want government in their bedroom, all under the guise of tolerance and diversity. Now, once these activists are in power they have shown what they really have been after. They want the government to be in the bathroom and in the churches across America: in the bathroom because Houston's non-discrimination ordinance allows for men to use the ladies' bathroom and vice versa; in the church because they are now trying to intimidate pastors regarding the preaching of sermons that disagree with their values and agenda.

Essentially the radical left has shown they are the true bullies and their past quest for a diverse culture was a lie since they are intolerant of divergent views. This radical agenda goes in line with the present administration that utilized the IRS to target conservative groups. Their totalitarian plan all along has been to preach tolerance until they had enough time to get in power. 

Every religious leader in America should be concerned about these new developments. Every pulpit should denounce this ordinance and action this weekend. This is now going to be remembered as the "ground zero" for religious liberty in America. If this law is upheld in Houston, it is time for the "freedom revolution" to take place.

We are rapidly moving into the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement, which is for religious liberty. In the same way the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century with Dr. King required acts of civil disobedience to get forward motion, this new movement will require nothing less than the same sacrifice from the clergy and religious people from every town and hamlet in the nation.

This is now going to be a big test for Joel Osteen and other "seeker-friendly" voices like him. Will Osteen stand with his brothers and sisters in Houston, where his megachurch is located? It is also a huge test for all pastors in America who have remained silent on social issues. If they continue to remain silent, the abridgment of free speech will soon come to every pulpit. Not only that, cities across America will also penalize biblical churches with revocation of tax exempt status, fines, use of zoning laws to limit the purchasing of property, and the denial of certificate of occupancy status.

The crisis we are now in is the fault of the "seeker-friendly" evangelical movement that attempts to preach the gospel while compromising their core convictions as it relates to culture. Pastor Steve Riggle, one of the Houston pastors subpoenaed, has proven that you can stand for biblical values and still have a megachurch in a liberal city.

True believers desire the truth. They are sick and tired of a watered-down application of the gospel. Christians are called to love every person irrespective of their lifestyle or religious beliefs. (See my article "It's Time to Rewrite the Race, Religion and Gay Narrative.") Christians are called to serve their cities and lead the world in compassionate ministry. But like Jesus, they are also called to testify to the truth before secular kings (John 18:36-37), which is why Jesus was crucified.

May every believer in America wake up and begin the "Freedom Revolution". The peace and prosperity of the world is depending upon us. This is not just an issue related to religious liberty, but has to do with the freedom to express one's beliefs. This is the most out-in-the-open, egregious attack on liberty in recent memory. Those who have been elected to uphold the Constitution are now trampling upon the liberties they have been entrusted to protect.

If this act of tyranny is not mentioned from the pulpit this Sunday, then chances are that no form of government abuse will ever be mentioned.

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church, Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, New York.

]]> (Bishop Joseph Mattera) Culture Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
How to Overcome Roadblocks in Your Senior Pastor Succession Plan

Most succession plans fail. It's not because the plan was bad; it's most often because of an expectation for the process to go exactly like the written plan indicated.

That never happens. Life happens! When "life happens," the assumption is that the plan was flawed, the deal is over (abandoned), and the players scramble to grab for scraps at the table.

Before I go further, I want to applaud any written succession plan for the senior pastor of a long-tenured church, especially large churches. Most churches never produce one at all. Then the pastor resigns, or for some other reason leaves, and the church begins to scramble—and often scatter.

I've read or listened to a number of succession plans from large churches. Candidly, I've never been exposed to a plan that seemed dumb or doomed from the start. The plans are well thought through, intelligent and executed by well-intentioned Christian leaders.

So why do most seem to break down? I have observed three primary reasons:

1. A power struggle. The war stories we have all heard about succession plans blowing up usually involve a power struggle of some kind. First, it's not wise to assume all power struggles come from ego, pride or desire to control. Power struggles can be found among the best of leaders. Leaders who are passionate about their work and what they believe to be best for the organization can easily find themselves caught in a battle of authority.

Either way—from good motives or not-so-pure motives—when human emotion mixes in with purpose, "in the name of the church," the results can be explosive. A willingness to lean into mutual voluntary submission is a great first step to overcome power struggles.

2. A relational breakdown. Power struggles almost always lead to the deterioration of relationships. This isn't the only cause for a breakdown; there is a wide variety of possibilities from lack of trust to fear and insecurity. Among the list of possibilities, poor communication is usually in the center of the mix.

Both communication extremes are common. One extreme is a lack of communication, and the other is toxic communication that leads to misunderstanding. The curious thing is that in both cases, talking is the solution! But honest and productive conversation may require a mediator if the relationship has broken down too far.

3. Unmet expectations. Expectations that are not fulfilled compose a significant element of the relational failures I mentioned in the previous point. But this is such a significant issue that I'm listing it on its own for emphasis. James 4:1-2 tells us that we fight with each other because we don't get what we want. This is pretty basic and yet very true. The variations in the story are limitless, and when people, even good Christian leaders, don't get what they believe was promised or possibly what they have earned, justice buttons get pushed and previously well-laid plans are blown to little pieces.

You can see the connectivity from power struggles to relational breakdowns and unmet expectations. If you know to look for these and do your best to prevent them up front, you will be ahead of the game!

Succession plans do work. A good friend, Bob Taylor, co-founder of Taylor Guitars based out of El Cajon, California, (near San Diego) did a brilliant job in naming his heir apparent master guitar designer and builder. Andy Powers is now working side by side with Bob walking out the transition.

Bob thought long and deep, kept the plan simple, wrote it down, and put it into action. It's working brilliantly. Succession plans work in churches too, but we need more success stories. The following thoughts are not meant to be a plan for you, but a guideline to help you establish your own plan that works:

A. Determine your philosophy. It's important to make sure the board and key leaders agree on what they believe about a pastoral transition. Success starts there! There are at least four main schools of thought. (Not in any order.) First, the majority of the church leaders don't believe a succession plan is needed. Second, the current pastor should select, train and install the next pastor. Third, the board and or denominational leaders should select the next pastor. Fourth, the congregation must hear the prospective pastor preach, and then they vote.

There are combinations of these that lean to more mystical and some that lean toward more structural processes. It matters that you agree on your approach (Don't assume that all the key leaders agree).

B. Is the pastor ready to leave? This point is tricky, it's complicated, and it gets very personal. Very few leaders know when it's time to leave. Most of us just can't see it. We all want to be of value for as long as possible. Since most can't see it, we must depend on a few honest insiders who come alongside and talk truth about timing. Done right, this is a gift. Unfortunately, it's all too often done in hallways and secret board meetings. What could have been a wonderful and celebrated transition turns into a divided congregation and a pastor who is hurt. Give the process a little more time. Don't rush it. Talk honestly, and make sure everyone is ready.

C. The actual transition key. It's rare that the former senior pastor is the real problem, and it's rare that the new senior pastor is actually the problem. It's the gap between the two that causes the issue. It's not unlike two runners in an Olympic relay race.

Both runners are world-class, but the entire race can be won or lost in the handing off of the baton. So often that's where the trouble begins. It's imperative that this part of the plan is written clearly and succinctly. It should cover the following points: 

Who is in authority? How are decisions made? Who is the primary communicator from the platform?

D. Allow the plan to breathe. The end goal is not for the plan to be perfectly executed; the goal is for the transition to work! Give the Holy Spirit room to move. You may need to make slight adjustments to timelines, financial plans or ministry agreements after the transition. I'm not suggesting wholesale changes, but you would be amazed how much oxygen you get from a little compromise (mutual voluntary submission).

E. Pray! Ultimately, the best plans written and executed by the best people still need much prayer. Ask God for His covering and blessing! Seek His wisdom throughout the process. It makes all the difference.

I pray the best transition for you—if and when the time comes.

Dan Reiland is Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

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]]> (Dan Reiland) Administration Wed, 15 Oct 2014 19:00:00 -0400