I’ve been in church all my life. Along the way, I’ve seen and learned a lot. Almost all the insight I have into church has come by experience.
I have observed, for example, that paradigms can often shape a church’s culture. A paradigm, in simple terms, is a mind-set—a way of thinking. In this case, it's a collective mind-set of the church, often programmed into the church’s culture.
If the church is unhealthy, part of the reason could be because it has some wrong paradigms. In that case, it will almost always need a paradigm shift in order to be a healthier church again.
Recently, I’ve been thinking of some of the paradigms that impact a church. I’ll look at some of the negative ones in this post, and in another post I'll share some of the positive paradigms that can impact a church.
Psalm 2, perhaps more then any other Bible text, accurately portrays the spirit of our time. Indeed, it also proclaims our correct response to Satan’s bold advance. Although it was quoted by the early church (Acts 4:25-26), God has set its full realization for the end of this age.
"Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, 'Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!'" (Psalm 2:1-3, NASB)
For some reason known only to the Lord I am reminded of a dear saint of God who would be spiritually crushed by the lack of depth in today’s Christian world. Of course, I can’t speak for him, but I can speak about him. He was radically saved by the grace and mercy of God. His encounter with Jesus has become known throughout the world. However, his name, his face and his story are almost insignificant. But not to me.
Probably one of the most recognized songs in English Christianity is “Amazing Grace,” published in 1779. Imagine its origin, scratched out with a quill pen on some type of crude parchment by John Newton, a slave trader who experienced the pure mercy and grace of God. Little did he know that his poetic personal prayer to Jesus would be recorded thousands of times and be adored by generations of grateful sinners who knew exactly what he was expressing. I would imagine the rendition of “Amazing Grace” delivered by a band of bagpipes has brought overwhelming inspiration to countless millions.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.— 2 Peter 1:3
"Sorry, you just don't have the experience we're looking for."
"Sorry, but we're looking for someone with a little more education."
"What were some major accomplishments (if any), while being a stay-at-home parent?"
"While working at your previous company, did you do any volunteer work at all?"
It can really be tough in the job market. After a few interviews and even more rejection letters, a person can feel completely inadequate. Fortunately, in God's economy, every believer is immediately qualified for Kingdom work. Peter reminds us that the Holy Spirit equips each believer with everything necessary to please our Father. That's great news.
But, even within the earthly church, it's easy to feel inadequate when surrounded by believers with long histories of ministry or the ability to memorize long passages of Scripture. We need to remember that nothing more special than the Holy Spirit is required to serve God effectively. We all have everything necessary to do our jobs within the Kingdom.
Still, Peter doesn't stop with this reassurance. He challenges every believer to add personal disciplines that will build character, mature us, and be used to encourage the church as a whole. He goes on to write, "Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone" (2 Peter 1:5-7).
The pursuit of these virtues is just one way of expressing our thanks and love to the God who rescued us from our complete inadequacy. Having the Holy Spirit with us at all times, we can depend on him to guide us through the stresses that are used to hone these virtues. All that is asked of us is that we continue on and not give up.
Being fully equipped by the Holy Spirit, let's heed his guidance and pursue spiritual maturity. May we ever strive to become all that God has called us to be, and may he ever grant us the ability to serve him faithfully.
Our culture says bigger is better. But in the kingdom of God, less is often more.
There’s nothing more disheartening to a preacher than to see empty seats in a church service. I’ll be honest—I like meetings where you have to pull out extra chairs and put people in the aisles. Why? Because I assume if God’s blessing is on a meeting it will be packed. I like numbers because, in my carnal thinking, crowds are more significant.
Our culture puts value on things depending on how popular they are, and we are guilty of applying this rule in the church. We like big. We even rate churches based on size. We know that the three largest churches in America in 2013 are (1) Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, (2) Andy Stanley’s North Point Ministries and (3) Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community Church. The assumption is that these churches are leading the way in making spiritual impact.
Consider 2 Timothy 3:1-5. It’s a pretty powerful and prophetic scripture:
“But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self … boastful, arrogant, revilers … ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited... Avoid such men as these.”
Veteran Christian workers get this a lot. People tell you of a conversation they had with you years, or even decades ago, in which you either said the magic words that changed their lives or came out with something that infuriated them back then, and continues to bug them to this day.
Call it intuition, call it instinct, but there’s a nagging sense in me that says “church is messy.” To be clear, what I mean by that is simply “untidy,” not perfect, can be disorderly. Even as a young man I was always suspicious of things that looked too tidy, too perfect—too sanitized, too "Stepford Wives."
Think Corinth, then Ephesus and Sardis, and you know that church is not perfect. That’s the reason young people get turned off by church. Self-righteousness, which projects an unreal piety that covers up mistakes—or worse, pretends to not make any—is nothing more than hypocrisy. Like preachers who call out errors in others, but have secret lives.
Herein lies the importance of discipleship, of life exchange, of being real, of acknowledging that while we are sinners, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is capable of transforming us into saints. Discipleship that speaks of a journey of ever-increasing trust blooms into faith as we encounter Christ’s love each day.
We all find ourselves in the position of “leading up” at some point in our lives. Whether it’s in the workplace or where we volunteer, we all have an opportunity to lead our leaders.
There are times when I’ve led my leaders well and times I have not. Here are three critical steps I’ve learned to take in order to lead up with success.
1. Meeting before the meeting. I watched this play out in a scenario I’ve been walking through. It’s brilliant. Have a ‘meeting before the meeting.’ If you’re leading into a challenging topic with leadership, it serves you well to make a quick connection in advance, letting the other person know what the meeting is about. No details. Just a quick overview that gives them something to digest. A brief snippet that sets the stage for the conversation. This puts your leader in a proactive posture rather than a reactive posture.
Every leader faces overwheming moments. Elijah had one of those moments after he faced and killed the entire squadron of Baal prophets while simultaneously calling the people of Israel back into right relationship with God.
Elijah did everything right, but he was completely worn out. There are times in ministry when you just have too many critical issues at once. These times can wear you out.
So, how do you recharge and maintain stability in the maelstrom of ministry?
As neuroscientists have shown in recent years, the very best leadership skills are rooted in how people think, in how our brains are constructed and how they operate. Our brains are designed to work in specific ways, in specific conditions, with specific requirements. When those conditions are met, smart and talented people flourish. They win.
On the other hand, when those conditions are not met, they flounder and do not perform up to their potential. It turns out that it really is all in your head—that is, your brain. It will not work well when leaders are doing things that inhibit brain functioning, or are leading teams and organizations in ways that literally make it impossible for people’s brains to work to their full potential. Let's take a look at how and why we need focused attention, positivity, unity, control and other factors in order to excel.
I get asked all the time by young leaders “How do you handle the responsibility of leading something like Catalyst?” Good question.
Reality is, anyone who leads a church, a company, a community, a nonprofit ministry, a team or even a family feels and knows the pressure of responsibility. And responsibility is part of leadership. Always.
You’ve heard this before, "You’re responsible for what happens. Don’t screw up!" Right! We hear this all the time from our parents, our boss, our board, our friends, and from our spouse.
I get asked frequently: “Pastor, how do you get so much done and still take care of yourself and your family?”
Honestly, I never feel I’ve accomplished as much as I would like, but after receiving the question so many times, perhaps I should attempt to answer.
I do have a lot of responsibility. I pastor a large church undergoing transition and change. I have an active (some would say over-active) online presence. I blog regularly to a growing audience and interact daily with my readers. I maintain a separate nonprofit ministry I’ve managed for more than 10 years where I provide consulting and teaching to pastors and churches.
I’m helping churches (and businesses now) get unstuck. It’s been an amazing journey.
Though I’m engaging leadership and strategic planning solutions that I’ve used for years, I’m also very much in the middle of launching a startup business.
Because I’m wired up to be entrepreneurial, I absolutely love it! But, at the same time, I’m also very aware of my responsibility to be the provider for my family. There is definitely risk involved. I’m reminded of it every time my family sits down at the dining room table to eat.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.— Genesis 50:20
Everyone faces adversity from time to time. A person is fired from his or her job. Bills are due, but there's no money to pay them with. A beloved family member dies. How we handle these situations can say a lot about our faith in the Lord.
In the case of Joseph, his problems began the moment he fell for his brothers' "we've got a really neat pit to show you" trick. They sold him as a slave to Ishmaelites passing through the area in an attempt to rid themselves of "the dreamer" (see Genesis 37:19). Eventually, Joseph was able to gain a good standing with Potiphar and was placed in charge of his house. But later, Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce Joseph and falsely accused him of adultery. Joseph ended up in prison as a result.
Joseph had plenty of opportunities to cry out about the injustice he was facing. He had chances to complain about the treatment he had received from his brothers. He could have become bitter when the king's cupbearer was released from prison and forgot about him. These actions and attitudes would have reduced Joseph to hopelessness.
Instead, Joseph allowed himself to be used by God to interpret Pharaoh's dream. Pharaoh removed him from prison and placed him in charge of Egypt, where he organized a plan to store grain before the famine occurred. Finally, Joseph was reunited with his brothers. What was intended for bad was used by God for good.
Obstacles have the ability to take us out of contention, but we also have the opportunity to rise above them. We can cry, complain, and live in misery because of our struggles. Or we can react like Joseph--allowing God, in his timing, to bring something good out of our circumstances. Are you allowing God to help you land on your feet?
I’m often asked, “When should I leave a church or ministry team? How bad does it have to get?”
I respond, “Who sent you to the church you presently attend?” The majority of the time they answer, “God did.”
“If God sent you,” I reply, “do not leave until God releases you. If the Lord is silent, He is often saying, ‘Don’t change a thing. Do not leave. Stay where I have placed you!’”
When God does instruct you to leave, you will go out with peace, no matter what the condition of the ministry: "For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace" (Is. 55:12, KJV). Therefore, your departure will not be based on the actions or behavior of others, but rather on the Spirit’s leading.
In the aftermath of the tragic suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew, another tragedy is occurring. So-called followers of Jesus are using Matthew’s death as an occasion to attack Pastor Warren. This is sick, ugly—and sadly—indicative of the state of the body today.
It’s one thing for non-believers to make ridiculous statements like, “your son died due to your anti-gay hate toward gay people including your son” (as if there was even evidence that Matthew was gay, or as if he was not greatly loved by his mother and father, which he clearly was). It’s another thing when believers take this occasion to bash Rick Warren’s supposed theological errors, as if this was some kind of divine payback for his alleged sins. What kind of garbage is this?
Nearly all pastors and ministry staff, volunteer leaders too, lean a little more toward evangelism or discipleship (one or the other) in their personal bent and wiring. According to Matthew 28:19-20 they are both essential and should not be separated, so neither is better than the other.
I believe that the church (in North America for sure), naturally moves toward discipleship on its own; therefore we need to intentionally fight for evangelism. But that’s my personal opinion.
Easter is a good picture of the balance of both. For weeks we build toward Easter Sunday. We run a full-court press for evangelism. Then what? Is it over? What’s your plan? Is it business as usual, or do you take advantage of that great momentum?
Saddleback didn’t have an organized youth ministry until we had 500 in attendance at the church. We didn’t have a singles ministry until we had 1,000 people in attendance.
And I’m glad we didn’t.
It’s not because those ministries aren’t important. They’re vital! But God hadn’t provided anyone to lead them. Never create a ministry position and then fill it. It’s backwards. Your most critical component to a new ministry isn’t the idea to start it—it’s the leadership of the ministry. Every ministry rises and falls on leadership. Without the right leader, a ministry will just stumble along. It may even do more harm than good. I could tell you some horror stories about poorly-led ministries.
Be patient and trust God’s timing. Don’t try to outrun or outthink Him. The staff at Saddleback never starts new ministries. We may suggest an idea but we let the idea percolate until God provides the right person to lead it.
There’s nothing more challenging interpersonally than dealing with a serious conflict with someone on your church staff or a volunteer in a key position in your ministry.
The temptation would be to let time heal it or hope that the tension simply goes away on its own. But fight those feelings because conflict in the church, especially on a team, has to be dealt with well in order for genuine progress to be made.
Can’t we all just get along? Actually, no, and that’s probably a good thing because it forces us to tackle conflict in a God-honoring manner. Here are some steps to move toward resolution when you find yourself in conflict with someone on staff.