Discipleship, Servant Leadership

You Have Been Called Up For Active Duty

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When the topic of using our spiritual gifts comes up, this illustration comes to mind.

The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa — the city of his birth — but only on condition that the instrument never is played upon. It was an unfortunate situation, for it is a peculiarity of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay.  The beautiful, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic. The moldering instrument is a reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning. -Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992.

But far too often those people resources go under-utilized and sit in our buildings rotting like an unused violin. The apostle Paul wanted the church not to be ignorant about the use and importance of spiritual gifts.  God gave the church these gifts to be used and often used for the advancement of the gospel.

The Common Good

 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

 1 Corinthians 12: 7.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts to the church to unite it around a common good of announcing to the world the reign of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Spiritual gifts are intended never to divide the body or cause in-fighting, or jealousy.  The concept Paul introduces of “the common good”, is a powerful and inspiring phrase, one worth holding on and lifting up often in our congregations. The old Adam has a strong desire to live a selfish, self-centered existence, seeking to use his or her gifts solely for personal gain or boasting. However, the new man recreated in Christ through the washing of regeneration understands that our spiritual gifts are for the enjoyment and advancement of the whole body of Christ and the kingdom. This revelation begs the question then, “How can I use my God-given gifts in, with and among the body of believers?” And not “Do I want to exercise my spiritual gift?”

Paul accentuates the authority of the Spirit in the distribution of the gifts (v. 11).

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Next week we will look at the gifts listed in I Corinthians 12 in more detail, but understand this: the Holy Spirit does not give all Christians the same gift or gifts. Rather he gives them “…just as he determines…” (v. 11). I know when I started out in ministry I wanted certain gifts that I thought would make ministry easier and benefit the body of Christ.  Like the gift of evangelism.  But the Spirit did not grant me that wish.  So, while we may pray for particular spiritual gifts, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” 1 Corinthians 14:1.  The Holy Spirit has the authority to give gifts as he determines.  Gifts that the Holy Spirit feels will benefit the body and meet the needs of the body of Christ.  Whatever gifts you have been given, use them to the glory of God and the common good of the body of Christ.  The body needs you. The mission of God needs you.  Go and be a blessing.

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Discipleship, Servant Leadership

Rugged Individualism vs the Common Good

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Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (ESV) 1 Corinthians 12:4–7

 Having served with and on many different teams on this perfectly created biosphere during the course of my fifty plus years of my existence, I have come to the realization that doing ministry is challenging. Team ministry is uniquely challenging because sin has an ugly way of rearing its head and messing with us. Our natural inclination is to elevate and even overestimate our importance to the team, to God and His kingdom. It is so easy to believe that the very life and fruitfulness of the ministry rises and falls on our spiritual gifts alone. The truth of the matter is that a fruitful God-pleasing ministry does not contain one dominate gift nor gift-recipient, like a good salad the perfect team and ministry has more than one recognizable ingredient. A good salad is not all lettuce or dominated by onions or garlic unless you are trying to keep people or vampires away. An effective ministry team like a good salad encompassing a wide variety of flavors and gifts. Each spiritual gift is unique and retains its distinctness but when mixed into a well-oiled team packs and incredible kingdom punch that can meet human hurts and needs in a holistic way, that one single gift could never do.
As a background text for this post, we will dig into the issues the apostle Paul was facing the church in Corinth. The believers in that church were fighting over spiritual gifts. You may have been in a situation where there are people on your team who believe their gifts are far superior to anyone else’s gifts on the team and they have no problem reminding the team how gifted they are. People tend to get enamored with the gifts that are more public. The gifted orator, the dynamic teacher, shrewd administrator and overlook the people whose gifts are behind the scene, but are critical to the success of the ministry. Gifts like hospitality, the ability to welcome the stranger and make them feel like a part of the family.  The organizer, who has the ability to take the leaders vision and work out the details of what it’s takes to make this dream a reality.  The volunteer coordinators, who can get people to give up their free time to come and join you on a greater mission for the kingdom.  In the next two weeks join me on an adventure and learn six lessons about spiritual gifts.

Paul establishes the foundations of his answer in six ways. We will cover three in this post and three in the following post.

  1. It is important not to be ignorant about spiritual gifts (v. 1).

The Greek word Paul uses in verse 1 means ‘spiritual matters’ but verse 4 and Paul uses the Greek word charisma to distinguish the shifting of the discussion to spiritual gifts.

The Corinthian pagans should serve as a caution to the church. Their pagan background shows how easy it is to become carried away in jubilant worship and lead astray by a flashy, charismatic orator, even one who is articulating falsehoods in the name of a false god. Thus, Paul is warning the people not to be blindly inspired by the gifts and ignore who it is that is the giver of the gifts, namely God. Our message must be inspired by the Spirit of God.  Our gifts must only be used to share with the world the saving message of the Christ and Him crucified. The truth of God’s word is our test for whether the gifts we possess are being used to the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.

  1. We share one common Faith (1 Corinthians 12:1–3).

A nationwide poll was taken in the United States on religious questions. When asked whether they believed in God, 95 percent of those polled answered “yes.” When asked whether religion in any way affected their politics and their business, 54 percent said “no.” They had a belief, but they did not have a directing faith. Faith is action. Faith encompasses the entire spectrum of life’s encounters and experiences.
No true Christian could call anyone but Christ “Lord,” so this was a definite test of whether or not a person was saved. It is only by the Spirit that we can confess Christ as Lord.[1]

  1. We serve the same God (1 Corinthians 12:4–6).

The church is not a gallery where we exhibit the finest of Christians. No, it is a school where we educate and encourage imperfect Christians.[2]
The church has been blessed with diversity and bounded together in unity by our God. While our personalities and our gifts all differ, yet they work together for the health of the body of believers, the Church. We have been gifted at our baptism with gifts from the Holy Spirit (v. 4).  Each of us has been called into service by the same Lord Jesus Christ (v. 5).  Each of us shares in the workings of the same Father (v. 6).

As we serve with these band of brothers and sister in God’s kingdom it is helpful to keep us grounded to remember why we serve.  We don’t serve to puff ourselves up.  We serve because we hold to one common faith.  We have one common baptism.  We serve the one and only one unique Savior, Jesus Christ.  This common good is what unites us and binds us together into the perfect team.

[1]  Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[2]  Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

 

Leadership, Servant Leadership

Do You Need A Champion?

The Father's House, New Property Prayer
The Father’s House, New Property Prayer

Life is all about choices. Do I take this road or that one? Would you like tea or coffee? And if you pick coffee and you are at say a Starbucks for the first time you could be there all day trying to decide what kind of coffee, dark or medium roast, bold or light, regular or Latte, hot or cold, hot brewed or cold-brewed? No matter what decisions you make or what direction your life is taking what we all need in life is someone to empower us. Once we have finally come to the decision to pursue our life’s mission, we need a champion to give us the wind and the clearance from the runway to take off and fly.

I shared before that God has wired me in a certain way. 1) To be an equipper. That is a person who pours into the lives of others to help them develop and grow in their life’s journey. 2) To be an encourager. Because life is full of ups and downs, you just need a champion. And the last one I will add to this series is 3) To be a person who empowers others to achieve that mission.

Pushing People out of the Nest

Once people have identified what God has called them to do. As a leader, you need to equip them to carry out that mission and then most importantly allow them the pursue that mission. Give people the courage to spread their missional wings and exercise their God-given talents.

Overcoming that Feeling of Inadequacy

The natural inclination of people is that once it is clear what they should be doing, to get stuck. We get stuck because we don’t feel we have what it takes, the power to accomplish this life’s mission. This illustration may connect with you.

In a seminary missions class, Herbert Jackson told how, as a new missionary, he was assigned a car that would not start without a push. After pondering his problem, he devised a plan. He went to the school near his home, got permission to take some children out of class, and had them push his car off. As he made his rounds, he would either park on a hill or leave the engine running. He used this ingenious procedure for two years.

Ill health forced the Jackson family to leave, and a new missionary came to that station. When

Jackson proudly began to explain his arrangement for getting the car started; the new man began looking under the hood. Before the explanation was complete, the new missionary interrupted, “Why, Dr. Jackson, I believe the only trouble is this loose cable.” He gave the cable a twist, stepped into the car, pushed the switch, and to Jackson’s astonishment, the engine roared to life. For two years needless trouble had become routine. The power was there all the time. Only a loose connection kept Jackson from putting that power to work.

J.B. Phillips paraphrases Ephesians l:19-20, “How tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” When we make firm our connection with God, his life, and power flow through us. -Ernest B. Beevers.

I see my mission in life is to point people back to the power they already have in God. If God gave you the talents, the wiring, and the passion, He would also provide the necessary heavenly voltage to carry out the unique mission He has entrusted to you.

Question to ponder:

What is the mission God has placed on your heart?

Leadership, Servant Leadership

Are You A Fun-Sponge Leader?

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At a conference, I attended last fall the sectional leader passed out a rock and told us to hold on to it.  He went on to explain that far too many leaders approach leadership with the mindset that it is their responsibility to hang on tight and control everything that happens in their organization.  If you are a leader and you guard your ministry like you are holding on to that rock then you preventing your people from being what God created them to be. Some ways to examine your leadership style and see if you are a fun-sponge leader:

  1. Do You Feel Like You Are Doing All Ministry Yourself?

If you are holding ministry so tightly your hands have lost all the color in them, you are killing ministry for everyone else.

Solution: Remember Ministry is meant to be shared.

Leadership Insight: “Most people are bored in our churches, trying to figure out are they doing all that God has called them to do.  They wonder if when they get to heaven if God will rebuke them for failing.”  J. D. Greer

You are not a great steward if you are doing ministry alone, you are a ministry hoarder. Authentic, godly leadership places its focus on equipping God’s saints for service.  We don’t do this to puff up ourselves or our ministry but to more effectively carry out the will of our Father and expand His Kingdom to perform the mission Jesus entrusted to His followers.

Letting go of the ministry reigns does not come without risk and fear of ministry being done in a manner that is not acceptable to the leader.  The other side of that coin is that it is possible that ministry will not be done the way you would do it, but it could be done in a way that will bring glory to God that you could never have imagined.  Here is a great illustration of that.

An elderly widow, restricted in her activities, was eager to serve Christ. After praying about this, she realized that she could bring blessing to others by playing the piano. The next day she placed this small ad in the Oakland Tribune: “Pianist will play hymns by phone daily for those who are sick and despondent–the service is free.” The notice included the number to dial. When people called, she would ask, “What hymn would you like to hear?” Within a few months, her playing had brought cheer to several hundred people. Many of them freely poured out their hearts to her, and she was able to help and encourage them.

  1. Do You Believe All the Ideas for Ministry Should Come from the Top?

Solution: Acknowledge the fact that your people have excellent ideas too, learn to listen to them.

Leadership Insight: Christians are tired of just sitting around, being Lawnchair Larry and Louise.

Leadership is more than just having talents and imploring the proper techniques; it is humility and caring for those we’re leading. And to care for them means to recognize that they have value, insight and have been gifted by God for service in his Kingdom.  You are not the only expert in the church.  And nowadays, you are not always the best-trained person in the building.

Notice the images Paul describes of a leader in I Thessalonians 2, verses 7 and 11: ‘‘We were gentle . . . As a nursing mother . . . As a father.’’ In verse 9, Paul says he supported himself on behalf of the church. If we’re going to be leaders in God’s service, it can’t be done from a distance. We must lower our defenses and love people for Christ’s sake. That means letting go of ministry.  Letting go makes us vulnerable. That means when attacks come it hurts more, but that is the high cost of leadership. It is easier not to lead but doesn’t the mission of God, and his sheep deserve all our best? And isn’t ministry better when you do it alongside your people? May God provide you the courage and the strength for you to lead.  The church needs leaders, so lead boldly, courageously, and missionally.

Servant Leadership

Are Your Leading People Into A Closet?

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A young pastor was conducting the funeral of a war veteran. The dead man’s military friends, wanting a part in the service, asked him to escort them to the casket, stand with them for a moment of remembrance, then lead them out through the side door. The pastor did precisely that, but not being familiar with the funeral
home, he picked the wrong door. They marched with military precision into a janitorial closet! That story says two things about leadership. First, if you’re going to lead, you’d better know where you’re going. Second, if you’re going to follow, you’d better
support someone who knows where he’s going.

Being someone who has been blessed with or cursed with the spiritual gift of administration, this concept of not using my leadership gift is troubling. Is it right for me as a pastor to sit on or bury my God-given gifts? Scripture would caution me not to conceal that gift, saying apparently this is an unfaithful management of God’s gifts.

Matthew shares this parable of Jesus,
24 “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. 25 So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? 27 In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers, so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest.”

If you have been given the gift of leadership, then lead. There is a way to shepherd a congregation faithfully as a pastor let us explore a few key things to keep in mind.

Christian leaders place God first.

‘As we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so, we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.’’ 1 Thessalonians 2:4,

Authentic, godly leadership places its focus on equipping His saints for service not to puff ourselves up but to do the will of our Father. One reason pastors and other Christians do not want to lead is that leadership is hard, it comes with a high cost. When the Apostle Paul tried to lead he had to deal with a major pushback. People questioned his motives, they questioned his theology and questioned his methods. Paul reminded them that his teaching and leadership came from God’s truth. Too often leaders ask, ‘‘Will it work?’’ rather than ‘‘Is it true?’’

Look at how Paul responded to the attacks when he was questioned. He told
the Thessalonians, “You can testify to our work. 2 As you know, we suffered rough and insulting treatment in Philippi. But our God gave us the courage to tell you his Good News in spite of strong opposition. 3 When we encouraged you, we didn’t use unethical schemes, corrupt practices, or deception. 4 Rather, we are always spreading the Good News. God trusts us to do this because we passed his test. We don’t try to please people, but God, who tests our motives. 5 As you know, we never used flattery or schemes to make money. God is our witness! 6 We didn’t seek praise from people, from you or from anyone else, 7 although as apostles of Christ we had the right to do this.” (GWN)

Authentic leadership places its focus on God: His approval, his purpose, and will above all else. How do we recognize such leaders? By the testimony of those they serve. The focus of their message and ministry squarely centered on the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and delivered with care and love for God’s people. You hear that so clearly in Paul’s words, “8 We felt so strongly about you that we were determined to share with you not only the Good News of God but also our lives. That’s how dear you were to us!” (GWN)

Christian leaders focus on God’s kingdom.

Leadership is more than talents and techniques; it is humility and caring for those we’re leading. Notice the images in verses 7 and 11: ‘‘We were gentle . . . As a nursing mother . . . As a father.’’ In verse 9, Paul says he supported himself on behalf of the church. If we’re going to be leaders in God’s service, it can’t be done from a distance. We must lower our defenses and love people for Christ’s sake. That makes us vulnerable. That means when attacks come it hurts more, but that is the high cost of leadership. It is easier to not lead but doesn’t the mission of God, and his sheep deserve our all our sacrifice? God provides
the courage and the strength for us to lead, so we need to lead.

Servant Leadership

When No One Notices, He Does!

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Tuesday’s staff devotion examined the section of Scripture from Matthew 25.    Jesus is having a dialogue about service.

The discussion that follows can be found in the Common English Translation:

37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

What is noticeable in this exchange is the reaction of the righteous when Jesus points out their good deeds.   They appear completely unaware of their behavior. Christians, motivated by the love of God, do things every day that goes unnoticed.  It is the nature of the righteous.  It is the nature of God’s workers to serve in relative obscurity with little thanks or recognition, not giving much thought to the sacrifices they make.  Would it be nice to have an end of the year celebration for volunteers, staff and other tireless workers? By all means! However, they will serve not for the promise of a party or the recognition, but because they love their God and they love His people.  Service flows naturally out of the love of God that is welling up inside us.   Servants are surprised and thankful when it gets attention. In the end it is about the privilege, Christians have been given to serve an amazing and awesome God.

I shared with the staff today, even though you probably do not hear this often, thank you for your service. We also discussed the reality that whether or not anybody in the church ever notices all the hard work and effort they put into their area of ministry, receive this acclamation, God knows. He notices.

The righteous are taken aback when Jesus acknowledges their service? “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’”

It happens during those times we care for the person in need God has placed our midst and without thinking, serve. The response of our Lord in Matthew 25 screams this point, “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”

Jesus has a word of thanks and encouragement for you today from Matthew 25:21,  “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’”  May God bless you and may God bless those who serve!
Pat on the Back