Three Essential Components Needed to Turning Passive Pew Sitters Into Engaged Mission-driven Members

 

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, I began my ministry career in the Motor City, Detroit.  In a museum at Greenfield Village, Detroit, Michigan, there is a massive steam locomotive. Beside this complicated piece of machinery is a sign showing boiler pressure, size and number of wheels, horsepower, lengths, weight, and more. The bottom line shows that 96% of the power generated was used to move the locomotive and only 4% was left to pull the load. Some churches are like that; there are a large number of people in the body of Christ who are disengaged or only partially engaged. With these series of posts, I hope to provide insights to change faithful pew-sitters into engaged mission partners.

A good starting point for this series is identifying what the Factors Driving Engagement are.  Many studies have listed hundreds of components influencing engagement. However, according to a Dale Carnegie Active Research June 2017 report, the top three are 1) Pride in the organization, 2) Belief in the senior leadership, and 3) Satisfaction with the immediate manager.

How does this translate in the church and non-profit world?  I can see all these factors driving peace and engagement in our context.

1.     Pride in the organization.

Often in the Bible, pride is referenced negatively and sinfully.  Paul expresses his pride positively. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.12 Corinthians 7:4.  I can recall times as a parish pastor that I was leery about bringing new fragile unbelievers into our fellowship because I was not sure how my people would receive them. Once our culture changed to be more welcoming, I could not have been prouder of the atmosphere God had created. When a member is excited about the ministry and the church they are attending, not only are they sharing and inviting others to come to see what God is doing; these members are often also engaged and aligned with the vision and direction of the leadership.  There is a direct correlation between engagement, clear ministry direction, and vision.

2.     Trust in Leadership

“To be a leader a man must have followers. And to have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality of a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, on a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they see he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bits & Pieces, September 15, 1994, p. 4.

The Bible clarifies that leaders in the church must have unquestionable integrity.  It is vital in business but a prerequisite in the church.

 2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.  1 Timothy 3:2-4

Members are far more willing to serve when they trust and respect their leaders.

3.     Relationship with Ministry co-workers.

“The more I get to know people, the more I love my dog.” – Frederick the Great.

One of the most critical lessons I try to impart to congregations is that your elected leaders, the heads of your committees, and ministry leaders are critical to the success of your ministry engagement level.  If those (for lack of a better term), middle managers are not people who others desire to work alongside, you will have a difficult time recruiting and keeping volunteers.    You may have an awesome pastor, but if the people working more closely with the members are not highly relational, inspiring, enthusiastic, and empower volunteers, but sit on the sidelines and watch the show rather than be engaged and willing participants, no one will follow.

Next week more practical ways to further engage the wealth of talent sitting in your church pews.

As always if you find this post helpful you are encouraged to share it.

In the Service of an Awesome God

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

Similar posts on engagement:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/17/you-have-been-called-up-for-active-duty/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/10/05/two-ways-to-engage-the-people-in-the-pew/

The Prodigal Son Is A Story of Restoration

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A young man was to be sentenced to the penitentiary. The judge had known him from childhood, for he was well acquainted with his father–a famous legal scholar and the author of an exhaustive study entitled, “The Law of Trusts.” “Do you remember your father?” asked the magistrate. “I remember him well, your honor,” came the reply. Then trying to probe the offender’s conscience, the judge said, “As you are about to be sentenced and as you think of your wonderful dad, what do you remember most clearly about him?” There was a pause. Then the judge received an answer he had not expected. “I remember when I went to him for advice. He looked up at me from the book he was writing and said, ‘Run along, boy; I’m busy!’ When I went to him for companionship, he turned me away, saying “Run along, son; this book must be finished!’ Your honor, you remember him as a great lawyer. I remember him as a lost friend.” The magistrate muttered to himself, “Alas! Finished the book but lost the boy!” – Homemade, February, 1989.

How interesting that the Gospel lesson for this Sunday falls on Father’s Day.  Luke 15 is the story of two lost sons.  We usually focus only on the younger son.

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 

Here are some observations from the text.

  • The young man brought dishonor to his father. By requesting his inheritance, he was breaking the commonly held practices of how estates and succession were handled.  The older brother determined how the estate was divided. By going around the older brother and impatiently wishing his father was dead, he was not only out of line but disrespectful.
  • On top of the inappropriate request, the young man takes this very generous gift and then squanders this future on parties and wild living. Now, this party animal is broke and must return home tail between his legs but not until he is thoroughly cut off, physically and spiritually. His work with the pigs made this Jewish boy unclean and unwelcomed in the temple.
  • As the lost son returns home he realizes he deserves no grace and favor from his Father.He only hopes that he can gain acceptance as a servant.  But to his surprise his father runs out to meet him.  One important cultural note here, we often picture this scene as a Hallmark moment.  The father running across a field of daisies arms extended to embrace his son. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  This father is sprinting in a humiliating way to save his son’s life.  Because of the dishonor and shame he brought on the family by his actions, he deserved punishment even death.  Instead of death he receives underserved grace and forgiveness. Contrast that to the father above. One father is engaged, one father distant.  One father has a son who turns away but comes back the other forces his son away because he is distant and disengaged.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

 This parable ends with a twist.  Not only is the son shown amazing grace he is restored.  The action of putting a robe, ring, and shoes on the lost son are all symbols of sonship.  The once lost son is restored to his rightful place as an heir.

The older son comes home to the sounds of celebration and you can imagine his confusion and anger. He was the faithful one.  Yet, the party was being thrown for the irresponsible son.  Have you felt that way as a life-long believer, that somehow you have never been properly thanked for your faithfulness?  A question for you to ponder, why did you remain faithful?  Did you do it to earn the father’s heart? Did you do it so He would recognize your good works and show you His favor? If so, you were lost too.  The father never desired your works.  You never had to earn His favor, you always had His favor.  What the father wanted from you was a relationship.  Hear the words the Father had for the other lost son, “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’

 

The parable of the lost son is the story of restoration for not one but two lost sons.  Which lost son are you this Father’s Day?  No matter which one you are your Heavenly Father is calling you home with forgiveness and grace.

 

Leaders Must Strive for Excellence While Remaining Balanced

 

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“There is an end to everything, to good things as well” -Chaucer.  I am living this reality now.  One the best ministry teams I have ever been blessed to serve with is ending.  It was an incredible decade, where God used this team to transform the ministry direction of several congregations. Someone once said, “Ministry is for a season.”  As the sun sets on this season, that same sun rises on a new season.  As this leadership series sets, I pray the lessons we have covered will be a blessing to you and your ministry.  The final post will focus on three things that made this team epic.

You must never be content with the average; you must always strive for the best.

“There is a fine line between being good and crazy.  As a leader when you strive for the best, you must balance out the results with allowing for imperfection.  Here is a great quote to put on your wall. Edwin Bliss once said, ‘The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic, and a terrible waste of time.’”    Tim Hansel, Eating Problems for Breakfast, Word Publishing, 1988, p. 39.

Don’t get those two mixed up. We can aim for excellence, but it is a thin line between that and perfection. Don’t cross the line as a leader or you will destroy yourself, your ministry and your people.

 

Work harder to keep your life in balance than people do who are not leaders.



In my first congregation, I had a member demand I am at church six days a week.  I asked him why I should be at church on Saturday when we had no events planned?  His response we because “that is what the church expects.”  I responded back, but that is not what Scripture supports.  And I had him read this passage.   2So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. 3They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or be a bully. Instead, they should be gentle, peaceable, and not greedy. 4They should manage their own household well—they should see that their children are obedient with complete respect, 5because if they don’t know how to manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church?”1 Timothy 3:2-5

When my life is out of balance, I am good to no one.  I am failing my family.  I am abandoning my leadership and putting my ministry at risk.  It is the responsibility of leaders to model balance. I am still working on this one because the first point of striving for the best makes getting life out of balance a natural tendency. Guard your life, protect your family time, and work to keep it all at a healthy level.

 

People must be more important to you than possessions.

I could give some great examples of this, but Paul says it so well I will let him speak to your heart. 10Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.”Romans 12:10-16

I pray this leadership series has been a blessing to you.  May God bless you all and may He bless the people you have been called to lead.

Faith Conversations are So Much More Than a Pamphlet​

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I am passionate about Christians sharing their faith with those outside of the family of God.  What I am not a big fan of is doing that without forming a relationship with people.  I am not a fan of individuals pushing Jesus on those outside of God’s grace because I think that just turns people off to Jesus and paints Jesus and Christians in a negative light.  And believe you me we do not need any more negative impressions.

Let me share a real life story with you.  I am standing in line with a friend in Glendale, AZ when a person who I have never met, nor a person who ever even took the time to strike up a conversation with me, reaches over and hands me this pamphlet.  The question on the form in size 24 font reads: Are you 100% sure you will go to heaven?  No soft shoe approach here.  Let’s just get right to the heart of the issue.  Skip the niceties and attack most people at their most vulnerable core.  How sure are you that you are going to heaven?

Honestly, it depends on the day.  Some days God and I are rocking and rolling.  We are gelling at times.  It is like I know exactly what God is thinking and I feel God’s presence clearly.  Other days not so much.  There are times when God feels distant.  It is usually those days when sin gets in the way, and I am wrestling with something I have done to offend Him.  Maybe I was rude to my kids because I was stressed by a major decision coming up and there are not clear answers.  Or it was just one of those days where everything that could go wrong did and that was all before noon.  Things just went downhill from that point on.  So, the heaven question just bugged me.  Why would you start there?  Why plan on my vulnerability?  Why not ease into a profound spiritual conversation?  Are you trying to scare the Hell out me, literally?  That is what the question is all about, how afraid of Hell are you?  Enough to follow the seven easy steps to welcome Jesus into your heart on the following pages?  Faith is not that easy.  If it were, I would encourage every Christian to go to Office Depot and print out thousands of these magical pamphlets, and we can change the world.

Sharing your faith starts with a relationship which this man never wanted to engage in with me.  He sat next to me for lunch and never stopped to come over and ask ”do you have any questions about what I gave you?”  Just suppose this was a divine appointment set up by the Almighty Himself and I was ready to take that leap of faith.  There was no one there to help my jump and provide a soft landing.  All I could think in this was, what about me looked lost?  What about me look like I needed Jesus?  Am I giving off an aura that says, please help me I am lost?  As I stepped back from this experience, I realized how angry the entire encounter made me.  Upon further review, as I drilled down deeper on that emotion, what hit me was that you know nothing about me and you are making assumptions all of which are erroneous. Why didn’t you start a conversation with me?  We could have shared a meaningful moment. Instead, you just made sure by passing out a flyer with your church name and address on it that I will never darken the doors of your building.

Witnessing is all about relationships which take the time to nurture and develop.  I love the story of Philip in Acts.  As an angel of the God moved him, he went out from Jerusalem to Gaza and ran into an Ethiopian, eunuch.  Here is the story.

 “And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet, Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him…  35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture; he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Acts 8:27-31, 35-36

 Philip shows us that sharing your faith, is about relationships.  It is about being willing to walk alongside, to answer tough questions and being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading.  My encounter was an opportunity missed.  How in your life is God asking you to be a Philip?  Pray for the chance to build a relationship and get the chance to be a faith sharing blessing to someone.

 

 

SaveSave

Is the Church Making Disciples of Jesus or are we Making Consumers of Ministry Services?

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I have to admit I have been one who has complained unconnected people only want to be entertained or view the church as a product and themselves as consumers.  Often pondering the “what do members want from church discipleship or services question?”
Upon further review and distance, whose fault is that?  Are churches sending the wrong message to Christ’s followers and to those we are attracting?  Do church leaders have a pathway to make disciples or a strategy to attract customers to improve the ministries bottom line?  The answer is not an either/ or, but a both/and when times get tough and dollars tight you will drift toward survival.  Survival mode leads to an overemphasis on transactional ministry model.

Transactional Ministry

When I graduated from the Seminary, our commencement speaker made a horrible analogy. He said, “When you get into the parish view your people as cows, not pigs. Cows you can milk for years.  Pigs are only useful when they are killed for food.” I was stunned and horrified by that example. This is my flock he is talking about. I am called to care for them provided them with ministry services not milk them and cast them aside.   We are called to shepherd.  A word of caution of we turn the church into an organization which only provides ministry services, i.e., Sunday school, Bible classes, various affinity groups we risk shifting our congregations into a transactional consumer driven destination.

“The Transactional Mindset is actually an old sales philosophy that has 4 main tenants:

  1. Value the transaction over relationship.
  2. Meet only their minimum expectations or whatever the customer will let you get away with
  3. Advertise and “market” to people constantly
  4. Use persuasion as a tool to get people to buy”[1]

Paul Hiebert makes this observation in his book, “Transforming Worldviews” about the church.

“Modern Christians tend to organize their churches the same way they organize corporate action in other areas of their lives. Consequently, many churches are religious clubs. They focus on a single interest (religious life), have voluntary membership, follow democratic procedures in organization, and have their own symbols, property, and patterns of behavior. There are attempts at building deeper fellowship through small groups and church dinners, but few members are willing to pay the price for real community: involvement in members’ daily lives and willingness to bear one another’s burdens through sharing and financial assistance. When a church organizes itself using the social principles of a club, it soon becomes a club, no matter what it preaches about community.”

When our churches reduce ministry to service-rendered (transactional), budgets become inundated with programs, and we pray these programs are what our members (customers are seeking.)  Are these programs changing lives?  Do they help make disciples?  To be fair some do, but that is not usually what the ministries are created to accomplish.  Our focus is on attracting people to our church to get them to buy into joining and being a repeat customer.  This must be balanced with creating a culture and space for relationships, or our ministry can become mainly services provided driven.

Transformation Mindset

I am aware the term “transformation” makes people nervous.  Allow me to ease your minds, The Biblical concept of transformation flows from a personal relationship with God. It is a Romans 12 concept, “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Breathe easy, I am not inviting you to go off the deep end spiritually, into some touchy-feeling time of internal soul-searching.  A transformation ministry mindset is God working regeneration of our being, our thinking, and changing our families and communities. It God doing a work in the heart and soul of our church community and our church’s community. It is reflected in how we witness and share the truth in the communities that called the church to serve with love and compassion.

I truly believe people want their lives to make a difference.  People desire to live lives that are transformed by the power of the Gospel.  These converted people ask different questions about their faith journey.  It is not what can the church offer me (transactional) but what am I called to do for God (transformational).  Imagine your church making this shift in the thinking of its members?

Instead of your members looking to attract more people to fill their pews instead, we are looking for ways to build an authentic community to share the gospel in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  Here is how that would look.

  1. Relationships that are cultivated over a lifetime.
  2. A church that will exceed unconnected people’s expectations and surprise them with a genuine community.
  3. To be a part of a group of disciples who understand and connect with them without judging the past brokenness and mistakes. (Luke 15 the prodigal son, John 4, the woman at the well.)
  4. To be a community that shares and celebrates stories of transformation.

Not that transactional is wrong, but transformation offers so much more.  If you like this share it.

[1]https://joshkilen.com/results-of-transactional-thinking/

Other posts in the series:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/05/22/are-we-setting-the-church-back-2000-years/

Why Grace Is A Complicated Concept?

 

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But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.[1] Eph 2:4-9

Here is a moving illustration to explain God’s grace. An old Indian, after living many years in sin, was led to Christ by a missionary. Friends asked him to explain the change in his life. Reaching down, he picked up a little worm and placed it on a pile of leaves. Then, touching a match to the leaves, he watched them smolder and burst into flames. As the flames worked their way up to the center where the worm lay, the old chief suddenly plunged his hand into the center of the burning pile and snatched out the worm. Holding the worm gently in his hand, he gave this testimony to the grace of God: “Me. . . that worm.”[2]

Grace should be a straightforward concept but it wages war against all mortal reason.  Why would anyone give us anything for free?  Something we didn’t earn, or buy or barter?  God offers us forgiveness before we ask for it.  In the verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he lays out this grand image of the nature of God.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,…”  Ephesians 2:4-6

God has an everlasting desire to keep us with Him for all eternity. The Almighty, knowing our weakness created a plan to rescue us from sin that was totally independent of any efforts on our part.  Thank God we are not saved by the good things we do and fall from grace by the bad things we do.  If that was the merit system we were working under we would all be lost. God’s grace means salvation is completely apart from any virtue we may think we have garnered. Grace means that Jesus did it all for our sakes! Our salvation is a free gift of God.

So, if the Father of Lies, Satan, is trying to convince you that you are not worthy of God’s love, well you are not and neither am I.  But we are worthy of God’s grace, not because of what we may do but because of what Jesus DID for us on the cross.  Jesus gave up His life so that God “…might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:7  God loves us so deeply that He sent His son Jesus Christ to reach into the fires of hell and pull us out. He values our relationship so much that God will not be satisfied with a surface connection. God desires to draw all people to himself for eternity. God sent Jesus to bring back all the lost sheep into the Fathers sheepfold.  People matter to God. You matter to God!

If you are feeling lost or are experiencing a sense of confusion and “disconnectedness” in life, Jesus the Good Shepherd is seeking you. Jesus will not stop searching and with relentless grace won’t stop until He finds you.

If your spirits are down, if you are feeling a sense of hopelessness, or if you are searching for joy, the God of joy and life wants to connect with you. You can stop running away from Him and instead return to Him. He is waiting there for you with open and forgiving arms. Move into the waiting arms of your Savior the Good Shepherd. It is there that you will find the desires of your heart.

All people matter to God. All people are equally important to God. We have not only been found, but we are also redeemed. We are loved!

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Eph 2:4–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[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.

Graceful

Leaders,​ You Must be Willing to Make Personal Sacrifices

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This entire leadership series reflects the work of Myron Rush’s book, “The New Leader.”

The two areas we will cover today may be the most robust couple of things a leader must do.  They are perhaps the most difficult because they all involve personal sacrifice.

I often wonder if the reason members struggle with Jesus call of “take up your cross and follow me” is because we don’t see sacrifice modeled.  It is possible this illustration will be eye-opening.

“I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained-glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, ‘If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.’ “– Soren Kierkegaard, “And I looked Around, and Nobody was Laughing.”

Now I am not suggesting we worship in a plain box, but I wonder if leaders struggle with a similar issue.  We want to lead our people, but the qualities we need to model them get lost in the glitz and glamour.

You must sometimes be willing to sacrifice personal interests for the good of the group.

 We are critical of Millennials, but Baby Boomers were called the “Me Generation.”  The Baby Boomers were nicknamed the “Me Generation” due to their perceived narcissism. I missed falling into the group by one year, but sin makes us a narcissist.   As a leader, it is not a natural posture to put the needs of the group above your own needs, your desires, nor your goals.  It takes a Christ-like attitude to lay down your interests and do what is best for the group. The Bible verse that comes to mind in this area is from Philippians 2 of course, 3Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.4Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:”



You must be willing to say no at times, even when you’d like to say yes.



“During World War II, Winston Churchill was forced to make a painful choice. The British secret service had broken the Nazi code and informed Churchill that the Germans were going to bomb Coventry. He had two alternatives: (1) evacuate the citizens and save hundreds of lives at the expense of indicating to the Germans that the code was broken; or (2) take no action, which would kill hundreds but keep the information flowing and possibly save many more lives. Churchill had to choose and followed the second course.” 

Klyne Snodgrass, Between Two Truths – Living with Biblical Tensions, 1990, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 179.

One of the most challenging things about leadership is you can’t explain your actions.  You have information others don’t, and they love to judge your decisions based on the limited knowledge they have. As a leader, you need to have the courage of your convictions to say no even when you want to say yes because you know that say to yes will do harm to the body of Christ, or a Christian brother, or sister.  Saying yes may save you pain in the short-term but may do damage to the community in the long run.  As I have said all along leadership is not for cowards.  Leadership is not for those who need to be liked.  Leading is tough, thankless, involves profound personal sacrifices, but so rare, and essential to accomplish the most significant mission ever given.  We are Christ’s Ambassadors; we are His witnesses, we are His disciples, given the assignment to proclaim the gospel to an unconnected and broken world.

If you like this share it.  It is greatly appreciated.

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/04/24/warning-bold-leadership-required/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/05/01/leaders-must-be-willing-to-stand-alone/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/05/10/are-you-willing-to-risk-failure/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/05/17/are-you-willing-to-be-a-reckless-leader/

 

Focus on the Treasure Not the Clay Jar

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But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

True confession time, when I have preached on this passage before I focused on the jar.  It is so easy to focus on what is flawed and ordinary but the most striking part of the verse is the treasure and the power of God.   I am in good company because Warren Wiersbe agrees with me. “It is too bad when Christian workers make the vessel more important than the treasure of the Gospel.[1]” I love this illustration because even unbelievers know of the power of God.

 In Stay of Execution, Stewart Alsop discussed what it was like to live with incurable leukemia. “The disease was temporarily arrested. During this time, the not-too-active Episcopalian and noted journalist discussed a number of variables with his physician. Finally, Alsop said, ‘There is one variable you keep leaving out.’

‘What’s that?’

‘God,’ he said.

The doctor and patient smiled. Alsop continued, ‘I don’t really believe in God, or at least I don’t think I do, and I doubt if my doctor does, but I think we both had in the back of our minds the irrational notion that God might have something to do with what happened all the same.’ ”[2]

The Clay Jars.

Clay jars is an emphasis on the human body. The Greek term to describes these common containers implies something fragile, inferior, and expendable. We don’t like picturing ourselves that way.  Society has pushed hard against this sense of the ordinary.  Possibly because it shows this everyday common utensil conveying life as disposable. In spite of that God stores an invaluable treasure in these ordinary vessels.  What a contrast, prone to break, easily chipped and cracked earthen vessel which offers no protection for the treasure stores a divine treasure. The message here?  Stop focusing on the vessels.

 The Treasure.

The astonishing thing is that such a divine treasure, God’s own presence of grace, the ultimate of what is heavenly, absolutely priceless, beyond the value of all rubies and diamonds of earth, should be placed into such wretched vessels and be kept in them so long. One would expect that this treasure would be entrusted only to vessels of the highest value, be placed where they and their treasure are only admired and are ever handled with utmost care and reverence. But see what God has done! Yet this is his way with this treasure as 1 Cor. 1:26–29 shows. He sent his own Son into our flesh, permitted him to be born in a stable, in a paltry village, in lowliest surroundings, him in whom all the Godhead dwelt bodily(Col. 1:15–19; 2:9). Astounding, yet a fact.[3]

 The explanation of this lies in God’s purpose: “in order that the greatness of the power may be of God and not from us.” This is more than saying “that it may be seen to be.” This is reality and not only manifestation or appearance. The latter does not always match the former. Many things appear to be and are supposed to be “of God” while they are only “from us.” But if a thing is of God though at first it may not be seen to be, it will soon enough be seen to be of him. The genitive “of God” is the ablative denoting source (R. 514), a possessive in the predicate, and it really belongs to the noun subject and is not affected by the copula (R. 497). “Of God” is the opposite of “from us”; but ἐκ= derivation while the simple genitive denotes possession. This is God’s own power and not merely one that is derived from him: God and his power are one.[4]

The Struggle.

 Paul paints a clear picture of the struggle the Christian may face, as a follower of Jesus Christ.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. [5]2 Corinthians 4:7-11

J. Utley points out that verses 8–10 contain a series of nine PRESENT (mostly PASSIVE) PARTICIPLES which are word plays on Koine Greek words describing Paul’s difficult ministry. The first describes Paul’s ministry experience and the second limits the consequences. Examples of this wordplay are: (1) “at loss but not utter loss” and (2) “knocked down but not knocked out.” This section can be compared to 2 Cor. 1:6; 6:4–10; 11:23–28.[6]

Paul describes the struggle as a gradation of challenging outcomes, that God spares him of the worst possible effects.   It points Christians to the promise of Matthew 28:20 “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” It begins with 1) “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed”—the Lord provides an escape. 2)perplexed, but not driven to despair—the Lord gives us hope. 3) “persecuted, but not forsaken,” -the Lord does not abandon His people. 4) Actually “struck down, but not destroyed,“ Jesus does not allow us to perish and be done eternally.

 The Victory.

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So, death is at work in us, but life in you.[7]

I love this quote, “Paul’s suffering continues to reveal God’s saving activity as he carries around Christ’s death and displays it for all to see. It is possible that he depicts himself here as the pallbearer of Christ.[8]”  Imagine that, through our life we continue to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection for the salvation of the world.  That is where the victory lies for the Christian, in the life offered through faith in Christ’s work on the cross.

If you like this share it.  It is greatly appreciated.

[1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament(p. 486). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2]Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching(p. 98). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3]Lenski, R. C. H. (1963). The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second epistle to the Corinthians(p. 974). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

[4]Lenski, R. C. H. (1963). The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second epistle to the Corinthians(p. 975). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

[5]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:7–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6]Utley, R. J. (2002). Paul’s Letters to a Troubled Church: I and II Corinthians(Vol. Volume 6, p. 231). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.

[7]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:11–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8]Garland, D. E. (1999). 2 Corinthians(Vol. 29, p. 231). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

Three Essential Elements In A Transformational Community

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You must abandon your preconceived notions about community.

 “To enter into true community, our ideal community must be surrendered.”  – “Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities.”  When we think of forming a community, our rose-colored glasses picture a place where everyone gets along, and conflict is absent.  While this lack of discord would be lovely, it is unrealistic. As long as we live on this side of heaven, sin will always disrupt the community.  Conflict, tension, and disagreements in our relationships do not surprise God in fact, these moments afford, Him the opportunity to point us back to the grace and forgiveness offered through Christ. We should expect even welcome imperfection, as grace moments.

You must embrace imperfection

Remember putting your face above a headless frame painted to represent a muscle man, a clown, or even a bathing beauty? Many of us have had our pictures taken this way, and the photos are humorous because the head doesn’t fit the body. If we could picture Christ as the head of our local body of believers, would the world laugh at the misfit? Or would they stand in awe of a human body so closely related to a divine head?  – Dan Bernard.

 When we stop and look at the parish, this statement seems fitting.  We have the perfect head of Christ on the imperfect body of the church.  It seems odd to be a community who carries out our mission and make a kingdom difference we must embrace this imperfection.  Believers live with the anxieties this absence of perfection brings.  The church’s deficiencies allow for the unbelieving world to see a transparent organization that unlike many organization give and receive grace.  Members of this flawed community by God’s grace forgive one another and receive forgiveness all under the work of our head Jesus Christ.

You must embrace brokenness.

 So, every single one of you who judge others is without any excuse. You condemn yourself when you judge another person because the one who is judging is doing the same things. Romans 2:1

When I was a parish pastor, I devoted most of my time with church folks.  Which is positive but you can get a little too comfortable in that setting and forget there are other people around you whose lives may be less neat and tidy.  Not implying that church folks don’t have their issues because we do, which is the point that Paul establishes in the verse above. It is a caution for Christians not to get too high and holy and become judge and jury when we, in fact, are suffering from the same sin condition.  To be a part of a transformational community means we embrace brokenness.  We are all broken, we all fall short of the standards of God.  In a Christian community, we point each other back to the forgiveness of the cross.

 

Next week: “What is the Leadership structure in Missional Communities?”

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/05/22/are-we-setting-the-church-back-2000-years/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/05/15/can-the-church-do-a-better-job-at-being-a-community/

 

 

Memorial Day Tribute: We Will Not Forget

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Today is about more than a day off and a time to spend with the family. It is also a day to remember those who gave their lives for our countries freedom. It is about the families who today have a hole in their lives that can never be replaced. Today we stop and say a prayer for you and continue to pray for you. We will never forget your sacrifice.

Leaders Must Be People with Emotional Stability and Unquestionable Integrity

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This leadership series has been good therapy for me. It has been awhile since I have had the chance to lead a body of believers, over ten years now. During that hiatus, God has been developing me as a leader. This leadership series is a by-product of what God is teaching me. Today we dive deeper into the heart of leadership. You can have the tools to lead. You may be blessed with the instincts to lead, but I am a big believer in character. Too many leaders have had a great ministry legacy destroyed by finishing poorly. One moral failure will erase an entire lifetime of kingdom accomplishments. Our attention then turns to two essential safeguards for all leaders spiritual and secular.

These come from Myron Rush’s book. “The New Leader.”

You must become master of your emotions.

“Fools show all their anger, but the wise hold it back.” -Proverbs 29:11

Some say of me I wear my emotions on my sleeve. While I try to be transparent, I am cautious not take people around me on an emotional rollercoaster too often. No one wants to take that ride with you. Your people usually care about you, tend to respect you and generally want to support you, but have little desire to journey into your emotional craziness. Leaders can be candid without becoming reactionary messes. I love this quote about Jesus and how he dealt with emotions.

“I am spellbound by the intensity of Jesus’ emotions: Not a twinge of pity, but heartbroken compassion; not a passing irritation, but terrifying anger; not a silent tear, but groans of anguish; not a weak smile, but ecstatic celebration. Jesus’ emotions are like a mountain river cascading with clear water. My feelings are more like a muddy foam or a feeble trickle.”  G. Walter Hansenin, Christianity Today.

Our emotions can be an influential force for driving innovation and motivate our communities if we master them. The other side of that coin is our feelings can betray us as unstable and untrustworthy leaders. Insert what whatever example that is running through your mind.

You must strive to remain above reproach.

“So, the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching.” 1 Timothy 3:2

Scientists now say a series of slits, not a giant gash, sank the Titanic. The opulent, 900-foot cruise ship sank in 1912 on its first voyage, from England to New York. Fifteen hundred people died in the worst maritime disaster of the time.

The most widely held theory was that the ship hit an iceberg, which opened a huge gash in the side of the liner. But an international team of divers and scientists recently used sound waves to probe the wreckage, buried in the mud under two-and-a-half miles of water. Their discovery? The damage was surprisingly small. Instead of the huge gash, they found six relatively narrow slits across the six watertight holds.

Small damage, invisible to most, can sink not only a great ship but a great reputation.

USA Today, April 9, 1997.

It doesn’t take a massive rip in the ship of our character to sink our boat, but small cracks are all the space Satan needs to destroy all that God is doing in our lives and ministry. “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” R Zaccharias

All leaders must set up a hedge of support and boundaries to protect the integrity of their lives and ministry teams. Commit to prayer, remain in the word and guard your life and teaching. Have prayer warriors praying for you and with you. The devil would love nothing more than to take you out. Be wise, be on guard be proactive the ministry you save may be your own.

This Love Story Is Better Than Any on the Hallmark Channel

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The Bible is a book of love stories: the love of Jacob for Rachel, of Boaz for Ruth, and of Joseph for Mary. But the greatest story is not one of these; rather, it is the story of God’s love for ordinary people!

  1. It is the story of an unreasonable love. ‘‘For God so loved the world . . .’’

Unreasonable because God’s love is not requested, respected and is seldom reflected. When things go wrong in the world like war, terrorism, homelessness, disease, drug addiction, or political campaigns, people tend to blame God. The world’s response to trouble is to seek diplomatic, judicial, economic, and social solutions. God’s love is not respected (valued) because it is viewed as old-fashioned, rigid, and restrictive. God’s love is seldom reflected in a world that worships at the altars of success, popularity, and power. In the midst of all of that, God’s love breaks through, and He freely loves the world, with what is an irrational and unreasonable love!

  1. It is the story of a unreserved love. ‘‘. . . that He gave His only Son . . .’’

William Gladstone, in announcing the death of Princess Alice in the House of Commons, told a touching story. The little daughter of the Princess was seriously ill with diphtheria. The doctors told the princess not to kiss her little daughter and endanger her life by breathing the child’s breath. Once when the child was struggling to breathe, the mother, forgetting herself entirely, took the little one into her arms to keep her from choking to death. Rasping and struggling for her life, the child said, “Momma, kiss me!” Without thinking of herself, the mother tenderly kissed her daughter. She got diphtheria, and some days thereafter she went to be forever with the Lord.- Max Lucado

Real love forgets self. Real love knows no danger. Real love doesn’t count the cost. The Bible says, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” Songs 8:7-9 Unreserved is God’s gift given freely. Without hesitation, no debates, committees, conferences, or deliberations, what He gave was the only one—unique, incomparable, unmatched, and without equal – His Son! What a unreserved love!

  1. It is the story of an unrestricted love. ‘‘. . . that whoever believes in Him . . .’’

A certain medieval monk announced he would be preaching next Sunday evening on “The Love of God.” As the shadows fell and the light ceased to come in through the cathedral windows, the congregation gathered. In the darkness of the altar, the monk lit a candle and carried it to the crucifix. First of all, he illumined the crown of thorns, next, the two wounded hands, then the marks of the spear wound. In the hush that fell, he blew out the candle and left the chancel. There was nothing else to say. How beautiful is the power of the cross? The cross proclaims loudly that Christ’s work on our behalf is a story of unrestricted love in that there are no qualifications to measure up to, achievements to master, or requirements to maintain. The gift of salvation is universal and offered as a free gift to the world.

  1. It is the story of an unrestrained love. ‘‘. . . should not perish, but have everlasting life.’’

Unrestrained in that God’s love for you has no limits (there is nothing it cannot do), knows no bounds (there is no place where it is hindered or ineffective), and it will never end. As the writer of Hebrews describes it, “Your way of life should be free from the love of money, and you should be content with what you have. After all, he has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5. What an unrestrained love!

  1. Sadly, it is also a story of an unrealized love.

There are many who have yet to respond or even hear of God’s love. ‘‘For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God’’ (vv. 17, 18).

At a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholars were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. One person suggested that what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God took human form in Jesus. But someone else quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about the resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Another participant slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.

Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, arm full of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally, during a lull, he spoke saying, “what’s all this rumpus about?”
Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We’re debating what’s unique about Christianity.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” answered Lewis. “It’s grace.”

The room fell silent.  Lewis continued that Christianity uniquely claims God’s love comes free of charge, no strings attached.  No other religion makes that claim. After a moment someone commented that Lewis had a point, Buddhists, for example, follow an eight-fold path to enlightenment. It’s not a free ride. Hindus believe in karma, that your actions continually affect the way the world will treat you; that there is nothing that comes to you not set in motion by your actions. Someone else observed the Jewish code of the law implies God has requirements. But the beauty of Christianity is that God’s grace is completely and totally free. We didn’t earn it, we don’t deserve it. It was not given to us because we were better than others because we gave more than someone else, we worked harder than another, were more talented, better looking, or more fit. None of that matters to God. – “What’s So Amazing About Grace” – Philip Yancey

Hear the text again from the Message Bible: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one, and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”

So, our mission is clear, those who know God’s love have the privilege to take it to those who have yet to hear, so that they may not only understand the most significant Love Story ever told, but receive the full benefits of that love first hand through a life of eternity with God who made your salvation possible.

Carmela Snelbaker

Author of "Thank You For Your Service, Sheep!"

"But there is a God in Heaven who reveals secrets . . ."

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