Why I Never Visit a Different Church

buddhist-temple

I’ve never been to a Mormon church, Buddhist shrine, or an Islamic temple. Sometimes when I’m travelling around the country my curiosity peaks and I think about stopping in for a service or “mass,” or whatever they call it, but I can never get the courage. Strange, isn’t it? I’d rather live in ignorance than risk embarrassment.

There are a few reasons. There are some things I just don’t know.

  1. I don’t know if I’m allowed. I mean, I know that I’m technically allowed, but I’m socially permitted. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m wanted.
  1. I don’t know what to do once I walk through the doors. Can I just go and sit down anywhere I want? Is there some ritual I need to perform before I sit down? What are the procedures and protocols?
  1. I don’t know the building’s floor plan. Will it be easy for me to find the auditorium/sanctuary/holy-of-holies/etc? Where are the washrooms? Where do I put my kids or do they stay with me? (Speaking of kids, are they allowed? What about my type of kids?)
  1. I don’t know if people will stare at me. Or will I be singled out and put on the spot to be cleansed or purified or sanctified or…
  1. I don’t know what I don’t know. Will there be surprises that I haven’t thought about yet? I sort of feel that I’m going to go all “Mr. Bean Goes to Church” on them. Alleluia… alleluia… allelu…lu…lu…yah…yah.
  1. I don’t know what I do throughout the service. Do I stand? Do I sing? Do I speak? Do I have to participate in communion? Do I sprinkle something or someone? Who gives me permission to do the things must be done? Does the priest speak English? Can I wear my shoes?
  1. I don’t know what to wear. It looks like people wear suits or robes (on television), but the people I see in their parking lot look mostly casual. So, being so keenly aware of fashion, what do I wear?

Anyway, I’ll probably never conquer my uncertainties and walk through their doors. It makes me wonder what barriers people face before visiting our churches. After all, many people think we are a cult.

This Sunday, try pretending it’s your first Sunday. How do you feel? And now, what do we have to change?

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Is Your Church a Church?

Is Your Church a Church?house-church

When is a church no longer a church? What if there are indeed some specific criteria that determine whether a church has lost the right to exist? They may be gatherings of people for fellowship, funds available to keep a building running, and a few people host a Sunday service, but are they really a church?

Just poking through Scripture I can find at least eight conditions to determine if a religious gathering is truly a church. If one of these items below is absent, the gathering might be a fellowship, club, group, or whatever you wish to call it, but it is certainly not a church. Gathering is not the requisite, mission is.

Here are eight questions to ask:

Does your church insist that Scripture is the ultimate authority? The early church, even without access to the New Testament, continually used the Old Testament to determine it morals and mission. Additionally, they used Old Testament passages to prove that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.

Does your church have leadership? I’m not talking about management here. I’m talking about someone (and some people) who are discerning God’s plan and getting people on that plan. To be a church is to be led, biblically. Many churches have different structures and governance, but it the end there is leadership. Scripture reveals all sort of names for leaders; elders, bishops, pastors, deacons, evangelists, prophets, and apostles. Scholars will never agree on what each of these terms mean, but they will agree that early churches had someone who worked to “equip believers/saints for ministry.”

Does your church preach? To be a church requires someone to preach. It need not necessarily be a pastor, but someone must speak the truth of Scripture. This exercise is for the exclusive purpose of allowing lost people hear the truth of the Gospel and have opportunity to respond. Preaching, from the word “proclaim” is something I understand differently from “teaching.” Preaching is the proclamation of the gospel, particularly emphasizing repentance.

Does your church teach? Beyond communication for evangelism, there must be the consistent and repetitive teaching of the Word in order to develop believers in to more disciplined Christ-followers. Some people call this discipleship, which is actually an incorrect use of the term. We used the phrase “evangelism and discipleship” as if they were two different occasions. This is not the case. Evangelism is discipleship. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples,” and then said, “teaching them to obey…” I would go as far as to suggest that discipling could actually occur for a season before someone is a convert – or is “evangelized.” Discipling involves teaching, but it also involves preaching. Both of these are part of the discipleship process and are essential is every church.

Does your church baptize people in water? Water baptism seems like a bizarre exercise in our Western culture. I am sure that there have been many pool lifeguards wondering if the groups they see dunking each other in the pool is borderline crazy. Yet, this ordinance is clear in Scripture and repeated hundreds of times. A church that does not baptism in/with water, allowing a person to make a public confession of having died and rose again with Christ, is simply not a church. What may appear as a silly inconvenient ritual is actually a demand of the New Testament.

Does your church participate in communion or the Lord’s Supper? New Testament communion services probably looked a lot different than modern ceremonies. When the early church ate together, they took a moment to reflect on the death of Christ by using the most common tabletop commodities – bread and wine. As Christ commanded participation in this ordinance He said, “Do in remembrance of me.” Every true church must practice this ritual.

Does your church contain a community of people who have determined to be accountable to one another out of love? The early church prayed for each other, taught each other, worshipped with each other, bore each other’s burdens, shared everything together, and disciplined each other. In fact, Paul demanded for early believers to gather together.

So far, your church probably meets the qualifications. But the next question is where many want-to-be churches fall short.

Is your church on a mission to work together to reach the lost? Token evangelism doesn’t count. To be a church, that church must be fully understood as a group of people who are not committed to “having good church” but to propagating the Gospel together as well as individuals. “The church is not the purpose or goal of the Gospel, but rather the instrument and witness of the Gospel.” (Darrell Guder) Evangelism is not just one of the things the church does; it is why the church exists! Any church that is not “missional” has lost its right to exist.

Perhaps all of this too basic of an explanation of what makes a church (little “c”) a church, but it’s a starting point. What do you think? Is your church a church? How can we make a church become a church?

Expect Conflict and Criticism

quotes-about-criticism-5iag2iwd

Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – Mark 2:06

Not everyone will like you.

Some won’t like the way you teach, or what you teach. Your leadership style may annoy some people. How you handle yourself will make some people angry. Even if you do the right thing some people will attack you – not because of what you did, but because how you did it.

You will often feel like a failure because of criticism.

Most of the criticism will not be to your face, but in conversations about you without you. It won’t be just from people you dislike you. It will be from people who like you, people you like, and people who don’t give a rat’s ass about you. Personal attacks will occur. This will make you feel like quitting, often. Leadership brings a entirely new brand of suffering.

You will feel lonely.

You will feel lonely because you will be alone. This is mainly because you will make yourself alone. You can’t trust your feelings to your colleagues and followers so you keep them bottled up. You can’t tell you spouse or family because you want to protect them from the stress. You can’t go public with your condition because that opens a whole new set of struggles.

Still ready to lead? I thought so. Thank God that you are still naïve enough to believe that those things won’t happen to you. But they will. And you will handle it, and rise above it! For it’s not what people do to you or say about you that will determine your wellbeing. It will be how you manage your heart. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)

The leadership life of Jesus was inflicted with the same struggles. They didn’t like his theology. “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they grumbled in Mark 2:7. “Why does he eat with sinners?” His own family said, “He is out of His mind,” and they tried to take him away. (Mark 3:21)

Check out these other verses. Write down your thoughts. What kind of criticism is being imposed on Jesus? What were they calling into question?

Mark 2:18 – Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Mark 2:24 – The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Mark 3:2 – Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

Mark 3:22 – And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

Understanding the Generations

millThe generations before you have some strong opinions about you. Their opinions are generally incorrect, but their interpretation of what they observe has some merit. Don’t be offended. You will do the same with the generation that follows you.

Because you don’t like labels, you might not like to know that they call you “Generation Y” or “Millennials.” That label is given to those who are born between the late 1970s and the late 1990s. (The Generation X people are still debating the exact date range.) Before you are the Gen-Xr’s who were born between 1965 and late 1970s. Before them were the Baby Boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964. Those born before the Boomers are called Traditionalists or Veterans.

The Veterans know about hardship and discipline. They understand the military world and respect authority.

The Boomers know about hard work and education. They are the “workaholics.” They have lived their lives in order to get ahead in the workplace. It was this group began the personal development craze.

Generation Xr’s have watched the Boomers and are concerned about the work/life balance. They are the “latch-key” kids who have grown up to be independent and cynical.

Your group, the “Y’s,” have been able to see the Boomers and the X’rs, and you have made some conclusions about how to live life. It seems that your kind do prefer challenging work, as long as it is meaningful. You are a generation defined by the Internet; connected to everyone everywhere.

The Veterans enjoy you. The Boomers think you are dysfunctional. The Gen-X’rs think that you are annoying. Here are some other views from those older than you have about you.

Opinion #1: Millennials are lazy.

You get this tag because of the importance you place on friends, fun, leisure, and rest. This causes people to think that you don’t want to work hard, or even work at all. You also tend to mentally “check out” when work becomes boring, mundane, or un-meaningful.

The truth is that you are not lazy. Research suggests that your understanding of work ethic is on par with Boomers. The difference would lie in areas of passion and stick-to-it-ness. (I have added a chapter later in the book.)

Opinion #2: Millennials are selfish.

They call it Affluenza. Some are now arguing that it should be considered a disease. Affluzena is claimed to be a psychological disorder affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, lack of remorse, feelings of personal guilt, and a sense of isolation.

Recently, Judge Jean Boyd sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years probation for drunk driving and killing four pedestrians after his lawyers successfully argued that the teen suffered from “affluenza” and needed rehabilitation, and not prison. Couch was witnessed on surveillance video stealing beer from a store, driving with seven passengers in his father’s Ford F-350, excessive speeding, and had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit for an adult in Texas, when he was tested 3 hours after the accident. Traces of Valium were also in his system. A psychologist hired as an expert by the defense, testified in court that the teen was a product of “affluenza” and was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences due to his parents teaching him that wealth buys privilege. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affluenza)

All Millenials aren’t selfish. The extremists and oddballs of any generation, culture, or crowd, often hijack how that group will be defined. For instance, many people dislike Christians. But the majority of Christians are likeable. They are tolerant, loving, giving, and accommodating. It’s just that a few wing-nuts make the news. A church of less than 40 people, with their “God Hates Fags” slogan, draws constant media attention, while thousands of other churches continually transform the lives of the poor and brokenhearted. Most Christians aren’t like Westboro, nor are all Muslims aren’t terrorists.

The above accusation of entitlement and selfishness is a challenge you will face. It may not be a fair accusation, but it means you have to treat perception as reality. You must, for the sake of your generation and the Kingdom, destroy the allegation that you are selfish. You must be generous; more generous than Boomers and X’s. You must let go of materialism. You must serve. Jesus MUST increase; you MUST decrease.

Opinion #3: Millennials are spoiled.

There is no question that Y’rs are the most over-celebrated and over-trophied generation ever. The first time you dropped a log into the potty, you were given a new iPad and a puppy. You had a full graduation ceremony with regalia when you graduated from kindergarten, and every grade there after. Every sheet you coloured was a masterpiece worthy of worship. Your Boomer parents (aka “helicopter parents”) parents have catered to your every need and wish. They told off your boss (or professor) for you. They set your teacher straight. They helped you, a lot, and now you count on your parents help forever. Soon they may be fixing up a room for you and your spouse in their basement.

Of course, this is just a myth. Oh wait. No it’s not. You are spoiled. How are you going to process the affects of this spoiled-ness echoing into your leadership life?

Opinion #4: Millennials need instant gratification.

But this accusation, while true, may not necessarily reflect a disadvantage. In fact, you are masters of the environment created for you by the Gen-Xrs. Rapid changes do not scare you. You adapt quickly to new technology, new thought, and new situations. Things become second nature to you almost instantly.

Have you ever tried to teach your grandparents how to send an e-mail or “use the Google,” as my mother says? It takes time. It takes repeating. But not so with you, because you cannot remember not knowing how to e-mail. In fact, even email has come and gone in your few years on the planet, and you communicate through other preferred media.

The terms “fast” or “quick” mean something different to you than they did for the Boomers, and even the Gen-Xrs. You are the generation that straddles the old world and then new world. You may know what it is like, for example, to do slow research work in a library and have also experienced the quick research accomplished via the Internet. As a child, you may have seen someone coming to your door to sell your parents a set of encyclopedias. Now, you get the same information, for free, through Wikipedia. When I give talks and seminars, listeners are checking my facts in real-time with their smartphones. And they multi-task as they check Facebook news, text a classmate, and scroll through Twitter feeds.

You’ve always known your food to be instant. Banking is instant. Communication is always in real-time. News comes immediately. Information flows at 200mbps. Technology has made you accustomed to getting what you need swiftly and effortlessly. You can process information at a breath-taking rate. You can make concise statements using 140 characters or less. You have a speed of cognitive ability beyond the last generation. Your brain is physically different.

Yet, Annette Liska, an emerging-technologies expert, observed, “The idea that rapidity is a [cure-all] for improved cognitive, behavioural, and social function is in direct conflict with topical movements that believe time serves as a critical ingredient in the ability to adapt, collaborate, create, gain perspective, and many other necessary (and desirable) qualities of life. Areas focusing on ‘sustainability’ make a strong case in point: slow food, traditional gardening, hands-on mechanical and artistic pursuits, environmental politics, those who eschew Facebook in favor of rich, active social networks in the ‘real’ world.”[1]

This accusation boils down to impatience. Experts think that your upbringing, and your ability to process information quicker than previous generations, affects your ability to be patient. Thus, your attention span will be diminished in meetings, planning sessions, and other leadership obligations. You may too hastily rely on the first bit of information as the “fact.”

However, the impending attention deficit that you will inevitably face, and are facing, may actually be a tool as you master the ability to understanding and share information rapidly.

Opinion #5: Millennials are disloyal.

This is a myth. The truth is, Millienials are fiercely loyal. It’s just that loyalty is not a given, it is earned. Hierarchal systems, positions, or celebrity status do not dictate loyal allegiance. They don’t respect authority “just because.”

For Millenials they may actually be anti-loyal at times. They’ve seen the way the previous generation has behaved. They witness the current collapses in the economy, environment, and politics. Skepticism and cynicism have grown.

Millennials are rumored to be a group who are quick to move from one ministry to the next, and church leaders are having a tough time keeping them. One of the biggest issues that senior pastors have with their young workers is what appears to be their “lack of loyalty.” But Millennials are very loyal. They’re just not loyal to an organization. They’re loyal to a person. Successful relationships with their leader/mentor are the number one reason why Millennials stay in once place. They don’t want a micromanager who thinks of them as just another hireling. They want someone who inspires them, values them, and partners with them.

What does this mean for you and your leadership?

You may not agree with everything said about you above. However, whether valid or not, this is how the previous generation views you. That will be both a disadvantage for you and, at times, an advantage.

Because of all of this, I am excited that you, as a Millennial, inherently possess some natural proficiency that you bring into ministry leadership.

  1. You have a tech/software proficiency that can propel the church forward. You can communicate quickly, thorough various means. You connect seamlessly. It is exciting to think of the ways you can reach unbelievers.
  1. You are independent. This may be a bad thing, but when you’re at your best you are calm and confident. So many Millennials have been raised in single-parent homes, in daycares, or have spent so much time alone, that they have the ability to thrive and survive alone – especially if all they have with them is their smartphone.
  1. You are ambitiously experimental. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is just a dare to you. You want to try new things, and failing at them doesn’t bother you very much. When time permits youthful idealism to fall away, and the realities of life temper your enthusiasm, you will be a force of unimaginable wisdom.
  1. You understand diversity. As I imagine you reading this book, I’m picturing a young white male Bible College student. That’s my default think, and it is wrong. I must deliberately remind myself of the diversity in our world. Fortunately, you haven’t been programmed that way. That makes you a benefit to any ministry organization, especially the church. You think more like Jesus thought when He lived multicultural ministry.
  1. You have natural instincts about the “market.” Your hyper-connectedness allows you to be so aware of so much. You know what needs are “trending” and where ministry opportunities are popping up. If you leverage this, you can lead your church to ripe mission fields.
  1. You think differently. Because of this you refuse to accept a business-as-usual culture in a church. Status quo won’t cut it. You will create new methods and models for reaching lost people.

You bring you to the leadership table. You deserve to be there. Sit up straight. Square your shoulders. Be confident, not cocky. Go ahead make a contribution out of all the aspects of who you are as God seasons your personhood with His excessive grace.

BONUS TIP: How To Not Be Seen As A Total Slacker At Your First Leadership Gig

Do a quick Google search for the phrase “Millennials are…” and the autocomplete adds “lazy”. They fifth search result says, “Millennials are idiots.”

  1. Write stuff down. Even if you have a great memory, writing stuff down shows your supervisor that you are serious about being a good leader and making a contribution.
  1. Don’t forget stuff. Just don’t. Be a reliable person. Stop apologizing for forgetting to do things. Just do whatever it takes to remember things.
  1. Show up early. Allow extra travel time in case of traffic or disruptions. Never be late. Never.
  1. Be ready. Whether it’s a meeting, a service, or and work project. Have everything ready to go. (Think: chargers, office supplies, tools, handouts, previous notes, etc). Communicate to other that you highly value their time.
  1. Stop thinking about hour many hours you’ve put in. You can’t do that anymore, because much of our “working” hours are interspersed with Facebook, texting, personal banking, etc. Instead, think about the contribution you have (or have not) made. Be productive.
  1. Go the second mile, and never whine about it.
  1. Be valuable. Make sure that your boss, and your colleagues, and you church would miss you if you left. Add something to the organization – even if that means exceeding the boundaries of job descriptions and expectations.
  1. Solve problems. Don’t just identify problems. Try to present options for solutions whenever you have a problem to discuss.
  1. Grow your ministry. Everyone might be happy, and in love with you, but if you haven’t grown your group/church then you have not succeeded.
  1. Ask for performance reviews, but not every week. Once or twice a year is plenty. It is often helpful to present your supervisor with an evaluation form that they can complete and return.

[1] http://thefrailestthing.com/2012/03/14/the-internet-the-youth-of-tomorrow-highlights-from-the-pew-survey/

Dream Sensibly

dreamAnd so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Mark 1:14

“So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head.” – Mark 6:27

In dreams begin responsibility.” William Butler Yeats

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

Your life is going to be full of situations that are not going to turn out in the way you hoped they would. Be careful with your dreams. Dreams are delightful, but every dream is embedded with inevitable disappointment. Yes, for a rare few, their dreams come close to being reached, but none ever fully. Even if you don’t achieve your dream, you will still learn a lot of good things in the pursuit.

It is a longing for that which is not yet. This desire moves us to do now what we must do in order to land somewhere close to our imagined future. This orients our preparation. What you think about your future is already impacting who you are today. A dream is simply a desire.

Dreams have a sneaky way of becoming expectations; and unmet expectations can be a stale soup of discouragement, depression, and disillusionment. If your life heads in the direction of your dreams, you become more optimistic but if your dream-path begins to deviate, or obstacles pop up, discouragement can set in. If dreams are partially met, and you have experience good success, you may still find yourself unsatisfied. This happens because you never kept your expectations in check. You become the sum of your dreams, even before you achieve them. The wise leader manages both their met and unmet expectations. Many leaders are unable or unwilling to comprehend that the fulfillment of their dreams may look nothing like what they initially imagined. His plans are better than your dreams.

We still must dream. A dream is a delicious thing that nourishes the soul and strengthens the heart. Most of us know a dream by its other name: hope. Dreams turn the head in the direction one should take, but it is applied wisdom that defines the path.

Thankfully, there are also many undreamed dreams that come true. For you, there are great things in store. There are blessings beyond which you could ever imagine, expected, or dreamed. You already know that you’re destined for success. That is your blessing. That is your curse.

Your call to ministry, while you may get to keep your head, is similar to John the Baptist’s. You must prepare the way of the Lord. Your dreams and expectations must bow to the Will of Christ. As John said, we must decrease and Jesus must increase. We can have our dreams, but our dreams must submit to His plan. We are not the Savior. He is.

Keeping our motive clean is fundamental for dreaming. Albeit, all dreams have some false motive. It is impossible to separate our selfish desires from our godly ones. There is so much self in our desire to be a success for the Kingdom. Ego is so intertwined with our calling that it hard to separate. It is like trying to do brain surgery (which I have yet to ever do successfully). The parts just don’t seem to come apart easily.

Honour

honourlogo_8001While boarding the plane I noticed that the executive class seats were mostly empty. In fact, many of the economy seats were vacant too. I took my place amoung the commoners and peasants in the cheap seats. My seat was 12D, which was an aisle seat in the row immediately behind executive class. Across the aisle from me was a middle-aged woman who was fumbling to find her ringing mobile phone. She launched into her loud-talker voice, telling her friend how “unfair” and “not right” it was that Air Canada would make her sit in economy when there were empty seats in executive class. I chuckled to myself as she expressed her frustration to her friend (and the entire plane) about how she shouldn’t be in economy class. In her twisted thinking, she was due a greater place. Though she paid the same fare as the rest of us, in her mind she was more deserving than the other 300 passengers. Perhaps she didn’t notice other passengers that were more deserving of that honour than her: senior citizens, folks with mobility issues, Canadian soldiers, and the like.

There are a few areas where I think we have departed from the way things used to be–to our detriment. One of these is the way we honour one another and those in authority amoung us. From child to parent, parishioner to pastor, peer to peer, employee to boss, dishonour is rampant in our society. We live in a culture of dishonour. Roasting and lampooning leaders is a common practice. Often we are experts at faultfinding. We think we are helping by pointing out these flaws but it has a harmful effect.

I visited two of our Bible colleges last week and it struck me as odd when the students referred to President Morrow and President Demchuck as “Bill” and “Dave.” I know the new catchword in modern leadership culture is relationship but in our attempts to equalize the hierarchy, and make everyone common, is there not still room for us to show honour? After 15 years of working together I still default to referring to my friend, and former District Superintendant, as Pastor Doug. Sometimes in our interactions he gets the tag “captain,” “chief,” or “boss,” but rarely “Doug.” He has no preference of the name I call him; it’s just been the honourable label I’ve used – given his position and his advanced years. [insert chuckle here].

Children, especially, should be taught to honour adults. My children are not permitted to call our pastor, Joe, by his first name.   The names of unfamiliar adults in their life are called Mr. or Mrs.

Showing honour, of course, has little to do with name we use to address someone, but the way in which we speak about, or act around, another person testifies of whether or not we honour them. I believe that honour should be given to everyone; including those we work with, work for, and who work for us.

A pastor is worthy of honour because of the office he or she holds. Honour is not to be withdrawn from someone based on his or her performance.

I almost came unglued in a recent meeting when a layperson, on a tangent unrelated to the agenda, begin a rant about the excessive “perks” given to pastors. This man lives in ignorance, and is prone to dishonour. I would be the last person to advocate for a pastor’s pity party, but there are some realities unique to pastoral ministry. Apart from the perpetual state of readiness a pastor lives in, there is a continual pressure of being evaluated and assessed in every area of life and leadership.

Pastors don’t get 2-days off in a row, except on vacation. And, generally, the pay stinks – especially the pay-to-expectation ratio. What parishioners don’t know is that 45% of pastors will experience burnout or depression that will force them, permanently or temporarily, to leave their job. Almost half of all pastors have seriously considered leaving the ministry within the last 3 months. A third of pastors say that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family. 75% say that they’ve had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.

I know that there are people in our congregations that work harder, longer, and for less pay than their pastor, but that regrettable reality is not license for pastors to be under-appreciated. Why can’t we give our pastors more than they deserve? What are we afraid of? What would happen if a pastor was over-paid, over-rested, and over-honoured? I think that might just be biblical: “And now, friends, we ask you to honour those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!” (The Message)

Leaders must honour their followers and colleagues.

“In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Every person is worthy of honour because of the high value inherent in being a creation of God. If we see God in the person next to us, we would treat them with honour.

We are to show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour those in authority. Romans 12:10 reminds us to, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” Scripture also take the time to remind us to honour widows (1 Timothy 5:3), elders (1 Timothy 5:17), the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), spouses (1 Peter 3:7), and bosses (1 Timothy 6:1). There are also verses instructing older ministers to honour the younger ones (1 Timothy 5:1-2).

As pastors and leaders we must commit to speaking honourably of other pastors and ministries. It is easy to find the faults, but godly leaders look for the positive. Andrew Carnagie said, “Finding greatness in an individual is a lot like mining for gold. When you go into the mine you realize that you will have to move a ton of dirt to find an ounce of gold. However, you never go to the mine looking for the dirt. You always go to the mine looking for the gold!”  If you go looking for dirt you will find plenty of it.

It is always sinful to join with others to create alliances around a cause that dishonours others.  There are appropriate times, situations, and places to voice criticism and complaint. Wise and godly leaders are able to discern these times.

Honour is held in the heart and shown in physical expressions.

Dress – When I ran a small business I occasionally would interview potential employees. I was shocked at the way interviewees would dress. One potential salesperson even came wearing flip-flops, shorts, and an ugly Hawaiian shirt. He had no chance of obtaining my employment. We show honour to another person by what we wear when in their company.

Deference – If we preferred and honoured one another as Scripture says, wouldn’t church parking lots fill up from the farthest space first, and then be filled from there to the more preferable spaces? [insert groan here]

Dialogue – How we talk speaks the most about whether we honour others or not. Whatever is in the heart will eventually come out the mouth.

To honour means to value. We honour what you value. We keep it in special place. We hold it in high-esteem. Honour for another person is displayed in our actions, evidenced by our words, and reflected in our thoughts. Most importantly, honour originates and is held in our heart, for if we do, speak, and think about honouring someone we still fail if we do not honour in our heart.

Withholding honour always produces negative results.

“If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs.” (Matt 10:41)

Some leaders and churches are not successful simply because they neglect to dispense appropriate honour to one another and authorities. Honour, according to Scripture, begets reward.

John encourages us to live in such a way that we will receive the full reward. We see this in Scripture as different people connect with Jesus. Mark 6:5 says that Jesus “could do no mighty works” in His hometown of Nazareth. It doesn’t say He wouldn’t do them, but rather, he couldn’t – he was restrained. What restrained Him? The same thing that restrains our churches and ourselves: a lack of honour. They dishonoured Him and received only small, partial reward – only a few minor healings.

Those who honoured Jesus, like the Roman centurion in Matthew 8, received a full reward. Honour was the key. Those who honoured Him in part, like the people of Nazareth, only received a partial reward. And, those who dishonoured him – even if only in thought, like the teachers and preachers of the law, received no reward.

The Scriptures declare that the way we treat others is the way we treat Jesus Himself. If we honour others, we honour Jesus. And there are rewards for showing honour. The blessings of God rest upon one who honour others.

Sandcastles

sandcastleFebruary normally isn’t beach weather but yesterday we just couldn’t resist. We packed up, headed out early in the morning. The beachfront had the perfect moisture to produce the clumpiest sand – ideal for building sandcastles.

We began with a simple but large square room with four stately pillars on each corner. It was big enough to fit our three kids inside. Punching out a wall, we added a second room to serve as a place for the family to gather to watch television or play games. I was able to carve out a set of shelves while Sandy scurried to the nearby hardware store for some paint and a few decorations. Soon she was back and we painted both rooms in smart earth tone colors that matched perfectly with the couch and loveseat we found in a nearby garage sale. The new rugs looked nice, but it wasn’t until I put in the vinyl windows that the sandcastle began to really feel like home.

We were so proud of what we had built. The kids convinced me to stay in the sandcastle overnight with them. By the time darkness fell the sandcastle looked great! We put in a little electric heater, powered by a small generator. We had even molded out some beds for the kids to sleep on.

During the night it started to rain and the tide rose enough for the ocean’s waves to buffet against our beautiful new sand-made dwelling.  Soon, the whole thing collapsed.

After all, it was just a sandcastle.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

 

 

What Makes A Movement?

dream

While Christians may contend that the early church was the first, historians would say that the world’s earliest “movement” was the British abolitionist movement beginning in the late 1700s. The most famous movement, of course, was the American Civil Rights Movement propelled by the bravery of Martin Luther King. Other social movements in the last few hundred years have carved out a definition and prototype of what movements usually look like. Examples include women’s rights, peace, civil rights, anti-nuclear and environmental movements.

More recently there has been the feminist movement, pro-choice movement, right-to-life movement, gay rights movement, animal rights movement, alter-globalization movement, and dozens of others. Religious movements have included the holiness movement, latter rain movement, Methodism, word of faith movement, and the like. Some have helped the Kingdom, while others have provided a plethora of divisive religious trappings. Pentecostalism used to be a movement. Some would argue that it still is, but they usually site places that are not North American.

Pentecostal verbiage almost always uses the word “move.” We want a move of God. What we actually desire is a movement. In Canada, we urgently need a movement – a “move of God” marked by a demonstration of the Spirit’s power for the purpose of seeing unbelievers redeemed. We do not need the robes and garb of pentecostalism unless, in some way, they serve in the effort to reach the lost. After all, the real evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a transformed missional heart; albeit the initial physical evidence is tongues.

There are a few common characteristics in modern and historical movements. Here are a few:

Movements are not fads.

Movements and fads feel the same while they are happening. The difference can only be discerned by the rearview mirror. A movement produces long-term permanent change—a new normal. A fad is a nifty idea that creates a buzz and musters some excitement but doesn’t acquire enough substance to perpetuate a real change. A movement becomes a force, while a fad becomes a memory. To use post-modern examples, “emergent” and “house church” are fads, ranking up there with Cabbage Patch and Air Jordans. Conversely, “missional” and “the new Pentecostals” has the steam to become a movement. The difference is traction.

Movements are not eternal.

They start. They gain momentum. They are successful. They decline. They die. They are subject to the laws of social inertia. However, in their wake they leave a new status quo or a new norm. Almost all movements become monuments, if not museums. Don’t believe me? Browse the churches in Britain or a roam through Rome. If things don’t change, we too will be selling churches for a dollar, just like our other mainline friends.

The disturbing reality is that most of us are so bent on protecting the monument that there is little chance of embracing another movement. It is impossible to move forward if we have a death-grip on the paraphernalia of the past.

Movements have the same basic structure of growth.

First, people come to believe there is a problem. Like Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

Secondly, people experience pain or deprivation. Someone once said that people don’t change until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. There is discontent with the current reality.

Next, a possible solution takes root and becomes contagious. This is the first inkling of momentum.

Lastly, people are mobilized. This is where talking, debating, and information gathering turns into doing. Chatter slows. Action accelerates. People do what needs to be done. (Sometimes I wonder if we will ever break free of our addiction to theory and orthodoxy and begin to produce activity and orthopraxy).

Movements begin with a catalyst – person or event.

Movements all ask a compelling question: “If we don’t do this, what will happen?” Thus, a movement starts with problem. However, something or someone is the igniter. (Think Rosa Parks riding in the whites-only section of the bus. Think Charles Parham began teaching that speaking in tongues was the biblical sign of the Holy Spirit’s baptism in Topeka, Kansas.)

Movements are always grassroots fueled and sustained, but a spark starts the process–a spark in the right condition. There is always a precipitating factor (or factors), perhaps an event that turns a concern into a cause. An undesirable picture of the future motivates a movement.

Movements have flexible structures.

All movements inherently beg for organization. New structures serve the movement well — until the inevitable fateful tipping point when the movement becomes an institution. Participants get overly concerned with precedent (if we do this once, we’ll have to do it next time for the next person), policy (rules reign), and procedure (linear and systematic is the order of the day). All of these things are good, but successful movements have always been low-institution and high-mission. They dream, decide, and deploy. The embrace the changeability of tabernacles and shun the immovability of temples. Therefore, movements are naturally offensive.

Movements always challenge the old, embrace the new, hope for the not yet.

Unfortunately it takes a long time for a church to die. Long after evangelism ceases to become their main activity, some churches live on. The air becomes filled with “back then” language with token lip service to a future glory that everyone knows is not coming but won’t admit. If the mission is no longer why you have a church, then really you don’t have a church – you have a morgue. We are left to count steeples and peoples.

Movements appreciate the past but embrace the future because they stick to the issues that matter most. A movement decelerates the moment the main thing is no longer the main thing. The minor things may be important, or even essential, but historically movements disintegrate with the onset of debates outside the scope of their prime directive.

Movements are organic.

They are self-propelling and self-propagating. Like an ocean wave, a movement is not to be made but to be ridden. We don’t create a movement; we embrace one. Therefore, movements find their leader, not vice versa. In a real sense, a movement is sovereign. There is no memo or proclamation that kick-starts it. The wind blows where it wants, and we hear its sound, but we cannot tell whether it’s coming or going.  Spirit-led people simply scatter on the shoreline in anticipation and race to ride the wave as it comes.

We need some more movements.

We need a church planting movement.

We need a youth movement.

We need a spiritual leadership movement.

We need a holiness movement.

We need a prayer movement.

We need a pentecostal movement.

Spirit move.

Sightless

doubtIf God was small enough to be understood, He wouldn’t be big enough to handle your sin.

The Bible says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1). It sounds weird, but you can only be certain by faith. You can stay seated on the edge, or you can fall into God and be certain. The Word says that no one can come to God unless the Spirit of God draws him or her. The tug that people feel inside, in the middle of all the unanswered questions, is the Spirit’s drawing. It is the Holy Spirit (think instructor or dive coach) that invites people into that relationship—not the reasoning alone.

Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” (John 20:29). John 20 also gives us four instances of those who had to see before they could believe. First, it mentions John who comes to faith not by seeing Jesus himself but by seeing the empty burial wrappings. Second, Mary Magdalene sees Jesus but does not recognize and confess Him as Lord until He calls her name. Third, the disciples see Jesus before believing it is really Him. Fourth is Thomas; he also sees Jesus and then believes, but only after insisting on a sign.

When Jesus left the earth and went to the Father in heaven, He left a new kind of faith: a belief without having physical, visible “in the flesh” encounters with the resurrected Christ. He tells us about another kind of faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). So we must cease being so cerebral. Sure, we must be reasonable and approach faith intellectually, but we cannot neglect the beautiful mystery. It is a wonderful complexity. One of the most conflicting yet profound statements in Scripture is: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Across Germany at the end of World War II, Allied forces searched farms and houses looking for snipers. Allegedly, at one abandoned house, searchers with flashlights found their way to the basement. There, on the crumbling wall, a victim of the Holocaust had scratched a Star of David. Beneath it, in rough lettering, was scrawled: “I believe in the sun—even when it does not shine; I believe in love—even when it is not shown; I believe in God—even when He does not speak.”

5 Dangers of Giftedness

giftedIt is bizarre that the most capable among us are occasionally the same people who feel inadequate and unaccepted. Many insecure leaders possess a wealth of talent, ability, and gifting, but they are still unsure. This is because our abilities can also be our most significant weaknesses. A person who is at ease when talking within a social circle risks becoming a person who doesn’t know when to shut up. An organized person can administrate a project—to death. Musical people often forget that there is more to ministry than singing or playing an instrument.

The more gifted you are, the more likely you are to be dangerous to follow. Gifted people are more likely to neglect spiritual disciplines, struggle with being personally dependant on God, and limit their vision to those things for which they do not need supernatural assistance. In other words, they have a harder time finding their security in God when they can easily find ways to be sure in self.

I am not suggesting that giftedness is wrong, nor am I suggesting that you suppress your gifts. In fact, Scripture tells us to hone them and fan them into flame. But we are also told to keep them in proper perspective. You have probably noticed many gifted people who live only in their areas of skill, to the detriment of the other tasks that need their attention. Those who only live in this safe arena never learn of the security that can only be found in Christ.

Danger #1 – Identity

Based loosely on Robert Ludlum’s novel, The Bourne Identity is a film about a man whose wounded body is discovered by fishermen who nurse him back to health. He can’t remember anything and begins to try to rebuild his memory based on clues. In one scene, Bourne sits in a restaurant struggling to reboot his memory. He has no idea who he is, but he is keenly aware of his innate abilities—he instinctively knows the sight lines in the restaurant, the license plate numbers of every vehicle in the parking lot, and the weight of each restaurant patron. He even knows the most likely place to find a weapon. But none of that information tells him who he is or what he does. Similarly, you cannot look only to the areas in which you are gifted when you are seeking a definition of yourself or a discernment of your ministry role in the Kingdom. Giftedness only provides the clues.

Likewise, you cannot allow a lack of giftedness in a particular area to be the sole reason to exclude yourself from a ministry task. A sovereign God prepares you and makes you ready for the work. As with Moses, who’s skillset never matched the task, God’s promise (“I will be with you”) holds in it the implicit promise of supernatural equipping.

In my case, according to the personality assessment and gift inventories, I have operated outside of my giftedness many times. This only serves to prove the sovereignty of God and the constant supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Danger #2 – Approval

Giftedness can be mistaken as God’s approval of how we are living our lives. Success and prosperity do not always indicate endorsement, nor do struggle and suffering necessarily point to God’s disapproval. There are many gifted people who enjoy tremendous success while their lives are void of integrity.

There are very few formulas in Scripture. We like “if… then” formulas, but they simply don’t work. Job walked blamelessly before the Lord and yet endured tremendous hardship. Jacob was blessed, even though deception was his common practice. We want to say that “if” we are experiencing success, “then” God is pleased with our performance. This is simply not always the case. Success does not necessarily mean that God’s will has been done. Os Guinness further suggests:

One of the most common, subtle, and manipulative distortions of all is in religious empire building. God only knows how many churches, missionary societies, charities, colleges, crusades, reforms, and acts of philanthropic generosity have trumpeted the call of God and advanced their leaders’ egos. In a generation’s time this law will probably be seen as the single greatest problem of the mega-church movement. More than any part of the church of Christ should, today’s big churches and parachurch organizations rise and fall by the strength of a single person.

Some ministries have had a lot of success when analyzed with a worldly view, but in the light of eternity they may not have been the desire of God. Thankfully, God has been gracious. In my life, even in the times when I have been “out of God’s will,” He has used me to minister, but that still did not validate my waywardness. In His kingdom, obedience is always preferred to sacrifice. Doing some right things never trumps doing the right thing.

Danger #3 – Over-definition

Ministry leaders are often typecast into specific roles, and the Kingdom never gets the full advantage of their more subtle gifts. Giftedness can over-define who you are. This is especially true for those who have public and obvious gifts and skills. Many times, leaders are overlooked because of their primary gifts. If this happens several times, leaders can soon forget to develop other gifts—the ones that are dormant inside them. Time and again have heard people excuse themselves from personal evangelism or other Kingdom tasks because it’s “not their thing.” Scripture is clear on what tasks are our “things.” Unfortunately, sometimes we use our giftedness to excuse ourselves from God’s commands.

Danger #4 – Hardship

Giftedness does not assist us during times of struggle and hardship. Eliphaz, one of Job’s first advisors, was quick to point Job to his gifts and accomplishments, but those words offered no comfort. In days of trial, true connection with Christ is the only remaining anchor. In dark times, leaders who have not cultivated closeness with Christ will find that their resources are not sufficient for conquering present struggles. Gifting can never eliminate the insecurity felt in hardship.

Danger #5 – Self-reliance

Worst of all, giftedness can lower our dependence on God. Poor leaders rest on one or two of their primary abilities. Great leaders, however, live just slightly on the other side of their ability. They blaze trails to where their skills alone could not bring them. They see the natural but also consider the supernatural. They live in such a manner that if God doesn’t show up, they will fail.

I have had the blessing of being with many gifted people. I have envied (or have been jealous of) their abilities. But when I’ve been with gifted people who truly have a relationship with Christ, I find myself not only considering their gifts, but challenged by their connection with the Almighty. Each of us has gifts according to the grace given us, but greater than gifts is the presence of Christ in our lives. Gifts are dangerous, unless we have learned to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend.

Paul summarizes it well in 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)

 

 

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