Patience in Leadership

PATIENCE

“What would you like for breakfast?” mother would ask.

“Ice Cream,” came the reply. The actual food requested was immaterial as it was a cycle of equally inappropriate breakfast items.

“No, I think we’ll have porridge this morning.” Mother did not introduce so much as an extra breath before pulling out the pot in which the oats and water would soon be simmering. She knew–because her mother had trained her as had her grandmother trainer her mother–that a diet of ice cream, cookies or cake was not the foundation of a successful day or life. She was immune to the disappointed voices and saddened faces when the desired bowl of chocolate chip appeared as the mottled beige of oatmeal, perhaps sweetened with a touch of brown sugar. Mother knew her role and she looked to the day when her children would become adults with their own children, perhaps smirking at the fleeting thought of being that grandmother who gave her grandchildren everything they wanted. Even ice cream for breakfast.

But mother said no and meant it. She knew that her role was to nurture and raise you, and she did it. And aren’t you glad she did?

Leaders of God’s people must be equally steadfast in adhering to the promises of God despite calls to ‘turn back’, ‘stay here’ or ‘make us gods who will go before us’. While Moses trembled in the presence of God who outlined the way in which his people would engage Him and worship Him (Ex 20-31), the recently freed people became restless and demanding (Ex 32). Forgetting what they had witnessed in their escape from bondage, forgetting the grace that had secured them from the angel of the Lord, forgetting the protection that God had promised and demonstrated, forgetting the provision of food and water; forgetting. Forgetting, either by lapse or design, but forgetting nonetheless. Forgetting, and demanding that their wishes be satisfied.

Aaron should not have forgotten however. Aaron who had witnessed the miraculous work of Yahweh firsthand. Aaron who had learned to trust God alongside Moses and who, as the interim leader of the Hebrews, needed to stand firm in that trust despite the length of Moses’ absence. A leader needed to stand and say “No!” No, God has given us a vision for the future as His people and we will not deviate from that vision. No, God’s providence will not be denied. No, God’s grace will not be discounted. No, the freedom from bondage given to us by grace will not be ignored.

The leader of God’s people must be patient and steadfast in leading them forward toward the vision that God gives. Many will want to stop along the way citing ample food and water supplies but the leader must continue the march. The leader must not hesitate, even when the siren songs of comfort and tradition tempt people away from the path. Even when trouble appears to be insurmountable and failure sure, like the Red Sea stretched endlessly before them and Pharaoh’s army speeding from the rear, the leader of God’s people must wait patiently for God to move and he must lead the people to do the same.

Because God will move, just as He has promised. At just the right moment and in exactly the right way.

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THERE’S NO I IN INTEGRITY

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Well, actually there are two. I and I. You and me. Integrity is the foremost measure of character between you and me. The dictionary will define integrity as an adherence to a code of values, but even that is ambiguous. Integrity means that you will do what you say you will do and I do what I say I will do. Anything less and the bond between us begins to fray and eventually snap. When it finally breaks it’s much like the rupture of a taut Achilles tendon. The two ends will curl away from each other and must be stretched under great pressure to even come close enough to begin the net back together. There is much pain and a long period of time elapses before the bond is trusted again, if it ever is.

In leadership, whether in the church or in a secular setting, surveys have demonstrated over and over that the most important character trait in a leader’s integrity. If people are going to follow a leader into battle or into ministry they must know that the leader’s word is rock solid. They do what they say they’re going to do. Always. Without excuses. Even if it requires sacrifice on their part.

They are often misappropriated verse in the epistle of James speaks to the impact that integrity can have.

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. James 2:18

It is as easy to claim to have faith as it is to pound your chest and claim the solidity of your integrity. Because we do not exist in a vacuum it’s also easy enough for those around us to evaluate our claims of both faith and integrity. If we claim faith in the God of the universe and His Son Jesus Christ but live lives contrary to the obedience and character demanded of a recipient of his magnificent grace that our faith is certainly questionable. In the same way, proclamations of integrity fall on deaf ears when our actions demonstrate that we cannot be trusted. The Christian leader who finds themselves in this position also has a ministry that is over before it starts. God is not going to bless something that begins by bringing dishonor to His name.

Our hope would be to be found like Israel’s leaders Samuel. After having led Israel for decade after decade Samuel stands before all the people and lays himself bare. (1 Samuel 12:1-4) He states without hesitation that if he has wrongly taken anything from anyone he will repay. If he has cheated or oppressed anyone he will make reparation. If he has been less than honest in any of his dealings he will confess and make right any illicit bargain. “I will make it right” are Samuel’s farewell words before Israel and his God.

The people reply “you have not cheated or oppressed us,” and “you have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” Samuel had integrity.

The Secret … Again

The Blessed Church

The Blessed Church by Robert Morris

The simple secret to growing the Church you love; the subtitle sings that sweet siren song that lures so many pastors and church leaders to delve into the pages of books like this. In the era of often relentless pressure to grow the attendance of their church, leaders are always looking for an edge, one method or program that will bring more souls into the seats. Morris’ contribution to the literature is enticing, but the secret is absent.

That there is nothing new here is not Morris’ fault. The biblical path to a sound Christian church is well-trod ground. There are no secrets to be gleaned, only an obedient heart to be followed. Sound, God-given vision, check. Godly, devoted leaders at all levels of the church, check. A healthy pastor, check. Each of the elements that Morris highlights is rooted in Scripture and is supported by engaging writing. But new secrets? No.

Pastor Morris is relentlessly upbeat about the Church and the pastorate, and given the blessed success of Gateway Church, he has every reason to be. Reading the book is uplifting and encouraging and can provide some touch points for the pastor to hold their own ministry against. The one thing that should not happen (though it often does as a result of books/programs like this) is that a minister or leader should attempt to clone God’s work at Gateway. God creates every work for his specific purposes in specific locales to specific populations. Looking at the success or failure of other churches simply draws your eyes away the One leading you.

I am grateful to Waterbrook Press who provided this book for review.

Rolling in The Deep

Going Deep by Gordon MacDonald

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“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”
― Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Returning to the fictitious church he first introduced in Who Stole My Church?, Gordon MacDonald unfurls the story of a group of Christians returning to discipleship as a priority in their lives. The discipleship is not solely for their own spiritual edification, as the modern interpretation has formed it, but for the purpose of leading others into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Rather than intelligent people with a faith in the brain, MacDonald emphasizes the growth of leaders who have a depth of heart, a weight that enables them to lead others to an ever deepening faith.

As he did with the previously noted book, MacDonald uses the parable format to teach the importance and process of dreaming, forming and implementing an intentional leadership process. While the topic certainly lends itself to a step-by-step, factual format, the use of story allows for a greater depth of discussion. For example, MacDonald could point out that some of those mentored would fail and then rehearse a process of discipline and restoration. By embedding the failure in hockey devotee Damon Marsh on the other hand, the entire sequence of prayerful selection, invitation, meeting, mentoring and failure enables the reader to see it happening, perhaps even seeing a potential disciple in front of us. The same things that make the narrative of the Bible so effective in teaching us the ways of God make Going Deep especially useful for those leaders who want to take their bodies deeper.

Church leaders and potential leaders will find much to apply in MacDonald’s book. The story carries the principles along without the need for bullet points or a study guide. Coming to the conclusion of the story, the reader who is interested in implementing the idea are left with many questions. I think this is evidence of MacDonald’s wisdom as it requires that the reader ‘go deep’ themselves in order to localize and discern the answers on their own. Even if the book is read simply for your personal application, you will come to end not being satisfied with the shallow waters near the shore any longer.

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this copy for review.

www.thomasnelson.com

Ted Haggard (mis)Interprets James

imageAfter doing immeasurable harm to the brothers and sisters of New Life Church, the members of the National Association of Evangelicals, and to the Church of Jesus Christ at large, Ted Haggard is again placing himself into a leadership position as he plants the new St. James church in Colorado Springs. The new body draws its name from the Epistle of James from which Haggard quotes verse 2:17 “..faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” and witnesses to the number of times in the past three years that he and wife Gayle have been the recipients of love in action. This is a noble application of the verse Ted, but what is the definition of faith? Is it to sin boldly so as to receive more grace?

Apparently he didn’t read any further in the book. Verse 3:1 of this practical letter says “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” There’s a higher standard Ted, a standard for those who influence the lives of so many others. “We all stumble in many ways.” (3:2) How true! None of us is sinless but we pursue holiness with a vigor that is unmatched.

And we do it every day to the furthest extent of our Spirit-led abilities so that when we step up to pulpit we have the integrity to look into the eyes of those that God has seated before us and to speak the Gospel into their lives…

…without having to worry about our hidden lives being revealed.

Are those who take to seats in St. James church going to know that Haggard has been pursuing holiness rather than drugs and sexual liaisons? What accountability will he have this time that he did not before? The nagging question that burns in the minds of many right now is whether or not the standards of holiness will be relaxed to accommodate the very behaviors that precipitated his previous fall. Will the standards be such that God will be present when the body is gathered?

As a brother in Christ I take seriously my responsibility to Ted. I love him and extend all measure of grace to him and his family and pray for nothing but redemption in his life. I believe that the Lord’s grace has blanketed and forgiven his sin and worked to knit together the Haggard family and make it whole. On the other hand, I don’t believe that he should be stepping back into the pulpit and leading a new body at this time. Had he placed himself under the leadership of another pastor and the accountability of another Elder board for some time to demonstrate a restored soul and measure of integrity this move would make sense but not this way. If God has called him back to the pulpit then I’m moving out of the way as fast as I can. If Ted has called himself back to preaching, it’s my responsibility to take his measure in accordance with the scriptures.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Psalm 72 – May The Whole Earth Be Filled With His Glory

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The close of the second book of the Psalter concludes with this doxology:

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds.

Praise be to his glorious name forever;

may the whole earth be filled with his glory.

Amen and amen. (Psalm 72:18-19)

Our sense of forever is tempered by our fleeting existence in this world. Forever for us is the next forty or fifty years. We might have some small sense of what it will be like for our children to live on past our moment but our scope still remains limited.

Recognizing our limited historical frame of reference, we seek to have a positive effect on the world while we are here. The prayer at the center of this psalm is for the strength of the king, that he might have a positive effect and bless the people under his care. As we read these verses through modern eyes we find them strange without a human monarch that rules our lives. For the Christian however, we can see glimmers of the glory of our Holy King, Jesus.

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.

he will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.

The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.

he will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy;

he will crush the oppressor. (vv 1-4)

Are we faithful to pray for these qualities in our human leaders? Do we seek to embody them in ourselves?

 

Grace and peace to you.

image by lel4nd

Vision Casting in Hindsight

DSCF4827EBW_MThe end of one year and the initial days of a new one often find churchgoers hearing a new vision for the church over the coming year. Some pastors will place the imprimatur of God on their statements, saying “God has directed us in this direction” while others will be less humble in their choice of pronouns, suggesting ‘I’ or ‘We’ view this direction as the way forward for the body. All well and good, whichever attribution is selected. Charisma or at least enthusiasm in the voice can deliver the message effectively.

As long as no one looks back.

If the pastor is delivering an annual vision for the upcoming year shouldn’t it be preceded by a review of the results of the previous vision. How did it turn out? Have we arrived at the destination you pointed us toward? What went wrong? If I am hiking through the forest on a trail that was previously mapped out for me and someone comes up to tell me he sees a new way to reach our destination, shouldn’t I ask how he arrived at my location? God is consistent. He has set things in motion and the story has remained the same as far back as we have kept track. Looking back to see where we’ve been should be the first action before a step is taken.

Vision casting is risky. Vision casting in the Church is riskier. To say that the Lord has given a new vision for this year or this pastor or this incarnation of His church should always be more than an impression. To say that He has forgotten the old vision in favor of the new should always cause us to stop and ask if we were faithful to the last one.