Friday, April 10, 2015

The Requirements for Longevity in Leadership

Since the day that James and John asked Jesus to sit at His right hand (Mark 10:37) (the premier place of authority under Christ in what they assumed would be an earthly, physical kingdom replacing the Roman Empire) there have been those within the church that have jockeyed  for power, control, and recognition. Their blatantly political maneuvers, associations, and alliances betray their humble facade. Pride, the last and most entrenched bastion of carnality, causes otherwise good men to act in self serving and injurious ways. Because this type of pride is not limited to the clergy (or for that matter to the church realm) we must look at some safeguards and put them into place.

In Deuteronomy chapter seventeen God gives some instructions for the children of Israel as they move into the promised land. Of interest to us in this article are the instructions God gave to them for their king to follow.

God said:

  • That God would choose who got to be "in charge" a.k.a. "king" 

God did not intend for king's to appoint themselves through clever self promotion and political positioning.

  • That the "king" or in our case "leader" would come from among "thy brethren"

An individual that comes from within a group to prominence in that group is much more likely to be rooted in the same soil as and compassionate toward those who were once his peers. With this perspective toward them, he will be less likely to use them as tinder to be burnt in fueling his pride and ambition.

  • That multiplication of anything that brings one into slavery or directs the leader's heart away from God is prohibited

Often in ministry as well as business, the accumulation of programs, facilities, and staff can lead to financial slavery or alternatively, can direct our hearts away from God and toward pride in that which we accomplish and accumulate. This is the path back to Egypt.

  • That reading out of (and working out of) the same playbook as those you are leading is essential
The Bible, of course, is the playbook of the Christian and is of "no private interpretation". The leader who has his own "spin" on everything very soon will find himself "spinning" all alone.  
  • That possession of, studious study of, and adherence to the Bible teaches the king/leader to "fear God"

Understanding and walking in the truth that we are under the authority of an Almighty God keeps our methods and motives in focus.

  • That obedience to what is written in Scripture (not what we read into Scripture or take out of context to apply to our situation) will keep us "grounded" and not proudly perched above others as the "arbiter of truth"
In the end, God told Israel that if their king followed these instructions he would "prolong his days in his kingdom" and that there would be a place for his children to follow him in leadership positions. Too many leaders inside and outside of the church have shortened their tenure in their position through pride. They and their children then are forced to deal with the consequences. May we follow these simple guidelines and put to death each day our own carnal pride. Only then will we reach our full potential as leaders in the will of God.


Deuteronomy 17:14-20 When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Need to Be Heard

We all want to matter. We all want to our words to make a difference to someone. Whether it is the parent trying to get through to a stubborn child or an adult trying to have their ideas taken seriously in the workplace. We all want to be heard.

Some would look upon this as pride. And while they are lifting up their voices to decry the "pride" of others they themselves want to be (and expect to be) heard. You see, being heard is more than just the idea of others paying attention to our ideas. It is others paying attention to us as individuals. We live in a very lonely society. Even with your hundreds of "friends" and connections on social media the number of people that would take an hour out of their day and listen to your story are pretty few. That does not mean that you are not well liked or even loved. What it does mean is that all of humanity is self involved -- selfish. Because of this self involvement listening to others must be a trait that is cultivated. Because we know that others, like ourselves, are selfish and not likely to listen we value it greatly when we are truly heard by someone. It often doesn't matter who, just someone who will listen to us (not necessarily even our words) with their soul.

But today we aren't talking about the skill of listening. What we want to consider is why we as individuals have this need to be heard. I believe there are several reasons:

1. We were made in the image of God. God is a communicator. Therefore, we made in His image are made to be communicators. The quietest and shyest of us all communicates all day long. If that individual does not communicate by means of verbal speech they communicate by means of presence, attitude, expression, and body language. You don't have to talk to communicate, and everyone communicates. Simply put. We all need to be heard because we were created to be communicators.

2. We want to be understood. So much of what we do and say regarding other people is based purely upon assumption and conjecture. We think we know others. We all have said stuff before like, "I know his/her type." Based on very little, we have made certain assumptions about that individual. And we know that if we act and speak solely on assumptions regarding others that they do the same to us. This is why we all have a drive to be heard. We want to be understood. We cannot stand the idea that people are making snap judgments about us without our input. That does not mean that we need or even want the approval of others, but we certainly don't want others to make the wrong assumptions about us. We want to be understood and we want to be in control of the message by which others understand us.

3. We want to matter. We alluded to this in our opening statements on this topic. Everyone wants to feel like they matter to at least a few people. We like to think that if we die someone is going to miss not only our physical presence but our communication. If those few people give up on listening to us then our little world begins to come apart. The belief that your life, ideas, and love are valuable to others is validated in your mind by the fact that they listen. We want to matter. The way we know we matter is that there are a few people who not only hear what we say, but also actually listen to the expression of who we are conveyed in the language of our communication - whatever form that communication may take.

4. We want to know that we exist. The old question is, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound?" Of course we know that it does, but humans are much more complicated than a tree. We are self aware. We know that the very fact that someone has heard us means that at the very least we exist, and maybe, just maybe, we are not alone. It is the difference between mentally knowing that people live in Kalamazoo, and actually talking to someone that is living there on the telephone or via teleconference. No, our existence does not hang on the precarious thread of being heard, but rather it is our perception of our own existence. Being heard makes us feel connected to life and thus, makes us feel like we are alive ourselves.

5. We want a legacy. No, that is certainly not in our minds when we speak, but it is a motivating factor. Every parent wants their children to listen so that they will obey and in turn become good people. Therefore, it stands to reason that when the words of the parent are truly heard (which includes obedience) they produce a legacy that will live beyond that parent. The legacy of a good citizen. The politician or preacher desires to be heard to push a policy or engage people in a teaching that will become embedded in society or individual's lives and will outlive that politician or preacher as a legacy. Everyone, from the mother, to the teacher, to the businessman in his high rise corner office wants their communication to become a part of the hearer. In this we find our legacy. It is one thing to leave an inheritance to others, it is another to leave a legacy of idea, philosophy, and teaching. Even if at the time we are not specifically attempting to graft a certain idea, philosophy, or teaching into the lives of our hearers.

6. We want validation. We want to know that the thoughts,ideas, plans, goals, and ambitions that we express by means of our communication with others are not without merit. We want someone to say, "That's a good idea." That assurance cements in our mind that we are not out on a limb all by ourselves. "Alone" has to be one of the scariest words in the English language. The validation by peers, superiors, and those that we see as subordinates all adds to a "confidence bank" somewhere deep inside of us. We say to ourselves. "They thought I was right. I am safe in my course of action." or "They thought my joke was funny. I must be likeable."

So, I set down this afternoon saying to myself, "I want to write something, but I don't know what. I want to say something to others. But why?" This is why. We have a need to communicate, and a part of that - a big part -  is the embedded need to be heard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Young Fundamentalism - The Apathy Problem

The more that I write, the more I realize that people feel strongly that some things should change in what we will broadly call "fundamentalism". They point to things such as an over-emphasis on the externals, an idolization of leaders, and a lack of love as examples of things that should be given serious and immediate attention. But for most folks within fundamentalism today that is where things talking and complaining. Now, discontent is the first step toward change, but at this point I don't believe that the discomfort is great enough within the average fundamentalist church to spur the kind of groundswell of change that it would take to genuinely address the roots of these concerns. The question then becomes, if such elemental things such as love and idols are at stake, why aren't people clamoring for change? What is the reason for this inaction? It can't be apathy, because people do genuinely care about these issues. Why then is there no or slow change?

It is my belief that at least four factors conspire to form a continuing culture of status quo within our churches. So, here they are in random order:

  1. The Slave and the Wanderer - The children of Israel had two major stages before they got to go into the promised land. These stages were, slave and wanderer. The first generation had been slaves. Once freed, things got hard and they suddenly wanted to go back to Egypt, their status quo. The second generation knew nothing but wandering. That was their status quo. For them, however, the pain of wandering was greater than the pain of battling for something better. If this is the course fundamentalism must take. How many years of wandering must we endure in order to shed the desire to return to our status quo? How much discomfort must we endure before we are willing to do battle (with our own desire for comfort, not with people) for something better?
  2. The Bit and Bridle - I love going to the county fair and seeing the great draft horses. They remind me that there are things in this world that are bigger than me. Having always been the tallest kid in the class, it is nice sometimes to see something that towers over and outweighs me. Anyway, I digress. Here's the point. At this juncture in fundamentalism churches are interconnected not only by a common faith, but unfortunately have been tied too tightly by something that can be much more devious, MONEY. In our modern churches money has become the bit and bridle that has been used to keep other (usually smaller) churches and missionaries "in line". The fear of losing monetary support for a particular intra-church program, institution, or missionary has worked as well as a gag order in many situations. This causes a forced status quo that is uneasy for those involved...except for those who hold the reins.
  3. The Loudest Voice - We live in a day when no one wants to speak up only to get shouted down. Our churches have a few major  leaders with big personalities and even bigger opinions. Simply put, the loudest voice seems to always win, even if they are dead wrong. Many times the loudest voice is not challenged, even kindly, because some think that it would not be "loving". However, the thought occurs to me that it is less loving to placidly stand by and do nothing. You see, the loudest voice is usually not the most balanced voice, nor the most experienced voice. Most times, the loudest voice comes by way of their personality or the perceived "success" of their ministry. (another post will be given to the topic of success) Neither of these is a good criteria by which to pick a leader. Despite this fact, fundamentalism is divided into factions each with their own "loudest voices" demanding that all follow their version of the status quo.
  4. Fear and Uncertainty - There is always fear in change. Because no one is saying these things out loud we are afraid that we might be wrong. We are afraid we will lose friends. We are afraid that in our desire to promote positive Scripturally sound change that we will fall into the "loudest voice" trap ourselves. We are afraid that no one will listen and that we are wasting our time. We are afraid the challenge of Biblically balanced reform is too insurmountable. It is our own insecurities and uncertainty of our own position that keeps those of us who do "complain" about the church as it now is from taking action and making the church closer to what it should be in reflecting Jesus and His teachings. (You will never reach perfection in the church. It is the pursuit that matters.) It is our fear of failure and our fear of man that roots us to the status quo.
In time, the church will change. God knows I pray that the changes are closer to the Word of God and further away from opinion (especially mine), tradition, and dogma. (for more on this please see my new book titled, Before the Box: Freeing the Church to Emulate First-Century Christianity ) The question then becomes whether we will come to positive change kicking and screaming, or will we be thoughtful and strategic in the planning and implementation of needed change? No, thoughtful and strategic is not the same thing as inaction. If one is to be thoughtful and strategic he will come to understand the challenge and then seek and implement a well-reasoned plan of action. May God help us to do just that. God is not looking for revolutionaries within the church, but instead He is looking for quiet and thoughtful men of well implemented action. There is a difference.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Young Fundamentalism - Tradition in Perspective

I love tradition! I firmly believe that we should eat turkeys at Thanksgiving time and hot dogs at picnics in July. I think that apple pie has to be paired with vanilla ice cream -- always. That, and every parade should have a marching band, horses, and an army tank. Traditions are great! They bind us together as a culture. Traditions give us a rallying point and a sense of corporate identity amid the bustle of our individualistic society.

In the church, traditions can be just as useful. Activities that are repeated become traditions that are learned. As long as the tradition accomplishes something of Christian value, that tradition can be valuable as a teaching tool over generations.

Traditions also make people comfortable. One of the dangers that is faced by those who would like to throw out all tradition from the church is that even the unchristian person has an expectation of tradition when it comes to the church. Those who do not attend church expect that when they walk into a church auditorium that it have a certain setup and atmosphere. So, from the pulpit and pews to the annual Sunday school picnic, the traditions of the church have served a purpose through the ages. In part, they make people feel comfortable in finding what they "expect". (Not that a church should strive to meet the expectations of the lost, but we should give thought to the fact that some traditions do give an atmosphere of familiar comfort. This is why Amazing Grace is sung at nearly every funeral. It is familiar and comforting.)

In addition to all of this, shared traditions bind people groups together and give them identity. When we are talking about "how great our church's yearly harvest potluck is," that is good. It shows how we as a group see ourselves, as people that make good food. However, when traditions of belief and practice cause an identity of a superiority that looks down on those that don't have our traditions, that's just unchristian. Traditions must not be allowed to become the shibboleth for acceptance into our churches and of other Bible-driven, gospel-centered churches.

Having said all this, the church that lives on tradition (instead of intentionally using tradition as a tool) is a dying church. Living solely on tradition is kind of like eating leftovers. It reminds you of a real good meal you had sometime in the past, but you aren't that thrilled about it warmed up and fed to you over and over now.

The question of "Why?" has to come up on a more regular basis in our churches. "Why are we doing this?" "Why do we believe this?" "Why do we practice our faith in this way?" Now, the answer to the question of "Why?" is not always simple. (We have to get better at communicating complex answers instead of simply dispensing rehearsed platitudes that sound good on the surface but don't stand the test of Biblical investigation or consistency.) Sometimes the answer is as simple as: "we do it because of tradition." Even this answer, in some instances can be acceptable. If I do something out of tradition that most of my congregation enjoys and is blessed by, then that's okay as long as we all admit that what we are doing is a tradition, not Bible truth. The problem obviously arises when tradition is raised to the level of Bible truth and is proclaimed to be so.

So, if tradition is so great, why rock the boat? The answer for this is simple. In order to be useful traditions have to meet three criteria:

  1. Tradition cannot contradict, replace, or supersede Bible truth
  2. Tradition has to have an "end game" -- a goal that is accomplished by the tradition
  3. Traditions have to "work" for and be relevant to those involved - (example: There is nothing wrong with a tradition of opening up Christmas presents at 2:00 AM Christmas morning. The kids would love it! Why don't we do it? It doesn't "work" for Mom and Dad. They want sleep!)
If a tradition within the church does not meet the standard of the above criteria then it is a tradition that is either unBiblical, ineffective, or obsolete and should be reviewed and revamped, or discarded. 

The last thing we talk about with the church is the concept of competing traditions. The truth is that both millennial generation and the baby boomers (these seem to be the loudest voices in the church today) want tradition, they just want different, and at times competing traditions. Here is the deal, God intended the church to be multigenerational. (For more on this see my book, Before the Box: Freeing the Church to Emulate First-Century Christianity) Nowhere in the Bible do we find instructions on how to establish demographic specific churches. God intended great grandma to go to church with little Sally. He also intended that Christian love be displayed from both ends of the age spectrum. With real communication and the true love of a Christian family a church is enabled by God to bridge the "tradition" divide and find traditions and compromises that will work across generational lines. After all, if I love my eighty-seven year old deacon (and I do, his name is Noah Sparkes and he is awesome) I will want him to come to church and be comfortable and blessed. The reverse, of course is true. Noah wants the church services and traditions to be a help and a blessing to those of my generation. This is how a Biblical church works. No one gets their own way, it is always about others. That's the way of Jesus.

First Corinthinans 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Young Fundamentalism: Change - Necessary but Balanced in Approach

Okay, let's start with the obvious: change is hard. No one likes changing the things with which they are comfortable. Of course, there are lots of things we would like to change. There are things that we don't like about our bodies, our circumstances, the weather, etc. Our gripes our endless, aren't they? But our traditions and ways of thinking are so ingrained in us that to think of changing those areas is a challenge to who we are as people at a core level. For example, I like Raisin Bran. (Shout out to Kelloggs, they can pay me later :-) The point is, don't mess with my breakfast cereal. I don't want knock off brands or Cheerios. I want my cereal; the one that I am used to eating. Change it, and I'll get cranky! When it comes to the church, people are just that simple. The basic thought process is, "I like it. I'm used to it. Don't change it or I'm going to be upset."

The departure of many of the millennial generation from the churches of today begs the questions of if we should change, what we should change, and how and when.  For the purpose of today's discussion, I am not going to deal with if we should change things (because it is apparent to me that change is necessary), nor am I going to deal with what should be changed (that is the department of the individual local church). I do think, however, that it is important for both the traditionalists and those who are calling for a new tack in our way of thinking to understand some things regarding change.

Change is Inevitable

Change is simply a part of life. We call them stages, cycles, or phases, but in the end, it all is summed up in the word "change". The thing we lack in the church is the study of history. If we understood our own history in relation to the history of society at large, we would see that the church has gone through cycles,stages, and phases throughout the centuries in direct relation to (and sometimes reaction to) what was happening in the culture of the day. God is the only one who doesn't change. However, He has several times throughout history reconfigured how He dealt with mankind based upon the circumstance (rebellion or obedience) of man. This is best understood in what we call "dispensations". For example, God dealt with Adam before the fall differently than He dealt with Israel, or later, the church. If God can adjust His sails to best approach the needs and attitude of society, we should as well. Why? Because change is inevitable.

Change can be a good thing!

You want your baby to change. If that infant stayed the same he/she would never grow up, never learn to speak, read, write, drive a car, or get a job. You want your Christian life to change. You want to sin less, love Jesus more, and follow His Word more closely. You want your marriage to change. You want to grow more in love with your husband or wife. Why is it then that in the church we have the idea that change is bad and that we must meet change at the door of the church with swords drawn for battle? Do you like the pews you sit in? They are a change! Jesus didn't have pews; He had the hillside of Galilee. But ironically, if we told our churches that we were meeting at the seashore from now on they would decry this "newfangled change". Change is a part of the human existence, and change in the right direction is very healthy.

So, how do we deal with change in the church?

First: Understand the Who of Change

The talk about keeping or regaining the millennials in the church or of how to reach contemporary society with the gospel has put the emphasis for change in the wrong place. We do not change in order to keep people coming to church. Why? Church isn't about us (our wants and desires); it is about God and His wants and desires. We do not change in order to reach the lost. Why? It is not about the lost; it is about God. Change always has to be about what God wants not about what we want our church "experience" to be like or about what we think will be effective in reaching contemporary culture. (Having said this, it is my contention that if we get back to the Bible in an authentic way, we will find both the latitude that God allows for us to minister to one another in the church and a plan that is effective in reaching out to the lost regardless of culture. This is discussed further in my recent book Before the Box: Freeing the Church to Emulate First-Century Christianity.) So, change cannot be human focused, it must be God centered, focused, and directed. We must want the changes that God wants. In order to do this, we must get closer to Him and further from our own reactionary desires. In doing so, we are saved from the natural knee jerk reactions and dramatic pendulum swing effect that we see in so many churches today.

Second: Understand Why Things Are the Way They Are

To cry out for change without first understanding why things are the way they are and how they came to be is immature and harmful. A friend of mine the other day was complaining about a rock in his backyard that he had to keep mowing around. He griped about the fact that the guy that owned the place before him hadn't moved the rock. So, armed with a shovel, pick, and pry bar he decided he was going to move it. Come to find out it wasn't a rock but the top of a BOULDER. It wasn't moving. The reason the former owner didn't move it is because it couldn't be moved. There are some things like this in the church. There are some aspects of church that cannot and should not be moved. However, there are other things that more closely resemble the stacks of books that I pile around the house. My wife is right. They can and should be moved. So when we think about change we must consider not only the what, but the why. A favourite Wiersbe quotation of mine is, "Don't take down a fence until you know why they put it up." It is good advice.

Third: Understand Who Change Affects and How

It is easy to call out for change. It seems to be the "in thing" to do at the moment. But if one is going to call for change, they cannot do so with a complete disregard for those whom the desired change affects. In the church there must be a love and mutual submission that guides any implementation of change. That does not mean that we avoid change, but it does mean that change should be enacted with some finesse, tact, diplomacy, and love. This implementation with understanding will cause us to think carefully especially about the feelings of others and timelines for introduction of change in the church. Very often we have to plant the seeds of the idea of change and let others come to the same conclusions that we have in their own time. Sometimes it has to be "their idea" in order for a smooth transition to a new stage or phase in the church.

Fourth: Understand the Process of Change

Change is a process. You didn't become an adult overnight; it took time and many thousands of minute changes to bring such a dramatic change. We have to understand the process. Change begins with a catalyst, a need for change. Most times it is some sort of crisis. In this case the crisis is the departure of the millennials from the church and the difficulty that the church is facing in introducing those of contemporary culture to the gospel. Having a catalyst, however, is only the beginning. From this point, the stages of the process are as follows:

  • Identification of the problem
  • Idea for a solution
  • Resistance to the idea
  • Enough pain or difficulty to try the idea
  • Implementation of the idea
  • Time
  • Tweaking the through trial and error
  • New Status Quo

Fifth: Understand Resistance

One must be careful in pushing for change that they understand why people are resistant to change. This can only be accomplished through loving and respectful dialogue, and time spent together. The truth is that regardless of your thoughts on change, we are all in this together. So then, time spent sniping and griping at those who "won't change" or "want change" is wasted time. It is important for us not only to understand the position and truly hear out the passion of those who are resistant to change but to also dig into the reasons for their resistance. It is those underlying reasons that will either convict us not to change or convince us of the legitimacy of change.

Sixth: Be Biblically Sound and Culturally Savvy

In our day, we have two extremes of action; action that is based on feeling, and action that is based on tradition. We must avoid these extremes. While both feeling and tradition are essential parts of the human experience and church life, they cannot be in the driver's seat. Thinking (Biblical thinking) must win out. We must be people who contextually interpret and consistently apply the Word of God with a keen understanding of those to whom we are ministering (church people) and understanding of those whom we wish to reach with the gospel (contemporary lost). Jesus told His followers to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). This was Jesus telling them how to approach those people in culture of their day. Jesus was culturally astute and adapted His approach to the mindset of others. But is not just about culture. If it was, we could easily advocate license to sin in order to reach the lost. On the other hand, Biblically sound theology without real world application to contemporary society is truth that is hidden under a bushel basket. Light that the lost see as irrelevant, unloving, or unhelpful is light that is hidden. There was a time when society was enough like the church (morally speaking) that we could just assume that if an approach was relevant for the Christian, it would be relevant to the lost man. Times have changed, and in a Biblically sound and culturally savvy way, so must we.

For more on the topic see: