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Elders, pastors, preachers, church leaders, ministers, and deacons ought to consider some of the following realities of shepherding. Yes, I realize that elders in particular ought to pay attention; however, anyone who works with people in the context of a congregation might consider the following:

5 Realities of Shepherding

1. Shepherds should expect people to change. After all, the life-giving Spirit and his transforming power are really present in the congregation.

2. Shepherds move people toward Jesus when they practice being authentic believers. God’s grace frees shepherds to be fully present with the people of the congregation.

3. Shepherds need to remember that the goal of ministry is discipleship, not pacifying the least mature.

4. Shepherds who will compromise their integrity in order to keep people happy will find that in the eyes of the immature no compromise is ever enough.

5. Shepherds are called to help a congregation move toward maturity in

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Christ. The single most powerful witness that shepherds possess is the transformation of their own lives.

4 Critical Areas that Need Your Investment

attentionOne of the greatest resources that you and I have at our disposal is our attention.  There are many demands for our attention.  Yet, every day far too many of us squander this valuable resource due to our own distraction.

We have difficulty giving our full attention to what really matters and being fully present in the moment.  Many of us skim along the surface of most any experience, like a bass boat speeding down a river.  We are in perpetual motion but our lives never get beyond the surface of the moment.

Consider what clamors for our attention:

  • A text appears on your phone.
  • You have a new e-mail message.
  • The phone rings.
  • Someone wants to Skype.
  • You are invited to be a member of a committee.
  • Your child is invited to be on a team.
  • You see a new Tweet from someone who interests you.
  • Your friend updates her Facebook status and you want to respond.
  • You watch television and are bombarded with advertisements.

Each day, somebody somewhere wants your attention.  If you are not intentional about where you direct your attention, others will likely get your attention simply because you are living passively instead of proactively.

Ministry Inside.86

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Recently, I was at Regent College and had the opportunity to hear Dr. Rod Wilson one evening.  Rod Wilson serves as the President of Regent and is also Professor of Counseling and Psychology.  His talk was helpful, informative, and encouraging.

The video is from another talk in which he discusses humility and leadership.  His words are helpful in thinking about what it means to have a healthy sense of self in a Christian context.

WInning More Than a Game

Some athletes win more than a game.

I have been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. My favorite team sport is football.

Every fall, I follow my favorite teams. I watch the games on television. I keep track of the standings. I read the sports pages. At the end of the season, some teams will stand out because they won. (Usually, these are not my teams. :)) These teams will have won the big game. A college teams and a pro team will be designated as the best.

Yet, there are others who win. There are individuals who win the respect and the admiration of men and women across the nation because of their character. Coach Tony Dungy has made such a positive impact on people because of his character. His story can be read in his books, Quiet Strength and Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance. Hear him reflect on life in this video:

There are several college players who have recently encouraged many people through their character. I think of people like Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow (The University of Florida). Sam Bradford (The University of Oklahoma) and Colt McCoy (The University of Texas) are two positive examples. (See their “We are Second” video here.) I was impressed with Mark Ingram (The University of Alabama) and his humility as he accepted the Heisman Trophy. (See his Heisman speech here).

Just the other night, Alabama beat Texas in the BCS National Championship. Colt McCoy was injured in the opening moments of the game and did not play for the remainder of the game. Even though his team lost the game, McCoy continued to earn the respect of people across the nation as he shared these remarks:

No doubt, there are many, many other men and women athletes who could be listed in this post. I am grateful for these people who are visible before so many people and who represent good character.

They are winning more than a game.



21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 4)

Many Christians feel tired and worn out. 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 contains an important reminder that the incredible change one experiences as a Christian is not an act of the will but an act of Jesus through the Spirit of God.   Great_Books.jpg

This means that being an effective Christ-follower in the 21st century is not a matter of you being smart enough, witty enough, or even insightful enough. Rather, the essence of what it means to live in Christ is produced by Jesus through the Spirit of God. Furthermore, this means that the essence of ministry is found in what Christ is doing through the Spirit of God. Our ministry is not based on ourselves and our ingenuity.

Jesus, through the Spirit of God, is writing a masterpiece.

Think for a moment about tattoos. What are they? Ink underneath the skin. The tattoo artist works for a while and then leaves the customer with the picture or the image. He may make a mark on the skin but it never goes beyond anything that is skin deep. When Jesus lives in you, he works on you through God’s Spirit. His work isn’t limited to the skin. No, what he is writing is not on stone or flesh but on your heart.

He is creating a masterpiece. Think for a moment about some of the masterpieces in the western world.   

·      To Kill a Mockingbird

·      The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

·      Hamlet

·      Gone with the Wind

·      The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

·      The Lord of the Rings

·      Winnie-the-Pooh

·      The Black Stallion

·      Charlotte’s Web

·      War and Peace

So let us think about this reality:

·      Jesus is writing a masterpiece: you. In fact, this is something that will be read by all who have the opportunity.   You won’t find this at Barnes & Noble or on Amazon. You will find this masterpiece by looking in the mirror. Don’t get distracted by your ears, skin, height or weight. I am not talking about self-esteem, either the lack of it or the importance of it. Rather, I am talking about you and me not minimizing what God is doing in our lives. You are God’s masterpiece because it is God who is writing on your heart. Once God through his Spirit begins to write on your heart, you will never be the same.

What can others read? The question is not just what are we telling. What are we showing? Our mission requires speaking and incarnation (Jesus living in me and in us).

·      Let us be cautious about telling truth while we neglect doing truth.

·      Our ministry is an incarnational ministry that displays God’s masterpieces. This means that we believe that Christ really does live in us individually and as a church.

·      What makes a church is not a building but a mission.

·      Our mission is expressed in both words (2:17) and transformed lives (3:1-3).  

·      Knowing that God is preparing a masterpiece gives us confidence.  

Question

Why do some Christ-followers seem to often feel overwhelmed, worn out, and exhausted than energized and refreshed?


Away and Now Back

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Those of you who read this blog regularly have probably noticed that I have posted very little in the last week.   

On Thursday evening through Saturday morning, I attended the Lipscomb University Conference on Preaching. Speakers included Scot McKnight, Tom Long, Tremper Longman, Richard Ward, and Dave Bland. I really enjoy this conference. The subject was the Wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.). For two days, we were immersed in this literature by some of the best scholars and authors on these books. The conference was also very, very practical.

This was not only a good time to learn and grow in this area, but it was also a great time to see friends. I saw friends at this conference I rarely get to see but who mean so much to me.

Then, Sunday evening through Tuesday, I was in Kerrville, Texas, at the Mentoring Partners Retreat (Mentor Network ministry). This is a ministry that was founded by Lynn Anderson a number of years ago. Through Mentor Network, hundreds of ministers and other church leaders have been mentored, counseled, and encouraged by Lynn Anderson and/or other Mentoring Partners. It was good to be with Lynn and Carolyn Anderson for a few days as well as the others, who are church leaders from across the country.   

I typically do not schedule seminars/conferences back to back. However, I made an exception for these two events. They are very valuable to me. I encourage you, if you are interested, to look at the Lipscomb University Conference on Preaching website or the Mentor Network.org website.

Life on the Pedestal

We place some people on a pedestal, high above all others. pedestal.jpg

I first realized this many years ago when Charlotte and I were in the home of a young couple who lived in North Alabama. They were newly married. She was a Christian and he was not. We were in their home that evening because he wanted to ask some questions regarding Jesus, the Bible, Christian faith, etc.

At one point in this conversation, this young woman referred to her dad, who was a long time minister in our area. She said, “My dad has never done anything wrong.” I then asked her to explain what she meant by that. She went on to say, “I have never known my dad to say or do anything that was wrong. He never mentioned that he struggled with anything. He never apologized for anything. I just assumed for all of these years that he was perfect.”

Now I know her dad. He was a good man. Perfect? No.

Sometimes we put people on pedestals. Some of us place fathers, mothers, and other family members there. Many Christians place their minister or other church leaders on such a pedestal. Our expectations of such church leaders are incredible. Some feel very uncomfortable when they realize this is where they have been placed by . On the other hand, there are some people who seem to relish being there. Yet, the pedestal is a dangerous place to live.

Beware of living on a pedestal.

1. The pedestal does not invite a life of daily repentance. Instead, it can all too easily accommodate secrecy, distance, and rationalization.

2. The pedestal invites unreal expectations. While I may admire someone, to place them on a pedestal is a set-up for major disappointment.

3. The pedestal creates either delusion and arrogance (maybe I really am as great as they say I am), or loneliness (there is no one who I can talk with about my humanness).

Sometimes ministers who have been placed on such a pedestal find themselves living with impossible expectations. Consequently, many feel very defeated. Yet, some ministers seem to desire the pedestal. Complicating this even further, some Christians seem all too ready to place them in such a position. Perhaps it is a way of vicariously living as a Christ-follower through the minister. “I may not be doing very well in my walk with God but you ought to see my minister.”

Pedestal living can create a spirit of arrogance and entitlement. For example, the minister may live among the congregation as if he is entitled to special treatment because of the role, etc. Such a spirit of entitlement can powerfully influence a person toward making decisions that are unwise and even immoral.

Pedestal living often becomes cocoon living where one feels isolated and alone. Instead of a lifestyle marked by ongoing confession and repentance, this minister feels that he must hide and keep to himself his struggles.

We were never created to live on a pedestal nor do we do anyone any favors by placing them on one.

Questions:

What are the costs of being on a pedestal? In what ways do we place someone there? Why would someone desire to be on a pedestal?

     

21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 1)

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Ministry in the body of Christ may look very different from church to church, depending upon your context and setting. It may look differently in a 21st century setting than it did fifty years ago.

Nevertheless, anyone involved in any kind ministry in the body of Christ would do well to read 2 Corinthians–again and again. In particular, those of us who function in a leadership role of some kind should read this book.

Here is a sample of what you might find in 2 Corinthians regarding ministry:

  • Ministry takes place in times of weakness not just in times of strength.
  • Ministry comes through living authentically in the body of Christ not simply as a professional who keeps a safe distance from the congregation.
  • Ministry is about relying on God who raised Jesus from the dead, not on one’s self.
  • Ministry is sometimes painful, pressure-filled, and difficult. At times, very little may be happening that is encouraging or which meets the minister’s “career goals.”
  • Ministry takes place as God ministers to us and then we are able to minister to another.

Yes, more could be said, but I would like to stop for now.

For the last few months, I have spent much time with 2 Corinthians. This is a deeply personal book that is autobiographical in nature. At times, Paul seems to struggle and his life and ministry are difficult. (He describes his life as one of “… great pressure” (1:8). He even “… felt the sentence of death” (1:9). I suspect that he would be very uncomfortable with the pedestal on which some of us have placed him.

Reflecting on Paul’s words in this book has helped me as I reflect on my own ministry. Maybe this will be helpful to you as well.

Some of you will read these reflections and relate them to your ministry as a Christ-follower in the body of Christ. Each one of us has been called to ministry in the body, both gifted and energized by the Spirit.

Yet, I am also thinking right now about that person who may be designated as a leader within a church. Far too often the church approaches this role much like an organization in the marketplace. In fact, a church might even think that its future hinges on how much money it is willing to offer a potential minister. To complicate this even more, a minister may even look at ministry through the same lens, ultimately selling out to the highest bidder.

Do I think most churches and ministers think this way? No, I do not. Yet I do know there are elements of marketplace thinking that may not be that helpful as we seek to live out the kingdom of God through the church.

Churches sometimes use the language of the marketplace (hiring, firing, employment, bosses, etc.) when referring to the ministers.

Far too often these ministers use this language themselves. “Is this in your contract?” or “Are you going to apply for that preaching job?”

I wonder what kind of baggage we bring into the church when marketplace language begins to replace biblical language as we speak of ministry?

(to be continued)


Questions

I would love to hear your thoughts regarding this. What concerns do you have regarding ministry as it is sometimes approached in the 21st century?


Willow Creek Summit

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I’ve been to four Willow Creek Summits. This one may have been the best.

Each year, Willow Creek Community Church hosts a leadership conference that is made available as a simulcast all over the world. Typically, the resource persons come from a variety of disciplines. Ministers, authors, professors, business consultants, journalists, therapists, politicians, coaches, etc. This year was no exception. What I like about the seminar is the opportunity to hear from some of the most creative, thinking people in just two days.

This year, speakers included:

Bill Hybels, Henry Cloud, Patrick Lencioni, David Ireland, Carly Fiorina, Gary Hamel, Tim Keller, Jessica Jackley, Harvey Carey, Dave Gibbons, Andrew Rugasira, Wess Stafford, David Gergen, Chip Heath, Dan Heath, Bono, and Tony Blair. An interesting and stimulating two days!

Be sure to check out the resources that are available from Willow Creek Summit 2009. Find them here.

  

10 Ways to Kill a Good Ministry

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Some of the finest peopIe I have known are in “full-time” ministry. I really do know some extraordinary people! These are godly people who love the Lord and take their calling to live as disciples very seriously.

Unfortunately, I have also known some people who, for whatever reason, served in “full-time” ministry and yet consistently seemed to make some very poor choices, which hurt themselves and quite often their families and their churches. Sometimes these choices killed good ministries.

The following are ten ways to kill a good ministry:

1. Make no attempt to practice what you are preaching. However, people may hear you preach and then wonder if you don’t see the contradiction in your own life.

2. Let your ego rule. In the last two weeks, I have talked with three people in three different states who were really struggling with the behavior of their ministers. In each situation, the minister seemed to be displaying much ego and pride. In each case, the minister lost much credibility with people. One woman said regarding her minister, “You know, he really has such a big ego.”

3. Take plenty of shortcuts. Don’t study, read, think. Just preach someone else’s messages. You might rationalize that you just don’t have time to prepare weekly messages. Over time, however, your messages will become thinner and thinner. Or, perhaps you simply stop preparing. I remember one minister who used to make some very dogmatic statements in his messages. One of his members told me that quite often, on the way home from church, her teen-age son would raise questions about the sermon and dispute certain points. This minister just did not prepare very well, and it showed.

4. Let your temper flair. Give people a piece of your mind. In one case a minister periodically exploded with rage at anyone who would raise questions that caused him to feel either frustrated or indignant.

5. Manipulate. Manipulate. Manipulate. Use these church members when you need to. After all you have done for them, they should be willing to stand up for you and take your side. Use them to do your dirty work. For example, talk with them about the way you are being treated by the elders or another staff member. Get them really worked up. Now subtly encourage them to speak up on your behalf. Then, you remain silent while they do your dirty work.

6. Practice disloyalty. Don’t worry about keeping a conversation in confidence. Talk about people in ways that you would never speak to them directly. Undercut your co-workers, elders, or other church members if it seems to be in your best interest.

7. Focus on the “show” not the reality. One woman described the very sick and sinful home in which she grew up. She said that her father, a minister, was a mean, angry man who would unleash his anger on his family. During the week, he would abuse his family emotionally, calling them a variety of despicable names. Then he would preach on Sunday, projecting a certain kind of image that was the polar opposite to the reality of what his children and wife had witnessed the previous week.

8. Look out for yourself instead of the kingdom of God. Always do what is in your own interest regardless of what anyone else thinks. (This kind of thinking is the total opposite of what it means to be a servant!)

9. Justify your own existence. Communicate to others just how needed and how important you are to the congregation. Do it subtly. Some people use self-deprecating humor around church members. “I’m sure this church could get a much better minister than me.” Then listen to the members chime in: “Oh no, you are great! Where would we ever find someone like you?”

10. Give yourself permission to push against the moral edges. Maybe there is someone with whom you flirt. Perhaps you give yourself permission to view pornography on the Internet. Maybe you have a certain friend that your spouse knows nothing about. You tell yourself that there is nothing wrong with this arrangement. Yet, you recently began sharing very intimate details of your life.

Questions

In what other ways have you observed people kill a good ministry? Which one of these have you witnessed? What seems to characterize the ministers who conduct themselves in a godly, honorable manner?