In a summer-long series on the parables of Jesus — this one seemed to fit. Amazing how God times things.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Psalm 33:12
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:20
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. 1 Timothy 2:1-3
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Romans 10:1
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! Psalm 108:5
I was talking with a couple of pastors recently about leading in church revitalization and growth. Both of these pastors are seasoned church leaders — having far more experience in total than I have in vocational ministry.
Mostly I listened to their stories. Both are currently in difficult pastorates. One of them serves in a church that has a history of very short-term pastorates. The other is in a church that has seen a roller coaster trend in church attendance — every time they get in a season of growth its followed by a season of decline — sometimes rapid decline.
Frankly, I prefer to have conversations about opportunities and possibilities than about challenges and frustrations. But, get a few pastors in the room and there will be some war stories. Leading towards health in a church can be a battle sometimes.
Just like it’s been said numerous times — leading people is easy if it wasn’t for the people.
I tried to encourage them in their call and offered a few suggestions for them in their current situations. But, the conversation stayed on my mind for days afterwards.
A few days after this conversation, I was talking with another pastor friend reflecting on what I had heard in the previous conversation. I didn’t share names or specific situations, but it led us to a discussion about church cultures.
Every church has its own culture.
Both of the pastors in the original conversation just seemed to find themselves in some very bad church cultures.
I’ve seen lots of different cultures while consulting and working with churches for over a decade.
Regardless of what some believe — there are some healthy churches.
And, there are some who are not so healthy.
It’s always breaks my heart to encounter a church that is ready to implode. Frankly, some churches live in that tension continually. Some cultures are dangerous — toxic even.
Why do some churches seem to have such a hard time keeping church staff for any significant length of time? It usually has something to do with the culture of the church.
Why are some churches more resistant to change than others? It will almost always reflect back to the culture of the church.
Why do some churches have a history of church splits? Culture.
This friend in the second conversation said to me, “There’s a blog post for you. You need to talk about some of those dangerous cultures.”
Sadly, according to numerous statistics, more churches are in decline or have plateaued than are growing. Certainly not all growing churches are healthy. I would never define a “healthy” church exclusively as growing church. I do believe, however, most healthy churches will eventually grow.
Some of that health in a church depends on the culture of the church. How do people respond to church leadership? How do they respond to each other? How do they react to change? How are decisions made? What upsets people most? What is the atmosphere — the mood — of the church during the week and on Sunday? How does the church treat vocational staff?
All those are usually relative to and indicative of church culture.
So, I decided to post about some of the more dangerous church cultures I have observed. Most likely you’ll have some of your own to share.
Selfish – Some churches are filled with people who just think they have to have it their way. And they fold her hands — and sometimes hold their money – – until they get it.
Prideful – This is a culture that is proud of their heritage — which is a good thing — but is resting on their laurels. They refuse to realize it’s no longer the “good ole days”. Their pride keeps in the past keeps them from embracing the future. They resist any ideas that are different from the way things have always been done.
Rigid – A rigid culture would never kill something — even if it isn’t working. These churches do tradition well. They don’t do change well. Try to change — and it’ll be the death of you.
Cliquish – I’ve heard this from so many people who felt they just couldn’t break into the already established groups within the church. In this culture, it takes years for people to feel included, find a place of service, or begin to lose the “new person” label.
Bullying – Sometimes this is disguised and called church discipline, but in some of the stories I’ve heard I would tend to call it legalistic. If it’s a “one strike you’re out” culture or people are made to feel they can’t be real about their struggles for fear of retribution — the picture of grace that Christ died on the cross to provide is diminished. People are encouraged to put on masks to hide their struggles.
Stingy – In this culture, there is a greater concern that the balance sheet look attractive than meeting the needs that God brings their way. This church rarely walks by faith because that seems too irresponsible.
Depraved – This one may in some ways be a summary of the previous six — because there is sin in all of these cultures — but I wanted to expose it on it’s own. If the Bible is left in the rack attached to the pew and no longer the foundation guide for the church — the culture will obviously suffer. Church culture can begin to decay whenever the focus is more on things like money, programs, buildings , even worship style — as good as all of those can be — rather than on living our lives as children of God for the glory of God. Whatever distracts us from the very core of the church — our Gospel mission and calling — will injure our church culture.
Those are from my observations.
What dangerous cultures have you seen?
I should mention again — especially to those outside the church, those who have experienced pain from these type churches, or those entering into the ministry in whom I may have raised caution — there are healthy churches. There are healthy church cultures. There are no perfect churches, but there are some who have staff with long tenures, where change is manageable and where people truly live out the Biblical model of church.
And, as someone who loves the local church, that’s where I hope to lend help through this blog in the majority of posts I share.
In a future post I will try to expand on some thoughts and experience I have in helping to change church cultures.
The statistics on the longevity of pastors isn’t encouraging. A major survey of pastors says 80 percent leave the ministry within five years.(1) Jimmy Draper, former president of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and former president of Lifeway Research Group, observed that for every twenty people who enter the ministry, only one retires from it.(2) That’s only a 5 percent retention rate.
I don’t know any leaders—of churches, businesses, or nonprofit organizations—who haven’t thought about quitting at some point. Leadership is a magnet for pain, and sometimes our capacity to endure is severely challenged. We can receive some encouragement by looking at the world of sports.
Tom Fleming, a two-time winner of the New York City Marathon and now a coach, described his mind-set in races: “I was given a body that could train every single day, and a mind, a mentality, that believed that if I trained every day—and I could train every day—I’ll beat you. The mentality was I will do whatever it takes to win. I was totally willing to have the worst pain. I was totally willing to do whatever it takes to win the race.”
Sports doctors have analyzed the tenacity of the best marathon runners. Dr. Jeroen Swart, who works for the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, concluded, “Some think elite athletes have an easy time of it,” but that’s a wrong assumption. “It never gets easier” as your time improves. “You hurt just as much.” Accepting the reality of pervasive pain, he explained, leads to more realistic expectations and faster times:
“Knowing how to accept [the reality of the pain] allows people to improve their performance.”
During points in races when the pain is most intense, some runners tend to dissociate, to try to distract themselves from the pain by thinking of something else. This strategy seems to work for a while, but sooner or later they hit a mental wall that hinders their efficiency. In contrast, Dr. Swart discovered, the best long-distance athletes concentrate even more intensely on their running, cycling, or swimming when they experience grueling pain. He concluded, “Our hypothesis is that elite athletes are able to motivate themselves continuously and are able to run the gauntlet between pushing too hard—and failing to finish—and underperforming.”
The best of these athletes don’t avoid the pain; they push into it and past it.(3)
When we’re in pain we quickly notice the default setting on the human heart: run, blame, smother the hurt in busyness, or act like nothing’s wrong. To persevere, we need a vision for the future that’s bigger than our pain. We may not see it clearly, and we may not like the process of getting there, but we have to be convinced in the depths of our hearts that enduring the pain will someday be worth it. This confidence enables us to raise the threshold of pain so we can respond with courage and hope.
Wayne Cordiero wrote an eye-opening and challenging book, Sifted: Pursuing Growth Through Trials, Challenges, and Disappointments. He insisted that all Christians, especially leaders, go through a necessary process of sifting. He identified it this way: “The process of sifting, coming to that moment when our strength is spent, is how God builds our faith. It’s a process that forms new character, tearing away old perspectives and putting fresh truth in its place. Former habits are discarded and wrong tendencies abandoned.”(4)
Failure isn’t the end of the world for those who are open to God’s tender, strong hand. It’s the beginning of a new wave of insight, creativity, and effectiveness—but only if we pay attention and learn the lessons God has for us. When we receive a vision from God, we’re excited, and we dream about the steps it will take to fulfill it. We generally assume God will supply everything to accomplish the goal he’s given to us, but we often fail to realize that he needs to do a deeper work in us so we can do what he has called us to do. And the way he works deeply in us is through all kinds of opposition, stress, heartache, loss, and obstacles. In other words, God works most powerfully in and through our failures.
Do we face opposition? The civil and religious authorities opposed Jesus at every turn. Do we encounter evil in all its forms? Satan himself tempted him? Do we feel betrayed and abandoned? The crowds that yelled “Hosanna!” soon cried, “Crucify him!”
And almost all of his best friends ran for their lives at his greatest hour of need. Do we feel misunderstood? The Lord of glory stepped out of heaven to rescue sinful people, and they killed him. Do we feel vulnerable? He was stripped, beaten, and hung on a cross in public humiliation. Why did he do all this? Out of love for the very ones who had run away from him, who had driven spikes into his hands, and who jeered him as he hung on the cross.
People like you and me.
When we feel like quitting, we can think about Jesus. In the greatest act of love ever known, when he was unjustly dying for those who despised him, he could have come down from the cross and killed them all—but he stayed where he was placed.
1. Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc., “Why Pastors Leave the
Ministry,” July 21, 2009, http://freebelievers.com/article/why-pastors-leave-the-ministry.
2. See J. D. Greear, “Why You Should Pray for Your Pastor, and President Obama,” Archives for Leadership, www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/category/leadership/page/10.
3. Gina Kolata, “How to Push Past the Pain, as the Champions Do,” New York Times, October 18, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/health/nutrition/19best.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
4. Wayne Cordiero with Frances Chan and Larry Osborne, Sifted: Pursuing Growth Through Trials, Challenges, and Disappointments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 10.
I write a lot about introversion, because I’m an introvert.
Introversion is a personality preference, based on the way a person has been shaped by experiences and life.
In very broad terms, it means we are fueled more by our inner thoughts and reflections than a by social engagements and interactions with others. Alone time fuels us. Our idea of “fun” might be reading a book in a room — or field — all by ourselves. (Hence the picture with this post.)
It’s not that we don’t like people. You can read some of my other posts about that. It’s that if we had a preference of how to use our free time, many times we would spend it in quieter or more controllable environments.
Chances are you have lots of introverts on your team, in your church, your workplace, as your customers — even in your family. You’ll even find some people who appear very extroverted to be introverts. (Like many pastors I know — it seems especially in larger churches.)
I will often get requests to write about extroversion — specifically how extroverts can better understand introverts. (Extroverted people are seldom shy about asking for what they want!)
This is generalized. No two introverts are the same just like no two extroverts are the same. Just like no two people — period — are the same. We are all uniquely made by our Creator! And, that’s intentional on His part!
But, this is an attempt to help you understand some of the introverts in your world. And, if you want clarification if it applies to them — simply ask. We can express ourselves — often quite eloquently.
Give us advance warning – Don’t put us on the spot for an answer or opinion. We have one, but often need time to formulate our thoughts. If you want our best answer, then you’re best not to demand it immediately from an introvert.
Don’t assume we don’t have an opinion – We do — and it may even be the best one — but we are less likely to share it surrounded by people who are always quick to have something to say and tend to control the conversation.
Don’t assume we are unfriendly or anti-social – We may not be talking, but that doesn’t mean we do not love people or that we don’t want to communicate with them. The opposite is probably more true. We just prefer to do it in less extroverted ways. Plus, we talk one at a time, so if there’s someone always talking, we may not get a chance — or take the opportunity.
Give us time to form the relationship – Introverts don’t usually form relationships quickly. We may appear harder to get to know, but when we do connect, we are loyal friends with deep, intimate connections. And we can actually be quite fun — even silly at times — once you get to know us.
Allow us time alone – All of us need personal time, but we require even more time alone than an extrovert usually does. We energize during these times — not just relax — and there’s a huge difference.
Don’t expect us to always love or get excited about extroverted activities – The social activities where you get to meet all the cool people you do not know — yea — that’s not always our idea of fun. It may even be a little scary. It might make us nervous at the thought of it. We’ll find excuses not to go, even if we know we need the experience or will have fun once we do them.(Cheryl helps me so much with this one. She stays by my side until I acclimate to the room. And, that’s usually what it takes for the introvert to really enjoy these type settings.)
Allow us to use written communication when available – We often prefer email or text over phone calls. We are usually more engaging when we can write out our thoughts ahead of time.
Are you an introvert? What would you add to my list?
I have been invited to blog at the World Leaders Conference next month and I am pumped for the opportunity.
This is unlike any other conference I have been a part of in the past. This conference attracts church leaders and business leaders — alike. And, it’s all about servant leadership. What a wonderful concept to combine the church with the business world for this powerful Biblical principle!
Here’s a brief description from the website:
Designed to provide participants with a uniquely personal experience in an intimate setting, the World LEADERS Conference (WLC) brings together top executives in business and ministry with prominent leadership experts from around the world. The two-day conference provides opportunities for interacting and networking with other business and church leaders, and focuses on the critical issues and trends that are shaping business and the church today.
The speaker list is incredible. The location — wow! Best of all, the Kingdom-building opportunities are off the charts! I have heard some incredible behind-the-scene stories of transformations that have occurred as a direct result of this conference.
Join me in Florida next month! I look forward to meeting you.
BONUS: If you’d like a 20% discount, use this code: wlcadvocate
This is a guest post by Kevin Herr, with Water Missions.
(This is not a paid post. I believe in this mission.)
In my role at Water Missions International I often talk with church leaders who want to get their churches involved in our ministry, which provides safe water solutions and the Living Water message of Jesus Christ to people around the world. These groups often participate in a special event like our Water Sunday initiative and while many encounter great breakthrough and mountain top experiences, some end up disheartened with little lasting impact.
Here are a few key points that can drive your church event towards transformation and action rather than being just another fundraiser.
Cast The Vision
Casting the vision means praying about how God can use your church, speaking with other key leaders and making a clear case for what you’d like to see accomplished. Want your church to provide safe water to an entire community? GREAT! Share that vision and what it will take for your church to achieve it. Make a goal, communicate it, and go for it! If you don’t set a clear goal, you will never reach it.
Engage More than Checkbook
Take your missions engagement a step further than simply asking them to write a check. Start to engage their hearts! How can you incorporate the mission or message into other activities they’re involved in? How can they engage spiritually and actively?
Start engaging your church early: the longer the involvement the deeper the impact. For Water Sunday, we encourage groups to do a beverage fast where they drink only water for a period of time, keep a tally of the money they would have spent on other beverages, then donate that amount on Water Sunday to provide safe water to people around the world. During this time they pray for those who lack safe water, develop the spiritual discipline of fasting, talk about it with their friends, and realize how much they spend on something that’s really not important.
Another fun way for people to engage actively is by participating in Walk for Water where they simulate the trek that people around the world do every day for dirty water. Take buckets and walk from your church to a local water source then walk back.
The key idea here is to provide them with an experiential touch-point that re-emphasizes the theme of your message.
Make it a Team Effort.
Don’t do it alone! Use it as an opportunity to draw out leadership in some of your church members or staff. As people prepare and talk about the event, God will be at work in their hearts. Allow others to participate and be impacted!
Celebrate The Win
In order to effectively motivate your members to participate and experience life-change, you need to emphasize the outcome and celebration. What happens if you achieve your goal? How are you going to celebrate?
To learn about how your church can make a transformational difference both around the world and in the lives of your own members, visit www.watermissions.org/watersunday.
We’re praying for 100 churches to come alongside us on April 26th and focus on the global water crisis through a variety of activities, studies, and sermon. All the resources are done for you, totally free, and designed to transform lives in your church! Take your next step HERE.
Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t perfect.
And that should be encouraging to all of us.
I’m reminded of the great prophet Elijah from the Bible. God used him once to hold back the rain. He was fed by ravens. He kept a widow and her son alive — miraculously.
Yet, one of the most encouraging Bible verses about Elijah to me is James 5:17: Elijah was a person just like us.
And, I’m reminded of that when I think of Dr. King.
Dr. King was a person — just like us.
If we aren’t careful, because he accomplished so much, we can make Dr. King something he wasn’t.
He wasn’t perfect.
Wait, don’t throw things. I’m a fan. I’ve studied him beyond his most famous speech.
Was he great? Of course.
Was he extraordinaire? Absolutely.
Did he do great things? Without a doubt.
These lines from his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” alone are grand enough for celebration:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope.
As a pastor, knowing these words were obviously inspired by Dr. King’s knowledge of Scripture, I’m impressed. So inspiring. I wish I could do it that well.
But, was Dr. King perfect?
I don’t think so.
I doubt, based on what I know of his faith as a Gospel preacher that he would even claim perfection apart from Christ. Only Jesus is perfect. Dr. King surely believed this.
We honor his birth because of his impact on our world.
In fact, he’s one of the best examples of leaving a legacy that we have in modern history. His work keeps encouraging, inspiring, and making us better.
We honor him because he was fighting for a perfect dream.
We honor him because he was willing to sacrificially give everything to achieve his dream.
Yet, sadly, his dream is yet to be fully realized. His work is not finished.
This year alone should teach us we haven’t reached the dream Dr. King fought for with his very life. Ferguson. New York. Chicago. Baltimore. Your city.
Every hill and mountain has not been made low. The rough places are not yet plain. There are still crooked places. The glory of our Lord hasn’t been fully revealed.
Peace has not been achieved.
And, here’s why it matters so much, in my opinion, that Dr. King — the man — wasn’t perfect.
If we see him as perfect, then, those of us who know we are not, (people like you and me) may feel we can never measure up to his standard. We could never attain greatness – never make a difference in our part of the world – because we don’t have the charisma of Dr. King. Or, the courage. Or, the oratory ability.
In fact, we may not even try. We may not give ourselves the chance for God to use us for His glory.
So, we will dismiss any dream we have as unattainable. Even our efforts to continue the dream Dr. King had will cease because we falsely believe such acts of greatness were reserved for the one man — Dr. King. Or, maybe a few like him.
But, it’s not true, is it?
Dr. King was great, but only His Savior Jesus is perfect.
The best way to honor Dr. King is to strive for impact.
Strive for a perfect dream. Strive for an end to racism, an end to the fighting, a reality of peace — where all God’s children are able to sing, “Free at last. Praise God Almighty we are free at last.”
Have a dream. A big, hairy audacious dream.
That kind of living honors the legacy.
The fact is all of us are capable of greatness. If we have big dreams — ones which honor others and make the world a better place — and we do everything in our power to realize them, we can be used of God to accomplish great things.
There will never be another Dr. King. Just like there never was another Elijah.
And, we need your dream.
We need your work.
We need your energy and your vision and your passionate attempt to make things better in our world. We need your contribution to the peace and prosperity of our land.
So start honoring Dr. King!
Be brave. Be bold. Dream big. Live strong. Do good things!