The Structured Removal of Faith

power meeting from above

This is an opinion post. In fact, this is an opinion blog. Unless I’m quoting Scripture you can dismiss everything I write as one person’s opinion. Mine.

But, this is an opinion post about a problem I’ve seen. 

It’s a problem I see in churches.

It’s a problem I could see us having in the church I now pastor…if we aren’t careful.

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God. 

Let me explain.

I pastor a 104 year old church. We know structure well. Real well. If a church can deal with an issue in 104 years, we’ve probably addressed it by policy. We have a committee that can handle it.

Don’t misunderstand. Contrary to what some believe, I appreciate structure…to a degree. I once planted a church that ran from it and we discovered soon that without it not much got accomplished. We had lots of enthusiasm and growth, but we couldn’t sustain it for long. We needed more structure.

Structure helps build systems and processes that help us meet the demands of a growing church. 

Also, don’t misunderstand and think that I run to structure either. I don’t. My basic DNA is to resist it more than embrace it. I’m much more a big picture, risk taking, defy establishment type person in my temperament. I just have learned by experience the need for structure.

Structure…healthy structure…helps organizations and churches maintain excellence. It’s designed to be an asset not a hindrance. I’m reminded of the structure Jethro shared with Moses. Gold. Joseph created great structure to carry out the work of God that would ultimately save Joseph’s family. And the Israelite nation. Invaluable.

The problem is when we begin to rely on structure as the answer, more than the vision God has called us to attain. Ultimately we can begin to rely on man made structure more than we rely on the King of kings to guide us into the unknown. If we aren’t careful…wait let me leave the structure of this paragraph to better make a point…

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God.

If you’ve been in church very long you know this is true. In some churches, if God were to call us to move in some new area, even if we were certain we had direction from God, it would take us months to get the idea beyond the committees of the church and to a church vote. We have often allowed systems and policies to navigate us more than relying on the Spirit of God. We can do it in budgeting, in planning, and in carrying out the traditions and work of the church.

Of course, this can happen in any church…regardless of the age or structure…but the longer we’ve been doing something the more comfortable we seem to get at doing it. The longer we rely on our structured way of doing something, the easier it becomes to continue that structure, and the more challenging it becomes when we are called to new levels of walking by faith. (This is true in our personal life also.)

Am I wrong? Have you seen this?

It’s a conviction I am currently living with as a pastor of a very highly structured church with a rich history of seeing God do incredible things. I am keenly aware that generations before us have walked by faith to get us where we are today. It is a learning process for me. It’s a balance between the practical issue of the structure in place and the calling to walk by faith I believe God has placed on my life. And, just being honest, it is sometimes a tightrope walk between the two.

Recently, I was asked the question (again)…What is the church I pastor doing now that is totally dependent on God? I’m still thinking of a good answer.

So I’m ever mindful…

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God.

And, for that balance, the scales are already tipped in my personal life and calling. As for me and my household, we will serve The Lord. We will walk by faith. So, I’m praying God will show us His will…so we can once again walk by faith.

Pastors, weigh in to this discussion.

Have you felt the tension between structure and faith? How do you deal with it personally?

And, What is your church currently doing that is totally dependent on God?

7 Sure Ways to Grow as a Leader

maturing plant

Do you want to grow as a leader? Do you want to keep growing?

Here are 7 sure ways to grow as a leader:

Desire growth – Sounds simple, but we tend to seek what we desire most. If you truly want to grow as a leader you will continually find ways to do so. Check your heart. Do you really desire to grow as a leader?

Accept correction – No one enjoys hearing they did something wrong, but many leaders view all correction as criticism rather than an opportunity to grow. Growing leaders realize that correction helps them improve so they can do better next time. (Proverbs 12:1) Check yourself. Can you take correction, even when it stings a little to hear, and turn it into something good?

Listen to wiser voices – Experience is the best teachers. And, all of us are surrounded by people who have grown wise through their experiences. Growing leaders glean all they can from other people. Would others consider you a wisdom seeker? Can you name specifically the voices you are learning from these days?

Invest in others – Growing leaders learn or reinforce leadership principles while helping others learn them. Sometimes it is not until we talk through an issue with others that we find clarity in the issue ourselves. (“Give and it will be given back to you”…) Ask yourself…Am I helping to grow other leaders? Am I allowing others to learn from my experience? Coul you name those people if asked?

Recognize weaknesses – And strengths. When you become more aware of what you do well and what you don’t, you grow as a leader. You start investing more energy in the strengths and seek to minimize the weaknesses. Can you admit there are some things you simply aren’t good at doing? Are you confident enough to recognize your strengths?

Refuse mediocrity – Growing leaders push themselves beyond the limits of normalcy. Average is common. Exceptional takes work. Are you seeking to go beyond what’s expected? Are you holding yourself to standards nothing short of your very best? (Isn’t that even Biblical?…”Whatever you do…do as if unto the Lord”.)

Embrace failure – Falling down. Getting back up. Falling down. Getting back up. Growing leaders have learned this is a part of maturing as a leader. In honest evaluation, would you say you have allowed failure to shape you as a leader, or hold you back from all you could be as a leader?

I am certainly not suggesting this is an exhaustive list. I am advocating that growing as a leader requires intentionality on the part of the leader. It doesn’t automatically happen.

What are you doing to grow as a leader these days?

Surviving Your Appetite for Known… @AndyStanley – #Catalyst

andy-stanley

The theme of Catalyst Conference was Be Known. Andy Stanley kicked things off with a powerful talk about being known.

Here are my notes on his talk:

We all have an appetite to be known.

Social media proves that. And, it’s an appetite that is never fully satisfied.

You will never have enough friends, followers or fans. The more you get the more you want.

There is no amount of known that will fully satisfy your appetite to be known.

How known is known enough?

The child who says, “Watch this daddy!” over and over again as we watch them jump in the pool.

What if the dad said, “How many “oh that’s great honeys” do you need to be full?”

Then it was the coach, teacher, boy, girl…

Then the boss….

There is no amount of known that will make you fully satisfied.

Applause is intoxicating and intoxicated people don’t make the best decisions.

Yet, to lead you must be known.

You have been called to be known as a leader.

The question is how do we keep that from ruining us?”

Consider the story of John the Baptist:

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” (Mark 1:5)

How did John the Baptist handle the fame?

John the Baptist realized he was known, only to make Him known.

To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from Heaven.” (John 3:27)

So, how to be a known survivor:

Remember Who it’s from and Who it’s for.

“A person can receive only what is given them from Heaven.”

It all comes from and should glorify Him.

Thoughts on Firing People in Ministry

Unemployment

This is a difficult post. About a difficult issue. One we don’t necessarily like to talk about. But sometimes we must.

I came out of a business background, so some things that are done in ministry are different for me. And, frankly, many should be. Ministry isn’t business…it’s ministry. At the same time, we should never use “ministry” as an excuse to waste Kingdom dollars. We need good practices of financial accountability. Just as the business world has to have in place simply to stay in business…we need them in ministry so that we stay in ministry. What we do is too important not to consider every dollar.

And, also frankly speaking, that hasn’t always been my experience in ministry.

One prime example is in the area of staffing…people who are paid by the church. I’ve seen and encountered numerous times where staff people were allowed to continue drawing salaries from a church when their effectiveness is in serious question. Everyone knows something needs to be done, but no one is willing to make the hard decision.

One of the hardest decisions any leader ever makes is to release someone from their employment. It should never be taken lightly. It always hurts. It is never easy. It wasn’t in business and it isn’t in ministry. But, sometimes it’s the right thing to do. And, it seems in ministry we are often much slower…if ever…to get there.

I was talking with a pastor recently who knows he needs to make a hard decision regarding a member of his staff, but he simply hasn’t been able to garner the support or gumption to do it. This person isn’t productive (and isn’t trying to be), has a damaging personality on the team, and continues to work against the pastor’s leadership. The pastor has counseled with the person, has agreement from elders that something needs to be done, but no one has been willing to make the hard decision. And, this has been the case for years…not months…years. In the meantime, Kingdom dollars are admittedly being wasted. (I have had that same conversation numerous times with other pastors.)

Many times, in my experience, churches haven’t made the decision because of fear and they use ministry simply as an excuse. After having this discussion countless times with church leaders, I felt the need to address it. (Please know, I’m talking strictly about poor performance, not about those who lose their jobs because of tightening budgets. That’s a growing issue, but not one I’m addressing here.)

Here are some of the objections I’ve encountered:

We love the person – Of course. We love everyone. It’s what we are called to do. Is that a good reason to empower bad behavior or to waste Kingdom dollars?

We don’t want to hurt their family – Of course not. And we should be gracious and generous in the exit strategy, and be willing to walk with the person through the recovery process as much as is reasonable and welcomed by the released person. But are we not hurting families who sacrifice and give to the church by misusing their resources on an ineffective staff member?

We are afraid we haven’t extended enough grace – I understand. We are to extend grace, but hasn’t there been a lot of grace given to allow the person to stay this long? When does truth come into play?

We are afraid of the ripple effects – That’s understandable. You should always consider how decisions will impact others. Yet the reality is you probably have ripple effects now anyway. You are injuring other ministries and jeopardizing future progress by delaying what you know you need to do. It will only get more difficult with time. At some point you may have to cut your losses.

Leaders have to make hard decisions. We should first do everything within our power to redeem the person’s job. (We did that in business too. It’s much more efficient to retain an existing employee than to hire a new one.) But, protecting the vision for all may involve tough love for others. Many times when we delay decisions like this we delay the healing that needs to occur and the benefits of making the right (and difficult) decision. Also, we send a dangerous message that it’s acceptable to do whatever this person isn’t doing or is doing that merits being let go.

Notice I didn’t say this was easy. But genuine leadership never is easy. Don’t use ministry as an excuse. Pray about the matter diligently. Do everything in your power to redeem the person. Work through due process. Get wise advice from others before you make the decision. But, when the answer is clear what you need to do…do it.

Let me close with a word to those who have lost or may some day lose your job because of poor performance. I am not insensitive to your plight. In fact, I’ve helped numerous people pick up the pieces and begin again. I’ve hired people who were fired from a job and some of them made the best team members.

Sometimes being let go allows God an opportunity to do something new in your life…even something better. If you made mistakes, own them and learn from them. There is grace to begin again. Sometimes it was a matter of fit more than anything else, but whatever the reason, grow from it and let God restore the broken pieces. He specializes in restoration.

Okay, I’ve opened a can of worms. Please know I’m not trying to add insult to injury. These are difficult issues and should be prayerfully considered. They certainly, however, shouldn’t be ignored.

Would a post on some thoughts on how to do this gracefully help?

Ann Voscamp: 3 Game Changing Principles for Life – Catalyst

annvoskamp

Ann Voskamp spoke at Catalyst Conference recently. Her Twitter bio says, “Wife to the Farmer: Mama to 6: Author of One Thousand Gifts (Zondervan: NYTimes Besteller) Seeking to follow One alone.”

Her message was one of my favorite talks, possibly because it spoke to me in this season of my life. She kept her audience captive throughout her talk. It was a powerful message.

I also learned Ann is an introvert like me, so even though I saw her at a backstage event, I didn’t bug her. I just processed her message.

Here are my notes from Ann’s talk:

  • “You can’t walk anywhere honestly and authentically apart from His promises”
  • “Nothing can overwhelm you like his grace can overtake you.”
  • “The enemy only has two battle plans. To blind you from who God is and blind to who you are in Him”

Three game-changing principles for absolutely everyone…including pastors…

From Jehoshaphat’s story in 2 Chronicles 20:

1. When overwhelmed. Pause.

  • It’s counter cultural and counter to our natural inclination, but it’s Christlike.
  • Only then we will remember who we are in Christ and live out of our identity.

2. Be present to His presence in the present moment.

  • Enter into His presence with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is always the right response to the presence of God.
  • I know who God is…He is good. In one minute you have your identity.

3. Pour – We can only pour out of the filling of His presence.

  • So many of us spend so much time fighting tomorrow’s battle with worry and yesterday’s battle with regret that they can’t live effectively within the battlefield of the present.
  • Why would we rather strive hard for Jesus than be satisfied with what Jesus has already done for us?
  • If you want your love to change the world, slow down enough to enjoy more of His love.

This was a life-giving message for me. Thanks Ann. Thanks Catalyst.

4 Things For Profits Can Learn From Non-profits

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I’ve been in vocational ministry…my primary income came from ministry work…non-profits…for over ten years now. My professional career, however, is much longer. I had over 20 years in management and leadership positions in secular (for profit) work prior to ministry.

Recently I heard a great talk from Jeff Henderson (read my notes HERE), on what non-profits can learn from for profits. I agreed with the points Jeff made.

In discussing the talk with one of my sons, he asked a great question. He asked, “What have you learned in the church (non-profit) work that could have helped you in business (for profit)?”

Great question. I love that my boys are old enough to start challenging my thought process and make me better.

Here are 4 things for profits could learn from non-profits:

People matter – In the church or non-profit world…the vision…almost always involves people (or living parts of creation)…above profit. Hence the “non-profit”. Frankly, that can be frustrating for those of us who like our balance sheets and income statements to reflect financial health, but I’ve learned…often the hard way…that why we are doing what we are doing is most important. Improving the overall health or spiritual well being of a child, for example, is more important even than having a positive cash flow at the end of the month. (That said…my business minded friends are thinking…without positive cash flow…in time we will cease to make any difference in the child’s life…but the point is people matter most. The for profit world could many times stand a lesson in that truth.)

It’s the little things – It. Always. Is. In business, we tended to move towards and place our energy on the big. Big projects. Big profit. Big customers. We knew the small things mattered, but the big seemed to overshadow that in our actions. If the numbers were big…we could ignore that someone was a real jerk to work with others…for example. In the ministry and non-profit world, we’ve learned that many times the little things matter most. When the father who has never been to church shows up one Sunday…small deal to some…big deal to us. We see the potential. The smallest moments of time can often be the biggest excitement for us.

Money is not enough – We know this because we seldom seem to have money. And yet the work must continue. So we have to get real creative at times. We’ve learned it’s more about the people involved than the budget. We would rather have the funds, but in lieu of that, we adapt. The best non-profits are real good at utilizing volunteer labor and rallying people to support a cause.

At the end of the day, what you do for others is most important – We love visions. We love progress. We love strategies and systems and structure. We’ve actually gotten pretty good at them. But, if you check our heartbeat…if you measured our pulse…we get most excited when others succeed. We dance at the betterment of people we love. And, we love people. It makes he DNA of who we are as churches and non-profits. A few for profits I know could learn from us in this area.

The bottom line is that both worlds have things we can learn from each other. Often what appears to be opposing mindsets may be complimentary if we allowed them to work for us rather than against us.

So, here’s a thought…what if non-profits got together with for profits? And for profits got together with non-profits? And we learn from each other? Just a thought.

One way I’ve done this is to form leadership circles I meet with regularly, comprised of leaders from both sectors. It is proving valuable for all of us.

What else could for profits learn from non-profits?  

Dr. Henry Cloud – Boundaries for Leaders – Catalyst

boundaries

Dr Henry Cloud is a popular psychologist and author. I have recommended his book “Boundaries” dozens of times. We all need them in our life.

Recently Cloud released the book “Boundaries for Leaders”. It’s a needed book. He spoke to us about it at the Catalyst conference.

His ultimate theme for the presentation:

Proper boundaries for leaders help us to be productive for the long haul.

An outline of that process:

1. Pay attention to what’s most important. (Ultimately our identity in Christ.)

  • Understand and know our identity.
  • What is it that you’re good at doing? What in your life needs attention now?
  • Written visions are more likely to be achieved.
  • Have guard rails of what you need to focus on now. Don’t let 86 other things interfere. And over time your mind will begin to form around your true identity (of what’s important).

2. Positive emotional climate. Built up in your true identity in Christ.

  • A traumatized brain divides…into two parts. The creative side, that can think through decision making.
  • Other side of brain is a defensive mode. If a train is coming at us we don’t have time to think. Just react defensively.
  • But we need the thinking side to realize our true identity.
  • To live in the reality that God is generous with grace and wisdom.
  • James 1:5…He will give wisdom…without finding fault.

3. Relational Connection

  • Someone to walk through the process with us.
  • Someone to hold us accountable. Disciple us.

4. Control

  • Learn to self-control.
  • God designed our brain where it loves to have control.
  • We were designed for self-control. But we try to control everything else out of our control, instead of ourselves.
  • The number one factor in accomplishing a goal is believing that we can.
  • Believing, by faith, that God can make in us who He has designed us to be. Our identity is in Christ.

My notes, of course, are just an outline…perhaps you need to read the book. I intend to soon. While this is not a post with an intent to promote the book, Cloud’s books have been helpful to me in life and leadership. From this talk, I believe this one will be likewise.