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A great man once said to me, “Pastor, the church is the biggest business in the world because it’s God’s business and it’s not like any other business.” If you could have done life with this man for even one day, you would have understood a man with a kingdom-mind and a servant-heart. The idea is that when we model church after the world we fail the very people we’re called to serve. It is past time to leave behind the idolatry of corporate management structures and rediscover the vastly different way of servant-leadership modeled by Jesus.

The world is concerned with being served, the kingdom is concerned with serving. The world enjoys thrones, first-class seating, cruise ships, and penthouse views. The kingdom is concerned with the underdog and the marginalized. How did American church culture become so hierarchical and power-driven anyway? Jesus didn’t sit in a high spot, bark orders, and demand service. He picked up a towel and basin and washed people’s feet. He put his arms around folks and empowered them for life and ministry.

This isn’t a new problem, however. In fact it’s a natural human tendency to crave the false sense of security that comes with following a single voice. Too often churches idolize their leaders in an unhealthy way, and far too often leaders set themselves up to be idols. The temptation is not a new one. We see this modeled early in scripture when Israel cried for Samuel to appoint a king over them. So do churches today hand power over to individuals for the sake of security. In this, we fail to fully embrace Jesus’ insistence that his heavenly Father is already our king and leader.

Pastors and church leaders are called to be under-shepherds. I like the term under-leader because we are under the leadership of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus demonstrated this by living in submission to the will of the Father and releasing his rightful authority in order to live among his disciples as brothers and sisters, not commander-in-chief. This did not diminish his influence or authority. In fact, it greatly increased it. He spoke and ministered with anointing because he was intimately connected to something greater than himself.

Humility among co-laborers brings about a way of living in which every member of the community is not just allowed to participate with his or her gifts, but expected to do so. As his disciples, we must resist the temptation to wield power over others. Pastors and church leaders, it’s your job to equip people for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12).

Jesus empowered his disciples and told them that they would do even greater things than he did (John 14:12). Therefore, with the Bible as our map and the Holy Spirit as our compass, may we help real people experience real power that only comes from a real God. Lead like Jesus, not a corporate CEO. Make every day count. Empower others. Be the best under-leader you can be!


(Sources: J.B. Shaw; “Do Some Churches Suffer From Leadership Immunity?” by Lance Ford)

 

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The stars shined as brightly as I can ever remember that particular night. A few years ago while camping with friends, as we lay flat on the ground gazing up at a crystal clear sky I made an observation: “The perspective you have at any given moment is different than any other perspective in the universe.” It’s true, even if someone is sitting right beside you, their view will ever so slightly differ from yours. It is the creative genius of a loving God.

God’s artistry amazes me. We call him Creator, because that’s what he does: he creates. He creates for the sake of creativity. He plants flowers on top of mountains that will never be seen by the human eye. He creates beautiful places in the depths of the sea where mankind will never explore. He speaks galaxies into existence that will never be discovered. God is a master artist, and if God is a creator, then creativity is important.

Whether it’s music, art, culture, film… creative expression speaks to the human soul. I am a musician and a writer; sometimes I get lost in expression (that’s what’s happening during long sermons). Creativity is important, but it is also challenging, particularly in ministry, and it’s an important challenge. We need creativity in our sermons, bible studies, children’s ministries, outreach strategies, worship experiences, ministry environment, and so much more. The solution to becoming more creative in your output is to become more creative in your input. The following are three easy ways to increase your creativity.

1.) Read More Books. Nothing can replace or shape you the way good literature can. Read books that inspire you, challenge you, entertain you, or that simply inform you. Good books fill your mind with ideas and concepts that will never come alive sitting in front of a computer or TV screen.

2.) Explore New Places. Traveling to new places and exploring different cultures will expand your creative vision. It doesn’t mean you have to leave the country. Try a new culturally authentic cuisine or restaurant, take a day trip to another state, hangout in a different city or a different part of your own city, visit a museum. Regardless of how you explore, exploring will stimulate creativity.

3.) Capture Ideas. When you have a creative idea, write it down or record it. Write it in a journal or keep paper and pen close by. Also, set aside time to simply think about things. If you don’t have times where you regularly reflect on life, you won’t be cultivating your creativity. Also, during times of meditation, take notes on your ideas and allow your thoughts to take shape.

If you want to be creative, strive to create, not imitate. Some people mistake creativity for borrowing someone else’s creativity. It’s okay to be inspired by others, but your creativity needs to belong to you, and that means there always needs to be time for processing ideas. You’ve been wonderfully created in the image of the most magnificent Creator. You are his workmanship… like clay in the hands of the potter. Now, it’s your turn to take the canvass that he’s set before you and paint a beautiful picture with your life.


(Sources: Lecture by James Emery White; Church Unique by Will Mancini)

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One of my associate pastors recently said, “I’ve been to churches that felt like going to a country club with Jesus music.” How sad, that many churches have become places that are void of redemptive passion. Where everyone is satisfied with the way things are and they see no need to get involved in reaching beyond the walls of their favorite gathering place. Besides, it’s messy out there in the world, and comfortable people don’t like to be bothered with messy things.

This mindset often comes upon us before we realize it. The world is full of disconnected people, and the disconnect has worked its way into the very place where connection is essential: the church. We live in a society of islands. People who don’t know their neighbor and they live with no real sense of community and no depth in their relationships.

“Of all the diseases I have known, loneliness is the worst… The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty, it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality…~Mother Teresa

Stoking redemptive passion in the church should be a primary goal for any ministry leader. Passion is like fire. If I ever write a book on pastoral leadership, “Passion for Ministry” would be the first chapter. Passion inspires and ignites others; it’s the fuel that feeds the flame. I’m reminded of the words of John Wesley, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

Jesus modeled an amazing redemptive passion in his earthly ministry. He loved people… the lonely, hurting, marginalized. He was so concerned for disconnected people that Luke records a critical moment in 9:51-55. Luke writes that Jesus “Set his face to go toward Jerusalem,” which conveys the unwavering focus of a man on a mission, in this case a Savior with a destination.

In discussing growth barriers, many churches lose sight of something Jesus never lost sight of: passion for people. We get so caught up in programs, budgets, and buildings that we end up going through religious motions instead of igniting redemptive passion. When we lose our passion for people, our effectiveness vanishes and the fire turns to ember.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The church is only the church when it exists for others.” It is clear from scripture that the most important people to God are those who are disconnected. Jesus left the ninety-nine to reconnect with the one who was lost. If the disconnected are important to God, they should also be important to us.

Neil Cole sums it up well when he reminds believers, “If you want to reach people for Jesus, you’re going to have to sit in the smoking section.” We don’t find “smoking sections” in today’s world, but I think we all know what Mr. Cole was getting at… We’re going to have to get our hands dirty; we’re going to have to endure uncomfortable situations, and we’re going to have to be willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel.

Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it. With this in mind, we must put a greater emphasis on reaching out with passion. This includes praying with anticipation and developing creative ways of evangelizing our community. Reconnecting the disconnected to a vital relationship with Jesus Christ is the objective. This means that whether you are leading a bible study, changing a baby’s diaper, rehearsing for worship, standing in the grocery store checkout line, typing in your cubicle, eating lunch, hanging out with friends, sitting in a classroom, or watching your kid’s soccer game… you have the opportunity at that moment to reconnect the disconnected to a vital relationship with Christ. You are the Body; be passionate about it… Mission is everywhere!


(Sources: Mother Teresa; John Wesley; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Will Mancini, Daniel Rogers, Neil Cole)

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#5 – Broken Systems. Many churches function as if they’ve arrived, as if they don’t need anything else, as if they’ve gotten all of God there is to get. They go through the motions week-after-week and settle with the mundane task of circling the wagons. Reality is no congregation has arrived at a place where they don’t need to expand their efforts to reach more people and become more effective. It’s an ongoing process.

One of the main reasons churches are stuck is because their systems and strategies are broken. Churches continue to use the same systems, yet hope for different results. The only way to get different results is to employ different systems. Unfortunately, many churches (and denominations) would rather stay stuck and eventually die than apply changes that might make people (including leaders) feel uncomfortable. We need to continually work on our systems and strategies. Ministry is a process that’s always changing, not a product that we eventually complete. Are there any symptoms that might indicate your church is stuck? Be honest.


#4 – Personal Preference. It’s not about you. Unfortunately most people believe it is about them. From music, to carpet color, to assigned seating… Beware of the ‘me-monster.’ I’ve preached in a lot of churches over the years and it’s amazing how many look like a time-warp from 1950. These congregations are stuck with an infrastructure that was developed in the 50s and 60s. As congregations dwindle, it gets more difficult to keep ministry vibrant when there hasn’t been an intentional attempt to reach out to younger generations.

At my last pastorate one of the patriarchal leaders said, “There comes a time when I have to relinquish my personal preferences and allow the next generation to take the wheel.” At my current congregation the story is told of the church moving to a new location. During a worship service several senior members were sitting near the front singing new praise choruses. They turned to a visitor and said, “Isn’t this great.” He said, “So, you really like the new music, huh?” They responded, “No, we don’t care for the music, but we love all the new people.” Point made: It’s not about you. Personal preference is choking the power out of the church. It’s time to give it away.


#3 – New is Evil. If new is evil, you’d still be a sinner with no hope. We serve a God who makes all things new (2 Cor. 5:17). The Bible is a story of God continually doing new things. So why do so many churches get stuck with a “new-is-evil” mentality? The church with this mindset sees everything not contained inside the walls of the institution as ungodly. It becomes a subtle form of fundamentalism and creates and ‘us-vs-them’ mindset.

This approach causes members to focus more on memorials than people. When I enter a church that has memorial plaques covering walls and furniture, I immediately recognize that this is a congregation who places a larger emphasis on the past than they do the future. It reminds me of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. God led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When God moved, they packed up or got left behind. Unfortunately, for many congregations the Shekinah glory has moved on, yet they’ve remained in the wilderness. They celebrate the good ol’ days while failing to recognize that today is the day of the Lord. Don’t get left behind. Embrace the new things that God is doing.


#2 – Cloning Process. When a church refuses to engage the community, which includes accepting people where they are in life, it begins to die. When I was a teenager I always tried to bring friends to church with me. One of my friends had blue hair and gauge earrings; another had really long hair and tattoos. Both of these friends are now dead, and the church I grew up in did a terrible job reaching them for Christ (by the way, that church is now closed). As a matter a fact, I don’t recall any effort on behalf of the church to reach them in any way. These guys came to church with me on many occasions.  Yet, most of the time they expressed how uncomfortable they were while there. This is too often reality. It’s sad.

Once, I read a book that had a picture inside of “the model church member.” It was a man in a suit and tie standing on a pedestal with a Bible tucked under his arm: his hair was perfect, his family was perfect, and his smile was perfect. Many churches seem to develop the notion that we must clone our members. In other words, everyone needs to look and act alike; uniformity is the goal. Where did we ever come up with that idea? Certainly not in the Bible. We must diversify our thinking if we are going to make disciples of all people.


#1 – No Vision. “Where there is no vision people perish…” or as The Message states, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed” (Proverbs 29:18). In other words, if a congregation is not continually identifying what God is revealing, they will die. It’s a simple idea, but an important one.

Where there is no guiding vision, no sense of true north, no sense of where you are going, what you should be doing, the direction you need to take, no real leading of God, then you have nothing keeping you on course. When that happens, people cast off restraint. Anything goes. Time is spent without direction, and without discretion. They don’t make the most of every opportunity. They spend their days, but they don’t invest them. We need vision, but not just any vision. We need God’s vision because “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26, NIV).


(Sources: Unstuck Church by Tony Morgan; James Emory White of Church & Culture)