God-Isnt-Fixing-This

The 365 days of 2015 have almost passed. In those 365 days we’ve had over 350 mass shootings in this country. There is no doubt we live in a culture obsessed with violence. The callous spirit that plagues our society breaks the heart of God and should disturb any follower of Christ.

“God Isn’t Fixing This,” a controversial headline calling attention to those on the political landscape who have not responded with much more than empty rhetoric concerning the issue of gun violence. In essence, the article expressed that “prayer” is not enough. Heated online reactions illustrate just how divided Americans are on the subject.

I grew up in the South. In the midst of all the southern charm guns are the norm. All of my immediate family members are gun owners (even my sweet mother). In fact some family members own a gun store where they sell firearms, ammo, hunting supplies, and all the accessories. I am accustomed to being around guns, yet there’s still something about them that have the ability to put me on edge.

Let me illustrate: When my son was in elementary school I remember him being invited to attend a birthday party at a friend’s house. When I took him to the party I went inside to meet the parents before leaving. There were guns everywhere: propped up in the corner, lying on the counter, hanging on the wall. I was too nervous to leave him.

Another illustration: Several years ago while preaching a revival in a rural North Carolina I went visiting with the pastor one afternoon. We visited the home of an obvious proud gun-owner. There were signs in the yard saying, “Forget the Dog, Beware of Owner” (with a picture of a six-shooter). Once inside, I noticed what seemed to be a stockpile of guns. Again, guns were everywhere.

Within five minutes of entering the home the conversation turned to “If they ever try to take my guns they’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands.” I thought to myself, “Really? Would I really be willing to die over gun ownership?” This kind of rhetoric certainly isn’t the mindset of anyone following Jesus: the One who laid down his life when he could have called an army of angels to his defense (Matt. 26:53).

My objective is not to give an opinion on whether current gun laws are sufficient, obviously something’s not working. My purpose is not to weigh in on whether or not some politician’s prayers are futile, I’m thankful people are praying. However, my intention is to say that neither a prayer offered on social media nor legislation is the problem, much less the answer.

The problem is sin. The problem is that we live in a culture fascinated with violence. The problem is that the wickedness of the human heart is beyond our ability to comprehend it. The sentiments of the weeping prophet remain true, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jer. 17:9, NLT).

With popular shooter games, epic sagas on the silver screen, and even programing on standard cable channels, our minds are continually filled with images of violence. Society at large has grown numb to brutality as we stare evil in the face without interruption. To be sure, 350+ shootings in 365 days would desensitize even the most sensitive person.

People are violent because they’re angry. People are angry because the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life fail to fill the void. People are angry because they are broken and don’t know how to fix themselves. People are angry because they are scared and feel powerless. People are angry because they’ve invested in a way of life that doesn’t satisfy. Praise God for showing us another Way.

The truth about American culture is that there is an epidemic of an unchecked spirit of violence. It’s seen in the everyday deeds of thousands of people. From bullying at school to the workplace, from road rage to sexual harassment, from child abuse to rape… Violence rules our culture. And while the violence may be extremely apparent in the United States, it is not our problem only; it plagues the majority of the world.

Without doubt, we should offer our prayers. And there are certainly some positive steps we can take regarding gun control while still upholding the Constitution. But make no mistake; the heart of the matter is a culture that sleeps easy while violence runs rampant. I think the challenge is reimagining our lives in light of Jesus and not allowing culture to determine how we think about important issues.

I disagree with the headline, “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The keyword is “this,” what is the “this” that needs fixing. I believe God is fixing this, wherever he is invited. God is breaking in on this through the Incarnation of Jesus. And the this that God is fixing is us, because we are broken and he is in the business of making things new.

(Sources: Doug Hopkins, Michael W. Austin and Ron Gleason “Gun Control Debate: Two Perspectives,” James Emory White “Church & Culture,” Daily News)

Bigger-Is-Not-Necessarily-Better-3-Reasons-Im-Convinced-God-Most-Often-Builds-His-Church-Small_1732_245x169

Recently a pastor told me about a conversation that he had with a friend. In describing the church he serves he said, “I pastor a small church with a big mission.” His friend replied, “I go to a big church with no mission.” It’s true. Sometimes leaders get so wrapped up in their own vision they forget that God calls them to serve. Make no mistake, if service isn’t part of a church’s mission, it’s not God’s mission.

Leaders must remember that it’s never their job to convince followers to support the leader’s needs. That quickly becomes coercion, oppression, and often leads to manipulation and even spiritual abuse. Servant-leaders are committed to meeting the followers’ needs by leading them to Jesus through his/her willingness to serve (truly understanding the shepherd and sheep metaphor would be helpful).

When a church’s mission can’t see past the building, there is no mission. If the focus of the church stops with the cool café, cozy couches, state-of-the-art light show, and high-energy children’s program, there is no mission. If most of the church’s time, resources, and energy is spent attracting people to a building instead of reaching people where they live, there is no mission.

It can be the biggest church with the best speaker, raise a ton of money, attract lots of people, entertain well, and develop a loyal following, but that doesn’t mean it’s on mission with God. If a church is content with waiting on people who need Jesus to come to the building, there is no mission. If a church is not stepping into local neighborhoods and connecting with the community, there is no mission. If a church refuses to see the remarkable opportunities in its own backyard, there is no mission.

The greatest opportunity for any church to make a difference in the world waits just past the property line. If a church doesn’t recognize that, someone in leadership either has an alternative agenda or they’re simply too complacent to care. Mission is urgent; we can’t afford to miss the call to go, love, get our hands dirty, be intentional about meeting people where they are.

Don’t misunderstand, gathering for corporate worship is important, but worship nor mission is to be shut up in a building. We must be passionate and relentless in our efforts to reach people not merely entertain them, which means getting out of the building. People all around you need Jesus; they are searching for something and we have the answer. So stop looking for the latest, greatest, coolest, coziest church. It’s better to be part of a small church with a big mission than a big church with no mission.

Rooster Leader

Recently I’ve received some flak for using the phrase “amazing leader” too much. In my opinion encouragement is most needed in helping pastors keep their head above water. Therefore, I like to publicly  praise them when they are doing something really well. However, there are voices on social media that hide behind anonymity who like to poke fun and laugh at sincere efforts to encourage people who I call “amazing leaders.”

Several friends have recently contacted me to congratulate me on making a big enough impact to catch the eye of those with nothing better to do than sit back and criticize. I have found that people who are anti-leadership are typically not very good in that department themselves. Thus, they’ve allowed their own ineffectiveness to create within them a spirit of disparagement.

Many of these voices are part of an ever more vocal backlash against the evangelical community’s emphasis on leadership development. Leonard Sweet insists that the Bible is utterly unconcerned with leadership; a word he points out is never used in scripture. Instead, it is wholly consumed with “followership” (ironically another word not found in the Bible).

1 Corinthians 2:14 – “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.”

One doesn’t have to read very far in the Bible to find a God who leads and who raises up leaders. As the scripture above demonstrates, “followership” can never be separated from leadership. Christ leads us in triumphal procession, and as we get in line others follow. Everyone who moves creates a flow. The issue of what direction we’re moving, and how to create a greater flow in the right direction, strikes at the heart of the biblical story from Genesis through Revelation.

God Leads. God is not an immovable object, but instead he is always on the move. God led Moses. God led Joshua. God led David. God led Paul. God led the Apostles. God led in the Old Testament. God led in the New Testament. God still leads.

God Raises Up Leaders. When God leads, he expects more from us than simply following. God doesn’t simply raise up a people for himself who will follow him. He raises up a people who will lead others. This thought is at the heart of practical Wesleyan theology. John Wesley raised up leaders who raised up leaders who raised up leaders.

More importantly, this idea is grounded in the biblical narrative. God raised up Abraham and told him that he would make Abraham a blessing to all nations. God raised up Moses and told him he would lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God raised up kings and judges and prophets and fishermen and tax collectors and kids with sack lunches, all of whom had a role in influencing others toward God.

God Raises Up Leaders Who Raise Up Leaders. If Abraham were to become a blessing to all nations, it would only happen through his offspring. This means that Isaac would need to be raised up as a leader who would raise up leaders like Jacob who would raise up leaders like Joseph and his older brothers who would give birth to a generation who would give birth to generations who would forget about God. Enslavement in Egypt serves as an advance warning that failure to follow well and lead well will cause history to repeat itself.

In the New Testament, everything in the Gospels leads into the Great Commission, and everything after flows from it. Here Jesus solidifies for all ages that a disciple is not merely a follower but is instead one who “makes disciples.” Further, if a disciple is one who makes disciples, then the disciples being made will by definition be ones who are making disciples. Is it possible to settle on a biblical definition of discipleship that does not require the one making disciples to exercise leadership (i.e. influence) of those being discipled?

God leads. God raises up leaders. God raises up leaders who raise up leaders. When the leadership cycle is broken people suffer consequences in their own generation and for generations to come. When God’s people lead well, it is felt for generations to come.

What we are seeing today is a lot of incompetent voices longing to be heard. These people seek notoriety without accomplishment. Be suspicious of voices that have a reputation for constantly criticizing, laughing at, calling into question, and downplaying leadership. These are often people with no track record of making a lasting difference in the world, yet have a deep desire to inform others how to better do their job.

We need more, loving, passionate, selfless, visionary leaders. We need less of those who call themselves ministers, yet all they seem to have time to do is tear down, critique, mock, and ridicule. Amazing leaders produce amazing fruit. Incompetent leaders just like to hear themselves talk. Be Amazing!

(Sources: Scott Sherwood “Unpublished Paper on Leadership,” Conversations with Derek Elkins, Leonard Sweet)