Archive for January 2012

Moses, Widows and Disciple-Making

For my daily devotions I follow the Life Journal Bible Reading plan. If I am consistent (which isn’t always the case) than I will read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice a year. I’ve been doing this for a number of years, which means I get “knocked around” by the  Scriptures on a regular basis.

You know what I mean, don’t you?

There are a number of biblical passages that throughly work me over with conviction.

Frankly, there are some portions of Scripture that I want to highlight…with a black marker!

Within a couple of days of each other, my reading plan takes me to Exodus 18 and Acts 6. One details Jethro’s visit to Moses. The other deals with the choosing of servants to assist in the food distribution for widows. I have read both portions numerously and feel challenged each and every time!

In Exodus 18, Jethro cautioned Moses regarding his overbooked day-timer. He would sit as the only judge of the people from morning to evening. This is a classic recipe for burn-out. Not just for Moses though. The people of Israel will also burn-out. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro stated in verses 17,18 that “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.”

Did you see that? Doing it alone will not only wear out the leaders but also the followers.

In Acts 6, ministry was increasing at an alarming rate due to the growth of the church. In the process, some people were being inadvertently overlooked and complaints were flooding in. The apostles email inboxes were full. The natural response for leaders is often to work harder and longer, deal with the problems directly, and get a handle on the situation…fast. At least, that’s how I would deal with it. Unfortunately, this is how bigger and more severe problems are often created.

Thankfully, with discernment, the apostles opted to focus their energy upon prayer and preaching, and chose qualified people to tackle the food distribution fiasco. This was a good call with a good outcome:  “The word of God spread and the number of disciples increased” (vs. 7).

I love how everyone did what they were called and equipped to do and the Kingdom advanced. God’s design for effectiveness is that leaders in the church exist “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12,13).

Everyone has a place. Everyone has a purpose. Together amazing things can be accomplished.

 

Giving Birth to a Church…by Breach

Think for a moment how many churches have been started as a result of a leader going from one place to another and developing a base of operations with people from the previous congregation. There is no way to gather all the actual statistics, but I have to think that the numbers are staggering. Sure, there indeed are congregations that are new plants or pioneer works completely unassociated from any other church. There are also new churches that build and grow exclusively upon fresh converts being added and discipled.

This, however, does not happen 100% of the time.

Many churches begin as an off-shoot or faction of another church. Call it a split.  Call it a splinter. Call it whatever you want…it can be painful and sadly, it’s a part of life.

In my years of pastoral ministry I have watched (from the seat of the youth pastorate as well as the senior pastorate) a few well-meaning leaders go off and start their own works. Some were ready and others were not.  Some of the leaders were disgruntled and others were simple bored. Regardless, people followed that leader (because leaders have influence) and a new church was birthed…by breach.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this in saying, “It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”  In modern circles “building on someone else’s foundation” has been called “fishing in other people’s aquarium,” “sheep stealing,” “fleecing the flock,” and “frisking the Body down.” No matter what you call it, it’s a bummer way to grow the Kingdom. Bummer, but inevitable.

Now, I love church planting.  It happens to be one of the best ways to see many people brought into relationship with Jesus.  With intention, planning, and prayer a new church being planted can be a joy and a blessing.  But when a new church is birthed out of frustration, separation, or dissension then the opposite can be true. It lacks joy and blessing.

How then should we respond?  I want to communicate three “positions” we can and ought to take when a church is birthed by breach.

 

1.  Open-handed:  Always hold people loosely…with open hands. They are God’s people. Not ours. When folks tell me (or I hear it indirectly) that they are “transitioning” to another congregation, I make the difficult (but right) choice to bless and release. Note that:  bless and release.  Bless them in their journey and release them to fully participate, invest, serve, give and love in their new venture.  When you hold people tightly then they will unquestionably wiggle and rip their way out of your grasp, but when you are open-handed with people they will sense your blessing and release. These were folks that probably were not long-term under your leadership anyway.  Secondly, people are more likely to return to a congregation with this kind of open-handedness.

 

2.  Warm-hearted: When a church is birthed by breach the natural reaction for a leader is to be frustrated and act out with distain and speak unkind comments. Fight these urges. You may also think it’s best to rally the troops, communicate the facts, set the record straight and defend your ministry by directly or indirectly demeaning the other. Abraham gives us a good model when he and Lot separated ways, in saying, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”  There are some important lessons from Abraham in this passage.  First, make the choice not to quarrel and, in doing so, you are modeling to your people (herdsmen) what warm-hearted Godliness looks like.  Secondly, the land is big and there are many people that need Jesus. It’s important to work together to accomplish that goal.

 

3.  Clear-headed:  In a time when a church is being birthed by breach, it’s not the time to loose your cool. Be calm and clear-headed. Don’t knee-jerk with erratic preaching (ie: jabs from the pulpit), loose comments that could be inflammatory (emotionally and even legally), or congregational head counts. It’s understandable to want to know “who is for you and who is against you” but it violates being open-handed and warm-hearted. I’m mindful of 1 Chronicles 21 in which David insisted that a census be taken in Israel of all the fighting men.  He wanted to know who was with him. Even though his advisors strongly discouraged him from doing such a thing, he went ahead with the head count. Scripture tells us that David “sinned greatly before the Lord” and that he had “done a very foolish thing.”  Don’t lose your head. Instead be clear-headed which means talking openly with key leaders, staff, and elders. It may also mean cost-cutting, refocusing and renewed vision-casting.

At the end of Route 66

Here we stand at the very end(or beginning) of Route 66. Drive 2448 miles on this road and you end up in Chicago. This reminds me that life is a journey, and these are the people I want to make the trip with most!

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The Sons of Ulam

Buried within the heap of the laborious genealogies of the Old Testaments Chronicles, lies a verse that bears elaboration.  The sons of Ulam are mentioned in this one verse and unfortunately we don’t even know their names. What we do know is that between Ulam and his two brothers they had a total of 150 sons and grandsons. That’s certainly is a significant size family, but what is spoken of the sons of Ulam is even more remarkable.

 “The sons of Ulam were brave warriors who could handle the bow.” 1 Chr. 8:40

Big deal, huh?  Perhaps you’re thinking that this verse is in obscurity for a reason!  I believe however that this simple verse contains two concepts that are vital for Christian leadership:  courage and competency.

 

Courage – A Work of Heart

An underlying characteristic in many of our biblical leaders is that of courage in the face of fear and potential failure.  Consider the lives of Moses, Gideon, David,  Paul and certainly Jesus. Each walked with a sense of courage. They were brave. They were mighty.  Of course, each displayed their humanity. Moses questioned God’s plan.  Gideon put out the fleece. David cowered in the caves.  Even Jesus faced the cross with the cry, “Father, if it be your will, let this pass!”  And yet we see so often a deep, abiding courage that resonates within God-fearing, Spirit-filled leaders.

The sons of Ulam were called brave, mighty warriors.  We are challenged to walk in a similar level of courage. Like Joshua we can hear the voice of the Lord say to be ‘strong and  courageous, for I will be with you wherever you go.’  Courage is rooted in that reassuring word from the Lord because one cannot simply pull courage out of thin air. For the believer, we trust in the one who is in us and that he is truly greater than anything the world can put against us.  Therefore, our courage is never a show of our muscle – it is a display of Gods strength made perfect in our weakness.

Courage is much needed in our churches and Christian organizations.  it’s needed in the pastorate and in the pulpit. It’s needed in the decision-making process undertaken by a church board.  It’s needed in our youth ministries and in the care for our children and babies. It’s needed in our outreach ventures and in our worship expression.

What does courage look like in a ministry context?  Is it sheer bravado that often neglects the emotional concerns of the congregation?  Is it strong-handed leadership that demands blind allegiance? Is courage merely an outward display of quick decision-making and reckless abandon?  I fear that in many cases these descriptors are more than accurate – often leaving followers in a wake of hurt, distrust and confusion spurring from the leaders flexing muscle all in the name of ‘courage’.

What is true courage then? I believe we find some clues from the life of David in scripture. Psalm 78:70-72 tells us that the Lord “chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.”  The passage goes on to describe David as one who “shepherded them with integrity of heart.”  

 

Integrity of heart:  these three words contain the essence of what is true courage. Whereas, muscle and meanness (which are often characteristics touted as courage) leave the leader with little energy and the follower with little joy, integrity of heart is a holistic approach to courage.  The leader ministering out of integrity of heart will function with courage – true, Godly courage.

This kind of courage has little to nothing to do with ministry context.  Integrity of heart can be displayed in the sheep pens (small ministry) and in palace (big ministry).  David had courage both in the care of his sheep and then as he became the leader of the people of Israel.  We see this so often in the Old Testament writings. He faced the lions and the bears that threatened the sheep within his care. He then took on Goliath when others ran in fear. Later as King he courageously shepherded Israel with integrity of heart. I believe you’ll lead as you’ve led. Many in smaller ministries say,  ‘I’ll really be effective when I get into a larger context of ministry.”  Courage is courage regardless of whether it is fleshed out in the sheep pens or the palace.

Remember though, integrity does not mean perfection. We know that quite well from the life of David.  He was far from perfect!  But, interestingly, the Bible calls him a ‘man after God’s own heart’ – a description of one endeavoring to walk in integrity, but, like so many of us, falling short at times. And boy do we fall short. What we find in times of sin and failure is similar to what David found – a breakdown of integrity and a subsequent breakdown of…courage.

Integrity and courage are intertwined. The former affects the latter. As leaders, when we are lacking in integrity we will invariably discover a season in which courage diminishes as well. A perusal of 2 Samuel will affirm this. From not going to battle like he should have, to the failure of addressing insubordination with Absalom, to the misstep of counting his fighting men, we see a series of leadership blunders flowing from a lack of courage, which finds its origin in the heart.

So, courage is a work of the heart. Will you allow the Lord to always have access to that area?  The key to courage is integrity. That is an inside job – and the Lord is good at it!

 

Competency – The Work of our Hands

In 1 Chronicles 8, the sons of Ulam were referred to not only as brave warriors (courage), but also as ones who could “handle the bow.” They were well known as archers. The only way you become ‘well known’ for something is if you have invested a great deal of time in order to become proficient at that particular skill set.  We can all think of people that have abilities that are above and beyond.  Perhaps it’s an excellent musician.  Think about incredible sports figures and brilliant authors.  We can listen to a communicator expound upon a topic with diligence and grace, and marvel at the care and craftsmanship of a home well built.  All of these are examples of competency.

Competency is the second concept that is vital for Christian leadership. Competency can be learned and developed. Like a student that progresses in his or her studies, ministers must be ‘life-long learners’ – continually broadening and deepening leadership competencies.

We see this model in Jesus’ development of his disciples.  Bill Hybels writes in his landmark work, Courageous Leadership:  “After Jesus identified all twelve, he very quickly moved into an intense time of investing into their lives. He spent time with them. He taught them. He nurtured them. He confronted them. He motivated them. he rebuked them. He inspired them. Then months later, when he knew the time was right…he entrusted them with real ministry responsibility and coached them into effectiveness. His plan worked marvelously and it’s worth emulating.”  Jesus aggressively helped his disciples grow in ministry competency, therefore supporting the notion that skills can be learned and honed. The sons of Ulam weren’t born with the ability to handle a bow – that had to be developed over time and with intentionality.

How intentional are we at developing our leadership skills?  Do we listen to our own preaching and make necessary adjustments?  Do we read a variety of authors and styles in order to stretch us intellectually?  Do we glean from the wisdom of Godly individuals in an effort to learn from the mistakes of others rather than making them for ourselves!  New competencies are discovered as well as old competencies enhanced in the process.  The benefit for the Kingdom is great as leaders function with not only courage but also with competency.

David again illustrates this in Psalm 78 when it says that he “shepherded them with integrity of heart AND with skillful hands he led them.”  Early on we discover the ‘son of Jesse is a talented harp player’ (1 Samuel 16:18). This passage also couples competency with courage as it goes on to say that ‘he is brave and strong and has good judgment.”

Skillfulness of hands” indicates an ability or capacity for excellence. Our churches today are desperate for leaders that continue to hone their skills in order to lead the Body of Christ effectively in this generation. Be quick to remember though that courage and competency go together. How often have we seen ministries that are full of fire and passion and yet sloppy and careless with people?  As well, how often have we seen ministries that are polished and flawless in execution and yet when pressed they reveal a lack of integrity immediately below the surface?

Both are necessary:  integrity of heart AND skillfulness of hands.  Heart and Hands.  Peanut Butter AND Jelly. Peas AND Carrots.  Courage and Competency must go hand in hand. Bravery and the ability to handle a bow – that’s what gave the sons of Ulam a long-standing place in the Chronicles. What will your place be?

Let’s Read Together

Join me today in Genesis 29-30 and Luke 12.

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Christmas in the Middle of Nowhere

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Blowing Love Up

Apple and Discipleship

Not sure where I read it, but I recently discovered that Apple Inc. (the iMakers of all iThings iWonderful) designates 15-20% of all revenue towards R&D (product research and development). This is a remarkable percentage.

I can certainly appreciate the value placed upon product development especially as I type this blog post upon my MacBook Air, while my iPhone and iPad are within reach. One can only imagine the kinds of innovation that we will enjoy in the coming years.

Despite the wonderful success Apple has had in creating game-changing products, their focus must continue to be upon the development of new technology for their competitive edge to remain sharp. Without R&D we might still be typing away on the Apple II (probably not, but you get the point…).

Now let’s consider the church.  What is our product per se?  What are we supposed to develop?

I believe the answer is disciples.

Jesus’ famous last words to his followers were clear: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20).

We are to be about making more and maturing disciples. This is both quantitative (more) and qualitative (maturing). It is quantitative in that we have “all nations” to draw from. That’s a pretty large pool of people!  And it’s qualitative in that the maturity of a disciple involves an initial point of decision (salvation & baptism) as well as ongoing obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the Scripture.

In John 8:31 Jesus says that a person is really his disciple “if you hold to my teachings.”

In John 13:35 Jesus goes onto say that others will recognize a disciple “if you love one another.”

Obedience and Love. Two marks of a maturing disciple and aspects for the church to emphasis as we endeavor to make more and maturing disciples.

As Christians, if our product is disciples then how much are we investing that direction?

2012: Year of the Word of God

2012. Here we go. I’m pretty excited about what is in store for the next 366 days (leap year!).

Together, let’s read the Bible. Let’s get a Word FROM God from the Word OF God every day this year.

Are you Hungry? Go ahead and feed yourself by reading and interacting with the Word of God.

Bill Hybels has said “that the most effective strategy for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement. Not just getting people into the Bible when they’re in church–but helping them engage the Bible on their own….”

For all of January 2012 West Salem Foursquare will be increasing our appetite for the Scripture. Whether as a Snack, Meal or Feast we encourage you to “taste and see” that the Lord and his Word is GOOD.

Each weekday (Monday – Friday) the Ministry Center at WSFC will be open for a staff-led time of reading, journaling and interacting with God’s Word. Find a time(s) that works for you and your schedule then commit to one or more 20/20/20 Groups.

Perhaps you already have a group that you read the Word with. Great! Keep going. If you’re looking for a location closer to your home or work then grab some folks, set a time and place and go for it!

Bottom Line: If you’re HUNGRY for more of God…Feed Yourself!

Click here to download our January Reading Plan: bible-reading-plan—january