That is MY Pastor!!!

In June 2008 I was speaking at a kids camp. At the time, when I was the senior pastor of a church in Washington State, I drove to Oregon to speak at Camp Crestview. In true fashion, I always bring a couple of containers full of costumes and props for the week. At camper registration time I love to walk around, acting goofy, while welcoming students and their parents.

One mother and son posed with one of those cut-out displays that has a body and YOU provide the head. Pretty funny looking. I saw this unsuspecting duo standing there so I jumped into the picture then slipped away quickly without them noticing.

After camp they had the pictures developed and didn’t think much of it…UNTIL Jennie (the mother) saw the picture come up a year or so later on her computer’s screen saver.

Jennie leaned in closer to the monitor, leaned back, adjusted her gaze, and declared: “That is MY Pastor!”

You see, at that particular kids camp was a large group of students and leaders from West Salem Foursquare Church – the congregation that months later Denise and I would be called to serve.

Unofficially, the first connection I would make with this wonderful church would be through it’s Children’s Ministry leaders and about 80 elementary students. Honestly, I can’t think of a better route to go. This ought to be the pathway into all senior pastorates: through the relational connections with the kids.

To this day I get high-fives and hugs from students that remembered me as their camp speaker that year. So many of our students knew me before their parents did. I love that.

In my opinion, there is no greater service to the Body of Christ than to its young people. There is no greater investment of resources. There is no greater ministry opportunity than to serve children. I know these are bold, and potentially polarizing statements (ie: what about MY ministry, etc. etc), but I believe it.

Kids are at the core of the heart of Jesus. What’s at your core?

Splitting the Baby

Ah, to be Solomon.

In 1 Kings 3 Solomon, in a dream, asks the Lord for wisdom. His prayer is one that I have asked on a number of occasions and in various ways:

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? 1 Kings 3:9

Although a dream, this nighttime prayer became a reality. Solomon was indeed graced with immense wisdom. We discover its practical implications through an interesting encounter with two mothers (albeit prostitutes) that came to Solomon to have a disagreement settled.

One of the mothers had rolled over onto her baby in the middle of the night, smothering the little one. She then switched the dead baby for the living one. This was a classic “While You Were Sleeping” moment. However, like any mother worth her salt, the woman knew that the dead baby simply was not hers.

The battle of words begins: Yours. Mine. Not Yours. Alive. Mine. Dead. Yours. Mine.

Enter Solomon.

After listening to the arguments, in a bold move, Solomon presented a solution. His remedy has become a prototype for conflict resolution. Throughout the centuries, leaders have leaned upon Solomon’s sagely advice:

Bring me the baby. Oh yah, and a sword too. Gasp. I’m gonna split this cute little thing into two evenly divided pieces. Bigger Gasp. Each of you will get a piece. That should settle this. Another huge Gasp.

In church life, Lead Pastors have to “split the baby” all the time. Not literally, of course. The baby is representative of ministry focus, good ideas, financial resources, etc. etc. All ministry leaders have their “babies” – the ministries they oversee, the specific ideas and concepts they generate, and the passions that are burning brightly within their hearts. These all must be cared for and nurtured and yet, sometimes, the baby must be split. Not every good idea can be integrated. Rarely are there enough resources available for everyone’s passion to be released at the larger, congregational level.

So how does a leader “split the baby” effectively? Here are few thoughts:

1. Pray for wisdom
Before issuing a decree, talk to the Lord. This can happen on the fly or over time. Sometimes decisions must be made quickly and the leader must seek the Lord in “real time.” In other situations, wisdom would demand a reprieve in order to pray. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I will need to get back to you. I need to take some time to pray about this. Will you join me in praying this through?” Scripture tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

2. Listen closely
Leaders often have very refined views and directions that have been shaped over time, and therefore can be predisposed to poor listening skills. Ok, maybe that’s just me. In other words, we have been around the leadership block and we have heard many things, often with similar, predictable patterns (ie: been there, done that, bought the t-shirt!). Because of this, it’s so important to fight the urge to tune out, but rather listen…closely. The next best idea may be in the your next conversation. The Holy Spirit will often steer our hearts as we listen to his voice and to his people.

3. Value subtleties
When leaders are called upon to make decisions regarding great ideas with limited resources, one must depend upon subtleties. In Solomon’s case the subtlety was how the real mother refused to see the baby split (thus killed), but insisted that the fake mother receive him. This expressed true love, not selfishness. We need the wisdom of the Lord to pick up these kinds of subtleties when it comes to leadership decisions. Often when deciding between ideas we must actively listen for the little details that separates good from great. These subtleties will serve us in our decision making process. And we MUST make decisions…

4. Make clear decisions
At some point, after seeking the wisdom of the Lord, listening attentively, and weighing out the subtleties, a leader must make the call. That is what separates leaders from..well…followers. When you feel as if you’ve gotten the best information possible and have prayerfully been submitted to the wisdom of the Lord, then one must make a decision. If it is to “split the baby” then do it. If there are other options, then choose one. This is the tough stuff of leadership, and we wish we could “defer” it all the time. That would mean, however, that we aren’t the leader we think we are. Leaders make clear decisions.

5. Move on
This may sound cold and heartless, but, leaders have to “move on.” There will always be another decision to make. Even if you feel that you “really messed up” the last one: move on. You will live to fight another day. There will always be another “baby to split.”

Leaders: seek the wisdom of the Lord, listen to your people, value the subtleties that surface, make the hard calls, then move onto the next challenge. This is leadership. It’s not always easy. But, man, it is vital.