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God is seeking people who love Christ, His word and the mission of His church; and who want to share the Gospel with others.
Everybody is involved in change. If you don’t believe take a few minutes and look into the mirror. Compare photos of today with 5, 10 and 15 years ago. You see the evidence. Change is occurring in your physical being. Change is the one constant we have to deal with in every category of life; internal as well as external.
Benjamin Franklin may not have been a psychologist by profession, but this statement by him is true: “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
Look around you and notice all the changes that you are involved in related to communication. Notice the transportation changes. Evidence of change is everywhere; some changes are positive and some changes are negative. Both are constantly occurring.
Change, spiritually speaking, is essential to salvation. Jesus said, “repent or perish.” (Luke 13:3, 5) The Greek word translated repent means to “have another mind; to change over.” Thus, out of the changed mind comes the changed life. Behavior is tied to our thoughts (cf. Proverbs 23:7; Mark 7:21-25; Acts 26:10, 11).
Few challenges confront leaders more persistently than change. Yet, how ironic that many church leaders change very little in their personal habits and practices during their lifetime; and especially in leadership practices.
While it is true that a leader can’t change or control the world around him, he can change himself and choose new patterns of behaviors as well as attitudes.
The business leader, Peter Drucker said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” We’ve all heard and used this definition on insanity: “The sign of insanity is doing the same old things over and over and expecting different results each time.” The tendency of church leaders is to say, “We have always done it this way.”
A major danger of refusing to change is the things we hold on to control us. In 50-plus years of full-time ministry, I have noted numerous signs in the lives of preachers, elders, deacons, and teachers that they have not changed in areas where expediency guides instead of a “thus says the Lord.” Here is a quick bullet list of some of these areas leaders refuse to let go:
Traditions which guide how things are done, both in structure, time, evaluating, and measures of success (cf. Mark 7:7, 9).
Habits in approach to teaching, preaching, behavior, and how they deal with any issue that arises.
Sadly, some leaders live behind a wall of fear, worrying about what others will think or what if we fail attitudes.
Stuck in the same old routines which are expressed in prayers, speech patterns, response to questions, etc.
As closed mindset relative to any new observations about a Scripture or new insight related to a context. An unwillingness to restudy any subject.
A tendency to maintain personal relationships with a group or click in the congregation while neglecting others.
A failure to improve educational level. Rarely reads any new books; ignorant of the latest challenge in society; blind to impact on the congregation.
Sadly, some leaders are lazy. They have excuses for not doing their job. They have found the level of “get-by-ism” and find shelter in it. The brethren tend to accept status quo.
There is a tendency of some leaders to let stubbornness keep them from asking for help or admitting they don’t know how to do a certain task. Pride is an enemy of change.
It is amazing how resentment and jealousy hold some leaders back from changing. They will not admit that someone has influenced them or changed their mind. This is another expression of pride.
I must be quick to admit that a reluctance and resistant to change is not the exclusive territory of leaders. It is also part of the mindset of most members. Just let leadership suggest a change in a long-held practice and you’ll see conflict arise to an amazing level; even to the splitting of the church.
The leaders of today must admit that the church is facing challenges and problems she has never faced before, at least not on this magnitude. Congregations are declining in number, programs are being cut, and some congregations are a closing song away from closing the doors forever. It is time for leaders to wake up and make the changes in methodologies, not Scriptures, that will glorify God and expand the borders of the Kingdom (cf. Ephesians 3:21).
Remember: TRUTH HAS NOTHING TO FEAR!
Little Charlie was given a tape measure by his grandfather. He abandoned all his toys to give his attention to the tape measure. He was so obsessed with the new toy that he went around measuring everything in sight. He constantly asked his grandfather questions about items he’d measured: “Grandpa, do you know long your truck is?”
Have you ever noticed how much time, energy, and money is spent on measuring things? Every institution has some procedure for measuring how they are doing. One way is the bottom line on their financial sheet, etc. Most companies are concerned with growth and stability of their products. Success or failure depend on assessments.
Church leaders also measure congregational growth. Have you ever considered the benchmarks most leaders use to measure congregation growth and stability? It usually consists of measuring:
The number in attendance in worship services and Bible classes each week.
The amount of the weekly contribution—meeting budget.
The participation in various programs.
The agreement with doctrinal positions by members.
The finishing of services within the allotted time.
The status of physical facilities.
The choosing of the “right preacher” to draw people.
There is nothing wrong with monitoring these factors, but I wonder if we’re not measuring the wrong indicators relative to the real spiritual growth of a congregation. Have you ever noticed that the New Testament doesn’t place an emphasis or exemplify the above seven measurements for judging the spiritual growth on a congregation?
Under the New Covenant, we find the emphasis is on spiritual behavior, not on external measuring rods such as the above seven. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul exposed numerous qualities of their behavior with their attributes, not their lack of attendance or giving, but to their carnal state: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1).
A reading of Revelation chapters one through three doesn’t reveal Jesus’ concern with the seven benchmarks mentioned above. He zeroes in on their spiritual behavior and attitudes. After acknowledging the overt works of the church in Ephesus, Jesus says, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent…” (Revelation 2:4, 5).
In his brief epistle, which has been called “the gospel of common sense”, James focuses, not on the seven benchmarks, but on spiritual behavior: “Where do wars and fights come from AMONG YOU? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and have not…” (James 4:1, 2).
Jesus made it very clear that what people would notice relative to the success of His followers, wasn’t the seven measuring rods, but one thing: LOVE: “By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
While we discuss them, talk about them, and rarely confront them, such qualities, as anger, gossip, unkindness, unforgiveness, truthfulness, prejudice, etc. aren’t used as measurements of a congregation’s spiritual status.
In exposing the 18 sinful behaviors in the church at Corinth, Paul makes it clear that the solution to correcting the carnal and sinful behaviors was LOVE. In chapter thirteen he gives the attitudinal and behavior qualities of love.
In writing to the church in Galatia, which was abandoning the Gospel and reattaching themselves to Law keeping, Paul didn’t admonish them to attend more and give more, he encouraged them to allow the “fruit of the Spirit” to guide their lives (Galatians 5:16-26).
To the brethren in Philippi, the apostle Paul encouraged them, not to have a carnal mindset relative to what constitutes spiritual growth, but to “Have the mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:4-12). And in chapter four, verses eight through nine, he gives them the thinking agenda that will help them have the attitude of Christ.
The church is the spiritual body of Christ on earth. It is composed of every kind of members from A to Z, from every nation under heaven. No two of us are alike but we all have the same spiritual goal and that is to become like Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:11-17). To be transformed into His image (cf. Colossians 3:1, 2).
We must remember that God’s way of assessing the spiritual growth of a congregation isn’t limited to the seven measurements we noted in the beginning of this article. God judges the heart (cf. Mark 7:19-23). He judges our attitude and behavior toward one another, as well as toward our enemies. There are more than fifty “one another” Scriptures in the New Testament that provide the framework for assessing the spiritual status of a Christian as well as that of a congregation.
I encourage you to look up those one another Scriptures and intentionally use them as an assessment tool for measuring your own spiritual health, as well as encouraging each member to do the same. The above seven may be a starting place but not the ending place. God’s way is the right way!
In training hundreds of preachers and preachers’ wives, and being married to a preacher’s wife, I have seen firsthand during 50-plus years of full-time ministry the toll ministry takes on the preacher and his family.
I have had letters, phone calls, and face-to-face visits with numerous wives of preachers lamenting their lives as wives of preachers. I have also visited with children of preachers who felt neglected and even abused because of their fathers’ ministry. A teenager said relative to her father’s behavior, “Oh if the church only knew what went on behind closed doors in our home they would fire my father.”
Every preacher, at one time or another, has heard the statement, and even made it, “How sad for the preacher to save the world and lose his family.” It is not minimizing the importance of “saving the world”, it is shining the spotlight on the preacher’s in- mission field—his family.
Preaching is like no other job, and make no mistake, you may call it whatever you wish, but it is a job, work, and none house -ending day after day demands. The preacher is like a volunteer fireman in a neighborhood, on call 24-hours a day. The preachers’ job is one overseen and supervised by every member of the congregation who is expecting an endless list of demands to be fulfilled with little time off, limited vacation time, etc.
In researching and writing Preventing Ministry Burnout, as well as honestly evaluating my own life and ministry, I found some very disturbing truths about preachers and burnout. One amazing discovery was when I lectured on burnout at various places, preachers were reluctant to attend. One preacher asked to visit with me in secret because he didn’t want his elders to see him talking with me about burnout. On one occasion I sent out 100 invitations to attend a seminar, only two responded.
Not only do preachers have family issues they also have numerous personal issues. Many are overweight, suffering depression, low energy, high blood pressure, and other health related issues. In my book, I discuss these and other personal issues related to ministry and burnout.
Preaching is not a nine-to-five job, where he punches an end and out time clock. He is on call 24-hours a day, 365 days each year. He doesn’t have “no” in his vocabulary. One preacher said in a proud voice tone, “I’ll rest in heaven; there is too much work to do to spend time resting or taking it easy.”
The preacher spends hours listening to others and their problems but doesn’t have time or energy to listen to his wife, much less his children. He knows what’s going on in some members’ lives more than he knows what’s going on in his family members lives. A teen boy said, “Daddy visits others more than he visits with me.”
One preacher confessed that his wife was his “dumping ground” relative sharing all the challenges and problems in his ministry. She is the only “safe person” he can share his personal disappointments, setbacks, hurts, conflicts, and frustrations with. She watches her husband deal with criticism, misunderstandings, and endless conflicts. The children watch and absorb the pain without being able to share in the solutions. On the other side of the coin is the preacher who involves his family in all the issues, but solutions never go beyond the four walls; the only resentment goes out the door.
It is easier to talk about this problem than to implement a solution. How can we address and dialogue about these issues faced by most preachers in full-time ministry? Here are some suggestions:
The first step to solutions is an honest admittance of the problem. The second is a documentation of all the issues related to “neglecting the family.” The third step is for husband and wife to openly and honestly discuss the need for more balance. The fourth step is to pray for wisdom relative how to share the issues with church leadership. The fifth step is to make out a family time together schedule. The sixth step is to have a family conference where you share your new plans with the family. Adjustments will be made after input. The seventh step should be a sharing with the church leadership your need and plans to lead a more balanced life as their preacher. Be positive and seek their guidance. Don’t try to jump the Grand Canyon in one leap. Eighth, study the balanced life of Christ.
Hopefully, this brief article has opened the door for serious discussion relative to the preacher and his family. You want to save the word AND your family. I suggest you get a copy of my book Preventing Ministry Burnout available here.
My first exposure to organized leadership was from a group of coaches on a football. My second was as a Boy Scout being led by a former Marine. A major leadership experience was in the US Navy. Later working as a machinist in a shop I saw firsthand manufacturing and business leadership. As a Patrolman and City Detective, I saw leadership at all levels in law enforcement and city government, etc.
As a full-time preacher and elder in the church, I have seen numerous approaches and kinds of leadership—from secular to deeply spiritual. I have worked with an amazing number of leaders on all levels. I have served in academic and educational roles; from organizing major soul winning workshops, to working in publishing and marketing, etc.
I have taught leadership at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as conducted seminars, workshops, and spoke on numerous leadership programs. I have authored 17 books on various aspects of leadership, as well as written numerous articles.
I mention all this as an introduction to the qualities I am listing in this article. They are my personal conclusions after all my years being involved in leadership. Few questions are asked more frequently than, “What are the qualities of a positive leader?” The following qualities I deem as positive and essential. They aren’t given in any strict order or priority, other than #1. I realize that leadership is always situational, thus since no two are the same, we would expect the kinds and qualities of leadership needed will vary. However, I believe many of the ones I list will have a wide range of application to every context of leadership.
Character has to be at the top of the list. Without character—Christ-like character—a leader’s credibility will be lost and so will those who follow.
Knowledge of the Scriptures and how they relate to his leadership assignment.
Skills relative to an assignment are essential for effective and productive leadership.
Fearlessness is developed in obedience to the command Paul taught Timothy: “God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear” (1 Tim. 1:7).
Change creators when it is essential to the mission of the church. The three-folds mission of (1) evangelism, (2) edification, and (3) equipping.
Love is expressed toward, God, brethren, and even one’s enemies. The qualities of 1 Corinthians 13 are his guidelines.
Attitude that is imitating Christ (cf. Phil. 2:4-9); knowing “as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).
Ethics are without question in every relationship and transaction in and out of the church.
Communication skills exist and are continually be honed to the finest point possible.
Self-discipline is a major factor and practice that keeps the spiritual leader in step with God’s word and demands.
Prayer is a perpetual practice in his daily life (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17), and something he shares with others.
Responsibilities are taken very seriously. He sees his mission as an “ambassador for Christ.” He must be faithful in every assignment and work.
Balance is a priority in his life. He is a team player. He takes time off to rest and recuperates. He knows stress is a killer.
Inspires and encourages others in the good and bad times.
Solutions are his main objectives in his position of leadership. He knows the end doesn’t come when you identify the problems. The solution is the next step.
Impartiality describes his fairness to others, as he treats everyone with respect and honor.
Flexibility describes his attitude when new ideas are presented or called for by others. His mind is not closed.
Diligence describes his work ethic. He believes Solomon’s words: “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.”
Desire characterizes his role as a leader. He desires to glorify God (Eph. 3:21), and help his followers get to heaven.
Faith describes his daily walk with the Lord. He knows he can’t please God with faith (Heb. 11:6; Rev. 2:10).
How will you intentionally apply this lesson to your leadership?
Fighting leaders! Really? Isn’t fighting out of harmony with humility, the Golden Rule, and turn the other cheek taught by Jesus? Yes, if physical abuse and harm are being emphasized. If we are speaking about spiritual fighting, no.
The Scriptures use fighting and fight as metaphors to describe the spiritual warfare and battles Christians are perpetually engaged in. A champion fighter in the early church, the apostle Paul, wrote these words to a young preacher named, Timothy. “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were called and have confessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate” (1 Timothy 6:12).
In the last months of his life and end of his fighting, the old warrior, Paul, wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8).
It was the apostle Paul who wrote that every Christian is a soldier in the army of Christ, thus a fighter: “You, therefore, must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3, 4).
To the soldiers of Christ in Ephesus the apostle Paul wrote a dress code, weapon requirement, and fight plan for Christians (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20).
Now that we have seen that spiritual fighting is commanded and illustrate in the Bible, I want to share some applications I believe all church leaders need to fight.
As we noted in Paul’s remarks in 1 Timothy 6:12, we must “fight the good fight of faith.” This references the “faith that justifies” (Romans 5:1); the faith we must defend (Jude 3); the faith we must live unto death (Revelation 2:10; the faith we must walk by (2 Corinthians 4:7); and the faith without which we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Leaders must fight mediocrity. Whatever our hands find to do we must do it with all our might (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:10). We live in a world where the tendency is for workers to only do enough to get by and keep the boss off their backs. Christian leaders must constantly strive for the best. Jesus wasn’t a mediocre leader; the Gospel is not a mediocre message, and the church isn’t a mediocre social club. We are a highly skilled army giving our all for the Commander and chief.
Leaders must fight resistance to change. While we must not change the teaching of Scriptures that are rightly interpreted by sound hermeneutical rules, we must not let our commitment to traditions and expediencies be stronger and more binding that a “thus saith the Lord” (Read John 12:48). The methods of a bygone era, not matter how effective they might have been, aren’t working today. I will reluctantly quote it again: “Doing the same old things over and over expecting to get different results each time, is a sign of insanity.”
Leaders must fight the reluctance, and in some cases fear, to add new leaders to the leadership team. Have you noticed two things: (1) all the present leaders are getting older? (2) and one day there will be a need to fill their shoes? When the Titanic is sinking it’s too late to select and train a new captain or deck hands. Start a training and mentoring program when you don’t need new leaders so that when you do they will be ready to step up to the plate.
Leaders need to fight being influenced by all the negativism in the world, as well as that which exists in some congregations. A leader’s attitude is a major factor in his success or failure as a leader. Read Numbers chapter 13 for a classic and sad example of how the influence of 10 spies can halt the work of God and bring “wilderness wanderings” as punishment upon the people. Dare to have the “attitude of Christ” (Philippians 2:4-9). The Book of Acts is called Acts for a reason. Why do you suppose it received this designation?
Leaders need to fight their pride and ego. Some leaders are like store bought cakes relative to their minds already being baked in a mold and ready for serving. Like the defenders of Edom, some leaders think their way is the only right way, but the “the pride of their hearts deceive them” (Obadiah 3). Many are like the leaders who once said sarcastically, “One time I thought I was wrong but it turned out to be a mistake.” Leaders who lead effectively have open minds and readily admit when they are wrong. They love the truth and have no fear of being exposed to it; in fact, they seek it (cf. proverbs 23:23; John 8:32, 36).
Leaders need to fight busyness and burnout. It is encouraging to see leaders work with zeal and commitment. However, here is a truth. Whatever a leader is going to do, or is doing, for the Lord and His church, he must do it in the one body he will always have. Stress has been identified as a major contributor to numerous health issues; even death (Read my book, Preventing Ministry Burnout, amazon.com). Jesus set the example of getting away to rest (cf. Mark 6:30, 32).
Leaders need to fight neglecting their families. How sad to save the whole world and lose your own family. How sad to help other people with their problems but neglect helping you own family members. Because of neglect, many children of church leaders lead the church after turning 18. Some refuse to accept leadership roles because of what they saw growing up at home. A leader’s first mission field is in his own home. Your biggest leadership challenge is within the four walls of the home.
These eight areas leaders need to fight are only the tip of the iceberg Take a moment and think of several more. Which is the major one that you need to fight?
A young graduate swaggered down the steps of the university with his BA degree under his arm, he was now educated and ready to change the world. A voice from heaven said, “Sit down, son, and I will teach you the rest of the alphabet.”
The alarm has been sounding for years relative to the dumbing down of students in the American education system. A nation that once ranked among the highest in education is on a rapid downward spiral toward the bottom.
In a recent set of street interviews of college students, the lack of knowledge and learning was obvious. One student was asked who won the Civil War, he answered, “England.” A woman was asked to define socialism, she replied that was when persons got together for a party.
“There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility (www.psychologytoday.com/basics/deception).
Before we think ignorance is the peculiar territory of young university students, how about in the church? A class of freshmen Bible majors was asked on a test, what is an epistle? Several answered an epistle was an apostle’s wife. It may amaze you to learn that on the same test some said Moses built the ark.
Hosea was also describing the condition of our day when he penned these words of the Lord: “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being a priest for Me; because you have for-gotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hoses 4:6).
The trend in American education seems to be centered more on getting a job than getting a balanced education. This trend has made inroads into the church. Some training of preachers and leaders for serving churches centers more on maintaining the traditions, status quo, and keeping the members happy. Many graduate and never add the rest of the alphabet to their BA. There is much more to learn.
Years ago I saw a cartoon which depicted two older men leaving a church service. One was captioned as saying, “My, how things have changed in the church.” His friend replied, “What do you mean?” “Remember when you used to bring your Bible to church? Now you need to bring a dictionary.”
The growing anti-intellectualism to learning, scholarship, and education is seen in the dumbing down of secular approach-es to teaching and learning. We see this practice as well in some local congregations in the reduced emphasis on a “thus saith the Lord.”
A snapshot of a typical assembly will reveal a well-behaved, somewhat well-dressed group of people auditing what is being taught. Most will be forgotten once they are out the door, rushing to the restaurant or home to catch the game. Few are committed to being intentional learners by being “doers of the word” (James 1:22-26).
Check it out! If a teacher required taking notes, writing a brief paper, and taking a test in order to improve learning in a Bible class, next class period only the chairs would be present. The evidence seems to indicate that many Christians, leaders included, aren’t planning on doing in real learning.
What is learning? Learning: “The art, process, or experience of gaining KNOWLEDGE or SKILL.” It is the SKILL aspect of learning that is lacking in most church efforts to educate members. The Bible calls this “Being a DOER of the word and not just a hearer only” (James 1:22-26). Benjamin Franklin said:
“Leadership and learning,” said John F. Kennedy, “are indispensable to each other.” You didn’t learn to walk by hearing your parents read books of walking, telling you stories about walking, nor by showing you a video on walking. You learned to walk by seeing others walk and by taking action: crawling, standing, falling, wobbling, stepping, walking, and finally running.
One of the greatest pieces of advice every given on the subject of learning was written by King Solomon:
“To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom,
Justice, judgment, and equity;
To give prudence to the simple,
To the young man knowledge
And discretion—A wise man will hear
And increase learning, and a man
of understanding will attain wise counsel.”
Every Christian but especially leaders need to memorize these Scriptures, place them on plaques and in frames in order to continually be reminded of how important continual learning and doing God’s word is to their spiritual life and service.
Leadership in the local churches of the 21st century is facing challenges no other generation has faced.
The influence of the world is rushing through a door opened wide by social media and entertainment media. It is not uncommon to see members in an assembly sending texts back and forth during services.
On a national level, as many as 50 to 55 percent of so-called evangelicals believe they can get as much out of a home devotional as attending an organized church service.
The congregations I have observed have from 25 to 30 percent of those in attendance on Sunday morning returning Sunday and Wednesday nights.
The moral and ethical issues that once rarely crept into the church family are now so common that they are acceptable as the new normal. Caesar, feelings, and humanistic rules and practices determine actions, etc.
It is not uncommon to see church leaders throwing up their hands and going with the flow. Why? They don’t know how to deal with the issues. They haven’t, and will not, learn how to handle conflict, etc. The sheep need biblical counseling but the shepherds haven’t learned how. Why?
There is no reason, much less excuse, for 21st-century church leaders not to learn the things they need to know to effectively lead God’s people. Learning can take place through an auto-didactic method or through an organized institution method. The dumbing down of church leaders needs to stop.
What are you going to intentionally do to learn a new skill that will help you be a more effective leader? What study have you been procrastinating relative to starting? Only YOU can learn for YOU.