Month: March 2010

Who can lead the church?

What qualifies someone to be a leader in the church? Can someone just announce to the rest of us that “God called me” or “God spoke to me”? How can we evaluate maturity and health in a person who wants to influence others in the local fellowship? What about a Bible school degree? Isn’t that enough? What if the degree has lots of letters and abbreviations after it? Surely that’s enough? Timothy had the same questions for the Apostle Paul and here is his answer as recorded in1 Timothy 3:2-7 (NIV),

“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how he can take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

Paul was clearly pointing out that the bar should be raised more for leaders of the church than for others in the fellowship. Paul was not giving a long list of impossible rules – that’s what the Pharisees were known for doing. No, Paul was giving a short list of reasonable expectations for a significant leader such as an elder or what we would call a pastor.

Paul was also saying that other people should evaluate potential leaders before they could lead. So often, I hear people say, “God is the only one who can appoint me” or “God is the only one who can restore me”. It’s true that God is the only redeemer of our souls, the giver of all our gifts and the only one who can forgive our sins, but God has always used delegated human authority to evaluate men and women who desire to lead a local church. Paul was writing to humans who were trying to choose human leaders. Paul did not say, “take everyone at their word and give leadership to whomever wants it.”

This same list of requirements is meant for those who have disqualified themselves from pastoral leadership and want to be restored. The same requirements that originally qualified us for leadership are the same for those wanting to start over. It also means that once again delegated human authority will have to recognize the work of God in a person’s life the same as in the beginning of their ministry.

Basically, the three areas mentioned in 1st Timothy 3 and again in Titus 1 involve faith, family and finances.  If a leader has a personal mature relationship with God that is evidently growing, has a vigorous, vibrant family and has healthy personal finances, then leadership in the local church should be considered.  If any of these three areas are unhealthy, it is a sign of either immaturity or a lack of character.

Let’s not substitute health and maturity for talent, charm or charisma. The local church is the Bride of Christ and she deserves and requires our best care, forever and always.

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My First Book

I signed a contract today with Zondervan to write two books and thus, my literary journey has officially begun. Today was the culmination of a lot of prayer and waiting. Almost three years ago, people began to encourage me to write, mostly because I was the pastor of a large church and it seemed like the logical next step. However, I never felt right about writing just for the sake of writing. So I waited and prayed.

When the shooting happened on our campus five months after I became the pastor at New Life, the offers to write only increased, but I still felt no peace when I prayed about a book. So I waited and prayed some more.

Looking back, I know now why I was led to wait. The book I am writing is a reflection of the last three years – my journey to New Life, the shooting and the great pain we experienced as a fellowship, what we learned about each other and about God. It is a story of a miracle. It is the story of an amazing group of people who trusted God in the darkest days and decided to worship, pray and love one another.

I believe this book will help anyone who has ended up in the “valley of the shadow of death” but does not want to live there forever. It will help parents who have lost a child, the single mom who has lost a mate, the middle-aged man who is starting over after bankruptcy, the student who is trying make sense of life and anyone who is wondering where God is in the midst of suffering. I am praying that God will use the story of New Life to encourage others that there is often beneficial rain in even the most severe storms of life.

The working title of the book is “Everyone Overcome” which is from the song, “Overcome”. This song was the anthem of our church during our darkest days and was the song we sang at the end of Wednesday night family meeting following the tragic shooting on the previous Sunday. My book should be released sometimes in the Spring of 2011.

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The Big Event

 For the past year, most of our conversations at New Life have centered on meeting the needs of our city and helping mobilize our church to become more missional. We believe our church has to become more focused on the world that exists outside our church walls and not continue our fixation on attendance at events on our campus. However, there is still a real need for the big event, especially in our culture.

 In two weeks, we expect around 50,000 people to come to our campus to watch the Thorn and the Crown. The Thorn is a spectacular portrayal of the Passion of Christ and the Crown is a children’s version of the same story. We will have ten performances of each show the weekend before Easter and the weekend of Easter.

 The challenge for us is to make sure this event advances our mission and does not distract us from our mission.  The investment into these two events is staggering – over a thousand volunteers, dozens of staff members, thousands of dollars. These two events literally consume us for at least two months every year. So what are we doing to do to make sure our investment of time and money bring a Kingdom return?

 First, we are praying diligently for those who have never surrendered to Christ to see and hear a clear presentation of the Gospel. We are going to give every person at each performance a simple opportunity to pray for salvation and we are going to diligently follow up with each person who responds.

 Second, we are dedicating an entire performance to our city’s military families, who can attend for free that night. Before the performance, we are hosting a dinner for military widows to honor them and encourage them. We are praying this opens the door for more ministry on the local military bases because we have a huge burden for our troops and their families.

 We are also going to do a better job of inviting people who do not have a church home back to New Life for weekend worship. We are not targeting people who already attend a local fellowship, but we do want those who are disenfranchised from church to feel welcomed into our family.

 So if we see people saved, military families strengthened and the prodigals return to a fellowship, we believe the big event has been successful.  I still believe the best ministry happens in our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces during the week, but there is still room in our culture for a big event as long as it has a strategic purpose that is understood and embraced by the church.

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What am I supposed to do with all this influence?

Over time, most local churches begin to take on the personality and reflect the values of their Senior Pastor.  It makes sense that this would happen since the Senior Pastor generally influences the congregation more than other leaders in the fellowship. It is a fact that most people attend a church because there is some connection with the Senior Pastor – they like him as a person or like the way he speaks. For sure, there are other, more important reasons, to attend a fellowship, but honestly, most people don’t stay at a church when they don’t like the leader.

So what am I supposed to do with all this influence? First, I am supposed to make sure the church is not built around my personality or my charisma.  In fact, I should be pointing people to Jesus and trying as hard as possible to not block the view. There are some practical ways to make this happen like sharing the pulpit with a team of communicators instead of feeling the pressure or having the ego that demands constant stage presence. This is why I speak at New Life only 35 to 40 weekends each year. It keeps me fresh and rested, and allows others with different gifts and viewpoints to teach and lead.

 A second responsibility that comes with my position is making sure my private world is in order. I really believe we can only impart who we are on the inside. I can talk to the church about any topic in the Bible with some degree of expertise, but I can only impart the values I am living in private. For example, I can teach on giving generously, but the church will never embrace generosity unless Pam and I are generous givers ourselves. I can teach on marriage, but it will sound less than authentic if my own marriage is not strong.

 I take this stuff pretty seriously and I want to challenge my fellow pastors to do the same. Let’s regularly examine our motives to make sure we are not building personal empires and are indeed, serving and sacrificing, to build His Kingdom. Let’s focus more on who we are becoming and not so much on what we are doing. Our churches will look like our homes over time so let’s make sure our own house is in order so His house can look the same.

 Influence is a powerful weapon that carries with it awesome responsibility. It can be used for good or evil and it can be taken away in a moment when not nurtured and respected. Let’s use our influence for the purpose for which it was given – to make Jesus famous and not ourselves.

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New Wine

 Mark 2:22 NIV

 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

 Not many churches in America have experienced as much change and transition as New Life has in the past four years.  While some of the changes were caused by difficulties and trauma, some of the changes were normal and needed. In fact every fellowship needs changes from time to time or it will become increasingly irrelevant and ineffective.

 The problem with change is the old wine. We love the old wine. In fact, wine lovers will tell you that old wine is best. However, the old wine will one day be gone and only the prudent winemakers who long ago began putting new wine into new wineskins will have wine to drink when yesterday’s wine has been consumed.

 All of us want things to be the way they always have been. I mean, if things were great yesterday, shouldn’t they be great today. That sounds right, but that is not the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus used the winemaking analogy to make this very point. Only those who are willing to make new wineskins will get the new wine. Old wineskins were great yesterday, but today, they are of little value.

 The first two months of 2010, I have witnessed the birth of the new New Life.  It was not some master plan of mine to have it happen at this time, but God apparently had other ideas. To be clear, New Life still has at its core some of the same values it has had for 25 years – we love worship, missions, ministry to students and we still place a high value on prayer.

 New Life still feels like a growing family and not some religious monolith.  These are the core values I have tried to protect while at the same time, bring in the new wine that was so desperately needed. We changed the way New Life was governed, we became much better stewards of our resources and we raised the accountability and oversight for all of our ministry staff.  These changes only made us stronger and actually allow us to minister better than ever with fewer resources.

 The new wine we are about to enjoy is rooted primarily in our commitment to be a James 1:27 church, meaning we are serious about helping widows, orphans and keeping our hearts unspotted from the world.  We are also committed to the Great Commission by planting and sending church planters and missionaries around the world.

 I realize many long-time New Lifers have had a difficult time with all the new faces and the new values that direct the leaders. But to their credit, most of them have let go of yesterday and made room in their hearts for the bright tomorrows. I am thankful they have allowed me to bring some new wineskins so God can give us the new wine we so desperately need.

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