Good church leaders constantly confront the American Christian’s primary language, individualism. We are born and bred to speak it fluently. Yet, the notion that “we can do it”, “it is up to us”, “your life is in your hands” is antithetical to the grace of God and the blessings of sovereign providence. Leaders must guide people to the place of rest, knowing “our times are in His hands.” (Ps 31.15) A great ally in this constant struggle is your worship leader.
Read the un-individualistic language of the psalmist from Psalm 73, a prophetic song to American ideology,
73 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment….
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.[a]
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”…
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever….
Work with your worship leaders to sing songs that elevate God’s character, his works, his power. Watch out for excessive “I” language; like psalm 73, sing about the “You” of God’s power and counsel and provision. The mnemonic nature of song will carry with the worshipers and help remind them that God rules and reigns. The Spirit will “reboot”/ “reprogram” the worshipers mind instilling the truth that God is the source of all. This may mean gutting much of the popular hymnody sung it your many churches. However, you cannot afford enforcing self-centered ideas in a world sustained by God.
The United States published over 300,000 different books in 2013. Not all of them good. Not all of them helpful. Many of today’s non-fiction books are an insult to the trees that gave their life in the name of profit-driven publications. Still, your ability to read books well enables you to draw forth diamonds out of the desert.
- Get your books in print. The tactile and mental rigor of reading well is hampered by e-readers. You can text and tweet your favorite quotes from your phone after the fact. In the beginning, keep it raw by getting it in print!
- Read with a pen and highlighter. You are hunting for ideas. Ideas lead to other ideas that impact paradigms and assumptions. Underline and scribble and connect and mark and highlight and circle.
- Separate the wheat from the chaff. When you find something that grabs you, feeds you, then transcribe the idea to a blank sheet in the book. Use an end-sheet or flyleaf. List the page number and the date.
- Note the notes. Footnotes and endnotes are a bed of wealth. Well-written books offer further research and follow-up reading. They provide you direction to bigger pay-dirt. And, the presence of notes cue you in that you have left the popular world of op-ed writing and have entered the fertile territory of non-fiction research and publication.
- Accumulate a list for further reading. Note oft’ cited authors and the books that provide a backing for the ideas you are wrestling with. Get them on your Amazon wishlist.
- Collect Questions. Good books confront you and threaten to change you. You know this is happening when the text cultivates questions. Collect your questions on a blank sheet and start wrestling with the answers.
- Go the extra mile. Type up your favorite points, future reads, collected questions, and bibliographical information in a searchable note file or other digital database of your choosing. I am an Evernote freak. This gives your reading a legacy and provides you with fodder for future work and a place to keep working.
Not every book is worth reading no matter how popular it is, what list it is on. Still, the discipline of reading well makes sure you don’t walk away empty-headed.
Good questions are the seed bed of conversation, personal growth, and relational health. The whole reason that you have a relationship with Christ is because the Holy Spirit started asking you questions, “Who is Jesus? Are you sinful? Are you good enough for God? How is this going to end?” Your doctor has a standard list of questions that he asks. They reveal general components of your health and well-being. Consider the same practice as you encounter various “groups” of people. Make asking questions a regular part of your ministry, relationships, and personal spiritual formation.
- Church Members: What are 3-5 questions you that could cue you into someone’s spiritual health? I like to ask, “What is something God has done this week that surprised you?”
- Family/ Friends: What are 3-5 questions you can ask to open up conversations about their day, worries, and needs? I ask my sons, “What is something that made you sad today?”
- Personal Questions: What are 3-5 questions the Holy Spirit asks you to help you stay focused on what matters most? God asks me, daily, if I have cherished my wife and delighted in my sons.
Keep your questions open-ended. Do they probe for answers that cue you in to what is going on deep inside the person? Be sure to listen for their answers and don’t decide what to ask next until you have processed the last response. Your thoughtful questions invite people to grow. Start a journal with good questions. Answers change as people change but you won’t know that unless you ask them better questions.
God confronted Adam, “Where are you?”
God questioned Elijah, “What are you doing here?”
Jesus probed Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”
I had the chance to meet with my academic adviser, Dr. Dale Coulter, while in Virginia Beach this week. We were trying to iron out the remainder of my program at Regent. He was trying to help me understand where I fit within Christ’s larger family and realize the blessing of my pedigree. My historical context often leaves me swooning. Follow the time-line:
- Saved at 4 in a KJV-only fundamental church
- Raised in a Seventh-Day”esque”, Old Testament congregation
- Attended a Conservative/ Reformed college
- Trained and ordained by a Holiness denomination
- Pastored in Brethren, Holiness, and Non-denominational/ Baptist churches
- Graduate work at both Baptist and Pentecostal seminaries
I have paddled up many of the theological tributaries in the great river of Christian faith. And, as a history “student” tracked God’s working over the diverse landscape of time. I have covered a lot of ground and here is the result.
I find few things worth holding in a tight fist- theological things, hills to die on. (This often comes at the consternation of fellow church-attenders who have a great deal more “convictions” and feel the pastor should feel as the feel!) I have seen and studied too many Christian leaders, movements, splits, and reformations that chose to hold onto ideas over holding onto people. I have convictions, things that are important to me, and you need to have convictions. Never hold them and present them in a way that repel others. Keep your hands open as much as possible and as long as you can. Only fight over ideas if you can do so without abusing people’s journey towards God. If people trip and leave let it be over the gospel, (which is an incredibly narrow set of tenants, ala I Cor 15:3-4).
Make every effort to do what leads to peace…do not destroy the work of God over (issues)…whatever you believe about these (issues) keep between yourself and God. – Apostle Paul (Romans 14:19-22)
Lucas, my oldest son, and I were walking home from school. The snow was melting but a thick glaze of ice covered our path. Lucas didn’t want to fall so he grabbed my hand. Together we walked, hand in hand, across the ice and back to safety. Some of your people are in an icy spot. They can’t move forward on their own; they are close to falling. Do not underestimate the power of human touch. God has so wired our brains that physical contact with another human being;
- lessens chronic pain
- improves heart function
- lowers high blood sugar
- improves immune functions
Human tough does truly heal! A hand on the shoulder, a hug, holding the hand of faltering family members anchors them in the reality that they are not alone. It connects them to hope. The physical gesture provides an emotional and mental assurance. It is a physical manifestation of the care and compassion of the Father in heaven.
Jesus, if you are willing you can heal me…and Jesus reached out and touched him. – (Mark 1:40-41)
Some leaders are primarily gifted as administrators, given to order and process. They have to-do lists and those lists have sub-ordered to-do lists under alphabetical headings. Other leaders may focus on more organic components of church life but administrators tune into the organization. Here is the warning, administrator, don’t be so keen on keeping order in your church and personal faith that you miss the priority of life. A corpse, thanks to the undertaker, has everything in order. A computer is in order but quite lifeless.
Catholic Bishop, Léon-Joseph Cardinal Suenens said in 1974:
I felt as I became a bishop, taking part in the work of the hierarchy, that the Lord was calling me first to be at the disposal of the Holy Spirit, and second to be an administrator. If God is to be free to act, we need the Spirit and life first; then we give it order. Life proceeds order.
Don’t spend your days administering a dead ministry, career, or system all for the sake of order. Prayerfully seek God’s daily filling. It is messy and unpredictable and organic but with Jesus-infused life you will have something worth organizing. Your systems will flow from a well of life. Your plans will come from a place of abundance and vibrancy.
You can’t harvest from fruitless plants, no matter how straight the rows are.
I came that (administrators) might have life and have it to the full. -Jesus (John 10:10)
You may be your greatest enemy. You, and not demographics and demonic strongholds and historical/ cultural contexts, may be the greatest barrier to fruitfulness and growth in your local church. God knows that along with increased growth comes greater influence and power and opportunity. You may not be in a position, spiritually, to handle more fruit. Your plate may have reached its capacity.
The Apostle Paul did not want the fruits of ministry to get the best of him. He didn’t want to be his own ceiling. He took bodily discipline seriously. He made sure grace, via the Holy Spirit, had his body in check. Attack your pride. Deal with your appetites. Control your passions so you can run your race till the end.
I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – The Apostle Paul (I Cor 9:27)
For more, read The Human Body and Spiritual Growth from Christian Educator’s Handbook on Spiritual Formation.
I don’t let my young children watch the news. I don’t let them watch certain movies. Their young minds are not ready to process the depth of the world’s reality nor filter the fantasy movies present as true. Muslim sleeper cells are real. Lurking phantoms are not real. Both would keep them up at night.
Values and convictions are the result of time and prayer and study, or the lack there of. Some ideas are not feeble notions and they are not for everyone. Convictions are effective agents and in the wrong minds, unprepared minds, they cause damage. Many of your church members are not ready to wrestle with some of the ideas and realities that you have embraced for years. You are not deceiving them but respecting their journey. Telling them what you think about “A” or “B” or “C” may actually crush the very faith you are trying to build. Ask yourself:
- Is the Holy Spirit leading me to share this learned truth?
- Do I have a strong relationship with this person?
- Do I need to share this idea?
- How will this certain conviction deepen their walk with God?
- Am I sure I am correct?
Before tossing followers a hot potato discern if they are able to withstand the heat.
And Jesus said to Peter when they first met, “Peter, follow me and they will crucify you upside down.” Book of Never Happened- Chapter Not Once, Verse Nada.
If you find yourself in the in-between, in between the church you left and the church you have yet to find, then the correct questions will be an important guide and filter. Of all the important questions I want to focus on two; where are the seeds, and what are the weeds.
- Where are the seeds? (The Realistic Visionary Question) Identify the points of potential while interviewing the latest church. Find hints of future fruitfulness that your particular gifting and experience can help cultivate. I have years of experience leading and developing the creative/communication/worship arms of a church’s ministry. It is tempting for me to focus on churches that have all those issues ironed out. This would rob churches that need leadership and experience in growing these areas. This is really about discerning what is possible and what is probable. You want probable growth and this comes from identifying existing seeds of ministry.
- What are the weeds? (The Honest Pragmatist Question) Weeds limit ministry and stifle potential. Weeds get in the way of what you are good at, where you are prone to plant, and wrap around your ankles. Finding the weeds takes time and discernment. Yes, in time all weeds can be rooted out but that takes incredible patience and investment. Be honest with your weaknesses and look for clear resistances. They can look like demographics, trends, inverse momentum. Church polity could be weeds. Buildings could be weeds. Neighborhoods could be weeds. Finances could be weeds. And the same weeds present different levels of challenges for different incoming pastors depending on gifts and experiences. Every church has weeds- can you deal with the ones in front of you.
Ask both questions. They help you discern your best fit, where you can contribute the most for God’s kingdom.
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. – Paul to Titus (Titus 1:5)
Elephants never forget and Christians seldom remember.
Promises are only as good as someone’s ability to learn AND retain them. When the time comes to hold God to his word, whether in finances or relationships or trials, stepping out on faith rests on a Christian’s memory. After all, you can not act on what you do not remember. Part of your responsibility as the “church” in someone’s life is making sure attenders are regularly reminded about God’s character, his promises, and the greater story attenders have entered. It is an age of message overload. People are more prone now to forget God’s promises being subjected to so many voices in a given week.
Churches that do the most to help members remember God’s truth;
- …maximize song selection on Sundays. The mnemonic power of music is a gift and tool. The psalms were not written to hype temple worshippers but to help truth retention.
- …incorporate some form of liturgical reading. If you want your members to know the story than make sure they hear it often.
- …promote bible memorization as a discipline at all ages.
- …illustrate sermons using narrative passages from the Bible. The mind is wired to remember stories more than alliterated, pithy principles.
Pack your pews with pachyderms. Reverse rampant memory loss in churches. Help your members remember!
I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them…I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live…and I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. – Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:12-15)