Help people align what they feel underneath what they know; help them wrestle with what is happening in their heart with what they perceive in their mind. The caring shepherd must address this discord or their sheep will scatter in disillusion. This is why most people struggle with the question of pain, “If God is loving why do I hurt?” What they know of God and what they are feeling does not line up. Pastors must feed their people’s minds or the flock will follow their unsettled heart right off a cliff.
They will follow their heart before they will follow you. When they do follow it is because they have learned that the shepherding presence calms their anxious heart, but it is still the heart that rules.
Pain and hurt and struggle and strife are important parts of life. Tribulation is necessary, it is a valley to get through and not try to get around. Everyone must learn to think through what they feel.
When their mind and heart are not aligned, ask:
1) What are you feeling right now, describe the valley of emotions?
2) What do you know about God’s promises?
3) Ask for faith to bridge the gap.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for (I know) you are with me; – Psalm 23:4
We used to camp using old canvas tents with two wood poles. I was confident they were handed down from the Army Corp of Engineers in the 1930s. The challenge was getting the tension right on the guide lines that held the poles in place. When the lines were right and the tension balanced then the poles stayed upright. When the tension was wrong the poles leaned and the tent eventually collapsed. Alignment came from balanced tension.
God gave 5 types of leadership to the local church; missionary leadership, discerning leadership, proclaiming leadership, caring leadership, and teaching leadership. We identity these styles and personalities in Eph 4:11-12 as apostles/missionaries, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Each leader is given to the church as a gift. These are not spiritual gifts like Romans 12:6-8; the individuals are the gifts. Each leader is there to help the church grow into maturity but each leader operates in tension with the other four. Missionaries want to go for God; prophets want to listen for God’s guidance and direction. They can pull against each other at times. Evangelists want to reach more for God; teachers want to take more deeper for God. Prophets want holiness; shepherds want love.
Make sure your leadership is tempered by all five voices. Without the tension the structure can lean, ministries will get out of balance, and the organization can collapse. Find the various gifts/leaders inside your church. Give each God-ordained voice a place to speak into what God’s church is doing. Oh, one more thing. When camping, bigger storms could only be weathered with ample lines pulling against each other in balanced unity. Bigger wind needed more tension, not bigger ropes in one or two places.
You can’t teach people to trust God in the most practical and minuscule aspects of life. You have to model it. Reveal a life of dependence witnessed in your disciplines of simplicity and solitude. Manifest practical faith seen in your work ethic/Sabbath tension. Western culture drives our people to drive more, push harder, reach farther forgetting the prevenient presence of God that calls us to a life-rhythm of dependence and rest.
We are sheep not hamsters. Model a life that lives in fields of God’s grace and provision.
“For we who have believed enter that rest…” – Hebrews 4:2-3
American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition. None of these marks is remotely biblical. None is faintly in evidence in the gospel story. All of them are thoroughly documented diseases of the spirit. Pastors are in great danger of being undetected carriers of the very disease we are charged to diagnose and heal.
Peterson, E. H. (1989). The contemplative pastor: returning to the art of spiritual direction (Vol. 17, p. 58). Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub.
I had the opportunity to write a feature article for Faith-Filled Families March issue on parenting. Read it. Like it. Pass it on.
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)
Elise and I watched The Good Lie, a film with Reese Witherspoon about the Sudanese refugees. It was a powerful story about leadership and sacrifice and the importance of community. The ending credits included this quote, “If you want to go fast then go alone- if you want to go far then go together.”
If you want to go far in your faith then you must learn to go with others. Imagine all the verses in the Bible that come into play when you share your walk. You can help one another, serve one another, love one another, encourage one another, teach one another. The list is long. Flip it around. Being in community brings help, service, love, encouragement, support, and adds depth and understanding to your faith.
It is sad but it is possible to go to church in America and not be a part of the faith community. You can hide in the back and not experience all God intends. So get in a small group, life group, community group, what ever your church calls it.
The Christian faith isn’t something that you can do alone.
“Carry one another’s burdens.” Galatians 6:2
History class was often the most overlooked under prioritized class in school. The adolescent voice cries out, “Why study yesterday when we have today…eat and drink and be merry…etc.etc.etc.” As a church historian, that makes me cringe. Let me offer 6 reasons learning history actually makes you a better leader today;
1. Everyone screws up. History is peppered with big names of venerated leaders who really dropped the ball from time to time. Read David McCullough’s 1776. It wasn’t the greatest year for George Washington, the father of our country. Seeing their mistakes gives hope that we are in good company and we too can survive to lead another day.
2. Your situation has a context. Understanding words and sentences requires context. Understanding your church and your beliefs also requires context. The history of your church and tradition is one section heading in a long chapter of a long book written by God. Learning that context keeps you from taking your current struggle too personally. It gives you a frame of reference.
3. Free lessons in leadership. The historian in me has little patience for the “new” and “popular” of contemporary thoughts on leadership. You want real, battle tested insights? Open your history books! Account after account of the good and the bad and the ugly leadership practices of real people. Oh, and it is free. You don’t have to fly to a conference or hire a leadership coach on the blogosphere. Sit under Churchill. Study Gregory the Great. Read the Apostolic Fathers.
4. Your situation is not new. Study church history in any depth and you will unearth old footprints, impressions of your current situation already played out, lived out. You are not the first pastor to face A,B,C. You are not the first leader to be confronted by X,Y,Z. It has been seen before. What did they do? How did they maneuver the mine-field? Step where they stepped and you will most-likely reap the same results, good or disastrous.
5. History uncovers your control beliefs. We all have pre-understandings and suppositions that filter what we see and what we read and how we process reality. They re-enforce our theologies and root our models of church. They can also lead us into serious leadership error. Study history and you uncover the experiences behind your beliefs. You may also discover reason for a little humility.
6. History gives hope. God worked in the past in wonderful ways. God is still working and working in your situation. History reminds us to be patient and let God write the story. Looking back to previous promises, now fulfilled, helps us stay the course and look to tomorrow.
7. History humanizes those we differ with. The christian church is a big family- a wide river with many tributaries and streams. Reformed. Pentecostal. Evangelical. Catholic. Orthodox. Holy pagans (another article for another time). Hearing their story humanizes them in our eyes and we become more patient in the face of diversity and understanding in the presence of discord.
Start adding a healthy dose of history to your reading list. And, read history outside your stream of theology. If you are Reformed than read about Pentecostals. If you are Pentecostal than read about the Apostolic Fathers. If Catholic than read about the Orthodox. Their story is our story. Our story is His story.
It is an old and true cliche, when God closes a door He opens another. Wise people know you can stand in God’s hallway a long time. Moses spent 40 years in hallway, waiting. Joseph spent approximately 5 years in jail before becoming Pharaoh’s executive. 5 years waiting. The Bible is filled with hallway-sitters, people in between promises given and promises fulfilled. How do you know if you are waiting for God to open a door? Well…
1. You are waiting for a specific door to open. You can name it. It is a noun, person or place or thing!
2. Behind your specific door is something God has already revealed to you. If He hadn’t shared glimmers of things to come you wouldn’t know to walk through it when it opens. Revealing the door might be a surprise, but what lies behind it isn’t.
3. Behind your specific door is something consistent with God’s will. God doesn’t provide opportunities that are contrary to his plan. That is a “Satan” thing; he opens doors left and right! (go back and think about that point some more)
4. Behind your specific door is something specifically for you, designed with your gifts and talents and capacities in mind.
5. Behind your specific door is something desirable. You want it and that is why you are willing to wait for it.
If you aren’t waiting for a specific door you are most likely wandering the hallways trying to find any door that will nudge. WARNING! Not every door is for you and not every door opens up blessings. Do not leave the hall-wandering and enter into settling. How might you be settling? Well, it isn’t the things above. It is less than. If you are about to settle, step back and step away. Get back in the hall! Don’t settle- wait.
You may wander for a season, trying to get a lead on God’s will for you. That is part of the process. Through time in prayer God will begin to nudge you in a certain direction. You will find yourself outside a door, one door, with your next God-planned journey on the other side. When you find your door…wait for it!
…without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. – The Apostle Paul (Romans 1:10)
Faith takes life’s direction and resigns it to God’s discretion. We are left wanting and waiting and falling and flailing without a parachute. And, with this falling, comes an emotion and a need. We feel afraid. Yes, fear and faith are not foreign to each other. How else should we describe the empty abandonment felt before the deliverance of God, not the elation experienced after God confirms the promise. Faith involves fear. It is the cold dead tomb, sealed and silent.
Faith is also need. “God, you must act or I die. You must catch me.” With no need faith does not lead us to new mornings with new days. There is no descent into Christ. Our faith has neither stretched us nor moved us nor changed us. Without need we are not transformed because our self is not crucified upon the altar, nor is pride and self-confidence killed. Faith is a tomb sealed by a rock only God can move, and waiting till morning.
People must know that faith leads to dark, God-intended places. They must expect fear or they will flee the tomb. They must expect need or they will not wait to see God fulfill it. Tell them, “Once you step you are going to start to fall. It is alright to be afraid. It is the right emotion for one out of control. You are gong to be at a loss. But, wait for God. His timing is perfect and provision is beyond measure. After the cold sealed tomb is the blessed morning of resurrection and new life.”
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me…do not abandon the works of your hands. Psalm 138:8