The gospel work of the church is viral and adaptive. It infiltrates and subverts established powers. It is a winding, weaving, rooting, climbing, spreading vine that can crack bricks and choke out competition. There is connection enough to get nutrients out to the farthest tips of the next burgeoning vine and leaflet. It isn’t a complicated structure; roots, vines, leaves. The New Testament picture of the local church was chaordic, a tenuous balance of chaos mixed with just enough order to keep it together. If your church becomes structurally heavy then you minimize your gospel effectiveness.
Bureaucratic committees with sub-committees reflect American political ideologies and Wall Street power grids but not the local church’s raw, ever-branching spread-ability. If you have to error between simple and complicated then fall to the side of simple. Simplicity is the faith step that releases individual members to be led by the Holy Spirit freeing them to contextualize the gospel message. Leadership and organizationally heavy churches stifle the very work they are trying to rally. The church is an open field and the gospel a seed. Hold it and you will choke it; release it and watch it grow.
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field… – I Corinthians 3:9
Rest in what you don’t know or rest assured God isn’t in it. The faith factor is a gentle assurance that the leader doesn’t have it all figured out. God is too big, his plans are too vast, his involvement is too unpredictable. Do your due diligence and dot every “i” you know about. Gather all the information you can about the decision at hand. But, infuse the current moment with prayer. You can’t ever see everything. You can’t know everything. You can’t anticipate every contingency. You cannot be ahead of the ball at every point. You would be a faithless leader.
Let God cover it. Go where you cannot go alone. Do what you cannot do without God doing it through you. Moses was completely hands-off in the mismatched battle against the Amalekites. The battle raged beyond his direct supervision, outside his communication lines, and past his immediate jurisdiction. Instead, Moses was hands-up. The more Moses stayed out of it and lifted his hands over it the more God was free to cover the battle with victory.
As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning… – Exodus 17:8-16
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.
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)
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)
Do you have someone you can share everything with? Do you have a group that you keep close? You tell them when ministry is hard. You share when people have let you down. You open up about your fears. You tell them things that you can’t tell everyone, shouldn’t tell everyone. Jesus brought a small group close to his pain.
33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death….” (Mark 14:33-34)
Ministry is not an easy life; Jesus had moments of distress and despair and sorrow and grief. AND, Jesus had friends to share it with, to watch him hurt. Who do you bring close, leader? What do you tell them, pastor? Are you sharing enough? Your honesty will empower and resource their future vulnerability. Revealing your weakness makes them stronger.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Apostle Paul (Gal 6:2)
You make hundreds of decisions a week. Leader or not. The more you lead the greater the consequences of those decisions. Not every decision is a deal breaker. Most are rather small; but even a small decision can shut down your work flow if not handled correctly and efficiently. Use this quick filter for decisions. It frees you up to spend time doing what matters most.
Every decision has only five possible responses; do it now, delegate it, defer it, file for later, delete it.
- I am a huge fan of the 2-minute rule. If you can do something in two minutes then just do it now. It keeps work flow moving and gets things off your mental desk.
- Can someone else do it correctly? Delegate it. But delegate it correctly. Give them the information they need to succeed and then take your hand off the stick. Delegating is designed to free you up to make the decisions only you can make.
- Would it be better to make a decision later? Should you have more people around the table? Defer it. Put it in a place with a date on it. I make certain decisions after sleeping on it, literally. But, once deferred it will need addressed. So defer and date it or you will keep putting it off.
- Is it less like a decision and more like information? File it for later reference. Sometimes your people give you FYIs. Have a system for easy retrieval, stick it where it goes, and move on to the next decision.
- Finally, does it just need discarded? Some decisions don’t need made, the only need deleted. “File 13” it and move on to something that matters.
Pick a decision you are dealing with, big or small. Run it through those 5 filters. Now move on.
When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?…What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. – Jethro Exodus 18:14-18
I haven’t posted in 26 days. I have done other things, important things that no one would call into question. However, as a writer and a blogger and a thinker and a leader I must deliver. I have thought about posting and have intended to post. I put great weight on the priority of living intentionally, on purpose. Yet, intention and action are not the same. Ya gotta get on the horse and ride at some point
You, also, have things that matter to you, to your church and ministry. Yet, they aren’t happening. You want them to happen. You pray about them happening. You have dreams and visions and tell yourself stories about what things will be like when they are happening. You reinforce it with inner monologues while solo-driving on the way to work. But, as of now, nothing is happening. Time to get on the horse.
- Overcome Inertia. You aren’t doing anything so you must get the mind/body/soul in motion, slowly. Do something simple, first, like put your “thing” on the calendar. Carve out a 90 minute block, a week in the future.
- Prime the Pump. While you are doing other things, before your intended and scheduled thing, your mind-factory will begin to work the problem and crank out solutions. Visions of your “thing” completed. Rough-edged. First-drafted. Raw to be sure. In the shower. At bed. Mowing the lawn. WRITE THEM DOWN! Save them for your future meeting.
- Hit the Ground Running. You have come to your scheduled time, you have a paper filled with fodder ideas. Get to work. Plan it. Do it. Write it. Clean it. File it. Scrape it. Paint it. Call it. Whatever you have needed to do, just do it. You will find that overcoming your mental inertia and priming the pump have given you the needed momentum to get ‘r done.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? – Luke 14:28
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.