Pastoral Leadership is…

Bible at Night (2)Someone said of her pastor, “He is a great visionary! He has motivated our church to reach our city.” Another states, “He is such a people person. He is the first to be at the hospital bed of one of his parishioners.” Still another notes, “He is an amazing salesman. He raised a ton of money for that building.”

While I might agree that these are skills that serve a leader well in leading a church…I would also ask, “Is this the primary role of a pastor?” More directly…is pastoral leadership primarily about visiting the sick, casting incredible visionary strategies or raising funds to resource the mission?

I had a leader in a church I served once say to me, “You’re a really good preacher, but you lack in sharing vision and getting people to follow the plan.” I’m not sure if that was true, or if it was an attempt to wound, but ultimately, is this what we need more of…

QUESTION:
When did that become the primary criteria to evaluate a pastor’s leadership? 

I know and have heard the pragmatic arguments. I am not dismissive of them; rather, I am wondering why they do not appear 3 or 4 down the list.

Acts 1 states that prior to Pentecost, the disciples gathered in the upper room and gave themselves completely to prayer.

Acts 6 reminds us that the Apostles sought to delegate ministry to appointed men so that they might give themselves completely to the ministry of the Word and to prayer.

It was Peter’s Spirit-anointed sermon at Pentecost that led to the conversion of 3,000 (Acts 2) and it was the teaching of Peter and John that shook the city and incited the leaders to arrest them in Acts 4:1-4. Teaching that also led to the church’s growth to about 5,000 souls.

In his book, Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today, Christopher Beely notes that, “It is significant…that the major theologians of the early church devote their reflections on pastoral leadership almost entirely to the ministry of the word (105).” Catch that, PASTORAL MINISTRY to the early church fathers was almost entirely focused on the ministry fo the Word of God to the people of God.

Early church father, Gregory Nazianzen stated, “The first of all our concerns is the distribution of the word.”

Beely also notes, “Pastoral leaders are primarily interpreters of the scriptures…teaching Christian truth and opposing falsehood and error.(108). This was the task the Apostle Paul called Timothy to in the pastoral epistles as well (1 Tim 4:13-16, 2 Tim 2:1-2, 2 Tim 3:16-4:5).

Application: 

As I have been meditating on some recent reading that prompted this short article, here are some thoughts that I believe warrant consideration:

  • If you’re a pastor seeking to balance expectations of God’s people…FIRST minister the Word. If there is time left for hospital visits, then do that. If not, equip others to visit the hospitals or call an associate pastor to assist you in this valid ministry of compassion (Eph 4:11-12).
  • If you’re a pastor and you’re not good at teaching, remember it is a qualification of office (1 Tim 3:2). Get better. You can! If you cannot or will not, then quietly leave the ministry and go work retail or file papers or hang lights in houses. I know God uses foolish things to confound the wise (1 Cor 1:26ff) but that is a statement about His power, not an invitation to be foolishly inept at the high calling of pastoral ministry.
  • If you are a part of a local church, guard your pastor’s time to study. He wants to study and meditate and pray but also to serve you. Bless him by telling him you are assured of his love and care, but that you want him to drink of the fountain of Scripture deeply so that he can lead God’s people well through the ministry of the Word. He will need your help doing this…because many fellow parishioners berate him if he is not there for the procedure to remove an ingrown toe nail.
  • Reset the paradigm. Vision casting, business acumen, and mercy ministries are all admirable, but choose to esteem most highly the ministry of the Word. It has been and continues to be the primary leadership task of pastoral ministry.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Are you a Toddler having a difficult day?

toddler-tantrum-picture2We are a culture that has come to depend on 140 character soundbites and is increasingly enamored with “viral” distribution of our pithy one liners. We seek after a glimmer of fame in the sea of voices clamoring to be heard and validated. Honestly…it is more akin to a toddler’s tantrum than adult interaction.
Could you imagine saying to a 2 year old…”Stop kicking your feet and crying. Just give me three compelling reasons not to make you go to bed.” Of course not. Toddlers don’t have the vocabulary. They’re babies. They cannot form an argument. They cannot consider all sides of an issue. They are limited in their ability to express themselves. One day they will be able to do so, but for now…a tantrum is likely their very best option. Expecting a toddler to do differently will leave both the toddler and the parent exasperated.
o-stepmom-facebook
But if a teenager did the same thing, we would immediately brand them as childish, immature, and spoiled (to say the least). We would take away their cell phones and banish them to their rooms to read a Charles Dickens tale. (Well, maybe that last part is far-fetched). We would consider that they were communicating well below their abilities and far below the expectations of social convention. If the same person were a 26 year old…well you get the point.
So…everything we do communicates. One of the things about the President-elect that bugs me is his inability to stop (or calculated willingness to embrace) firing off snarky tweets or off-the-cuff comments that are…childishly beneath the Office of President. “Lyin’ Ted” or “Crooked Hillary” is a ploy to pander to the lowest common denominator of the culture (or an indicator of a woefully undeveloped vocabulary). [Hears a resounding chorus of PREACH IT from the Trump haters of the world]. Here is the weird irony though…if those comments are intentionally planted to fire up people on an emotional level…how is that any different than blocking traffic or burning a flag? How is the conduct of the President-elect any more offensive than the childish expression of stomping or burning a flag to fire up your base emotionally (yes, pun intended).
When adults want to get a point across, they have a conversation. When they want to sway others to change their minds, they use vocabulary. They form ideas into coherent positions and they think about issues from multiple perspectives. Then, they talk respectfully to other people. They reshape their ideas as the process of communication evolves and then…maybe…if their view is valid…if others are listening and open to change…the changes they desire are implemented and the world is a better place.
Or, they choose to get their 15 seconds of fame on Twitter, Facebooktoddler-tantrum-feet, or whatever social media venue is readily at hand…and they disappear into obscurity along with what may have been a great idea. They’ve expressed themselves, but they have changed nothing.
So choose…sit in the middle of the room and stomp your feet while wailing about what you want and don’t have…or go get some lighter fluid and a flag and set it ablaze while you friend records it and posts it to YouTube…or act like an adult and form your thoughts, choose to use words, and have a respectful conversation seeking to sway others with your ideas.
Always remember, as mama used to say, “Be Nice.”

Congratulations…

US FlagLet me begin by saying congratulations to all of those who won their respective political races in this charged and often contentious political season. I was greatly hopeful for many of those who won their races because I know them. They lead school boards and offer leadership for my local community.

I remember eight years ago when a Senator from Illinois became the President-Elect. He was not my preferred candidate. I disagreed with his platform and his resume but I found him to be articulate, winsome (for the most part), and the fact that he was the first African-American man to be elected to office gave me pause and great hope that, perhaps, our nation might be turning the corner from the long, pitted avenue of racism and racial inequality. I celebrated what the presidency of Barack Obama might represent. He was (and is for a couple more months) OUR President. The Office of President is deserving of respect and anyone elected to that office deserves to receive honor as the duly elected leader of our beloved country.

I had deep personal concerns though. At that time a man was being elected who was a populist. He fired up the crowds and wooed their votes with very little substance. He promised “Hope and Change,” but the people spent very little time seeking to understand what ideological framework would guide that change. This morning, I wonder if we have learned our lesson as a people.

I did not wait up to hear the election results last night. Not because I am better or worse than anyone else who did…but because I was at peace that there would be a new President-elect this morning. I believed that the American experiment begun less than three centuries ago would persevere and that there would be the beginning of a peaceful transition of power which has generally described our democracy since its inception. I also believed that the ultimate seat of power and authority did not change. Regardless of candidate, the throne of heaven would be occupied as it had been and God was no more or less sovereign than yesterday.

I will probably avoid Facebook today. My first glance at my news feed consisted of exuberant celebration by most on my friends list. Others were rude. Some were despondent. Some were offended. If anyone asked me…I’d say get some sleep and take a breath. It’ll be ok. There will be no peaceful transition of power in heave. The Prince of Peace is still on the throne.

Is there a challenge ahead? Yes. I’d challenge believers everywhere to obey Scripture:

First of all, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NASB)

Second, I’d challenge believers to support our President-elect and his cabinet, our Senate and our House of Representatives. Important days lie ahead. A nation does not experience unity simply because a candidate concedes an election and another offers conciliatory comments. There is a monumental task ahead for our President-elect to demonstrate that he is not the “same man” that he used to be. Our President-elect has the task ahead of leading a nation toward prosperity, toward security, and toward safety and dignity for all people regardless of race, sex, or age. His task is to lead. Sometimes that may consist of building consensus. At other times it will be simply to lead. This is why character is God’s top criteria to look for in a leader.

To Secretary Clinton…thank you for your years of public service. I am not unhappy in the outcome of the election but I recognize that these are difficult days as you consider the loss and what your candidacy meant to the millions that supported you across the nation. I wish you well and a quiet life outside of public service.

To President-elect Trump…be assured of my commitment to pray for you as God has directed. I suppose I will fail at this task many times over the next four or eight years, but I will endeavor to faithfully intercede for you, your administration, and for those other officials you will lead. May God grant you favor and wisdom and grace to uphold the dignity of the Office of President. I also pledge to honor the Office of President. I have been loyal to the Office through many presidents on both sides of the political aisle. I took up arms to enforce their policies. I am loyal to the Office and will remain so unless or until the Office is used to violate my God’s higher law. Until then, I am a loyal and supportive citizen.

To all of the others who were elected last night across our city, state, and nation, forgive me for not naming each of you by name, but know that I rejoice with you and wish you success as you fulfill the task before you. May God strengthen and guide you throughout your term of service.

Now…let’s go to work. It is Wednesday. If you’re reading this…you’re the recipient of life and a new day to serve the One who gave His life so you could both KNOW Him and make HIM KNOWN. Do that well today.

A Pastor’s Swing at Trump/Clinton Race

Just saw this interview of a SC pastor on a liberal news talk show. He was definitely outnumbered.
HERE is the link. A couple of interesting observations from my perspective:
  1. The panel (all of them) have a strong bias. [It’s a talk show so I am not against that, just observing a fact].
  2. DT has said some things that are outrageous and unhelpful to himself, his campaign, and conservative causes. (I don’t think he cornered the market in that regard either).
  3. This pastor may have done a bit better to just say that he disagreed with DTs characterization of HRC and other weird stuff. Just say you don’t agree. We are men of God…so speak for God and let the chips fall.
  4. Al Sharpton speaking about “moral authority” is laughable. I intentionally left the clerical reference off his name since I find his actions to be a blight on the calling of ministry. He is no reverend in my book and I am very charitable in this area. (Does he still owe back taxes?)
  5. AS saying that it is wrong to ask a people to vote for a man who has not laid out all of his policies is crazy and politically motivated. (Hope and change anyone? The POTUS was as light on policy declarations as any candidate I can remember going back to the 80s when I first came of age to consider these things as an adult.)
  6. The pastor’s answer was dead on. Look at the man’s values and convictions. No one knows what policies are possible or likely to be implemented. A proper understanding of our government is that laws are enacted by a Congress and carried out by the Exec Branch.
  7. The pastor’s transparency should resonate with believers. If you are TRULY a follower of Jesus, you MUST consider how a vote will affect things. If you can vote for HRC who is unapologetically pro-abortion rights…you need to be able to articulate how that syncs with your theological understanding…because there will be a test. Judgment seat? If you vote for HRC who sees no value in traditional marriage and supports every stripe of union outside of the ONLY Christian understanding of marriage, you need to be able to square that with your theology. The Department of Education…whatever (who cares?) It is not a biblical issue. In the same vein…if a candidate can and will marginalize a person or a group of persons based on race or religion…you must be able to define how that is reasonable according to your theology. There is a test folks.

I was in a meeting with faith leaders and Republican Party leaders in Pensacola a few weeks back. I haven’t been invited to a meeting with Democrat Party leaders yet but would certainly attend and speak if invited to. This seemed to be a consensus from what I heard at my meeting:

  • DT is a hold your nose and vote candidate for a lot of evangelicals. He is better in most every area over HRC, but it is a hard pill to swallow.
  • A vote for an unelectable 3d party conservative candidate is effectively a vote for HRC. No way around it.
  • An evangelical refusal to vote for any candidate is by default a practical vote for HRC. Her base is in lockstep. They are not sitting it out. You may feel principled in your position but if you truly understand the times in which we live…it is a vote for HRC.
  • You don’t have to agree with every aspect of a Candidate to like them or to vote for them. I disagreed with (I think) every aspect of the current POTUS platform, but I liked him. He was fun…and living during the reign of the first black President is kinda cool. (Yes, I know I said reign). That being said, I can’t remember any candidate that I agreed with everything…but I do generally vote moral/social/religious concerns and let God work out the economy.

Here are a couple of truths I have settled on based on evidence, not party talking points or FOX/CNN/MSNBC bias.

  • HRC lied about Benghazi. People died and she lied. She was in the “know” and possibly complicit in the decision to leave an Ambassador and Security personnel in jeopardy…but she continues to avoid responsibility. (She lacks character!)
  • She lied about her emails. She intentionally broke security protocol, mishandled information, and withheld cooperation in the investigation in substantive ways. (She lacks character).
  • She mishandled classified material. (Lack of responsibility for job performance).
  • She scares me on national security issues.
  • DT has a sketchy past. He has done some goofy stuff and seems like a pragmatist in many ways. (Several question marks about his character).
  • DT seems like a patriot. I assume HRC is also patriotic in her motivation.
  • DT could not serve as a pastor, deacon, or small group leader in my church. I’m not sure he could even be a member. What I am sure of, is he is not running for any of those positions in November.
  • I have a Christian responsibility to seek the welfare of my nation and as far as I can tell, faith alone cannot be a valid litmus test for either candidate…or they both lose because they are both sketchy.

Love ya. Feel free to chime in…

The Moral Compass of a Nation and Women Drafted for War

The US Senate voted this week to require all women turning 18 years of age to register for Selective Service (the draft). a NY Times article covering the development can be accessed HERE. Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary offers commentary HERE, approaching the issue from the perspective of equality.

It is important to note that the Senate decision does not make a law. There will have to be a conference committe to reconcile House and Senate versions of the bills and then it will require executive action for the bill to become law.

My opinion is continuing to be shaped but my concern, that which grieves my heart, relates to the moral implications of this decision.

Though this decision is the logical extension of the current Administration’s policy change requiring that even the most physically grueling and dangerous jobs of combat be opened to women, this next shift make women serving in these roles no longer ONLY voluntary but potentially compulsory. It may also be argued that since our nation has had an all volunteer military since the early 70s, that the issue is merely proforma and is practically unrealistic. My opposition to this Senate action relates not to the likelihood of compulsory combat service for women, but to the possible compulsory service of women in combat.

If this provision of a much larger military bill is signed into law, the proponents and signer of the bill MUST assume that their daughters and granddaughters WILL be called to fight in hand-to-hand combat with a jihadist (for example) in a distant land or within the borders of our beloved country.

This bill requires every able-bodied woman to take up arms to defend a nation if the government requires it. A young mother will be required to stand before an enemy and kill or be killed according to the orders of her officers even if her commander is an able-bodied man in a tent miles behind the protected line.

I am disturbed that the morality, not to mention the common decency of this action, is even open for discussion. How does this fit in any narrative that honors God? Have we as a nation moved so far from a moral compass that we would demand that our granddaughters take up arms to kill on our behalf?

As for me, I cannot with good conscience ever expect or willingly permit a woman to stand between me and evil. My perspective is not based on her ability; rather, it is based on her value as precious and my GOD ORDAINED responsibility to protect and care for her…as a man.

I am interested in your thoughts as I grieve over this atrocity and malfeasant reckoning of logic by our elected representatives. I pray there is still time to draw a line between opportunity and responsibility  as it relates to women in military service.

Dads, moms, and faith for generations to come

Bible glasses (2)Is Faith “Taught or Caught?” The Answer is YES! In this article in the Huffington Post, which may or may not be on your daily culture reading list, we find the conclusions drawn from a recent survey on the factors that most effectively contribute to faith practices in young adults. In short…parents who communicate and demonstrate the importance of faith in THEIR LIVES through their PROCLAMATION and their ACTIONS transmit the importance of faith to their children/teens…and it “sticks” through their young adult years when most studies claim that most people fall away from their faith.

Note:

“…sociologists Christopher Bader and Scott Desmond found that children of parents who believe that religion is very important and display their commitment by attending services are most likely to transmit religiosity to their children.

Of course it is anecdotal on my part, but I believe that my faith was directly communicated by my parents…both good and bad. I came to faith in Christ at a church service when my dad AND mom took me to church (age 9). When “mean people” in that church acted judgmentally toward my dad (age 10 for me), we stopped attending. I did not see the inside of another church until around age 14 or so. Then, dad took us to another church where he was committed and served and invited me to serve alongside him (as a Junior Usher no doubt). I even began wearing a slick little sport coat to church and everything.

In fact, dad taught me my early beliefs about “giving an offering” at church in those early days. I still remember the message he taught me (which was biblically wrong then and he would reject himself today). Later in my late 20s and 30s as I felt the calling to ministry and began to preach, Dad again shaped my faith. He went with me on most occasions that I preached in other churches. [This deserved the big award…since those were horrible sermons…but he went and offered great encouragement. He even called around to help me schedule additional opportunities.]

The point is, I learned much about the importance of faith through what my dad said and did. Honestly, I learned much of the substance of theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, apologetics, etc. from my pastor, Bible college, and Seminary…but my “heart” for “faith” was first transmitted to me by my dad. Many of the early anchor points (good and bad) were transmitted to me by my dad.

So, as a pastor and dad myself now, it often grieves me when I see moms and dads transmitting dangerous faith lessons to their kids: when they prioritize travel ball over church, or cheer practice over student ministry, or fishing over soul winning. I am grieved when they teach their kids to hold loosely to community allegiance by changing churches so that their kids can experience the latest “cool” thing in ministry (insert your flashiest new outreach or ministry program here). I am grieved when faith is rarely discussed in the home or when opportunities to demonstrate reliance on God are passed up in times of major decisions or planning.

In closing let me offer one last tidbit: moms and dads, you communicate more about the importance of depending on God when you speak of and live dependently. Actually PRAY before major decisions. Actually plan vacations around church events. Actually be “caught” reading your Bible and serving in your church. If you do or do not…you’ll be amazed at how your faith shapes the faith of your children throughout their lives.

NOTE: I spoke of my dad throughout this article. In no way am I diminishing my mom’s contribution. She was a woman of faith. She was there throughout the journey. I simply watched and emulated my dad more. I believe part of that is the fact that, well you know, I am a guy. The other part relates to the biblical reality that dads have amazing and God-ordained leadership roles in the lives of their children. Single moms have it tough. Married moms with husbands who are disinterested in practicing their faith have it TOUGHER since mom now has to counteract the influence of the father and attempt to win her children to a strong faith position even though her husband is ACTIVELY leading the children to another faith position, though not faith in God. THANK GOD my mom did not have to overcome my dad’s influence…and THANK GOD she too was influenced by it and communicated a consistent message to her children. 

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