A wise man once said, “Don’t tear down a fence until you know why it was erected. There may be something beyond the horizon you don’t want to come after you.”
When I was a small child (I don’t remember this, but only the stories told about it) I was spending time with my aunt and uncle in Florida and was curious about a plastic container near a sink. It had little covers over the two very small cup-like things and there was water in them. I had never seen a contact lens holder before, so I opened one of them and inadvertently washed a contact down a drain. It was not what I intended.
Can I call that an accident? Certainly not! It only happened because I was doing something else I was not supposed to be doing. I did not mean for it to happen. It was an unintended consequence.
In leadership, this principle plays out time and again. In church leadership, these choices seem to magnify intensely (mainly because churches are people and the variables on decisions with people are innumerable). Effective leaders, however, must become adept at forecasting unintended consequences. This involves more than acting and then praying that God protects you from consequences. It involves more than asking three friends what they might do in a similar situation. It means learning to examine a matter from a variety of perspectives.
Here are 4 tips:
- Ask, “Why is this necessary?” Write down the reason that this change or action is required in your current context. In other words: what problem are you seeking to fix, what question are you seeking an answer to, or what outcome are you trying to achieve?
- Ask, “How will those immediately affected perceive this action?” When Martha hears you say that you are moving her Sunday School class to the other end of the hall, what will go through her mind as to the rationale? Remember, everyone listens through the filter of their own experiences. Those likely differ from yours as a leader.
- Ask, “How would this be reported on the evening news?” News reports, at times, scare me. In our attention-deprived culture of soundbites, every story is to be condensed to 90 seconds. If someone were observing your action and then editing the entirety of it to 90 seconds, what would make the highlight reel? Your church cancels a particular outreach event…for (prospectively) a hundred good reasons. If none of those were understood, what would onlookers assume was your motive. As bad as it sounds… “what will people think of your decision?”
- Verify and Adapt. Take your new information and verify that the consequences of the decision or change are worth it. Then, adapt your message to address beforehand as many of the downsides as you uncovered. If the new direction is good…press on, but be wise as you lead others in the new direction. Don’t complain about people throwing rocks at you when you could have removed them but, instead, left them lying around on the ground.
What might you add to this list if you had written the article? I’d love to hear.
I have observed for some time now that many believers, even many of those close to me as part of the church I serve, have misunderstood or are ignoring the fundamental nature of the church. Sure…the discussion of “going to church,” “being” the church, or “joining” the church has caused many tempers to flare…but what is the church?
Theologically (and therefore practically) the church is AT LEAST the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the image of Christ. This means that the church was sought and purchased by our gracious Lord (Acts 20:28) and that it functions as the physical instrument for fulfilling the mission/mandate of Christ. As we do that, we manifest in a measurable way how the Kingdom of Christ works.
Stated a little differently, the church is the place where people become like Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as the Word and the Body/community work together to fulfill a specific mission. Therefore, there should be observable change, growth, and glory among the saints.
What I have observed is that many don’t “get” the fundamental nature of the church, so they fail to find and fulfill their role in it. Many of these people have bought into the line that the church is an organization or a service provider…a commodity for consideration and consumption. This view has led to an individualistic perspective on church and sometimes…individualism within the scope of the larger Body itself.
It seems to me (while others may use different designations for the classes I am identifying here) that there are four groups/classes of people participating in a local church setting on any given Sunday:
- Examiners. These people are not part of the church and are “examining” the claims of Christ as they measure them against what they observe as the outworking of those claims through the local expression of Christianity through the church. Some call these seekers.
- Consumers. These folks evaluate church based on a narrow definition of individualistic intent and primarily choose participation if there is a real or anticipated benefit to themselves. They may or may not be believers. For these folks, the first and primary concern is “what does this experience do for me?”
- Participants. These are people who are part of the church (so they must be believers) and choose to serve in elements of church but have not embraced the church’s mission as their own. They are not evil or against the mission; but, they are also not owners. They are at different stages of Christian development and are growing as they serve (which is the distinction between participants and consumers).
- Partners. These people get it. They are believers who are growing in grace and sanctification in Christ and understand the mission of the church. Further, they embrace it. It is their mission.
In part 2, I will unpack some of the implications of these classifications and examine them for biblical warrant…but based on what you see:
Where would you fit?
Do you know your church’s mission?
Do you see yourself as somewhat responsible for that mission?
If the church failed to fulfill that mission, would you feel as if you personally failed as well?
The Army’s EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) “forced march” is daunting. With full pack and weapon, a soldier set out to complete the twelve-mile journey in less than 3 hours as part of the testing to earn the proficiency badge for the infantryman’s craft.
I was never an infantryman, but this “twelve-mile ruck march” was adopted by several other training courses I participated in as a way to test physical and mental toughness. The physical element test is self-evident…but let’s take a moment to explore the mental test and see how it applies in other areas of our lives.
On my first EIB March, I can say that there was great enthusiasm at the onset and the last few hundred yards also bolstered enthusiasm within. Where the difficulty resides is in the middle. Somewhere after the first six miles or so, the road begins to drone on forever and the pain in your body appears to be more prevalent. It is in this difficult “middle” that the mental test reveals itself. A battle rages in the mind of the soldier to succumb to the throbbing feelings in the back, legs, and feet…or to press forward. Pressing forward is not complicated but it requires mental toughness. Simply stated, to work through the middle requires one to intentionally continue placing one foot in front of the other.
Step, then step, then step, then step. This is the recipe for overcoming the middle. Some guys create games to focus their minds such as developing a cadence in their head. Some will simply focus on another soldier and the interval between them. Others will work on counting off paces along the way. Whatever mental game is implemented, the task is to put one foot in front of the other and then to repeat.
Life in general is like this too. Church life (my present reality) also bears these characteristics. In recent days, I’ve watched several people I love simply lose focus in the middle. They struggle to attend faithfully. They struggle with their personal devotion time. They struggle with fulfilling obligations made to teams and committees. They, frankly, are in the middle of the march. Some of those, experience teaches, will fall away. Some will think the problem is the “march” they are in and will look for other marches (churches) to join. Others will just focus on the throbbing in their legs and sit on the side of the road waiting on the pick-up truck to carry them back to the rally point where they will tell the many reasons why they needed to stop and try again some other times.
But…and this is huge…some will simply put one foot in front of the other and repeat.
Where is the motivation to continue the march? Friend, that is the part of the test that demonstrates mental toughness. It is individual and personal. At the same time, there are a few aids that seem to be common with everyone who presses through to the finish line:
- Don’t forget WHY you started. The Infantryman doesn’t want to march, he wants the proficiency badge and the honor that goes with it.
- Don’t focus on the pain. Feet and legs throb in the march. I get it. Focus though on the terrain or the interval to the next “soldier” ahead of you. Paul instructs us in this when he says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
- Eliminate “other marches” from your field of consideration. All marches in life have a middle. They all test mental toughness. If you quit this one, your future ones will be that much harder, even if you change marches.
- Remember those around you. Yep, you became part of a team when you started. Someone loved you, cared for you, and encouraged you through your difficulties. If nothing else, defer to your sense of loyalty to the group and put one foot in front of the other. Failure to do so will be a thorn in your side eventually and will serve to discourage the “family of marchers” that loved you to the point where you are.
You can finish. One foot in front of the other. Step, then step, then step…
Grace and Peace…and finish the march.
Two years. That’s almost how long I “rode the pine” in ministry. God had spoken and moved in my life. I surrendered to the call to ministry and began to preach immediately, and often…most months as often as three times per month. But no church called me.
Have you ever “known” the will of God and were certain that God was sending you in a particular direction…only to get passed over?
How did it feel? Did the enemy whisper in YOUR EAR as he does mine?
- You’re not good enough.
- You’re not ready.
- You’re not qualified.
We have recently gone through another season of college football players being examined and selected in the NFL Draft…
The players in the draft represented the best of the talent from their college football squads. They were the guys who made the amazing plays caught on the ESPN highlight reel, and they were the guys making the block that made the plays on the reel possible.
One of the familiar refrains among many of the observers related to why “their player” did not go sooner or did not go to a particular team. Certainly, the “Monday morning quarterbacking” (pun intended) is evident as people like me try to second guess those involved in the process. We might not approve of the message it sends when our favorite University standout doesn’t go until the second or third round. We may even carry a burden of offense for the message of “value” attributed to our player if he goes later in the draft. After all, aren’t all the good players going in the top ten of the first round?
What we may miss now and again is the underlying message. The draft picks are based on the quality of the player AND the needs of the drafting team. It is important to remember that a team with a great quarterback and significant depth on the bench is not making a value judgment of our favorite quarterback when they choose to select a defensive player first. Their selection is about the needs of their team first, and the caliber of your player second.
In our lives and assignments, it is tough at times to watch God draft others for assignments ahead of us. Sometimes He selects people that we should have beaten out for a job. But doesn’t such assessment lack insight? Is God not also able to consider the needs of the team as well as the talent of the player?
Monday comes every week. Every week we look back on Sunday and ask the question about our usefulness in our assignment. If we have a good understanding of God’s will and God’s ways…we must consider that He is working on a larger vision than we cannot often fully grasp. We look at our areas of awareness but God is infinitely more aware of the needs that exist everywhere and at every time…including those that won’t even be revealed for months or years to come. So, rest easy dear friend. Trust the process of the Draft and war against the desire to accept the implicit value judgments. You are valuable. You were drafted. You are exactly where He assigned you and your next assignment, whatever it is, is already known. It is perfect…not only for you but for Him who called you as well.
Thinking about a conversation this week with a man as I was sharing HIS Story with him. The man, we will call Bob, lives here in Pensacola for over 50 years now minus a few years away in early adulthood. As we discussed his story, he shared that he was Cathoic but doesn’t attend any more. He had married a protestant woman and they never really fit in the Catholic church again. He said that he attended a non-denom church with her a few times through the years but whenever he did, they were “bashing Catholics.”
Here is the interesting point for me…This man did not remember what these churches were FOR, only what they said they were against. He did not know the differences in doctrinal beliefs. he did not know why they held to their beliefs in the Gospel. He only knew they were against Catholics.
Here is what else is interesting…Bob was already out of the Catholic Church…but now he felt compelled to defend it. The efforts of these chruches actually pushed him closer to the Cathoic church. His position as a “Catholic” was now more galvanized.
I don’t imagine that any of the churches or their pastors intended to galvanize this man’s Catholic allegiances. I don’t suspect they wanted him to become resistent to the gospel or to withdraw from attending any church. I suspect their desires were, in fact, the opposite; however, if we focus on what we are against rather than what we are for…we should not be surprised at the unintended but anticipated outcome.
I shared truth with Bob. We discussed the similarities of the faith and had a cordial discussion. We have a little room now for future follow-up but it will be tough sledding. I pray for Bob…but I also pray for us, those with a mandate to share the Gospel (which is all of His people):
- That we would be wise stewards of opportunities to speak of our King.
- That we would be bold and kind at the same time.
- That we would share truth in love. If either is lacking, the “gospel enterprise” is deterred.
- That we would speak. Frankly Bob meets 4-5 believers a week as customers. He seemed surprised that one (me) would actually invite him to attend a church event in the coming days since he is most definitely a “Catholic,” and I am not. [I invited him to come to my Christmas Eve Service and told him I would not be offended if he did not wear a tie if he was not offended that I would not be wearing my robe :)].
- Finally, that we would repent of majoring on minors when all eternity hangs in the balance.
Your thoughts are welcomed. What would you do differently? How might you handle “Bob’s” experience?
ARLINGTON, TX – DECEMBER 12: Referee Terry McAulay #77 at Cowboys Stadium on December 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
I, like many of you, have been watching with great sorrow the events that have unfolded in recent days with terrorism against Russia, (An airliner bomb) in Paris (Multiple coordinated attacks of an Islamic group), and in other places. There are thousands of people directly affected and millions more that are indirectly affected through the strategy of causing terror and disrupting social order (terrorism).
These events have been read into the narrative of the US policy to accept Syrian Refugees (political and humanitarian cause refugees) as 10,000 have been relocated to the United States as part of an international effort to alleviate suffering.
I am not going to opine on the wisdom of such actions. The problem is complex and cannot be solved with a few sentences on one pastor’s “blog site.” I believe there are scores of people who are far more qualified to offer a solution to the two-pronged problem of humanitarian assistance and national security. [NOTE: I believe that we have a tendency to drift toward one pole or the other in this complex situation and the ultimate solution may ver well be a balance of interests between both extremes].
Today I am a bit perplexed by some of my fellow pastors and missionally-minded individuals that have weighed into the discussion. Some have advocated a fullscale approach of receiving all refugees as a means by which we have an instant audience for the gospel. Others have advocated that we secure the borders and reject all refugees as an effort to provide security for our nation’s citizens because there is a clear lack of security protocol in screening the refugees.
What I find most curious…many of these pastors were the loudest critics of the church engaging in political causes through the years. These precious servants of God argued that the will of a previous generation of pastors to seek to engage the political process, help like-minded believers get elected, and prevent candidates of a different values system from coming into office was totally MISPLACED and HURTFUL to the missional purpose fo the church. These dear brethren trumpeted a position that the church was “supra-political” and should not seek to identify with or even be overly concerned with the political will of a nation since the Christians’ first and highest loyalty was to a King and not a political entity.
The arguments notwithstanding, is not your current demands for the national government to act in a certain manner the antithesis of your previous position on the church and politics?
I think, it would do well for us to remember that our nation has a role. Our government has a function as ordained by God to be a means of bring good to a people (common grace) regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. The national government of the United States is not an instrument of the church to accomplish any particular act of will.
In other words, if you think the church should get out of politics, then you are inconsistent to argue for a Christian immigration policy. There is no such thing. There is, however, a responsibility for Christ-followers to care for and help the needy among them…including the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner/refugee. We can and should do that because our King tells us too.
In closing, the words of a really wise philosopher seem appropriate: “Before you tear down a fence (i.e. argue for the church to remove itself from politics), you ought to consider why someone may have built it. Perhaps there is a “bull” you don’t want to tangle with just beyond the former fenceline.
Love to hear your thoughts…