Are You a Church Attender or Christ Follower?

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

John 8:31-32

I read a wonderful book a few years ago entitled “Not a Fan” by Kyle Idleman (Zondervan, 2011) where he talked about the many Christians that attend churches who are more like fans of Jesus than followers of Jesus. He shared a story of a man who came up to him after a speaking engagement and made a comment about his prodigal daughter that left the church when she graduated from college. The man said, “We raised her in church, but we didn’t raise her in Christ.” I had to ask myself the same question. Did we raise our children in the church or in Christ? It is a question every Christian parent should be asking themselves. But it’s also a question every church should be asking of itself.  The reality is that not everyone who attends a church is seeking to follow Jesus.

There has been a steady movement in our culture towards a secular society and away from Christianity and church attendance over the past 50 years. So, it is obvious to me that as a nation we have raised more church attenders than Christ followers.  We now live in a secular society and when surveys show that 75% of Americans say they are Christian, it only confirms that this is true. When I grew up in the 1960’s it seemed everyone (who was not Jewish) went to a church. It was part of the fabric of our culture. But that is not true anymore. Both Gallup polls and Barna Research confirm that Church attendance has declined dramatically in America since then. Their reports show that there are more people today who attend church only once or twice a year, identify as atheists, or have no religion at all.

So, how did this happen? Why are so many people leaving the church, and why has the culture become more secular? It would seem to me that it is because we raised a generation of church attenders who were going to church but not really following Jesus or living according to Biblical teaching.  It was in many ways self-inflicted. The culture is not responsible for teaching others to follow Christ. That is the Church’s job. And apparently it did not do as well as we thought it did even though churches were full on Sundays. Today it is clear that the secular culture has more influence over our nation than the Church does. Whether that’s due to poor discipleship, deviation from Scriptural authority, or other factors, it is the reality today in America.

But I also believe that the Church is much stronger today because the true followers of Christ are the ones who have stuck around and strive to be the church and do the ministry Christ has called them to. The followers of Christ are the ones who hold to the truths of the Bible, obey Jesus’ teaching and seek God’s will in what they do. Following Jesus is not easy and there is a cost to doing so.  Jesus said in Luke 14:27 that, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” and also in Luke 14:33 that, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  These are very difficult teachings for many people to accept. The Bible also says in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Those who follow the culture (world) can therefore not be followers of Christ. Consequently, those who have left the church were merely attenders and not really Christ followers. When given a choice to follow Jesus or follow the culture, they made their choice to follow the culture.  The challenge for the Church today is how to get them back in order to disciple them!

Pastors and church leaders, therefore, need to put greater focus on helping people coming to church to engage in its ministry. They need to put their efforts into discipleship and ministry participation. It will not be easy, but it is necessary if the Church is to be the Church and not merely a building where people gather once a week for an inspirational message and some singing.

So, which are you? Are you a church attender or Christ follower? Are you merely attending church because it is what you have done on Sunday morning your whole life? Or are you ‘being the church’ because you desire to follow Jesus, seek His will, serve God and serve others? This is the ultimate question we as Christians must all ask ourselves.

The Holy Spirit asked me that question when I was on my first mission trip in Kazakhstan in April of 1996, and it absolutely changed my life. My answer then is the same today. I desire to follow Jesus with my life each and every day. I am not perfect, I am a sinner, and I often fail to do what He wants me to do. But I put my life in His hands and look to Him for guidance, direction, provision and truth. And I have certainly been blessed by doing so. I don’t believe anyone can ever know the riches and blessings of God unless they submit to His leadership in their life and experience first-hand what Jesus meant when He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

I have experienced that fullness by following Jesus. You can too. But you won’t unless you stop attending church and instead become the Church!

Lord, help us to encourage other Christians to become followers of Christ and NOT just church attenders! Amen!

We Are Gifted & Called to Minister

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines”

1 Corinthians 12:7, 11

The Bible says that each Christian is given a spiritual gift(s) for use in building the Body of Christ.  But what exactly are spiritual gifts?  Are they the same as our skills and talents?  How do we know what spiritual gift(s) we have?  Why are they important? And how do we know when and how to use them?  These are typical questions many Christians ask when it comes to understanding their role in the church or in the Body of Christ.

What Are Spiritual Gifts?

Spiritual Gifts are those abilities that the Holy Spirit gives to the followers of Christ to equip them for ministry. As we see from the Scripture above from 1st Corinthians 12 they are given for the common good and as the Holy Spirit determines. In other words, we cannot manufacture them ourselves. They are gifts from God. Also, the Holy Spirit gives them as they are needed to whomever He chooses. Our skills and talents may be Spiritual gifts, but only to the extent that we use them for God’s purposes and not our own selfish ambitions.

Spiritual gifts fall into 3 main categories. First, there are Ministry gifts. These are the gifts of Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher. These are mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 when he wrote that “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers”, and are often referred to as the five-fold ministry. Second, there are Practical gifts. These are the gifts of Service, Encouragement, Giving, Leadership, Mercy, Helps, and Administration, and can be found in Romans 12:7-8 and 1st Corinthians 12:28. These are gifts God gives to enable Christians to minister to others. Thirdly, there are Charismatic gifts. These are the gifts of Wisdom, Knowledge, Discernment, Prophecy, Tongues, Interpretation, Faith, Healing, and Miracles, and are found in 1st Corinthians 12:8-10. They are spiritual manifestations and powers and are the ones most often associated with the general term of Spiritual gifts.

(There are other gifts mentioned through the Bible, but these 21 gifts are the ones that are specifically mentioned in the New Testament.)

Why Are Spiritual Gifts Important?

Spiritual gifts are important for the church because they form the foundation of each Christian’s call to ministry. God has gifted every Believer with gifts He wants us to use to further His Kingdom here on earth. These gifts were given to each of us so that we can use them to serve others according to God’s calling and purposes. Paul says in Ephesians 4:12 that these gifts were given to us “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  Since all Believers are part of the Body of Christ, we all have a role to play in expanding God’s Kingdom on earth. And that role is largely determined by our Spiritual giftedness. In other words, every Christian is called to be a minister for Christ and is equipped to do so with the spiritual gifts God has provided.

How Should Spiritual Gifts Be Used and Applied?

There are 4 ways we are called to use our spiritual gifts:

1. To build up the church

“Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:12

2. To serve others

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10

3. To glorify God

“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 4:11

4. To reveal God’s character

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. – Galatians 5:22

Notice that these are all God focused and not man-focused. Each of us is gifted to serve the Body of Christ. That does not mean that we are called into full-time ministry. Some are and some aren’t. But we are all called to be ministers for Christ in our homes, workplaces and anywhere we may go. And if we don’t use our gifts to minister to others and build up the Body of Christ then we are neglecting our call and responsibility to God.

So How Do We Find Out What Our Spiritual Gifts Are?

There are many spiritual gift assessment tests that are available on-line to determine your spiritual gifts. One that I have used and found to be quite helpful can be found at http://www.kodachrome.org/spiritgift. After answering all of the questions they will email you the results with a nice analysis. They do ask for a small donation to help their ministry if you take their test, but it is not required.

Knowing our spiritual gifts is an important factor in determining how God may be calling each of us to minister inside and outside of the church. I would encourage all of us to know our spiritual gifts so we can prayerfully consider where we may be called to be a minister for Jesus!

There’s a Fork in the Road Ahead

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”

Proverbs 14:12

In life we all have many choices to make. We choose where to go to college, where to work, what career to pursue, where to live, who to marry, etc. Some choices we make can have a big impact on our lives, such as those mentioned above, while some are minor and only affect our day to day living, like what to eat for lunch or what to wear today. But underlying every decision we make is the most important choice we must make every moment of our lives. That choice will determine our earthly future as well as our eternal future as well.

You see, ultimately there are really only two paths in life we can choose. We can choose either to follow God or we can follow Satan. That’s it. There is no third option (following ourselves or following the world is really following Satan because his aim is to convince us not to follow God). Following God means to follow His Son Jesus, obey what He taught, and to serve others as He served us. Following Satan means to deny God and Jesus, obey our own intellect, and to serve ourselves. Many people try to follow both paths, but that doesn’t really work. It’s like trying to mix ice cream (holiness) with manure (evil). No matter how you do it, the ice cream will be impure and not worth eating!

Following God is to follow the path of holiness, goodness and righteousness. God is good and all His ways are good (Psalm 119:68). Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 that “we cannot serve both God and money.” Money often represents the world or our own desires. When we try to please the world or ourselves we are not serving God. The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13 that we are “not to use our freedom to indulge in the sinful nature, but rather to serve one another in love.” The pathway of God is submission to His ways and His commands (James 4:7). Any other path does not lead to God and only leads us to death as Proverbs 14:12 above states. And any path that does not lead to God is from Satan.

God’s Word also teaches us that Satan’s path is wide and God’s path is narrow (Matthew 7:13). In other words, it’s often easier to follow Satan’s path because there’s plenty of room for us to maneuver around life’s obstacles to obtain our self-indulging goals. But we are left on our own to figure that out. However, God’s path is narrow and more difficult to navigate and so we must submit to His leadership and trust in His will for our lives. He keeps us on the path to holiness and righteousness and leads us around and through life’s obstacles. And as Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, God’s path leads to life but Satan’s path leads to destruction!

So, which path are you on? Are you on God’s path or Satan’s path? Is the path you’re on leading to life or destruction?

The good news is that there’s a fork in the road ahead! The path to God is just a step away and is always there for us. We don’t have to continue down the wrong path. We don’t even have to walk backward along the path we’re on to get on God’s path. No matter what choices we have made up to now, we can still choose today to follow the path to God and experience the life we were meant to have and all the fullness of life He has to offer! Though the world does not recognize it, God’s path offers hope, freedom from sin, and a life more rich and abundant than we can imagine!

So don’t let Satan deceive you with his offering of all the treasures and trappings of this world. It’s an illusion. It’s a bait and switch deal. He seduces you to follow his path with promises of riches and fame. You may get them, but they won’t last, they won’t fulfill you, and there is a cost! If you listen to him and follow his path, in the end you will end up in hell (separation from God). Is that really the result you want? If it is, you are free to make that choice and God will not stop you or force you to follow Him. The truth is that God does not send people to hell. Instead, people choose hell by refusing to follow God. But I doubt that anyone would really choose Satan’s path if they knew that hell was where they were headed. They end up there because they chose not to follow God.

God makes His path available to anyone, anywhere and at any time. He wants us to choose His path. That means we must choose Jesus, the only path to God (John 14:6)! God promises us a life filled with His goodness if we simply put our faith and trust in Jesus. We don’t have to do anything but let Him lead and guide us. If we do, He will show us a truly abundant life filled with hope, joy, peace, blessings, and the assurance of heaven!

Six Lessons Christians Must Learn From Church History

“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

George Santayana (1863-1952)

Church history reveals some lessons that Christians today would be wise to consider and reflect upon. The Christian Church has existed for 2,000 years, but it has changed and evolved significantly over that time. It is therefore important to look back and learn the lessons from the history of the Church that can help us chart a way forward today.

A few years ago I read a wonderful book on the history of the Church written by Dr. Bruce Shelley entitled, “Church History in Plain Language” (Thomas Nelson, 2008). He does a great job of documenting and summarizing the key events in the history of the Church. Based on his book, I would like to present 6 lessons that we as Christians should learn from Church history that will enable us to more effectively go forward in building God’s kingdom on earth.

Lesson #1: The Church is, and always will be, Holy Spirit driven.

As the Bible documents in the four gospels, the early Christian Church began in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The disciples were witnesses to these facts. But Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit. Luke writes in the book of Acts of how the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. As a result, they disciples were led by the Holy Spirit and the Church grew rapidly as they spread the good news and lived lives very different from the prevailing Roman and Jewish cultures. Throughout history the Church has grown significantly when there was either persecution or a spiritual revival, as in England in the early 1800’s and the USA in the early 1900’s. Man can never build the Church on earth on his own apart from the Holy Spirit. The Church began under the power of the Holy Spirit, grew under the power of the Holy Spirit, and continues today only under the power of the Holy Spirit! (“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.”Zechariah 4:6)

Lesson #2: The Christian faith must be defended against false teaching.

In the first few centuries of the Christian faith the biggest challenge was defending this new belief against false gospels from gnostics and others who tried to add human logic to what God had done through Jesus.  They early Church needed to solidify the basic doctrine of Christianity centered on the work of Jesus and His teachings for this new faith. The doctrine of the Trinity, and who Jesus really was, was affirmed through the council at Nicaea in 325. The basic theology of Christianity has been challenged continually over the years as man tries to add human reason to God’s Word and His saving work through Jesus. False teaching must be challenged in order to preserve the true faith. (“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.”2 Peter 2:1)

Lesson #3: The joining of Church & State is a bad idea.

When Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD, overnight Christians went from persecuted rebels to favored status in the Roman Empire. In 380 AD, his successor, Emperor Theodius, made Christianity a requirement for all Roman citizens. Thus the Christian Church was joined to the power of the state and assumed a moral responsibility for the whole society. In 768, Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne, ascended to the throne and successfully fought off the Muslim invaders and was the first Roman emperor to be ‘coronated’ by the pope. This ensured protection of the Church against Islamic incursions. The crusades were the Empire’s response to the Islamic invasion and capture of Jerusalem and they had the approval of the pope. In the end the crusades were a dismal failure as they did not dislodge Islam from Jerusalem and led to further division with the Christian Church. During the Middle Ages conflicts continually arose over the power being wielded by both the Church and the State. Jesus never required faith in Him to be forced on anyone. He came to save us from our sin and today still invites people to let Him change their hearts one by one. (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16)

Lesson #4: The Church  must be built on a Biblical foundation.

Because of this conflict between and within the Church and State in the Middle Ages, many voices began to speak out against the power and corruption of the Church. Chief among them was a German monk named Martin Luther. He published his 95 theses (or statements for debate) on the door of the Catholic Church at Wittenberg, Germany in 1517 that challenged papal authority. He was ex-communicated from the Catholic Church for his refusal to recant his statements. This led to the Reformation and the formation of several new church bodies that separated from the Catholic Church in protest. They were the Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist and Anglican Churches, and hence known as “Protestant”. At issue was whether or not authority came from the Bible or from the Pope. As Martin Luther stated at his trial at the Diet of Worms, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.” The Christian faith must always be based upon the Bible and its teachings. (“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Lesson #5: Christianity and Science are NOT mutually exclusive.

The world entered a new era after the Middle Ages that challenged the people’s view of the world and how it worked. New discoveries in science and math could now explain the world as never before and this ushered in the age of reason, also called the age of “enlightenment.” Since man could now know and better explain how the world worked, intellectualism replaced faith in God and His Word. But are Christianity and science mutually exclusive? Science has never been able to repudiate one fact of the Bible. On the contrary, science continues to affirm the facts of the Bible, especially in the field of archeology. Darwin’s theory of evolution as to the origin and evolution of species has never been proven and is still a theory, despite its widespread acceptance. To me, science is simply discovering what God already created. Science has not refuted the Bible, it has confirmed it! (“For by Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.”Colossians 1:16)

Lesson #6: Man will always try to replace God with himself.

As the world progressed in its knowledge of science and technology, liberalism invaded universities (which were Bible based at the time) and the Church. Many Christians began to try and reconcile modern thought with Biblical teaching and refused to accept the authority of God’s Word alone on many issues. They believed that truth must pass the test of human reason. Consequently, universities abandoned the Bible and liberal theology in the Christian Church began to grow. Today it manifests itself in prosperity theology, acceptance of homosexuality, and other false teachings that go beyond or outside of Scripture. These are all an attempt to make God subject to our intellect rather than adhere to His teaching as found in His Holy Word. (“Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”James 4:7)

 

As we look back on the history of the Christian Church, we see that many of the issues the Church faces today are not new, but have existed for ages (church vs. state, reason versus faith, man versus God, etc.). The above lessons remind us that the Christian faith, unlike every other religion, is not based upon a set of rules requiring strict adherence. But rather it is based on the fact that God appeared as a man in Jesus Christ, who suffered and died on a cross to redeem mankind and pay the price for all sin, and who made a way for the human race to live with their Creator forever. It’s about faith in the work of one person, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and belief in the Bible as God’s true Word.

When man tries to supplant God’s Word and God’s work with human reason and man-made practices, we end up with denominationalism, conflict, tyranny and disunity. It’s the eternal battle of man versus God for control of our lives. And until Christians learn to submit to God in obedience and rely solely on God’s Word as ultimate truth, we will continue to see man attempt to make God what he wants Him to be, and the Church will suffer as a consequence.

8 Fundamentals for Church Management

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”

2 Timothy 4:5

      The job of being a pastor is not just theological and spiritual. While preaching and teaching the Word of God and ministering to people spiritually is their primary function, they are also called upon to lead people, oversee many ministries, manage church resources, develop plans & budgets, manage church finances, plan & conduct worship services, arrange weddings & funerals, plan ministry events, develop training materials, provide counseling, manage church properties, and the list goes on. One research study estimated that a pastor generally spends 54% of their time on activities other than preparing for preaching & worship or teaching (Pulpit & Pew, Research on Pastoral Leadership, “What Do Clergy Do All Week?” Becky McMillan, 2002).

Because churches are organizations with people and other resources, they must be led and managed well to be effective and to grow. So it is important that pastors have some level of knowledge about leadership and management in order to do so. John Maxwell, in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Thomas Nelson, 1998), says that “a person’s impact is only a fraction of what it could be with good leadership.” Sadly, a common reason people have for leaving a church is not theological or spiritual, but rather due to personal conflict, perceived poor leadership, or management disagreements. Consequently, the success of a church depends a great deal upon the leadership and management ability of its pastor.

The following 8 key fundamentals below come from our Management for Church Leaders™ training and will provide pastors with some basic Biblical leadership and management principles. When combined with their theological training it can help them avoid many common problems and conflicts in a church that inhibit growth.

Fundamental #1: Use Your Influence, Not Your Authority

The first thing a pastor should understand is that there is a difference between leadership and authority.  They are not the same.  Many pastors assume that just because they have the title of Senior Pastor or Pastor that their title alone makes them a leader. It does not. Their title simply gives them authority or responsibility to do certain things or make decisions within the guidelines for the pastor within their church. To be a leader a pastor must be able to motivate those within the church to follow their direction and support their decisions.

Leadership is about influence.  John Maxwell also said in his book, the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, that “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”  Leadership is not a position and it is not a title.  Leadership is about the ability to influence others to follow you where you are taking them.  Just because your title as pastor infers that you are the leader of the church does not mean that you truly are.  Leadership is measured by influence.  Whoever has influence in the church is the true leader of the church. Pastors need to develop their influence by building up trust and respect among the church members.

Authority, on the other hand, is about power.  According to the dictionary, authority is “the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior.”  Notice the words power and command.  Authority is the ability to enforce your decisions by use of your power or control.  A pastor gets their authority by virtue of their position, and hence their power is given to them by their denomination or the local church body (via a call or election).  It is usually earned from something they did in the past that qualified them for their position, such as graduating from a Bible College or Seminary, having been ordained, or having pastored other churches.

So, as a pastor, when you are making a decision or a change affecting your church, you have a choice of whether to use your influence or your authority. It is often quicker and easier for you to use your authority because you don’t have to take the time to convince your church members why you are making the change. But it is always better for you to lead with your influence because when you use your influence, people want to follow you.  They come along gladly because they trust you and respect you and know that you have their best interest at heart.

When you use your authority, however, people are forced to follow you, whether they agree with you or not.  This has two important implications for you with regard to those who disagree with you.  First, you could lose people from your church, leaving you with fewer members to carry out the ministry.  Second, and often worse, is that they stay in your church and create opposition.  When this happens church members will work at odds with you and try to thwart your efforts.  This is particularly dangerous as it can divide the church and cause conflict that paralyzes the ministry.

Consequently, using your influence instead of authority to lead people will always be better for you and your ministry.

Fundamental #2: Follow Biblical Principles

Churches are not businesses and pastors are not CEOs. Trying to run a church based on secular business practices will not work because the goals of a business are primarily financial and their practices are designed to maximize profit. However, there are some business practices that are Biblical and would therefore have application for churches. So before making any decision regarding the administrative side of the church, pastors should always ask “is this Biblical?”, and then proceed accordingly. If pastors follow cultural norms, secular processes, or their own beliefs instead of Biblical principles, they will undoubtedly experience a less effective ministry because it is not in line with God’s Word.

Similarly, when Pastors teach they must be careful not to tell their members “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3) but rather to teach them what the Bible says whether or not it makes sense or is clearly understandable. When pastors rely on their own opinion, intuition, talent, or experience, they often end up in places that not only cause them problems but likely dishonor God as well. Pastors may possess tremendous leadership ability, but if it is not based on the Word of God, then they are likely leading the church in the wrong direction.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”.  That means pastors can rely on the truth of the Bible to lead and manage their church as well as to teach others what God wants them to know.  Jesus came and showed us how to apply that Word in our lives and in our relationships with others.  He then left us the Holy Spirit to guide us where God wants us to go.  Following God’s Word is how pastors are called to lead a church.

Fundamental #3: Be Discerning

There is a famous song recorded by Kenny Rodgers in 1978 entitled “The Gambler.” It was a song about the game of poker and for the gambler to know when to take a card, when to keep what they have, and when to give up when they have little chance of winning. In other words: discernment. The lyrics of the chorus say, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. ‘Cause you never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done.”

When we think about spiritual discernment, there is a strong parallel to these lyrics. Pastors must know when to ask for help, know when not to abandon their principles, and know when to submit to the wisdom or ideas of others. Discernment also involves the big picture and focusing on the end result. Just as a gambler doesn’t count their money until the game is over, pastors must not quit prematurely. Jesus has already won the victory! It is important for pastors to look at a given situation or decision they have to make and discern its importance, its potential impact, and how their church members might react. This is called situational leadership. And it requires spiritual discernment.

Discernment is what often allows pastors to be effective and successful in their ministry. And discernment takes patience, prayer, wisdom and compassion. The wise pastor knows to turn to God for these things and that “apart from God he can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Fundamental #4: Develop People for Ministry

The most abundant resource a church has is its people. Therefore, the greatest resource that you have as a pastor is your church members. You cannot always do all the ministry work yourself and you will need others to come alongside you to share the burden of leadership and ministry.  Jesus knew this and is the reason he spent so much time with his disciples, teaching and training them for the work they would do in building the church after he ascended to Heaven. The same is true for the church today. It was not designed for you, the pastor, to do all the ministry of the church yourself. You were called to train and encourage others to engage in, and take responsibility for, some aspect of the ministry of the church, whether it’s teaching, praying, evangelizing, or serving the community at large.

So the Lord provides you with people to help you achieve the vision and goals that God has given to you and the church.  Here are 3 things for you to keep in mind when you develop people within your church:

  1. Make disciples first and foremost.

The primary role of every pastor is to focus on discipleship of their church members and attendees.  This is the sole purpose of the church and its #1 priority. The command Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 28:19 before he ascended to heaven was that they should “go and make disciples of all nations.”  You should teach and preach the Word in all that you do.  It is not just about you assigning tasks or responsibilities to others, but it is also imparting the Word to them through that development.

  1. Train and equip others for ministry.

A pastor’s job is not just to oversee the ministries of the church, but to involve everyone in its work. Therefore, you will need to encourage ministry participation by others and try to involve your church members in ministries that can best utilize their giftedness.  1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  And 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Everyone in the church has gifts they were given to help do the work of the church.  Only by utilizing all of the gifts that are present in the church can you be effective in achieving the mission and vision that the Lord has given to the church.  It is therefore important that you use some form of a spiritual gift assessment to determine the spiritual gifts of your church members. By giving this test to church members you can determine the gifts given to individual church members and direct them into areas of ministry that use those gifts.

  1. Recruit and develop other leaders.

It takes a leader to raise up other leaders.  Every great leader has been mentored by another leader, whether it’s a parent, boss, pastor or someone else. It is therefore important for pastors to develop the next generation of leaders in order to sustain and grow their church.  The more leaders there are, the greater the chance for success there will be!  So, you should always spend most of your time with other leaders of the church so that they can be equipped to take on more responsibility in the ministry of the church. This will enable the church to grow as the burden is shared among more leaders. If you are the only leader, then the church will only progress as far as your capabilities. John Maxwell refers to this as the “Law of the Lid,” meaning that you will become the limit on how far your church can grow when your abilities and time are exhausted.

Fundamental #5: Have a Compelling Vision

Vision is about foresight, looking ahead and seeing the possibilities of what could be or where God may be leading you.  A vision can be defined as a statement about the future, an imagining of something specific that does not exist today. A pastor needs a clear vision of the future in order to guide and lead the church.  Without a vision a church has no direction, and the people “cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18), which means to simply go their own way or do what they think is best.  A vision provides focus for the church and will enable the pastor to keep church members moving together in one direction towards their ultimate goal.

A vision also quantifies the goal and objectives of the church.  It defines what the church’s ultimate objective is and what specifically it is trying to accomplish.  Consequently, the vision has to be measurable in some way.  Because if you cannot measure it then how will you ever know if you’ve reached your goal?   Many churches falter or stagnate because they do not have a measurable vision of where they are going. A pastor with a measurable vision is one who has received that vision from the Lord and understands where God wants him to lead his church.

The primary reason a vision must be measurable is so that you take the necessary steps and plans to see it come to fruition. It must drive your actions and behavior and become the main focus of the church. Without a clear and measurable vision it becomes too easy to drift off course, chase after less meaningful goals, and use valuable resources ineffectively. And the consequence from this is that you end up not achieving the vision for the church.

Fundamental #6: Think Strategically and Plan Accordingly

It is not enough to simply have a vision of where you are going.  A pastor must also have a strategic plan on how to get there. The vision provides the goal a pastor is trying to reach and the plan provides the means and strategy on how to get there. Without a good strategic plan pastors will likely not achieve the vision that God has placed before them.  A simple way of saying this is that pastors need to manage God’s resources for God’s vision.

So what exactly is strategic planning? Strategic planning is the process of setting goals, organizing activities and deploying resources to achieve a vision. A Strategic Plan tells you what resources you are going to use, when you are going to use them, and how you are going to apply them, in order to accomplish the vision God has given to you.  All of your available resources are provided by God (James 1:17) and His desire is that you invest and manage them wisely in order to grow His Kingdom.  A strategic plan helps the pastor and the church to do just that.

Your objective, then, is to plan the work and then work the plan.  Some plans will be long and detailed, while other plans may only need to be short and summarized.  A strategic plan is meant to be flexible so it can adjust to current trends and changes in the environment in which it was made, so that as the situation changes the plan can be modified to take those changes into account.  Failure to do so will result in completing plans that are no longer viable or fail to achieve their objective.

There are two more points that are worthy of mentioning.  First, a good plan helps you make better decisions.  When you have a plan and something changes or a new opportunity arises, you can more easily assess the impact of the change based upon the existing plan.  Second, a good plan avoids wasting God’s resources.  Having a plan gives you the ability to put God’s resources to the best and most effective use possible at any given point in time.

The strategic plan is not for God’s benefit, but for the church’s benefit.  It is a tool that will help pastors and churches stay focused on the vision that God has given to them and enable them to manage their resources wisely and effectively.

Fundamental #7: Optimize Your Resources

Besides people, Churches and pastors have several other resources that God has given them to help grow the church. These resources include time, money, and information. The key to managing these other resources effectively is to optimize them. In other words, to use them in such a way as to maximize what they can produce for the Kingdom.

Money

The Bible says that we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).  So it is clear that we can only have one Master, and that is God.  It also means that money, or the love of it (1 Timothy 6:10), is what often draws us away from God and into sin.  And often money can represent other things that we worship or covet instead of God.  So how you act with regard to money is a key indicator of how you worship, obey and honor God.

The key to optimizing money is to see it as God’s first and foremost.  When we see money as ours we begin to worship it or treat it differently than what God intends.  When viewed from His perspective it allows us to think more clearly about how God would have us manage and invest His money.  It puts the focus on God and not us. God tells us this truth in Luke 3:13-14 when He says, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.  Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.”  He is saying to be content with what He has given us to use for His purposes.  He also tells us to invest it to produce a return (Matthew 25:14-30).When we treat money as our own, our sinful nature will expose our hearts and lead us to covet what money can give to us, rather than what it can produce for God.

Time

Time is one resource that can never be bought or refilled.  Once time is gone, it is gone forever.  Therefore, we must be very careful as to how we spend our time and what we use it for.

Time is always a matter of priorities. If we ask someone to do something for us, or do something with us, a common response is often, “I don’t have time for that.” But that is not really true. They do have the time. What they are really saying to us is that they have something more important they need or want to do with their time. It may be getting rest, spending time with their family, working on a major project at work, or something else. Whatever it is, it is what they believe is the most important thing they can do with their time at that moment.

Optimizing time is about managing priorities – the importance and urgency of what you need to do.  The problem with time management arises when we attach too little or too much importance or urgency to an activity.  When that occurs we end up spending time on one thing when we should have spent our time on another. It is always a matter of our own choices.  So in order to make better choices, pastors need to thoroughly think through the importance, urgency, and impact of each activity so that they use their time effectively.

Information

The Bible says in Proverbs 10:14 that “Wise men store up knowledge.”  One of the most overlooked resources of the church is information.  This may be information on church members, or information about its ministries, activities or available resources.  There is a wealth of information available to help pastors do the ministry they are called to and it is important to know where that information is or how to access it.  Some information must be collected and stored by the church, especially information on its members and their activities or giftedness, etc.  Other needed information is often available on the internet, at a library, or at a bookstore.

Many churches assume they know where information is or how they can access it only to discover that it is not being collected or stored or it is more difficult and time-consuming to find. In order to optimize information, you need to access it in a timely fashion. That means you must have it readily available or know where it is to get it.  A computer comes in very handy for doing this, but you don’t need a computer to store or access information.  You can use other methods that can be just as effective, such as paper files or individuals.

For you as a pastor, information, or knowledge, gives you an advantage in decision making and use of your resources.  The Bible says in Proverbs 16:13 that “Every prudent man acts out of knowledge.”  Additionally it says in Proverbs 24:5 that “a wise man has great power; and a man of knowledge increases strength.”  So there is wisdom and power in information and God is encouraging you to pursue it.

Fundamental #8: Focus on Accomplishment

Setting goals and working towards them is what enables successful people to achieve their goals. Lou Holtz did not all of a sudden become the head football coach at Notre Dame in 1986. After an early setback in his coaching career he made that one of his goals. So he kept working and progressing as a football coach for 20 years before being hired for that position. He kept his vision in focus and kept working at it daily until his goal was reached.

So as a pastor you must maintain your focus on achieving the goals and producing the results that God desires.  You know that Satan wants to distract you (1 Peter 5:8) and so you should always keep the vision in mind and keep pressing forward. To do that, you must measure success by the results that you produce.  You know that God is the one who produces the fruit (1 Corinthians 3:7), but it is through you and the church that the fruit is produced.  You cannot be effective for God, or the church, if you are drawn away or distracted from your goals.

To make sure you are progressing towards your ultimate goal you must also track your results. This enables you to channel resources into areas of greatest success, because that is obviously the place where God is at work in the ministry.  And you should abandon non-fruitful ministries for the same reason – that God may not be at work in those areas.  Spending time in unproductive areas of ministry generally waste resources and do not produce tangible results or move your church towards its ultimate goal.

Conclusion

There is an anonymous saying that says, “Those who know, and yet do not do, do not yet know.” In other words, we all learn to a great extent by doing what we have learned. The 8 fundamentals for church leadership and management contained in this article are primarily Biblical principles and tools. They must be applied and practiced in order to be learned effectively. We call them fundamentals because they are basic and foundational to understanding leadership and management as they relate to a church. And it is my belief that when these fundamentals are practiced, pastors will experience less conflict, more ministry participation, church growth, and greater effectiveness in their ministries.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” – Philippians 4:9

 

*For a free copy of our Management for Church Leaders™ Training Book, please click here!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     Barry Voss is the President and co-founder of FaithLife Ministries.  FaithLife Ministries is a ministry dedicated to training and equipping pastors and church leaders around the world.  Barry has been training pastors and church leaders in the mission field since 1996 and was the developer of the Management for Church Leaders™ training manual in 2001. He has trained more than 12,500 church leaders in over 40 nations. Please visit their website at www.faithlifeministries.net for more information.  He is a member of Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church in Alpharetta, GA and serves as an elder, a guitarist & worship leader, and as an adult ministry teacher. He and his wife Kim live in Cumming, GA and have two adult children and four grandchildren.

God Nailed It!

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Colossians 2:13-14

As we approach Passion week and the Easter story, it is essential that we take time to consider and reflect on the cross of Jesus and what that truly means. Often in our excitement and joy in the resurrection we quickly move past Good Friday and the suffering that Jesus endured on our behalf.  It’s most likely because we do not wish to dwell on the negative. But Jesus’ crucifixion carries a much bigger message than just being the prerequisite to the resurrection. And it would be a mistake to take it lightly or not take the time to contemplate and meditate on its meaning in our lives.

First of all, the crucifixion of Jesus was all God’s idea. He had planned it, orchestrated it, and commanded it as necessary for the salvation of His created beings, including you and I. Paul writes in Acts 2:23 that, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” The choice of crucifixion as the means of death was not outside of God’s control and so it was chosen by Him. It was perhaps the most brutal and horrible form of execution that has ever existed. But He chose it because our brutal and horrible sinfulness required such a payment. God cannot tolerate sin. It is against His nature. It must be punished and accounted for.

Today, we read or learn about current events from broadcast news, the internet, or through other forms of media. But before the advent of television and the internet it was often customary for announcements and important news to be posted in public. In the 16th century Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses that started the Reformation on the door of the Church at Wittenberg, Germany. And when the Catholic Church issued the papal bull ex-communicating him from the church, it was nailed to a tree outside the church at Wittenberg. So when God had Jesus crucified, he was making a public announcement for the entire world to see. He did it by nailing Jesus to a tree! This was no insignificant act but the judgment of God being proclaimed to the world! The Sin of the World was being punished! God publicly nailed it!

But as we now know, that was not the end of the story. God also raised Jesus from the dead three days later and declared that the price for our sin had been paid in full! We were no longer slaves to sin (John 8:34-36). We have been completely forgiven through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God, who took upon himself the punishment of all of our sins so that we might be free from sin and inherit eternal life (John 3:16). It was God’s perfect and planned solution to our sin problem. There was no other way for us to be reconciled with a Holy and Righteous God unless the price for sin had been paid.

On Good Friday and Easter Sunday, God’s plan was perfectly executed! In today’s language, God completely nailed it!!

So as we prepare for Passion Week, let us not skip over the significance of Jesus being nailed to a cross for our sins. Let us contemplate not only how God did it, but why God did it! We should remember the cross every day of our lives, because it represents the eternal payment for our sin. It was God who first loved us (1 John 4:19) and God who acted on our behalf (Romans 3:8). We must never forget the cross and we must never minimize or trivialize it. Instead, let us confess our sins, repent of them, and receive the full forgiveness and pardon that Jesus earned for us on the cross!

Leading and Managing People in the Church

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Luke 6:31

The Golden Rule.  It seems that we all know Luke 6:31 so well yet are unable to keep it most of the time. The church is a people business that is based upon relationships – with God and with each other.  Jesus taught us this principle so we might live in harmony with each other, and with God, and to demonstrate to the world the love that He died for.  When you lead or manage people, you are in a relationship with them, not just in a position of authority over them.  Managing people is not about telling others what they can do for you, but rather asking them what you can do for them.  It is a daily practice of the Golden Rule as Jesus taught us.

Why is learning how to lead and manage people so important for the church and its leaders? It is because the church is all about people. It is also because people are the church’s most abundant resource and the means by which ministry takes place. It is people who minister to others and are ministered to. Money can’t minister. Buildings can’t minister. Only people can do that. So it is imperative that pastors and church leaders be effective in how they lead and manage their church members, staff, ministry leaders and volunteers so that they are all discipled and the church can grow.

There are a few key principles about managing people that leaders should know:

#1. People are unique. Every person was uniquely created by God (“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” – Psalm 139:13). No two people are exactly alike, not even twins. Each of us has different personalities, different experiences, differing education and differing work history. A pastor or church leader must not assume that everyone believes or thinks the same about activities or issues in the church. Each church member must be viewed as a unique individual with different needs, thoughts and perspectives. Knowing each member individually helps church leaders learn how to best motivate, direct and encourage each of them.  Using only one method to motivate every church member seldom works.

#2. People want to participate. Most people prefer to be participants rather than spectators. God has gifted every person to make a contribution to the body of Christ (“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” – 1 Corinthians 12:7). Participation in the ministry of the church enables church members to see how God is at work in them and in others. And that is a powerful discipleship tool. People learn best by doing. Failure to engage members in the ministry of the church causes them to miss opportunities to experience and affirm their faith and often leads to their withdrawal from the church.

#3. People want direction. In any organization, members desire to know what the organization is about and where it is going. The same is true for the church. Members need to know what the church’s vision and goals are and how they can make a contribution or participate in reaching those goals. The Bible says in Proverbs 29:18 that, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.”  Without a vision or goal to attain, people will simply do what they think is best or what they think should be done. Pastors and leaders must have a vision and then share and communicate that vision to the church so that everybody can work together towards the same vision or goal. This will enable church members to work together and coordinate their efforts so that the church can progress and move forward.

So, what should pastors and church leaders do to lead and manage people more effectively in the church? Here are 5 simple steps:

  1. Include them. Make every attempt to include all church members in the ministry of the church, using their gifts where appropriate or needed.
  1. Respect them. Invite ideas and suggestions from everyone and value those contributions. Great ideas often come from the most unlikely of people.
  1. Train them. Be sure to equip people for the ministry work you are asking them to do. Provide training yourself or send them to external training seminars or classes as needed.
  1. Recognize them. Be sure to give people acknowledgement or credit for their contributions to the ministry. Failure to do that often leads volunteers to withdraw from serving.
  1. Reward them. A little appreciation goes a long way. A small gift or just taking someone out for coffee or lunch affirms their contribution and will encourage future involvement.
(From Chapter 6 in our Management for Church Leaders™ Volume #1 Training Manual, ©2010.)

Is there a Need for Church Management Training in America?

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  ”

1 Peter 5:2-3

In America today, many churches are struggling to effectively disciple and grow their churches. In fact, church attendance has been declining dramatically since the 1960’s (Tobin Grant, Religion News Service, January, 2014). One of the main reasons seems to be our changing culture in America. It used to be that virtually everyone went to church.  It was part of our American culture. People went to church in many cases because it was what most Americans did on Sunday mornings. Pastors did not have to work that hard in getting people to come or remain in church. But that is not true anymore. Population shifts, immigration, and secularization in America have resulted in a different culture today.

But is it just about the changing American population and culture?  Is that why people are no longer attending or leaving the church? In some cases yes, but we believe that in many cases it’s because the way the gospel is communicated or the way the church is being run either angers people or causes them to find no value in attending the church. This does not speak to the issue of the message of salvation but rather to the need for good leadership and management.

So we contend that an even more important reason for declining church attendance is that pastors have not been trained in Biblical leadership and management principles. They therefore lack the knowledge to effectively lead and manage their churches in today’s more secularized American culture. Most seminaries and Bible Schools prepare pastors for preaching, teaching, and evangelizing, but their curriculums often do not include any significant training on basic leadership or management skills. What they do include is perhaps one class on church administration. But that is not nearly enough. Consequently, many pastors are not equipped to keep church members from leaving or making their church more attractive to potential members. It does not matter how great the gospel message is if pastoral leaders are ineffective in their communication of what that means or if how they are running the church drives people away.

Because churches are organizations with people and other resources, they must be led and managed effectively to be successful. As a matter of fact, most pastors will spend the vast majority of their time leading people and managing the resources of the church, not preaching or teaching. An effective sermon can easily be undone by poor leadership and management of church activities, people, resources and processes. So it is important that they have some level of knowledge about Biblical leadership and management so that they don’t create an atmosphere in the church where the gospel is not received or becomes secondary to how the church is run.

In the secular world, businesses and other organizations know that leadership is the essential ingredient to being an effective organization. That’s why they spend time and money training their employees and developing leaders from within their organizations to prepare them for positions of leadership in the future. They know that without properly trained leaders their organization will struggle to grow and be effective in what they do. Large organizations typically have some form of in-house training, but most organizations send their employees to outside training firms to get trained in what they need to be effective leaders. They desire to see their employees grow in their skill sets so that they become more valuable as employees and can help the organization grow and succeed. Churches must recognize that they need to train and develop its leaders as well if they are to survive and thrive in today’s world.

Our ministry has been training pastors and church leaders outside the USA since 2001 on basic leadership and management skills. We have seen the benefits that this type of training can bring to pastors and churches, and how it helps them to be more effective in their ministry.  We also see the need here in America, but we are not the only ones to recognize this need. Perhaps the most established pastoral leadership training taking place in America today is called the Leadership Summit organized by Pastor Bill Hybels of Willowcreek Church in Barrington, IL. There are also major pastoral leadership training initiatives by John Maxwell and his EQUIP ministry.

It is essential to the survival and growth of the Church in America that pastors are given a basic understanding of key leadership and management principles from a Biblical perspective. This will enable them to be more effective in leading and managing the church they have been called or appointed by God to lead.   When Biblical leadership and management principles are applied with guidance from, and reliance upon, the Holy Spirit, we believe it will produce “fruit for the Kingdom.” (Colossians 1:10)

The need for church leadership and management training in America has never been greater. If every pastor will endeavor to grow in their leadership and management abilities, we believe the Church can stop the decline in church attendance and reverse it so that the Kingdom of God can grow once again in our nation.

Being a Biblical Leader

The 10 Attributes of a Biblical Leader

 

“I am the vine, you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5

When leading others, following Biblical principles is perhaps the most important thing a leader should aspire to.  Although it doesn’t always appear to make sense to us, if we follow God’s ways instead of our ways, we will have a more effective ministry. As Jesus’ words above teach us, “apart from God we can do nothing.”  When we rely on our own intuition, talent, or experience, we often end up in places that not only cause us problems or harm, but likely dishonor God as well.  We may possess tremendous leadership ability, but if it is not based on the Word of God, then we will likely lead our followers in the wrong direction.

A Christian leader, therefore, is someone who stays connected to God by reading and applying His Word, who relies on the Holy Spirit working in and through them, and leads others into a deeper walk with Jesus.  The Bible provides us with many examples of leaders who demonstrated effective leadership skills.  A review of Scripture reveals that there are 10 attributes that an effective leader exhibits:

  1. An effective leader must be a Visionary. The Bible says in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” A leader must look to God for the vision or goal He wants them to achieve. Without a vision or a goal to works towards, the leader is not likely to achieve anything significant for the Kingdom.  A leader must be able to communicate and articulate that vision in a way that inspires and encourages others to come along with them.
  1. An effective leader must be Mission Minded. An effective leader must remain concerned with reaching non-believers.  No matter what ministry one is leading, it is imperative that the leader continues to reach out to those who need to know Jesus and receive His free gift of grace. (Matthew 28:19)
  1. An effective leader must be Passionate. As a leader you must care deeply about your ministry and be committed to it. Your passion for the ministry will encourage others and enable you to succeed when obstacles arise. And when these times occur, the only thing that will get you through them, besides the Lord, is your passion. (Proverbs 16:3)
  1. An effective leader must be Spirit-led. The effective leader knows that ministry is a partnership between the leader and God. God gives us our part to do and then He does His part.  But we can never work alone or trust in our own power or abilities. An effective leader also knows that they must seek God first in all they do to make sure they are in the center of His will and purpose for their ministry. (John 15:5)
  1. An effective leader must be a Servant. As our Lord and Savior “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28), we too must serve and not be served.  This runs contrary to what the world teaches leaders to be.  So, a leader is called to serve his followers and not be served by them. Consequently, a servant leader helps his followers grow & succeed.
  1. An effective leader must be Focused. A leader often has many responsibilities and duties to carry out in their position. It is critical for a leader to avoid being distracted by issues unrelated to their vision and mission. When your vision and mission are clear it is easier to stay focused on the goals God wants you to accomplish for the Kingdom. ( 3:13-14)
  1. An effective leader must be Courageous. Courage is the ability to stick to one’s beliefs when they are under attack, and to lead with conviction. The world is full of leaders who pander to the wishes of their followers, which is not really true leadership at all. A leader with courage demonstrates that they are willing to step out in faith, and to rely on God to equip them and give them the strength they need to do what God has called them to do. (1 Cor. 13:16)
  1. An effective leader must be Trusting. A leader trusts in God, who alone is faithful and true.  It can be said that faith is a measure of how much you trust God.  So an effective leader puts his trust in God and God alone, and relies on Him to do what His Word has promised. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
  1. An effective leader must be Prepared. A leader must expect the unexpected and be prepared to lead, manage or minister as needed in any given situation.  Preparation takes sacrifice and planning ahead.  Virtually all successful leaders have had a major crisis that required their leadership, and being prepared for that situation is what allowed them to be successful. (2 Timothy 4:2)
  1. An effective leader must be Opportunistic. Successful leaders are those leaders who are able to navigate through difficult times as well as take advantage of new opportunities. Leaders should take advantage of the opportunities God gives them today and not just plan for the future or stay stuck in the past. In order to do that a leader must be prepared and alert for those opportunities. Success happens where opportunity meets preparation. (1 Peter 3:15)

 

While this list is not exhaustive, it does provide a good foundation for the attributes a Biblical leader should pursue.

 

(From Chapter 2 in our Management for Church Leaders Volume #1 Training Manual, ©2010.)

Peace on Earth?

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.

I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Matthew 10:34

Every year at this time people talk about wanting peace on earth. It’s common in Christmas carols and Christmas cards. It’s often a wish for the New Year. And after a very contentious election this year many Americans are asking “why can’t we all just get along?” But is peace on earth a realistic or even achievable goal?

Peace can be defined as the absence of conflict. However, we live in a world of conflict. Any cursory study of world history will show that at any point in time there is a conflict somewhere, a place where peace does not exist. In my lifetime I have not known a time when the world was at peace. In the 1950’s there was the Korean War. In the 1960’s there was the Vietnam War and the Cold War. In the 1970’s there was the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab oil embargo, and the Iranian hostage crisis. In the 1980’s there was the IRA and the conflict in Northern Ireland.  In the 1990’s there was the Gulf War and the beginnings of Al Qaeda. In the 2000’s there was 911 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And in this decade there is the civil war in Syria and ISIS. While not every conflict will touch our lives personally, there always appears to be conflict somewhere in the world at any given point in time.

Even at the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago the world was in conflict. The Roman Empire had emerged and the Jews were now under Roman rule after returning from exile under the Babylonians to Jerusalem. Even the Jews were in conflict with one another, evidenced by the many factions that arose during this time, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes. God chose this time of conflict to send His own Son into the world.

But did Jesus come to bring peace on earth? According to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:34 he said he did “not come to bring peace on earth but a sword!” Whoa, what’s Jesus saying here?

To understand what Jesus means, we need to go back to the beginning of creation and the Garden of Eden. The world began as a perfect place, without conflict (Genesis 1:31). But then Satan brought sin and evil into the world through Adam and Eve as a result of his conflict with God. So conflict between good and evil, holiness and sin, and God and Man entered our perfect world. Since then, a spiritual battle has ensued on the earth pitting man against God. And when we look at our world today, every conflict arises from man’s sinfulness and desire to have what he wants rather than what God wants. God gave man free will so that man can either choose the ways of God or the ways of the world (which has been corrupted by sin and Satan). That is the conflict that is at the center of all conflict. And peace cannot be achieved until we first end our conflict with God!

Jesus is telling us that He came to earth to offer people that same choice, but in a much clearer way. We can either choose Jesus, God’s Son sent to redeem ALL mankind and point the way to God, or we can reject Him and thus choose to continue to ignore God, choose man’s ways, and continue to live in conflict with God the Creator. The sword he talks about is the sword of Truth, God’s Truth, which continues to divide people, families, and nations to this day.

 Jesus’ disciples knew about this conflict all too well. They saw how the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were reacting to Jesus and how they wanted to kill him. They were afraid and fearful. But Jesus comforted them by telling them in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus is declaring that the only way to find true peace is in Him. Though the world may rage in conflict all around us, we can end our conflict with God and have peace in our hearts if we put our faith in Jesus! In other words, peace is not an external experience but an internal attitude of a heart that believes and trusts in Jesus. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:15 to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.”  He further tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:16 “now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.”

Jesus came not to bring “peace on earth”, but to bring peace “to the earth.” We can have that peace “that transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) only by giving Him our hearts and placing our faith and trust in Him and God our Father. Jesus pointed to that difference when he said in John 6:33, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

So if people really desire to have peace on earth, it begins when we turn our hearts to Jesus and receive the peace that only He can give us. Is peace on earth an achievable goal? Peace on earth will only come when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!” (Philippians 2:10-11) Until that day, there will continue to be conflict in our world.

Lord, let Your peace reside in us, and help us lead others to your peace through Your son Jesus, so that one day there may be peace on earth! Amen.