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.

The Wisdom of God

wisdom

“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

We live in a world where everyone has their own source of truth. I believe that there are 6 main sources of truth that most people look to. First, some people believe that truth is what they have been taught, whether by their parents, schools, books, or people they look up to. Second, some people believe truth is what the media tells them based on what they see on television or read on the internet. Third, some believe that truth is found in one’s own personal experiences and how they have observed things as they happen in their own lives. Fourth, some believe that truth is relative to one’s circumstances. Fifth, some believe that truth is only what we can prove scientifically. And sixth, some believe that truth is found in the Bible.

So which is it? Is there only one source of truth or are there many sources of truth?

First of all, logic tells us that there can only be one truth. Something is either true or it is not true. It can’t be both true and false at the same time. Therefore, that means that there is an absolute truth.  The first 5 sources mentioned above are not really sources of truth, but rather are man’s ways of confirming a truth by what we see, read or experience in our world. They do not explain the source of that truth but only what we as humans discover about ourselves and our world.

For many years people thought the earth was flat until we learned that the earth was round.  The truth is that the earth was always round, we just did not know it or accept it until someone proved it to be true. The same can be said of other things that we now know about our world and people that are true, such as gravity or that people are capable of horrible evil.  However, there are still many other things in our world today that we may think are true, but we do not know yet if they are really true, such as stress causes cancer or that human activity affects climate change. This is because there may be errors in textbooks, inaccurate media reporting, insufficient data or experiences, and varying circumstances that make something being true difficult to determine.

So that leaves only the Bible as the source of truth, because it did not come from man but from God, the Creator of all things.

According to the Bible, it was God who created the world (Genesis 1:1) and us (Genesis 1:27). It says He is responsible for all creation (John 1:3) and that He has dominion over all things (Psalm 22:28). It also says that God speaks the truth and declares what is right (Isaiah 45:19). Consequently, he has established what is true by His own Hand. Just as a computer operates according to the way it was designed and built to work, so human beings and the world work according to God’s design and intention. Throughout history there has never been another more reliable or proven explanation of how we came to exist, how the world works, and why we act or function the way that we do.  Ignoring God and His Word does not change what He did or said.

To determine whether something is true or not we simply need to go to God and ask Him or search His Word for the answer. Looking for truth in other sources will never yield answers that are not already found in God or the Bible. I believe that the definition of science is discovering what God already knows. Though scientists may try to find truth through experimentation, observation and study, ultimately those methods only serve to confirm the truth of what God has already created or designed. As a result, scientists will never discover anything that contradicts God’s Word.

And here is where the wisdom of God comes in. In His wisdom God has already given us the Truth. He told us how everything was created, why everything was created, and how He has designed everything to function. It’s all there in the pages of His Holy Word, the Bible. It is not hidden from us nor is it difficult to find. He even sent His own Son Jesus Christ into the world to show us His Truth (John 14:6). Jesus also said if we follow His teaching (from the Bible) then we will know the truth (John 8:32).

So if we want to know the truth we simply need to follow Jesus, read the Bible, search it for the truth, and ask God to give us His wisdom as Solomon did in 1 Kings 3:9. And just as He gave Solomon wisdom, God says He will give us His wisdom as well if we just ask Him for it (James 1:5). And while we may not always understand or comprehend the truth from His Word, just like the early humans who thought the earth was flat, God will reveal His Truth to us in time and according to His purposes (Amos 4:13).

So it ultimately comes down to whether a person accepts God and the Bible as the source of all truth. If we ignore God and search for truth in the intellect of man, the media, or our own experiences or circumstances, we will never find it, and we will remain lost in darkness. But if we ask God and search His truth as written in the Bible, we will find the knowledge, wisdom and truth that we so desperately seek.

As I survey the landscape of America and the world with all of its problems, conflicts, and frustrations, the answers and truth we seek are right there in front of us because God has given it to us. It is ironic to me that the one thing that can solve the issues we face is the one thing many people reject or refuse to consider. Consequently, until we turn to God and His Word, we will remain in darkness and continue to struggle to find the truth that will bring us the answers and peace that we seek for ourselves or our world.

Lord, give us Your wisdom, and help us to lead others to You, Your Word, and the Truth through Your son Jesus! Amen.

Barry signature

Building Successful Teams

teamwork“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

We all enjoy watching individuals achieve success in sports, business or entertainment through hard work, dedication and perseverance. It’s often called the American way because of our nation’s culture of self-reliance and rugged individualism. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We marvel at the accomplishments of people like Michael Phelps (swimming), Bill Gates (business), and Tom Hanks (movies) for what they have achieved in their respective fields.

But I think in many ways we have a greater appreciation for team success, watching several individuals work together to achieve a common goal, whether it’s in sports, business or the entertainment industry. That’s probably why we like watching television shows with ensemble casts or team sports in America. And people watch and celebrate team championships more than almost anything else, whether it’s the World Series, Super Bowl, or the World Cup. There’s just something about teams competing and succeeding that draws our attention and admiration. We value and enjoy seeing people work together, combining their different skills, personalities and experiences in ways that produce success. As Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

The same thing is true for the Christian Church. In order to achieve ministry success, pastors and church leaders will often need to build teams from among their members to work together for the common good of the church (ref. 1 Corinthians 12:7). Churches frequently use teams to oversee ministries, lead worship, develop future plans, or build facilities, just to name a few. Jesus built teams among his disciples and they rarely did anything individually. Teams also enable a church to distribute the workload to more than one person and generate a collaboration of ideas. This is important because each member brings different skills, gifts, and experiences to the church that when combined provide greater opportunity for the best outcome. It is also common that future church leaders will often emerge from within teams.

Churches and ministries should use teams for a variety of purposes, including strategic planning, budgeting, ministry oversight, adding staff, researching new ministry opportunities, or to analyze ministry problems and come up with solutions.  Teams are most effective when the purpose is broad, the project is large, or the objectives impact many people, because they ensure that many perspectives and ideas are considered and discussed. Teams are not as effective when the project scope is narrow or requires specific technical skills.

When building teams it is important to have a clear vision and set of goals with defined outputs and deadlines. It is also crucial to designate a team leader.  The success of any project will depend heavily upon the skill of its leader. Team leaders should select people with differing skills and backgrounds to enable differing ideas and solutions, and to assign each team member specific roles and activities so that everyone on the team participates and is committed to the project. The goal of the team leader is to manage the team like a sports team coach, getting everyone to use their individual skills to work together to produce the best outcome.

In my own personal life I have experienced the greatest joys and successes when working on teams, whether it was a business project, a basketball team, a short term mission trip, or serving on a church board. Close personal bonds are developed, different contributions are celebrated, and achievements are more satisfying. I would guess that many of you would say the same thing.

So when you are faced with a big project, problem or opportunity in your ministry, I would encourage you to build a team to tackle it. You will increase participation in the ministry, develop tighter relationships among your members, and create the possibility for greater ministry success!

(From Chapter 6 of our Management for Church Leaders™ Training Manual, Volume #2.)

No Doubt About It!

Doubt2

“Stop doubting and believe!”
John 20:27

I have heard some Christians say that they have doubts when it comes to their faith.  They say they don’t understand why God does what He does or doesn’t do, or that some things from His Word just don’t make any sense to them in our world anymore. Some will even argue that since we can never fully know God or fully understand His Word from the Bible that it is alright to have our doubts about them.

But is it OK for Christians to say they have doubts about God, Jesus, or the Bible’s truth?

I strongly believe that the answer to that question is NO! The Christian faith is predicated on the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that the Bible is God’s Word and Truth. When a person publicly or privately declares that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God and place their trust and faith in Him alone for salvation, they are stating that they believe these things to be true. That’s when belief becomes reality and they become a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ. So a person cannot call themselves a Christian if they are no longer sure who God is, what Jesus did on the cross, or that God’s Word is His truth.

We are told by Jesus to believe and have faith.  When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to him. However, when he took his eyes off of Jesus he began to sink. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him and said to him, “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)   Jesus also confronted doubt in the person of Thomas, one of his disciples. After Jesus had risen Thomas demanded proof. He said to Thomas when he doubted to “stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). He went even further by declaring that unlike Thomas and the disciples, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” (John 20:29)

So to say as Christians that we have doubts is the same as saying we don’t believe anymore. We either believe (and have faith) or we don’t.  If we look at a thesaurus we will find that doubt is the opposite of belief. We cannot both believe and doubt the same thing.

I think many Christians who say they have doubts really mean that they don’t understand God’s Word or His ways and struggle to reconcile that with their daily lives. That’s not doubt, that’s just our lack of understanding of His Word and His nature because He says “My ways are higher than your ways.” (Isaiah 55:9). We don’t know what God knows. That’s why the Bible says in Proverbs 2:6 that “the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”  Additionally, Proverbs 3:5 says we should “trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding.”  That means that must put our trust in God and His Word and not doubt Him or His truth.  To doubt Him is to deny Him. Furthermore, James 1:6-8 says that we as Christians must “believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

The absolute essence of the Christian faith is to wholeheartedly believe and trust in God, His Son, and His Word. That’s where the Christian faith begins. We must be confident in these truths and not doubt them!

So let’s encourage one another in our faith because there’s no doubt about it!

Managing Your Life

Balance

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”

Colossians 1:10

Usually as pastors or church leaders we spend most our time trying to manage the people and resources of our ministry. We constantly think about how to lead others, train others, or develop them into leaders as well. Consequently, we often forget to manage the one person who also needs help – ourselves!

God has given each of us one life to live.  How we live that life is a measure of our love for God and what He has done for us through Jesus Christ.  There is so much that God wants to do in and through each of us, if we simply let Him.  But so often the cares and worries of this world enter into our lives and either distract us from His desires or strip us of His joy.  Even ministry workers can get so busy being busy that they can lose sight of the blessings God wants to give them or the opportunities he puts before them.  Sometimes we are so preoccupied with ministry work that we neglect our families, our health and even our responsibilities.  As important as ministry work is, it does not negate our responsibility to care and provide for our families, or take care of ourselves.  We are doing ministry when we fulfill these responsibilities.  Therefore, we must strive to keep our lives in balance and to honor God in everything we do, not just our ministry calling.

There are 4 basic areas of our lives that we must keep in the proper balance. They include God, family, work and ministry. Of course, our first priority as Christians is God, and His presence must exist in the other 3 areas of our lives if we are to stay in balance. We don’t just put God first in our lives, we must put Him everywhere in our lives. All areas of our lives need to be submitted to God if we are to call ourselves Christian and be followers of Jesus Christ!

The issue then becomes one of prioritizing the other 3 areas of family, work and ministry. If we are parents as well as church leaders, then our next priority must be our family. God put us in charge of specific people (spouse and children) and we must take care of them first. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:5 that “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” So it is clear that family must come first for pastors and church leaders. Failure to meet the needs of our family is neglecting our primary responsibility.  Leaders must never put work or ministry above their families.

For pastors and some church leaders, work and ministry are the same thing.  It is for me as President of FaithLife Ministries. But for those of you who have a secular job, I believe that it should come before ministry. Why? Because work is the way you meet the needs of your family, which is your first priority. Without work your family would suffer. If you only do ministry and do not provide for your family, the Apostle Paul also says that this person is worse than an unbeliever (“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” –  1 Timothy 5:8Therefore, our work should always come before ministry.

Although ministry should come after family and work, it does not mean that we should abandon it or minimize it. It simply means we have to keep our  priorities in the right order and seek to find the proper balance among them. That balance will differ for each of us and also sometimes in various seasons of life. That balance is not static, but shifts according to our circumstances and the needs at the time. If we manage our time and lives properly it can be done. Finding the proper balance will lead to less stress, better health, more effectiveness, and a life that truly honors God in all that we do.

So the next inevitable question is how do we find that balance? I would suggest the following:

1. Keep specific work hours as much as possible. Limit your work or ministry time to what is essential.
2. Make time for family events.  Be present at birthdays, school functions and kids activities.
3. Take time off as needed to rest and recharge. Take a class and learn something new, read a book, or take a vacation.
4. Eat well 3 times a day. Keep to a healthy routine that is appropriate for your culture.
5. Get a good night’s sleep. Fatigue can lead to poor decision making and illness.
6. Get physical exercise. Play sports, walk or swim. Your body needs it to function properly.

The balance we need in our lives is different for each of us. It depends upon the nature of our family, work and ministry. And that balance can change depending on your circumstances or season of life. I encourage you to find the balance that works best for you in your particular situation. If you are not in balance, you will notice more stress, more fatigue, and less effectiveness. However, when your life is in balance then you will experience the kind of life that Jesus calls abundant in John 10:10!

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My Holy Land Experience

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“We live by faith, not by sight.” – 1 Corinthians 5:7

I recently had the opportunity to make my first visit to Israel and the Holy Land.  It had long been a goal of mine to get to the Holy Land and to visit the sites where Jesus was born, where he ministered and taught, where he suffered and died on the cross, and where he was raised from the dead. I had envisioned a place where history would come alive right before my eyes and where I would be emotionally moved by what I was seeing. I was anticipating a spiritual experience beyond anything I had ever felt before!

However, as I toured Israel and visited such sites as Bethlehem, Capernaum and Jerusalem, I did not experience what I had anticipated I would. Rather, I was surprised at my lack of an emotional connection to the historical aspects of the Holy Land. I suspect it was because many of the sites did not look anything like what I thought they would. I think that there were several reasons for that.

First, much of what I thought I would see was based on portrayals of the areas in movies. Hollywood tries to recreate the geography and setting but often tends to create movie sets that are more like our preconceived ideas than what actually existed at the time. Second, the Scriptures don’t always provide a detailed description of the geography so we each envision or imagine what the area must have looked like in our own minds. That may or may not be accurate. Third, what existed 2,000 years ago is not what we see today.  Areas have been built over and the original locations look vastly different than they might have back when Jesus lived. Finally, tour guides usually tell you one of three things about a particular site – it is believed to be the actual site based on some evidence, it is probably the actual site given what is known about an event, or it may be the actual site but they really have no proof that it is. Very few of the sites I visited have enough solid evidence to prove that’s where a specific event took place. So for these reasons the sites that I visited did not meet my expectations of what I thought I would see and therefore it was difficult to make an emotional connection. It’s not like going to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and seeing the USS Arizona still under water where it sank in 1941!

Nevertheless, we do know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that city exists today where it was back then. Capernaum, where Jesus ministered and taught a great deal, is also where it was. And Jerusalem too is in the same location and we know that Jesus was judged there, suffered there, crucified there, and was buried there. And while the actual locations of these events in these cities may not be known with absolute certainty, they ARE where these things took place in history. And while I did not connect emotionally with the specific sites I visited as I had expected, I did reflect considerably on their meaning in history. As I visited these places I thought about Jesus, what He did, and what it must have been like back then (according to Scripture), and as a result I felt a deeper spiritual connection with Him!  It was not the sites themselves that impacted me, but rather the realization and consideration of what took place there that did! Visiting the Holy Land most assuredly affirmed my faith and belief in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection!

One of the things I did witness quite frequently were the large numbers of people who were visiting these spots and touching them as if the sites themselves could convey a special spiritual power because Jesus had been there. To me, I saw that as idolatry.  We worship a living God, not historical places or relics from the past. Our God lives and reigns in us and through us and we don’t need to visit the Holy Land to feel His presence or be filled with the power of His Holy Spirit. That comes from God, and faith in Jesus, and is available to anyone who calls on His name! Focusing on physical things only distracts us from spiritual things.

So, was visiting the Holy Land a disappointment? Was it unnecessary? Was it meaningless? Absolutely not!  As a matter of fact, I would still highly recommend it for every Christian. Being in the Holy Land allows us to consider very deeply what Jesus has done for us. Walking in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Capernaum enabled me to connect with the Bible and what it says and to reflect on what really matters in life. And that is Faith. Faith does not come from visiting the Holy Land. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.”Romans 10:17 But visiting the Holy Land can serve to strengthen our belief in Jesus and what He did for us!

And so I thank God for the opportunity to visit His Holy Land, and for the chance to reflect more deeply on what Jesus did for me and for every human being that has ever lived. History is just history. But faith in Jesus is living and active, and visiting the Holy Land has affirmed and strengthened my faith in Him who alone is God!

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Leadership Character

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“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” 
1 Timothy 3:2-3

With this being an election year, the American people are looking for a leader. But what exactly is a leader? A leader is someone who not only is effective in positively influencing others, but who also demonstrates the character of a leader. People want  leaders they can trust to do what they say.  One’s character is what makes trust possible.   This is true for all leaders, whether they are political, business or church leaders.

I believe that there are 5 basic characteristics of a leader:

First, they must have integrity. It means they say what they mean and do what they say. Too often leaders lose credibility because they do not follow through on their commitments.

Second, they must have wisdom. This is more than knowledge and reflects a leader’s ability to analyze information and make positive and correct choices and decisions. Leaders lose influence when they make poor decisions or bad choices.

Third, they must have humility. Leaders must put the needs of others above themselves. Nobody likes a self-serving leader. Leaders lose support when they focus on their goals instead of the needs of their followers.

Fourth, they must encourage others. Leadership is not about the leader, but it is about the followers. Leaders who serve and encourage their followers are more successful than those who don’t. Leaders lose followers when they focus on themselves.

Fifth, they must empower others. Leaders who won’t delegate or develop other leaders restrict their own potential and that of others. Leaders lose momentum and growth when they don’t tap into the capabilities of others.

The conduct of a leader is also reflective of their character. There are 7 ways a leader ought to conduct themselves according to 1 Timothy 3:2-3 above:

1. Be above reproach – no one doubts their character
2. Be self-controlled – they are disciplined
3. Be respectable – people look up to them
4. Be hospitable – they are open and welcoming
5. Be able to teach – they instruct and educate others
6. Be gentle – they respect others and are not harsh with their words
7. Be a servant – they focus on people, not money

These qualities from the Bible define the conduct of a true leader. We must always endeavor to look for them when following leaders or electing them.

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