A native of Alabama and the son of a coal miner, Joe McKeever has been saved more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for religious publications more than 45 years.
“That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2)
“For the body is not one member, but many…. If they were all one member, where would the body be?” (I Corinthians 14:14,19)
A man wrote to Reader’s Digest telling how his daughter had gone off to a woman’s university and he had received a letter from the dean. “We’re surveying the freshman class,” he said. “Please tell us about your daughter by completing the enclosed questionnaire.”
One question read: “Would you call your daughter a leader?” The dad wrote, “I’m not sure I’d call her a leader. But she’s a great player, someone you really want on your team.”
A few days later, he received a letter from the dean. “I thought you’d be interested in knowing,” he wrote, “that our freshman class of 250 young women is composed of 249 leaders and one follower. Your daughter.”
Everyone likes to think of themselves as leadership material. To be a follower is not glamorous. No kid announces to the family that when he grows up, he plans to be a team member. Few books–if any!–are written on the subject of how to be a great follower or team member.
My friend Vince Lee wrote the other night. “Your website has all kinds of articles on leadership. But no one ever writes anything on how to be a great follower. How about it?”
Great idea, Vince. Thank you.
I know about following.
I should be an authority on following. I’ve been a follower all my life, with a few times-out to take the lead in something or other.
That might take some explaining. After all, I’ve pastored six churches for 42 years and then served in denominational leadership for five years. So, how is it I have been a follower for all my life?
–I went to school. At no point was I the leader of the school. Not even the class or the Beta Club. (Okay, I was president of the FFA, but in name only.)
–I worked in secular jobs. In college, I worked weekends as a clerk-typist at the railroad yards for the Pullman Company. After college, for two years I worked as the secretary to the production manager of a cast iron pipe company. During seminary, I worked afternoons in a huge office at the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. At every level, I had bosses and took orders. I was a small cog in a large wheel.
–I’ve been a member of the PTA, but never its leader. A member of the chamber of commerce, but never its leader. A member of the board of trustees of a Baptist medical center, but never its leader. A trustee of our SBC International Mission Board, but never its leader. A member of the board for several state Baptist conventions, but never their leader.
You get the idea.
And, there is one other thing that might qualify me to pen something on followership: As a pastor of churches and a denominational “director of missions,” my work depended on a large corps of volunteers. Our teams were often large and sometimes unwieldy. The stories I could tell on this subject.
So, here are ten things on FOLLOWERSHIP I’ve learned over the decades. Oh, and don’t miss the final scripture. It knocks this out of the park…
One. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. So, do not beat yourself up if you find yourself constantly refusing when asked to be chairman of the deacons or to lead a big project. You know yourself better than anyone. Find your slot and work it well.
Two. No leader leads in every area. When the president of General Motors goes to the PTA, he is put on a committee and takes orders. When the college president joins the chamber of commerce, they put him/her on the beautification committee and he/she learns to lead by following. When the President of the United States goes to church, he is not in charge but is following the leadership of the pastor.
Three. Pay attention. Everyone should learn the lessons of faithful and effective followership. Like leadership, it’s a never-ending project and the lessons keep on coming.
Watch the great quarterback or running back for a successful football team. They will pay tribute to the blockers in front of them. Ask any fan. When no one is running interference for Mark Ingram or Jerry Rice (!), he turns in a dismal record at the end of that game. And yet, few people know the names of their offensive line. They are the grunts. But nothing much happens without them. A good coach knows this.
Four. Pray for your leader. Ask the Lord to lead, to show the way, to protect the leader, to bless him/her with wisdom and discernment.
Five. Pray for yourself. There will be moments when you are tempted to go rogue, to jump ship and rebel against the leadership. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom. Sometimes, His will is for you to learn to submit to the authority over you for the greater good. (See Ephesians 5:21)
Six. Honor your leader and bless the other members.
Seven. Be supportive. Do your work well. And be sparing in your criticism of other workers or the leadership.
Eight. Keep your ego out of it. Read Luke 17:7-10 until its lesson becomes part and parcel of your makeup. When you have served excellently–when you have done all the things the Lord commanded of you!–then instead of expecting appreciation and recognition, say to yourself, “I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my job.” Doing that from time to time will drive a stake through the heart of a runaway ego and make you a much better servant.
Btw, never tell other people “I’m just an unworthy servant. I’m just doing my job.” That smacks of self-righteousness. Say it to yourself and no one else. Neither should we say that to others. “Pastor, I know you’ve been here many years and worked hard. But pastor, you are an unworthy servant, just doing your job.” That would be a major league putdown. Instead, scripture says we are to honor each other and appreciate those who serve well. (See Romans 16, the entire chapter; I Corinthians 16:18; and Philippians 2:19ff.)
Nine. Show yourself faithful. Never criticize your leader. Do your work well, and encourage the leader who has been assigned the most difficult task of all: to set the direction, make a lot of hard decisions, and deal with team members each one with his/her own opinions on how this work should be done.
Value the other team members. Do not compete with them but encourage them. Be loyal, both to the organization as well as to the leadership and to your fellow team members.
Ten. Learn well the lesson of I Samuel 30:24 and teach it at every opportunity.
To chase down the Amalekites and take back their families and cattle stolen by these fierce enemies, David and his band had to make a decision. Weighted down by their supplies and baggage, they assigned some of the group to remain behind with the “stuff.” This enabled the warriors to travel light and catch the bad guys. They did, and made short work of them, and recaptured everyone and everything. “Nothing was missing, whether great or small” (I Samuel 30:19). And then they returned to the team members left behind.
Some in David’s group–described as “wicked and worthless men”–wanted to give a pittance to the guardians of the baggage. “After all, they didn’t face the Amalekites and risk their lives.” David was ready with an answer, giving a principle which verse 25 says became the rule of law in Israel “to this day.”
“As his share who goes down to battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.” (I Samuel 30:24)
Smart man. Wise leader. Grateful people. A lesson well taught.
For good reason the citizens of the country appreciated King David as no one before or after him.
It’s a smart leader who appreciates the team members–most of whom will go unnamed and unnoticed–who make him look like a champion.
Our website (www.joemckeever.com) has two categories of articles on the subject of “Leadership”–listed as “Church leadership” and simply “Leadership.” To find them, scroll down the home page to a list of Categories, then click on these. The latter has nearly a hundred articles on the subject. Feel free to use these with your staff or congregation, as God leads. (I’ve met at least two pastors who had his assistant print out every one of these articles and bind them in a notebook. In their weekly staff meetings, they used them as topics of study and discussion for a solid year.)
Whether you’re talking about your business or a church or the Beta club in your high school, the principles for making it successful and effective are similar. Here is my short list, based on nearly 60 years in serving the Lord’s churches.
One. Be selective on who joins your organization. Go for big numbers only and you will end up diluting the wine.
You wouldn’t employ a slob, a bum, or a disruptive person for your company. Nor should a church receive as members those who show no indication of being Christ-followers. Churches might set up some kind of probationary period. Receive people as members but without full privileges for the first year. What privileges? Serving on committees, voting on motions, teaching classes. Then, at the end of the year, they and others who joined near the same time are received in a ceremony of some kind.
When someone asked for a scripture on this, I responded, “You don’t need one. Some things are no-brainers.” Lessons learned by long, sad experience. Receive anyone and everyone as members and you end up bringing the enemy into the inner works.
At the very least, a church should have a short interview with each person joining immediately after they present themselves. Also, church leaders could prepare a booklet spelling out the blessings and expectations of membership in this church.
Two. Choosing leaders is the most important thing any group will ever do.
Every group says volumes about itself by the character of the leadership it chooses. That, incidentally, applies to the United States just as it does to the local 4-H club or your Sunday School class.
Read I Timothy 3 and see how the qualifications for pastors and deacons matter. Read Acts 6:1-7 and see the same for deacons.
A drunken senator was once nominated to the Supreme Court. When confronted with his problem, he said, “If confirmed, I promise to quit drinking.” No one bought that flimsy line, nor should a church choose as leader a person with a record of tearing up churches or breaking his marital vows. Forgiving someone is one thing, but trusting them with your valuables is another.
Scripture is filled with leadership lessons. You’ll find three from our Lord in Luke 16:10-12.
Three. Empower those you choose as leaders to do their work well, yet hold them accountable at the same time.
I’ve known churches that required the pastor to get a church vote for anything costing over five dollars. And other churches which required him to get a committee approval for anything over a hundred.
Some churches need to learn that when they call someone as a pastor or staffer, they should give him/her room (and the means) to do their work and not erect obstacles, too many regulations, or heavy burdens. I once brought a man onto our staff as business administrator. The first thing he did was propose that everyone fill out a form in triplicate to buy the first thing for our work. I said, “John, please make it easier to do our work, not harder.” That was the end of the triplicate form.
Every pastor should meet with church leaders from time to time to discuss his work, to hear his heart, and to advise him. Ideally, it should be a standing committee of a half dozen solid men and women. Call it “pastor support team” as one of my pastorates did, or something else entirely. But a pastor who is answerable to no one in the church is asking for trouble.
Likewise, every staff member should be answerable to the pastor. I had one tell me, “You’re not my boss. The church called me to this staff.” I was patient with him and said quietly, “They did because I asked them to. And if I ask them to send you packing, they’ll do that too.” She shaped up quickly.
Four. Always be on the alert for people with potential and constantly be training new leaders. Never quit. Otherwise, when present leaders die, retire, or move away, a vacuum in the leadership ranks will bring the work crashing to a halt.
Begin training leaders by delegating. Give people tasks to do. It’ll multiply your effectiveness, train leadership, and bless everyone involved.
From time to time, conduct classes on leadership for selected people with potential. Invite them personally and make the teaching the best you have ever done. You are, after all, setting the gold standard by which most will live and work for the rest of their lives.
In delegating work, you don’t necessarily tell people you are prepping them for future leadership. Just give them small tasks and help them do well, then gradually increase their assignments as they serve faithfully. My wife used to work for a manager of a bookstore who said, “The reward for a job well done is a bigger job.”
Five. Unless you are in the military or a football coach, do not command anyone to do anything. Lead by example and servanthood. (See I Peter 5:3) Otherwise, you are asking for all the trouble you are going to get.
Be a worker yourself. Set the example. Show people how to do the job. Stay with them until they get it. Encourage and appreciate them. And reward them from time to time.
When a church chooses you as their pastor, they’re not ready to follow you yet. You must earn their trust by faithfulness, love, and exemplary service.
The husband who demands that his wife and children obey him because “God made me the head of the home” is brother to the pastor who demands the congregation follow him unquestioningly because “God made me the head of this church.” I’m biting my tongue but close to calling both that husband and that pastor blockheads. The Bible does not make them dictators. Far from it. It makes them servants. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” That’s Ephesians 5. Love her that way and she’ll do anything for you, husband.
Six. Serve people. Serve the young and the old. Serve the sick and elderly and serve the healthy and the strong.
Your role model is the Lord who washed the feet of His disciples (John 13). He came not to be ministered unto, but to serve. And to give His life a ransom.
A servant works to make others successful, does not need recognition or approval, and is constantly on the lookout for jobs that need doing.
When you finish serving, say to yourself the words of Luke 17:10, “I am only an unworthy servant; I’m just doing my duty.” Do that constantly and you will drive a stake through the heart of the ego with its never-satiated lust for recognition and appreciation.
Seven. When you delegate a task to a colleague, do so gently and kindly. And then do not abandon them.
“John, could you help me? I need you to chair this committee on parking lot greeters. We’re trying to set this up right so we can help people find their way in our church and to feel at home. Finding the right leader is so crucial, and I think you’re just the person. What do you say?”
Do not say “The Lord told me you are the person for this.” Doing that paints them into a corner. To reject it sounds like they’re saying the Lord misled you. Just be kind and ask them to do it.
Then, follow up. See number eight.
Eight. A good leader always follows up an assignment.
I had a staff member who went through a number of assistants rather quickly. Finally I decided to debrief one who was leaving. “He’s a wonderful person,” she said, “but he throws us into this office to do a hundred jobs and never shows us how. It’s so frustrating, and we hate to disappoint him.”
There are two ways to do followup: formally or informally. The first is to set up a meeting in the office and ask for a full report. “Hey Bob, could we get together tomorrow morning? I’d like to see how your assignment is coming along?” By giving advance notice, you give Bob time to get his act together. The second is to call on the phone (or stop in the hallway) and ask, “How’s that project coming?” “Anything I can do to help?”
If you appoint someone to a task but never follow up, you are almost guaranteeing either they will not do it or they’ll do it poorly. And it’ll be your fault.
Nine. When you find yourself with a person who has achieved success, pick their brains on lessons of leadership they learned along the way.
We never arrive. Leadership is an ongoing subject, with specific lessons and requirements for every field.
When the deacon’s wife was in surgery, he and I shared the hospital waiting room for several hours. Since he was a high administrator in a Washington D.C. agency and formerly president of the American Bankers Association, he had a great deal to teach his young pastor. I picked his brain and carry valuable lessons to this day.
Ten. Once your team has finished a project, thank the members.
There are a hundred ways to do this, some more appropriate than others. A huge project might require a public celebration of thanksgiving and recognition. Something lesser might require only a hand-written note in the mail.
“That the leaders led in Israel and the people volunteered, O bless the Lord!” –Deborah. (Judges 5:2). That’s the ideal–leaders doing their job and the people stepping up and volunteering and serving well.
“But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to become first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).
People do not want to follow.
Sorry about that.
Ask anyone clamoring for high political office. They do not want to acknowledge you as their leader and themselves as your followers.
So, if you have a yearning to be a leader of people, you automatically have chosen an uphill task.
Better to become their servant. Everyone loves to be served.
However, not everyone wants to serve. Only the best and the strongest can serve.
Serving is hard work. Serving runs counter to our self-centeredness. Serving demands more humility and love than most of us can summons.
That’s why so few choose this way to make their mark in society.
They would rather lead than to serve.
People who serve must decide whether it’s only for the short term gain. That means they’re looking for quick results from their service, and if it’s not forthcoming, they’ll shut down the servant-business and be moving along, ready to try another tactic to win a following. But a true servant is one who dedicates his/her life to blessing those around them in whatever ways they can. They necessarily take the long view, knowing they may not see immediate results, may never be fully appreciated, and may have to wait years to see the good they have accomplished.
Those who serve people must decide how they will do this. Will they take a poll to find out what the crowd is clamoring for, then package the findings into some kind of program and make them think it was a bright idea out of the goodness of the donor’s heart? Or will they take the higher road and ask the Father how they should go about serving His people? As Paul said, “We preach…ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
To serve people “for Jesus’ sake” means we ask Him how to serve them.
The best leaders did not just serve in order to become leaders. They continued serving long after they were given the Oval office (or the title of CEO or President or Dean or Pastor). Serving others is a way of life to them. Even after it’s no longer required, they are not content to sit behind a desk and order their underlings to do the heavy lifting. They do the desk-stuff as much as necessary, but in their best moments, when they are in their glory, they are with the people making their lives better.
Servants are often unseen and unknown by members of the household. They do their work, then move aside, out of the way.
A servant works to make others successful.
Sometimes a would-be leader will say, “I’ve always wanted to be the president” (or pastor or dean or supervisor). As though the ambition justified it.
Beware of ambition.
In most cases, what we call ambition turns out to be an old-fashioned case of self-centeredness and a lust for material things, human acclaim, and all the signs of power.
Outsiders will find it hilarious that some people enter the ministry from a love of easy money, public recognition, and a pedestal from which they can show off their talents.
Most of us in the Lord’s work, we hasten to say, have found none of that easy money, found the “acclaim of the masses” to be a fickle thing, and have yet to discover any kind of power over people from being called “pastor.” Far from finding the ministry to be a pedestal, most pastors find it to be a work station.
All of that said, here are 10 statements that sum up most of what I know of leadership:
Leadership is not about dominating people but encouraging them. You leave them better and stronger than how you found them.
Leadership is not about charming people but blessing them. You may be poorer for having helped them, but you know what you did is going to make a huge difference in the long run.
Leadership recognition is given by people voluntarily, not won or captured or snared by someone with great personality traits.
The leader will have the greater accountability. At judgment, a lot of people will find themselves wishing they’d had smaller responsibilities. “Unto whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
The leader has a bulls-eye on his back. The arrows and darts will come his way. It’s part of the price he pays. If he cannot handle that, he’s taken the wrong road.
The leader must have faithful colleagues and lieutenants to share the load. He cannot do everything expected and required alone. The leader is the captain of a great team.
Loyalty is a huge part of leadership. The guy at the top is loyal to his team members, and they to him. He has to earn their respect and loyalty before he can demand the same from them.
Matching people’s gifts/talents/interests and abilities with the right job and responsibilities is one of the greatest chores and accomplishments of a true leader. In most cases, it’s called delegation. You see Barnabas doing it in Acts 11:25 when he matched Saul of Tarsus with the situation in Antioch.
Leaders are not born. They earn the title by their hard work.
The leader must stay current on what’s happening, in touch with his team, and adaptable to changes in either or both. Leadership is a never-ending challenge.
We should always be careful about taking the designation of “leader” to ourselves. Our Lord Jesus, who could have had every title and deserved all power and authority, said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Nothing our Lord said about servanthood has affected me the way the parable of Luke 17:7-10 does. At the end, when we have done all the things He has commanded us, Jesus said, we should say, “I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my duty.”
We are to say those words to ourselves. We are to tame the restless yearning inside us that clamors for recognition and rewards by constantly putting it back in its place. “Back, back, back! You are only an unworthy servant. You’re just doing your duty.”
We are not to say that to one another. We are to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). We are to “appreciate such men” (I Corinthians 16:18).
Nor does God say that to us. He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21,23).
I am only an unworthy servant. Just doing my duty.
Keep saying it to yourself, friend. It’s a shortcut to sanity, a cure for the ego, a simple way to please the Lord Jesus and to remain useful to Him and usable by Him.
This is all about excellence. Not perfection, but giving your best, leaving nothing in the locker room, cutting no corners. Whether we are the janitor in the school, the yardman at the church, or serving the President of the United States.
She was telling me how she came to make the hard decision to change jobs.
“I was working in the fraud division of a financial company,” she said. “They trained me for the position and I was working hard at it. But for some reason, I just wasn’t getting it. And that felt bad.”
“I’m very good at what I do,” she explained.
“So this was a new thing for me. I went to work feeling uncomfortable, like I was not doing what they had brought me there for.”
“Then, a former co-worker who knew me and worked for a bank, recommended me to her boss. I interviewed and felt quickly this was where I needed to be.”
“When I resigned to go with the new job,” she said, “they begged me to stay. My boss and co-workers actually pleaded with me. One told me I was a great influence in the office. And, to my surprise, they said I was doing the work I was hired for.”
“But I felt I wasn’t. I love feeling that I’m doing my best work. And I just didn’t have that.”
The young woman is my granddaughter. There are no words to say how proud I am of her. She had a difficult upbringing for a dozen reasons, but showed early in life that she is bright and positive, an overcomer. Anyone would be proud to be related to her.
Her statement has stuck with me. “I’m very good at what I do.”
That is a great mantra. I want it to be mine.
Give of your best to the Master. It’s one of our hymns.
As far as I know, the word “excellence” is not to be found in Scripture. But the concept is there in numerous ways. Consider these texts…
–“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). In the name of Jesus.
–“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23). As for the Lord.
–“Whether then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). To the glory of God.
–“Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Giving your very best effort.
There! That ought to cover it!
Whatever we are doing–typing bills of lading for a trucking company or driving that truck, ordering cast iron pipe for the city water works or pumping that water, writing an article or a book, or teaching a classroom of middle-schoolers–we should do our job in the name of Jesus, as unto the Lord Jesus, for the glory of Jesus, and with all we’ve got.
“Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” — Romans 12:11.
And then there is this…
“Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Ephesians 5:20.
So, when you’re doing that great work, be sure to add gratitude to the mix. It’s like icing on the cake.
Imagine this: You are turning out great work. The boss is impressed, your co-workers are pleased and even a tad envious, and in your heart of hearts you know this is as good as it can be done. Then, on top of that, you are grateful for the privilege of working here, glad to be working alongside these people, and delighted for the opportunity to use your gifts in this way.
There once was a lady named Dorcas. “This woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did.” And then she died.
“When Peter arrived, they brought him into the upper room where all the widows stood around weeping. They were showing him all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.”
So Peter knelt and prayed and raised her from the dead. (Acts 9)
Why her? we wonder. And we answer our own question: She was doing such wonderful work, the congregation just simply could not do without her. So the Lord returned her to them.
Excellence has a way of making one invaluable.
In former days, women’s Sunday School classes often named themselves “The Dorcas Class.” They wanted to be like her.
Most of what follows about leading God’s church is counter-intuitive. Which is to say, it’s not what one might expect.
In no particular order….
One. Bigness is overrated.
“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).
Most pastors, it would appear, have wanted to lead big churches, wanted to grow their church to be huge, or wanted to move to a large church. Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than you would ever think.
Small churches can be healthy too; behold the hummingbird or the honeybee.
Trying to get a huge church to change its way of thinking can be like turning around an ocean liner. Even so, the Lord’s teachings about the mustard seed (see Matthew 13:31-32 and Luke 17:6) should forever disabuse us of the lust for bigness.
I will spare you the horror stories of pastors who have manipulated God’s people and lied about numbers in order to create the illusion of bigness. Forgive us, Father!
Two. Lack of formal education in the preacher is no excuse.
The pastor of the small church often has far less formal training and education than he would like. As a result, he often feels inferior to his colleagues with seminary degrees. I have two thoughts on that…
One. It’s a mistake. He can be as smart as they are and more if he applies himself. Let the Lord’s preachers not be overly impressed by certificates on the wall or titles before their name.
Two. He can get more formal education if he’s willing. Some of our seminaries have online programs that make seminary education practical and affordable.
My dad, a coal miner, had to leave school after the 7th grade. But he never quit learning. He took courses and read constantly. When God took him to Heaven, Dad was almost 96. Our mom had to cancel four or five magazine subscriptions he was still taking and reading.
Some of the finest preachers of God’s word I’ve ever known have had little formal theological education.
Three. There are no lone rangers or solo acts on the Lord’s team.
He sent them out two by two. (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1)
The preacher who says pastors are not allowed to have friends and thus shuts himself off from colleagues in ministry has bought into a lie from hell that causes him to deceive himself and limit his ministry. While a pastor may choose not to have close friends among his own members, there is every reason for him to make friends with other pastors and ministers who serve the Lord well. Failing to do so limits himself and hurts the kingdom work.
Furthermore, he must have co-workers alongside him. Paul needed Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and many others. Read the last chapter of I Corinthians and ask God to forgive you for trying to do this work alone.
Four. Doing a job by yourself is easier than enlisting and training someone else, but it’s violating your calling.
“Make disciples,” said our Lord. That mandate calls for us to help people come into the kingdom, then nurture and grow them to the point they will know the Word, can share the Word, and can make disciples of others.
Barnabas did not find it convenient to leave Antioch and travel to Tarsus “to seek Saul” (Acts 11:25). But in doing so, he connected the man called as an evangelist to the Gentiles with the opportunity of a lifetime. We are forever grateful to the best disciplemaker in Scripture, Barnabas!
Five. I cannot lead people to do what I’m not doing.
God did not send me to be a talker, but a doer. Not as a coach only, but as a player-coach. It is enough for the disciple to become like the teacher, said our Lord.
So, as a pastor and church leader, my job is to show them how. Not just tell them. (James 1:22 and I John 3:18).
Six. Not only is it hard to get started tithing my income or sharing my faith (and a hundred other discipleship things), God likes it that way.
Watch the butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. The struggle, we are told, is a necessary part of its development.
Only people of faith and determination will set out to learn to tithe and witness and understand the Bible, then stay with it until they are able to do it well. Everyone else drops by the wayside, intending to wait until it’s easy. In doing so, they’re asking for and expecting what never was and never shall be. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
The members of your church need to be reminded that God does not need their money. He is not suffering from a cash flow problem. God is trying to grow disciples. That accounts for the hundreds of teachings on money in the Word. When are we ever going to understand this? When are preachers going to quit fearing criticism and teach stewardship until people do it!
Seven. God makes His leaders servants, not bosses or lords or bigshots.
I keep running into husbands who want to lord it over their wives because “God made me the head of the home and told you to submit!” Such men may call themselves believers, but they are pagan to the heart and have probably never been saved. They certainly don’t know the first thing about God’s word or Jesus’ heart. If they did, they would know that they are sent as servants. “Even so, Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.”
Bullies on the playground or dictators in the pulpit are cancers on the body, and must not be tolerated. The parable of all parables on this subject is Luke 17:7-10. We must keep saying to ourselves–even when we have done everything Jesus required– “I am only an unworthy servant; just doing my duty.”
Eight. The more righteous we are, the less we will be aware of it. “Moses knew not that his face did shine” (Exodus 34:29).
I said to the 75-year-old saint in our church, “Marguerite, you are the most Christ-like person I know.” She didn’t flinch. “Oh honey,” she said to her young minister, “if you only knew.” I did know, in a way, but have learned a hundred times since: Those closest to the Lord are the last to know it. The nearer to the light we get, the more imperfections and blemishes we will see.
Beware of ever thinking you have arrived. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Nine. The Lord’s servants who serve well are going to run into the buzz saw of opposition from the nay-sayers, do-nothings, status-quo lovers, and carnal. That’s no fun, but it’s not all bad.
Reading the mandate of the disciples in Matthew 10:16ff, we cannot say we were not warned. But it has ever been this way. We are swimming upstream in a downstream world.
Jesus prepared us for this by saying that whoever receives us is receiving Him, whoever listens to us is listening to Him, and whoever rejects us is rejecting Him. (See Matthew 10:40 and Luke 10:16.). If being treated like Jesus is not enough for us, we’re in the wrong calling.
Ten. Not only does the Lord allow His choice servants to suffer sometimes, He even plans for that to happen. See Matthew 10:16ff.
Caesar ain’t coming to your revival, preacher. So, the Lord is going to be needing someone to get arrested for preaching. Then, when the high and mighty ruler has to decide on this case, he will order the saint in chains to “tell us what you’ve been preaching.” That’s how it worked with Paul (see 2 Timothy 4:16-17), and how it has been with His choice servants ever since.
When Paul and Silas were falsely charged, then beaten and jailed, even though their backs were open wounds and they were hungry, tired, and hurting, “about midnight, they began praying and singing hymns of praise to God. And the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25) They’re always listening and watching when God’s people suffer unjustly. That’s a fact which God uses to reach many for Himself.
No one wants to suffer. No one volunteers to hurt. But sometimes it’s the only way.
What God’s faithful must never do is groan and bellyache and say, “Why me, Lord?” Your suffering may turn out to be the highest compliment the Father ever gave you. Early believers rejoiced they were counted worthy to suffer. (See Acts 5:41).
I was second in line at the traffic light. My lane and the one to my right were all turning left onto Dauphin Street in Mobile. The third lane was turning right.
We sat through through three sequences of lights. Meanwhile, the line of cars behind us grew longer and longer.
Clearly, the light was malfunctioning, but only on our side. Traffic from the other directions was receiving the correct sequence of lights. Our light stayed red.
I was traveling home from a revival in Selma, Alabama, and had stopped for a late-morning breakfast at the Cracker Barrel. After a fairly demanding week with 1500 miles of driving, I was relaxed now and willing to sit there in the traffic without getting impatient.
But not all day.
Finally, I had had enough. The light was not working and the cars in front of me were showing no inclination to move.
So, I got out.
I stepped over to the car to my right and said to the driver, “We need to turn right onto Dauphin and go down there and make a U-turn.” He nodded and motioned that the problem was the car in front of him.
I was already to that car. As I approached the Camry, I tapped lightly on the rear fender so as not to startle the driver.
The middle-aged lady was clearly perplexed and without a clue what to do.
I said, “Ma’am, let’s all turn right here and go down there and make a U-turn.”
She said, “I was waiting for the light.”
I said, “Yes, ma’am. The light is malfunctioning. Let’s turn right.”
Lastly, I repeated all this to the car in front of me.
We did that, and gradually the long string of cars behind us got the message. As I drove back up Dauphin toward the interstate, I could see the cars moving out of the stalled lanes and clearing out the line.
Otherwise, we would probably have sat there for hours waiting on someone from the city to show up and repair the light.
Someone ought to do something.
Have you heard that before? You have, I know.
It’s perfectly fine to sit there for a bit and wait to see if someone else is going to take the lead. In fact, being the first one to jump up and take charge may not be a good trait. The words “presumptuous,” “impatient,” and “impulsive” come to mind.
Impatient people lay on their horns when the driver in front shows the slightest hesitation about moving when the light turns green. I’ve done that, in my younger and more impetuous years.
Impulsive people spring away from the intersection as soon as the red light turns green. I’ve done that also and paid dearly for it. (I was in the far right lane of a one-way boulevard. When the light changed, I was first through the intersection, just in time to be broadsided by a car running the light. Totaled.)
Presumptuous people take over when they should not. They assume authority they do not have. (Some will remember General Alexander Haig informing the nation that “I am in control here.” In March 1981, President Reagan had been shot and was rushed to the hospital. The nation was panicking, no one was sure of anything, and White House Chief of Staff Haig spoke to the press corp. He simply meant he was running things at the White House–as he generally did–but his words were interpreted by some to indicate he was taking over for the Boss. That would be presumption of the highest sort.)
When people are hurting the church, someone must do something…
A pastor friend said, “My mama’s church has run off yet another preacher. A little group in the church calls the shots and makes life miserable for the pastors. This is the sixth preacher in a row they have run off.”
“I said to mom, ‘Why don’t some of you do something? Put a stop to that!”
“She said, ‘Well, honey, someone has to act like a Christian.'”
The issue then becomes “What does a Christian do when a few people assume control of the Lord’s church and are destroying it?”
Answer: You reluctantly speak up. By “reluctantly,” we mean humbly and sweetly, but also forcibly and determinedly.
The reluctant leader of a church might do nothing more than ask questions in a public forum, such as:
–“How was the decision made to do (whatever)?”
–“The church bylaws say we are to do such-and-such. So, why did the church do the other thing?”
–“Who decided this would happen?”
You ask the question and–this is critical–you remain standing. You are not just expressing a point of view, you are asking for answers. And you are doing so in such a sweet manner, no one can accuse you of trying to stir up anything.
You remain standing, and if necessary repeat the question. And one more thing…
Do not sit down. Stay there. Sweetly.
See what happens.
“Lord, bless your troubled church. Send us healthy leaders for Thy flock. And when leaders are diseased and wrong-headed, please raise up voices who will, although reluctant, demand answers and hold people accountable. For Jesus’ sake.”
“They said to Him, ‘Lord! Everyone is looking for you.’ He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'” (Mark 1:35-38).
Turning down a lousy request is no problem.
–“Hey Joe! Wanna go bungee jumping?” Ha. Not in this lifetime.
–“Hey preacher! How about a night of bar-hopping on Bourbon Street!” You talking to me, Leroy?
–“Pastor, would you write a book on the superiority of your theological system over all others?” Uh, no. But have a nice day.
Saying ‘no’ to something you hate to do, do not want to do, cannot do, and would not be caught dead doing–piece of cake.
No one has to counsel you on how to do that.
It’s all those other requests that you find difficult to turn down.
“Would you judge our city’s beauty contest?” Okay, no one has actually asked me to do that, but I live in hope. A preacher, if asked to do this, which I find inconceivable, should turn it down for a hundred rather obvious reasons.
Anyway, back to the subject with more plausible invitations…
“Would you head up our community fund-raising drive?” It’s a huge job, but man, what a compliment they have paid you, asking you of all people, to spearhead this project. You will be working with the town’s leading citizens. Do this well, and your name will be known by everyone. However, this would take time away from your family and your church.
“Would you travel overseas to our country and address our pastors at the opening of our new seminary?” As a preacher of the Gospel, you long to make a difference for Christ’s sake and to sow seeds far and wide as the Lord enables you. This could give you a whole new perspective on the work of the Kingdom. And that would bless your church. And yet, the timing of the event is difficult. Your wife’s surgery or your son’s graduation or the church’s groundbreaking is scheduled at the same time.
“Hello, Pastor Bob. I’m the pastor of Bigtown’s Mega Community Church. You might have heard of me, read my books, or seen me on FoxNews. The reason I called is that I read your article on leadership and am so impressed. Our church is having its annual leadership emphasis on the 25th of next month, and the Lord impressed me to see if you would be our guest speaker. We’ll fly you here and give you a sizeable honorarium.” Ahhh. Finally, your talents are being appreciated. What a thrill to meet that distinguished pastor and address that huge congregation. But, on the other hand, your schedule is full, and you have promised your wife you will take no other engagements for the rest of the year.
Saying ‘no,’ even when you really want to do this, is going to require everything in you. Saying ‘no’ may be the finest gift you could ever give your wife and family and your church. Saying ‘no’ when your ego and ambition and “sense of self” are all clamoring to seize this invitation is going to say worlds about your self-discipline and focus.
Here are four thoughts on the subject…
1) The time to work this out is now, when no one is inviting you to anything more than pray at the grand opening of the IGA supermarket down the street.
Leaving this decision to the moment it actually occurs–when the phone brings the invitation of a lifetime and you get all swimmy-headed and sweaty-palmed–will doom you to failure.
So, give it thought now. Have a discussion about this with your wife. (Consider letting her read this article, and then the two of you go for coffee and beignets and talk about it.)
2) Now, the easiest way to turn down that attractive invitation is: “Open your mouth and utter the words: ‘Thank you. But I won’t be able to do that.'”
If you must, add a little sweetener to the rejection: “You’re so kind to invite me. But my schedule just won’t allow it. I sincerely thank you, though.”
Even if your heart is not in it, and this is the invitation you have always dreamed of, but you know accepting it would endanger your marriage and undermine your pastoral leadership, just open your mouth and utter those magic words. “Thank you. But I won’t be able to do that.”
“Just say it” was the counsel given me once when we were trying to raise funds for a Salvation Army ministry center. Yes, I had been asked to chair the drive. (Everyone else in town had turned them down.) That day, we were approaching one of my members who owned the television station and the newspaper and no telling what else. Our financial consultant had decided we should ask him for a pledge of $100,000. Then he and the others in our group said I should be the one to make the request. As we got out of the car and headed toward his office, I said, “How do you ask someone for a hundred thousand dollars?”
The consultant said, “You open your mouth and say the words. Even if your knees are buckling and the sweat is popping out and you wish you were anywhere else in the world, just speak the words.” I did it. (I wish I could tell you we got the big bucks. But I have long since forgotten.)
3) However. What if you are not able to say those words, “Thank you, but I won’t be able to do this”? The words just will not come. What then?
I have one huge suggestion, one that has saved my neck more than once.
Ask if you can pray about it and get back to them.
“Mr. Bigshot, thank you. I am really honored by your invitation. Would you give me a little time to talk to the Lord about this. I promise to call you back this afternoon.”
If necessary, you can juice that up just a little. “I would have to juggle some things on my calendar, and I might have other conflicts with that date. So, I need a little time to study this and pray about it.”
All he can say to that is, “Yes.” If he says ‘no,’ that he needs an answer this minute, something is fishy and you will have little trouble turning it down. (The invitation to preach for a conference in the London area set my heart to racing. I love Britain. Then, I noticed the dates were only six weeks away. And the pastor needed a response ‘now.’ Knowing nothing more than that, I thanked him and turned it down. That was very easy.)
By buying a little time, you will be able to look at the invitation and your calendar more dispassionately. By praying about the matter, you will be honoring the Lord whose will should be paramount in this and everything else we do.
4) If you have trouble getting an answer to your prayer, I have two suggestions.
a) If the problem is a prior commitment you have made to your spouse, you don’t need to pray about it. You either need to “man up” and keep your promise, or call her and discuss it. She might like to make that overseas trip with you. Or, you can piggyback a side trip to a resort for a few days of R & R with your beloved.
When a denominational leader in Michigan invited me to do their Christmas pastors banquet and preach in a couple of churches for the weekend, I called home to see what Margaret thought. We decided to combine this with a trip to Nashville for her family reunion, then drive leisurely northward, stopping whenever we wished and make a fun trip of it. She enjoyed the event as much as I did.
b) If the problem is that you don’t seem able to hear from the Lord on this matter, try this.
Envision yourself accepting the invitation and pray along that line for, say, five minutes. “Yes, Lord, I’m going to call Mr. Big back and tell him I’ll come. And I’ll travel to that city, Lord, and here’s what I will do….”
At the end of five minutes, switch to plan B. “No, Lord, I’m going to turn him down. I’ll call him back and tell him I feel I should say ‘no,’ that the Lord wants me to stay home and pastor my church. And I’ll tell my wife, Lord…” Do this for five minutes.
At the end of your prayer time, one of those should seem right to you and the other completely forced. There is your answer.
In time you will get the hang of saying ‘no’ to wonderful opportunities which would lure you away from your true calling: to please the Lord in all things.
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). That’s our only agenda, too.
“That the leaders led in Israel, that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord” (Judges 5:2).
Scripture gems show up in the unlikeliest of places.
Deborah became a hero by default. She describes herself as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). Earlier, she was identified as “a prophetess” and one who “judged Israel at that time” (4:4). She was thus a woman of great spirituality, excellent understanding, and keen insight. People trusted her.
Deborah summoned Barak to her location. She had a disturbing question for this leader of Israel. “Hasn’t God called you to lead His army against these oppressive Canaanites?”
For over two decades, the murderous Canaanites had run over Israel and God’s people had been praying for Him to intervene.
Now the Lord told Deborah that He had called Barak, but he was reluctant to obey. He was not the first and certainly not the last to need prodding to obey God’s instruction, to answer His call.
The sheepish Barak told the woman of God, “I’ll go–but only if you’ll go with me” (4:8). Is he saying “I’ll go if you will hold my hand?” Like the great warrior needs his mama along? It appears that way.
We are tempted to blast the guy for his cowardice, but not having been in his situation, we should go easy on him.
Deborah responded, “All right, I’ll go with you. But when this is all over, a woman will get the glory and not you” (4:9). Barak had no problem with that. He just wanted to get this done!
When the day of battle arrived, once again Deborah had to prod her general. “Up! This is the day!” (4:14). And, leading his army of ten thousand Israeli troops, Barak marched out to meet the fearsome Sisera, commander of the Canaanites, with his 900 charioteers aboard their chariots of steel (see 4:3). (We’re not told that Deborah did any actual fighting; perhaps Barak just needed her on the scene, advising.)
The battle went well and the bad guys were routed (4:15). General Sisera ran for his life and ended up being nailed to the floor by Jael, identified only “the wife of Heber the Kenite” (4:17). She became the hero of the day, along with Deborah.
We think of Israel in Canaanland as a male-dominated society, and it was in a hundred ways. But Deborah was a prophetess and a judge, and clearly a songwriter, too, since Judges 5 is called “The Song of Deborah.” She was somebody.
Modern churchpeople must exercise caution in judging cultures foreign to ours when we have little idea of all the factors involved or limiting God as to whom He cannot call, will not use, and dare not bless.
“How did you do it, Deborah? What was your secret? What advice do you have for the rest of us?” (Imagine the reporters interviewing her.)
We imagine she would have answered, “When the leaders lead in Israel and when the people volunteer, nothing is impossible.”
That’s true of your church too.
I want to pastor a church where leaders are leading and members are willingly stepping up and volunteering. That’s an unbeatable plan.
All of this suggests four possible scenarios….
1) There are times when no one is volunteering.
We’ve all seen churches (and organizations, schools, clubs, work crews) where leaders are trying to lead, but no one is following. The old line goes, “If you are leading and no one is following, you’re just taking a walk.”
The people “willingly offered themselves,” according to the NIV. They were ready, and had the prayers to prove it (Judges 4:3).
We think of Nehemiah rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. The project was completed in record time while enduring great hostility. Scripture says “the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6).
Give me a church where the people have a mind to work, and stand back and watch!
The sad thing is that in the typical church, 20 percent of the membership give the money and do all the work. The other four-fifths are along for the ride.
2) There are times when the people are willing but no one is leading.
We’ve all seen churches (and other groups) where the people were volunteering and clamoring to get something done, but no one was willing to lead.
Leadership can be scary. The target is on your back. The enemy puts you in his crosshairs.
In the case of Deborah and Barak, Israel was ready to “step up and volunteer.” The problem was with the leadership. Barak was reluctant. God had called him, so presumably he had the gifts and abilities. What he lacked was courage.
Often the problem is not with a complacent membership but a reluctant leadership. God give us men and women of courage! (The pastor who refuses to do anything except with a huge majority vote is giving the will of the congregation more weight than the pleasure of the Lord. Such a people-pleaser is never going to do much in the Kingdom.)
3) Sometimes no one is doing anything.
Worst of all are those groups where no one is leading and no one is volunteering. Neither group–leaders and members–is willing to give up its creature comforts, change its routine, and be found faithful for Christ. We call those churches dead.
My observation is that such do-nothing churches blame the world, blame society, blame the denomination, blame everyone except themselves. They would do well to notice that the well-known 2 Chronicles 7:14 begins, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven….”
The onus is (ahem) on us. Not on the other guys. If God does not send revival, we are at fault.
4)Treasure those rare times when leaders are leading and people are volunteering.
Best of all is the Sunday School class or church or work crew where leaders have a clear vision and are blazing the path and the team is right behind them. That’s the church I want to pastor.
Strong, visionary leaders. Faithful, willing workers. An unbeatable combination.
Where do strong visionary leaders come from?
What is the source for faithful willing workers?
Answer to both: The call of God.
Our Lord Jesus said, “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He would thrust forth workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38).
What a fascinating idea–asking the Lord! What if our churches and denominations starting doing this? What if we took that command at face value and stayed on our knees until the group had a consensus that X is God’s choice….to teach the 9th grade boys, to lead the worship service, to pastor our church.
The best worker in any enterprise is one whom God has called and His Spirit has sent. They are there, not for a paycheck (although that is often necessary) and not for recognition (although they would not mind a pat on the back occasionally), but because “the Lord sent me.”
Amos explained why he was up in the north preaching to a hostile audience. “I was no prophet,” he said, “nor the son of a prophet. I was a sheepherder and a tender of sycamore fruit. But the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel….’ (Amos 7:14-15). He said, “The lion roars and you will fear. God calls and you will prophesy!” (3:8)
A God-called and Spirit-sent worker is the best kind, always.
Until the Lord raises up workers or leaders for a particular slot, until that time, you should have a holy vacancy.
A holy vacancy is merely an unfilled position for which you are waiting upon the Lord.
The church that cannot abide an unfilled vacancy will be continually in trouble. If the leadership caves in to the clamor of the multitude that “we want someone in this position–now!” nothing good will occur as a result.
This is why leaders should teach such principles to the Lord’s people, principles of patience and prayer (and more patience), of waiting upon the Lord while praying and fasting, and not yielding to the impatient among them.
This is why the leaders must be courageous. Sometimes he/she will have to stand up against the Lord’s people who demand that “something be done now!” To the clamoring impatient, the leader responds, “We are doing something. We’re asking God and waiting upon Him. I hope you are doing this also.”
Seven times the Lord and Moses and Israel told Joshua, who was about to replace Moses as God’s leader, “be strong and courageous.” (That would be Deuteronomy 31:6,7,22 and Joshua 1:6,7,9,18.)
“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord–you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23).
Last night, sometime along about 3 or 4 am, unable to sleep, I did something I rarely do: turned on the television. After channel-surfing for a while, I ended up watching one of those true-crime re-enactments.
Law enforcement investigators had painstakingly built their case against this fellow in Jacksonville, Florida, who reported his wife missing on a trip to Miami.
The man told investigators they had checked into a Miami hotel and he went to a fast-food place for take-out. Police were able to check that out. He had indeed bought a sandwich and fries at that restaurant, they found, but only one order. Nothing for his wife.
His credit card showed he had stopped at a convenience store on his trip south. Police searched until they found the store’s video of him at the cash register. They wondered where was the wife? On a long trip, wouldn’t she have gone into the rest room and perhaps bought a drink? Even though the man had testified that his wife had accompanied him on the trip, she was not in the video.
Next, police scanned through hours of video from an interstate toll booth. Eventually, when they spotted his car, the photograph shows no one in the passenger’s seat. The man is alone. So, in the interview room, they asked, “Where does your wife sit when you are driving?” He answered, “In the passenger’s seat.” “Does she ever sit in the back or lie down back there?” “No. Never.”
He was a dead duck.
Bank statements revealed the man owed credit card debts totaling $80,000, and that all the couple’s assets were held in his wife’s name. The computer showed the man “had an active social life,” as one cop put it. He dated women he met online and sent them flowers, etc., while claiming to be divorced. The wife’s cousin said she had been planning to leave her husband.
A satellite tracking device was attached to the underside of the man’s car. A policeman said, “Cops don’t have to tail anyone any longer. The satellite does it for us.” That’s how they were led to the abandoned golf course miles outside Jacksonville where the guy went to double-check the burial place, making sure it had not been discovered. The decomposing body of his wife had been wrapped in plastic and duct-taped, then buried in a shallow grave.
The policework was so painstakingly precise that a lab technician was able to match up the end of one of the duct-tape tears with a roll found in the man’s garage. The match was as identifiable as a fingerprint, we were told.
Faced by the overwhelming evidence against him, the man pleaded guilty to first degree murder and received life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The precision and detail of the police work–as well as the television presentation of it, for that matter–was staggering.
Precision and detail. Thoroughness and hard work.
Returning to bed, I found myself thinking about the sloppiness with which we in the ministry often work. The contrast is stark.
Granted, investigating murder and shepherding the people of the Lord are not remotely similar. There are a thousand differences. But preachers can take a lesson from police investigators.
Now, I am pro-pastor. But the truth, as painful as it is to admit, is what it is.
The work of many a preacher is an embarrassment to the Kingdom of God.
We are often careless and haphazard in the way we do the greatest work in the world. The service we render in Jesus’ name often reflects poorly on Him, leaving the impression that we care little for His glory and less for His people.
What sloppiness in ministry looks like…
1) The sloppy minister is disorganized, has no plan for anything, and runs from need to need.
2) The sermons are poorly prepared, the scholarship is weak, the organization is lacking, and the presentation is amateurish.
My wife says, “A sloppy sermon is impossible to follow. The congregation is lost from the beginning.”
3) There’s no regular planning meeting for the ministry team. As a result, the pastor is forever dealing with conflicts regarding his co-workers and the calendar.
4) The minister does not know his Bible. He has not systematically read it cover to cover or made a determined study of its major themes.
5) HIs defense of the gospel is weak. When confronted with questions on the resurrection of Jesus, the importance of the cross, or the authenticity of Scripture, he’s lost. He camouflages that deficiency by long rambling answers.
6) A sloppy minister will make shoot-from-the-hip errors in his preaching. Because so much of what he does is unplanned and poorly thought through, he will “accidentally” tell something given him in confidence, reveal the actual name of someone in a story and cause them great embarrassment, or relate an incident from his home which will damage his relationship with his wife or children.
7) A sloppy preacher will rely on his quick thinking and his (ahem) great personality to get him through weak and unprepared sermons, and attribute this to “being in the Spirit.” He relies on the Lord, he says. The truth is, he is lazy.
8) .A sloppy pastor is a horror to work for. He makes promises which he immediately forgets and refuses to be tied down to specific responsibilities and obligations. He prides himself on his free-wheeling ways, when the culprit is his own lack of self-discipline.
9) The sloppy minister lets minor problems and pestering needs eat up his time and energy, leaving him exhausted and unable to give proper attention to the greater work of his call: preaching the gospel, directing the church, ministering to the saints, leading his family.
10) The sloppy minister will not recognize himself in the above because he quit reading after the second paragraph.
Only a true friend–the Proverbs 27:6 and 27:17 kind of friend–can help a sloppy minister. Such a friend will tell him the unadorned truth about himself and demand that he get his act together.
“Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:7). “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13). “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:43).
Sometimes when we say “He must increase; I must decrease,” it’s not Jesus we’re referring to, but a brother or sister of ours.
Early in my seminary pastorate, I looked around for quick ways to make a difference in our little bayou church. Since I had been a secretary for several years and typing and running printing machines were second nature to me, I decided the church bulletin would receive my attention.
I asked Mrs. Porter, the lovely senior lady who had the weekly responsibility of gathering the information, typing it into the form, and printing it as a handout bulletin for Sunday services, if I could take it over. To her credit, she was not offended, but delighted to get rid of that task. (She had plenty of other responsibilities. As I say, it was a small church.)
The bulletin I produced was sharper than hers. The typing was clearer, the English was classier, and the overall appearance was better.
I had made a serious mistake.
The pastor should never take a ministry from some church member. His role is to enable them to do it better and to see their work as service for the Lord Jesus Himself.
It’s called delegating upwardly when the boss/supervisor/whatever takes a responsibility from an employee/member/whoever and does it himself.
It’s a failure in leadership.
Some church members are glad to get rid of that job, to be sure. If the preacher wants to do this, good for him! And, then again, some are offended that they’re being asked to relinquish this work which means a lot to them.
You are never quite sure…until you do it.
Barnabas encouraged the fledgling disciple, the former Saul of Tarsus, when he arrived in Jerusalem preaching this new gospel. Then, when Saul had to be slipped out of town ahead of the enemies he had riled (Acts 9), Barnabas never forgot him. Sometime later–we’re not sure whether we’re talking about months or a few years–when revival broke out among the Gentiles of Syrian Antioch, Barnabas remembered that Saul had been called by the Lord specifically as an evangelist to Gentiles. Acts 11:25 is one of the great sentences in the history of this small planet. “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to search for Saul.”
Matching a call with the field is a great ministry.
In Antioch, Saul found his calling. The man with the call was joined with the need of the hour, and Saul blossomed. Acts 13:1 says Barnabas and Saul were among the “prophets and teachers” in that church. Then, the next verses says the Holy Spirit instructed the church to set aside “Barnabas and Saul for the work that I have called them to.”
They were the first missionaries. (The first that we know of, at any rate.)
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Barnabas, a native of Cyrus, set the direction for their work. Off to Cyprus they went, and while there, Saul was thrust into a situation for which the Holy Spirit had been preparing him. As he preached the gospel of Jesus there and afterward in Asia Minor, the Spirit was moving Paul to the forefront. Acts 13:13 calls the group “Paul and his companions” and by 13:43 they are “Paul and Barnabas.”
Everything had changed. Barnabas the leader had become the assistant. Barnabas the mentor had become the second-in-command.
The amazing thing is that apparently that was fine with him.
Clearly, Barnabas was a wonderful man.
On the second missionary trip, Barnabas takes John Mark and heads back to Cyprus (he can’t get these people off his heart!) while Paul goes with Silas back toward Asia Minor and from there into Macedonia and Greece.
At no point do we see Barnabas insisting that Paul return to the secondary role, crawl back into the womb, and resume his status as an underling.
Delegating upward means to take someone else’s work from them because….
–we can do it better than they.
–we don’t have time to teach them how to do it or to correct their attempts.
–we’re rushed, the deadline is approaching, and we’re too stressed.
–And, most of all: We’re lazy. (Is that harsh? After all, we’re doing the work of two people. But yes, it’s a form of laziness that insists we would rather do this job than show another how to do it.)
The Lord has sent His children into the world as disciple-makers (Matthew 28:18-20).
Disciples are learners. Disciple-making is about teaching. Teaching is hard, laborious work.
Ask any mother.
You struggle to get something across, then remove yourself from the scene while the pupil tries it. You return and help them pick up the pieces and clean up the mess. You talk it over with them, then repeat the lesson, and once again, let them try it. Eventually, they get it right and then become instructors themselves.
It’s how you learned.
Teaching–i.e., disciplemaking–takes time and energy and patience….and love.
“After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, and He sent them ahead of HIm in pairs to every town and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1).
“The 70 returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name'” (Luke 10:17).
To teach is to empower.
To empower is to entrust.
To teach and empower is to multiply your effectiveness, build disciples, and spread the gospel in ways you could never do alone.
To take back the work of a disciple is to abandon that one, discourage them, and push oneself to the forefront. He who takes back the work of a helper elevates the work above the disciple.
You’d rather have that church bulletin looking perfect than to encourage Mrs. Porter.
Showing her how to produce a better hand-out and staying with her until she gets it is more difficult than doing it myself. But in the long run, it’s infinitely more rewarding.
When the church clerk consistently made errors (omissions, mistakes) in her record-keeping, the pastor and chairman of elders agreed to replace her. Unable to find a suitable substitute, they decided the pastor would assume the role of the church clerk. Something about this did not feel right.
It shouldn’t feel right because it’s all wrong.
The pastor will want to help the clerk do a better job, not take over her responsibilities. If he visits with her three times, let’s say, to counsel her about her work, and she finally figures it out, he has blessed her life and the work of the church for years to come. If he becomes the church clerk, he discourages that woman and burdens himself with one more unnecessary job someone else could take from him.
Some tasks are easier to do it yourself, but where’s the fun in that? The fun–really, the sheer delight–is seeing someone else learn to handle a Kingdom responsibility and bless the Lord. .
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