Happy Halloween everyone! Or Reformation Day if you're a theology nerd.
Before the hate mail comes in, I know there are some Christians who don't participate, have a moral concern with Halloween and its history, or who are troubled by it. Y'all do you. Paul makes that clear in Romans 14 we shouldn't overlook or bemoan another's conscience.
We love our neighborhood and how big trick or treating is there. Our kids love dressing up and we love getting first dibs on the candy.
For Christians who choose to engage in Halloween with trick or treating (or an alternative like a Fall Festival or Trunk or Treat) I really want to encourage you to give three things tonight:
1) Good Candy - Don't get the lame candy. Give out the good stuff. And be generous with it too. God loves the cheerful giver, and I think that's beyond the offering plate at church. Good candy on Halloween shows you've put some extra thought and effort into being a blessing to others around you.
2) Church information - This doesn't have to be anything big or expensive, but if your church has a random box of pens sitting around (you know they do) ask if you could have some to give out to families as they trick or treat? We have thousands of service information cards with directions and times on them that we encourage people to take. It doesn't have to be much, but something is better than nothing.
3) Graciousness - A lot of kids who come by our house tonight will be dressed as Woody, Buzz, Paw Patrol, or astronauts. And some others will come dressed as Pennywise, Michael Myers, or some other horror movie figure. Graciousness means that we put aside our thoughts on costumes and we bite our tongues when it's obviously not age-appropriate what a kid is dressed as. Be gracious. Be kind.
Sadly on October 21, 2015, we woke up and didn't have hoverboards, shoes that tied themselves, or flying DeLorean cars. For those of you unfamiliar with 80's pop culture references, that's the day that Marty McFly went "back to the future" in the 1985 hit movie. Like most of us who grew up in the 80s with future dreams of flying cars and robots who do our chores for us (in Cub Scouts I made a "homework machine" so I wouldn't have to do long division anymore. But it was made of styrofoam), the future hasn't quite panned out like we had expected.
I believe one of the key tasks of a leader is to project the future. Not in a crystal ball or sci-fi sense, but to begin asking questions and taking steps now for when the landscape changes later. The way we do ministry now will not be the way it's done in 15, 20, or even 5 years.
1. Do we love traditions more than people? - If our services, calendars, programming, and priorities look the same now as they did years ago, and we're resistant to change, then we love traditions more than we love people. Traditions are great. They help create a common culture. But traditions can also be a roadblock to growth. Sometimes the goal is to keep up with the traditions rather than see the secondary value of them.
2. Are we willing to be culturally weird? - A consistently biblical ethic of sexuality, marriage, gender, and family is going to move further away from cultural acceptance. For the church, and for ministry leaders, to continue to hold (with convictional kindness) a biblical ethic, it will be difficult. It's a cost we have to be willing to count.
3. How will we engage our communities? - The attractional model of church worked great when the culture was largely christian. As we move into a more post-Christian context, how will we engage our communities? We can't assume that people will come because our building is snazzy or our social media ad campaign hit their screens. Our engagement will have to move more organically, more relationally, more servant-oriented.
4. What about the children? - Kids are growing up faster, more digitally connected, and less likely to grow up with any kind of Gospel witness. In the church we're learning that answers like "The Bible says so!" are insufficient for a generation with Google at their fingertips. If we're going to cultivate multigenerational faithfulness, we have to do more than offer good snacks and a Bible story. Our children's ministry builds foundations of the faith, and our youth ministries must move past entertainment towards intentional discipleship.
5. How do we care for the building? - Increasing facility costs are going to end up handcuffing a lot of churches. That dream sanctuary or education space is going to need repairs, and lots of them. Deferred maintenance is an unseen debt crippling churches. If we're going to lead forward, we have to begin to embrace both a multi-purpose sense of space and an openness to be a community center. Sharing space with other ministries and groups allows your footprint in the community to increase, and it provides a needed source of revenue.
6. Can we live smaller? - The tiny house revolution hasn't just stopped at decluttering and simplifying where we live, it's extended into the church. As aging generations who had institutional loyalty begin to die, we're going to be left with a lot of empty seats, and a necessity to figure out how to function with less. We'll have to move from a programmatic approach to a relational, groups-based approach that doesn't require as much overhead.
7. Will we build battle lines or bridges? - We can, and should, have secondary distinctions that we hold to by conviction and practice. There's nothing wrong with that. That's why I'm a Baptist and not a Presbyterian or Anglican. It helps us create a common identity with others. But when it comes to those with whom we'd differ on secondary issues, we can either build battle lines and treat them as the enemy, or we can build bridges recognizing our mutual faith in Jesus. Bridges of fellowship bring together churches to fulfill the Great Commission, even with our particular distinctions.
What are some other questions we should be asking as leaders?
Every year when our church does its annual budget the part that makes me the most uncomfortable isn't mission giving or being part of decisions to fund or defund certain programs. It's salary. I don't know why. I really hate talking about money, especially (in our budget) line items 201-205. And to a lesser extent the other personnel items in our budget. But this year in our discussions I started using a new term. Instead of salary, I started saying "investment" and I'll be honest, it's changing how I look at how our church, and hopefully yours, looks at personnel expenses.
1. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is entrusted by the church - A church that makes a financial commitment to a ministry leader, even if it's part time, is speaking a measure of trust to that leader. That money is being directed to that leader instead of overhead, programming, or debt retirement. It should be received gratefully by the leader, because it's a powerful expression. I think about the parable of the talents that Jesus taught, each person was given in trust to handle their talents well.
2. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is to be well stewarded - This is less on the church and more on the leader. It means that we are to take care of the resources God has provided to us. I do not think it is a sin or a shame for a ministry leader to enjoy things like an iPhone or a car or a vacation. The problem comes when it is poorly managed. Debt is a reality for many ministry leaders. Medical bills have to be put on a card because their insurance is lousy. Home improvement projects require a loan because few have cash on hand. It happens. Debt that spirals out of control is a problem. Ministry leaders must be responsible stewards. Hint: Budget. Use EveryDollar if you need help finding one.
3. A pastor or ministry leader's salary doesn't return on results but faithfulness - A church that gives an investment of a salary to a ministry leader shouldn't be looking for dividends or a percentage of growth. That's fine if you're investing in a company or the stock market, but it's poor ministry practice. Faithfulness is the measure in the church. Are they working hard? Are they giving effort? Are they balancing ministry and family? Are they impacting people? Are they doing their job description? Some of the best pastors I've met were in churches that never grew.
4. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is a gift - Like any gift, we receive it with gratitude. God takes care of His servants. And even when the gift isn't the amount or size we'd love to see, we still receive it with gratitude. God knows our needs. And He's promised to meet them in Christ. Payday for most companies is a ritual of print-sign-disperse. But in the church payday shouldn't be met with obligatory dullness. Can I make a suggestion to anyone reading this who is on a church Finance or Personnel team? Write notes of appreciation for those who are employed by the church. We usually make a big deal in October to recognize pastors, but there's 11 other months. And that encouragement can go a long way.
*Unfortunately the IRS doesn't look at your check as a gift, which makes the next part important*
5. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be responsibly broken down - A church that doesn't responsibly break down a leader's financial package is setting that leader up for an undue burden. Part of investing in a pastor or ministry leader is ensuring that they are not given an undue and unnecessary tax burden. In your annual budget, separate what would be considered "Income" from "Benefits" and "Expenses." You can learn more about this from Guidestone on how to set up a package that's advantageous to the church and the leader.
6. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be graciously adequate for their family - This one is tough. And if you're a ministry leader reading this and you're working a side hustle or struggling to pay bills, you're not alone. It's tough. We're single income with kids. I teach part-time and my wife & I both write to help with our expenses. Our church is gracious in what they can provide. Yours likely is too. It just may be tough. As much as a church is able to, if you're going to make a full-time investment in a ministry leader, you need to make sure you're investing adequately in them. With this, you still need to balance the needs of ministry and overhead expenses. And that's where intangible benefits like an extra week of vacation can help.
7. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be accountable - What God has entrusted to us through a local church shouldn't be something we receive without giving an account for. In the Parable of the Talents, there was a moment of accountability for those who had received talents. They had to answer for what they did with it. Our first level of accountability is to God, through our conscience and the Word. The second level is to our church's leadership. I know one church that has as a standard of serving that all invested staff are expected to tithe. Another is where the pastor makes his annual tax return available to people who have questions. How you handle all this is up to you and to your church's polity and policy.
Whether it's a first day at work, a first date, or a first time visiting a church, first impressions matter. They're what sticks when we think about what we've experienced, and they'll leave a sweet or a bitter taste in our mouth. Thom Rainer brought back a classic on ten ways that churches leave a sour taste in the mouth of first time guests. We've all been a part of one of those types of services before. You can't wait until it's over. One time we visited a church and we had no idea where anything was. There was no way of connecting from the parking lot to the worship center. It was a fine service and we enjoyed our worship, but the only good from the lack of signage was hitting our steps for the day.
To piggyback off the idea of what chases guests away, I want to propose seven ways we can leave a sweet taste in the mouths of our guests. These aren't rocket science. They're not going to involve spending extravagantly on promotion, marketing, or facilities. We attended an event at a church in our area that had a slide exiting the children's worship area. We don't need one. And I'm not going to try to push our church to buying one.
Have clear lines and signage in your parking lot - When someone pulls into your parking lot, do they know where to go? Are the lines faded or clear on where to plant their vehicle? If you have a specific spot for Guest Parking, make sure it's easy to find. Remember, you and the people who've been at your church know where to go, but someone who's new has no clue.
Be friendly, but not fake - The main reason behind churches getting away from the "Stand & Greet" time is that it's forced friendliness. Guests know that. They know you're smiling right after giving them a side eye for sitting in "your" seat. Authentic friendliness is genuine. It looks them in the eye. It asks for a name. It's a warm greeting and a genuine thank you for the guest coming. It's inviting the guest and their family to sit with you or to ask them thoughtful questions about how they found out about the church. This is something anyone can do!
Clean facilities - A few weeks ago one of our members noticed some dirt on the floor that had blown in after our lawn company left. No big deal, it wasn't too much. But he went and found a broom and dustpan because he wanted our facility to look clean. In your children's area, do you have toys that look clean or look like they were claimed from a dumpster? Are the bathrooms clean and the toiletries stocked? Are your hallways and rooms cleared of clutter or do they have random junk stored? If you want to make a good impression on families, put a priority on children's ministry areas being clean!
Excellence in worship - Not everything is going to happen without a hitch. That's because our stage display, sound, and video is a prime target for spiritual warfare. But that's not an excuse to avoid excellence in how our services are produced and executed. It starts simply by starting on time. If your services start at 10:30 and it's 10:40 and the choir isn't in their seat, you're communicating you don't care about excellence. Transitions won't always go well and occasionally someone who'll be called on to pray will forget their cue. But our transitions should be crisp. An easy way to do that is to use corporate prayer as moving time.
Volunteers in place - One of the best ways that churches communicate they care about guests isn't in marketing or slick promotions, but by simply having volunteers in place. When parents take their kids to children's ministry, there should be a teacher in place ready to meet them, not running in from the parking lot late. A good rule of thumb is to arrive 15 minutes early, and stick around 10 minutes after. Chances are guests are going to come in late, so those volunteers hanging around a few minutes after services start are able to receive them.
Awareness without overemphasizing guests - As pastors, we always need to be aware that we likely have guests in our services. So we should do our best to explain acronyms and what's going on in our services. When we give announcements we give clear instructions and not rely on people instinctively knowing where things are and when. We take an extra minute to explain what sounds like an elementary concept in our preaching. But we counter that by not overemphasizing guests. Don't make them stand. Don't call on them to introduce themselves. Don't focus on guests at the exclusion of the church body.
Follow up - However you follow up on your guests, the important thing is that you do it. Some churches take a gift (homemade bread is a big one) that afternoon, others target guests before they leave the campus with something from a Visitor Area. Others send a letter, phone call, or a home visit. However you do it, do something. Thank the guest for attending, ask for any feedback from their experience, find out if anyone made their visit special, answer questions they might have, and find out how you can pray for them.
First impressions matter for a church. How do you help ensure good first impressions?
Yesterday was a little bittersweet at the end of our service. We had learned that one of our key volunteers, someone who wears multiple hats in areas of the church, would be moving to be closer to family. It was a joyful time to know that she would be leaving to be near her loved ones and that she had already been looking for a church to plug into. But it was sad to see her leave. She was an ideal volunteer. Week after week she'd show up ready and prepared to teach children's Sunday School, even when there were no children attending. She never gave up. She plugged away. And yesterday the fruit of that was brought out when several kids, including both of mine, thanked her for telling them about Jesus.
No one in a church is a permanent fixture. All of us are on temporary assignment. That's the case for staff, members, and volunteers. The ministry continues after were gone. So what do we do when a key volunteer leaves?
We Celebrate - Someone who shows up faithfully, serves joyfully, and loves sacrificially should be celebrated as loud as you can. That's an honor they're due, not because they're seeking it but because it's right to recognize those who have finished well. You can recognize them in a service, give a gift, write thank you notes, and more. But cheer them on as they transition out. You champion what you celebrate, and if you want to build a culture of service, celebrate those who serve.
We Pray - It's good to pray for the volunteer who leaves. In a lot of ways it's a commissioning. You're sending them out from your church to another community, to another church, and hopefully to another ministry. But you also pray for the hole left behind, and for the right person to step into that key place of service.
We Move Forward - The thing about Sunday is it comes around every 7 days. When a volunteer leaves, we can't mope and dwell in the loss. Another Sunday is coming. Kids need to be taught, offering needs to be collected, sound needs to be monitored, and coffee needs to be made. You might need to iron out some kinks in the system until you can find the right fit, but things continue even after the key volunteer leaves.
We Recruit & Develop - I love the pipeline when it comes to volunteers and leadership in the church. The pipeline is the process where people are recruited and vetted for potential leadership or key places of service in the church. For us our men's ministry is a pipeline for identifying men who could serve as deacons, and our VBS is a way we identify people who could be long-term children's volunteers. That way, when someone has to step away from a key role, there is someone waiting in the wings to step in and carry the baton.
How have you handled this in your church? Leave a comment!
If we were to rank the most important parts to a pastor's job description, preaching would be far and away the top. It's the primary aspect of ministry in Acts 6:4, and the only skill in the pastoral qualifications is the ability to teach. But for some, that's where they stop. I get that, in some churches the polity lends itself to a teaching pastor role, or the size of the staff means the lead pastor is less hands-on with the day to day administration. But the reason I think a lot of pastors stop at preaching is they don't fully understand what it means to shepherd.
Over the last 3 years as a lead pastor this has become gradually more apparent, and yesterday hit like a ton of bricks. I'd preached on suffering for the Christian, and after the service held the arm of a lady going through months of trial without any relief. And like a fullback opening the hole, I was hit with the emotion of the moment. Since then I've tried to process the moment and the best I can figure is that there are 4 ways that preaching is the beginning.
Pastoring begins with exegesis, but finishes with application - We can't take liberties with the text or try to justify our point with proof-texting. It's not faithful ministry if we rip a verse out of context and apply it in a way that clicks with people. We have a responsibility to "rightly divide the word of truth" and that begins with the hard work of exegesis, interpretation, study, prayer, thought, reflection, and a whole lot of backspace/eraser. But we can't finish there. We have to seek to apply what we're preaching. That's where we move from preacher to pastor. A pastor walks alongside the flock and guides them to godliness. They're not talked to and then left to fend for themselves. Pastoring doesn't just ask "what does it mean?" but "how does this change lives?"
Pastoring begins with theology, but finishes with love - Again, we should have right theology. Orthodoxy is kinda a big deal. Theology guides our worship, our devotion, our love, our polity, our marriages, our families. Everything is theological, but God has left His impression on everything. Of all the people concerned with theology in the New Testament (besides Jesus), Paul wrote compellingly about love. We can have all the right theology, but if we don't love we've missed the point. A robust theological prism will drive us to love: a love for God and a love for our neighbor. That's the point. We can begin with a solid orthodoxy, but if it's not rooted and expressed in love, we've missed the point. Love as a pastor involves a couple things that I want to draw attention to:
Pastoring begins with the pulpit, but finishes with the chair - Our most visible form of ministry is the pulpit. Everyone is watching. The greatest number of people we'll impact are there. But pastoring doesn't stop there. It finishes with the chair. The living room chair. The waiting room chair. The hospice chair. The wedding reception chair. The front porch chair. The kitchen chair. The coffee shop chair. The public ministry is the most visible, and it's the one most associated with our ministry (think about how we select pastors in most churches, it's after a "trial sermon"), but it's the lowest touch ministry. The highest touch comes from the chair.
Pastoring begins with the head, but finishes with the heart - As pastors, we should seek to know as much as possible as we can, get as much training as we can, read as much as we can, study as much as we can, and mine to the core every time we're in front of a text. And we should encourage the same in other people as well. We should recommend books, loan out books, provide opportunities for spiritual growth and Bible study, and get good resources in front of them. But we can't stop at the head. We have to finish with the heart. As pastors, our job and our joy isn't in getting approval or applause or recognition for being a great scholar or a great preacher. Our joy is from leading people to love Jesus more. If people in the church are more in love with Jesus and the things Jesus loves (the Word, the Church, the World, your Neighbor) than when you arrived, you've done well.
Churches can have a lot of questions of their pastors. Some of them can be theological (it's always fun to get asked eschatology questions), others can be ethical, or scheduling, or church direction, or any number of others. If you're lucky, you'll be asked to be a part of people's lives in those benchmark moments. If you're not, you'll be asked to bring a plunger and hurry.
You'll get asked questions and have questions asked about you. It's part of the job. At the core, I think churches have four questions of their pastors.
1. Does our pastor believe what he's preaching?
It's easy to talk theologically and to get in the language of Christianese. A good public speaker can learn enough about preaching to fill a pulpit. But it's completely different when a church knows its pastor is not only speaking about the Bible, but has been gripped by their firm conviction and steadfast belief in the Bible. A pastor who truly believes what they're saying will be shaped and driven by what the Bible says, not just knowledgeable enough to speak about it. A pastor who truly believes what they're saying won't just run through the motions or look at their work as mechanical. It'll be dynamic. Alive. Vibrant. And contagious.
2. Does our pastor care about our church?
I think at some point all of us have been asked, accused, or inferred that our current situation is a "stepping stone" for something "bigger and better." And while there may be some out there who do look at their position as a chance to jockey for another, the overwhelming majority of pastors are people who deeply care about where they've planted their lives and their families. I don't think longevity is a 1:1 correlation to care, but it certainly trends that way. Our churches want to know that we care about them, that we love where we are, and that we don't see our calling and assignment as a ladder to climb.
3. Does our pastor want God's best for our church & community?
The difference between a shepherd and a hireling is that a shepherd wants the best for the flock and for the community. The hireling looks to see what they can get from the flock and community. Churches want to know their pastor is looking for God's best for them and for their community. They want to know you care about evangelism and taking the Gospel to our community. They want to know you want to grow in unity and health as a church. They want to know you care about wise financial stewardship and healthy spending.
4. Does our pastor love me?
This is where the question gets personal. People want to know their pastor cares for and loves them. They want to know that to you, they're more than a project or giving units or cogs in a growth strategy. They want to know you ache when their spouse passes away, or that you are glad when their PET scan is clear. They want to know that you're genuinely glad to see them on Sunday. They want to know that when they call you that they'll be greeted warmly, lovingly, and graciously by their pastor. They want to know that they're not a distraction, but that you love them.
The other day I was walking in the grocery store and passed by a spill. Like one of those "cleanup on Aisle 2" spills. It was everywhere. And I overheard the staff talking about needing extra cones to keep people from walking through the spill. The reason? "If you don't put them up, they'll just walk right through it." That night, I made sure to fold the ironing board before vacuuming the floor. I didn't want the ironing board blocking where I was trying to clean.
Barriers have a positive and negative effect in ministry. Barriers have a positive effect in that they keep us on track and moving forward. But they have a negative effect when they stifle growth or ministry function. I want to give a couple advantages of barriers and a few problems (and solutions) for barriers.
Barriers help us determine priorities in resources, budget, staffing, and purpose - No church, no matter the size, can do everything. No car, no matter how well made it is, can drive through a construction site or jump an overpass (no matter how many times you saw the movie Speed). Barriers help us think about what's most important to us as a ministry, and to plan accordingly. If we know we can't go somewhere, it helps us identify and prioritize where we can go.
Barriers keep us grounded in our convictions - Hopefully your church has some form of a confessional statement or statement of belief. Those form barriers to keep your church in line with your conviction of the teaching of Scripture. We might have some disagreement on the particulars, but we can all agree that we should act in accordance with our stated beliefs. Those become a standard for membership, for leadership, and for guiding the church through doctrinal issues. But they also keep us grounded in the practice of our convictions. Those barriers determine the lines you have drawn: whether they be your schedule to ensure you're keeping your family as a priority, or your opinion on who and where you'll counsel, or how you determine access to your facility. Healthy barriers can lead to healthy practices.
Barriers can stymie growth - I have a love/hate relationship with tables. I like having one because I have a coffee cup attached to my hand most of the day, especially on Sundays. But I loathe tables because they limit how many people can be in a group. When we have physical limits, we're limited in what we can do. So we have to decide what we'll do with those limits. If you're limited in seating in a classroom, you can do one of two things: 1) You can multiply the group by forming a new one and allowing them both to grow, or 2) You can yank the tables. Same thing with worship seating. If you come up to the limit of your capacity, you can: 1) Build a new building, or 2) Go multiple services. However you decide to move, you need to take those barriers out of the equation.
Barriers can be clutter - Clutter in a church sends a message of carelessness. It tells visitors and members that we don't really care about our facility, so we don't care that there is clutter. Barriers form when you're not allowed to take "that picture" off the wall or remove the parlor and turn it into an open fellowship area. When we clutter our space, we limit the movement of people. And when we clutter, we let people know we're not really that interested in company. Remember your mom getting a call that Aunt Sally was coming over? You cleaned the house. You expected company. So take that copier that's sat in the corner for years and throw it out. Take the dusty prints off the wall and replace them with something more ascetically pleasing.
Barriers limit possibilities - When we put up barriers and don't take them down, we're limiting our possibilities. For some churches, it's a facility barrier (you build an area that has a single purpose). For others it's a staffing model (you've always had Minister of X). Still others it's a style or approach or methodology. Whatever your barrier is, it's limiting your possibility. As long as you think you still need the Minister of X, you'll never think about what could happen if you combined X with Y. Or that there is only one correct way to organize your worship service. If you don't believe that's an issue for churches, change things around and see how that goes! Instead of working with your barriers in place, adopt a mindset that it's not just ok to try but it's ok to fail. Not everything will work. But we shouldn't let that stop us from trying!
What other things would you say about barriers? Their good? Their bad? How can you fix them?
One of the best visuals for leadership in the local church is a piggybank. Like a piggybank, leadership make deposits in small amounts (unless the grandparents come visit). Deposits are made when we visit someone in the hospital, show up and faithfully preach each Sunday, visit during a crisis, counsel in difficult times, come to the funeral, and more. You know when you've made a deposit in your piggybank. Yesterday our children's ministry showed what they had been working on for weeks in memorizing a long chunk of Scripture. After the service I told our children's minister he had just made a nice deposit!
The piggybank is our leadership trust that people have in us. It's the resource we have to lead people and our churches & ministries forward. It takes a long time to build, and it can get spent quickly. Leaders always have an initial deposit that comes during the honeymoon period. But over time, our deposits need to far exceed our withdrawals. Withdrawals happen when you make a decision or a move that requires people to trust you. They will if you have a good reserve. They might even if you don't and extend a line of credit. But just like a credit card, you're on the hook for far more than you realize when you lead in debt.
But our piggybank extends beyond that to the people around us we directly work with and lead. If you're a youth pastor, this is your leadership team. If you're in music, this is your choir & musicians. For lead pastors, it's your staff & other key leaders. We have to make deposits not just in the general sense, but in a real specific sense with each of our leaders around us.
Which brings us to the issue of "loyalty" in a leadership circle. There is nothing more awkward in a leadership circle than being asked for loyalty. It feels like a Mafia scene, minus the cannoli. Loyalty and Security go together, along with the idea of the piggybank. To help understand it, look at the "Ministry Loyalty Piggybank" matrix:
Can I give 5 suggestions on how to improve here?
1. Get out of your office - For a lot of us, our office can feel like a sanctuary. It's filled with books, we can listen to our Spotify playlist, and it can be a place where we "get work done." But if we're not careful, our office can become a prison. We feel like we can never leave because "someone might need me." If we can get out of our office we can make investments in our leaders and our ministries by visiting homes, hospitals, and making connections in our community. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, if we have a cell phone and a laptop we can "get work done" almost anywhere.
2. Read more - Yes, I know I just said to get away from your introversion. But leaders are readers. And if you want to be a better leader, read more. Read leadership books, read biographies, read doctrinally (and devotionally), read outside your wheelhouse. You'll pick up nuggets all around and it will help you be a better conversationalist if you've read broadly.
3. Get over yourself - A lot of insecure leaders focus way too much on themselves. Get over it. You're not that important. The Barna Group has a whole emphasis on healthy transitions because when it comes down to it, we're all interims. Someone else will take our place. Things will move on without us. You're not indispensable. You're a vessel for King Jesus to do work. That means He doesn't need you to do it. We're invited into His work to join Him, but the security a leader in ministry has doesn't come from their talent or from their calling, but from their source. For more, read Ephesians 1.
4. Listen well - Leaders aren't just readers, they're listeners. Listening well means shutting your mouth. It means seeking to understand where someone is coming from. A lot of leaders with a debt in their piggybank listen to respond. If you want to make deposits, actually listen to the people around you. Ask questions. Get to know them beyond their formal or functional role. Find out what makes them tick. Get their sense in how they see things, even when it's not how you see them.
*Pro Tip - Everyone has a favorite Sonic or Starbucks drink
5. Seek out deposits and plan your spending - There's a reason the candy near the checkout is called the "Impulse Rack," the goal is to get you to buy something without thinking about it. As leaders, we have to be careful in how we plan our spending. Jesus talked about this when he said no one builds without first "counting the cost." For us, that means we make sure we've been prudent, prayerful, listened well to others, and sought buy-in from other leaders before making a "purchase" with our piggybank. Deposits are things we should seek out. The widow on the back row who is always alone? Go seek her out. The visiting couple who always come in late? Give them a call and do lunch. The faithful Sunday school teacher who shows up week after week, year after year? Recognize them in a service.
Much has been written about the recent news from Josh Harris. And I'm not going to go into it all here. It's something that we discussed on the Life & Ministry Podcast. For most, Harris' legacy is his since-repudiated book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (be honest, if you were a 90s youth group kid, you read it). But for me, his legacy and what has always stuck with me wasn't IKDG, it was another idea: Humble Orthodoxy.
After the news broke, I bought and read Harris' primer on pursuing a humble orthodoxy. It was refreshing to my soul. I'd come across that term from another of Harris' books, Dug Down Deep, and it was a total reorienting of how to handle truth. At the core of the approach to humble orthodoxy is a dilemma: we don't have a truth problem, we have a heart problem. It starts with Paul's last words to his protege Timothy:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. 2 Timothy 2:22-25
After all the reminders to guard the faith, protect the deposit, and entrust it to "faithful men," Paul gives Timothy a last admonition: don't be a jerk.
Harris contrasts two wrong perspectives: 1) Arrogant orthodoxy, and 2) Humble heterodoxy. In one, truth becomes a hammer to drive nails into heretic hearts. It becomes a tool of exclusion, and in most cases becomes focused on secondary, rather than primary issues. In two, truth is removed from the discussion in the name of not offending. Both are wrong, because both miss out on a central tenet of theology: Truth has eternal consequences.
While reading through Humble Orthodoxy, I couldn't help but think of times I'd not been humble. I'd been a jerk when humility was required. I put down trenches where God called for a table. I'd been impatient and careless as someone was processing books like The Shack or writers like Rob Bell - using orthodoxy as a hammer instead of showing "convictional kindness" and in doing so opening up confirmation bias for someone genuinely seeking wisdom. And now as a pastor, I want more than anything to be gracious in handling truth. I've been on the other side. I've seen the other side. And it doesn't drive to godliness, it drives despair.
It's not to say truth is irrelevant or doesn't matter. It does. It matters for eternity. Truth is the difference (literally) between Heaven and Hell. Truth was what Paul's treatises were rooted in, was the basis for God's self-revelation, and is what guards our minds today. Truth is important. Contending for truth is important. Loving our neighbor means being honest with them about things that matter.
But in our pursuit of humble orthodoxy, may I pose a few questions for us to consider?
1) Which is more important, proving a point or winning a person? Sometimes in our zeal for truth, we become like the Pharisees in Jesus' time. We focus so much on "being right" that we bomb bridges with our neighbors, family, coworkers, or even people in our church. Again, truth has eternal consequences. But as JD Greear has asked, do we love being right more than we love our neighbor?
2) What's offensive, the Gospel or me? The Gospel will divide. It tells people they're broken and need not just repair but death to self and life in Jesus. It tells people they are sinners but can find rescue in someone who they've never met who died for them. Jesus knew the Gospel would offend, His message got Him killed. But sometimes we miss the offense of the Gospel and we become the offensive one. We think it's because of Jesus, but really it's because we're jerks.
3) What has become to object of our affection, Right Theology or Jesus? I think it's totally possible for someone to love theology more than Jesus. They can love being right, being "orthodox," and being a walking systematic theology book.... but be completely dead on the inside. In a pursuit of humble orthodoxy, Jesus is the object of our devotion and love. From that flows orthodoxy. From that flows Truth, because what we know about Jesus and about God's redemptive plan is revealed to us in Scripture.
4) Is our orthodoxy matched by orthopathy and orthopraxy? In other words, is our devotion to doctrine met with a similar level of devotion to love and to action? Are our hearts and hands aligned with our heads? If our pursuit of Truth and Orthodoxy doesn't drive us to a greater Love (of God and of Neighbor - remember the Greatest Commandment?) and Action (serving God & Neighbor), then what good is our Orthodoxy?
5) Is our worship passionate or dry? Truth and Worship go hand in hand like love & marriage. Love drives a marriage, and marriage drives love. A humble orthodoxy still finds wonder and amazement in the presence of God. It still finds childlike joy in approaching the Throne. It doesn't parse every song for theological error (don't judge, we've all done it before) or argue over whether or not God's love can be "reckless." Humble orthodoxy can do this because it doesn't think it's all figured out. Worship stems from wonder. Humble orthodoxy sings What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus, and doesn't immediately go to a theology of substitutionary atonement. It begins with wonder that Jesus would shed His blood for me. And in concert with that it begins a robust understanding of propitiation.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.