Sunday, March 29, 2015

The hardest part of church leadership ...

Some would say maintaining humility is the hardest part of leadership. At least several articles have been written making that argument.

Others would toss out different challenges of being a leader in Christ's church.

But when you closely analyze the responsibility of being an under-shepherd to a congregation, the hardest part of church leadership is the very real need to be "right" as much as possible.

I know, I know, just from that sentence alone many would disagree, especially in today's church. But let me explain first before you dismiss that statement.

We live in times when many church leaders vocally speak against their need to be right, meaning to be accurate regarding the truth of a matter. Many pastors today want to be the buddy of those sitting in the pews (or stackable chairs) rather than a living example of following Christ as a holy man of God. Gone are the days when pastors were, at the least, partial Bible scholars. Too many of today's pastors have "dummied down" their preaching not just in an attempt to be more relevant or better understood, but also because they aren't putting in the work of biblical scholarship. They also aren't spending an adequate amount of time in prayer for both themselves, the church, and others.

But let me ask you this: how often do you want your spiritual leaders to be right about what they teach, what they preach, the biblical counsel they offer, and their example of how to live as a follower of Christ?

How many times, when your preacher delivers a sermon, do you want him to get his message right?

How many times, when your preacher teaches a lesson, do you want him to get his lesson right?

How many times, when you seek spiritual counsel for personal matters in your life, do you want your pastor to get right his biblical counsel to you?

Don't we want them to get it right all the time?

Yes, of course!

And because every church leader is an imperfect human being, they will have their times when they get things wrong. But as a leader, it really is important to "get it right" as often as we can for the simple reason that getting it wrong can be just as influential in the lives of those we lead as getting it right is.

In 2005, The Washington Post reported the following story headlined as "450 Sheep Jump to Their Deaths":

"It all started with one self-destructive leap.

"Shepherds eating breakfast outside the town of Gevis, Turkey, were surprised to see a lone sheep jump off a nearby cliff and fall to its death. They were stunned, however, when the rest of the nearly 1,500 sheep in the herd followed, each leaping off of the same cliff.

"When it was all over, the local Aksam newspaper reported that '450 of the sheep perished in a billowy, white pile' (those that jumped from the middle and the end of the herd were saved as the pile became higher and the fall more cushioned). The estimated loss to the families of Gevas tops $100,000 --- an extremely significant amount of money in a country where the average person earns about $2,700 annually."

That story gives new meaning to how as kids we would argue with our parents and say, "All my friends are doing it" and our parents would counter, "If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do that, too?"

Sometimes the answer is, "Yes!"

Followers follow leaders, and when leaders "get it wrong," followers may follow them off a theological cliff and "get it wrong" also. The result could be a spiritual disaster. That's why leaders need to "get it right" as often as possible, and that's the kind of example the Bible upholds for leaders in the church ...

"This is a trustworthy saying: 'If anyone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.' So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach ..." 1 Timothy 3:1-2a.

A life lived "above reproach" is one where we get it right more than we get it wrong as we rely on the power of Christ in us, and live for His glory. It's also a life where a leader works hard in his studies to make sure he can get it right ...

"Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth," 2 Timothy 2:15.

The need to deliver sermons, lessons, counsel, and an example that "correctly explains the word of truth" requires significant time in prayer, in studying the Bible, and in relying on the Holy Spirit's enlightenment and leadership in the lives of leaders. Not only do authentic Christian leaders deeply desire to rightly shepherd Christ's sheep, but they understand the sobering reality that they will be held accountable for their influence in the lives of their followers (and because of that, scripture admonishes Christians to obey their leaders!) ...

"Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. that would certainly not be for your benefit," Hebrews 13:17.

"Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly," James 3:1.

The first sentence of James 3:2 is important for all us to remember: "Indeed, we all make many mistakes ..."

Church leader, as long as you're alive, you won't always get it right. But do your best! As scripture says, work hard to be a good worker so that you don't have to be ashamed about your leadership and so that you can correctly explain (and model!) the word of truth.

And Christians, remember that we ALL make mistakes. Express grace to your leaders when they make a mistake, just as they are gracious with you. PRAY FOR THEM, because it's a tough thing to need to be right consistently so that they can consistently lead you rightly. Watch that you don't place so many demands on them that take away from their time in prayer, study of the Bible, and their personal walk with God.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's in your future?

One of the darkest times in my life was when my mother died when I was just becoming a teenager.

My father was a cruel, mean man, someone that I don't have any memory of a single happy day with. It was my mother that crafted a life for her children, and losing her raised a very real and serious question for me at such a young age: What would be my future without her?

Without her, I didn't have anyone to protect or defend me against my father, or help me grow up and figure out this crazy world we live in. Fortunately, my faith in God became paramount to me during that time of grieving my mother's loss, and I latched onto a passage of scripture that still moves me to this day ...

"Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn't obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash," Matthew 7:24-27.

At a young age, I came to understand that God's great promise that gave me hope and peace was the promise of a future in and with Him.

With God, we have a future, and it's one we can look forward to!

Not everyone believes that or even wants it. A couple years ago news reporter Kimberly Winston filed the following story for Religion News Service:

"Atheists and nonbelievers [estimates of crowds between 8,000 to as many as 20,000] gathered on the National Mall Saturday in a bid to show politicians, voters, and even themselves that they have grown into a force to be recognized and reckoned with.

"'It really is encouraging and it makes me think there is hope for a different kind of future,' Mwimanzi [a rally organizer] said. 'Religion has dominated human history, but maybe it's time for a new direction.'"

Taking Christian "religion" out of human history might change the future, but not to a hopeful one! What an ironic choice of words, as if there could be any hope in a future without God. God has been working throughout human history to fashion a future for us that is our greatest hope ...

"In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ," Ephesians 2:12-13.

"But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control," Philippians 3:20-21.

That's the future for followers of Christ, a future to be excited about!

What is the hope of your future based on? Are you eagerly waiting for a magnificent future with Christ?


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The way out of despair ...

Designer Si Chan is introducing an unusual jacket in his winter men's wear collection. It's a big, puffy
green parka with four sets of stuffed, clasped hands which wrap around from back to front.

"Everybody needs love, don't they?" asks Si Chan on his blog. Chan says he designed his eccentric kelly green puffer jacket to make the wearer feel "warm and hugged."

Some might call his design cuddly; some might just call it creepy. No matter what you call it, it is doubtful this cold-weather creation will fulfill Chan's goal of helping others "depart from loneliness."

It takes more than an odd, warm coat to lift us out of despair.

Despair is such a mentally and emotionally deep pit that most of us have found ourselves in at some time in our lives. It's a terrible experience and one that's tough to get out of. You feel like you're drowning under the weight of the world, and just like a person drowning in water, no one may notice. Many people don't even know what a person in despair looks like, just as we often don't spot a person who is drowning in water. Darren Chester tells the following story ...

"I recently viewed a videotape used to train lifeguards on how to recognize when someone is drowning. We often think that a person who is drowning will thrash about in the water and yell, 'Help! Help! I'm drowning!' In reality, they become almost paralyzed by fear and incapable of calling for help.

"The video illustrated how this works. It showed a young girl of about 10 sitting on an inner tube float in the deep end of a wave pool, surrounded by children and a few adults. When the girl adjusted herself on the tube, she fell off and slipped to the bottom of the pool where the water was right at the top of her head.

"There was no thrashing about and there was no yelling for help. Instead, subtly, her hands came just above the surface as if she were reaching for something. Thankfully, a lifeguard spotted her and within a few seconds had a flotation device under her. The most remarkable thing was that the people around her were oblivious to the fact that she was drowning."

People suffering despair often become paralyzed with fear and unable to cry out for help. Because of that, the people around them may not notice they are drowning emotionally.

But God sees you!

The Apostle Paul tells of a time when he personally experienced deep, dark despair ...

"We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die ..." 2 Corinthians 1:8-9a.

Paul's situation was real and left him despairing for his life. How did he make his way out of such a deep, dark pit?

"... But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God, who raises the dead," 2 Corinthians 1:9b.

God sees your need, He understands what you're feeling, and is fully acquainted with your circumstances. When you're done relying on yourself to find a way out of what causes you to despair, and instead learn to rely on Him, then He will deliver you from the pit you find yourself in.

"And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us," 2 Corinthians 1:10.

If you currently find yourself in despair, I implore you to turn from trying to rely on yourself and instead to rely on God to deliver you out of the darkness you're experiencing. He is willing and able to rescue you!

If you're not personally experiencing despair, let me tell you there likely are people around you who are, people who feel like they are drowning in life. Even if they aren't thrashing about for help, you can learn to see their need by not being self-absorbed but noticing the people around you ...

"Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too," Philippians 2:4.

We all need more than a warm coat with "hugging hands," we need one another offering helping hands. Most of all, we need the nail-scarred hands of a Savior to deliver us from the depths of despair into His marvelous light.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The power of setting a good example ...

Mark Twain once quipped, "Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example."

Setting a good example raises the bar of possibility --- and thus, expectation --- for us all, and for those who really don't want to try, it can be annoying.

But for others, a good example is inspiring, challenging, motivating, and sometimes even life-changing!

For many years the coastal town of Monterey, California was a pelican's paradise. As fishermen cleaned their fish, they flung the offal to the pelicans. The birds grew fat, lazy, and contented. However, eventually the offal was also utilized, meaning there were no longer free and easy snacks for the pelicans. When the change came the pelicans made no effort to fish for themselves. They waited around and grew gaunt and thin. Many even starved to death! They had forgotten how to fish for themselves. The problem was solved by importing new pelicans from the south, birds accustomed to foraging for themselves. They were placed among their starving cousins, and the newcomers immediately started catching fish. Before long the hungry pelicans followed suit, ending the famine.

Having a good example is important to our development as human beings and disciples of Jesus Christ, and setting a good example is important to our influence in the lives of others. Look closely at how example plays a part in exhortations in scripture ...

"Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it," Proverbs 22:6.

"Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity," 1 Timothy 4:12.

"In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching," Titus 2:6-7.

"Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world," 1 Peter 2:12.

From children, we need good examples in our lives as we grow into adulthood, and whether we're parents, young adults, or mature adults, we need to be setting good examples for others.

We rub off on each other!

Is the influence of your life a good example for others? Are the influences you allow into your life good examples for you?


Monday, March 23, 2015

What does your flock really want from its shepherd?

Pastors, the authentic Christians you lead do not want you to be their CEO or model for them how to
be a successful executive.

They are unimpressed with your organizational acumen. They are unimpressed with your side business consulting other pastors. They are unimpressed with your vast social media audience.

So what do they want?

A shepherd! A prayerful man of God who leads them spiritually by the Word of God as he is empowered by the Spirit of God. They just want you to teach and model for them how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and to equip them for doing that.

A brief, simple, but expressive eulogy was pronounced by Martin Luther upon a pastor named Nicholas Haussmann at Zwickau in 1522. The reformer stated, "What we preach, he lived."

That's what your flock wants from you. They want you to preach the Word of God from the pulpit and with your life so they have an example of how to live what you preach, and they want to be equipped.

Is that what you're providing for the flock of God that you tend to?


Friday, March 20, 2015

What being exposed to Jesus should do to you ...

During the '90's I was exposed to toxic chemicals when a Union 76 refinery I lived next to had a
major chemical spill that it didn't do anything about for three weeks.

Because of that exposure, I spent five years being treated by a team of a dozen physicians. There wasn't any research material available to the doctors about the chemicals the public had been exposed to, so they didn't know all of the potential effects such an exposure could have on human beings. One result for my being exposed was permanent damage to my sinuses. Others suffered much worse outcomes. Exposure to those chemicals had a negative outcome in the lives of many of us living in the area.

What we're exposed to throughout our lives has outcomes in our lives.

That includes our exposure to Truth. What happens when we're exposed to the truth?

Once the devil was walking along with one of his cohorts. They saw a man ahead of them pick up something shiny.

"What did he find?" asked the cohort?

"A piece of the truth," the devil replied.

"Doesn't it bother you that he found a piece of the truth?" asked the cohort.

"No," said the devil, "I will see to it that he makes a religion out of it."

The enemy isn't afraid of our being exposed to the truth if we don't experience its intended effect. What should be the outcome of our being exposed to the truth? The Apostle Paul gives us part of the answer ...

"But that isn't what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God --- truly righteous and holy," Ephesians 4:20-24.

Our being exposed to Jesus, and the truth that comes from Him, has very real and powerful effects. It strips away our sin and engulfs us in a new nature, one that is "... truly righteous and holy."

Is that the outcome in your life of your being exposed to Jesus?


Thursday, March 19, 2015

This summer, get equipped to be an effective disciple-maker!

I have had the privilege for a while now to serve as a consultant to John Hendee, Chair of World Evangelism at Hope International University (HIU) in Fullerton, CA, regarding the work he is doing to equip Christians and churches in being effective disciple-makers from his base at HIU. I have personally used the model for disciple-making he teaches for about 30 years and know from first-hand experience how effective it is for individual Christians and for churches. John now equips people, churches, and organizations in this model through an online course offered by HIU. Below is the information from the university about the course. The latest class started March 16, the next course begins on June 1, so let's get you and a team from your church enrolled!

Jesus Christ was concise and clear in commissioning His church: “… Go and make disciples of all the nations.” At Hope International University (HIU), we believe that an essential part of being a highly effective disciple-maker is being well prepared to share one’s faith. One way to do this is our online “Relational Evangelism” course offered through our School of Advanced Leadership Training (SALT).

More than 35 years ago, John Hendee developed a comprehensive model for equipping Christians in how to make new disciples by being trained how to use “A Peace Treaty With God”.  He developed this while serving as Minister of Evangelism at Central Christian Church in Mesa, AZ. Since then many people who have been trained in the use of this model have used it to lead thousands of people into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ among people of different cultures around the world.

Recently, this approach has been revised, updated, and renamed as “It’s All About Relationship” (IAAR). It is a powerful model for effective twenty-first century disciple-making/evangelism. The IAAR model employs a deceptively simple-looking (but biblical!) process that has embedded within it a highly effective relational approach for creating opportunities to share the Gospel one-on-one using a comprehensive but concise and powerful tool to make new disciples.

Individuals and groups of any size may take the course through HIU’s Open Class course format for only $50 per person. This course can also be taken for credit at a cost of $300 (for Bachelors or Masters level credit). Churches wanting to transition to being a disciple-making church will find this course exactly what they need to train an army of ambassadors for Christ to be effective in sharing the Gospel.John Hendee is also working on launching an ambassador’s support and coaching network which course participants will be invited to be part of as a way to help you be successful at applying your training once you leave the virtual classroom. We want to see you succeed in reaching the lost in your own communities for Jesus Christ! 

To sign up for the course, contact Phil Towne at If you have questions about this training opportunity, contact John Hendee directly at 

If you have any questions about the course, we have available a more detailed document we would be happy to send you, and we would also welcome an opportunity to talk with you personally about it. Just email John Hendee at his email link provided above, or you can contact me at I want to encourage you in the strongest way I possibly can to get involved in this course, it can transform your personal effectiveness as an ambassador for Christian, and it can transition your church into being a disciple-making church.