The Wheels on the Bus

A recent guest speaker at our church said something that pretty well summarized the ebb and flow of church commitment these days in the United States.  He said the local church was like a bus with people constantly getting on and people getting off.  His statement was designed to encourage churches and leaders about the commonality of the experience across the nation.  It got me thinking about why people, in this day where “I” is at the center of everything from our portable devices to our political theory, so willingly get off the bus God supposedly told them to get on.

Before I get the usual “the church hurt me” or “the church is unhealthy” routine, I concede up front that there are abusive churches and leaders, and church leaders and churches that are unhealthy.  I’m not suggesting that anyone should stay on the bus in that kind of environment. The fact is, however, church leaders and churches can do 1000 things right, and the first time they do something wrong or disagreeable to the bus rider, the rider gets off the bus citing abuse or a lack of love.  The fact is buses are no more or less dysfunctional than the people who ride on them.  Churches and church leaders are not abusive merely by virtue of doing their God-ordained teaching, leading, guiding, and decision-making.  Most of the getting on and off has little to do with the spiritual health of leaders or churches, and everything to do with a fatal flaw in the spiritual formation of modern American Christians: “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). This standard is for the driver and rider alike.

American believers get off the bus God told them to get on for a variety of reasons. Some simply do not like the direction the bus is going and they want to do the driving. They seem to forget that the church must operate form the perspective of the uni-vision (one vision), rather than omni-vision (all vision) or di-vision (two visions).  Many ride until they decide they have a better idea where the bus should be going. Others get off because they can’t sit where they want to sit, meaning they don’t get to do what they want to do or when they want to do it. Still others get off because they don’t like the rules on the bus.  Even though every segment of society has rules of operation and expectation for participation, some believers think the local church should be devoid of rules and guidelines.  Some choose to live at odds with the Scriptural standard and morality and hop off implying the church was somehow judging them when the rider, by virtue of jumping off, was the one doing the rejecting. Still others are seduced off the bus by the lusts in life and agendas inspired by pride. Some fall out with other riders and just want to get away from the conflict instead of applying biblical principles to the issue.  Some look outside and see a shinier bus passing them up with its perception of relevancy, innovation, or higher understanding. Many believers just want to ride the latest fad bus, or they erroneously conclude they are now too spiritual for their drivers and fellow riders, not realizing faithfulness is a much greater mark of authentic spirituality than one’s revelation level.  Of course, some jump off the bus simply because friends or others got off the bus. Finally, some just flat don’t like the driver. With all the analysis, statistics, new paradigms and models, and church growth methodologies, at the end of the day, right or wrong, so many riders get on and off based on the likeabilty of the driver.

As church leaders (drivers), we have to keep our perspective in this generation of bus hoppers.  We need to remember to keep on moving down the road resisting the temptation to park the bus because some folks got off.  It can be difficult not to become paralyzed with discouragement when it seems the people you did the most for and developed the most are the very ones who will jump off the bus. It’s to your credit that you, despite often being thrown under the bus, are not the one doing so to others.  Our priority needs to be picking up new people along the way instead of constantly pining over and grieving over the ones who jumped off.  We also need to follow the route assigned to us staying true to the God-given vision and mission of the house.  The integrity of the vision is not always authenticated by the number of people on the bus, but in the fidelity to the direction of the Lord. Finally, our focus needs to be on getting the riders who faithfully ride with us month after month, and year after year to their destination, instead of being defeated by those who got off.  Too often we as spiritual leaders teach and preach to bus riders who aren’t even on the bus instead of helping the faithful in their journey of discovering divine purpose, Christian maturity, and development.




Spiritual Kryptonite

imagesSuperman is an iconic and enduring image of strength in our Western culture and around the world.  We know about Metropolis, Clark Kent, the phone booth, Lois Lane, and Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luther.  We also know there is nothing that could take Superman down, except for one glowing green gem called kryptonite from his home planet of Krypton.  In the presence of kryptonite, the man of steel became mortal, weak, confused, and subject to attack and ultimate defeat. 

Believers and Christian leaders too have a kryptonite from our home planet that works the same, draining us of life, joy, peace, and victory.  Our kryptonite, however, is more of the carbon based variety than some precious element.  The kryptonite our arch enemy uses to defeat us is people.  You see, animals don’t offend us, the oceans, forests, mountain ranges, and skies don’t offend us.  People offend us. 

Sooner or later we all have our own encounters with kryptonite.  Sooner or later we all have our stories of spending years investing in people only to have them turn on us, bending over backwards to make sure a family in need is taken care of only to get mad at you for some unspoken reason, experiencing disappointment in some bold endeavor, trusting a good friend only to find out the friend is one of your biggest critics, making great sacrifices with little to no appreciation, watching church members get in conflict with one another and take it out on the entire church, experiencing a crushing loss in life or ministry, or navigating the sting of a Judas kiss from a coworker or staff member. How we respond to the these kryptonite encounters determines whether we will reach our destiny or fold under the hurt, betrayal, and cynicism.  

I know what that’s like after nearly 30 years of ministry service.  Ministry does not exempt a person from kryptonite.  On the contrary, ministry just gives the minister more exposure to kryptonite – more opportunities to get offended.  One pastor I served slammed his hand in anger against his canoe during and outing breaking his hand and then blaming me for the injury.  Another church leader invited us to serve as his associate pastor, promised that we would soon transition into the lead role at the church, and then weeks later informed the people, after we had moved across the country, that he would have to let us go if the money did not start coming in.  My home church voted me down as their pastor, twice, after a spurious search process that included drawing names out of hat (no, I’m not joking), putting my name back into the hat, realizing the other man wasn’t going to come, and finally submitting my ministry to the church for a vote.  Rejected and dejected, we walked back into the church to face the people with a warning from the loving Holy Spirit: “Be very careful what you say next, for what you say will impact your destiny and their future.”  It’s not what happens to us, but how we respond to it that matters in life and ministry.

In each situation, and countless other encounters with kryptonite through the years, I had to make a decision whether to let it poison me or move forward trusting God.  Our failure to perceive what the enemy is actually trying to do with the kryptonite of people is his greatest weapon.  Paul admonished Timothy to stay out of strife with people because strife is the doorway to becoming captive to the devil to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24).  Imagine claiming Christ and yet living your life as a tool for Satan.  If we go through things without letting that kryptonite get inside of us and affect us, the devil cannot have his way with us.

Psalm 55 provides special insight for identifying kryptonite and overcoming its power in your life.  The Psalmist cried out to the Lord for help saying, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught.”  When we are distraught we are deeply agitated, upset, unable to think or behave normally, and extremely distracted.  In reality, however, the Psalmist was distraught and close to imploding from the kryptonite because he was thinking about all the things people were saying about him, all the things people were thinking about him, and all the things people were doing to him.  There’s nothing we can do about what people say, think, or do, but we have the power to choose not to think about it. “Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22).  The key to defeating the kryptonite is to not even touch what THEY are saying, thinking, or doing with your thoughts.

I heard a preacher once tell the story of a jet airliner beginning to make its initial decent.  As it flew below 10,000 feet, the electronic and communication systems began to go haywire. After aborting and pulling back up to 20,000 feet the systems became normal.  After flying back down and pulling up several times with the same results, the co-pilot went below to find out what was happening.  He discovered there were rats chewing on the power conduits.  At the higher altitude the rats couldn’t function, but at lower altitudes the rats would come to and begin chewing on the cords disrupting the systems of the aircraft. 

As believers, God has called us to a SUPER life, but if we choose to live at the lower altitudes of hurt, offense, and bitterness, we will be short-circuited and defeated every time.  We need to habitually live at the higher altitudes where the kryptonite infested rats can’t affect us.  Our spiritual altitude is set by our time in prayer, time in the Word, and practically by what we choose to think about.  “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT).  Our lives tend to go in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. Whenever you are given an opportunity to get offended with people just tell yourself it’s kryptonite, and then choose to go up even higher where the rats can’t play in your head.

Trump, Clinton, and The Cyrus Effect

clinton_trump_splitLike many God-fearing believers around the country, I have struggled to make sense out of this election cycle. After suffering the radical progressive policies of the past 8 years, I long for someone to take the helm of this great nation who has the spiritual and leadership credentials to bring restoration, healing, security, and prosperity back to our country (you know, someone with the moral and spiritual depth and maturity of a Billy Graham mixed with the economic, policy, and communication prowess of a Ronald Reagan).  After a long and contentious primary season that feels like Alice in Wonderland, we seem to be left with Tweedledee on the right and Tweedledum on the left.

I realize there are some Christians and Christian leaders who will exhort us all to just preach Jesus and stay out of the political arena altogether, but that position is out of sync with our nation’s history and inconsistent with God’s demonstrated concern for the nations as indicated in the prophecies to the nations in Isaiah. No, God is very much concerned with the governance of nations and He uses the nations throughout time as instruments of his purpose and plan.  I believe He still has a great plan for our country. The truth is we have a Scriptural, moral, and civic responsibility to participate and not in a LBJ IRS amendment “churches keep your mouths shut kind of way.”  We as Christians are citizens of the United States and we did not forfeit our citizenship or constitutional rights when we joined a church or accepted the call into the ministry.  We simply cannot stick our heads in the sand while our national fabric is unraveling, our country is being drained morally and financially, our future is being held hostage, and our people are being slaughtered around the world with no clear champion to defend them.

Between 597 B.C. and 581 B.C. the Jewish people were exiled to be held captives in Babylon where they cried out to Almighty God for their deliverance: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).  If you were to gather the rulers and elders of Israel together in that captive place and asked them what their deliverer from captivity would look like, I’m sure they would be thinking of a Moses or a David like historical and biblical figure to execute that deliverance. Shockingly, Isaiah prophesied that Israel’s help would come from a total pagan ruler, Cyrus, and worse yet, God would have the audacity to use messianic terms to describe him: “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him…so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.  For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen…though you do not acknowledge me” (Isaiah 45:1-5). Cyrus came to power 170 years after the prophecy, captured Babylon in 539 B.C. and two years later decreed Israel’s return to their homeland, the rebuilding of the temple, and that the treasury of Cyrus would pay the bill (2 Chronicles 36; Ezra 1).

I mentioned to my sister back in January of 2016 that I believed something is going on in this nation that transcends normal politics, political parties, and political alliances.  By the millions, born again Christians have been crying out to God on behalf of our nation for years, a country being held captive philosophically and spiritually. God’s dealings with man throughout history reveal one important lesson that may have some application to our nation’s current election cycle – we have the right and liberty to cry out for deliverance, but just like the Jewish leaders in Babylon, that does not mean we get to choose through whom that deliverance will come.  Too many Christians are looking for a president that would qualify for a deacon, Sunday school teacher (Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher), or pastor in their church forgetting that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9).  

I believe we are experiencing our own Cyrus moment in the United States this year.  My candidate of choice in the primary did not survive the process (and considering his behavior at the RNC I’m glad) so it looks like I have a choice between Tweedledee (Trump) and Tweedledum (Clinton).  Despite the misgivings and ambivalence I may have toward both candidates, the question is simply who is most likely to be an agent of that deliverance?  Who appears to have the favor of God?  To me, Tweedledum has demonstrated failed leadership as a Senator and Secretary of State, she holds policies and values that are completely contradictory to mine, and she does not possess a clear moral compass as indicated by the never-ending ethical issues.  Tweedledee, a recently born again believer, is a brash, blunt, bold, and successful businessman who lacks the polish and couth (but also lacking the veneer) of a seasoned politician, but says things that resonate with many disillusioned and alienated Americans.  

I have concluded during this election cycle given the enormous stakes, including the fact that the next president will most likely appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices, to put away my grocery list of likes and dislikes and attempt to discern God’s big picture agenda and his Cyrus for this moment in U.S. history.  At the risk, well, of alienating everyone, and although as distasteful to some Americans and Christians as Cyrus was no doubt to the Jews who benefited from his political, military, economic, and human rights policies, I believe the mantle of Cyrus is on Tweedledee during this turbulent and unprecedented election season as an agent of change, not based on his spiritual or political credentials, but based simply on God’s sense of humor, penchant for irony, the prayers of his people, and directional sovereignty. Of course, time will shortly tell.



It Wasn’t Me

RocketmanIt’s interesting to me to listen these days to the leader of the free world explain that no matter what happens in Washington, someone else is always to blame. The President inherited a terrible situation economically and was elected both times by blaming his predecessor. The problem now is the President’s policies of massive spending, debt accumulation, class warfare, challenging corporate job creators like Boeing, and the sequester (which he fails to remember was HIS idea in the first place) are at the root of our national economic lethargy.

The President has proven to be a formidable politician and extremely gifted communicator, but a very poor leader. Why? Because at some point every leader has to look at himself or herself in the mirror and look at the people he or she leads and simply admit what everybody else already knows: “I blew it. This is my fault. I take responsibility.” This tendency in all of us to insist on our appearance of perfection rather than taking responsibility for the situation indicates anemic, narcissistic, and inauthentic leadership. What ever happened to the Harry Truman’s of the world who boldly declare, “The buck stops here.”

But to be honest, the passing of the buck rather than accepting responsibility for our actions and decisions in life has become  sort of a cultural norm in our society. If we are lacking anything in life or experience a setback or failure, it simply has to be someone else’s fault. But if we want the grace of God to flow in our lives, truly flow in our lives, we must humble ourselves, admit our mistakes, and accept God’s grace and forgiveness which includes pardon for the sin but also the power to recover from the mistake and then succeed in the future. The Scripture says that God opposes the proud and this need to be right all the time is a manifestation of pride. The good news is that God also says he gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

In Disney’s 1997 movie, Rocketman, clumsy NASA software engineer Fred Randall makes the dubious journey from computer expert to replacement astronaut for the Mars mission (of course he was the one who injured the original astronaut). Throughout the movie we see Fred cause one calamity after another while all the while declaring incredulously, “It wasn’t me.” The low-budget movie is humorous but teaches all of us, President or not, what it sounds like and looks like to others when we habitually refuse to take any responsibility for our lives. I’ve posted a montage from the movie below (CVLI License No.:  503767611). Enjoy (click the following link). It wasn’t me

The Spirit of Familiarity

The encounter of Jesus with the people of his hometown in Mark 6:1-6 represents one of the most amazing (and tragic) stories in the New Testament. Imagine having this powerful and prolific preacher and teacher of God’s Word right in your city. One would think the sheer force of the revelation proceeding from his lips and the countless testimonies of what Jesus had done in neighboring villages would prompt awe, respect, honor, and expectation. Instead of the reverence due the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus was treated with familiarity and contempt.

The sad part of the story is that, because of their lack of faith evidenced by their offense, the Bible says that Jesus could not do many miracles there. The glory spout did not suddenly dry up. Jesus did not cease to be the Son of God. The mandate and mission to bring salvation and soundness to all had not changed. So what happened? In contemptuously rejecting Jesus and writing him off as just the carpenter’s son or simply one member of a large family that has lived nearby for years, they lost the ability to tap into and receive the anointing that was available to those who chose to honor Jesus and the powerful anointing that clearly rested upon him.

Familiarity means to know someone well enough and in such a way so as to lose a sense of admiration, respect, and awe. The result is, like Jesus, the ministry gift is dishonored and treated as nothing remarkable. Some people have prior knowledge of a person called into ministry and just can’t seem to get past that knowledge to accept them as a vessel of God. A friend of mine was called to pastor the church where he was raised. The first Sunday a senior saint just had to remind him that she used to change his diapers every week in the church nursery. It is that kind of proximity and shared experience that prevents the immature believer from respecting and receiving from that minister.  Others, in getting to know someone over a period of years, catch a glimpse of the humanity of the minister and begin to withdraw their hearts in contempt. It is important for God’s people to remember that the Lord chose to call imperfect people to preach the perfect gospel about a perfect Savior. In both cases, proximity breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds contempt, contempt breeds offense, and offense shuts down the flow of that life-giving, life-changing anointing of the Holy Spirit. If this was true with Jesus, it is true today with those that God calls to serve the Church of Jesus Christ.

We cannot have a person’s anointing, revelation, and gifting if we reject and dismiss their calling. This is one of the main reasons for the drought of miracles in our land today. As in the days of Jesus’ ministry on the earth, people get familiar, contemptible, and offended with God’s servants and the flow of the supernatural is compromised. No matter how great the gift or anointing, it is neutralized by the spirit of familiarity.

The greater tragedy in this story would have been for Jesus to somehow begin to question his call, his mandate, and his anointing based on the response and rejection of those in his hometown. Obviously, Jesus was secure enough to know that with or without popular support, he was sent by the Heavenly Father to take away the sins of the world and no human response would compromise that. Unfortunately, the ministry gifts in the body of Christ (pastors, teachers, prophets, apostles, and evangelists) are not always as developed in their security as Jesus and the familiarity with which they are sometimes treated by people tempts them to doubt and even abandon their call and anointing.

Let me encourage you if you are called to an equipping ministry in the Church to focus entirely upon the reality and integrity of the call of God on your life and not the support, respect, or appreciation of people. Remember your message and ministry is anointed whether someone wants a copy of it on CD or not. It is hard and hurtful to be treated with familiarity but understand that this is a form of persecution that the enemy inspires to sidetrack and demoralize men and women of God. Practice telling yourself every day that you are anointed to preach, anointed to teach, anointed to lead, and anointed to guide – no matter how you are received.

Let me exhort you if you are under the care of a God-called church leader to guard your heart for familiarity toward your leadership. The familiar spirit when unchecked in the heart of the believer will precipitate disloyalty, discontent, crossed boundaries, foul attitudes, and things that should never be said. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have outgrown your leader for this is the quintessential mark of the familiar spirit (“I’m just not being fed”). Actually, what’s happened is you have grown familiar and offended with that leader and now it is very hard for you to receive from him or her. Invariably, when believers develop a familiar spirit they begin to withdraw from the very people God has raised up to help them discern their purpose, reach their full potential, and discover their divine destiny. Instead of allowing contempt to enter your heart, choose to honor, respect, and receive from those called to serve you and watch the anointing for revelation and miracles flow.

Leaving Podunkville

Podunkville is a mindset of mediocrity indicated by a lack of excellence in life, work, or ministry. Although I am not speaking of a literal town (“podunk” means any small and insignificant inaccessible town or village – and there are towns literally called Podunk like Podunk, Vermont), it is nonetheless where many people – God’s people – live and dwell when it comes to their personal standards and thinking. It’s obviously fine to live in a small town many might deem to be insignificant or hard to reach, but we don’t have to let an attitude of Podunkville live in us.

I’ve always been amazed that some Christians can perform at extremely high levels of competence and excellence in the secular world or in private endeavors, but have the attitude that the Church does not warrant or deserve such diligence. I could not disagree more (in fact it is one of my pet peeves to be sure). The Church and the Lord who purchased her with his blood, deserves the highest levels of performance an individual can give. As Spurgeon used to write at the bottom of his sermons when finishing early Sunday mornings, “Jesus deserves my very best.”

The concept that, “it’s good enough for the Church,” couldn’t be further from the truth and nothing could be more inconsistent with the standard of the “all in” mindset that Jesus demonstrated on the cross over two-thousand years ago. He held nothing back from us and we should hold nothing back from him. In reality, our efforts in the world or private life should be straining to rise to the level of our efforts in the Church (and not the other way around).

Let me encourage you today to pack up your attitude, thought life, and standards and move out of Podunkville forever. Keep in mind that eternal souls are on the line and nothing should motivate us more to do the most excellent job we can for the Lord, His ministry, and His kingdom. Let the Word of God inspire you to give the Lord your very best: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Colossians 3:17, NIV). How about it? Like Jesus, let’s also go “all in” for the glory of God in these last days.

Mission to the Crescent Moon

“But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.” – President John F. Kennedy, Rice Stadium Mission to the Moon Speech, September 12, 1962.

There is much I would not have had in common with President Kennedy had I lived during his presidency. His values and priorities differed from mine in many ways. But one thing I treasure from his time in the White House was his clear and exciting vision for space and space exploration. Kennedy tapped into and managed to execute some fundamentals of vision casting that the current administration should discover. For example, the vision must be huge (beyond anything we have ever attempted), compelling (able to capture the imagination of the masses and foster enthusiasm), focused (limited in its scope), time-based (a deadline for the goal must be set), and functional (matching the vision to a particular resource that can functionally accomplish the vision). Further, any great leader must possess the ability to see the vision, communicate the vision, allocate resources in the direction of the vision, and then persevere until the vision becomes reality. But it all starts with a bold vision and one that complements an entity, group, or agency rather than contradicting it.

This past year we saw the gutting of the greatest space exploration agency in the history of the world. Gone are the days of visionary leadership reflected in Kennedy’s historic speech on our national adventure to reach the moon. My own niece, after pursuing a graduate education for the express reason of serving within NASA and becoming decorated for her efforts together with her team, lost her job in the fray. Would we realistically shoot for Mars or set any other grand vision for NASA and our great nation or would some other purpose be established for our space agency that has been the envy of the world for fifty years?

Well, the answer is in. This past week the NASA director in the Obama administration revealed to news organizations that his chief goal for NASA, as directed by Obama, is to reach out to the Muslim world to encourage them for their contribution in math and sciences. Huh?!? I’m really starting to feel like Alice in Wonderland here trying to figure out how this agency would be pushed so far out of its charter to become the personal ambassador for Islam under this administration. Could you imagine if a sitting president made the NASA director’s top goal to reach out to the Jews or strengthen ties to the Vatican? President Kennedy cast a vision for a mission to the moon while our sitting President pushes a mission to the crescent moon.

I don’t like the socialistic bent of this administration, the out of control spending, the propensity to apologize on behalf of our nation for every ill ever known to man, or the shady back door deal making and intimidation that would make G. Gordon Liddy blush. But I (at the risk of going Glenn Beck for just a moment) simply cannot stand by and watch the ridiculous redirection of our nation’s agencies and resources to further an Islamic agenda when they should be activated for the accomplishing of a function that is consistent with the agencies’ stated purpose and resources and consistent with our long-term interests as a nation. We must pray for the eyes of our leaders throughout the nation to open to the reality that we are in a spiritual war that manifests itself as a cultural, political, or military war. This revelation will go a long way to slow our national descent down the slippery slope of false expectation and appeasement.

Cow Bells and Stingrays

If Busch Stadium, home of the St. Cardinals, is “baseball heaven” (and the faithful certainly believe that) then the indoor Tropicana Field, home of the surging Tampa Bay Rays and built in the shape of half of an orange, could be called baseball he**…never mind. Tampa Bay has come from near dissolution as a baseball franchise to contending with the Yankees and smacking the Red Sox all season long. Now as they head into the second half of the season they are poised to take their division or most certainly the wild card spot and a place in post season play. The point is that despite the great season they still lack a suitable stadium and overall cohesive marketing strategy.

In fact, to attend a Rays game (as Tim and I like to do when in the area) is to be bewildered by the competing and contradictory series of sounds and images that have become Ray baseball. For example, the expansion team was originally called the “Devil Rays” but after years of losing and a management shake up, the term, “devil” was dropped from the name (I could have helped them with that one). The facility, the uniforms, and the team were all given a facelift. Today the image of an exploding star with rays of light shooting everywhere seems to be the new image of the club. This apparent attempt to transition the team away from marine life is contradicted by the small pool of stingrays visible just to the right of center field. Further, throughout the game it is common for the crowd to suddenly break into a chorus of cow bells to support the pitcher as he tries to throw the third strike, or to support the hitter in a clutch situation, or to show appreciation for a good play, at bat, run scored, or home run.

So, let me bring it home for you. The Rays play in a stadium designed in the shape of a fruit and wear a star on the front of their uniforms while stingrays swim in the outfield and the fans play cow bells all night. Confused? It’s a good thing the Rays have some amazing pitchers, fielders, and hitters this year to counteract the effect of the ballpark atmosphere. In fact, the natives of the coast are just happy to be winning period.

It seems to me that the Church is a lot like the Rays ball club. Despite all the books, blogs, magazines, and media shows that constantly tell us all how bad the Church is and how everything we do is wrong, the Church worldwide continues to grow. People are born again, bodies are healed, families are restored, and hope is renewed. It’s amazing when you think about it. Our facilities may not be all that, our marketing may make 5th Avenue cringe, and we too may have some seemingly contradictory sounds and images, but yet we keep winning because we have God’s super added to our natural. We have been given grace clothes as a uniform. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we have the best players in the world.

Like the Rays, I think the Church should work on unifying and standardizing its message to be more effective. We too have our “cow bells” to contend with. While we strive for excellence, though, let’s pause to thank the Lord for what He is doing in us and through us. Let’s pause to make a list about what the Church is doing right while we address what can be improved.

Burnout Prevention

I recently came across this backhanded and satirical approach to preventing burnout in your life and ministry by Christian leader Scott Crouchenour (say that name five names real fast). His article is called, “How to Burnout in 5 Easy Steps.” I will share some interactive thoughts underneath the following article:

Staying strong is overrated. All this talk about avoiding the wall? Hooey. You were born to burnout. You were meant for serving weak. Want a quick way to burnout in ministry leadership? Here are 5 easy steps:

Seek Unforgiveness. Someone hurt you lately? Cool. Here’s what you do: Hold a grudge. That’s right. Don’t give in to the temptation to be the weaker one. Keep steady. Better yet, give them the silent treatment. Yeah! It will teach them a lesson and you’ll be well on your way to burning out.

Pursue Passionlessness. Ask yourself this question: “What ministry fuels my passion?” Got your answer? Good. Now do something (anything) that is the opposite of your answer. Do the thing that is a total drag for you. Give it your all. Seek the boredom. Revel in the difficulty. It will annoy those around you and you’ll be well on your way to burning out.

Engage In Prayerlessness. Got prayer concerns? Want to touch the heart of God? Want to seek and sense His will for your life? Forget it. You’re looking to burnout, right? Good. Then cut ALL prayer from your routine. Don’t pray in the morning. Don’t pray when you’re stressed or sad. And don’t pray when things are going well. Think of the time you’ll save.  It will grieve the Holy Spirit and you’ll be well on your way to burning out.

Be An Impostor. Are you introverted by nature? Be extroverted. Are you methodical? Be spontaneous. Are you a people person? Then be a recluse. You have to understand that being yourself is simply going to keep you from burning out. So don’t be yourself. Better yet, try to be just like someone else. It will irritate your loved ones and you’ll be well on your way to burning out.

Over-identify. In your work with others, you will feel their pain. This is good. Dwell on it. Identify it so deeply that you begin to feel responsible for it. This will give you ownership of their pain, as though you were the cause. You will sink in the quicksand of their misery. You won’t be able to help them because you’ll be so depressed yourself. This will help others become co-dependent and you’ll be well on your way to burning out.

So you see, if you are interested in burning out, it’s quite simple really. Just follow these 5 easy steps and we’ll see you in rehab!

In response to this thought provoking article, let me encourage you to (1) Be quick to forgive. Remember that holding on to bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die; (2) Focus on what you are passionate about. While it is true that we all have to do things that do not thrill us, for the most part you should be focusing on those areas that energize you and are life-giving; (3) It’s time to seek the face of God like never before. Burnout is accelerated when there is no living contact because time in God’s presence is the number one vital need for the believer. How long can we live without oxygen? We won’t live long without God’s breath in our lives as well; (4) Reject any influence to be anything you are not. Throughout history, God has used all types of personalities to do great exploits in His name. Focus on walking in love, compassion, integrity, and authenticity. As one theologian has said, “preaching is truth through personality.” Work on the weaknesses of your personality but allow the Lord to use the unique person that you have become; and (5) Remember that you are not the savior and you are not to take responsibility or ownership for the poor choices of people or the pain they experience in life. We are called to bind up the wounds and help heal hurting hearts but we cannot if we become codependent in the relationship or the enabler.

Pay Per Poo

I think one of the most difficult businesses to run even in a good economy would be an airline. There are just too many variables that affect the profitability and stability of the company. The overhead costs for equipment and maintenance for the fleet must be unbelievable (in fact international delivery carriers like UPS and FedEx have already liquidated fleets opting to place our precious packages in the cargo bays of commercial jetliners instead). The insurance payments would have to be sky high. Labor issues, as have plagued the airlines for years, would be very challenging to manage. The threat of terrorism, especially in light of 911 and the folding of Pan Am after a terrorist bomb took down one of its planes over Scotland, is always a factor as long as nuts are putting bomb materials in their underwear. The biggest variable is often the cost of aviation fuel. The speculation on the markets and the residual swinging of jet fuel prices would make the average CEO want to pull his or her hair out. As a whole, I have great respect for those individuals who have the skill and experience to handle such a daunting task.

In recent years airlines have sought all manner of ways to reduce costs and increase profits. On board meals have been replaced with nuts and if you’re truly blessed, crackers. Customers are charged for a pair of cheap earphones for flights featuring in flight entertainment. Airlines now charge for every minor upgrade or change to tickets even though in most cases the changes are lateral and produce no cost to the airline. They charge a fee for bags over a certain weight. Some charge for each checked bag period (except Southwest Airlines who has a field day with their marketing announcing on our airline, “Bags fly free”). Despite my overall appreciation for airline executives, I think they might need to rethink the direction of their efforts to reduce costs during this challenging time.

The latest idea being floated from the tired minds of a few airline managers is to charge customers to use the bathroom facilities in flight. I think it’s possible that someone tapped into the tiny liquor bottles served on flights when they came up with this one. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Southwest Airlines will not only reject this idiotic idea, they will roll out a new series of commercials to lampoon airlines that implement it. I can see their advertising banner now, “Poo Flies Free.” They might even suggest that customers use their “PooPal” account to purchase the tickets.

What can we learn from this idea? When leaders (secular or spiritual) become tired, burned out, discouraged, or come under great pressure, often dumb ideas are the result. Decisions then become reactionary rather than carefully thought through to discern any unintended but negative consequences (like if a customer stops flying on your airline you won’t have to worry about charging them to use the toilet). Let’s learn to pause, pray, reflect, wait on the Lord, and receive God’s wisdom in due season for our challenging situation. As the Psalmist said, “Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). I have observed many “pay per poo” ideas through the years in ministry (including some of my own) and I can tell you that they are usually the result of rushing under pressure to fix something only to cause more problems in the long run. Spiritual leaders (and airline executives alike) need to be quick to identify and flush those reactionary ideas and look to the Lord for that “God idea.”

Raising Up Roadkill

Leadership development has been an interest and passion of mine for some time. I’ve always felt that the Lord has placed in me the ability to see the potential in his people to accomplish great things for his purpose and for his name. Nothing thrills me more than to personally see the Lord identity, develop, raise up, and then use a new leader in the Kingdom of God.

I can also say that in the past I have been very aggressive and at times presumptuous with my potential leaders. I have always assumed that with a little tweaking anyone can become a great leader. In the teaching series, The Eagle Life, I compare and contrast the majestic eagle, the turkey, and the roadkill (like you may have seen on the side of the road recently). The goal is to teach believers to soar victoriously in their service for the Lord. The turkey, which can run and fly for short bursts, is a vast improvement over roadkill but is still in development for eagle status. The “roadkill” defined as “the body of an animal killed on a road by a motor vehicle” or for our purposes, “one that has failed or been defeated and is no longer worthy of consideration,” has so much more to overcome to reach their God-given potential. Ever the optimist I genuinely believe that the Lord can take a case of roadkill and raise them up for fruitful and effective service for the Lord.

My presumption stems from my many attempts to raise roadkill up from the side of the road of life and breath life into them through the Word of God, spiritual life from the church community, and personal investment through mentoring and coaching to become effective and productive leaders. More often than not, the roadkill does not work out. A friend of mine says that’s because I start out with roadkill. Although he admires my spunk he recently made the observation that many of his own leadership development projects were successful because he started out with eagle eggs (cheater).

Through the years, I have noticed some common traits that indicate whether a budding leader (eagle egg, turkey, or roadkill) will in fact be successful in the leadership development process. Today when I consider raising up a leader I look for all four of the following factors:

The Potential Factor

Potential refers to someone or something that is considered a worthwhile possibility. Potential means that there are discernible skill sets and abilities that could be effectively developed over time or transferred from life experiences. While some leaders have a hard time seeing the potential in others, I have become so proficient that it feels like a special gift placed in my life. Despite a person’s best intentions, certain types of ministry and leadership are not for everyone (just like some of us should not pick up the guitar). Discovering raw potential that indicates future competency in an individual is the first step in the leadership development process. We do more harm than good when we try to push individuals to lead when they do not have the potential or ability to do so. We are, in fact, setting them up for failure and ourselves up for frustration.

The Character Factor

It is often said that character is what you are in the dark or when no one else is looking. Character is that internal moral compass consisting of values that guide our decisions and our actions. If after claiming to be a Christian an individual has repeated character issues such as dishonesty, strife, compromise, immorality, quitting, etc. it is clear that this individual will not make the cut for Kingdom leadership. Character is directly associated with our spiritual formation and as such cannot be just learned like a skill or task. Character is the sum total of who are and what we have developed into after many years of walking with the Lord. No amount of potential can make up for a lack of character in the life of the leader. No one cares about your business skills if you are secretly ripping your constituents off. No one cares about your political prowess if you step out on your wife. No one cares how well you swing the golf club if you have no self-control. No one cares how well you preach a sermon if your daily life contradicts the message.

The Teachability Factor

Teachability refers to the willingness and openness of an individual to receive correction and even rebuke from time to time as they are being groomed and developed for leadership. It doesn’t take long to find out if a person is teachable. If an individual is quick to take offense and emotionally withdraws during their developmental process it’s a good sign that they are not ready to lead others. In the story of the Centurion’s sick servant, Jesus marvels at the understanding the Roman soldier had about authority. When Jesus said he would come and heal the servant the Centurion countered, “just say the word and my servant will be healed.” He explained that he was a man under authority and consequently had the authority to tell one to go or come. He understood what many budding leaders do not get – you cannot walk in authority if you cannot cooperate with authority in your own life. In other words, the authority we have is derived from a higher authority. The inability to be corrected or to pout when corrected disqualifies an individual from promotion in the Kingdom of God. Leadership development requires strong mentoring and coaching and at times those coaches will come down pretty hard simply because of the potential they see in the individual. I found this out while swimming for an ex-marine nicknamed “Bones” by the swim team. I never understood why he seemingly “picked on me” when we had so many slackers in the pool goofing off while I was working hard. One day he finally told me why. He said that all the slackers did not have the potential that I had and with greater potential comes greater accountability and a higher standard. In the end, no matter how much potential or character and individual has, if they can’t be corrected, they will never make it in leadership.

The Interpersonal Skills Factor

Interpersonal skills refer to the ability to relate to people as a leader and the ability to get along with folks in general. For many years I did not have this on my list of key requirements for future leaders. I have since discovered that even with potential, character, and teachability, if we can’t (or won’t) get along with people we’ll never make it in Christian leadership (or any leadership environment for that matter). I have witnessed many leadership washouts through the years because of various dysfunctions that go hand in hand with poor interpersonal skills such as the inability or refusal to listen, the tendency to react inappropriately to situations, the adoption of a paranoid or victim mentality, the propensity for speaking out of turn, the tendency to hold grudges, etc. Certainly there are folks that are just plain hard to get along with, but as John Maxwell has described in his The Law of Conflict Factor, if Bill and Sue have a problem, and Bill and Bob have a problem, and Bill and Jane have a problem, and Bill and Sam have a problem, then Bill is quite likely the problem. Because Christian leadership and ministry involves people obviously we must be able to get along with people if we are to be successful.

Maintenance Mode

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58, KJV).

Which of the following best describes where you are as a believer these days? (1) I am living with a high sense of momentum, or (2) I have fallen into “maintenance mode.”

In the world of software development programmers use the term maintenance mode to refer to that time which a program is considered to be complete and further development is unnecessary.   There have been times I’ve found myself at this point, not because I consider myself complete, but because I’ve lost my energy, passion or vision.  While maintenance mode is a good thing for a computer program, it’s a dangerous thing for a leader or an organization.

When a believer hits maintenance mode he suffers from boredom, feels unchallenged, let’s opportunities pass him by, settles for good enough, speaks less frequently about the vision, no longer carries a passionate energy and worst of all he stops looking for God sized things to happen. If you stay there to long it has a negative impact on your organization.  Here are five common dangers when a believer gets stuck in maintenance mode

  • It breeds a spirit of complacency among other believers
  • It causes the organization to miss prime opportunities
  • It kills creativity and innovation
  • It causes others to settle for mediocrity
  • It reduces fresh movements from the hand of God
  • It brings growth to a halt

Questions to help you understand how you got where you are:

Is it a spiritual issue?

You may be stuck because you’re simply not hearing anything new from God.  He led you to the place you are currently serving and when you first arrived you had vision, momentum and inspiration.  What do you need to do to get a fresh word from God again?

Is it a physical issue?

If you’re tired, stressed and unable to sleep then your maintenance mode problem may be from a lack of eating right and exercise.  It’s difficult to build organizational momentum when you don’t have the physical energy to move things forward.  A lifestyle change rather than a diet is the best solution.

Is it a mental issue?

I was talking with a friend recently who told me, “I’ve gotten lazy mentally, I’m no longer on the cutting edge, I’m not reading, watching others, or learning.”  Mental laziness can lead to a lack of creativity and innovation.  Practice exposing your mind to something stimulating every week to keep your thinking sharp.

Is it an emotional issue?

Sometimes as believers we run so hard and fast that we get emotionally drained and it’s all we can do to maintain our baseline responsibilities.   Practice the weekly discipline of taking a day off.  This time of rest and recovery will keep you emotionally filled and fuel your creative energies.

Is it a relational issue?

There are times we allow others to drag us into maintenance mode.  Make sure you have people around you that challenge you, stretch your thinking and dream about future possibilities with you.  And on the flip side make sure you’re not spending too much time with people that drain you.

Adapted from a post by Mac Lake, Seacoast Church, 2010

True North

iStock_000001147480XSmallI recently ran across one of the best books on leadership I’ve seen in a while – Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis by Bill George. The book points out the real reason so many leaders in the corporate and financial world failed to effectively lead before and during the recent crisis. He submits that leaders fail when they do not follow their “True North” or the internal compass of their beliefs, values, and principles in the midst of the crisis when the pressure is on.

When a business executive lies to his shareholders and the SEC about corporate profits instead of sharing the reality he has left his true north. When a politician leads by opinion poll rather than by conviction he has abandoned his true north. When a teacher seduces the student instead of maintaining proper boundaries he has forgotten his true north. When a ministry leader tries to win the whole world to Jesus and loses his family he has lost his true north.

No one likes a crisis and we do not enjoy the pressure life sometimes brings in the marriage, family, workplace, or ministry, but as an English proverb says, “A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.” In other words, the training ground for leading in a crisis is the crisis itself. George points out that the Chinese character for “crisis” is made from the symbols of two words, danger and opportunity. Yes there is danger in the midst of the crisis but there is also an unprecedented opportunity to turn the situation around and make the adjustments that can take us to the next level. I hope you will find the following lessons for leading in crisis as practical and encouraging as I do:

1.  Face reality starting with yourself (acknowledge your role in the crisis so you can move on to help solve it).

2.  Don’t be Atlas but get the world off your shoulders (you cant’ go through it alone so reach out and let others share the burden and this will build chemistry and bonds in your team).

3.  Dig deep for the root cause (there are no quick fixes and quick fixes only mask the real problem – to fix the problem we must first understand the root cause and then implement permanent solutions).

4.  Get ready for the long haul (this is probably just the tip of the iceberg so be prepared mentally for a drawn out process).

5.  Never waste a good crisis (the crisis is a wonderful opportunity to make some major strategic changes).

6.  You are in the spotlight so make sure you follow your true north (everyone is watching what you do to see if you will focus on your values or succumb to the pressure to look good or accomplish your goals at any cost).

7.  Go on the offense (focus on winning now rather than on whining, complaining, licking your wounds or blaming others).

There’s something on you and it’s the blessing – you are destined to win so don’t give up in the middle of the crisis!

“If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength” (Proverbs 24:10, NIV).