Leadership: Image vs. Integrity

The real test of any leader is in their private life. Image is what people think we are; integrity is what we really are! Leaders need to be people of integrity—honest, genuine, consistent, and transparent. In particular, spiritual leaders need to have strong spiritual disciplines in the areas of Bible study, prayer, and church attendance.

Leaders need to carefully guard their time. Elton Trueblood wrote:

A public man, though he is necessarily available at many times, must learn to hide. If he is always available, he is not worth enough when he is available.

Gordon MacDonald asked one of the most profound questions a leader must face, “Are we going to order our inner worlds so that they will create influence on the outer world? Or will we neglect our private worlds and thus permit the outer sphere to shape us?” This is the choice we have to make every day of our lives. That’s what Paul seemed to say in Romans 12:2.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this [outer] world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2 (NIV)

“Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” Romans 12:2 (Phillips)

If the real test of a spiritual leader is their private life, then how are you doing? Are you holding down a passing grade? If not, ask God to help you make improvement.

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5 Promises of a Godly Leader?

I love to please people!  All my life, I have wanted people to like me, affirm me, and generally think that I’m wonderful.  As I have matured as a leader and as a pastor, I’ve discovered that I have to sometimes set those desires aside and do the right thing regardless of what other’s think.  My goal MUST NOT be to simply “please people” — my goal must be to help people and please God.  Sometimes I have to set boundaries and tell people “no” in order to help them.  Other times I have to model a new approach and lead people to walk in a more effective, efficient manner.

Everyone seems to have their idea of what their pastor should do and how he should use his time.  Hardly a week goes by, that someone does not pull them aside and share with them their opinion of what their life’s assignment should be.  Most of the time, the assignment is fair and reasonable, but it almost always matches their own personal preferences and desires instead of the desires of the Lord or their pastor.  As the senior pastor, he MUST consider the big picture and keep the entire church body in mind as he leads.  If he simply jumps from personal assignment to personal assignment, he will not lead with vision and God-given direction.

Here are the 5 promises I made to a church during my first sermon as their senior pastor:

  1. I promise to love God.  In order to fulfill this promise, I must be disciplined in my private time with the Lord.  The man who never spends time with God in private is no good in public.
  2. I promise to love my family.  I love to work hard and I love being a pastor (most the time).  Because of this, I have to guard against neglecting my family.  I have asked other staff members to tell me if they see this in my life and I have pledged to tell them if I see it in their lives.
  3. I promise to love you.  I love our church and all our people.  I look forward to serving our Lord together for many years to come.  Keep in mind that all of our pastors love God and love our people as well.
  4. I promise to love the unchurched.  I want to see people come to Christ.  I need to spend more time around lost people.  I need to get out of the office more and into the community.
  5. I promise to preach the Bible.  I have tried my best to focus on God’s Word in my sermons and in my teaching.  It takes time to prepare true, Biblical sermons, but it is worth all the hard work and extra effort.  Currently, I set aside Tuesday and Wednesday as my main study days.  Occasionally, I will schedule an appointment or meeting on those days, but I try to devote those days to preparation for preaching and teaching the Bible.

I also went on to say the following to them:

As we move forward, I pledge to always be open to suggestions and ideas.  My default of wanting to please people will always be there, I’m sure.  But, I promise when I’m faced with the choice of “simply pleasing someone” or “providing Godly leadership,” I will strive to choose providing Godly leadership every time.

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4 Steps to Forgiving Those I Hate

How can we forgive people we hate? How can we show grace to those we can’t stomach? The honest truth is that we can’t! In our own strength, we are unable to forgive those who have hurt us deeply, but with God’s help it is possible.

4 Steps to Forgiving Those I Hate

1. Turn our hurts over to God. We should remind ourselves that nothing happens that God does not allow. As a result we should acknowledge our hurts and ask God to help us with them. He may choose to teach us through them and shape us into the person He wants us to be. God never wastes a hurt!

God never wastes a hurt!

2. Ask God to transform our hate to love. In time, God will change our hearts to match His heart if we allow Him to do so. We should pray and ask God to start the process of healing and forgiveness in our hearts.

3. Read what God’s Word says about forgiveness. The Bible is replete with verses on this topic. Reading what God says is a major part of how He moves us towards a heart of forgiveness. Here are a couple of passages on the topic:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV) 

“He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'”  Luke 11:2-4 (NIV) 

4. Remember that we sinned against God. God forgave us when we didn’t deserve it, so we should forgive others when they don’t deserve it. We are never more like God than when we grant forgiveness to undeserving people.

Don’t spend the rest of your life without rest in your life!

If you’re struggling with hard feelings toward someone . . . if you’re mad, hurt, bitter, or all the above rolled into one, then let it go! Forgive! Do it for their sake! Do it for your sake! Do it for the Lord! Don’t spend the rest of your life without rest in your life. Unforgiveness can slow down or even sidetrack your spiritual growth.

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5 Pieces of Advice for Pastors

A couple of weeks ago one of the members of my team asked the question, “If you could offer advice to a pastor and his family, what 5 things would you offer?” I quickly sent him the following list based on 30 years of ministry:

5 Pieces of Advice for Pastors

1.  Love God. Regardless of what or how much you do as a pastor, nothing will substitute for loving God. According to Jesus, this is the highest commandment on which all the other commandments stand (Matthew 22:37). Just like in marriage, loving God requires discipline and focus. Practicing spiritual disciplines like Bible intake and prayer help to fan the flame in our relationship with God. We will have ups and downs along the way, but we should work hard to keep our relationship with the Lord fresh and strong.

2.  Love your family. God created the family before He created the church. Pastors often neglect their family in order to serve the church, but that does not please the Lord. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. It’s challenging at times to have the proper balance in this area, but it’s vital that we do. In all honesty, our church assignments will change from time to time, but our family remains the same.

3.  Love your people. No, they’re not perfect. Yes, they will disappoint you. Yes, you will disappoint them! But, make your mind up to love the people that the Lord calls you to serve. Pray that you will love them like Jesus. Love those who agree with you and those who don’t. Love those you enjoy being around and those you do not like. God will bless a pastor who loves His church–the church He calls you to pastor.

4.  Love the Bible. Many of us say we have a “high view of Scripture,” but we do not give the Scriptures a high priority in our lives. We don’t read the Bible regularly and we don’t preach the Bible accurately. We should make this one of the marks of our ministry. When people look back on my ministry, I want them to say “he always preached God’s Word with passion and accuracy! He was committed to the Word of God!”

5.  Love yourself. I’m not suggesting that we become weak in the knees when we look at ourselves in the mirror. I’m simply suggesting that we take care of ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Not only should we practice spiritual disciplines, we should practice physical and emotional disciplines as well. We should eat right, exercise, sleep, rest, recharge, etc. It’s so easy to neglect this area of life, but we will not be fully effective in the other areas if we do. Truthfully, we may inadvertently shorten our life as a result which also shortens the years we have to serve the Lord here on this earth! That would be a tragedy because it would mean that we were bad stewards of the life God gave us.

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4 Ways to Help Busy Families

God created the family before He created the church.  Because of this, the church should be especially sensitive to the challenges and pressures families face today.  Here are a few ways the church can provide much-needed help to families.

1. Decrease the scheduling demands.  Many churches expect people to be at the church every night of the week, but this just isn’t possible or healthy for the family.  Churches should streamline Sunday activities to free up time for family outings.

2. Provide opportunities for families to serve together through the church. Family-oriented mission projects and service teams are great ways to allow families to serve together.

3. Provide opportunities for families to fellowship together. Family picnics, church fellowships, pizza parties, father/child outings, and mother/child outings are just a few ways to bring the family together.  When planning for the family, the church should be aware that many do not have “traditional” families. In response, churches should provide opportunities for single-parent and blended families as well.

4. Supplement costs. Often larger families cannot afford to send more than one child to camp or on a special trip. Providing scholarships or fund-raising opportunities for these families will meet an important need.

In some ways, the church becomes an extended family.  The Bible teaches that the bond between God’s children in this extended family should be strong, authentic, and transparent. Let’s do all that we can to strengthen the family in the home and in the church!

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3 Keys to Following God

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Gospel of Mark. I like his “just the facts” approach to the Gospel story. I had a little laugh recently while reading the following passage:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  Mark 1:35-38 (NIV)

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Jesus left as soon as the crowds began to gather? Typically, most leaders are hoping to draw a big crowd, but Jesus did something quite unusual at that point. When His ratings spiked–He took a hike! When the numbers were high–he said goodbye. When the crowds grew–he bid them adieu.

Doesn’t that strike you as being unusual? Why did Jesus do that? What can we learn from this story? Here are three keys to following God as a true believer.

3 Keys to Following God

1. God’s plan is rarely like our plan. He knows best, so we should trust Him and follow Him. He often leads us to do the unexpected…..the unpredictable…..the unthinkable!

2. We should never allow others to shape us by their expectations. I am a people-pleaser and the opinions of others matter greatly to me. But, I know that I should seek to live for an audience of one. Although we want to be good examples to those around us, ultimately, we should simply try to please God.

3. We should never exchange good for God. Some things are good to do, but they are not the things God has led us to do–they are good, but they are not God. The challenge is to live in such a way that we can discern the difference.

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5 Reasons to Seek Help with Conflict

In their book Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care, Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling discuss some of the reasons that it may be wise to involve others during a church conflict. We should never be ashamed to ask for help from an outside person or a third party.

5 Reasons to Seek Help with Conflict

1. We have blind spots. We all have blind spots during conflict, but others can frequently see what we cannot see because they are not emotionally invested. The outside person can hear several perspectives and are not committed towards one perspective being right.

2. We forget the truth. When our hearts are weighed down with crushing burdens, it can be hard to remember the truth of the situation and to focus on the things that are lovely, excellent, admirable, or praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8).

3. Our fear is powerful. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions that we face. When we’re afraid that we may be losing control of a situation or about to lose something of great value to us, our judgment can become skewed.

4. Our tempers can be held in-check. The presence of an impartial third party can help hold tempers under control and help conflicted people agree on fundamental rules of fairness.

5. We need encouragement. A neutral third party can encourage us when all seems hopeless and lost. He or she can remind us of the sure foundation and hope that we have in Christ.

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