Making Decisions as a Leader

Decision making is far more than listing down the Pros and Cons. It involves more than thinking through the options and seeking godly counsel. It is more far reaching than being able to meet a dateline and therefore moving on to the next thing.

As a leader, decision making is a discipline, a process, and an exercise in personal growth, leadership responsibility and corporate accountability.

The leader’s decisions, after all, impacts many other lives.

Yes, it is a fearful prospect and many of us are paralysed into quasi-decision making; where we tilt towards a certain direction and then let the circumstances play themselves out.

But in fact Scripture gives us many models of decision making and the impact of the leader’s decisions.

(I) decision pertaining to personal calling

Abraham had to make decisions in response to God’s clear leading and his decisions affected his family directly. Sarah was put into a position of great risk because Abraham wanted to save his own skin. This choice reflected a lack of thorough commitment to the covenant God made that the promised heir will come through Sarah.

(I I) decisions pertaining to the formation of a nation

Joshua had to make many hard decisions in order to secure the perimeter of the Promised Land. Each battle required him to be sure it was sanctioned by God and that the people would be assured of victory.

(III) decisions pertaining to specific instructions

Jonah was told to go to the Ninevites. It wasn’t something within his comfort zone at all and he made the decision to avoid obeying the instruction. His decision led to an innocent group suffering a stormy gale and losing precious cargo.

 

While these stories highlight for us the humanity we all share; it is important that as leaders we do not gloss over the repercussions of decisions poorly made.

Of course, precisely because our decisions impact others; we want to be careful. But how can we proceed without letting caution overtake faith?

St Ignatius of Loyola probably developed the most demanding grid and process for decision-making. The word used is ‘discernment’. In fact, this is a far better word for spiritual leaders.

Decision-making posits agency upon us; discernment changes the tone: we are seeking to see God’s hand and sense God’s work – and flow with it.

Ignatius’s elaborate and methodical ways of developing discernment especially for one’s sense of vocation is something we need to recover today.

But for now, I want us to consider 3 aspects that we need to include as we discern and decide.

Being aware of these aspects will help us to recognise that our perception, judgement and therefore decisions are often coloured and therefore the need to exercise due care so that we can arrive at better (not perfect) decisions as leaders.

A) Being aware of how we learn and process (epistemology)
Here I am not speaking of whether we are visual learners or audio ones. That is a helpful thing to know too; but I am rather thinking of knowing our own bent. Some of us take a long time to include new and contrary information, yet many times; these kinds of information is needful for a good, sound discernment. After all, the Lord puts diversity in the body to give it strength. Others of us have not developed the habit and discipline of thinking issues through to their theological and teleological conclusions. This accounts for why we follow fads and lose steam with sticking with our once zealous convictions.
Making sound, solid, thorough decisions after sensing what the issues, implications and motivations are take time. This leads us to the next aspect.

Good discernment and decision-making takes into account how the leader learns; and he/she should be learning more about him/herself, theology, the world, and ministry with each decision.

B) Being aware of our own spiritual hang ups and strengths (spirituality)
It is well known that our strengths are often our weaknesses too. Good, responsible leaders keep this in view and find a way to have themselves checked so that they are not leaning too much into something that boosts their ego, promotes their safety or reinforces their position. Very few of us are so surrendered and set free as to harbour no selfish ambition.

The famous Johari’s window reminds us that we all have blind spots – areas that others can see but we are not fully aware of. Good leaders seek out the insights and care of others to minimise this, because they know their decisions impact other lives – sometimes very severely.

Leaders need to be aware of what they tend to lean into and sometimes intentionally go against the natural bent so that the decisions are made more from faith than fear.

C) Being appreciative of the community (ecclesiology)
It is a sorry development that we have chosen to place the full burden of decision-making on the leader. This reminds us of the story of the early Israelites in Exodus, who chose to stay at a distance and let Moses deal with God on their behalf. With the giving of the Holy Spirit to each believer and follower; the community now plays an important part in our lives and choices. There is wisdom, support, caution, intelligence, and resources that God would provide. This is such a strong theological sticking point for John Calvin that he moved the church away from an ecclesiastical structure of the episcopacy to the presbytery. (We can debate this another time). But suffice to say, the New Testament insistently situated the individual in community; and the leader is no exception.

Leaders must learn how to leverage upon community maturity, dynamics and season for decision making. A great decision becomes a poor one when the community isn’t ready for it – the most common lesson we learn in change management.

In the end, our decisions are like points on a Long trajectory. We need to hold to the tension of their importance and take a longer view of how they will play out with time.

When we aren’t feeling proud about church because…

What do you reply when someone asks, “How is church?”.

I recently asked this of two persons from the same church. “It’s…okay..”, came the response. It isn’t an easy question to answer is it? We don’t want to sound cliché; and in truth, most of us have some concerns or issues with our local churches.

 

“No church is perfect” – we get it, sort of. But in truth, our hearts are not at peace about it.

Rightly, we don’t usually go around digging for dirt (although some seem to have been gifted for doing just so). It is more an unspoken understanding we have that our brothers and sisters have quirks and we learn to let live.

When elder Jim walks up to the stand and we all know we will be singing some of his favourite Hillsong-chart choruses; we clap along and belt it out. We get used to someone’s sense of humour, ministry zeal and even pet theology.

 

But sometimes these imperfections become more serious. Somewhere along the line, a difference of opinion, work-style, personality and even theological emphasis can become a serious fault line; and people make the difficult, often heart-aching decision to depart from the community.

Pastors may be asked to leave – at which point, the church that was family can feel like an employer who wants a better candidate. (The specific pains of pastors in another article).

 

I have seen enough of it:

The couple who leaves because those around them suggest that they may not be compatible.

The once zealous lay leader who suddenly quits his role and packs his family off.

The local church hauled to state courts by members or the state.

The departure of senior leaders, a change of Board and elders seemingly overnight.

 

The thing is – these are eruptions. The magma is already burning under the surface.

And it is hard, when these eruptions occur – for people get hurt and friendships get tested and sometimes even severed. Great teams can become broken, working systems screech to a halt, roles are replaced, discontinued or juggled among those who remain. There is pain, frustration, disappointment and a sense of lostness. It feels like a train that was chugging along merrily had suddenly hit a split track it did not see coming.

 

The big question we want to know is: how can God be okay with all of these?

Twenty years ago while I was in theological college preparing to become a missionary, two things happened and this question hit me with a force.  I had been raised on a somewhat simplistic notion that the Protestant reformation improved things and set the record straight regarding salvation through faith. (It’s always got to know one is on the right side of things); but studying Church History brought me face to face with the abject darkness, corruption and deception that lurked within the highest ranks of the church. I understood leaders can have lay feet; but to have the world plunged into darkness for hundreds of years seem unreasonable and felt horrible. A loving God? That same period, Schindler’s List the movie about this selfish man who transcended himself through saving hundreds of Jews during the evil madness of Hitler’s Third Reich hit the big screen.

For a whole week after that, I lost my appetite, and could not take my mind off the question: how can God be okay with all this? Why does He allow His church to sink so low? How can he let his people get so trampled upon? Where is truth, righteousness and justice?

I banged on the doors of heaven demanding an answer.  “God, I am about to give my life to whatever it is You are all about; and this just doesn’t make sense. This scares me! Can I trust you?”

 

Other faiths answer this question:

it’s what they deserve [karma] It’s what is ordained [sovereignty]

 

But my God refuses to give me a straight forward answer.

And I am still finding out today that this is because what we see and experience is like refracted bits of a shattered mirror. The image is distorted, the light bounces off at strange angles and funny tangents emerge.

 

As I ask the question, I find myself journeying deeper into the events and — finding myself right there. I am that bishop who may sell the indulgence to help poor uneducated and desperate souls find the assurance of salvation. I am the warrior who may have left home and hearth to charge into battle to claim a land I believe belongs rightly to my God and my people. I am too that frightened Jewish girl who wonders why my world has suddenly lost all sunshine and everywhere I turn, there is nothing but terror; and my heart and body begins to lose the will to live. I am that soldier who numbly shoves a fellow human being with my rifle butt so that they fill out a gas chamber faster.

 

Underneath all of these specific behaviours is fear, pride, sin. And I am not above any of it.

I felt such a pang of conviction as the Cross of Christ shows me that it is precisely that the church is so imperfect that Grace is real, hope is powerful, and love is eternal.

I felt such a desperate need for God because I realised that without His salvation, the restraint of angels and the Holy Spirit, chaos will truly reign on earth.

I felt that God is far wider, deeper and more mysterious than ever before and I am hushed and wary of saying things that show nothing but my prideful presumption.

churches-of-asia-1-3-s-307x512

Makiki-church

143595_the_catholic_church_in_dali_0

 

When things go awry in church, we want to jump quickly to a place of assurance. We may push ourselves harder, play a little blame game or two. We may turn to prophets and spiritual luminaries to ‘fix things’. All the while, in our hearts, we refuse to see everything for what it truly is: fallible beings making a mess.

We proclaim loudly that “God is in control”, keep our chins up and go on business as usual. We even try to justify it as inevitable: personality differences, stylistic differences, new seasons…

 

But the heart of any matter is always a matter of the heart.

 

What I have also seen is God’s patient Grace that lets his children mess up, skin their knees, hurt each other – and learn, forgive, reconcile.

 

In every imperfect situation, there is much to unlearn and learn.

Chances are, there is also much to repent of, because we hate to lose and lose out and are wont to resort to thoughts and deeds to defend and entrench our positions.

forgodisk

 

It is time to slow down, ask ourselves some hard questions, seek help. If we truly wait and are open to growth, God may show us new ways to pray, think, and so do things differently. Hopefully, it will be a maturing towards a form of godliness with power (2 Timothy  3v5).

 

 

 

 

 

Where do pastors go to retire, if they should/could?

I am reaching my personal jubilee and have started thinking about things which I never did; such as retirement.

In the current ever-new world with a possible economic shift, where do pastors go to retire?

Actually, I don’t believe in retirement. The reason is simple: work is a gift and a mandate given by God. It is part of our imago Dei, it gives dignity to our humanity. But of course, as we grow older; we just may not be able to do the same work we have been doing – because of energy levels, failing health, changing circumstances {such as people preferring ‘online’ church?*}

What skills do pastors have to re-invent themselves in order to still be ’employable’? Professionals who have funds can set up private practices and become consultants and coaches. Those who are entrepreneurial may find it all about a fresh learning curve to move onto a new industry. Others may be able to move onto teaching in colleges or a more niche role in a parachurch organization or NGO.

The thing is, most pastors are generalists; and often many do not have extensive training or a wide berth of qualifications and training.

Rare is the instance where a pastor grows old with his congregation and have the immense privilege of passing the baton on to a younger minister or a son with a smooth and successful transition.

Let’s face it. The organizational, human resource perspective holds sway in many churches; and pastors are mostly ’employees’, hopefully, loved and respected ones.

Some church systems have retirement schemes, and they are busy redefining it to catch up with longer life spans and the lack of pastors. Many others have no such protocol in place. Yet some systems have a voting scheme where pastors have to step down if they are not re-elected.

Clearly pastors are not immune to employment threats.

But that’s not commonly thought about. In fact, the reverse is true. During the Asian financial crisis, my skeptical brother had said to me, “You are lucky as a pastor! People will always need spiritual services!” After the initial offense, I thought about what he said.

Are pastors always needed?

Will they always be paid for their ‘services’?

Not only does it betray how we are viewed; it is also important for us to be aware of what Pastor John Piper wrote about, “Brothers, we are not professionals” – the very real danger described by Paul as peddling the gospel {1 Cor 9v18-23} — where we change gears when it no longer pays us the due we feel we deserve.

Pastor, you have to work out your conviction about your work. If you subscribe to the commonplace view that work is drudgery and retirement is the end of the long trudge through the sludge of necessary toil; then retirement becomes a real allurement. Pastoral work, arguably one of the toughest jobs on earth, can be a real slog and it’s understandable that we sigh TGIM when Mondays roll around.

pastors-office-corridor-projecting-sign-se-6542

About eight years ago I stepped away from a pastoral position I enjoyed immensely due to a set of circumstances I could not manage. The loss was very palpable. I remember sitting at my desk at home, staring at my computer screen, and asking God, ‘what now?”. I no longer had my salary. No one would call me ‘pastor’ I thought. I missed my church community and interceded with anguish at the valleys they would have to endure. I wondered about my calling and my identity.

In those days of prayer and thought, I received an insight I did not get from my training or my busy work-life. I received a fresh affirmation from God. He had called me to himself and to the work of a pastor. He alone affirms and qualifies me. Not only that, our vocation – our response to His Voce (Latin for voice) – is the obedience that opens the way for Him to work mysteriously in us to mould us into the being we truly are. In that sense, a pastor is not what I do, but who I am.

I recognized then that I would always be a pastor whether I had a title, office or a pay packet. I would be a pastor wherever I go. I checked my new insight with respected theologians and church leaders. They resonated with it. This gave me immense freedom to explore where God may be opening doors and the ways He joins the dots of my life for me.

So pastor friend, if God has called you to Himself and his work of feeding the flock; don’t stop doing it – even if you find yourself ‘unemployed’, ‘retired’, ‘not re-elected’. Be faithful. Be yourself, work hard and raise your family.

This reminds me of a friend who stepped down as a pastor several years back to do what he loves with more freedom. It turns out what he loves to do is encourage people; and he does it so well! He pastors total strangers, leaders and those in need with his amazing gift of encouragement; strengthening hearts and faith. He did not necessarily need to do it with the pulpit and all the attendant aspects of a pastor’s work.

As we grow in ministry experience; it is important to become comfortable with what we are good at and enjoy. What gives us life will spill life onto others. You may need to ‘re-invent’ or ‘retire’ – and that may be the best thing to happen to you.

*this is a whole different topic for another time: the online church.

Community: what comes to mind?

by Jenni

You may be an introvert, and extrovert or a bit of both.

You may have grown up in a large rowdy family or a small quiet one.

You may have walked into church one day all by yourself or was ushered in by a friend or more.

 

I remember the ah-ha moment of relish. It was as if the scales from my eyes fell — and I saw it. It was beautiful, beckoning, bountiful. Community.

One day, just like that, a gladness welled up within me. I had a family beyond the one I was physically born into. There was another place, other people, who welcomed me. More than that, they seemed to need me. They asked me to help lead songs, to tell stories, to join this committee and the next. It was great. My gifts started to emerge. I had followers. As a young adult, the scope of this community widened further as I moved further up the church-leadership rung and my influence (or at least presence) widened. I traveled on short-term mission trips, I saw how total strangers welcome and hosted each other because of Jesus. It was very wonderful.

Truly the church is an amazing thing, only possible because of God.

I have had friends from other religious commitments who are utterly lonely as they go through religious motions. I have been in interest groups, study groups, cause-related groups…and they all fizzle out. But church — hey, we stick around!

But as iron sharpens iron, sparks begin to fly.

chinese boats

 

It is part of growing up to be an individual. You need space as you develop convictions. You need space as you figure out priorities. You need space to explore your spiritual inclinations.

And this is where church often starts to crumble formany of us.

The people we grew up with playing games, laughing ourselves silly, eating way too much together — start to move apart – sometimes with great pain. We disagree, we hurt each other, we hinder one another at times.

All community, all relationships must negotiate itself through the seasons.

There’s this popular four stage description: form, storm, norm, perform (Tuckman). But few of us persist beyond the storm. It’s not for want for trying. All good men and women I know regret the losses and try very hard. Perhaps, it’s because w
e don’t know what we are trying to get at, what to work towards… In fact, most of the times, we are trying to bring back the ‘good ol’ days’ which in some cases, was mostly nom-ing {eating}! That won’t do.

What is the Bible’s picture of community? Pastor Bill Hybels used to call it a biblically functioning group/community.

trail starts here

I share here some less common notions of what Scripture calls us to build:

1. where there is no lack

You probably never ever heard a single sermon on this. After forty years, I have not either! But Acts and 2 Cor 8 tells us that the church community must be the go-to place for help. Brothers and sisters should not feel deprivation, hunger, cold…

What we see though is as people prosper, others often get left behind. Yes, we give to different causes. But, what about the actual person seated not far from you? It pains me to hear of members who are struggling while others discuss the latest model of car they are contemplating on buying. admittedly, i do not rush out to welcome everyone under my roof and pay for others’ bills. One has to circumspect – but i sense the Father’s pain that we do not watch out for each other more.

2. where there is love

I have lost count of the number of churches that felt like a refrigerator; people walk by one another as if they don’t see each other. No one knows more names than the same few after years.

My own quest began when a leader asked us, “who will you call at 3am if you had a need?”. I looked around and saw anxious faces everywhere. No one answered.

Seriously, will you tell anyone if you have doubts about your sexuality? if you are struggling with porn, if what you really want to sing is heavy metal?

‘Look how they love one another’ was what the first century church was described as. In a Roman world full of loose sex, there was something that was making people sit up and notice.

This what we are after. The norm. The time comes when you do not stay in a community for what you get; but for what you are meant to help build.

Have your harboured hurt and loss or handed it to God and chosen the way of forgiveness?

Can you distinguish between theological irreducible from ideological preferences?

Are you challenging yourself to grow in love and in meeting the needs of others?

chinese bridge

Yet as the New Testament honestly records, the early church was not perfect. In fact, the letters tell us clearly the things we will grapple with:

Romans – secular cultural pressures, godlessness

Corinthians – spiritual excesses

Galatians & Colossians – our tendency to return to works-righteousness and therefore become a pressure-cooker rather than a peace-carrier

Thessalonians – flawed logic arising from our sinful tendency to sloth and a life of ease

Timothy & Titus – intense leadership pressure

Ephesians – losing sight of the larger Community/Church and the spiritual power we have

 

Do we see something here?

The church is salt and light. We are a prophetic community – that says, look, imperfect as we are; within us are seeds of an incredible future!

So don’t walk away too soon.

related:

how easy to get sleepy in church

what are we thinking/feeling?!

the part-time pastor?

 

 

These 4Cs foundational to 5fold and all maturing, stable, impacting churches based on Ephesians 4

“Live a life worthy of the calling…”. Paul begins at chapter 4 of Ephesians.

Why start off with this imperative? Because actions grow out of beliefs.

Do we believe that our lives have the call of God upon them? It may be easy to say this when you are young and fiery. But after some storms and heartaches; it can be a struggle to say ‘yes I do’.  But it’s because we think of our calling mainly as Activity and Mission. Perhaps Paul had more in mind.

This idea of a life that has a calling also tells us two things: one, life for the Christian is distinct in some visible, manifest way. It also means that it is possible to live a life that is not worthy of this calling (a prospect we should perhaps spend some time on!).

What is this calling?

In fact, Paul has been disclosing this right from chapter 1. Paul peels it back layer by layer for us.  He began by the way he addressed us; most of us are uncomfortable and leave the way Paul addresses his readers as some extra-literature tit-bit because he calls us ‘saints’, and ‘the faithful’!  Wel, we certainly know better than to consider ourselves saints or faithful; the way we stumble along so often!

But it is a calling not based on who we are, but whose we are.

Paul unpacks it as he goes. It is a calling to a life that is blessed beyond what the temporal and material world can offer. It is a calling to bring praise to God’s glory. Chapter two details how it is a calling to mystery; where mortal man can now come to receive insight and understanding to God, to believe and trust in Him. It is a calling to a new way of being where reconciliation and brotherhood are normative; a calling even angels grapple to make sense of as God’s wisdom will be displayed through those who are called! It crescendos with this: we are called to experience a love that cannot be measured or fathom.

Then Paul emotes with a concern so deep, he urges his readers, us, to remember these varied and amazing dimensions of who we are — and to live in a way that is worthy of it.

For too long, chapter 4 of Ephesians has been reduced to a functional look at the 5-fold ministries (what the 5fold is really about. click to read) 

How many sermons have I heard where chapter 4 appears to begin at verse 7! No, there is much more to it. Indeed. this point in the teaching is part of something larger – it belongs with  “live a life worthy of your calling…”

As Paul adjures us to consider our lifestyle; he doesn’t leave us without a frame of reference. No, in fact he spells it out for us: there are 4 Cs to living a life that is worthy as individual Christians which result then corporately in a body that is healthy, stable and impacting.

 

Character

Paul begins by talking about our attitudes and choices which calcify over time to form our character. He describes the following character traits: completely humble and gentle, and patiently bearing with one another.

These traits do not sprout overnight; but are tilled over many years by remembering our calling. Humility is birthed from worship and gratitude. The person who recognizes that his life is a gift and his faith is a mystery will turn his heart in this direction; and in the process will deal gently with others. Humility is also borne as we recognize our darkness and sin and admit to our many limitations and our reluctance to obey easily. To recognize our common humanity is these areas will allow us to bear patiently with one another; knowing we are all work in progress.

 

Community

There is one body and one Spirit, and we are to make very effort to uphold this. Sadly, the history of the church bespeaks more division than unity. From families to boards to cities, Paul is calling us to recgonise the amazing Grace of God in each others’ lives and know that we have been called forth to belong to God together; where our identity as God’s children is the other side of the same coin that we are brothers and sisters.

 

Capacity

There is next a Grace given to each of us that helps us find our place in the body. With humility and a heart bent on seeking oneness, we can move into the spaces and specifications of role in order that the Body grows up. A common sense questions to ask then for churches which are unsure of its growth may be this: are people’s capacities recognized and encouraged?

 

Conviction

Whereas Paul began with Character, many of us begin here. We major on being ‘right’ and ‘speaking the truth in love’ to those who we deem are getting it wrong. If we look carefully at Paul’s words, the point is to become stable with a strong core of understanding that allows new ideas to be sieved and interpreted rightly. As we all have a tendency to be taken up with new ideas and trends; we must then lovingly point this out to one another; reminding each other of the core truths which we may be distracted and deviating from. Our convictions are to help us ‘grow up into him who is the Head’ which means simply that they are to shape us into Christlikeness; not give us ammunition to cut someone down to size when we believe they are wrong.

The 4Cs are personal. They are also marks therefore of a maturing, stable, impacting church because they grow out of a people who take their calling seriously.

Which of these 4Cs could the Spirit be trying to grow in the soil of your life?

If you were to describe your church against these 4Cs, where would she stand?

 

the C that enables the other Cs

the C that enables the other Cs

Jesus’ parting words and Hebrews 12: how to soldier on leader.

Leaders know about resistance, criticism, even rejection.

In a way, a leader is like a lightning rod – he/she sticks out and attracts both the praise and the electrical charges that come in a storm. There is plenty of good wisdom out there about this reality.

But what struck me as I listened to Scripture today in John 15 is how Jesus prepared his disciples for what was coming when he would no longer be physically with them.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”

As with most of what Jesus said, this probably sounded enigmatic to them. The crowds were just hailing him as he entered Jerusalem. Sure, there were the nasty religious leaders; but they are too uptight and laden with layers of professionalism and public persona to unwind enough to ‘hate’ – such an intense emotion that inevitably spills over into irrational behavior!

Then Jesus explains that he is telling them this so that “they will not go astray” (16v1). He spells out for them to expect that the usual places of safety (synagogues) may turn into places of danger… and the world can get so crazy that –

“..anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (v3).

Yes, think ISIS. But I am afraid to say, we may need to think about the murderous activity happening within our own ranks; when we put down, defame or malign another.

 

I looked back at my journey as a follower and a leader. When have I demonstrated courage? When have I shrunk back, or worse; compromised? This reflection – necessary – is not to bring shame but to shed light.

But then I thought too: when I have spoken up or stood up, was I compelled by my love for God and my brethren or was it more about me really: my sense of justice, my need to establish my understanding of what is right, my ‘right’ to speak and fight for others?

And I am gently reminded,

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” ~ Hebrews 12v3

I love, follow and serve a Master who knows opposition and endured it – for me. Dwelling on this infuses me with a supernatural strength that renews my courage and helps me persist. Reflecting on Jesus’ responses refines and hones my responses and tampers my heart with wisdom. I am to expect a struggle with sin – the sin within, the sin about me. The former I can repent and be cleansed; the latter I must stand and resist.

Then the writer of Hebrews continues:

“and you have forgotten..”

Forgetfulness costs us.

“you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons..”

This we seldom hear preached as divine encouragement: discipline.

We are still somewhat buzzing from the Mother’s day weekend. One of the best gifts for a mom or dad — when a child writes, “mom/dad, thanks for making me say sorry (do what’s tough, stay on the task, choose the right way).” When our children recognize what the discipline was and that at the heart of it is a love that wants the best.

Discipline in the form of deprivation, denial, (God says ‘no’), delay, even time-outs!

God did not come to your rescue soon enough?

God did not appear to defend you?

God seemed quite silent when you desperately need a word?

 

Today’s word lifts us up to the heavenly plane and calls us to see with our spiritual eyes: God has something better in store. Be encouraged, there is something more in you that will emerge and shine. Don’t lose heart. And if you are a lightning rod right now; bear the heat like a good soldier. Ask for true courage that will love God and His people.

And remember, you are a servant because you are a child of the Most High. Go to God with all your tears and rest, rest, rest.

For your ministry is but the overflow of who you are, really.

 

we need to get in the trenches!

Do we have any idea how easy it is to lose our way – in the thick of serving God no less.

This post is being prompted by a few things:

1. my son is fascinated with all things army-like: the brotherhood, the tough stuff, the strain and the glory. It’s a guy’s dirty, glorious dream: to be a hero, to make a difference, to have a buddy, to save a life. (it used to be the girl’s version was to be a mother-hero, built a great home, gal-friends and raise a life…but the script has changed alot. We save that for another time).

2. the daily reality of meeting people who are just – plain – struggling: not sure how to navigate work, feeling unsure about kids, sad and unhappy in marriages, not at peace in ministry, ‘why our kids are leaving the church’…..  the list is long and I have not included climate issues, Boko Haram, ISIS and Wall Street.

3. the quiet question in many hearts about why the church has pastors who do business, who are always drinking and eating (their facebook posts), who seem …unreal, unlike the rest of humanity; sweating it out in the trenches.

4. my, our ongoing search to live well and leave a legacy.

Many years ago as a young pastor, a church member asked me a brilliant question. She was tentative but she really wanted to know; so she took the risk and asked, “what do pastors do all week?”.

What are we doing pastors? 

It’s a question I continue to ask myself and sometimes trouble other pastors about. But first –

if you tend towards guilt, this question is not to induce guilt.

if you tend towards sloth, this question is not to induce work

if you tend towards not upsetting the status quo, this question is not to induce fear

This question is to incite you to hit refresh on that ‘purpose’ button of your life! 

Why O why do you do what you do? Why do you spend time the way you do? Why have you responded/reacted? Why have you held back?

Above everything else, pastors must be a small step behind the Great Shepherd and a small step ahead of the flock.

What do i do all week? In order or priority:

1 / Talk to the Great shepherd; mostly letting him set the agenda. Turns out he mostly wants to talk about me. He said my work is the overflow of my life. So the spotlight’s often on the stuff I dont enjoy paying attention to: my shadows; yet it is liberating and freeing to know He sees it all and still loves me. In other words, I tank up!

2/ Listen to people. This is like my strength (no!)….but it needs to be done. I jump to conclusions (you too?). I’m too smart many times. I finish people’s sentences and map out their spiritual paths in my image. Hasn’t worked well; so I am learning to listen. To real people. To thought leaders. To the leaders God has asked me to work with.

3/ I work at whatever plans I have laid out. None of them perfect; but giving up too quick means I never learn what truly works. So give stuff time to work. This is hard I know. The results are not often quick enough, there will be disagreement. I get impatient. But, I fight the distractions to compare and compete and just hunker down to do my work.

4/ I throw out my plans when  something very obviously better comes along. It doesn’t happen very much; but it does. The Spirit sometimes prompts you to pay attention to someone or something; and from experience — JUST DO IT! You will be so glad you did; because it’s not just for the person; it’s to revive you as God’s ministry co-labourer; restoring your joy that you are working with God. It’s sweet!

5/ I don’t calendar full days all week. You heard that. You will soon red-line (which is the beginning not of wisdom but burn-out). I plan ‘space’ times: time i give myself permission to read, to do something that refreshes my soul. There is designated family times, there are seasons to cut back because the children need me more. I take my Sabbath. YES! As a pastor-writer-mother, a full 24hr Sabbath rarely happens; but 4-5 hours can be planned for. To make up for it, I have extended Quiet Times in the week, an annual personal retreat, and date nights with the spouse. Actually, I have a time slot each week to review my week and adjust my calendar!

6/ I pray regularly that God will lead me to the needs and help me to make a difference. As a pastor, our call according to Ephesians 4 is to equip God’s people. We may not join the Justice League, draft bills against trafficking, speak at Ted… but we may! Let God carve the path for you as you daily dig in and enter the trenches to comfort the afflicted, soothe their wounds with Truth and Love, set their sights beyond their limited horizon, lift them up and strengthen their feeble joints. Pastors get to champion the people’s dreams, cheer them on to success, sit with them in sorrow, bury their sins and resurrect their hopes. Along the way, many pastors have refined their calling and sharpened their sword.

 

So, get in the trenches. Like that old story of the man who picked up that one star fish? It made a difference to that star fish; and who knows, that star fish may tell others later as it bobs in the sea, ‘don’t get marooned on the shore’.

 

The ‘5-fold gifts’ and maturity… something to ponder for growing in 2015

The 5-fold office, as they are described by some in Ephesians 4 offers us an important insight into Christian maturity. That is after all, the context in which they are mentioned:

To prepare God’s people for works of service

So that

The boy of Christ may be built up

Until we reach unity in the faith

And in the knowledge of the Son of God

And become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 

Paul is giving us a definition of maturity, the marks of it and the means towards it.

 

The definition of maturity is the whole measure of Christ. Paul is saying that God desires us to become Christlike in full measure as a church. We will grow towards Christ’s heartbeat, mission and way of life. We will see life through Jesus’ eyes and respond and live by His values and character.

 

The marks of this maturity, since there is only one Christ; involves our reaching a point of unity {one} where we know Christ and live out a faith that is centred on Him. Indeed, we see this happening. The Spirit of God has been moving the church in the last few decades in this direction. From Christ-centred preaching to Christ-centred worship… the Spirit of God is directing us.

 

The means towards this maturity is in the exercise of the gifts of God, in particular, the 5-fold gifts of teacher, pastor, prophet, apostle and evangelist.

 

And here is something important to know.

 

These gifts do not merely complement or contribute towards some church health; they are essential for maturity. In other words, Jesus as in individual and Christ as the church embodies these aspects:

 

God’s wisdom (teacher)

God’s Grace (pastor)

God’s ways (prophet)

God’s agenda (apostle)

God’s mercy (evangelist)

 

These aspects are seen in Christ’s earthly life.

 

Again we see the Spirit of God calling forth and establishing these gifts in the church in the recent decades as He matures His church, his bride.

 

I grew up in a Presbyterian church spiritually; but in my youth was greatly impacted by an Assemblies of God preacher, Abel Thomas. Later, I would come into contact with Pentecostal Anglicans and began to grow in my understanding of the gifts. Most of my growing years, the foundational seed planted in me that God desires us to reach the world steered me in many of my choices and even my vocational training. I have been stretched to consider how in my life I am growing in Christ’s heartbeat, mission and character.

 

What does this mean for us as pastors and leaders?

 

In view of the fact that Ephesians was written to expound on the grand purposes of God in the church, we should encourage each follower of Christ to be open to these gifts that will help us in our journey towards maturity and fullness. This needs to happen for the individual Christian as it does for the local assembly.

 

However, we are not to get anxious, worried or feel we are in lack if our churches do not seem to have these gifts. Certainly no one pastor or leader can ever embody all these gifts. God has provided for them in the larger Body of Christ. Great books and sermons have been written by pastors such as Henri Nouwen and prophets such as AW Tozer. The local church is strengthened by the ministry of many organizations. Missions organizations bring an apostolic edge while others have a wonderful teaching ministry for specific aspects of life.

 

In the end, it is our hunger and desire to grow into Christ-likeness that propels us to seek, feed and be willing to change in order to grow.

 

 

But the local church pastor has a special role in this. Called to be the shepherd, he is to find the appropriate pasture for his flock to feed on, to call them to rest, to hold them back by his staff of protection or his rod of discipline when the sheep is acting out of fear and in danger.

So, as Eugene Petersen the pastor puts it in The Message, it is all for this:

to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

 

What a wonderful picture!

The Strength that Eludes the Leader…. (Part 2)

This article continues from “The Strength that Eludes the Leader (Part 1)” (Rev. Dr. Philip Huan)

3. GOD’S JOURNEY WITH YOU: CONTENTMENT & JOY-QUOTIENTS

When I faced resistance from people in a consultancy project I was working on in a church, I felt stressed by the emotions involved. But as I prayed, I remembered that God had called me to this work. I also saw a vision of a huge rock, inside which I saw an angel. This reminded me of Renaissance artist/sculptor Michelangelo, when he said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”. As he sculpted the rock, the angel would take shape and form and become a masterpiece! I felt God say to me, “Philip, there is great goodness in these people which I want to draw out. You need to be patient to see it with Me and partner me in drawing it out”.

God has sent us as leaders to bring out the best in the lives of His people. It will take time, patience, sweat and even tears. But it is a joy to hope and see them become the best God calls them to be. God wants us to delight in this hope, be content with the pace God moves with us, and enjoy this journey with God. In fact, someone one said, “God would rather have you stop work, rather than work in ministry partnership with Him and not enjoy the journey”.

Remembering the hope for change, and enjoying this partnership with God brings joy and renewed strength!

Some ways to enjoy your ministry:

i. What are the friendships God has given me through this season?

ii. What is the hope of the difference I have made through this season? What is the hope and dream I have for these people by the end of that season?

iii. How can I delight in obeying God and walking with Him despite any hardship?

iv. What can I give thanks for, thus far, that God has done?

Paul, our pioneer in Christian ministry, reminds us, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that the work of the Lord is not in vain!” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

4. GOD’S TENURE FOR YOU: HOLDING LOOSELY TO YOUR MINISTRY

We used to play a game when young: at the playground, we would hang on the “monkey bars”, and see who could hold on the longest. As muscles ached and hands chaffed, inevitably one by one would release the bars and fall to the ground in exhaustion. After some time, we observed a pattern: that those who hung on tightly in one position were the ones to fall first. On the contrary, those who hung loosely, throwing their weight to one arm and then the next, shifting position to bring momentary rests to each arm could last longer.

I see a spiritual parallel in this: those who hold their ministry loosely, willing to surrender it to God, often have the tenacity to last the longer haul. There is a need to have a long-term vision and dream in one place to see it comes to pass. However, I submit to you that when one sees every season as God’s gift and tenure, which God may give or take away in His timing, gives us greater tenacity to last through a particular difficult season to see God’s work fulfilled.

Some ways to appreciate God’s tenure for your ministry:

i. What has God called me to do here, and how long is that season?

ii. What legacy do I want to leave by the end of that season?

iii. How can I come to love these people such that I want the best for them?

iv. When is the time when there is someone else better equipped to lead them than me?

Rick Warren, in the early years of his ministry, once wrote, “Lord, bless Saddleback Valley and reach them for Jesus. If there is ever someone who can lead this church better than I, please remove me and put that person there”.[1]

Poignant words from a high-impact leader who has led and endured for the long haul!

5. GOD’S STYLE FOR YOU: LEADING FROM WHO YOU ARE

I would like to spend a little more time on this last aspect as a conclusion to this article.

All leaders have different personalities & values. Although there is a great need to learn of the various styles of leadership, I submit to you that we are best when we lead from who we are:

DOMINANT

Skill: a leader who leads from seeing the overview and moves to align goals to meet the objectives.

Values: decisiveness, clear direction, priority and alignment.

Impact: wins respect from others by “heading in the right direction”.

INFLUENCE

Skill: a leader who communicates passion, vision and the dream God has put on the heart of the organization.

Values: fun, bonding, passion, energy and inspiration.

Impact: sets hearts on fire and wins people to a dream.

STEADY

Skill: a leader who builds teams and bonds people as “family”.

Values: relationships, faithfulness, care and friendships.

Impact: warms people’s hearts to love and deep relationships.

COMPLIANT

Skill: a leader who strategizes and aligns plans to “build bridges” that help people move toward that objective.

Values: integrity, growth, practical guidance and honesty.

Impact: win the confidence of people through viable plans of guiding people towards their destination.[2]

What type of leader are you closest to?

Which values are you most in sync with?

As students of leadership, we should learn of the various traits and grow/train towards as many of them as we can. However, I am convicted that a leader leads best when he honours the way God has made him and trained him by engaging all of his strengths, personality and values. I have observed occasions where when a person who is not strategic tries to leverage strategy, it often blows up. When a leader who is not forceful tries to leverage decisiveness and personality strength to lead, it often blows up. When a leader who is not a people-person tries to leverage relationships and good-will to lead, it may backfire. In other words, I submit to you, notwithstanding the need to train and grow in all aspects of leadership, ultimately a leader still leads best by leading from the strongest, positive aspect of the leader’s values & personality as his center.[3]

When one seeks to lead from the personality and values that one espouses and holds to, such a leader is true to himself, and marshals the best of who he is. Such purity lends passion and strength to work and task of leadership.

What was David’s leadership style?

From young, David always had the courage and leadership style to command and inspire even strong personalities to follow a vision in his life.

In his fight against Goliath, though young, his ideals could be seen when he declared, “what will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” This vision was the beginnings of the inspiration for the armies of Israel.

In a later battle, David had a group of mighty men of valor and great skill, each of them likely a strong personality in their own right. Yet, of their own initiative, they broke through enemy lines to get David a drink because of a mere longing he voiced. His courage, vision and skill inspired even the strongest and most talented of soldiers (2 Samuel 23:8-39)

It is likely that in the kidnapping of his men’s families by the enemy, David used the same skills of vision, courage and inspiration. What defined that moment was David’s ability to lead at his best and still be true to himself in a time of great pain and hardship.

In that situation, David was in even worse trouble. There was talk among the men, bitter over the loss of their families, of stoning him. David strengthened himself with trust in his GOD. (1 Samuel 30:6 Msg)

Whatever you may face today as a leader, may these disciplines help facilitate God’s strength that you may strengthen yourself with trust in your God, to lead at your best and be true to yourself in the best and the worst of times.

By Rev. Dr. Philip Huan



[1] I am unable to recall the source of this reading, except that is was probably one of Warren’s early writings on church growth.

[2] These descriptions are visualized through the DISC personality grid developed by William Masterson & Walter Clarke (1978)

[3] The variety of skills that a leader may train to grow into is described in my article, “The Practices of Leadership”.

The Strength that Eludes the Leader… (Part 1)

Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God… (1 Samuel 30:6, NKJV)

I have always been intrigued by this passage. That phrase “strengthened himself in the Lord…” seems like a million-dollar phrase to me in leadership. Reading that story you would discover that as a pivotal moment in which David turned around. From being greatly distressed, facing grief of his followers and possible stoning, David marshaled his resources to seek God, rally his men, overtake and route those who kidnapped the families of his men and rescued the hostages (1 Samuel 30:1-20).

This remarkable season of leadership was triggered by this turn-around in the person of the leader David. This was the pivotal moment, where David “strengthened himself in the Lord”—a truly “million-dollar phrase”!

If only every leader could have “strengthen-himself-in-the-Lord” moments where his/her leadership turns around.

If only every leader could have such moments where he/she rises above circumstances to lead God’s people to take back what they lost, and lead them into their destinies!

Well, I believe they can. I believe God wants to give such moments! After all, the prophet says,

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…. (2 Chronicles 16:9a).

I once consulted for a church where the senior pastor had reached a point where she considered leaving. There were many crises that had occurred which took a toll on her. Upon my advice, we journeyed through a guided time of rest. She took a 4-week break to examine herself, her role and the call upon her life. She took a good look at the people, the ministries and her future years in ministry. Then, ministered to by God, she returned to make some changes, both within and without, to lead again, although in a slightly different way. In other words, she strengthened herself in the Lord her God.

There are some practices that facilitate leaders to receive strength from God. Such practices should become regular spiritual disciplines in a leader’s life.

More importantly, such times of strengthening need not happen only at the onset of crises. Though, as in David’s case, leadership shines best in dark times, I believe what David did to strengthen himself was probably a heightened and intense practice of what he did regularly as part of his spiritual discipline regime. The many Psalms written by David through difficult times reveal that his “strengthening in the Lord” moment was possible only because it was a culmination of developed practices through his life. It was this training of discipline that enabled him to practice a heightened and intense time of seeking God under pressure of enemy and time in 1 Samuel 30:6.

Let me share some thoughts about what David might have done in “strengthening himself in the Lord”, as well as some reflections on what practices give godly strength to leaders in the best and worst of times.

 

1. GOD’S “BIG PICTURE”: STEPPING BACK TO LOOK AT HIM

When we are enmeshed into a situation that seems overwhelming, stepping back to look again at what God has called us in the picture reminds us that God is in charge despite our failings and struggles.

When people spend time meditating in a nature-scape of great mountains, huge lakes, awesome waterfalls, it reminds them they are playing a small role, and there is something larger then themselves. It brings a sense of perspective, and a sense of calm.

We were made to remember that there is something larger than just us in this picture. GOD is the one who called us, and is ultimately in charge. The Complete Jewish Bible puts 1 Samuel 30 as “David strengthened himself in ADONAI his God”. Adonai, the LORD GOD is the one who is supreme despite the pain, the politics and the overwhelming lack of resources. Despite that, God will fulfill His purpose. We only have to partner Him.

Some ways to think big picture for our calling:

i. What did God call me to do here in the first place?

ii. What is His role, and what is my role He has called me to play? Who am I supposed to be in this situation of God’s call? Therefore, what is NOT my role?

iii. What are “nice to haves” in this situation but not critical in the light of God’s calling?

iv. How can I trust God to provide what this situation needs, which I may not have?

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Psalms 19:21)

 

2. GOD’S PROVIDENCE: GIFT-MIXES, TEAM-FITS

 No one has the complete gift-set to fulfill a humongous calling or challenge. The Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) that certain leadership circles coin refers to a vision from God that is often too large for any one person to fulfill—it needs God! Often, God provides through the gifts of others that often break our paradigms, humbling us to learn to depend on God and on others.

A leader tried to raise a successor for his ministry for many months, but simply could not. He could not find suitable people as the good ones “had already been taken”. The people who were available were not appropriate in some ways, and he “did not want to set them up to fail”. But the leader himself had reached a point of burnout and could not lead any longer. All the principles he cited were good leadership principles. However, the circumstances he faced forced him to simply have to change some of his paradigms. At one point, he paid attention to a possible candidate that he had deemed inadequate. As he listened more intently, he realized there was a deep hunger for God in the candidate’s life. However, this hunger had been distracted by a number of burdens, which included sickness and even relationship difficulties. As the leader examined and engaged these burdens, over time, God convicted the candidate to be willing to take up future leadership. The candidate made a commitment to change some practices and grow. The ministry leader realized that God had opened the door for a possible successor; though not one he initially expected.

A pastor was struggling for a number of years in leading the congregation. She was counseled to get outside help for some of her struggles. However, she felt that as a Senior Pastor there were certain things that fell solely upon her to do so. She continued to struggle for 1-2 years and reached a point where she was exhausted. Finally in a time of reflection she admitted she was not good at planning and setting goals. God provided a consultant in that season to journey with her, and she got a board’s approval to seek consultation on planning and goal setting. God provided a gift-set “outside of the box” of her comfort style to lead the church better, albeit from an unexpected source.

God’s normative way of providence is through the gift-sets of others, and to teach us to be humble to depend on others in some way.

Some ways to be open to God’s providence of gift-sets:

i. What are the gifts needed for this season to lead the ministry well?

ii. If I don’t have them, where can I find them, no matter how “out of the box”?

iii. Are these possibilities new ways of God’s providence?

iv. How can I manage people and my own expectations that I must do everything by myself?

When great effort for a sacrifice was needed, God provided an out-of-the-box ram sacrifice for Abraham. And then, Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. (Genesis 22:14)

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary once said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

By Rev. Dr. Philip Huan

(This articles continues in “The Strength that Eludes the Leader” Part 2)