This matters. Stay on your pace.

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Does your ministry lose steam at the end of the year? We all know that finishing well is important, but like a fatigued runner, we often lose our stride a bit at the end of the program calendar.

Now we have a fabulous group of youth workers. They love God, one another, and they really care for our students, most of whom are the entry point to the church for their families. But it is the end of the year and…

  • Games become a little less purposeful…and a few kids stop coming.
  • Instead of carefully planning the meeting so that all things work together to build Christian community and take kids deeper in their faith, the various components begin to stand alone…and a few more kids drop off.
  • Bibles aren’t opened and read by students quite as much.
  • Leaders start doing more – more sharing, more preaching. Students start doing less – and passive kids quickly become disengaged kids.

This happens every year in youth groups all across the country.

For us, this came to a head at our end of the year badminton tournament last week. The kid across the street, a young man we have been inviting to youth group for three years, showed up. O, he joins us occasionally for games and food, but he skips out when students go inside for worship through song and scripture…after eating, of course. Last week he handed me a badminton racquet and asked if I would be his partner for the tournament. I am not a youth leader and had a bunch of stuff to do, but one look at his insistent face and I heard myself saying, “I would love to. But if I do, you stay for Bible study.”

“Deal!” He said, sticking his hand out to shake.

Two leaders were standing behind me. The older one had missed the planning meeting. He whispered to the younger one, “What is the Bible study?”

“We are just having fun tonight.” She said.

His reply, “Hey, our core values include ‘don’t waste kid’s time’ and ‘have fun with a purpose.’ A kid we have been inviting for three years just said he would stay for Bible study. You get a song. I’ll do a message.”

In a highly unlikely turn of events, the neighbor and I won the tournament. As the mob tromped from backyard to living room, the neighbor kid proudly paraded the trophy inside over his head.

When the song finished we passed out Bibles and students read the story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). The older leader retold the story of Jesus angering his home town to the point that they took him to the edge of a cliff to toss him off when he turned around and walked away through the silenced mob. He concluded with Jesus, the God of the universe in human form, whose life, death, and resurrection offering us the opportunity to be a Kingdom bringer (a Luke 4:18 life of bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free“). He asked if anyone who hadn’t yet was ready to have “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19) by allowing the Lord, Jesus, to become their savior (John 1:12). Three hands shot up. One of them was the neighbor kid’s. He was waving and pointing to himself. The same young man who ignored three dozen invitations…who snuck home early another two dozen times…who had told us repeatedly, “I’m not into God.” That kid, with tears in his eyes, was smiling ear to ear, waving, and saying, “Me! I’m ready.”

And by letting our core values slip in end of the year fatigue we almost missed it.

“how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him?                                                                      And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”    -Romans 10:14, NLT

So stay on your pace!

Three students had what they experienced as their first God moment Wednesday night. And we darn near dropped the baton in the relay between them and our God.

In track and field finishing well is called having a strong “kick.” Races are won or lost on the final straightaway. Most runners fade. Champions find another gear and shift into it, pulling away from the pack.

The baton we pass is nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus. So end strong friends. Find your kick. Because this race really does matter.

 

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Ministry: The world’s easiest job

 

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The woman looked up from her desk in the apartment rental office and asked, “So you are a pastor? A priest?” This did not take clairvoyance on her part. I was wearing a clerical collar. She followed up the question with what I suspect many think but are too polite to say out loud: “That sounds like a cake job. You preach a little message and do a little communion – full-time pay for what, like a 4 hour work week?”

Here is what I have done in the four hours since my four hour a week job was “over”:

  • Had a conversation with a staff member about stepping up their job performance
  • Drove 23 miles to feed the dog of a person in a psych ward
  • Did behind the scenes warming up of board members for future conversations about leadership expectations
  • Provided emotional support to a woman choosing not to treat her reoccurring cancer
  • Talked to a parishioner in jail
  • Supported our children’s workers by lovingly suspending a child from church for a pattern of behaving badly
  • Led a board meeting in which I had to communicate bad news and then help people remain confident in the face of it
  • Anointed a teenager in the hospital who has been shot in the head and prayed with his mom

Don’t misunderstand me, ministry is a fantastic gig. But an easy one? Not so much.

Good thing this is only part-time. People might start having expectations.

Why Child Celebrity Begins at Church

Matt Marino:

Blogger Paul Wilkinson points out a sad truth: the church trained many young music stars for professional success but failed to help them know how to cope with that success…

Originally posted on Thinking Out Loud:

If you’ve ever held a hymnbook in your hand, or sung in a church music production, you are at a distinct musical advantage compared to the other kids in your class. Doing drama productions, singing in a couple of middle school choir things, and playing in the school orchestra all certainly furthered my musical education, but going to a large and musically diverse church enriched that education greatly.

Sometimes more is caught than taught, and that was definitely true in my case. I played in the church orchestra and was pianist for the college and career youth group. The church was the first in Canada to broadcast on television, and regularly did major theatrical-style productions ranging from contemporary to operatic. I also learned about sound, lighting, make-up, camera-blocking, stage set-up, mixing paid musicians with volunteers, and learned about the relationship of all these superficials to the ultimate end: the communication…

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Unflattering Mirrors: Tag clouds reveal content…or lack thereof

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Tag Clouds make good Advent and Easter mirrors. Who knew?

Episcopalians, in our neck of the woods anyway, are a small and remarkably insulated bunch from the goings on in the wider Christian community. That was why I was surprised to be fielding questions from the outside world regarding a blog post that amounts to Episcopal insider baseball.

Father Robert Hendrickson, a bright light of a young priest working in a diocesan cathedral, recently made a tag cloud of our Presiding Bishop’s Christmas message. He compared the key words revealed by her cloud to those of Pope Francis’ recent Lumen Fideiand described her sermon as “bordering on gnosticism.” Last year he compared tag clouds of her Easter sermon to those of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Pope, and even Ricky Gervais’ atheist Easter message. Let’s just say that, from the tag clouds, even the atheist’s message appears to have significantly more Christian content. In cloud format our Presiding Bishop’s sermons appear to be long on insider lingo and social engagement and low on Jesus…that there just isn’t much “there” there.

Pointing out your national leader’s theological shortcomings is a gutsy move for an up-and-comer…a move that caused friends outside of the Episcopal Church to ask, “What’s that guy thinking? ” Would I have criticized our national leader’s sermons online? My strategy in criticizing sermons that I don’t appreciate has generally been the same strategy I use when my wife tries on something that just doesn’t work for her at the department store and asks,  ”Do you love this as much as I do?” I will pretend to have a conversation with a mannequin if necessary to maintain, “If you can’t say something nice.”

But Father Robert’s tag clouds, for all the conversation they are creating, illustrate much more than sermon content…

For one, they reveal a very odd concept for those not of our tradition to grasp: That Episcopalians, as a rule, crucify neither our orthodox nor our gnostics. Our Presiding Bishop will not, as my evangelical friends would like, be charged with violating Christian orthodoxy, nor will her critic’s career be harmed, as many of my progressive friends would like. The ability to stomach dissent, although under fire, is a historic and endearing quality of Episcopalians, a group theoretically not together on theology as much as on the agreement to pray the same words.

However, the theory that “we need not agree” has limitations. I am no fan of Confessional statements, but if there is no real creedal and quadrilateral agreement binding us together as Episcopalians, around what will we orbit when we write the prayers we will pray in unison? There is a core to the faith that makes us recognizably Christian. Or not.

Father Robert’s tag clouds also reflect a growing awareness that our missional strategy – the Episcopal church as “Christianity lite,” a doubt embracing, culturally accommodating, theologically easy onramp for those wanting to consider a practice-based rather than a propositional faith, has not worked very well…in many places we appear to have a creeping universalism that seems lumpy and out of date. Like a microfiber sofa, public doubts about core teachings (resurrection anyone?) and “all roads lead to God” do not make an attractive invitation to come check us out. Our Sunday attendance numbers since our last national leader was selected bear this out: 765,000-640,000 from 2006-2012.

Finally, in Father Robert’s tag clouds we see a hint of what is for me, a person who has spent his adult life working with people from 18-35, a seismic and positive generational shift: Young Episcopal clergy and bishops are both more progressive politically and more traditional theologically. And they are not content to sit on the sidelines and wait for the boomer generation with its (and I do believe this is missionally-motivated) theological fuzziness to get out of their way.

Out of curiosity I made a tag cloud of my sermon for this weekend. I preached out of Isaiah 35 as part of an Advent series, so I expected its references to Jesus to be lowish. Also, my purpose was to sneak up on the Christian message: That just as the Holy Spirit had dropped Isaiah 35 as seemingly a word out of place in the middle of Isaiah’s judgments on Israel, Jesus is God’s Word out of place, dropped into history where least expected. Still, my references to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were minimal enough in the key words that it caused me to cringe like a glance in a mirror at a look that just doesn’t work. Missing too was any indication of our need for a savior. I tore the sermon up and went back to the drawing board.

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It is not my first rodeo. I know that people come to church quietly desperate for help. If I, as the proclaimer, hold up a fun-house distortion of the Gospel…one that merely reflects back at people what I think they want to see, well, shame on me. I know that the hungry do not need the illusion that we are spiritually well-fed, when in truth we are starving for a Savior. If I fail to hold up a mirror of our deep brokenness and need and then bring the true comfort of the transforming Good News that the Creator of the universe loved us too much to leave us alone, then why bother? God entered our world, not just to demonstrate how to live, but to finally redeem us on Calvary and rise in victory. Christ returned to the Father to intercede on our behalf as his Spirit makes us a people and sends us to extend his Good News in word and deed. Less than the whole Gospel is an unhelpful diet, white bread for the soul. Looking into a mirror that distorts an emaciated spiritual reality may comfort for a while, but eventually hungry people will go somewhere else, some place a meal is served.

I have too many shortcomings as a preacher to criticize another’s sermons. For me, Father Robert’s tag clouds sent me scurrying back to the drawing board to craft a message that better reflects The Message…one that is clear on the reality that, as fourth century bishop, Athanasius wrote,  “It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that, in His great love, He was born in a human body.”     (On the Incarnation)

Thriving as a change-agent in a risk-averse world

edible20image20-20spinning20tasmanian20devilSnark Meter Sorta Snarky.002 Are you a whirlwind? Do coworkers beg you to slow down? Are you viewed as the second coming of the old Tasmanian Devil cartoon, stirring up everything in your path? Do you have plans to change the world only to be opposed by those whose favorite words seem to be, “We’ve never done it that way”?

A younger colleague recently called to ask about lasting in a vocation that exasperates those who think outside of boxes and beyond status quo’s. Here are a few thoughts…

First, the bad news: Stasis and institutionalism are everywhere. I have experienced it in the mainline, the mega-church, the parachurch, education and mental health. Erwin McManus in his book, The Barbarian Way, tells of being at the trendiest Christian leadership conference in the country while the gurus of the big-box movement implored a generation of idealistic young youth pastors and church planters, “Don’t be an innovator, they get chewed up. Be an early adopter!” Not taking risks seems to be an inherent, and horribly sick, part of American church culture. How anyone can grow without risk is a mystery. Risk and faith and trust are the crucible where growth happens. Safety, security and a God who can be contained in our 5″x 7″ heads should sound like soul-death to those with a pulse. We may think we want safety and security, but don’t we really crave to stand on the edge of an abyss, fascinated by what might be on the other side and figuring out how to get the team across? Safety and security might be the “red sky at morning” of the dead religion Jesus came to free us from. Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost” and “give his life as a ransom for many” (Luke 19:10, Mark 10:45), not create an institution to function as packing material to insulate ourselves from life.

But what of you? If you are a change agent in a structure that values stability, the chances are good that frustration has become a friend. Perhaps you understand and appreciate accountability, value structure, permanence, and many of the other positives of being connected to an organization with a history. But the chances are also good that, if you have a holy fire in your belly, you want to try some things and nudge the “negotiables” in order to open new avenues and to make the Gospel accessible to new audiences. So how does one thrive as a change agent in a change averse world? images 1. Rebroadcast the mission. Your ideas will get a hearing if they clearly drive your institution’s mission and vision. Andy Stanley says, “Vision is leaky. It has to be restated every two weeks.” So repeat the organizational mission/vision regularly. Then say, “We exist to _______. Therefore I want to ________.” Your ideas will both be more mission-advancing and make more sense to people.

2. Be aware of personality differences. Established organizations tend to attract introverts and “feeler” types. Whirlwinds  are usually extroverts and an entrepreneurial “doers.” Those are core differences in wiring and personality. Some personality types tend to put the brakes on things – usually lawyers and accountants. By nature and training they, as a rule, work to mitigate risk. Realtors, marketers, and CEO’s tend to balance the lawyers and accountants out. Have some of both on your committee. As in marriage, your differences are probably what attracted your organization to you and vice-versa. Those differences are a beautiful thing. Maintain that perspective when frustration comes.

3. Know what is negotiable. Some things are not on the table. I am an Episcopal priest. Dropping the Book of Common Prayer in the main Sunday service is NOT on the table. What instruments we use in worship and the song list? Those could be. Suggestion: Don’t mess with the words of the faith. (That has been trendy in mainline circles. Research says that the young tend to like the old words anyway…I am told there is a rite one renaissance with college students, and young Catholics are flocking to Latin rite masses.) Mess with the packaging of the faith, rather than the substance. Leave the darn words alone!

4. Pick one battle a year. As Atlanta youth minister, Tara McMurdy, says: “Find your Zen” on the rest.

5. Spread good ideas around.  Help others think of the innovative plan. “Idea people” have so many ideas that it makes others on the team feel dumb. That works against change. If you “seed” others with good ideas, they often become visionary themselves-now you have multiplied leadership!

6. Work for your boss’s success. Some will probably still undermine you, either out of intimidation or competition, but you can sleep at night knowing you “ride for the brand.” …And do let your boss know you are a loyal follower.

7. Finish what you start. That ought to go without saying. Many fear that “whirlwinds” don’t follow through…that we start things that others will have to run. Or worse, balls will get dropped when the idea person moves on to another bigger dream in a bigger pond. 82869580_1376167595 8. Know when you are part of the problem! Everyone likes a whirlwind if they are clearing land ahead of where everyone else wants to go. When a whirlwind goes sideways we threaten to suck the entire community off the path with us. Often what your organization fears in you isn’t the change, but what happens if the change doesn’t work…or if it does work and you leave. Check your motivations. What happens if a high-capacity leader is successful and builds a program that is dependent on the leader’s personality to maintain it? Manhattan pastor and author, Tim Keller, resists the video-venue movement because he is smart enough to know that his church needs to be bigger than his one face.

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9. Develop situational awareness. Know when you are too far out on a limb. Not all ideas work in all contexts. Sometimes the people that resist your good idea have really, really good reasons for doing so. Hear them out. If the opportunities outweigh the risks, push them in private, not public. Learn the “one standard deviation” principle: a little different is interesting, too different makes us scary.

10. Keep moving forward. Some ideas will fail. Let them go. In the old movie, Night Shift, Michael Keaton was also “an idea man.” Not all of his ideas were good. Some were really goofy. In thinking about improving the old standard tunafish sandwich lunch, Keaton opined into his recorder, “Mayonnaise in the can. Check that, feed the fish mayonnaise!” Don’t let an occasional goofy idea take the wind out of your sails.  Drop them and move on. And… clip-art-tasmanian-devil-021605Bonus: Slow down. Breathe. Pray. You have time. Trust God. Nudge the process along…but trust it too.

When it moves as a group, almost any organization can change on the “negotiables.” And we whirlwinds can become more patient. All of which will help both us and the body grow in width, and depth. The good news is that when you apply gentle pressure and refuse to go away, things will change for the better.  As the prophet Hosea wrote, “They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

When change agents stick it out, things change, the organization and its’ people are blessed…and what you once fought so hard for becomes the new normal.

Blessings as you walk in the integrity of how God wired you – a whirlwind…and as you learn to accept the integrity of others who are also walking as they were wired.

Your church isn’t supposed to “feed” you

This is cute. But we aren't babies.

This is cute. But we aren’t babies.

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I have lame Christiany-sounding excuse fatigue. Here is the latest: “I am leaving this church because it just doesn’t feed me.” Pardon me but your church is not supposed to “feed” you. It probably isn’t your fault, though. You were probably sold this bill of goods by the church that talked you into coming their way the last time you were feeling spiritually bored.

Consider the “feedlot” model: We pick a church, like we pick a restaurant…one that dishes up what we like and are in the mood for on a steaming plate set before us. Then we sit in judgment. “That was good this week.” Or perhaps, “That sermon was a little mushy, and cold…like overcooked broccoli, pastor.” We tip if the service was good and expect to go home full.

Yes, I do know the term “pastor” is the Greek word for “shepherd,” but shepherds protect sheep. Sheep eat for themselves. Besides, the Lord is our shepherd, not your pastor. Your pastor is a human not the Holy Spirit.

There is a legitimate role for pastors. It is found in Ephesians 4. Pastors have been given their gifts “ to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

Consider God’s purpose in the giving of all of these gifted “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers”: It was EQUIPPING YOU  “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  Rather than being passive recipients of a meal, this is a picture of a community sharing its gifts with one another as it engages in mission.

The early Christians had a love that “compelled” them into the world in invitation and self-emptying service (2 Cor. 5:13-15).  Please don’t bail out on your church because it doesn’t passively “feed” you. The church isn’t supposed to be a restaurant with waiters that pre-chew our food and dribble it into us like the SNL soft-teeth skit. It is supposed to be culinary school. Think about what culinary school gives someone: tools, knowledge, practice, confidence and helps you find a job cooking in the real world. Both visions of the church will change you: One will make you fat and passive. The other will change both you and the world as you serve it, adding flavor and taste to those around you.

So before you put a grotesque and distorted burden on your church, ask yourself how discipleship happened historically. Hint, it wasn’t sitting in a class memorizing gospel presentations or Bible verses on overcoming temptation. It was life on life: walking with Jesus. The disciples hung out around the fire with the Master for three years as he prayed, taught, modeled, questioned, healed, demonstrated, prayed some more and finally sent them to…”go make disciples” and to “obey all I have commanded.” Every bit of this was active.

This is possibly a very different model from your church. If your church is using you as a passive recipient of the staff’s teaching, doing all of the evangelism themselves and merely using you as an “inviter” and the sanctuary as an evangelism platform, then perhaps you might want to ask them to STOP feeding you! Ask them instead to start equipping YOU and the rest of the church to “do the work of ministry.”

So stop asking your church to feed you. Ask them to equip you.

If you like this you might like: The Church is Christ’s bride. Not his baby mama.

or: The church isnt a restaurant its culinary school

Leadership. Jesus Style. (2 of 2)

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Part 2 of a commentary on Jesus’ leadership style and strategies in Luke 8 and 9…

Luke 9:18    One day as Jesus was alone, praying, he came over to his disciples and asked them, “Who do people say I am?” Prayer is a regular occurrence in Jesus’ life. In the gospels we find Jesus praying morning, noon and ni

ght (Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42, Luke 11:1, Luke 6:12, Mark 14:32). How is your prayer life? Jesus uses questions a lot. They are a good technique to check for understanding. 

Luke 9:19   “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead.” Then he asked them, “Who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah sent from God!” A master teacher, Jesus starts with a non-threatening general question and then moves closer to home.

Luke 9:21    Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about this.  22 “For I, the Son of Man, must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “I will be rejected by the leaders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. I will be killed, but three days later I will be raised from the dead.” One can imagine stunned silence as Jesus dropped this bombshell around the campfire. You get the impression reading the gospels that Jesus was the life of the party. Not here. This is party pooping par excellence. Jesus’ shocking message violates all cultural expectations they had of a conquering Messiah…yet, neither those with evil intent nor death would have the last word.

Luke 9:23   Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.  24 If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.  25 And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process?  Go read those last 3 verses over a few times. Then two or three more times and let them wash over your soul. Do these things (putting aside selfish ambition, shouldering a cross, losing our lives to find life) characterize your “following” of Jesus?

26 If a person is ashamed of me and my message, I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of that person when I return in my glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. We live in a day of soft-selling the cost of commitment to Jesus. The next time you are feeling spiritually timid, remember that Jesus told us that he is coming back for his own in glory with holy angels.

27 And I assure you that some of you standing here right now will not die before you see the Kingdom of God.” “It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (Heb 9:27, NRSV). Jesus doesn’t say they won’t die, just that they will see the Kingdom. This seems reminiscent of what people report in deathbed experiences.

Luke 9:28    About eight days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountain to pray. Again, all this praying. The painfully obvious application: If the Son of God needs to spend time with his Father repetitively, how much more do we?

29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, You have really been praying when that happens! and his clothing became dazzling white.

30 Then two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus.  31 They were glorious to see. And they were speaking of how he was about to fulfill God’s plan by dying in Jerusalem. I don’t really know what to do with this experience. Apparently Peter, James and John didn’t either (see 9:36) Did Peter, James, and John come down and say, “I see dead people”? (anachronistic reference to the movie The Sixth Sense). My advice: don’t wait around for this to happen again.

Luke 9:32   Peter and the others were very drowsy and had fallen asleep. I am glad that I am not the only sleepy saint! Now they woke up and saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him.  33 As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, this is wonderful! We will make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Jesus is “transfigured” and Peter doesn’t know what to do so he reverts to his go-to gift, his mouth-which once again gets him into trouble. As you read the gospels you will notice that Peter is often talking when he should be listening. Many leaders’ strategy seems to be, “When in doubt do something religious.” Slowing down and engaging in spiritual discernment would be a better strategy in such instances.

Peter’s many flaws encourage me. After all, God knew his faults and chose and used Peter anyway.

Jesus reveals himself differently to different groups. To the multitude: he demonstrates miracles and teaches…and is conspicuously unafraid to rattle the cages of the religious elite. These are Jesus’ “evangelism events.” To the disciples: he trains them and sends them out in his name to share the Good News. They share meals with Jesus around the campfire. He explains secrets to them (like the meaning of the parable of the soils). They get to know his heart. This is his small group discipleship. Peter, James and John are his inner circle- they get to come with him nearly everywhere. They are at the mount of transfiguration, they are praying with him in the garden of Gethsemane on the night he dies. They go with him everywhere. They are his emerging leader development, the ones he will entrust his ministry to.

34 But even as he was saying this, a cloud came over them; and terror gripped them as it covered them.

Luke 9:35   Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” You would think after all they had seen that “listen to him” was one message the disciples would not need. Seeing is not necessarily believing! (see John 20:29 when Jesus speaks to Thomas: “Jesus said to him,  ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’”

36 When the voice died away, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone what they had seen until long after this happened. If you witnessed something miraculous and unexplainable would you tell others? or not? Why? Why not?

Luke 9:37    The next day, after they had come down the mountain, a huge crowd met Jesus. In the last chapter Jesus is trying to keep the word about him “on the DL”. Now, his popularity is out of control.

38 A man in the crowd called out to him, “Teacher, look at my boy, who is my only son.  39 An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It is always hitting and injuring him. It hardly ever leaves him alone.  40 I begged your disciples to cast the spirit out, but they couldn’t do it.” This demon is manifesting itself in an epileptic manner. This is a passage that people in our day and age are not comfortable with. We want some definition…a medical explanation. It is significant that the eyewitnesses, even the author, a man of science, thought that what they were seeing had a supernatural component.

Luke 9:41   “You stubborn, faithless people,” Jesus said, “how long must I be with you and put up with you? Bring him here.”  42 As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion. A lot is going on here: 1. A dad fears for his child 2. A boy is in the grip of a demon. 3. The crowd knows it is about to see a great show that would blow away reality tv. 4. A demon is trying to avoid a confrontation it knows it will lose. 5. The disciples are sheepishly trying to hide: “You faithless people” This is probably directed at the disciples. The crowd doesn’t appear “faithless” in this instance. After all, they have come to find Jesus. Jesus’ frustration is with the disciples who gave up on the boy and left. I wonder if they told that story about the boy they couldn’t heal around the campfire when they were bragging about their ministry success.  (Luke 9:10) Watch what details you omit when speaking with others. Are you inflating your resume? Making yourself sound more competent than you are? Tell not just your victories but your defeats as well! But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father. In all of these deliverances from demons Jesus leaves the person behind (Eg. the Gerasene demoniac, Luke 8:26-39). Is it to leave behind a witness? Is it to prevent the sullying of Jesus’ name by association? Is it some other reason? 

43 Awe gripped the people as they saw this display of God’s power. The power of God brings awe. If no one is awed then, perhaps, it is time to go get on our faces…and maybe stay until our faces are “changed.” (Lk 9:29)

While everyone was marveling over all the wonderful things he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples,  44 “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed.”  45But they didn’t know what he meant. The significance of Jesus message was hidden from them, they could not understand it. Jesus is reminding them, “Don’t get caught up in the hype, the circus won’t last…I came for another reason.” He came to redeem. His blood must be shed. His purpose was not to be remarkable or relevant. His purpose was redemption. It was a life about death so that we could live in Him. (II Cor. 5:15)

Luke 9:46    Then there was an argument among them as to which of them would be the greatest. He had just told them to put aside their “selfish ambition” twenty-three verses previously in the same chapter. Is God having to teach you the same lessons over and over?

47 But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. 48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” We have struggled with this verse since the day Jesus said it. We want more power. Jesus wants more faith.

Luke 9:49    John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons. We tried to stop him because he isn’t in our group.”

Luke 9:50   But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.” Jesus isn’t as hung up on denominational membership as some of us are. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be “one”. It helps me to remember that Jesus’ other followers are not against us…even those who may think they are. An open mind, an open hand and an open heart are how we should approach our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can appreciate and celebrate fellow believers without having to agree with or join them. Many will have different theologies, philosophies and political ideology. God is bigger than our political, theological and denominational affiliations.

Luke 9:51    As the time drew near for his return to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. None of us are called to crucifixion for humanity. However, resolution and clarity of call are…and they are sadly lacking from the church today. God needs spiritual discerned women and men who know Him and know what He has called them to be about.

52 He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival.  53 But they were turned away. The people of the village refused to have anything to do with Jesus because he had resolved to go to Jerusalem. There are ethnic, religious and cultural expectations at play here. Can you imagine their selfishness? What they have said is, “If I don’t get what I want from you, Jesus, you can just leave.” O wait, we say that with our lives with regularity. Ouch.

54 When James and John heard about it, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we order down fire from heaven to burn them up?” The disciples think that they are justifiably angry. I wonder if Jesus pointed out that, since they had recently argued about who would be “the greatest in the kingdom” themselves, that they had little room for casting stones? This has a little twinge of racism to it. After all, they “shook off the dust” in the Galilean towns. But they want to “call down fire” on the racially and religiously impure Samaritans.

55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.  56 So they went on to another village. He is a gentle savior. He doesn’t force Himself in on them…and He doesn’t get worked up over things that are off-mission. Jesus has set his face like flint for Jerusalem. He knows who he is and where he is going. He will not be slowed down, distracted or thrown off the scent. I pray that this mission-focus would be true for us today as we share the hope of Jesus with those who do not yet know him.

Leadership. Jesus Style. (1 of 2)

A leadership commentary on Luke 8:40-9:56  (New Living Translation)

laughing_jesus_1

There are a plethora of books and seminars on the topic of Jesus as a model for leaders. I have not read any of them. However, you don’t need an Amazon account to realize this: In his three year public ministry Jesus was training twelve guys to replace him on his way to the cross. Although it is unlikely that we will be called to a cross, at least not for all humanity, if you are a Christian leader, you are called to “make disciples.” (Matt 28:19-20)  In other words, you had best be recruiting and training your replacements!

Come with me on a brief verse by verse journey through the 8th and 9th chapters of the Gospel of Luke to see what lessons we can glean from Jesus’ leadership style and strategy..

Jesus is touring the Galilean countryside. This is his year of popularity…the growing opposition of the envious religious leaders gets far less attention from Luke. In this section Jesus is busy doing what he does: healing, teaching, preaching, training his disciples and being with his Father…with the result that, for now, his popularity continues to increase. It is Leadership. Jesus style.

8:40    On the other side of the lake the crowds received Jesus with open arms because they had been waiting for him.  These people had been prepared both by John the Baptist and Jesus’ previous teaching and preaching. Humanity is not waiting for a “what,” but a “whom.” The “whom” is Jesus. In the words of Young Life’s founder, Jim Rayburn, “Jesus Christ is the most attractive personality of all time…and kids will be drawn to him, if we just tell the story the way it happened.” Are you telling the story as it is, the grandest, most interesting, impactful person in all history?

41 And now a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, came and fell down at Jesus’ feet, begging him to come home with him. Jairus, as a religious leader, could lend valuable credibility to Jesus start-up ministry. This has quite the opportunity to build Jesus’ influence.

42 His only child was dying, a little girl twelve years old. As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds.

 43 And there was a woman in the crowd who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years. Specific medical conditions are not given. Luke is a physician and presumably knows what is wrong with them both, but as the gospels are collections of eyewitness accounts, we can assume that, for privacy sake, the maladies are left vaguely defined. The woman evidently had a menstrual problem.

43She had spent everything she had on doctors and still could find no cure. The woman is desperate: broke and discredited, ceremonially unclean under the laws of her Jewish faith for more than a decade.

44 She came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped. A desperate woman, she commits a desperate act with legal consequences: this “unclean” woman actually touches a rabbi!

Luke 8:45   “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.” The excitable Peter, wants them to be on their way to the synagogue leader’s home – the “important” task.

Luke 8:46   But Jesus told him, “No, someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” Jesus, sensitive to the Spirit’s power within Him, knows power has left. Sensitivity to the movement of the Holy Spirit surely needs cultivating in Christian leaders today.

47 When the woman realized that Jesus knew, she began to tremble and fell to her knees before him. She is expecting the condemnation required by the religious law. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed.

48 “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” In the culture this is a miracle nearly as great as the healing itself. Jesus refused to be bound by social convention or by the oral tradition: For Jesus, people came first, both their needs and their ‘story.’ (NIV)

Luke 8:49   While he was still speaking to her, a messenger arrived from Jairus’s home with the message, “Your little girl is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.” What might Jairus have been thinking? “If only this nobody wouldn’t have slowed us down?”

Luke 8:50   But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just trust me, and she will be all right.”  Jesus could have healed the woman with the issue of blood and hurried on his way. But her heart would have been left untouched and the cold Pharisees observing the scene’s prejudices would not have been shown “a still more excellent way.” (1 Cor 12:31, NIV)

Luke 8:51   When they arrived at the house, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except Peter, James, John, and the little girl’s father and mother. Why these? The parents are invited in because the girl will need them. Jesus doesn’t merely meet spiritual needs. She is a child and will need her parents. Are you anticipating the needs of those you are called to serve? Peter, James and John are invited to see the miracle. They are being groomed for spiritual succession. Who are you grooming? Who will wear the mantle of leadership when you are gone?

52 The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she is only asleep.” These are hired mourners: they have no emotional investment. For them, this is just a job. There are always those around the fringes of our ministries that are there for the show, or perhaps because they have something to gain from being there. Do not let them inside! They will weaken the team.

Luke 8:53   But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. The mourners’ true colors are revealed: they are mocking in Jairus’ time of grief. 

54 Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “Get up, my child!”  55 And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Jesus speaks life. Our words can speak life to the spiritually dead…but only if they are Jesus’ words. (Hebrews 4:12) Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Jesus immediately looks to the girl’s physical needs. Does your ministry serve the whole person? Do we preach the Good News but neglect the need for bread? Or do we minister to the body without the soul? The American church has struggled with this.

56 Her parents were overwhelmed, but Jesus insisted that they not tell anyone what had happened. Jesus isn’t seeking to build a following at any cost or run a big-tent crusade. The opposition that popularity brings might derail the training of his disciples. He is focused on developing the leaders rather than growing the crowd. In your ministry, when is the time for deeper rather than wider?

Luke 9:1    One day Jesus called together his twelve apostles and gave them power and authority to cast out demons and to heal all diseases. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) says, “All authority under heaven has been given to me” and Jesus gave that authority to us. When you minister how do you use your Kingdom authority? That power has never been revoked. It is like a Visa gift card with no limit that we refuse to take out of our wallet.

2 Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the coming of the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Jesus gave the Church a holistic ministry from the very first mission trip! Preaching AND healing.

3 “Don’t even take along a walking stick,” he instructed them, “nor a traveler’s bag, nor food, nor money. Not even an extra coat. The instructions are to not make big plans or weigh themselves down. They weren’t going far. They were to travel to immediate villages and trust in God’s provision.

4 When you enter each village, be a guest in only one home. One home? The reason for this is unclear. Perhaps it is another way of building fewer, deeper relationships early in their ministry.

5 If the people of the village won’t receive your message when you enter it, shake off its dust from your feet as you leave. It is a sign that you have abandoned that village to its fate.” We are responsible for the preaching, not the results. I Cor 3:7 “God gives the increase.” Saint Paul tells us (I Cor 1:23 ) the hearers will find the Gospel foolishness anyway.

Luke 9:6   So they began their circuit of the villages, preaching the Good News and healing the sick. When Jesus tells us to “go” he expects us to go. The Master expects action of his Kingdom workers. Have you been called to something and are dragging your feet? What are you waiting for

Luke 9:7    When reports of Jesus’ miracles reached Herod Antipas, he was worried and puzzled because some were saying, “This is John the Baptist come back to life again.”  8 Others were saying, “It is Elijah or some other ancient prophet risen from the dead.”  The disciples would ask a similar question when Jesus calmed the storm: “Who is this man?” Then as now, people were trying to contextualize Jesus.

Luke 9:9   “I beheaded John,” Herod said, “so who is this man about whom I hear such strange stories?” And he tried to see him.  Jesus simply burst onto the scene and even kings still struggle to “get” him to this day.

Luke 9:10    When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done. Then he slipped quietly away with them toward the town of Bethsaida. He is taking them away…like going on a retreat to “debrief” but there is more coming…and it will be the highpoint of the “camp.”

11 But the crowds found out where he was going, and they followed him. And he welcomed them, teaching them about the Kingdom of God and curing those who were ill. Jesus isn’t surprised. He knew they would come (“for He Himself knew what was in man.” John 2:25).

12 Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came to him and said, “Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night. There is nothing to eat here in this deserted place.” This is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Luke tells us that all twelve were present. John tells us that Jesus spoke specifically to Phillip. This is a good passage to read in context in all four gospels. Much can be gleaned by seeing something from all the angles!

Luke 9:13   But Jesus said, “You feed them.” “Impossible!” they protested. They were right. They did not have the resources. “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish. Or are you expecting us to go and buy enough food for this whole crowd?” Now the disciples move past the facts and begin making assumptions from doubt. Fear always does bad things to the Christian leader. Lead from faith. If you can’t muster up faith, then fake it until the real thing gets there.

14 For there were about five thousand men there. “Just tell them to sit down on the ground in groups of about fifty each,” Jesus replied. First, he organizes them – Jesus was organized. He followed the Spirit, AND was also strategic. 

15 So the people all sat down.  16 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and asked God’s blessing on the food. Breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples to give to the people. This is a very interesting miracle. After giving thanks, Jesus takes the contents of one boy’s sack lunch (John 6:8-9) and begins breaking the contents into baskets to distribute to the groups. As the disciples gather around, they see what no one else can – because 12 men crowding in, staring in awe, surely block the view of the thousands scattered about, seated on the lawn. The disciples now watch as much comes from little in the Master’s hand. They have just been sent out in His authority. Now they are back and are being interrupted in their time with Jesus. They were excited to tell of their own exploits. Now, in front of their faces, Jesus shows the disciples once and for all that HE is the source of all sustenance. How must the disciples’ hearts burned as they walked toward the people with baskets brimming with food? How could they have helped but blurt to the groups as they were serving, “You should’ve seen what I just saw!” In that moment Jesus gives the world a new paradigm for ministry: The Christian leader has two roles: to serve the people and to share the story of what they have seen Jesus do. This event defines what it means to be a “witness”.

17 They all ate as much as they wanted, and they picked up twelve baskets of leftovers! So 5000 eat and the disciples pick up twelve baskets full of 50 times what they started with. Why all the spare food? Twelve baskets and twelve disciples. Could it be that the leftovers were for the disciples – not because they needed the food, but because they needed the visual sermon? Each disciple went home with a lunch basket full of “I am all you need.”

What Jerry Colangelo taught me about recruiting and training leaders…by a former Suns ballboy

Walter Davis. A great guy, neighbor, and the silkiest jump shot in the NBA. A basketball was a dagger in his hands at the end of a game.

I picked up a great many leadership lessons as a teenage ball boy for the Phoenix Suns in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was a heady era when new Commissioner David Stern and General Managers like Jerry Colangelo remade the N.B.A. That leadership team gave us superstars and entertaining rivalries. Those were the days of Magic, Isaiah, Larry, and Michael. The N.B.A. went from a backwater 3rd tier sport to, arguably, the most influential professional sports league in America. Here are three leadership lessons from those days that have application for leadership recruiting and training for the church:

1. Get players who produce – people who can fill up a stat-sheet. You are never better than your best players. A team with second-level talent, will never be better than .500. Are we ordaining people because they are the most gifted or because they are not doing something better…or, even worse, because they self-selected? Scottsdale Bible, a church with a history of great pastoral leadership, finds 95% of the people they hire. Then, only ordain those people after they have proven that they can grow a fruitful ministry.

Most people who fill up a stat-sheet are quirky. So you need good training. That is why we need to…

2. Have great coaches.  As legendary Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry said, “Leadership is getting people to do what they don’t want to do, in order to achieve what they want to achieve.” We need high capacity, high-expectation mentors for emerging leaders – folks who can get new leaders doing the things it takes to be successful. Success is not just Sunday Attendance. There are other metrics that are of great value to the church…but to not be concerned about Sunday attendance is absurd. What are some things great coaches do?

  •  Give structure. Quirky people need to be protected from themselves-structure does that! Teams have curfews on the road, dress codes, special diets. There is a theory- practice -theory pattern in the season. There is no three-year pre-season camp. It is 6 weeks of camp and then into the theory-practice-theory long season.
  • Show and tell. Someone who has played the game and can show others how.
  • Push them to over-achieve. Have the hardest practices in town!
  • Set clear goals.
  • Study to have a good game plan.
  • Live with your player’s quirks- after all they produce! Don’t frustrate them with making them impress those up the food chain…or those beside their ministry setting. Set them free to produce for the team and the fans.

All of this makes players into a team. Then, when they do well…

3.   Be a great PR person. Showcase your player’s talents. When the team does well, we all do well. Sing their praises. When your people know you will make them a star they will repay you in loyalty and effort.

A few thoughts specifically on leadership in the church…

  1. Calling is not just heard by the individual, it is discerned by the community and confirmed by fruitfulness in ministry.
  2. Capacity is not the only quality we are looking for:  Character (are they dependable) and chemistry (work well with others) are also important.
  3. We  should stop ordaining people because they do good ministry. We should ordain people who can recruit, encourage and deploy other leaders.

It was a lot of fun to be a junior and senior high student sitting on the floor and hanging out in the locker room during Suns games and watching a near-dead league ramp up into a day of influence it had never known. With the movement of the Holy Spirit and the right group of called people of character, capacity, and chemistry, I am convinced our “heady days” are yet in front of us. I am hopeful that I will be sitting front row and in the locker room when that day comes.

Why Blog? Because ideas engaged can catalyze change.

I received this email yesterday from a friend in Indiana…

Thanks to the encouragement of your latest blogs I sensed God leading me to talk to our pastor about a gap in our church: The gap post-high school until family life. We asked our pastor about starting a 20′s something group, he gave us his blessing and now we are assembling a team and resources to begin ministering to young adults this spring. I trust God will provide great resources like these (blog posts) to help us to start something God inspired and put a big smile on God’s face!  Thanks, Matt

Nate Hitson

Note: I have known Nate for 25 years. I was his 6th grade teacher. As a young adult Nate and his wife, Cindy, did Young Life with us in Central Phoenix. We later were blessed to support them on the mission field. Now they are living in Indiana. I have some great “Nate & Cindy” stories that I love to share – they are one of my great models of people who seek God and will give anything to follow. 

Is God asking you to start something? Is God asking you to join something to serve and give yourself to it? If not you, who? If not now, when?