I have a confession to make.
Many years ago, my wife and I decided to sell our first house. It was small, we had a growing family, we had an opportunity to re-locate back to our hometown, and the market was hot where we were. It was a good time to sell.
Problem is, we didn’t have a lot of money to get the place properly prepped for market. And so we took some shortcuts. Now, we didn’t outright lie or do anything out of the ordinary, I guess, but looking back at it, I feel bad for the ways we cut corners.
For example, part of the wood on the awning over the garage was starting to rot. A couple boards really needed to be replaced. But instead of doing that, I scraped out the rotten parts, filled them with wood putty and painted over it. I didn’t even wait for the putty to dry. Problem solved!
Then there was the spot in the yard, right near the front door, where we couldn’t get anything to grow. It was a real eyesore. So I dug it out, rimmed it with rocks, and every couple days I’d get a $2.99 flower-in-a-pot from the local grocery store and drop it in there. The flowers were bright and inviting and made the ground look fertile, but they withered up and died every couple days. As long as I had a fresh arrangement stuck in when folks came to look at the house, I figured it was all good – and I didn’t really care that it would be dead and brown by the time they moved in.
In real estate sales lingo, this is called making the house “show ready.” The old wisdom of “buyer beware” is still relevant today – and I’ve kept it in mind as we’ve bought subsequent houses, making darn sure to poke and prod every little thing. If I can cut corners to sell a house, anyone can.
At the time I honestly considered these superficial, short-term fixes to be smart business. And while I still feel a twinge of regret about my youthful “enthusiasm” in selling our house, in the big picture I know the folks got a solid house for a good price, even if there were a few “surprises” covered up.
It’s not like the foundation was crumbling or there were termites in the timbers. But in other circumstances it certainly could have been. It’s a facet of human nature that we often go to extreme measures to do this sort of thing – glossing over fundamental, structural, and possibly fatal flaws, while being content dealing only with things on the surface. It’s a trap that can suck away all our energy and expense, as it takes ever more putty, paint and potted plants to hide the rotten and dead spots.
We can, in fact, get so wrapped up in this effort that we become downright defensive if someone questions our tactics. I believe the root of this is pride. I remember my wife asking if I shouldn’t just replace the rotten board and I snapped at her, “I know what I’m doing!”
This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to selling homes. Colloquially, we call it “re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship,” or “fiddling while Rome burns,” or “putting lipstick on a pig,” or “addressing the ‘urgent’ before the ‘important.’” We do this with our health when we treat symptoms while refusing to acknowledge root causes, with relationships when we focus on keeping up appearances instead of dealing with real issues, and with business when we focus on short-term gain over long-term stability and growth. Indeed, we can do this with just about every area of life – education, politics, public safety, personal finance … you name it.
Often subconsciously, we buy into the lie that it’ll be just too painful or costly to rip out the layers of superficial “solutions” and get deep into the heart of a matter. We just can’t bring ourselves to admit that the problems are as deep as they really are. “No way I have cancer, it must just be a cold…” When we do this, the inevitable result of our short term gain is long term pain.
Sadly, I see this all the time in “church” today. The symptoms are plain for all “church” leaders to see: increasing irrelevance in society, less enthusiasm and commitment from congregants, lower standards for what it means to be a “Christian,” back-door losses, a glaring absense of the miraculous manifestation of God, and often even a lack of fire in our own bellies.
“Steering” or “vision casting” committees are increasingly common as we come to grips with these stark facts. Pastors ask for suggestions, seek out advice, and pray for guidance. Members – with all kinds of expertise, backgrounds and motivations – offer their best ideas. Often, there’s even a call to group fasting and prayer. Then all the ideas go to the “committee” and out comes…
A new design for the bulletin.
Or a rearranged “service” lineup with a new way of collecting offerings.
Or livelier “worship” and shorter “sermons.”
Or a new “member retention” program.
Taken to an extreme, in a modern, leader-driven “church,” this drive to deal with symptoms can lead to a more “contemporary” vibe – with pop music, watered-down “inspirational” messages, and all forms of flash and dazzle.
No matter how well these solve the short-term, superficial issues – sure you can push buttons to increase membership, fire up an audience or boost donations – it’s still putty and paint on a rotten board.
You can keep things “show ready” as long as you want, and people will keep buying it from you, but what’s the end result? Certainly not the Kingdom come.
There are age-old termites deep in the timbers of the structure we’ve built and call “church.” The foundation of our dearly-beloved churchianity is not Christ but Constantine, and it’s been crumbling from the very beginning. No amount of lipstick can help this pig.
What’s it going to take for us – who supposedly represent the Body of Christ on earth – to come together, address the failings of our current system, tear away centuries of tradition, refuse the short-term fixes, and really address the heart of the problem?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note: This is a follow-up to my last post called “Leaders Leave.” Hey, I’m mindful of the fact that this is just a blog, and that I can be longwinded. Sometimes I just throw out a main thought, and leave a lot of rabbit trails unaddressed, to keep it brief, and with hopes that it’ll get folks thinking and spark a dialogue. It sure worked with this one!
My last post, “Leaders Leave,” has sparked some good dialogue and soul-searching in a number of folks who have contacted me, and I think some of that is worth sharing.
My point was quite simple, yet paradigm-shattering: Leadership, as we define it today, is an entirely man-made thing, and is contrary to the will of God.
The definition of leader, according to Dictionary.com, is: “A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.”
There is only room for one Head in the Body of Christ, and it’s the role that Christ alone can and should fulfill.
Our desire to be drawn into the construct of human leadership and followership is a pattern of this world and a manifestation of our sinful, flesh nature. On one side, those of us who are prone to be “leaders” are lured by the authority, esteem and other perks of being the “leader.” On the other side, those prone to being “followers” desire to outsource responsibility to someone who acts like he knows best.
Against God’s will, the Israelites begged for a king, “that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:20) Elsewhere in Scripture, the people tried to make Jesus their earthly king, and to make Paul and Barnabas into gods. Thankfully, these Godly men fled from this temptation. They knew that there is no room for earthly “leadership” (as we define and practice that term) in God’s Kingdom
Search the words “leader,” “leaders,” and “leadership” in the Bible and you may be shocked at how few times and the context in which they appear, considering the universal emphasis we put today on training and equipping people for this man-made role.
If you are in a position of influence over anyone, the only place that God desires for you to lead them is into His presence, through His Son, and then let Him take it from there. Paul said that, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) Our job here, as it pertains to others, is to help expand God’s family; to bring them under the headship of Christ, and then serve them. When we are all led by His Spirit, there is no room or need for human headship in the Body. God is more than ready, willing and able to call the shots, if we’ll just let Him!
God’s model is to raise up influencers, organizers and agitators for a reason and a season, and then have them return home, without solidifying their position or building any permanent “leadership” structure. God modeled this through the Old Testament judges and the New Testament apostles; they “led” and then left! It’s how Christ Himself functioned. He came to serve and not be served. He came to introduce people to the Father through the Son, and then He left them to it, with the Holy Spirit calling the shots.
Gideon, one of God’s Old Testament judges, perfectly reflected the heart of a true servant. After God had used him for a reason and a season, he went to return home. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon, said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23)
Now, don’t get me wrong. The Bible doesn’t call for disorganization or anarchy. We are certainly supposed to coordinate our efforts, and function as an organized, well-trained Body, with the Head calling the shots.
There is certainly a need for administration and management in the Body. In fact, in 1 Corinthians, Paul talked about a Spiritual “gift of administration.” It is important to understand the big difference between administration or management, and “leadership” as we define it. The Greek word for “administration” here is actually a Latin-derived word meaning pilot or nagivator, contextually meaning one who helps give direction to a ship. The navigator is not in charge of the ship, nor does he choose the direction; that is the job of the captain. Note that Paul did not use the word for captain in this reference, as he knew there was only one captain of the Church, and that is Jesus Christ. Yes, in any group activity we need servants who help coordinate activities and keep folks focused, but this is not the same as serving as the “head” of the group.
When navigating the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land, Joshua learned the hard way not to step into the role of captain. God carefully called the shots for each and every engagement, and when Joshua followed His plan (even if it seemed crazy!), they were victorious. Only when Joshua stepped from navigator to captain did they lose a battle. Yes, God used Joshua as a point-man to coordinate activities, but he played this role as a servant of servants. God simple does not want any man to call the shots, only to pull the trigger.
Search the Scripture and you will simply not be able to deduce anything to the contrary. A friend of mine thought he had when we found this Bible reference: “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1)
This verse illustrates just how far off the mark we’ve built this thing we call “church” over the centuries. When reading Scripture in English, we must be mindful of the fact that we are two steps removed from the real meaning of the words. First, the translators were influenced by their frame of reference when choosing what words to use, and then second, we are similarly influenced by a different, modern frame of reference in our efforts to interpret it all. That’s how we can come to do all the wrong things for all the right reasons.
Today, when you say “bishop” you generally think of one of two things: either a chess piece, or a high ranking “church” official. There is nothing else I know of in our culture today that this word means. So when we read that verse, since it’s clearly not referencing a chess piece, we think, “if anyone desires to be a high ranking church official….” And yet, that is very far from the original intent!
The translators who chose to stick the word “bishop” there originally were working under the authority of the English king, in an era of totalitarian churchianity, and on the heels of intense persecution by the “church” hierarchy. They had no frame of reference to compel them to buck the system; it was all they knew.
As a result, in way too many instances, their English word choices reflect inductive reasoning. This means they started with their understanding of the world, and then forced the Bible into it, even when the text, in context, is saying something completely different. The insertion of the words “pastor” in Ephesians 4:10 and “bishop” here are examples of this.
The translators were by default apologists for the monarchy and the “high church” bureaucracy, whether they knew it or not. There were a lot of important people, members of the translating team included, who held these titles. Unable or unwilling to think beyond this, they jimmied these man-made titles into text. Fact is, there are no “pastors” in the Bible! (See my blog post from a couple weeks ago.)
To the point, the Greek word here translated “bishop” literally means “inspector,” and connotes one who looks into things. In a functioning, organic, non-hierarchical Body, as was the context at the time, this would have implied one who digs into meanings and/or one who helps settle disputes, like a counselor. It was not a “church”-specific, narrowly-defined title, as the word “bishop” is today, and the Greek word would have conjured a very different mental picture for the original readers of the epistle. In light of the literal definition of “ministry,” which means menial servant – and the Scriptural examples of judges and apostles who led by leaving – there is no way we can apply this to the exalted, man-made position of “bishop” that we see today.
The Spirit-led headship of God through Christ is available to each and every believer. It is not something we can outsource, nor should we. God desires to direct our paths, steer the ship, and call the shots. He desires to be the Head of the Body, and there is only room for one. When we all follow the beat of the same Drummer, we will finally find the true unity of the Spirit that God desires for us, and our final victory will be at hand.
Yes, it is good for a person to desire to be used by God as a judge, or apostle, or “inspector.” It is not good for a man to desire to be “the guiding or directing head” of any organization, or to accept that role when people seek to thrust it upon them, as they by nature will.
Sadly, we’ve created “church” bodies that are built entirely on the sinful, man-made ideas of “leaders” and “followers.” Any group that follows the codified teachings of a man, or the active “leadership” of anyone, is misguided and factional at best. Denominations which teach that only the man at the top can truly hear from God are blasphemous.
We certainly have freedom to build organizations that go by the name “church” and that claim to serve God, but if they’re under the headship of a person, then how can we say they are truly a part of the Body of Christ?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
You have to know when to go.
I have to warn you: This is another of those Romans 12:2 messages. You know, the “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” verse. If you think you’ve got life and leadership figured out, please don’t read this, as it’ll mess with your mind.
Lately, God has blessed me with time to “be still.” It’s been hard but good. As a child, I recall offering my life to God to do with as He saw fit, and I’ve endeavored to walk out that commitment as an adult. He is my passion, purpose, provider and guide. Even so, I find that I’ve been conformed to the patterns of this world more than I ever realized.
I think we all are. We are born into this world, and its patterns are pounded into our minds from the moment we take our first breath. In many ways, our life’s journey is an ongoing process of de-coupling ourselves from this world. We are being made perfect; that’s the point of this life. Just like trees have seasons of apparent death in the fall that bring forth the fruitfulness of new life in the spring, so too God leads us through “still” seasons, during which time, if we let Him, He can prune away the patterns of this world and bring new clarity and life to our renewed minds.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been called a leader and, probably as a result, I’ve felt drawn to study leadership. It’s been a buzzword in youth programs and education for generations. All kinds of schools, camps, curriculums, ministries – as well as private foundations and government grants – are focused on training leaders. And it doesn’t stop with youth. Countless bestselling books are written on the subject, and famous leadership consultants, coaches and seminar speakers command big bucks. My own personal leadership journey led me to a top executive MBA program with an emphasis on strategic leadership. There’s no doubt, the world values leaders, today’s Christian ministry world included.
Lately, however, God has “rattled my cage,” shaking some of my longest-held understandings. Personally, I’ve found that when God rattles our cage, it’s because we’re not supposed to be in a cage to begin with. Remember, it is for freedom that we’ve been set free! And so, I’ve grown to appreciate such times, even though they can be very humbling. Looking back at all the things we’ve done according to our own understanding and the patterns of this world can be painful. Thank God, His grace is sufficient for me, and I can grow forward without regret. Today is a new day, and tomorrow will be another.
Seeking God’s mind on the subject of leaders and leadership, I recently made the “mistake” of looking it up in the Bible. Did you know that, in the New Testament (NKJV), the word “leader” is not used one time? The word “leaders” is used three times, referring to the Jewish authorities, and two of those times as an insult. The word “leadership” is not used one time in the Bible. (In contrast, the word “servant” is used 86 times, and “servants” 53.)
Could it be that the very ideas of “leaders” and “leadership” are completely man-made and conformed to the patterns of this world?
To get a better handle on this, I looked it up on Dictionary.com. Here’s the simple definition of leader: “A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up. A leader is one who has followers who follow him. Leaders provide direction to their followers, and in turn are given authority and esteem (plus money and power, in most instances) from their followers. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Here’s what I’m stuck asking: Does God intend for the Body of Christ to be a multi-headed monster? From the Bible we know that Christ occupies the position of Head of the Body. Does He need help with this? Is there room for others heads? The more I study, pray, and let the Spirit renew my mind, the more I am convinced that the answer to these questions is a resounding NO.
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too: “Come on, you’re kidding, right? Of course there are leaders in the Bible, and of course leadership is a good thing!” Before you throw these stones at me, ask yourself, are you really so sure of that?
Or, could it be that it is a manifestation of our sinful nature to desire positions of leadership, or conversely for many, to desire to come under the headship of another human?
Let’s look at examples in Scripture. In the Old Testament, when God’s chosen people were obedient to His ways, they had no king. In their place, and only when it was required, God raised up men and women He called judges, and used them for a reason and a season — as organizers and instigators, and occasionally as agitators. But here’s the key: When their assignment was done, they did not seek to hold onto any of the perks of power; instead, they returned back to being just regular people. Even as He used these people, it was according to His headship, and not theirs. (When they did things their own way, they failed.)
Yet the people kept whining for an earthly king, even though God told them it was not best for them. 1 Samuel 8:19-20 “Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of (the prophet) Samuel; and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’” In their disobedience, they longed for a man to call the shots and rally the troops … and also because it was a pattern of the world, and they wanted to be just like all the other nations.
And so God gave them what they asked for. As with all things, God redeemed that to an extent, as there are a handful of examples of righteous kings of Israel. But on the main, the kings were a nasty, godless, self-serving lot, and ended up leading to the death of the nation – just as God had warned.
This same exact lesson is repeated throughout the New Testament. Thankfully, Jesus modeled the right way. Jesus came to be King of kings and Lord of lords. He wanted earthly influence, right? Yet, tucked away in between feeding the five thousand and walking on water is this simple, oft-overlooked verse: John 6:15 “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.”
You see, Jesus knew that there’s only room for one Head, and that is God Almighty. Jesus Himself lived under the direct Headship of God, and He called His followers to live the same way. And, just like an Old Testament judge, after He finished the assignment, He left and went home. He did not seek to build a building, or an organizational structure, or to institutionalize His power in any way. He came to connect people to the headship of God through the Holy Spirit, and then He stepped out of the way.
Jesus led by leaving, and trusted God with the outcome. John 16:12-15 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
Through Jesus Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things. That message is for each of us, individually, today. It is not for a select, ordained few, to whom the rest of us are to outsource our Heavenly connection. Each of us is to be led by the Headship of Christ, period. Going back to the definition of leader (“A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.”), we must realize and embrace the fact that there is only room for one leader in the Kingdom of God, and that leader is God Himself.
No other form of leadership is Biblical. Matt 20:25-28 “Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’”
Plenty of leadership scholars today say that Jesus modeled “servant leadership.” No, I don’t see that. That’s inductive reasoning at its most stark. Instead, Jesus modeled servant servantship, and that’s all. Jesus knew the job of a spiritual father is to raise up more spiritual fathers, rather than a big following of spiritual children. The words for ministry and minister in the original Greek mean “menial servant,” and that’s all. When they came to make Him king, He ran away. Jesus led by leaving.
His servant the Apostle Paul did, too. He would go into a town, serve a handful of former pagans, connect them to the Holy Spirit-led headship of God through Jesus Christ, model it for them, and then leave them to it! When a leader like Timothy rose to a position of prominence in a community, Paul would yank him out of there and assign him elsewhere. He knew that earthly leadership, as we define it, is a manifestation of our sinful nature.
Yes, Paul desired to be influential for God. Yet when given the opportunity for earthly lordship, he, like Jesus, ran away. Acts 14: 11-16 “Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God….’”
The world is the same as it was then. Our sinful natures are the same. Just like the Israelites, we want to look to a flesh-and-blood man to call the shots and lead us in battle. We want to be just like everyone else, with professional “clergy” and exalted “ministry” leaders. And, for those thrust into those positions, the trappings of leadership are sure quite tempting. It’s just that, when you look God’s original intent, ministry leader as we define it today is a contradictory term, like “jumbo shrimp.”
“Ministry leadership” – following the headship of a person who is called by God to be a menial servant – is not from God. That’s because, as God knows, the natural offshoot of all earthly leadership is factions, which work counter to God’s will. 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13 (NIV) “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
“I follow Martin Luther,” “I follow John Calvin,” “I follow John Hagee,” “I follow Joel Osteen,” “I follow (put your pastor’s or bishop’s name here),” or “I follow the Pope…” These may be good, Godly men. But so long as they accept this role of “leader,” and allow their adherents to be “followers,” they are conformed to the patterns of this world and working counter to the will of God. Please hear my heart here – I’m not pointing fingers! For years, I accepted the role of leader and did not bat an eye when grown men would stand up and say, “I follow Mike Arnold.” I don’t have regrets – God doesn’t give us a spirit of regret — but I do repent, and Lord help me, I won’t walk that way again!
Like the Godly judges and mighty Apostles of old, a leader has to know when to go. The only way we should lead our fellow man is to the throne room of God through the only doorway, which is Jesus Christ. After that, we need to step out of the way. He is more than equipped to take it from there.
Ephesians 4:11-16 “And He Himself is giving some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
God’s had me write a mountain of stuff over many years, and yet He has had me keep much of it on the shelf. Now that I’m doing this blog thing, occasionally He prompts me to pull something out of the archives and post it. This is one such post. I felt called this morning to get up early for the specific purpose of posting this; I pray whoever it supposed to be on the reading end got up early, too!
“Pastor” is a word inserted in only one verse of English translations of the Bible for the word translated elsewhere as shepherd. There is no job description in the Bible for a pastor, and there are no men with that title written about. Where it is used in English translations, it is listed as a spiritual gifting, not a profession. It does not mean priest, preacher, spiritual father, administrator, a guy with a seminary degree, ordination certificate, special robe or collar, or anything like that.
The actual word “pastor” is entirely man-made. In the dark ages, Catholic leaders began to speak of the “pastoral” (a fancy word for shepherding) duties of a priest. Eventually this word evolved into a job title of “pastor.” When the early English translators were working on the New Testament and came to the Ephesians 4:11 where it lists the spiritual gifting of various leadership positions – where it says, “some are given to be …” – they came to the word meaning “shepherd” and just stuck the man-made title in its place – working backwards in an effort to incorporate a specifically defined manmade job title into the Word of God.
Man, not God, through centuries of evolutionary, institutionalized tradition, first made up the role and title of “pastor,” and then it was stuck into the Bible in place of the word for shepherd. No one in the Bible is “given to be a pastor” as the word is generally used by man (that is, a degreed and licensed “preacher” who answers to a committee or board, who officiates ceremonial “services,” and who is the center of attention in institutionalized gathering of folks who go by the label of Christian). Instead, they were given to be shepherds of God’s people.
Even for that there is no job description, although two men are shown as having “shepherding” responsibilities in the New Testament. Both these men, James and Timothy, were actually apostles (James appointed by Jesus and Timothy apprenticed by Paul). So even then their titles weren’t “shepherd” – but rather, helping shepherd God’s people was just one of their many responsibilities. People in those days knew what a shepherd is – a man who lives with the sheep, makes sure each one individually is healthy, fed, groomed, safe from harm, together with the flock, etc. A shepherd is a lowly, hands-on, down-in-the-dirt servant of the flock in intensely personal ways – he exists to support them, not the other way around.
Only God can give the spiritual gift. Virtually everything the word pastor conjures up in our modern mind is entirely contrived by man. Only a man whom God has specifically appointed to the job of shepherd by personal gifting and calling (not through a bureaucratic or democratic “call” process) is a “pastor” (if we insist on calling it that) in God’s eyes. How many are there in the world today for real? I think everyone would be shocked. There are many who faithfully stand behind the pulpit and honestly preach the Bible, who hold a position of authority in a congregation, who have all the right paperwork … whom God looks at longingly and says, “Son, what are you doing there?” There are also many who drive trucks or herd cattle or polish fingernails or sell cars for a living who are called and gifted to be true shepherds as God intends, but who rightly don’t feel called to go to some man-made seminary – and so they feel they can never step into the role God ordained for them. They are ordained by God but will never be by man. They are called and gifted, but the systems we’ve built won’t let them serve as God desires.
It is also important to point out that, in God’s eyes, true “pastors” take their place alongside apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers. The Bible says that the Lord is giving men to serve in these roles until we all reach maturity and grow up into Christ who is the Head. We’re a long way from that happening, so there are still apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers in our midst, alongside true shepherds, but our culture and organizational structures don’t accommodate them. (Apostle, by the way, means one who is sent, with connotations of a military leader on a mission to conquer.) God is sitting on the edge of His throne, holding His breath, feeling like He’s just going to pop, waiting for us to finally get it.
Please hear my heart. I know and thank God for the fact that there are genuine spiritual shepherds who go by the title of pastor today who faithfully walk in their God-given spiritual giftedness and calling. I have met many. They are fantastic men of God who truly know God’s purpose for their lives and have pursued it faithfully. They lead their sheep as they themselves are led by the Holy Spirit, to God’s great delight. I admire and honor them.
As I stated previously, because the written Word is so vague on how the spiritual gift of shepherding is to be put into practice, it is necessary for one to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to walk the path the Lord has set out for him. The way this works in a given shepherd’s life may bear a close resemblance to the man-made job description, and may compel him to serve in that which man calls “church.” Certainly God in His infinite grace desires for those people who are trapped by tradition to still hear His truth and be ministered to – in fact, I believe He is stirred especially greatly for this, as these people are just so close – and He leads men to serve Him obediently by speaking the truth and ministering to people in that setting. For a man to truly serve in that capacity in our world today, he generally must walk in the man-made system and title. That said, for this specific “filling in the blanks,” as with any other, to be truly from God, it must be prompted step-by-step by His Holy Spirit for each individual. When these blanks are filled in by anything else, whether tradition, expectations, ignorance … anything but divine revelation – there is no auto pilot, cruise control or back-seat driving that can keep us on God’s path – then it gives the enemy a wide-open field in which to manipulate and wreak havoc.
Once again, I’ve met men with the title of pastor who are truly called, trained and ordained, by God first, and then by man, for that role. I’ve also met many who make a living under that title and man-made job description – called, trained and ordained by man alone – yet it is clearly not their true, God-ordained purpose in life. (And some are so mixed up by the difference between God’s way and man’s, they may not rightly know!) I personally know a man who became a pastor because his fiancée wanted to be a pastor’s wife! That’s no joke. He’s “leading” a congregation now – certainly through the motions of churchianity – but how can a man who has never found his true identity actually lead anyone to anything? That is the blind leading the blind. How many others do so out of family tradition, or because it’s a good living doing something “meaningful,” or because they didn’t feel cut out for the dog-eat-dog world of the marketplace, or because they believe it’s their only avenue to serving God vocationally, or some other equally “valid” but not Spirit-led reason?
I am absolutely certain these men love God and are passionate about Him, serving Him with all their heart, soul and mind. But it’s important to realize that Paul, before the Road to Damascus – when he was still known as Saul and actively persecuting followers of Christ – was not a bad man at heart. He deeply loved God and was serving Him passionately. But he was stuck in a system that had drifted away from God’s meanings, and thus drifted away from the true, intimate, revealed knowledge of Him. The system he was in had become the old wineskin so couldn’t accept the freshness of the Living God, and actually condemned those who lived in it. When Saul met Jesus personally, face to face, the scales fell from his eyes, he could finally see through spiritual eyes of true faith – and the world would never be the same!
I pray passionately that men out there who are modern day Sauls – passionate and sincere men of God, every one of them, but stuck in an old wineskin – will finally, truly meet Christ face to face (and not in some mystical, “religious” sense!). When they do, the world will never be the same!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
(Or, “Pyramids Were Built by Slaves and Vain Dictators”)
John 6:15 “Therefore, when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force and make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.”
Oh, for Christian leaders today who truly seek to follow Christ’s example!
I have a unique calling and life experience. I am an entrepreneur, a founder, a builder. God has gifted, educated, trained and used me to start and help start numerous organizations – business, political and ministry. By His grace, most are still going strong today. Sadly, many are going strong in a different direction than I intended, but that is the nature of learning in the real world; it’s trial and error. Just as this life is nothing more than preparation for the next, so also, I’ve found, each venture is merely a rough draft for the one to follow. I cannot kick myself and live a life of regret; rather, I must simply live and learn.
Proverbs tells us that understanding is more valuable than riches, and we should seek it passionately, and I do. I’ve learned quite a bit about leadership and organization building – some the “easy way” but mostly the “hard way.” I’ve made quite a few mistakes and will continue to do so. My prayer is that my future mistakes will be new and creative, and not repeats of ones past.
The heart of any organization is the core vision that manifests in its fundamental operating culture. If an organization is a living entity, this core vision is its DNA. I’m not talking about the printed “vision statement” or “mission statement.” What I’m talking about is the underlying “operating software” that was running in the founder’s mind before the vision or mission statements were written. I’m talking about the heartbeat of the founding leader; the kernel of inspiration and understanding that drove him to initiate the undertaking. This is the zygote – the first complete cell at conception – that divides, multiplies and specializes over time to form the living organization for the duration of its lifespan. For good or ill, everything that manifests in a venture will be guided by this inception.
Biblically, this is reflected in John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Logos…” This Greek word denotes foundational truth, fundamental vision. Jesus, it says, was the Logos made flesh, and that the whole world was created from God’s Logos. Later, in what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said a wise man builds his house upon the rock, and explains this rock is the Logos of God.
An oak tree is not contained in an acorn. To claim otherwise, as some pseudo philosophers have, is absurd. An acorn weighs a fraction of an ounce, while a mature oak weighs many tons! What is contained in the acorn is simply the DNA of the oak tree – the tree’s Logos, if you will – that re-organizes the elements in its environment into a living, growing thing.
Modern science has traced many crippling, deforming, and deadly diseases to simple, infinitesimally small molecular mutations in the single strand of DNA found in the original, single-celled zygote from which a new life grows in its mother’s womb. Similarly, seemingly simple, insignificant flaws in the founding Logos of a venture will eventually, over time, manifest in ways we cannot control or take back. Even a smidgen of well-intentioned misunderstanding in the mind of a leader can quickly manifest and grow beyond his control. If you doubt me, just ask Dr. Frankenstein.
As a founder and leader, this understanding has compelled me to hunger and thirst for a pure heart above all else. I pray for God to continue to perform open heart surgery on me, to purify me, to search my heart and show me what He finds. I want nothing more than for my words and actions to reflect His Logos, with nothing added or taken away. I do not wish to lean on my own understanding, or to be conformed to the patterns of this world, or to give any foothold to the enemy. I endeavor to live as Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” I realize that in this life, I am being made perfect, and will not achieve that final goal until He allows me to pass through to the next life – and so the things I build will not be perfect, either – but it is what I strive for. I want the things I build to stand the test of time, as an accurate manifestation of His Kingdom. This is my passion.
Okay, that’s a big build up for a simple lesson. But it’s important to know that sometimes the simplest lessons are the most vital, and this particular lesson strikes at the very heart of organizational DNA. For too long, too many well-intentioned Christian leaders have suffered from a simple “genetic mutation” in this area, and as a result we’ve created too many Frankenstein’s monsters and called them “the Body of Christ.” Fixing this will change everything.
Here it is: Properly practiced, the goal of a spiritual father is not to raise spiritual sons. It is to raise other spiritual fathers.
Properly practiced, discipleship does NOT follow a traditional, top-down, pyramid-style organizational structure. It is NOT like “network marketing” with an “up-line” and “down-line.” Properly practiced, I do not disciple others in a way that requires them to remain beneath me … and then the ones they disciple remain beneath them, and so on.
Properly practiced, there is only one “up-line” – and that is each individual’s personal connection to God through the Holy Spirit.
The goal of a true spiritual father is to help each person connect directly to THE Father … and then step out of the way and let Him take it from there. Once this connection is made, a true spiritual father’s job is to serve and not be served; to decrease so that the Body of Christ may increase.
When I build according to the traditional pyramid structure that forms the basis of virtually every modern ministry, yes, the enemy can “reward” me with ever-growing influence and affluence. This is how I can build a big “church” and become rich, powerful and famous. But this is not God’s desire or design. Pyramids were built by slaves and vain dictators, and they still are today.
Properly practiced, I desire those whom I disciple to advance beyond me; I desire for them to have more influence than I have. Properly practiced, the more people I disciple, and then, in turn, the more they disciple, the lower I become, because that is more people I am committed to serving – and not the other way around.
Properly practiced, it is the ministry leader’s job “to equip the saints for the works of ministry, for the building up of the Body.” Despite what the man behind the offering plate says, it is not the other way around; it is NOT the saints’ job to equip ministry leaders!
The Apostle Paul said that, while in human understanding he was “entitled” to be supported by the people he served, he intentionally worked very hard to avoid being any burden on them. He did NOT want them to support or equip him; rather, he poured out his life to equip and support them. His tent-making was not drudgery or distraction, it was his example and greatest honor. My God, where are leaders like this today?
Jesus led by leaving. He was a spiritual father who raised up other spiritual fathers – by serving them, by washing their feet! — then He left them to do likewise, and He praised God that they would do greater works than He had done. Paul did the exact same thing. He raised up leaders – spiritual fathers – and then left them to raise up others. And when one or another gained too much prominence in one community, Paul would relocate them to another community to start over.
The pyramid-style organizational structure was hateful to Jesus and Paul, and they refused to allow it to form under their leadership. When the crowds wanted to make Jesus the king, or when they wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods, these true spiritual fathers fled the scene. Would your “spiritual father” similarly run from this? If not, then you should run away from him!
The insolent Israelites demanded a man-king, and look where that got them. No man is designed to occupy the top spot in a spiritual pyramid structure. The man-made expectations and obligations are too heavy, and the damage he can cause when he invariably stumbles is too great.
The flesh of every leader desires to be at the top of the pyramid – to be adored, admired, followed, and famous. The flesh of every leader seeks to capitalize on earthly honor and “entitlement.”
And the flesh of every follower craves a strong man to follow, so we can outsource our “religious” obligations to the designated holy man. The flesh of every follower thinks it’s easier to give money and loyalty to a man than it is to fight on the frontline.
But if we are to be people after God’s own heart, we must crucify our flesh!
We must tear down the pyramids! They are nothing more than monuments to man’s flesh and failure.
God’s desire is that each and every one of us be led by His Spirit, and His Spirit alone. As the founding fathers of America famously said, we must accept “No King but Jesus, and no Father but God.” There is no room for any pyramid, or “up-line,” or hierarchy in that correct understanding.
There is only one line in the organizational chart of the Kingdom of God, and that is a direct connection between me and God. It is the same for each of us.
Fathers, seek to raise up fathers! Push them out of the nest so they can fly on their own! Serve them! Wash their feet! Let them live and learn! Seek to be the least, and abandon your worldly sense of “entitlement!” Be driven by the passionate desire for them to accomplish more than you ever imagined!
When we build this understanding into the DNA of our endeavors, we will finally see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14
“I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you have ten thousand instructors (Greek – “babysitters”) in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers…” 1 Corinthians 4:14-15
“But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you all things, and is true.” 1 John 2:27
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
There is power in the name of Jesus. And politicians of all persuasions have sought to wield that power for more than 1700 years, since Constantine marched on Rome under the sign of the cross. (In fact, Constantine was the first person to use the cross as a “Christian” symbol, and he did so as a campaign logo of sorts, much like the Obama “O” of his day.)
It seems genuine believers in the political arena, on both sides of the aisle, believe they have a monopoly on the “real” way Jesus would vote, and are often quick to point accusatory fingers at their brethren on the other side of the issues (often accompanied by the most inflammatory, hateful language).
This may shock my “conservative” friends, but yes: there are genuine Christ-followers who adhere to a “liberal” worldview. And this may shock my “liberal” friends, but yes: there are genuine Christ-followers who adhere to a “conservative” worldview. And you know what? I believe both are equally sincere in their love for the Lord – and equally manipulated by the dark princes of American politics.
To all believers, we must wake up and realize that the enemy – yes, our real enemy, not those people who support different candidates than you do – is the only one who wins when we are divided, regardless of who prevails at the polls. Christ calls us to unity, and our unity will only be found in Him. We will never find unity if we seek it through partisan victory or political domination.
It’s a sad state of affairs when conservative Republicans believe that corporate tax breaks and harsh treatment of honest yet undocumented immigrants is the “Christian” way, and that anyone who thinks differently is morally bankrupt. It’s just as sad when liberal Democrats believe that Christ is honored by bloated government bureaucracy or poverty-breeding entitlement programs, and that anyone against such things is greedy and hateful.
Does Jesus really advocate unquestioningly supporting the modern, political nation of Israel, and turning a blind eye to their brutal treatment of Palestinians? Are modern Israelis (in contrast to ancient Israelites, who actually had predominantly Hebrew blood and adhered to the Old Covenant) really God’s chosen people? ‘Splain that one to me.
Many years ago, I made a living as a political consultant, until I felt the Lord call me out of that arena. I’ve kept an active interest in politics, and stay in touch with my friends who are still in that game. I’ve also been the C.O.O. of a television and radio news network, an officer in a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalist, and worked in publishing much of my career. Here’s something I know: I’m no “conspiracy theorist,” but fact is, for every big issue out there, there is big money at stake. Fortunes to be made and lost. Moneymen behind the scenes of the political game pull the strings that make every candidate and activist dance. They manipulate the media and the message, at every level, in every detail. That’s just the way it is.
Joseph Goebbels, the evil genius pioneer of modern propaganda, masterfully manipulated the German population to support Hitler’s Third Reich. The tools at his disposal were primitive by modern media standards. Today’s propagandists have exponentially more power at their fingertips – and they use it, with Goebbels’ passion, to advance their own purposes. We are fools if we don’t accept the fact that our political arena – and the people in it (that is, us) — is just as manipulated as it was in Hitler’s Germany.
Does Jesus really care about the American tax code? Does He care who is in the White House? Does He care whether the person picking produce on a distant farm has a Green Card or not? Does He care if I can own a gun? Does He care which way I vote, or if I vote at all?
Maybe He does, maybe He doesn’t. Folks who knew me back in my activist days may be surprised to hear me say this, but I honestly don’t know. What I do know is this: The first thing Jesus cares about is the hearts of people. His Kingdom is not of this world; instead, it is within each of us. Genuine followers of Jesus Christ are but strangers here; His eternal Kingdom is our home.
Am I saying that we should sit on the sidelines of politics? No, I’m not. We are to be the salt and light of the world, seek first the advancement of His Kingdom, and glorify Him in everything our hand finds to do. And in a democratic nation, that includes politics.
What I AM saying is this: We must refuse to follow those who divide us. We must question our own reasons for supporting the issues and candidates we support, and cut the puppet strings that are tied to every single issue we debate. We must operate in courageous meekness, pursuing unity, in the role of peacemaker. We must not be afraid to buck the trends, reach across the aisle, change our minds and speak the truth. We must find a new voice, a new way, to glorify God in our civic activities. We must let Christ, and Christ alone, pull the strings that guide our actions and votes! When we do, I believe we will find that Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat, neither liberal nor conservative – and that there is good and evil beneath each of these headings.
The Kingdom of God is advanced from the bottom-up, and from the inside-out. Love conquers all. Love your political “enemies.” Get to know them, and minister to their deepest needs. Stop the angry rhetoric, finger pointing and closed-minded rejection of everything that is counter to your favorite party, candidate or ideology. Win hearts for Christ, and let Him take it from there. The Holy Spirit is a better voters’ guide than anything any advocacy group can publish.
When the people turn towards God, and are yielded to His Spirit, the issues we’re fighting over will disappear — selfishness, suffering, brokenness, illness, betrayal, crime, rage, greed, corruption, destitution, and every other social sickness will fade away — and His Kingdom will rise.
And I believe that’s a cause we can all get behind.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
God has taken me far and wide in His service. I’ve been blessed to spend time in remote villages in Brazil and Honduras, the streets of Paris and London, big cities and rural villages in Tanzania and Nigeria, and communities all across America, including a recent mission trip with a group of young people to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. I’ve dined in the Ritz in Paris and a thatch-roofed hut in a village that had never before been visited by an outsider. I’ve sat behind Billy Graham’s private desk and behind natives in dugout canoes; preached in opulent American sanctuaries and an overcrowded Third World prison; jetted in First Class and been sandwiched in rundown, foreign taxicabs. And along the way, I’ve been privileged to get to know presidents, governors, celebrities and billionaires … and indigents, addicts, lepers and hardened criminals.
Even as I write this, recounting these adventures feels like watching Forrest Gump share his life story. I never set out to travel or to experience all that I have; it’s only by God’s grace and good pleasure that I’ve witnessed so much of this world and met so many interesting people. Along the way, I’ve done my best to extract every bit of knowledge and wisdom from these experiences, and now I feel burdened to share as much as I can of what I’ve learned with others.
In my missionary travels, one thing I’ve seen over and over again is the tragic disconnect of American elitism. Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud to be an American, and I am thankful for our nation’s relative freedom, security, prosperity and Godly heritage. But sadly, it seems we American Christians – and the people we seek to reach – are deceived into thinking our material prosperity is somehow akin to godliness. It’s like everyone thinks we have it all figured out, and that our ways are the best ways, in every way. As a result, folks around the world tend to be drawn to us like moths to a flame. They generally come with their hands out, and we’re generally way too eager to fill them with stuff – and then consider our missionary work done.
Our money. Our technology. Our buildings. The way we do “church.” All these are craved by the “have nots,” who tend to think, like a cow straining for the “greener” grass on the other side of the fence, that material things and empty religion hold any real value.
Let me tell you, it’s true. The first thing you notice when you visit an impoverished area of the world – including here within our own borders – is all the things they lack that we take for granted. But if you spend enough time there, you begin to see the opposite – the things they take for granted that we lack. And when you step back and look at it all in perspective, you find that, in every important way, we’ve got our whole value system upside down. Because the society the world calls “rich” is one of the most impoverished in the world in the things that matter most – and the “poor” of this world are some of the wealthiest in every important way.
I just got back from a 3-week trip to Southern Nigeria. It is very similar to the other Third World countries I’ve visited. Every Christian I spoke with there has experienced and witnessed countless, authentic miracles. Try finding a mainstream American Christian who has seen one. The people in their “poor” culture put God first, value family, honor their elders, crave knowledge, walk with dignity and respect, and work tenaciously for a better tomorrow. (I visited a large, public, state university, and you know what? In every possible way, it was more of a Christian school than any “Christian” school I’ve ever seen in America!)
Sadly, these are mainly far-out, abstract “ideals” for Americans – and no longer the bedrock values upon which our culture is built.
And even sadder, they seem to think that if only we could be more like America, then everything will all be better.
Yet saddest of all is that we tend to think the same way, too! So our missionary goal is to export “Americanism” – the worship of stuff; the pursuit of physical comfort and stimulation above all else; the hollow sensational, showmanship of our churchianity.
Sometimes I feel like screaming, “STOP! We’ve got it all wrong!” We’re the ones who need missionaries from there! We need to go there with our ears open and lips closed. THEY have what WE need, and not the other way around!
In my most recent mission trips, some simple truths have begun to crystallize in my mind. Everywhere I go, and everyone I meet, all share the same needs – and the same solution to their ills:
No matter who they are, their potential is inborn. It’s not something you or I can give them; it is a gift of God alone. Every single human being has the opportunity to be adopted as a full offspring and heir of the Creator and King of the Universe. They have royal blood and birthright! The very best thing we can do is simply recognize that in them. How do you recognize royalty? With honor and respect! These – nothing more, and nothing less – are the keys to unlocking their full potential. They cost us nothing, and yet we tend to find them the hardest to give.
Our Provider is their Provider, too. There’s not one thing you can give them that God can’t give them better and more abundantly. The same promise applies to them as to you: If they seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, He will give them everything they need, every single day. Of course, if God puts on your heart to give something – money or other – do it joyfully, only give credit where it’s due, and don’t go beyond His leading. Just remember, they don’t need another thing, they need the King! Introduce them, and He’ll take it from there!
They sure as heck don’t need to be indoctrinated into our traditions. Their unique way of doing “church” – whether it be through dancing to drums, or seemingly chaotic celebrations, or praying in sweat lodges – so long as it’s Christ-centered and Spirit led – may very well be superior to what you and I have come to call “church.” Once again, open your ears and close your mouth. You may very well learn something. If our forefathers had done this, our world would be a brighter place today.
Peace, joy and love are fruits of the Spirit, not byproducts of any material things. And they’re contagious! Just walk the path the Lord lays before you, step by step, and these things will be manifest in and around you.
Their best path forward is the one led by the Spirit. It’s not according to the “American Way,” because, as a nation, we’ve lost our way. Introduce them to the Father through the Son, and help them hear the voice of the Spirit, and you’ll be equipping them for an incredible destiny.
The best thing of all is, you don’t need to be rich, or eloquent, or brave to forever change the world. You don’t even need to be far from home. Don’t let your abundance — or your lack! – get in the way. Wherever you’re from, and whatever you have, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). And when all is said and done, that’s all that really matters.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
The other day I wrote about the possibility of using our established “church” infrastructure to actually advance God’s Kingdom the way He intends. This would require a 180 degree turnaround, and could only come about as a result of a wholesale paradigm shift among congregational members and leaders.
This is not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. I do believe the hearts of most “church”-goers are in the right place. It’s just that 1700 years of tradition have led us, gradually, in a direction that is far from what Christ instituted. Yet the Glory of God is that no matter how far we stray, His path is always just one step away. If we open our eyes and ears to His Spirit, and let Him lead us the right way, things will change, dramatically, overnight.
Today I want to invite you to daydream with me about what this might look like.
In the business world, there’s a well-understood concept known as fiduciary responsibility. A person who holds fiduciary responsibility – like a trustee, or a member of a board of directors – is legally obligated to seek the very best interests of the stakeholders. In a for-profit entity, this means maximizing financial return on investment for the owners.
Most congregations have trustees, or a church council, or elders, or a pastor, who hold this stewardship. Most of these folks, I’m sure, sincerely exercise their fiduciary responsibility to the best of their abilities. But from my observation, it seems that most of them do so with the wrong stakeholders in mind. What I mean is that the vast majority of “church” facilities and resources I’ve ever seen are tailored 100% to serving the interests of the congregation and “seekers” in the community, and not God.
With very few exceptions, most “church” buildings sit virtually empty most of the week – especially the auditorium, which is generally the biggest and most opulent part. And even when they are occupied, they exist mainly to serve the comfort of the membership and “seekers” (who are generally believers looking for an upgrade from another congregation).
Now consider a paradigm shift. Say the decision makers for a congregation all of a sudden realize that their sole stakeholder is Jesus Christ, and not the members and other believers in the community who are looking for a more comfortable “church home.” This should be the case, shouldn’t it?
Jesus said that whatever we do “for the least of these” we are doing for Him. And the Bible also says that “true religion” is helping widows and orphans and those in need. We are called to show people we are Christians by our lovingkindness, not our fancy stage shows, fiery oratory and pre-packaged programs, right? Being Church is about true, ongoing, around-the-clock, intimate fellowship, as we work alongside each other to serve the Lord, right?
So I ask … What if we accepted our fiduciary responsibility as the mandate to maximize every resource to do what Jesus did — that is, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted and care for those less fortunate? He discipled His followers as He served the needs of others; they worked alongside Him, step-by-step. What if our leaders truly sought to follow His lead? (Now really, why is this such a “radical” idea?)
If we did this, would our “church” buildings sit empty most of the week? Would we truly dedicate so many square feet to what is effectively an exclusive entertainment venue? Would we spend another penny on stage lights, sound systems, stained glass, organs or padded seating?
Just imagine if “Church services” once again became actual services that the Church performs around the clock – “true religion” style — instead of a newspeak euphemism for the ritualistic, weekly concert/oratory/fundraising events that today count as “church services.”
Is another weekly stage show or another “Sunday school” class really the most vital need in the community? Is that really the best use of our time, talent and treasure? Can we truly not think of a more productive thing to do with those square feet of space? Could those kilowatts of electricity not be directed to a more meaningful purpose? Is there nobody and no no cause anywhere around that needs a roof over their head, or a meal in their belly, or a shoulder to cry on? The way we currently practice “church,” we’re saying, “yes, entertaining our members in air conditioned comfort is our top priority.”
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the word of God meaningless. This is exactly what He meant! Our fiduciary responsibility to our only true stakeholder, Jesus Christ, demands that we re-evaluate this, starting from Square One. We must heed Paul’s injunction to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, and stop conforming to the patterns of this world. Then God will renew our minds, and we will be able to know His true will. Today, we are far, far from it.
With the jillions of dollars worth of facilities, huge budgets, and countless eons of man-hours invested each year, if all these were focused to truly serve Christ – the way He modeled and desires – instead of ourselves, would we have so much hunger, homelessness, brokenness and sickness in our communities? Would we even need a public welfare system, or retirement homes, or day care? Would our society be such a fragmented, painful, harsh place? I don’t think so!
Would we need to fight so hard to be “relevant” and respected in the world today (which, as we’re currently practicing “Christianity,” is a losing battle)? I don’t think so!
When we switch our view of who the real stakeholder is, and we dedicate our fiduciary responsibility to serving Him alone, our world will change for the better – immediately and dramatically. We will truly become the salt and light of the world!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Lately God has been showing me some heavy stuff about relationships, and about myself, and He’s challenged me to view (and do) things differently. Today I’d like to pass that challenge on to you.
Many years ago, God showed me a picture of how He seeks to connect the world to Himself, using His children as conduits. God is pure love, hope, grace, mercy, truth, power, and peace; these are the hallmarks of His Kingdom. The world is parched, starved for these things. The good news is, God longs for His Kingdom to saturate every corner of the world. In His grand design, however, He does not desire simply to pour Himself out over the world. Instead, He desires for His sons and daughters to serve as conduits for His Kingdom, to connect the lost world to His fullness.
To put this in simple terms, God is like a water tank, the world is a drought-parched field, and He desires that we serve as the hoses that bridge the gap, carrying His Living Water to those in need.
This is a consistent theme through the New Testament: We are to build a relationship with God, build relationships with others, and then get ourselves out of the way, as He works through us to meet their needs. I could point out a mountain of Scripture verses to back this up, but let me just mention a few, in the writings of the Apostle Paul:
Romans 15:18, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God…”
Galatians 2:20, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…”
Paul wrote frequently on the topic of dying to self, of diminishing himself, of crucifying his flesh — in effect, to make sure he was a clear, clean hose for God to flow through. He didn’t seek to be strong, but weak, because, he said, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. He understood the first rule of serving as a conduit: that there is nothing we can add to what God is doing, nothing we can do for God. Instead, God desires that we cease from our own works and get out of His way, so that He can flow through us, untainted and unhindered.
When we inject our own desires, ambitions, ideas, perceptions, intentions, fears, doubts, logic, etc., into what He is doing, we only get in the way – and either contaminate the flow of His Spirit, or cut it off completely.
So … back to the challenge. Like I said, God showed me this picture of the hoses many years ago, and lately He’s brought it to another level of clarity and specificity, challenging me to bring this principle to my relationships.
Here’s what He’s set before me, in three “easy” steps. I call it the God Hose Challenge:
1) When I look at another person, my first objective is to ask God, “What do You desire for this person? What do You want to do for, in, and through them?” In other words, I must seek to see them with His eyes, and feel for them with His heart.
2) Next, I need to ask Him, “What do You want me to do about it?” In this, I need to look soberly at how He has equipped me to serve them, to help fulfill His desires for them. It may just be words, but it may much more. At the very least, for everyone I encounter, it will include specific prayer.
3) Finally, where I am not equipped or called by Him to fully meet their needs, I am to ask, “Who do I know who can help, and how can I get them connected?”
Simple, isn’t it? In concept, maybe, but let me tell you, if you embrace this challenge and let it change the way you get through your day, it’ll prove to be quite tough. If you’re like me, you’ll begin to realize how very selfish you’ve been. I’m willing to venture that even the “best” and “most righteous” of us, when we accept this challenge, will find how downright manipulative, self-seeking, petty, standoffish, and lazy we are, even with the ones we love most. I’ve been doing this just a couple days now, and I gotta tell you, I thought I was a pretty good guy, but I’m convicted about how many times, in how many ways, I’ve engaged others with “what’s in it for me?” somewhere in my mind.
The cool thing is, if you really embrace this as the core of how God wants us to live in relation to others – and not as some Dr. Phil quick fix, to be “tried” for a while – I think you’ll find that it gives you new hope for your future. Relationships that may have degenerated over the years, or that have become conformed to bad patterns, will start to revive. When we allow God to lead the dance, great things happen.
This challenge is the opposite of elbowing your spouse during the tough sermon, saying, “I hope you’re listening to this one!!” Instead, this challenge allows God to, lovingly, elbow YOU and purge you of all the bad things you’ve contributed – maybe even with good intentions! – to your relationships.
It not your job to “fix” your spouse, or friends, or anyone else – it’s God’s! It’s our job to fix ourselves, and let Him work through us as we do. It’s not a ploy to eventually get more stuff or improve things for myself; it’s a permanent conviction to fully serve the needs of others — all the time, in every way, with no thought for my own interests. Maybe I’m showing my absolute ignorance here, but to me, this really has been a revolutionary revelation.
Maybe coolest of all, I’m learning that “what goes around comes around.” Fact is, there are others in the world whom God has assigned to do the same thing for each of us! Just as God desires to work through us to build up others, He seeks to work through others to build us up. When we get ourselves out of the flow, it allows God not only to flow more through us, but also to flow more to us. When we stop seeking and worrying about our own needs and desires, and start focusing 100% on His Kingdom and righteousness – that is, on serving and loving others according to God’s desires for them – then He can and will truly provide for us, beyond our comprehension. If we instead seek to serve ourselves — even a little — we block the flow.
Are your relationships all perfect? Does the power, peace and love of God flow through you one hundred percent, unhindered and untainted? And, are you finding that God is daily working through others to build you up and provide for your needs? If not, I hope you’ll join me in the God Hose Challenge. I believe it just may revolutionize your life.
(Now imagine if everyone functioned this way. Talk about heaven on earth!)
Try it out for a week, and then come back and post a reply and let us know how it’s going.
EPHESIANS 4:29-30 (my own translation from the Greek): “Let no worthless reasoning, motive or intent come out of you, but only what is good for building up others, according to their needs, for their benefit.”
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!