What To Do When Your Leaders Are Wrong: Part One

Several years ago, I read the book Toxic Faith. It sounded like the organizational handbook of the para-church ministry from which I had just resigned. While I wish my situation were unique, it was not and books are written because bad leadership does exist. Having said that, truly ‘toxic’ situations are not the norm, so this first blog is meant to address the more normal situational conflicts that arise when ‘your leaders are wrong’.

It’s important to define terms. Someone is “wrong” when their actions are contrary to that which is moral, ethical, and biblical.  There’s a myriad of things your leaders can do that are not, in your opinion, good judgement, but they are not “wrong”. It not morally wrong to be outdated, disorganized, inexperienced, non-intuitive or culturally naïve. Being any of those things will hinder the effectiveness of a ministry but it’s not morally wrong to be ineffective. This is not to raise inefficiency to a virtue but suffice to say it is not a moral vice.

Most of the time, if you have a conflict with a leader there is a difference of opinion, personality or generation, that is of no moral consequence.  I know that I make decisions that appear as though I am shooting from my aging hips when in fact I am making a decision based on more factors than I can reasonably articulate. Leaders should expect to answer reasonable questions, asked at a reasonable place and time. If you see your leader make a significant choice with which you don’t agree, make note of it and ask him or her about it, privately, at an appropriate time. Pick your topics wisely. If you don’t like the color scheme of the church nursery, get over it. If you lead youth group and don’t understand why certain activities are not permitted, ask those in authority in a private context. Questions asked publicly are often perceived (and subliminally intended) as a challenge to leadership. If you are asking in an appropriate way but get a response that is demeaning, and such responses are the norm, you have a real problem. (Be sure to read the next blog.)

But what do we do when leaders we love make poor choices?  How do you respond when your pastor is discouraged that people don’t participate in worship but you realize that having a music team that consists of a tambourine and zither player has made congregational participation difficult?

Step One: Talk to your leader.  In a healthy situation, you can probably talk most things out with your leader.  Maybe your pastor does not realize there are affordable alternatives to a live worship band. Maybe he secretly has nightmares about the zither, too. Most leaders are approachable if you are respectful. Be nice. Buy his/her coffee. Listen to your leader as much as you want him or her to listen to you. Maybe your pastor will be thrilled if you take ownership of the solution.  Give it a shot.

Step Two: Ask yourself why you are serving where you are. If you know the Lord called you to a certain ministry, stay where you are and wait until the Lord tells you to go. If your leaders are making poor choices that are not “wrong” perhaps your faithful service will win the right to be heard so there will be a change. Renting an inflatable castle for VBS is not an issue of right or wrong. The decision may not go your way, but if you are not the final authority for the church, remember that Christians in the world suffer fates worse than outdated VBS choices.

The bottom line is most issues are not issues of right or wrong.  Sadly, some issues are, when your leaders are truly wrong you will be on track for a very difficult road. That is why this is a two-part blog.

Sex Before Marriage

This piece comes by numerous confidential requests. Numerous. You are not alone.

We live in a sexually permissive age.  Your parents grew up in a sexually permissive age.  The gospel was preached throughout the known world in a sexually permissive age.  For all people, of all time, temptations are pretty much the same.  The difficultly in our current, media-driven world, is for Christians to know what is, and is not, acceptable behavior between unmarried people. Let’s start by stating some obvious, if uncomfortable, truths.

It Ain’t About Pregnancy

I have lost count of how many times young people will insist they are virgins because they did not engage in sexual conduct that could result in pregnancy. You can do a lot of sexually pleasurable things without the risk of conception. Meeting the biological definition of virginity does not mean you have never engaged in sexual immorality.  Be honest with yourself and with God.  Then try being honest with your peers.  Insisting you are pure as the driven snow because pregnancy was not possible requires either extraordinary self-deception or a level of naivete that is almost impossible to believe is sincere.

Where’s the Line?

There is a simple question to ask and answer:   “Would we do this in public?”

If the answer is ‘yes’ you can be pretty sure you are staying safe. You can kiss, hug, hold hands, embrace and do many things in public that will not prove an irresistible temptation. If, however, the answer to, “Can we do this in public?”, is ‘no’, then you can be quite certain you’re playing with fire.  No need to pray about whether or not it is sin.  If you can’t do something walking around in the park while families play nearby it is best to save it until after the ring.  If you are not comfortable with your future spouse imagining you in that situation, don’t go there.

Rather than trying to figure out the acceptable parameters in the midst of passionate interaction, determine healthy boundaries before you are in a situation that requires you draw the line.  If you are feeling tempted and tired, go home. Go home alone and send your beloved back to their place, alone, or with an irritatingly present roommate.  Don’t wait until you are exhausted and your judgment is compromised before you decide to call it a night.

What to Do if You Went Too Far

You are defined by the love of God as seen in the face of Jesus Christ, not by your biggest mistakes.  If you went too far, ask forgiveness and start afresh.  Agree with your significant other that you can’t play with fire and expect to be without scars. If your boyfriend or girlfriend is not OK with that, break up.  You might feel you can’t live without them but if the other person loves you and loves the Lord they will respect limits that keep you both safe.

Remember that this is a life-long grace walk.  God’s grace brought you this far. God’s grace will keep you.  Get moving in the right direction and don’t look back.

 

 

Ministering Across Generations

A young pastor recently asked me how to best minister to a congregation where the average attendee was 20-40 years his senior.  My advice: minister with gratitude, grace, and eyes of faith.  Those are attitudes with practical applications.

Gratitude

You inherited a treasure trove.  People who have faithfully attended and given to the church for years have walked the long road and they are still here.  That is far more valuable than one might appreciate in earlier decades of life.  Whether experiences good or bad, these folks have a lifetime of experiences: ministry experience, marriage and child rearing experience, reconciliation experience and more.  A wise person learns from all of life experience and you have inherited a church with hundreds of years of collective experiences and resources.  Thank God for these people and tell them so.  You will likely learn they are very grateful for you, too.

Grace

The fact you are a ‘nice young man’ or ‘nice young woman’ is a plus. Your congregation will love you just for showing up and looking neat and respectful.  They will be gracious about your preaching, which is a a win-win for a new preacher. Older people are smart enough to know if you faithfully preach the Bible, it is relevant and meeting their needs.

You best minister to your church members by reminding them of grace. Remind them of all the great truths that have borne them well thus far.  Remind them that in spite of the life’s disappointments and failures they still have purpose.  Grace got them launched on the journey and regardless of age, they will only continue and bless if they do so relying on God’s grace.

Eyes of Faith

We need a vision at all ages of life. This is harder to maintain as we age because we have so many physical limitations that we can’t do all we can see could happen.  That’s where you, the young person come in.

Last June, I heard a message where the speaker shared about several old New England churches that had under 10 elderly members and were looking to shut down and donate their buildings and resources to God’s kingdom. Rather than close, they were advised to prayerfully consider agreeing to stay open and take on a young pastor. Each church did this and within three years attendance had swelled to 60-80 people of various ages.  The original congregation had eyes of faith but not the physical energy to do what was needed.  Yet through prayer, lending what help they could and having faith to hang on, they helped re-establish an evangelical witness in their communities.

You might be thinking, “Vision?  Folks in my church can’t see past their next surgery”. True, it is easy to get inward focused with more of life’s challenges but this is where you remind people how much they are needed.  In a world of fractured families, many people are looking for mentors, grandparent-models and aunties.  We build based on the resources we have not our limitations.  I have friends who ‘retired’ from the mission field and within six months were teaching ESL to immigrant families.  They did not let age stop them from serving in God’s kingdom.

It is easy as a young pastor to feel you are failing older congregants if you can’t impart some spiritual wisdom on a regular basis. Unless they are newly saved, older people are well served by simply reminding them of things you might be learning for the first time.  The fact is, together, old  and young, we are the Body of Christ and His power to work a miracle of growth depends on the prayerfulness, faith, and vision of your church members.  It will never be limited by age.

 

Transgenderism

The topic of ‘transgenderism’ might seem new but it is not. There really is nothing new under the sun because people are remarkably the same in every generation. The only difference is we are talking openly about something that has always existed.  The hurt, pain, and rejection that cause and result from gender identity issues are as old as the fall of humanity.

We are created in God’s image, male and female.  We are created in God’s image even if we identify as transgender. Nothing removes that amazing beauty of being His image bearer.  Gender, like age, is not self-determined. We are born with the chromosomal combination that determines whether we are male or female. We may be content with our gender or consider it the source of deep emotional pain but no external physical modifications will alter the chromosomal combination with which we were born. Transgenderism is self-rejection at the most basic level.

Our Common Brokenness

We all struggle in many ways but Jesus does not distance Himself from us no matter how our brokenness manifests itself in our lives. At Calvary He demonstrated that He values everyone such that He paid the penalty for our sin, provided for our healing and paved the way for our reconciliation to God.  He loves us passionately and chose crucifixion rather than leave us in our broken condition. He made a clear path for us all that we might be restored.  No one is exempt from following that path.

In a world that has grown accustomed to hate speech the greatest lie about those struggling with gender identity issues is to say, “God loves you just like everyone else.  However, your pain and struggles are unique so you have to work it out yourself”.

Ministering to those Dealing with Transgenderism

We are ministers of reconciliation, not debate.  Much has been lost over the years by those who hate evil more than they loved good.  Don’t get caught up discussing things which can only distract from the love of God.  We love others and minister to their deepest needs by focusing on how we are the same not by debating our differences.

Gender identity issues or not, we all long to be known and loved, even though we are deeply flawed. Only Jesus can love like that.  Transgender or not, we all must come to the end of ourselves and realize we are powerless to change apart from the grace and mercy of God. The successful businessman who takes pride in his career is no different than the transgender teen trying to find a path in life.  Both are lost and self-deceived apart from the loving grace and healing mercy of Jesus Christ.

We are broken people in a broken world.  Jesus came to heal and restore us and no manifestation of our sin and brokenness is exempt.  We have a testimony that no one can refute,  “Jesus heals our brokenness”. Jesus never shamed the hurting. Shame never transformed anyone but the infinite love and grace of Jesus does.

 

Money Matters for the New in Ministry

OK, Jesus-loving newbies fresh out of school. Remember all that passion you had when you started?  You might wonder if you lost your edge but in truth, reality has set in. Don’t worry that you will never regain your fervor. The gospel is true and Jesus is faithful. Your struggle is seeing how it all works in real life, not in theory.  It’s all worth it.

School Debt

The vast majority of people who graduate from college, no matter what their major, are in significant debt. If mom and dad paid for your schooling in full, rise up and call them blessed, but for most families that is not possible. You are an adult. We all know it is wrong to take ownership of something you don’t pay for and it is no less true of a college education it is to take goods from your local grocery store without paying for them.  Honor the Lord by handing your school debt in a responsible manner. School debt should not keep you from ministry.  You can whine and think that you earn less than people with a secular education, but in truth, the struggles of the newly graduated are universal. Thank God for your education, trust Him with you debt, and do what you were trained to do.

Educate Yourself About Loan Terms

Many young people are paying crippling amounts which can negotiated to a more reasonable payment by contacting the loan provider.  If you can’t make ends meet there are many ways to tie your payment to your income. This ensures you will be able to responsibly meet your payments as well as build a good credit score.  If you have no idea how to talk to your loan provider, ask someone older than you for advice. (Yes, you can inbox me.)

Learn Your Second-Job Options

I am an ordained accountant. For the majority of people in ministry, there will be a time when you are bi-vocational.  We worked secular jobs, studied, and ministered in our local church during our 20’s and were not in full time ministry until the age of 30.  It is a great learning experience and helps you appreciate the people who have secular careers and support the church and ministry.  If you are a missionary associate, you will have to work while you are on deputation. If you are not earning enough at your ministry job to pay all your bills you will have to take a second position to supplement your income.  This makes you like most Christians in the world.

There are a host of simple ways to get a skilled job.  You have a college education.  You can be a substitute teacher in the public school.  You can teach at a private school be it secular or Christian. You can find work through a temp agency, nanny through an agency or get a certificate in some area of interest through your local technical high school or community college. No skill is wasted and it is not a lifetime commitment to a profession to take a job in a secular area for a time.  Paul was a tent maker and it did not make him less an apostle. There is no shame in being a barista or waitress, if you are a barista or a waitress to the glory of God. In truth, you get to mingle with the masses and that is a healthy thing to do.

Trust God and Don’t Lose Your Vision

The difference between Bible college and post Bible college is the latter requires more faith. You now have to trust God for things in the present that were once just topics of discussion.  God is faithful. Trust Him and you will find that He is indeed faithful. Tithe, when it makes no financial sense, and you will discover that proving the Lord of Hosts is never a losing proposition. You are not promised smooth sailing. You are promised that Jesus will be with you on the stormy waters.

Don’t lose your vision.  God has not removed His call from you just because the pieces do not fall into place right away.  You spent four years preparing for ministry. If you give up on ministry because things don’t fall into place, you need to get a grip, grow up, re-gear and go on in grace. The Lord is worth serving and there is nothing greater to which we can give our lives than to lovingly share the gospel. Even if you had to assume school debts that kept you in payments till you die, the Pearl of Great Price would still be of greater value. Life joyfully in that truth.

 

How to Get Started in Ministry

You went to Bible college for ministry. You are in debt up to your ears for the sake of your calling. You did internships with various churches while in school and a handful of your classmates were fortunate enough to meet a pastor who was vested in mentoring them and gave them a first job. And then, there is you.  How do you move from “ministry wannabe” to someone engaged in meaningful ministry?

The good news is that ministry opportunities abound.  If you really want to serve Jesus in ministry, you will.  How do you find places where you can make a contribution to God’s kingdom?  Be willing to look where the needs are great and the financial rewards are non-existent. If you really want to pursue Jesus recklessly, without concern for the costs, be willing to pursue Him recklessly without concern for the rewards.

Church Plants, Home Missions and Revitalization Projects

While everyone would like to be the worship leader of a Hillsong Church, about six people on the planet have that  job.  If we are all about souls, nothing is more challenging or rewarding, than teaming up with like minded people to spread the gospel through planting, growing or revitalizing local churches. These types of ministries are labor intensive and need a healthy team of Christians committed to Jesus.   If you minister to children or youth, are gifted musically or pastorally, you will actually make a difference by starting in a small work. As it grows you will have had the joy of seeing God’s faithfulness first hand.  Your ministry position will grow with the church and today’s full-time leader was once a faithful volunteer who loved Jesus enough to serve anywhere. If the ministry position fits, don’t turn it down for lack of salary. God is faithful. You trust Him. Trust Him with your financial situation. God has bigger plans and bigger rewards than what we can see.  There is no shame to starting at the beginning but there’s a lot of of joy in doing so.

Serving Your Ministry Network

Many young people are not really sure how to find places where their skills can be used.  Fortunately, most of us belong to some kind of network and a phone call to your superintendent’s office or that of the director of church development will likely steer you in the right direction.  Should that fail you, contact a local presbyter or ask a professor from your Bible college days.  By and large, older people like to help younger people get started. Find yourself an old person and get their input. I’m old and I can vouch for my age mates. Investing in the younger generation is a joy to us. 

Pioneer a New Ministry in Your Home Church

Once you have attended Bible college, most people will need to move on from their home church to another place of ministry.  This is not a criticism of your home church but a simple reality.  Your church has a pastor, youth minister, children’s director and worship leader and you are not there to replace or compete with those already called to those positions. Neither are you there to lose heart that you will ever “get a chance” to do what God called you to do.  But there is a reality that for some people, there will be a time between leaving school and finding a ministry opportunity outside your original home church.  When you are at home, serve your local church.  Volunteer wherever they will take you.  Talk to the pastor and ask him what ministry he would like to see that is not yet in place and if possible, be prepared to suggest where you might be a blessing. Play guitar?  Start a ministry to a local nursing home.  Love youth?  Volunteer as a Bible study leader.  Have a heart for the public schools?  Offer to organize a ministry in cooperation with Youth Alive. Few churches suffer from an over supply of the willing and if you do end up at home, do not let that be an excuse to sit on your hands.

Money?

While all this sounds great in theory, many of you will be paralyzed by the fact you have school debt.  How do you find the balance between meaningful ministry and Fannie Mae?  Stay tuned for Money Matters in our next blog. 

Feeling Nothing? Welcome to a Life of Faith!

The music was glorious. The congregation was swept up in the joys of Christmastime. Hands were raised. Tears flowed. Yet once again I looked like a person waiting for a root canal. I felt nothing positive or negative. Mentally, I was plagued by guilt that I, a missionary, seemed unmoved by the ancient truths that saved my soul. Since returning to the US I had waited for “something” to happen to me. I wanted God to move on what I perceived was a hardened heart. After months of “waiting for God to move” I was starting to feel like I was waiting in vain. There was no zing, swoosh, or zoom. I heard no sound of a rushing wind. I was praying and still feeling like I was dead as a doornail. Then, God spoke.

“What they are doing is easy”. That was it. That was all He said. I didn’t feel a thing, but the impression of that sentiment was so strong I knew it was Him and I found myself realizing something I already knew to be true: nothing is as it appears to be. People’s upraised hands meant nothing if they were not living a life of faith.

The months rolled by and the time for our return to Papua was at hand. I was at a ministry wives’ retreat and there was a moving altar call that touched the lives of many. Women filled the altar, tears flowed, hankies flew and I found myself once again standing alone in the middle of the friends pinching the bridge of my nose like a woman with a migraine. I kept saying, “God please do something wicked* quick”. (*God speaks Bostonian).

Suddenly, I was standing under the eaves of our house in the remote village of Waipapa. I heard the Lord speak clearly and evenly, “I don’t want you to cry. I don’t want you to weep. I want you to go back”. Then, I opened my eyes and saw I was still in a room full of passionate pastors’ wives and they looked a lot more touched than I felt. I said to the Lord, “Couldn’t I have gotten a little zip with that?” This time He said nothing. I had just had an unemotional vision.

Getting older answers a lot of the questions you have as a young person. I am now glad I didn’t get goosebumps when other people did. The Lord knew what I needed and what would mess me up. A lot of emotion would have been a disaster where I lived, and sadly I saw a lot of people walk away from their calling because the enthusiasm they used as a barometer to confirm God’s will suddenly was not enough to keep them going. Life cannot be maintained at such an emotional level. If a rushing sense of emotion indicates the joy of the Lord, then a lack of it would seem to indicate that the joy of the Lord is not present. In truth, joy is a perspective not a feeling and any internal barometer of God’s will is by definition, egocentric.

The Lord knows our emotions like our bodies, were made to reflect His glory but are corrupted by the fallen world. I don’t need a zing to tell me God’s will when I have His Word. His Word says to preach this gospel “in season and out”, which is a nice way of saying, “When you feel like it and when you don’t”. The Spirit of God promises to lead me into all truth, but not all giddiness. God called me to missions and the longer I have served Him in that capacity the less I have heard affirmation of the call. I know I am called. He impressed it on me and then He stepped back and let me live that call out in faith. I had ‘only’ the Word of God and the Spirit of God to guide me. And if I rely solely on the scriptures and live them just as they are written, I will indeed have a super natural life with the Spirit of God leading me in all truth. I have seen a lot of miracles and I have seen a lot of sorrow. I have had some truly amazing days where I felt incredibly awesome. I have had an equal number of days when I felt in the pits. In between I didn’t feel a whole lot out of the ordinary.That means I am living a very scriptural life.

Yes, you will have your battles with your emotions. Never let your emotions define you or your choices. A heart of faith makes decisions based not on how we feel but on the Word of God. Now be free and live as big as your God.