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 It not morally wrong to be outdated, disorganized, inexperienced, non-intuitive or culturally naïve.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.

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. 

Gunfire at Christmas

The call came early on Christmas morning. Gunmen, enraged over a tribal dispute, had gone into a church and shot worshipers on Christmas morning. My husband was the mission director for the province where the incident occurred and our breakfast guest the head of a mission’s aviation service. Within minutes my husband and guest were out the door headed to the airstrip. I began to make phone calls trying to contact police, who in the country where we worked, took holidays off, so I spent a lot of time with ringing phones and no answers.
As missions is a creative profession, a “Plan B” was hastily pulled together. Doctors, ambulances and police all took the day off, so we got in touch with a network of Christian workers in Morobe Province who dropped their plans, gathered vehicles and headed 40 miles out of town to the airfield to which the wounded would be taken. Hours passed between the time flights took off to pick up the wounded and bring them to a hospital and the time those planes landed in Lae. The area hospital was offering no surgery on Christmas, or Boxing Day so the wounded had only the medical assistance missionary workers could render on board small aircraft and a lot of prayer on their behalf. The transport took several hours and it was 10 hours between the time my husband left home and when he returned.

That made for a very different sort of Christmas. It was a sunny day and in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is a summer time holiday. There are not many “special occasions” but we made Christmas a very important holiday in our home. Gifts were under the tree and a well prepared meal on which we’d splurged a small fortune grew tepid on the counter. I was home alone with our son, and about 3 PM after six hours of patiently waiting for something Christmas-like to happen he asked me, “Mom, is today still Christmas?” I thought a moment and replied, “Yes, son. Today is why we need Christmas”.

Not every disappointing Christmas is marked by gunfire, but it is not uncommon for Christmas to be a hard time of year for many. This is often greater for Christians who feel an added dose of guilt if they are not enjoying every moment of the holiday in the way they feel they should. It’s as if the joy of the day somehow accentuates the sadness they feel inside and they feel sadder for being sad. I had years when I struggled with the same thing but that Christmas marked by gunfire changed my perspective.

If you are feeling sad this Christmas, celebrate the fact that God knows you in your darkness. He came as Light to the World. He cares about the sorrow and willingly is called “The Man of Sorrows”. He sees our sense of hopelessness and declares Himself, “The Hope of Nations”. He feels our loneliness and comes as “Emmanuel” that we remember “God is with Us”.

Joy is not a feeling, it is a perspective. For all who are filled with laughter and happiness and loving all things Christmas, that is a joy that shall not be taken from them. But there will be Christmas days in life when your feelings will not rise to meet your expectations, when sorrow will be palpable and trouble shadow your celebration. Christmas is for you, too. It is your day as well and the perspective you have on the days when life is not so merry reminds you why He came. It’s a worthy way to celebrate and you appreciate the fullness of Christmas for the times that are not so “merry”. Be thankful for these days too. Your perspective is richer for the lean times and more mature for knowing Him in hard times as well. A joyful Christmas to you.

All Do Not Speak In Tongues

In 1 Cor. 12:30 Paul asks a rhetorical question, “Do all speak in tongues?” Remarkably, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree that the answer to that question is “No, they do not”. In the context of Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians 12, where the context is spiritual gifts as they are used in a church setting, everyone agrees that not all speak in tongues. Regardless of your starting point, it’s universally agreed that if everyone speaks in tongues out loud at the same time we have one messy confusing church gathering.

Likewise, as to the context of I Corinthians 12-14, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree: Paul is discussing the use of gifts of the Holy Spirit in a church setting. The areas where people do not agree focus on two major questions: “Did the gifts cease when the canon came into being?” and “Is speaking in tongues in a church setting, the same as speaking in tongues in one’s private prayer life?”

How Important Is This?

Being a planner, I struggled with the issue of tongues and gifts for a long time. Prior to becoming a Pentecostal minister, I struggled with “the initial physical evidence” for a long time. So if you struggle with this, you have company. You have questions that deserve answers and the scriptures have those answers.

Being honest, it takes a lot hermeneutic gymnastics to explain away the gifts of the Spirit. That is extremely inconvenient for those of us who like predictable things. While we love to sing that God is alive, we seem rather shocked that He has this plan to to actively participate in church gatherings. However, the Lord deemed the gifts so important that He devoted a great deal of scripture to instructing His people in the proper use of them. None of us want to lay claim to arrogance, but if the Lord God instructs us in the gifts so that His church might be healthy, who are we to say, “We have no need of them”? We cannot read Galatians 3, Romans 12, or these chapters in 1 Corinthians and escape the fact that a “normal church experience” as Christ intended church to be “normal” was meant to include the use of gifts of the Spirit. I can think of nowhere else in all of the New Testament where Christians are so eager to explain away three chapters of scripture.

Being stuck with the truth that “Gee, there’s a lot in there on gifts”, I had to work through the issues. People often enthusiastically point out that tongues are not that important because if we speak with tongues and have not love, we are like an annoying gong. This leads me to ask, “If we don’t speak in tongues and act like a loveless jerk, are we any less annoying?” Chapter 13 does not exist to belittle the gifts but to remind us they do not trump the fruit of the Spirit. By the time we get to I Cor. 13:10, we have to be grasping at straws to take the Greek word for “mature/perfect” and decide for this time and this time only in scripture, it really means “the authoritative canon of scripture”. It takes more faith to come up with that explanation and ignore three chapters of scripture than to simply read the text for what is says.

Unfortunately when I read the text I realize something that requires change on my part. We are living with far less than Jesus offers His church and we are so comfortable living with so little, we find it easier to justify our ease than to seek what we lack. We find church predictable and boring because we are by nature, predictable and boring. We’ve left so little room for God to move, and are terribly afraid of the consequences if He does. Yet we hold in our hands a very clear New Testament model of what a healthy church should look like.

Putting Tongues in Place

My first hurdle, personally, was to determine if Paul spoke about tongues as “a prayer language”  that was distinct from the gift of tongues used to edify the church. In I Cor. 14. Paul explains why speaking in tongues in church without interpretation is counterproductive. He also teaches us the following concerning tongues:

Speaking in tongues is a form of speaking to God, by the power of God and it is a mystery (vs.2) that strengthens the person who is praying (vs. 3)  Paul states his strong desires that everyone speak in tongues (vs. 5)* and boasts that he personally speaks in tongues more than everyone (vs.18). Tongues are a sign for “unbelievers” (vs. 22) and an expected part of church gatherings (vs. 26). The only limit he gives is that no more than two or three messages in tongues with interpretation should occur per meeting, so everyone in the church has a chance to contribute using his or her corporate gift. (vs. 27). Even as Paul reminds the Corinthians of the importance of orderly worship, he says clearly “don’t forbid speaking in tongues” (vs. 39).

The Big “But”

My original question was why anyone would think of tongues as “private prayer language” that was not one and the same as the gift listed in Chapter 12.   (If Paul could have made paragraph breaks, used HTML and inserted emoticons, a lot of things would be easier to understand. Just saying….)  The truth that praying in tongues privately, should not be confused with the gift of tongues spoken in a corporate setting as prompted by the Holy Spirit, is the very reason Paul had to write chapter 14.  He spends so much time explaining the difference, that  I nearly missed the glaringly obvious “but“. Paul’s boasts how much he spoke in tongues, privately,  and the very next phrase is “But in church …”

Right there in front of me Paul made a distinction between speaking in tongues privately and speaking in tongues in church. Oops. In fact, he spent much of the chapter parsing the two that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. So there I was, willing to consider that “mature/perfect” (I Cor. 13:10) might somehow be contorted to mean “the authoritative canon of scripture” yet I was overlooking a conjunction of contrast with an unmistakable meaning: “but”.  Why?  Because like most people I am tempted to harmonize my experience with scripture so I am comfortable with my lack.  The real problem most of us have with scripture surrounding the gifts is they point out our church experience lacks what scripture says should be normative.  That should not cause us to reinterpret scripture. It should cause us to earnestly seek that which we lack.

I had studied myself into a corner:  Paul did indeed distinguish between praying in tongues privately and the gift of tongues as a sign to unbelievers. Like it or not, I had to dig deeper and so this series will continue….

Next Time: I Skinned My Shin on a Honda
*(The words “wish” or “could” are not in Greek, so adding them to English sounds like it would really great if people could speak in tongues but it is not actually possible. If Paul wanted to express wishful thinking,  he would have used the subjunctive. Instead, Paul used the indicative form.  Paul is expressing a strong desire that everyone speak in tongues, not to frustrate people who have not done so, or make them feel bad,  but to encourage them to keep seeking.)