Why Leaders Lose Their Way ➙

Before anyone takes on a leadership role, they should ask themselves, "Why do I want to lead?" and "What's the purpose of my leadership?" These questions are simple to ask, but finding the real answers may take decades. If the honest answers are power, prestige, and money, leaders are at risk of relying on external gratification for fulfillment. There is nothing wrong with desiring these outward symbols as long as they are combined with a deeper desire to serve something greater than oneself.
No, leaders lose their way because even the Christians believe this statement to be true.
(via Todd Singletary)

What is Church? (Thoughts on Ecclesiology)

The following is an edited version of email I received recently from my father. My team spends a good bit of time with church leaders and this came from a discussion with my Dad about ecclesiology. My father worked for 25 years and was involved in the church as a layman. Two years shy of full retirement he felt called to full time ministry and left his job to go work at a big church. There were some wonderful things that happened there and some terrible things. After finishing his time at that church he started a number of house churches as he was sorting through what he believed church should look like. Later he raised support and moved to a closed country to serve as a missionary. I respect my father greatly and thus reproduce this here. That said, we don't agree on everything stated here, but I'll leave that to you to sort through. The email has been edited so as to hide some of the background and his and my location in this world.

Discussions like these can be really problematic because we sometimes start from such fundamentally different places. The Bible is rather silent about how church operated in the first century. So there is a lot of room for different ideas from an academic starting point. We have a few verses at the end of Acts 2 which could be argued only apply to that special time and then we have 1 Cor 14:26 and maybe a few hints in other places. We have some information from early church history which can be useful. But, it is very disappointing to see how quickly the church structure degenerated as early as the end of the second century.

From my experiences, I have found that my biblical foundation has changed. I want to give you my perspective biblically first. As part of that I will add many ideas from my experiences. That will put my comments in perspective. If you read all of this I suspect you will see that I have a fundamentally different idea of church as compared to the normal big church in America. So, I will build the foundation, then I will speak very directly to the issues you raise.

1. Paul's list of gifts needed for the building up of the church. We started in very traditional church systems. Later we became involved in churches based on a Kingdom of God theological system. The best thing about this last church system was that we began to experience the traditional gifts that are listed by Paul in four locations: Rom 12, 1 Cor 12 (two lists) and Eph 4. We became elders with some freedom to "eld." We experienced all of the gifts listed. We learned that these gifts really are needed for the building up of the church. Paul actually knew what he was talking about. I provided the 4 lists of gifts below.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. - Rom 12:6-8

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. - 1 Co 12:7-11

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts... - 1 Co 12:28-31

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. -Eph 4:11-14
2. And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God...” - Luk 16:15

This verse was about money and the Pharisees. But, I think it applies to much in life. From my experience working in the church and in the world, whenever we make the things "exalted among men" important in our lives, we have a problem. We often are focusing on something that is "an abomination in the sight of God." So, when I see the church highly valuing money, a well known personality, popularized music and the musician, I get uncomfortable for those who follow the personality and especially for for the person who has made himself a personality.

3. Those who become important and popular and have many followers live in a questionable place. The apostle Paul called the Corinthian elders to account in 1 Cor 4 for becoming important--almost like kings. Whereas he was an unimportant apostle. These verses make it very clear that those who are like kings--and are considered "wise," "strong" and "in honor"--live in a place that Paul considers very questionable. Many people hold one popular pastor or another in a high place of honor. Usually, he is well known, often rich from his books and the leader of a large organization. All of these things make me nervous and should make him nervous if he is willing to listen to Paul. Finally, Paul says to imitate him. Paul had a big vision for the unreached and he gave his life away for it. He did not get rich or important in a worldly way. He went from place to place establishing churches and setting up elders to minister there. We have people like that in the world today. People like Paul. People we should be imitating. But they are like Paul at the end of the line. We do not know them. They are not famous like our pastors.
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. - 1Co 4:8-16
4. In that same chapter Paul says:
That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? - 1Co 4:17-21
Paul sent Timothy to "remind you of my ways." That which we are to imitate. Then he confronts the arrogant among them and their talk. He goes on to say "kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power." Most of our big name pastors are all about talk. They would not even know what to do with the verse about power. It is not what made them famous. On the other hand, the unknown church planter in the back country of Asia has experienced lots of power. But, we ignore him and listen to our teachers. Americans give immense amounts of money to these teachers and their projects/buildings. These teachers need to be very fearful before God for how they taught their thousands and how they used their money. They have not imitated Paul. They have imitated the Corinthian elders.

5. "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. " - Jas 3:1

This verse is serious. And the rest of the chapter says some very strong things about our tongues. If you are the leader of a big church you need to be very concerned about what you teach. The problem is, every church in which I have worked or studied, got to be that way through a big vision. A big vision that they talked about almost every week. This vision is always talked about as something given by God. But, there is a problem with vision like that. Paul had a big vision for the non-Jewish world. But, his vision did not gather people to him or his organization. He went from place to place giving his life away and setting up elders in new churches. I cannot find any vision in the New Testament that gathers people to one personality or organization. I am now convinced that every one of these visions is NOT from God. Instead, it is self serving to build an organization. Big vision is something highly valued by business and the world. In the church it might very well be an "abomination." Read the article about institutionalizing missional narcissism.

6. Organizations are a very questionable entity biblically. There is a famous secular quote from Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."
I have watched pastors whom I know well. They know something is fundamentally wrong with what they are doing. But, they cannot imagine changing it. They are secure in their important position. It is not their calling. But it feels good most of the time. It is really hard to think outside of their position because their salary and prestige is based on the organization that they have built. The big church is built on big organization and there are concepts even in the secular world recognizing that organizations do things that are not good. One is that "organizations persist." They are self perpetuating. Big church like other big organizations is inherently self perpetuating. That is not good if it is time for God to do something else. We are proud of our big organizations. Instead, we should be scared because we often confuse our sense of direction from God with what is good for the organization and the two are rarely related in my experience.

I cannot find support for an organization in the New Testament. Secular entities are concerned with how organizations operate. We should especially be concerned about the church organizations. I shudder when I read the line in the article on missional narcissism: "...many folks in the church become collateral damage." From our experience, we had to go around and apologize to people because they were collateral damage of our big system. I am still concerned about all the people that I forgot and therefore was not able to apologize and for all those that I did not realize I had damaged. I am also floored by the authors insight that churches like that are: "highly valuing an entrepreneurial style of leadership that shoots down contrary opinions and gathers “yes people” who are “celebrated as team players.” In our experience, we got rid of every person who was not a yes person. That is some of our collateral damage. This is the way that businesses operate. Not the way a church is supposed to operate (see Matt 18 comments below). Churches like this never have any prophets operating there. See below on leadership.

7. Right now in America, big church is all about leadership. There are teachers out there that are teaching everyone that it is the most important gift in the church. It is listed in the New Testament, but only once and it is not an important one. Leadership is a secular thing, very important in business, the ways of the world. We have teachers in America teaching that the church should have better leaders than business. But, Paul said we need Apostles, prophets, evangelists and elders, etc. And he said that we should all seek to have the most important gifts such as prophesy. Not leadership!

Great leadership can build large organizations, but cannot build effective Christians. For that you need apostles, prophets, elders etc. I think Paul said something like: all these are needed "for building up the body of Christ" (Eph 4:11). No wonder the modern church is a disaster. We only have leaders. We are missing the ones actually needed. We have churches full of people "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph 4:14). This is especially true if you suspect—as I do—that the vision of most churches is actually not from God, but from human cunning. In fact, the idea of a vision is an idea of big business. As long as "Leaders" are our prophets, the church is in big trouble and the Leaders are in big trouble with God. The things highly valued by the world are indeed an abomination to God (Luke 16:15).

8. There are some interesting verses in Matt 18 that I listed below. One problem in a big church organization is that the senior pastor/personality is very powerful. He usually decides who gets which task, determines salaries, hires new pastors and fires pastors and other staff people. The Matthew verses say that if your brother sins against you that there is a process for correcting that issue. In my experience, these verses can never be followed in a system with a strong senior pastor. Anyone that confronts him will be set aside and ultimately fired. Therefore, there is very little confrontation of the senior pastor and no prophet would ever by able to operate in the church.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. - Mat 18:15-17
9. In the early church there were very few large gatherings. People almost always met in homes. There are only a few larger meetings mentioned and they were not typical church meetings. They were special teachings by Paul or evangelistic meetings. Elders taught people in the church in small groups. They probably used teaching along with lots of interaction to learn scripture, deal with sin and explore the gifting of the group. We miss-understand the gift of teaching when we think a famous teacher has that gift. In the early church the teaching was in small groups. The teacher needed to teach, listen, minister in power, and raise up elders. He was unpaid and needed as much help as he could get especially if he was going to plant more churches. The biblical gift is about growing people up in their faith and involves a lot more interaction than just preaching. It is about a small group and a lot of interaction. It is well known that preaching does not grow up people. Those of us who grew up in a church system based on preaching matured because of our dogged efforts to get in relationship with others and learn side-by-side. We might learn some head things in church, but we changed and grew up in relationships. Sunday was just the hoop to get through to get to the important stuff. Preaching takes up 70-80% of the church resources on something that is not growing up the church. However, it often grows a big crowd.

The idea of an elder is much deeper than a teacher. In a small informal environment when someone unhealthy or deep in sin comes, they often disrupt the meeting. In a big church they just sit and then leave. In the small meeting the people get to watch the elder, "eld" these people. He must call them to account, deal with their issues, pray for them in the meeting and work in conjunction with the other elders and gifted people in the church to resolve the issue in the moment. Everyone learns and many more are developed as elders. Sin/unhealthiness gets dealt with appropriately. The learners see a healthy model of working together in our gifting, praying and confronting. They see discussion based learning from a leader of some depth and accountability. Not just words from a personality at the front.

In addition, in the small, informal environment the gifts in Paul's lists can operate. People can pray, give words of knowledge, prophesy, discern spirits, teach and even give tongues and interpretations. None of this can happen in a large gathering or even a small formal gathering. We did all of these things in our small churches.

10. My understanding of big church systems comes from my experience as a elder in two large churches, my time as a pastor in one large church and my interviews with staff people from other churches such as Hybel's church. It may be possible that some large church is run differently from my experience, but I have not yet found one.

The above was written as a foundation to answer the questions he was specifically asked. The following is the answers to those questions.

First about Paul exhorting Timothy to preach. The real issue here is what does the word "preach" mean. I would be very surprised if it meant what we see on a typical Sunday morning in America. I think it meant one thing in an evangelistic meeting. Probably very much direct speaking without too much interaction. I think it meant something very Jewish in the context of church. It meant, teach and interact, answer hard questions, confront miss-understandings, teach some more, confront a demon, pray, listen to someone prophesy and then help the prophet to understand his gifting and help the people understand/judge the prophesy. These are exactly the kinds of things we did in our house churches.

Second, about “long teaching.” I think there is a place for in-depth teaching. I just do not think it takes the place of a real, biblical church service. I think 1 Cor 14:26 describes a much more useful church meeting: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” So, extended teaching is fine. But it is not a substitute for real church. Why would we look for excuses to continue doing the unbiblical thing while we do not do the biblical thing? Extended teaching might be biblical and useful outside of the normal church meeting.

Third, about church that is small or big. I really think the issue is more about formal verses informal. A big church, say 100-20,000 people is inherently formal. You can make a church of 20 very formal as well. I think the 3000 and 5000 that got saved in the big evangelistic meetings quickly were moved to small churches in homes. I would guess that those new believers that failed to get to those small churches quickly lost their connect to their new faith.

Usually, large churches plant new churches that look just like the first one. So, if the first one is built around one personality, the second leader will need to build his church around his personality or he will be considered a failure. I think the worst thing that can happen to a believer is to be in a church led by a “major league player.” First, I do not see them in the new testament. There are no churches led by big names except the gnostics and the Corinthian church that Paul confronts in 1 Cor 4. It was not considered a good thing to have a big name person or important person. The important people did ministry and traveled from city to city. Second, the church is supposed to be about the gifting of all the people, not the teaching gifting of one “major league player.” I think this idea is another idea highly valued by the world and is possibly an abomination to God.

Fourth, on church planting being disruptive, our experience with small house churches is that everyone is having fun together so they want to stay together. On the other hand it eventually gets too large and some elders need to leave and start another church. We stay in relationship as elders and this makes it easier for them to go out. It is a little disruptive, but more than workable. It is really fun to encourage as many people as possible to go with the new church.

As for certain pastors being able to teach a “challenging message” I think there are many people with challenging messages. I know prophetic people who can speak challenging messages directly to the heart of a mature Christian and encourage him to go even further in his ministry. I have seen people confront sin and demons and false prophets. These people are my heroes. In spite of their gifting no one knows them. They are not famous because they do not have a pulpit in front of thousands of people. Thank God for that. I am sure it would ruin them and we would no longer be able to trust their gifting. I like those at the “end of the procession”—those like Paul.

Sixth, about a really large church that remains biblically faithful, I have never seen one. But, as you can see from the above, I have an entirely different idea of what defines a church. I do not know what to do with the big church. After the reformation, the Catholic church did not go away. It pretty much kept going its own way. Many years later the protestant church finally impacted its ideas. I think the same will happen with the big church. Many people will leave and find alternatives. But, like the Catholic Church, it has a big organization and organizations persist.

I hope you find this helpful. If you disagree with me, that is fine. I got here the hard way. Here in [redacted] we have a saying about people who "[redacted]." Literally, it means someone who has eaten lots of sour and salt. It means, someone who has already had lots of experiences, both good and bad.

In my years in the church I spent way too much time listening to famous teachers and following “leaders” instead of real elders. My wife and I paid a big price for my foolishness.

Musings on This Strange Thing We're to Participate in Called "Furlough"

Two weeks from right now I will be sitting in America. Probably on a carpet in front of a television blasting advertising I'm exceedingly unused to. I'm curious to see what new things are being peddled through our home screens. I'm excited to eat delicious things like burritos and donuts. And ESPN. Oh man. How I love ESPN.

It will have been two years since I've set foot in America, and really three since I've spent any time there. The last trip I made was just for a few weeks while I knocked out a seminary class or two. This trip will be six months long and that scares the crap out of me. First, and I think primarily, because I have two small children who will not understand this move to be temporary. Six months is simply too long to keep telling them we'll be going home soon. And thus we need to find them friends and get them involved in some kind of life they can enjoy rather than have them feel they're stuck in transition forever.

Second, I'm scared because six months is just downright a long time to be away from home. Furlough is usually not overwhelmingly busy. While we need to raise some support and I need to knock out a bunch more seminary classes, the rest of the time is pretty responsibility free. I look forward to the time of recharge. Reading books I've been putting off, running absurd distances on pristinely clean American soil, etc... But six months, at the end of the day, is just simply too long.

I love my job too much. I love what I'm doing and being away from it for so long is intimidating. Things will certainly start, and others will end, or fail in my absence (though not necessarily because of my absence), and I'm sad I'll miss it. On top of that I'll miss my team — my friends.

But I hope I get a lot more time to write. I hope I finish my seminary degree and apply for a PhD. I hope burritos are every bit as good as I remember them being. I hope donuts are everywhere. Always. And I hope my whole family returns here confirmed and renewed in our calling. The longer we live here the more we're detached form American life. It's been six years. And while we're under no illusions that this place is more comfortable than America, it certainly has it's upsides, and we'll miss those.

Also, where am I going to get drinkable tea?

Cakes of Raisins as gods(Hosea 3:1)

"My people inquire of a piece of wood,
and their walking staff gives them oracles." - Hosea 4:12
And then even better:
"And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” - Hosea 3:1
I wonder how foolish our idols will seem in retrospect. I fear no less foolish than cakes of raisins.

Two Basic Idolatries ➙

These, then, are the two basic idolatries; and they are ever with us. The demand for power and the insistence on wisdom, always for us or from our point of view, are still the basic idolatries of our fallen world. - Gordon D. Fee
Christian leadership gives us power and the opportunity to claim we know how to best pursue God's Kingdom (the appearance of wisdom).

We should be terrified.

Not Every Day is a Good Day.

I had a frustrating day today. As usual these start with less sleep than I anticipated the night before. This leads into my sleeping in, which means I wake up around when my children do, which means I get little time alone with the Lord.

The morning then got better with some good focused time with the Lord later in the morning, and then getting to meet with a local who is mobilizing and sending the people of this country to bless the nations nearby. But then after lunch I went to go share about the love Jesus with a guy I've shared with many times and I began to get disappointed. My evangelistic efforts over the last 10 months have been depressing to say the least. I've shared with more people, more regularly than perhaps ever before. And I've seen no one accept the Lord. This friend told me he had decided to believe in his heart, but didn't know what it meant. He claims he wants to know more, but it seems he really doesn't; and it's depressing to see people look the most important thing in the world in the eye and turn it down.

As I walked away I then saw a parking attendant standing in front of a car in the middle of the road, and the car was driving at her trying to get her to move so it could get away. I was furious at this lady and went over and opened the door and demanded she get out. I then gathered all the people in the street around to watch and shame this lady for caring so little about the value of life. Maybe the parking attendant had cheated her, but that was no reason to threaten running her over.

Now I'm just ticked at the world.

I want to be calling people to a huge vision. I want to see people's lives and this city transformed, but more often than not all I see are sinful fallen people with no hope for this life or the one to come. And then I know my inability to share with each of them about the love of Christ, and apparently for my sharing to affect even one of them.

God have mercy on this place and these people.

A Devotional Life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ➙

Google Books has made me exceedingly happy recently. Particularly for free full books such as the following. I'm really enjoying reading this. The writer gives background on things such as the color of the temple, the way the people saw the sacrifices, etc... Take for instance the following section on the account of the opening of the Gospels:
On this evening the priest entered the Holy place, and the people outside waited for his reappearance; the Levite musicians handled their harps, and the people watched in breathless silence, ready to prostrate themselves to receive the Blessing. But he did not come. It was his duty not to delay, lest the people should fear that he had been struck dead for some failure in his office. But minute after minute passed and he did not come. At length, after a time which seemed long to the anxious spectators, he came hastily forth with marks of agitation, and instead of giving the usual blessing, he made signs to them that he had seen a vision in the Holy Place, and had been struck speechless. Perhaps he gave the blessing in dumb show, with extended hands, and the service concluded as usual, and the worshippers dispersed to wonder at the portent.

This was what had happened within the veil. The priest to whom had fallen by lot to offer the incense was named Zacharias; and his wife, who was also of the sacred family, was named Elizabeth. "They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the law blameless. And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years." . . .

What a splendid opening of the Gospel! What a striking scene of earthly magnificence and supernatural glory! The material magnificence of the chamber —with its walls and ceiling and furniture of gold, lighted by the mild radiance of the seven sacred lamps; the sacredness of the place—divided only by a curtain from the mercy-seat on which dwelt the special presence of God; the awe of the sudden apparition of the glorious angel, as if he had stepped suddenly from behind the second veil; the aged priest in his white robe in the midst of this splendour and awe, receiving the first words of the new revelation of God to man—the proclamation of the speedy advent of the long-promised Messiah, and the announcement that the son to be born to him out of due time should be the Herald of the Christ.
The pictures this guy gives in his writing are worth your time and energy. And did I mention the book is free?

When the Work Seems Overwhelming

I attend a small house church on Sunday mornings with a group of people in the same line of work as me. Sometimes it's great and other times it's not (as I would imagine is the case for most churches), but one thing I really like about it is I can raise questions specific to ministry in a foreign context and then enter into discussion with people who think differently than me, but work in the same field. This week we discussed this text:
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." - Matthew 9:35-38
We spent a bit talking about the compassion Jesus had on the multitude. What does it mean for Jesus to have had compassion? And then we talked about whether or not we really have compassion on people and how our lives and ministry would look different if we really believed everyone around was damned to an eternity in hell unless they heard the truth of Christ.

My question was to state that I truly do believe this, and I even think it is on the forefront of my mind frequently, so I do not know how my ministry would look different. Clearly I cannot stop and talk to every single person I pass, and assuming I was the Lord's sole minister would also be foolishly prideful. But often times on the way to go share the gospel with someone I will pass as many as 10,000 probably lost people people in the street. What could I possibly do differently?

I posed this question and we talked for a while. The conclusion we came to is that Jesus, in this verse, is Himself commenting on the sheer number of lost people. And what is His instruction? Pray for more laborers. I think that is the takeaway from being overwhelmed by the lostness of our world. Yes, we need to enter in and do our part, but because we simply cannot single-handedly reach everyone we need to pray for more laborers.

We, as a team, pray for more laborers regularly. For more people to join our team as well as for this nation, and specifically for people to go to a very lost city nearby where almost no one is laboring. These lost places, these lost people, they need the Savior. Please join me in begging the Sovereign One for more laborers. After all, the harvest is plentiful.

On Leadership (Ezekiel 34:1-10)

I suppose I’ve been a leader now for a number of years. In the past, however, I have always been leading teams of local lay ministers — volunteers — and thus while I have had some significant role in leading them, I was never their primary leader. They had their pastors to answer to as well as most of them answered to a boss at work 40-60 hours each week. Anything I could provide in the form of leadership was merely a bonus on top of what they were already getting.

But now the situation is different. I’m leading a team of full time ministers. The difference is that lay people are easy because they’re only invested in their spare time. As such, any time they succeed at something you get to come alongside them and rejoice. And when they fail miserably you both just look at the situation and shrug your shoulders and try again. With full time people when they succeed it’s good, but it isn’t altogether surprising because it is, after all, their full-time job to succeed in ministry. And when they do something poorly it’s a bummer because it’s usually more your fault as the leader than it is theirs.

Whatever the case may be, I’m finding myself growing fond of leading. While it used to be primarily the vision casting and forward momentum that got me excited my heart has begun to change about this. The Lord has been bringing to mind that while He did occasionally speak to 5,000 people (and then whip up a meal for them), He spent most of His time with a select few making sure they were truly following Him.

This is my real job as a leader. I can cast vision for something and that’s good, but if I can help people deeply love, clearly see, and follow after the orchestrator of the universe then they will have infinitely more of an impact on the Kingdom of God than any plans I come up with for ministry. I think I used to see “leader” as something of a dirty word. Why is this person a leader? Or why am I a leader? What do I have to offer that’s any better than these men who work with me? They are all serious lovers of the Lord, men who have been in this country for many years, and most have leadership experience.

But I’ve been processing lately the Lord’s heart for leaders and it's clear the Lord puts people in leadership intentionally. But it's also clear those leaders don't always do the will of the Lord. A couple of days ago I read Ezekiel 34:1-10 which is a scripture of condemnation against the incompetent leaders of Israel. It says:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them."
Now I’m not going to unpack in this great detail but I want to comment a few things.

First of all the leaders were taking care of (feeding) themselves, and not their people. They should have been feeding the sheep, and they weren’t — fail.

This verse also should bring to mind a clearer picture of what Jesus was talking about when He reinstates Peter in John 21. Jesus is asking Peter to lead and to take care of His people, the church.

The leaders also should have been strengthening the weak, healing the sick, binding up the injured, and they weren’t — fail.

The next part is repeated constantly, “The strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought. “ That is, the people needed leadership, and they didn’t provide it — fail.

They treated the people harshly instead of with patience, grace, and understanding — fail.

The people were scattered, they were out everywhere. They should have been lead by their leaders to follow the Lord. But the leaders dropped the ball — fail.


The Lord had all kinds of complaints against the leaders of Israel, including watching out for themselves instead of their people. But the primary point of this passage is that the Lord is angry with them because the Lord made them leaders and they didn't lead.

Leadership meant 1) pointing people to the Lord and then 2) caring for them. This is the point of leadership. To point people towards what I think we're supposed to do ministry is only secondary to these two primary things. Before anything else I am to call people to the creator and orchestrator of the universe. And my care for them is to help them follow Him well.

I'll say it again so it's clear as the day is long. If you're in a place of leadership then focus on these two primary things and let nothing else destract from them.

1) Point people to Jesus.
2) Care for them.

Because when we fail to do this we're worthy of the condemnation of Ezekiel 34. If the Lord has called you to lead you are to do so boldly. But that boldness is not to be focused on leading people where you think they should go (though this is helpful), but rather, that boldness is to be focused on leading people to walk closer with Christ.

Thoughts on Why We Fail to Plant New Churches ➙

I found this particularly interesting in light of his argument that we're not raising up leaders. But I passed this on to my father who reacted harshly saying the whole system is broken. Raising up leaders in a broken system will only produce more broken-model churches. That is to say, the fundamental issue is the way the church is run, sitting in rows, being preached at. If this model is broken, it doesn't matter if you're planting new churches or starting new video campuses, you're working in a broken system.

Whatever the case it reminds me of something I wrote a while back, Leave Your Pulpit, Start a Podcast.

The 7 Habits of People Who Place Radical Trust in God ➙

His comments on God's Smuggler have me very interested in reading the book.

On the State of Church Denominations ➙

To paraphrase Churchill’s comments about democracy: Denominations are the worst way to cooperate—except for all the others. They are riddled with weak, ineffective, and arrogant leadership, prone to navel-gazing, and often move more slowly than they should. But these aspects are products of human fallibility and sin. Every time churches work together, ego, failure, and inefficiency will arise. And when they don’t work together, ego, failure, and inefficiency will arise. People, not denominations, are the source.
To quote a prof of mine from seminary, "Align yourself with someone and allow them to hold you accountable."

The trouble might be finding a group with whom you can, in a good conscious, align yourself. For instance, I align theologically with one denomination but disagree fundamentally with their methodology. To where then do I go?

Eternity is a Problem

Picture yourself in a terrible situation. Someone you care about deeply (pick a friend, any friend and imagine them) is about to do something which you know will get them sent to prison for three weeks. And you have the opportunity to spend some time with them and try to talk them out of it. You know what they’re doing is stupid, but they can’t quite see it.

How long do you spend with them? Do you spend five minutes with them? What is your time worth to you? Do you take the day off of work and spend it instead with them at the golf course just so you can spend a few more hours trying to talk them out of it? Or would you spend even longer? Would you spend a week talking a friend out of it if it could save them three weeks of prison time?

Now what if they were looking at a year? Or 10 years? If someone you loved greatly was about to something that would send them to prison for a life sentence, how much time would you intentionally take to focus on trying to reason with them? How forceful would you be when they’re unwilling to listen to reason?

The picture gets worse when you imagine talking them out of something which would lead to three weeks of something worse than jail time. Torture for instance. What about a year of incessant torture?

Or what about eternity in torment and anguish? Damnation?

And thus you see the issue.

Eternity is a problem for us. As people stuck in time, temporal beings, we’re stuck in the idea of time and the limits it imposes. Therefore grasping a concept such as eternity is inherently difficult for us. This may seem irrelevant to most of us, and in fact we live our lives as though though understanding it is unnecessary, but the truth is eternity is all around us. We are eternal beings — not temporal. But we forget that.

For some reason when the word eternity is mentioned we shut down. We’re incapable of understanding what it means. To save my friend out of three weeks of torture I would do just about anything. This is the same friend, after all, whom I’ve known since I was three. We shared a locker together in High School and a dorm room together in College. He cleaned up vomit after me when I got so drunk I was carted in an ambulance off to the hospital. He encouraged me to put it behind me and step up and be the man God had made to be. He called me to be a witness for Christ when I was wallowing in self-pity. Seems the least I could do is try to talk to him to save him from torture.

But then I think about the many friends I left behind in America. I was willing to get on a plane and fly to the other side of the world to tell the people here about Jesus because I genuinely believe they need him. But I never asked my friends about their relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ, or called them to repentance, or spent even five minutes trying to save them from eternal misery. And why? I love my friends, but I don’t want to offend them? I don't want to me socially awkward when I bring up my belief that they need Jesus?

I’d offend them if it was one year of misery. I’d be willing to punch a good friend in the face if I thought it would save them from that. But eternity just makes me shut down. I bottle up and find myself incapable of grasping the weight of what that would really mean.

I found this quote in a book I was recently reading. This sums up what I've tried to say in my post "In Eefense of the Christian worldview"; and it's particularly potent because it's an atheist understanding what we as Christians often don't — the necessity of evangelism.
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people that don’t proselytize… I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever… and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was bearing down on you and you didn’t believe it, there comes a certain point when I tackle you…and this is more important than that.” - Penn Jillette of “Penn & Teller”

Quotes from The Trellis and the Vine

"This is a revolutionary mind-shift: when we think about our people, it moves our focus to putting them first and building ministries around them. . . . But please note: this is a chaotic strategy—an inconvenient strategy. It takes time to train evangelists. It takes time for young evangelists to build their own ministries as they go about preaching the word. It will mean we will have to relinquish control of our programs for, as the gospel is preached, Christ will gather his people into all kinds of fellowships that may or may not fit into our neat structures."
Understanding that not everything we do in ministry is ours. In fact none of it is. It belongs to Christ. This is a ministry mind-shift. But it's shameful that it has to be.
"But our view of gospel work must be global as well as local: the goal isn't church growth (in the sense of our local church expanding in numbers, budget, church-plants and reputation) but gospel growth. If we train and send workers into new fields (both local and global), our local ministry might not grow numerically but the gospel will advance through these new ministers of the word."
(emphasis mine).
Both quotes are from a book by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne called The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything