Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Leading People with Grace

You do not have to look far to see the emphasis that churches place on leadership among their congregations…and rightfully so. If the saying is true (and it is true), that a group is only as strong as their leader, than the importance of leadership must be realized whether it is in a church setting or any other organization.

The Bible is full of prime examples of godly leadership. First is Jesus Christ. He took 12 lousy, ordinary guys, and placed the future of Christianity on their shoulders. He used fishermen, tax-collectors, and physicians to proclaim the good news of His resurrection. Jesus led them through personal discipleship where He literally gave His life to them for three years, and even toward the end of his earthly ministry, they said stuff like, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). All of the 12, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, died a martyr’s death for the sake of Christ!

How about Paul? Everyone speaks about his relationship with young Timothy, but don’t forget Titus and many others. Paul travels with his disciples on long missionary journeys, and gets to know them inside and out. I love the statement he makes to the leaders he knew in Ephesus, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house…” (Acts 20:18-20). What about Moses and Joshua, Mordecai and Esther, or Elijah and Elisha (just to name a few)?

Unfortunately, I think many people that we look up to as leaders have leadership development upside-down. One of my seminary professors said that he was raised in a church where people were leaders if they followed a certain set of rules. In other words you could tell if they were “mature Christians” if they did not drink, smoke, chew tobacco, curse, or go dancing. How many businesses or churches do you know where leaders commit to not going to movies, bars, or anything that may cause another to stumble? Personally, I would be much more inclined to have my leaders sign off on things like memorizing Scripture, devoting themselves to a study of the Bible, or going to places where they know unbelievers hang out. Isn’t that what Jesus did?

A list of ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that’ sounds a lot like legalism to me. It also sounds like we are not encouraging our future leaders to think for themselves. Are we scared of what might happen when we lead people past a set of rules or traditions into a relationship? Matthew 22:36-40 comes to mind. In the end we are setting ourselves up for leaders that ultimately fail. I don’t need to tell that to a post-modern generation who sees for themselves the Haggards, Clintons, and Faldwells of our age.

Leadership is discipleship. Who are you leading? I think I can get a firm grasp on the heart of a leader by spending time with one of his or her disciples. I also think if we are ineffective leaders we will be left with people who simply want to have their ears tickled, tossed to-and-fro from every wind of doctrine, or people who have become dull of hearing. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there are churches that don’t have to worry about who will be in the nursery this week, or how to get people interested in a weekly Bible study. Maybe there are churches that flourish when a senior pastor finally retires after 30+ years in the pulpit…maybe…

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dealing with Controversy

It’s interesting to me how controversies are dealt with in various areas of life. Perhaps nothing brings light to this subject better than marriages. How do married couples talk through differences and handle arguments? What about discussions in the work place, among family members, or friends?

A good friend of mine at Mississippi State University had an interesting marriage counseling session before him and his wife got married. While talking about communication, their pastor asked them how they would handle disagreements when they come up, since, they will definitely surface. The pastor suggested that they come up with a sequence of steps to go through together. For instance, step 1 might be for each person to say how they feel and why they feel that way. Step 2 might be to take time and pray about each others feelings. Step 3 might be to suggest ways they could work through the problem. Finally, Step 4 might be to reconcile feelings and make an effort to change.

This counseling has made a huge difference in their marriage, and although it may seem tedious, it brings out the necessity of good communication. It’s remarkable to me how powerful good, constant communication can be. Too many times in the past, I have failed to see the importance of this, and God continues to show me how much I neglect other people in the communication process. Brandy and I have to remind ourselves daily to set aside time to simply talk. I have thought of a few timeless truths to remember about communication as we attempt to live daily with an attitude of grace toward other people.

1) Never Make Assumptions about Someone or Something
Assumptions will absolutely destroy relationships. People gather all the information they need to make this decision or that decision, while the truth remains behind an unveiled curtain where it may never be revealed.

2) Attempt to Put Yourself in Other’s Shoes While Making Decisions
If you have to approach someone about a certain circumstance, put yourself in their position for a second. Try to feel what they are feeling, and enter into their perspective.

3) Gather the Facts
Take the time to talk to others involved. Find out why he or she might have said what was said, or the circumstances behind this or that comment. In other words, make sure that you are justified in feeling a certain way. I think that you will find that most arguments arise out of a misunderstanding.

4) Be Honest
If are feeling a certain way, don’t let those feelings build up inside until destruction is inevitable. Take the extra step to deal with people in honesty and be straight forward about your feelings. (This is a hard one for me)

In summary, the best thing I can say is to deal gracefully with people. Perhaps nothing brings glory to God better than graceful living, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Our culture earnestly desires these things from those who are the closest to us. It is a great testimony for marriages, friendships, and families in the presence of those looking for hope in a hopeless world. 1 Peter 3:8-12

Monday, March 5, 2007

Hello...from Texas!

Hello to everyone, and thanks for visiting our blog-page. Our purpose for setting up this page is to keep in contact with our close friends who have meant so much to us over the years. I hope to provide bi-monthly updates of what’s going on in Dallas and also a thought-provoking article, which tends to be more like a personal soap-box of things I have come across in the ministry. Anyway, keep in touch! We would love to hear from you.

Things have been going great, and we are definitely keeping busy since Christmas. The college class that I have been teaching at a local church is really beginning to take-off as Brandy and I have been able to spend more one-on-one time with our leaders. The picture shows two of our best...Shayne and Rachel. The hardest part for us lately has been juggling our time between a full-time school schedule and about 35 hours a week at the church. I am just finishing up a unit on ‘How to Study the Bible’ that has had a great response among the students.

One of my best classes this semester has been BE102 which goes through the first seven books of the Bible. My professor just finished tracing through Genesis while hitting on themes of faith, the promise and covenants, family loyalty, and service. After all, what good is the promise to Abraham when he is almost 100 years old without an heir? The answer is Faith. God is teaching Abraham to trust Him. It is amazing that the patriarchs had very little concerning the revelation of God, yet their faith seems gigantic in their circumstances. Here the Church lives with a completed Canon of Scripture where we know the character of God better than any of them. However, our faith in God seems to be miniscule compared to the faith of the patriarchs. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Brandy continues to love working with her 5th graders at Wylie ISD. There have been talks of her possibly teaching gifted and talented students next year, but we are trying not to get our hopes up. We’re really looking forward to having one of her friends, Shannon, that she taught with in Starkville over to the house for a few days during Spring Break. Her mom is also coming for the weekend which should be lots of fun. She just cut 10 1/2 inches off her hair, and I love it! In the meantime, she is meeting with three of our leaders in the college class, and it has been a blessing for us and them. Brandy adds a dimension to our ministry that simply would not be there if it was not for her caring, sensitive heart.