Miguel Labrador posted a very important blog this morning on Why Leadership and Effectiveness Are Not Benchmarks of Discipleship. I highly recommend his blogs in general, and urge you to subscribe to his blog feed. Miguel is doing it, and not just talking about it, and always brings great insight.
Our nation’s continuing moral and economic decline, and the growing malaise of our increasingly dysfunctional churches, has caused a renewed focus on intercessory prayer.
But intercession without transformational repentance – which Biblically involves changing the way we act by changing the way we think – is seldom effective.
While desperately seeking to touch the heart of God through intercession, few seem willing to do the concurrent hard work of understanding the mind of God. The challenges facing our nation, and our churches, require both.
This picture has great significance for me. It is from one of our fellowships – this one meets in my home on Sundays.
Yesterday, as we gathered together, we prayed and give prophetic words of encouragement over Oscar, a close friend who is moving forward with his road-side pit barbeque business by signing a contract to have a mobile food service trailer built for him (Oscar’s Barbeque). He has worked faithfully towards this moment – as unto the Lord – for two years.
I’ve watched and walked with Oscar as he’s progressed over time, step by step, in growing, proving and succeeding in his business model as part of God’s call on his life.
Nearly every move of God gets sidetracked when its main leaders fall into the trap of thinking that their own measure of Christ is the full measure of Christ – and thus start promoting their own perspectives and motivations as normative for all.
No one person can ever reflect or express the full measure of Christ. Never – even if they started out truly grasping some essential, needed element of His nature, their ministry initially bore much fruit, and they even once transformed the Christian landscape.
Tragically, it often seems that such leaders slowly and subtly shift from sharing their own measure of Christ, to eventually acting as though it is now the full measure of Christ.
On Facebook, I posted a comment supporting a recent blog by Neil Cole about why the “organic church movement” is important. One of my smart-aleck Facebook friends responded:
Organic Church Movement? Is that a movement naturally fertilized? Or maybe movement marching only to organ music. Could also be a church movement of Kidneys, Livers and Colons?
So I thought I’d be a smart aleck in responding:
One of my strongest beliefs is that God calls us for a purpose – and gives us individual grace and gifts to match.
As Christ in us is expressed through us, we expand His Kingdom for the blessing of all – wherever He calls us.
Different Grace, Different Gifts, Different Callings
Where He bids us go, and what He bids us do, is different for each – and I have also learned that it often changes with the seasons of our lives.
For some, at this time in their life, it is to go and raise Godly families. For others, it is in the business realm as they create resources and opportunities. For some, it is going out to the fringes of their communities and ministering to those in need.
Wherever he went, the Apostle Paul always sparked either revival or riot.
Does our age, and our culture, deserve any less?
Let’s boldly smash our boxes of insular spirituality and cultural lethargy by confidently proclaiming that Jesus is Lord of all.
Let’s reject narcissist Christianity by allowing Jesus in me to be more than about me – and my sensibilities.
Let’s stop foisting our own grace, gifts, callings and motivations on God’s people as normative for all.
Let’s embrace the diversity of His grace, gifts, callings and motivations in the context of true ekklesia – local authentic community where Jesus in us is expressed through us as His multifaceted and participatory Body.
Let’s stop saying everything is about my relationship with Jesus while discounting his Kingship – including His commands and His precepts.
Let’s stop saying I only do what I hear Jesus subjectively tell me, while denying the power and authority of what He also says in His written Word.
Let’s stop proclaiming “Christ is all” while minimizing all that Christ has given for knowing more of Him – including not only His presence in us, but also the plenary authority of Scripture to guide us in sound doctrine, balanced community that affirms objective standards, holy lives that please Him, engaging our culture, and wise counsel from mature believers who model His precepts.
Let’s reject gnostic tendencies that seek to separate the spiritual and the material world of our everyday existence by denying the authority and relevance of Christ – and His body – regarding all of creation.
Let’s stop discounting those who went before us, and their creeds and experiences, by humbly learning what they have to teach us despite the reality that we all have flaws.
Let’s affirm God’s continual sovereign advance through history and reject the spirit of our age and its myopic, isolationist pessimism.
Let’s be discerning about self-proclaimed apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers or other itinerant ministries – and their writings – when they are not themselves presently rooted in, accountable to, coming from, or even able to demonstrate a history of integration into actual, functional, local ekklesia.
Let’s reject the voices of those who try to separate the centrality of Christ from the Great Commission, mission and discipleship.
Let’s unleash God’s people to be fruitful at all stages of their growth, as Christ enables, and stop burdening them with the bondage of our preconceived preconditions of “root before fruit”.
Let’s start embracing balance and maturity – as together we become His disciples through functional, participatory ekklesia that reflects the life of Christ but is also rooted in the authority of His written Word.
Let’s be mighty men and women of God, who once again spark revival or riot as we proclaim the fulness of Christ as merciful Savior, gracious Lord, sovereign King and ultimate Judge to a desperate world.
As such, may we be life-transforming, culture-changing ekklesia once again – the visible Body of Christ which doesn’t merely say come, but goes forth into all the world.
I wrote and posted this on the morning of my birthday, when I officially became a “senior citizen”. It summarizes a lifetime of experience serving the King of Kings. May it be both a present and a challenge to my passion: the wonderful, multifaceted, participatory Body of Christ.
Sure, institutional churches have great programs, services and staff, and lives are touched. But have they produced a mature Body of Christ?
Isn’t this the nub of the matter?
Folks can rationalize all they want and try to read their human traditions back into the Bible, but after it is all said and done, has the institutional church succeeded in seeing a mature Body of Christ emerge?
Two weeks ago I was accepted into a NIH Phase II clinical trial which is evaluating two drugs for treating pulmonary fibrosis in scleroderma patients.
That I was accepted is a miracle because my lung function was just below their minimum. It’s a double blind study, so I don’t know which of the two drugs I’m taking (either cytoxan or cellcept), but they are both really strong, serious medications that typically have significant side effects.
My close community of brothers and sisters here in Virginia, and others, have been lifting me up in wonderful prayer. It has been mature prayer, not desperate prayer, rooted in making our requests known but also being at peace in God’s ultimate grace and sovereignty.
I keep hearing from folks who have felt troubled and marginalized by authors and bloggers who seem unable to go beyond their own sensibilities and who seek to make their own gifts and limitations normative for the entire Body of Christ.
In response, I can’t shake this urge to proclaim what I see in scripture and experience daily in our own fellowships: The multifaceted, multi-gifted, multi-called Body of Christ.
I am convinced that God’s heart is passionate about releasing His people to be all that He created them to be – not just in our churches, but in all spheres of life.
Our collective failure to do this – both within the institutional and organic church communities – and the insular, anemic fruit that has resulted, is one of the biggest challenges facing the West today.
Here’s the problem I see daily among individual Christians:
Those who are primarily motivated by the heart, feel all must be the same. Those primarily motivated by renewed minds, think all must be the same. Those primarily motivated by transformed wills, act as though all must be the same…
We are post-modern in our sensibilities, so all must be the same. We are called to this, or to that, and so all must be the same. We not are called to this, or to that, and so all must be the same…
Please, everyone, can’t we just stop this nonsense!
Yes, Christ is all. But is He just Lord of YOUR all, or Lord of all?
Is He just heart, or just mind, or just will?
Is He just mercy, or just prophetic, or just ruler, or just giver, or just relational, or just whatever you want or seem to need Him to be?
Is He just generation X, or generation Y?
And let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: Has He really surrendered His Lordship over all creation, culture, spheres of human endeavor, nations and history itself, just so He can be all about you and your sensibilities?
It is bad enough when individuals try to make their own strengths and limitations normative for all. But it is an order of magnitude worse for a leader to do so.
The more I contemplate and reflect on this, and seek the mind of Christ, the more I am coming to believe that these problems are rooted in the difference between a teacher verses a father in the faith.
Both are needed.
But teachers are primarily motivated to reproduce what they have only personally comprehended or experienced. They tend to minister from whom they are, and are very good at laying a foundation based on what they personally understand, but often are not very good at taking us much further.
Fathers (and mothers!) often stand on the foundation laid by the teachers, and may themselves engage in didactic teaching, but their motivation is very different. They tend to focus on who you can be, and are good at helping others be more than themselves and to exceed their own understanding and experiences.
Where teachers delight in replicating what they have personally figured out, fathers delight in us going beyond their own abilities, comprehension, biases and sensibilities.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an absolute either/or. But there are different core motivations, even though some can operate in both arenas.
Maybe a hands-on father in the faith won’t be motivated to burrow down into all the details to bring us deep understanding on this or that – or be motivated to write many books – like a teacher. Rather, his greatest joy is releasing others to be more than himself.
The joy of a father is for you to exceed him by helping you find your own – and often very different – abilities and calling. He delights in watching you conquer the unknown as you venture into new spheres of endeavor in areas he may not even comprehend, rather than simply conveying and replicating his own motivations and understanding.
We have wonderful teachers, writers and bloggers, and they have taught us much from the perspective of their own journey, their own comprehension, and their own sensibilities.
But we have too few fathers in the Body of Christ these days.
As a father who has birthed and mentored many in the Lord, I make this plea to the gifted teachers among us who have taught me much: Keep writing, blogging and teaching. You have much to offer. But understand that Christ, as head of His body, never intended for your own understanding and experiences to become limiting factors, or God forbid, the new legalism.
He calls all leaders in His Church to enable and equip others. And yes, Christ is all. But “all” is not defined by or limited to your own understanding and sensibilities.
Unless we all grasp this truth – individuals, teachers and fathers alike – we will never become the wonderful, amazing Body of Christ.
This is my passion. This is my calling.
For most Christians, “church” is the big box where they attend a “service” on Sunday mornings.
If they are super-committed Christians, maybe it means attending additional meetings and programs that emanate from the Box during the rest of the week.
It took me years to learn to think – and act – outside that box!
Yes, Christ can be found in the box. But He does His best work, I’ve found, apart from and outside the box.
My spiritual heritage was outside the box. I was birthed into the Kingdom of God during the Jesus Movement and was very active in what we’d now call a network of “organic” or “simple” fellowships. But as the decades passed, I allowed myself to be slowly but surely drawn into the box.
Getting back out required a fundamental paradigm shift as I honestly and painfully let Scripture strip away my man-made traditions and accumulated expectations.
Many tout themselves as modern-day apostles and church planters like Paul, but where’s their Antioch?
Although Paul functioned as an apostolic church planter, his self-expressed credentials included the fact that he continued as an elder – meaning he remained grounded in and part of the local leadership of his home church in Antioch. All too often we ignore the fact that Paul was commissioned and sent by his local church on his apostolic missions, but only after having proven himself over many years in the context of that local, functioning fellowship.
At the end of his various journeys to help start and encourage other churches (except for his last, where history says he was beheaded in Rome), he would then return for a season to his home church in Antioch before being sent out again.
Beware of gifted but itinerant men and women who want to “help” your local church as modern-day Paul’s – with their books, blogs, podcasts, seminars and requests to visit you – but lack ongoing community with, roots in, commission from and accountability to another functioning local church.
Some of us have been around long enough to see past incarnations of such floating, unattached “ministries” to local churches.
In the 70’s and 80’s, they proliferated within the Charismatic movement – mainly among those who were certainly gifted but nonetheless could never succeed at finding healthy church with accountable community in their own lives.
Often, they were authors or good aspirational communicators who had exciting ideas, but only answered to themselves. Sometimes, however, they’d form loose associations where they only answered to each other in lieu of having any Antiochs in their lives – which only tended to reinforce the shared theological and personal idiosyncrasies which attracted them to each other in the first place.
Without exception, over time problems emerged with each and every of them – and with the churches that listened to them. (And I mean that – I can’t think of a single one who did not fall prey to one disqualifying problem or another, often related to pride or just becoming increasingly weird!)
There’s too much of this stuff starting to emerge again today, especially within the “organic” and “simple” church community. It is fraught with danger, unbiblical, and will only lead to disaster.
~ Jim Wright
Ever notice the strong correlation between how “big” a Christian leader is and the degree of Christian immaturity in “his” organization (i.e., church, ministry, or whatever)?
May we come to grips with the words of John the Baptist, who told his disciples that Jesus “must increase, but I must decrease.”
This is the true measure of leadership in the Body of Christ.
I think I’m slowly comprehending the profound cleavage that’s occurring today in how folks understand “Church”.
The Old Covenant was a revelation about God – His nature and precepts – with a tabernacle/temple where people could go to find His presence and a priesthood to help get right with Him.
This is like many churches today, which do a wonderful job teaching us about the Lord, providing a place and an environment for us to experience His presence, and serving as a bridge between God and His people.
Many are content to go to church to learn about God, feel His presence, and have an anointed and appointed pastor and his worship team mediate from the front. It would be dishonest to deny that those can be truly amazing, life-affirming pillars for one’s faith.
But in the New Testament, is that God’s perfect will?
I feel sorry for those who claim the mantle of “Pastor” – a position and a title never bestowed on anyone anywhere in the New Testament. For example, where did Paul or anyone else ever appoint or recognize a “pastor” over a church?
Over the decades, I’ve seen great dis-functionality among such men and women. They are operating within a framework, and on assumptions and traditions, that God never ordained.
How can someone seriously believe that the Lord intends for anyone to bear that burden or take on such prerogatives over His people? It can’t help but twist you, and eventually you will fail.
When folks start re-thinking institutional “church” and consider the idea of simple participatory fellowships, the first thing they often focus on is the question of leadership. That was true for me.
That’s an important issue, for sure. But the incessant focus on who will lead – and on creating proper leadership structures – typically comes out of the whole institutional paradigm they are trying to leave.
What we fail to realize is that elders (also called pastors, bishops and presbyters, depending on your translation) and deacons emerged in the New Testament from fellowship, and not fellowship from elders and deacons.
Here’s a TV program that’s been airing in our area about one of the ministries in which I’m involved. I, and others, have been mentoring and working with folks who are gifted with entrepreneurial aptitude. Our focus is helping them start and grow new businesses, based on solid, real-world experience and sound Biblical principles. Often, we work with “alumni” of the local jail.
The host, Liz Charity, starts out interviewing me, then does an on-site interview with one of my protegé’s, Oscar Weeks, who started a road-side pit BBQ business.
So you’ve tried to follow the procedure of 1 Tim. 5, as discussed in Part 3 of this series, by investigating and exposing church leaders who abused their positions of power and trust.
But what if you were rebuffed?
Or what if – despite public reprimand, confession and repentance – you reasonably fear that they may continue preying on others or the church is not providing restitution for the harm you’ve been bearing? Scripturally, do you have additional options?
More specifically, is it ever proper to seek help from the courts and secular authorities to deal with pastoral sexual abuse or churches which allowed it to happen? After all, doesn’t 1 Cor. 6 say we should not sue another brother?
How should we react to an unrepentant pastor who’s used his position of trust and power to prey on women – often after turning to him for spiritual counsel and support during vulnerable times in their lives?
All the theory in the world is great. But one thing I’ve learned from experience is this: Those who want to help these women find justice and closure, and protect others, need an unflinching resolve to stand toe to toe against these predators.
Typically, a predatory pastor is not accustomed to being questioned or challenged by anyone. He often will try to deflect accountability either through intimidation or a charm offensive – or both! These men are master manipulators, and it takes a God-given strength of will to stand firm, force answers, stop the abuse, and expose their evil as a warning to others.
Much to my dismay, God keeps bringing people to my door who have been abused by a pastor or other trusted church leader.
Over the last year, I’ve taken on three cases against abusive pastors. Two involve significant embezzlement and fraud by pastors in different churches. A third involves extensive sexual abuse and misconduct by around half a dozen men on the pastoral and ministerial staff at Christ Chapel Assembly of God in Woodbridge, Virginia.
This PowerPoint presentation looks at the seven gifts listed in Romans 12, and the motivations and ways that different people use those differing gifts. More significantly, what is the resulting fruit when your church allows those seven gifts to be fully expressed in its structure, ministries, leadership, meetings and day-to-day fellowship?
Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride! In this PowerPoint presentation, all that you think of as “church” is about to be challenged so God can woo us back to being, once more, the multi-faceted, wonderful, exciting Body of Christ.
How long, Lord, will you continue to tolerate those leaders among us who bring shame on your name and prey on your people?
How long, Lord, will you tolerate those who enable such predators, thus allowing even more harm to your precious children?
For your name’s sake, bring righteousness and judgment.
Purify your Church, Lord, of those building their kingdoms and manipulating your people to advance self interests, rather than Your Kingdom.