Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mission Trips Are Useless... **MYTH**


Recently, there have been a chorus of articles declaring that Short-Term Mission Trips are useless, and a complete waste of time and resources.  As a pastor that has seen the value of these types of trips, I believe this to be a total MYTH that has been put in place simply to stir up the Christian social media and blogger types to garner web traffic.

I have been a youth/college pastor for 18+ years.  In that time, we have taken groups on MANY mission trips, both domestic and international.  Most often, we hear conern about the large COST of traveling to do ministry.  Honestly, for someone that has never been on a mission trip, this is a completely valid question.  One that we have prayed long and hard over.  However, to fully understand just how valuable these trips are to one's spiritual growth, it would be a good idea to zoom out a bit and take a look at the bigger picture in our lives.

First, it should be said that taking a mission trip just to take a mission trip is not a good idea.  Like any ministry endeavor that a church or an individual undertakes, a specific mission trip should be carefully and prayerfully chosen.  To simply buy plane tickets, make hotel reservations, show up in a place and attempt a stand-alone ministry for a few days will end up being frustrating, tiring, and possibly ineffective in many ways.  There is great wisdom in finding an on-going ministry, where God is already at work, to partner with in any short-term mission project.  Most of the time, the leadership on the ground (which are often local pastors, missionaries, etc.) are well versed in the actual needs (vs. our own perceptions of their needs) of the community in which you will be partnering with to do ministry.  Care should be taken that the ministry is legitimate, and that proper follow-up will be performed long after the mission team is gone.

Now, let's zoom back in a bit, and look at 5 reasons that I believe will show just how valuable these mission trips can be:

1.  Leaving the comfort zone of your home town WILL CHANGE YOU, and in a GOOD way!  One of the reasons that I firmly believe in the value of mission trips is the change that they bring about in the traveler's own World View.  Seeing God move among people of a different regions and cultures is an eye-opening experience.  People worship differently, approach teaching differently, and have different perspectives on the importance of material possessions, etc. in these other places.  Yet, the fascinating part of experiencing these differences is seeing the common thread of the same Holy Spirit moving in lives everywhere.  This realization deepened my faith, and reminded me of just how great of a God our Lord really is!

2.  The RELATIONSHIPS you develop on mission trips will deepen your faith, deepen your prayer life, and teach you more than you could ever learn by reading a book about the place you are visiting.  I have developed mentorships (those that I mentor, and those that mentor me) and friendships with ministers and believers all over the world.  This is one of the long-term effects of a mission trip.  Through the invaluable internet tools like Skype, Facebook, email, etc., keeping up with those far away has become possible.  Who among us could not benefit from a daily reminder to pray for other believers around the world?

3.  God often uses mission trips to DIRECT the lives of those who go.  By stepping out in faith and venturing into the unknown territory of a mission trip, it puts you in an amazing place to hear the voice of the Lord.  Does God show everyone that goes on a mission trip that they are supposed to move overseas and become a full-time missionary?  Obviously not.  However, when dealing with an unknown place and situation, we are normally more focused on the Lord during an opportunity like a mission trip.  Maybe you have been praying about a specific part of your life, but God waits to reveal the answer to you until you have stepped outside of your "normal" long enough to fully hear from him.  Maybe God WILL ask you to do something life-altering, like taking a new job or moving somewhere as a missionary... maybe He will not.  However, as followers of Christ, we need to take every opportunity we can to hear His call and His direction for us.

4.  The INFUSION of ENERGY that your short-term mission team brings can often encourage those missionaries and pastors that you are there to minister with.  Any pastor or ministry leader will tell you that there are often hard and lonely days of service... no matter your location.  However, in many places that we take mission trips, the pastors/leaders on the ground are dealing with very limited personnel and resources.  A mission team can often give them ability to accomplish the ministry vision that the Lord has given them.  We all need a boost in ministry.  Keep in mind that when we do ministry, we should be doing ministry for all people.  We may all be at different stages of our spiritual lives, but God often uses other believers to spur us on.  I do not know about you, but relationships like this always refresh and inspire me.

5.  What is the Price of a CHANGED LIFE?  Seriously, how do you quantify the value of a life that is changed by God?  Lives should always be changed by ministry.  Lives are changed when hearts respond to the message of the Cross.  Lives are changed when we are the instruments that God uses to accomplish that change.  Lives are changed when we learn to put others before ourselves.  I have seen the Lord do all of these things through mission trips.  Can you put a price on that kind of change?  To me, it is worth every penny we spend to do missions.

Yes, I know that there are mission trips that are really more focused on seeing a new place, rather than being God's hands and feet in that place.  I know that on the surface, many "ministries" can seem pretty ineffective.  However, it is important that we do not put limits on what God can use to change lives.  Remember, God used many methods for speaking to people throughout the Bible... including allowing a donkey to speak so that Namaan could realize his own folly in Numbers 22?  Who are we to limit God by our own limited understanding of the world?

Next time you have the opportunity to go on some type of mission trip, please keep the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8b in mind, "...you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  It is our responsibility as followers of Christ to not be limited in our ministry by distance, or even by money.  God has proven Himself to be a BIG God...  just listen to Him, follow His words, and let Him handle the rest.  It will change your life...


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Parents Get Ready, Nudity Is Already on Instgram, And Is Headed For Facebook.



A few weeks ago, I wrote about the danger that Instagram has become in regard to fueling porn addiction in teenagers.  Sadly, that danger looks like it is about to expand to Facebook, as well.  It really should not be a surprise, as Facebook has owned Instagram since 2012.

While there have been "content policies" in place at both social media sites (which used to be policed very well), the enforcement of these policies has lapsed dramatically on Instagram (see original blog post below).  Facebook recently said that they are in the process of reviewing their policies on nudity, etc. on their site, and are looking to make changes to better fit the cultures in the world that do not oppose nudity, etc. on social media.

Here's the gaping hole of a problem...  they have not said a THING about how they are planning to protect children from having these images pop up in their news feed.  Instagram has zero ability to control what is seen, either.  Full nudity often comes up in the regular search/explore page, with no warning.

Why post this?  We are in a war for our children.  If we do not stand up against this type of nonsense, who will fight for the innocence of our kids?  The porn industry obviously does not care... they are all about making money, no matter what kind of damage their work is doing to our culture.  The only way to stop this is for each of us to let Facebook know that you find this unacceptable.

***Below is my original Blog Post on Instagram, for the sake of context***


Okay, before you write off this notion about Instagram and other social media... please bear with me. As a Youth Pastor, and father of tween and teenage daughters, this is a massively important subject that you really need to take a minute and look at.  Let me start with the facts...

Porn is a hot topic... especially among the parents of teenagers.  It is also a hot topic, and an absolute addiction to millions of young students around the world.  Don't believe me?  Depending on which source you listen to, the porn industry makes between 70 - 100 Billion dollars each year.  Yup... I said BILLION.  It is an industry that has infiltrated the hearts and minds of homes throughout the world.  Pirn causes broken relationships, broken homes, and unrealistic expectations of what a healthy (read Biblical) sexual relationship should really look like.  Not to mention the absolute objectification of women's bodies.  It is a slow, creeping evil that everyone knows is a problem, but few want to talk about... especially in church circles.

Instagram has also become a world-wide phenomena...  In 2013, Instagram had just under 100 million active users.  In June 2016, Instagram has grown to more than 500 million active users!  (statia.com)  Instagram is by far the most popular form of social media among teenagers, and is a constant topic of conversation among the teens I work with worldwide.  Started off as a great way to simply share pictures of your day, dog, etc.  However, it has morphed into a much larger social hot-spot since Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, as is show by its explosive growth since then.

So, what's the big deal?  It's only some photos, right?  Well yes... and NO.  As a parent, do you have an Instagram account?  Have you kept up with its newer features?  If not, please take a few minutes to investigate it, even if that means picking up the phone of your child and opening the app!  (I know, I can feel the massive eye-rolls coming from them... but you'll be glad you did)  First thing, hit the home icon and scroll through the pictures of the people your son/daughter "follows."  You might be a bit surprised at some of the people, and political movements that they have regular exposure to.  We have a standing rule at our house that our girls can only "follow" people (as well as letting others follow them) that they actually know.  Anyone else has to get our approval.  Sound archaic?  Well, once you hit the next step, you probably will not think so.

Next, tap the "explore/search" icon... which currently a magnifying glass.  This used to be an easy way to type in a name and find friends and check out their photos.  Now, it has become an advertising board, with thousands of photos designed to get people to look at and follow what has come to be known as the "Stars of Instagram."  Continue to scroll through the endless stream of photos and see what you happen to notice.  Sure, there's the normal teen selfie pics, vacation photos, and quotes...  but there are also a LOT of pictures of nearly nude men and women in various types of poses.  Not only photos, but also short videos that are meant to get you to click on the photo and look at it up close.  This is where the problem truly begins...

Usually, in the caption of the photo is a way to see "other photos" that are not allowed on Instagram.  Supposedly, Instagram does not allow nudity, or sexual acts to be depicted in photos.  However, it is pretty obvious that they are not doing a great job of policing the content.  How do I know this?  I have personally reported a few photos (from people that I actually know) to the powers that be at Instagram, and am usually told by them that the suggestive photos (often of young people) are not "over the line."  They are simply not able to keep up with the sheer volume of photos being uploaded every day.

Advertisers (including porn companies) have seen the loophole in things like Instagram and Snapchat, and are paying people to feature their products in their selfies and videos.  The more likes and followers that a person gets, the more they can get paid.  There are TONS of young men & women who make their entire living off of Instagram.  Nothing wrong with making a living, but when that is coupled with very sexualized ads, you have an entry-level drug called "soft-core porn."

What do I mean by "soft-core porn"?  Well, let me give you some examples.  A young man or women might not be brave enough to buy porn from a store or pay for downloads from the web.  However, they will probably have no problem with looking at "forbidden" images if they think that they will not get caught.  Victoria's Secret or JC Penny catalogs ring a bell for some of you?  Soft-core porn is just an entry level area that somehow feels "safe" and less "dirty" than the real thing.  This illusion quickly fades...  Like anything new and exciting, it can become rather mundane, and the search for something new to bring the thrill and danger of doing something wrong can very easily lead people into the seedy and harmful world of full-on pornography.

In my years of ministry, I have seen lives torn apart, and marriages ruined over addictions to elicit images and videos.  It is an addiction that is VERY hard to break.  The sad thing is that it also saps our spiritual strength and influence with those around us... even if they do not know about one's addictions.  Only through the power of God can these battles be won.

What are we to do, as parents?  It may take some very bold steps to help guard the hearts, eyes, and minds of our kids.  You may not be very popular for whatever decision you make, but our kids are worth it!  Please do not turn a blind eye to this subject...  check it out for yourself, but just be careful at how far you look.  None of us are immune to sin... certainly something that I must admit to myself every single day!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Free From Prison



When was the last time that you read the story of Joseph in the Bible?  Genesis 37 is where we begin to read about Joseph, and if you grew up in church, it is likely that you heard parts of his story over and over again.  Joseph is sold into slavery by his own brothers, and is thought dead by his own parents.  In one instant, he goes from freedom to slavery, and from the familiar land of his family to the far away country of Egypt.  If you have finished the story, you know the ending is a good one.  What always perplexes me about this story is the "in-between" parts that we are not given much information about.  Joseph spent years in prison and in slavery for things that were not his fault, and once for doing the right thing!  How did he cope with it all?  There was no "due process" in it all...  he simply had to live with the consequences of others' actions.

Recently, I have been blindsided by emotion and pain from the actions of a former church.  So much so, that it has been mentally and spiritually overwhelming at times.  This has perplexed me greatly, as the church and community where we currently serve is absolutely the best place we have ever been a part of.  My guess is that we are still in a healing process, and that processing the pain of the past few years is God's way of helping us become fully functional again as His servants.  

Joseph was in slavery and prison for 13 of his first 30 years of life.  I often wonder about his conversations with God during that time.  Sure, some of that time was good, but what about the dark days in prison when he had zero assurance that he would ever be released?  One of the glimmers of hope that we see in Genesis 39:21-23 is that God continued to use Joseph, even in prison.  No, he was not immediately released, but it was like God gave him something to hold on to... something to keep him focused through it all.  Of course, being human, I'm sure that Joseph had some really dark days of despair.  What got him through those days?  Joseph simply had to remain faithful to God, even without the knowledge of what would come later.  In due time, God lifted him out of that prison and rewarded his faithfulness, but it was obviously not according to Joseph's time table.

In the past few years, I have shared about my struggle and journey with anxiety and depression.  There have been many victories, and many setbacks.  Much of the pain, anxiety, and fear that have gripped my life have been brought about by the very people that God has tasked me with serving in the church.   Most of the time, I have tried to cloak this truth...  because it is not "normal" to talk about hurt in the church.  Well, here's the truth... we hurt people.  The church is made up of sinful people, and that sin causes us to be selfish and uncaring.  Obviously, I do not like the fact that I also hurt people, and have at times been the one that caused the hurt in the lives of others.  It is a sobering fact of life...  none of us are perfect.

However, there is hope.  God, in His infinite wisdom and love, shows us His love and forgiveness... even when we have failed Him in every way.  He gives His encouragement and strength, even in the midst of trials.  Just like God used Joseph to minister to those in prison, God has used many of you to encourage and minister to my family over the past few years.  You have been the Lord's hands and feet when we needed it most.  For that, I am so very grateful.

Later in the story, we see that Joseph is reunited with his brothers, but we see that it is a VERY emotional time for Joseph in Genesis 45.  He is able to forgive his brothers, but it is my guess that it took many years for God to get him to that point.  

The fact that we often miss is that God was at work on a much larger scale during the story of Joseph.  He used this situation and Joseph's life to save what would become the nation of Israel.  Joseph could not have known that at the time, but God had a plan... even in Joseph's uncertainty.

I cannot always know what God is doing behind the scenes. but even in dark days I can hold on to the the words of Paul:

"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowingChrist Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrectionfrom the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press ontoward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." -- Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)
God is not finished with me yet.  However, He is showing me the way out of the prison that I have been in.  His joy has been my strength and shield.  May you see the healing hand of God's freedom today.  I pray that this is encouraging to you!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Is INSTAGRAM Fueling Your Teen's Porn Addiction?



Okay, before you write off this notion about Instagram and other social media... please bear with me. As a Youth Pastor, and father of tween and teenage daughters, this is a massively important subject that you really need to take a minute and look at.  Let me start with the facts...

Porn is a hot topic... especially among the parents of teenagers.  It is also a hot topic, and an absolute addiction to millions of young students around the world.  Don't believe me?  Depending on which source you listen to, the porn industry makes between 70 - 100 Billion dollars each year.  Yup... I said BILLION.  It is an industry that has infiltrated the hearts and minds of homes throughout the world.  Porn causes broken relationships, broken homes, and unrealistic expectations of what a healthy (read Biblical) sexual relationship should really look like.  Not to mention the absolute objectification of women's bodies.  It is a slow, creeping evil that everyone knows is a problem, but few want to talk about... especially in church circles.

Instagram has also become a world-wide phenomena...  In 2013, Instagram had just under 100 million active users.  In June 2016, Instagram has grown to more than 500 million active users!  (statia.com)  Instagram is by far the most popular form of social media among teenagers, and is a constant topic of conversation among the teens I work with worldwide.  Instagram started off as a great way to simply share pictures of your day, dog, etc.  However, it has morphed into a much larger social hot-spot since Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, as is shown by its explosive growth since then.

So, what's the big deal?  It's only some photos, right?  Well yes... and NO.  As a parent, do you have an Instagram account?  Have you kept up with its newer features?  If not, please take a few minutes to investigate it, even if that means picking up the phone of your child and opening the app!  (I know, I can feel the massive eye-rolls coming from them... but you'll be glad you did)  First thing, hit the home icon and scroll through the pictures of the people your son/daughter "follows."  You might be a bit surprised at some of the people and political movements that they have regular exposure to.  We have a standing rule at our house that our girls can only "follow" people (as well as letting others follow them) that they actually know.  Anyone else has to get our approval.  Sound archaic?  Well, once you hit the next step, you probably will not think so.

Next, tap the "explore/search" icon... which is currently a magnifying glass.  This used to be an easy way to type in a name and find friends and check out their photos.  Now, it has become an advertising board, with thousands of photos designed to get people to look at and follow what has come to be known as the "Stars of Instagram."  Continue to scroll through the endless stream of photos and see what you happen to notice.  Sure, there's the normal teen selfie pics, vacation photos, and quotes...  but there are also a LOT of pictures of nearly nude men and women in various types of poses.  Not only photos, but also short videos that are meant to get you to click on the photo and look at it up close.  This is where the problem truly begins...

Usually, in the caption of the photo is a way to see "other photos" that are not allowed on Instagram.  Supposedly, Instagram does not allow nudity, or sexual acts to be depicted in photos.  However, it is pretty obvious that they are not doing a great job of policing the content.  How do I know this?  I have personally reported a few photos (from people that I actually know) to the powers that be at Instagram, and am usually told by them that the suggestive photos (often of young people) are not "over the line."  They are simply not able to keep up with the sheer volume of photos being uploaded every day.

Advertisers (including porn companies) have seen the loophole in things like Instagram and Snapchat (which is a very concerning app, as well) and are paying people to feature their products in their selfies and videos.  The more likes and followers that a person gets, the more they can get paid.  There are TONS of young men & women who make their entire living off of Instagram.  Nothing wrong with making a living, but when that is coupled with very sexualized ads, you have an entry-level drug called "soft-core porn."

What do I mean by "soft-core porn"?  Well, let me give you some examples.  A young man or woman might not be brave enough to buy porn from a store or pay for downloads from the web.  However, they will probably have no problem with looking at "forbidden" images if they think that they will not get caught.  Victoria's Secret or JC Penny catalogs ring a bell for some of you?  Soft-core porn is just an entry level area that somehow feels "safe" and less "dirty" than the real thing.  This illusion quickly fades...  Like anything new and exciting, it can become rather mundane, and the search for something new to bring the thrill and danger of doing something wrong can very easily lead people into the seedy and harmful world of full-on pornography.

In my years of ministry, I have seen lives torn apart, and marriages ruined over addictions to elicit images and videos.  It is an addiction that is VERY hard to break.  The sad thing is that it also saps our spiritual strength and influence with those around us... even if they do not know about one's addictions.  Only through the power of God can these battles be won.

What are we to do, as parents?  It may take some very bold steps to help guard the hearts, eyes, and minds of our kids.  You may not be very popular for whatever decision you make, but our kids are worth it!  Please do not turn a blind eye to this subject...  check it out for yourself, but just be careful at how far you look.  None of us are immune to sin... certainly something that I must admit to myself every single day!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Waving Man


I wrote this a few years ago... Even though it's a few years old, it still seems relevant.  Hope you enjoy it...

Today, as I was driving to work down Main Street, I passed a familiar sight.  Every day, the owner of a small auto parts store stands at the door of his shop and waves at everyone that passes by...and I mean everyone.  I am not sure exactly when he began this practice, but he has been there morning, noon, and night for at least the last several years.  Honestly, when I drive by there now, I expect to see him there waving.  If he is not (like on the weekend), I realize it...and honestly miss seeing him there.  Now, to my knowledge, he is just an average guy.  He is not the richest guy in town, or the most well-known.  Why does he wave like that?  I have no idea.  The point is that people around here know that face, and that wave...and honestly it must bring some joy to him...it certainly makes me smile when I drive by and wave.

After the sudden deaths of so many people lately, both celebrity and local people alike, it really makes me think about things like this that we take for granted.  Didn't you honestly think you would be hearing Billy Mays shouting from your tv until he was old and gray?  Michael Jackson?  Seriously...he's been around making music for 45 years!  So many "fixtures" in our lives that have been taken away.  As I drove by and waved at our friendly neighborhood greeter, the thought occurred to me that one day I am going to drive by there, and he will no longer be standing there waving back.  Sad, but he is an older gentleman, and he will either be too old and frail to continue, or he will pass from this life.  Either way, that "fixture" in my life will be gone.

One of the things that death brings to our attention is our own mortality.  It also brings our attention to the fact that nothing remains the same in life.  There is no certainty to anything we do, or any certainty that we will live to see another day.  Will the United States be a country as we know it now ten years from now?  Will the economy get better...or worse?  It can be a very discouraging and bewildering time, and that is pretty evident when you watch the news, and talk to people in the community.  There is no sense of hope in our country right now.  The President that promised so much when he was elected has really not done much at all.  The war in the middle-east shows no signs of ever truly ending.  People are unemployed in mass numbers, while our government leaders continue to spend, tax, and give themselves raises.  How bad can it get?

Then, out of the gloom, comes a calm, still voice.  Jesus speaks to us in our darkest hour, 

"I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."   John 8:12.  

We need light, we need something that we can depend on.  No, we cannot trust in anything in this world...but Jesus, who is not of this world can be trusted fully, and he will never go away.  This world will be a place that the devil himself uses to bring pain and suffering to those of us living here.  Jesus tells us this plainly,

"The thief [the devil] does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.  But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep."  John 10:10-15

It is the devil's goal for us to live in fear, to feel defeated and afraid.  He does not care about you, but rather only about working against the things of God...and don't forget, people are God's creation.  The events of the world right now may bring fear and doubt to your heart.  Sure, some of it seems pretty scary.  However, through our relationship with Jesus Christ we can find peace, and assurance that no matter what tomorrow brings, God will never leave us....

"For He [Jesus] Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'  So we may boldly say: 
'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?'" Heb 13:5-6

and

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:27

In this world where the familiar can and will change, there is ONE thing you can count on.  Jesus love never changes.  Hebrews 13:8 tells us, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever."  Here's the thing...Jesus isn't just something you stick on your dashboard.  To have this sense of peace and joy that He talks about, you must have a relationship with him!  You wanna know more?  Just ask me!

And for you out there that are already in a relationship with Jesus, don't despair!  He IS in control, even when evil and gloom seem rampant!  You must keep your focus on Him...don't lose heart!  Paul says it best:

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,  while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 
2 Cor 4:16-18

Strive for the eternal...look past the fog of today...

I pray that you will be blessed today, and that you are walking in the light of Jesus himself.  Jesus, the name above any other name...
Jesus 

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matt 28:20 (NLT)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

5 Ministry Lessons We Can Learn From Jerry Jones


As a boy, I grew up in New Mexico, about equal distance from Denver and Dallas.  Early on, I developed a love for both the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys.  One of the reasons I enjoyed watching the Cowboys, was the class that the organization had.  Tom Landry was absolutely a class act, as was Roger Staubach.  The team's unity, sportsmanship, and overall character was amazing.  Obviously, they were not perfect, but as far as football teams go, they were much better than their peers.

In the late 80's, Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys, and promptly began removing what made the team great.  They had a good run of success for a few years in the early 90's,  but then became one of the more mediocre teams in the NFL.  There have been many articles written, and a lot of water-cooler conversations about what has caused the decline of the Cowboys.  Usually, there are many reasons listed, but at the top of every list is usually one name... Jerry Jones.

Whether you love the guy or can't stand him is not really the focus of this writing.  I have been in ministry as a vocation for nearly 20 years, and I have learned that we (including myself) could take a few lessons in leadership from the mistakes of Jerry Jones.  Now, hear me out...  I'm not hear to bash the man...  Just to point out some areas of similarities in leadership mistakes that we often make in church leadership.  I'm sure there there could be many points to make, but I want to discuss 5 of them for the sake of this writing:


1.  Don't Micro-Manage -- Jerry has a bad habit of having to have his hand in every part of the Cowboys organization.  While it may seem like that would be a good idea regarding leadership, it actually has taken a toll on his organization.  No one person can possibly handle all of the decisions, tasks, and work that it takes to make any organization (including churches) operate to its top potential.  The Lone Ranger approach to church leadership is a dangerous one.  Why?  Well, Like Jerry, we may experience some great success early on, and begin to think that we did it all on our own.  In ministry, there will be times of great movement of the Lord, and then there may also be periods of dryness and discouragement.  When we realize that growth and progress in ministry are not because of a personality or a building, but rather a move of God, we are on the right track!

2.  Trust/Listen to Your Workers -- One of the biggest mistakes that Jerry Jones has made in leading the Cowboys is the way he decides to try to "lead" by coming down from his box during games that he feels are not going well.  I'm sure that he probably does this with good intentions, but to the rest of us, it plays quite differently.  I think that most of the world views that as more of a "my coaches and staff are not getting it done, so I'm just gonna do it myself" message.

In our role as church leaders, we must trust and listen to our volunteers and paid staff.  There is a reason that these people were chosen to fulfill leadership in our churches... because they know how to fulfill those roles!  Obviously, there are times when a person is not a good fit, or does not fit with the team, and adjustments need to be made.  However, if you hire someone to take care of financial records, lead the youth, or even drive the bus, it is very important that you let them blossom in their respective roles.  If we stifle their growth by wanting them to do everything the way WE would do it, they will not be with us as staff or volunteers very long.  Trust them to do their job.  Guide their direction, but let them spread their wings and fly!  All of us are better off when we allow that to happen!

3.  Realize That You Don't Have All The Answers -- Time has proven that Jerry Jones does not have all the answers when it comes to putting together a winning team.  Like Jerry, NONE of us have all the right answers.  Sure, we can point to things that we perceived "success" in during our own ministry experience...  that's easy to do.  However, we have to understand that what may have worked for us in one place or one time may not be the answer to current ministry needs where we serve now.

As humans, we tend to get rather set in our ways.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all resistant to change in how we do things.  Why?  Well, because making adjustments to how we operate forces us to admit that our own plans were not the perfect solution.  The best leaders are those that can take on this kind of change with enthusiasm, rather than angst or dread.

4.  Admit when you're wrong -- Honestly, this ties in very closely with number 3.  There is a bigger issue here that we as leaders need to address... and that is learning to admit when we are wrong.  Obviously, we can make adjustments on our own without admitting defeat to others.  However, one of the biggest problems many church leaders face is the perception that pastors and church leaders have it all together... that we have all the answers.  I have known a lot of church leaders that relished in that perception, and did everything they could to keep it in place.  The problem is that you can only uphold an image like that for so long.  Eventually, our human side is going to come out... often in an ugly way, destroying this perception.

I have found that by admitting my mistakes and accepting responsibility for them destroys that kind of perception altogether.  For me, this has been a very good thing.  I want the people that I work with and lead to see that I am just a man...  an imperfect man that will fail often in life.  When people see that in us, I believe that it helps them to see that what really makes ministry possible is the perfect Spirit of God working through imperfect people.  ALL of us will fail in our relationship with God.  Modeling the effects of God's restoration and forgiveness in our own lives will always serve as encouragement for the others around us as we move through life.

5.  Know when It's time to move on -- This is a tough one.  People thrive on comfort in our culture.  When we get established in a place of ministry, our own pride often gets in the way when our effectiveness in a leadership role begins to wane.  The prayer of most Cowboys fans has been that Jerry will sell the team and move on.  Why?  It is because they realize that the organization is not going to change unless the leadership is willing to change.  Jerry may or not realize this, I have no idea.  Jerry may not care because he is still making a lot of money off of the team.  Whatever the case, Jerry has not even mentioned moving on to something else.

Now, as church leaders, this is slightly different, as ministry should not ever be viewed as a "for profit" operation.  However, we all know people (or have done this ourselves) that are simply continuing in their ministry position because they need the paycheck and do not know what else to do with themselves.  There are a few ministers out there that are able to remain very effective after 10+ years in a place of ministry.  The sad truth is that most people that stay in a church ministry setting for very long get set in their ways, and refuse to change to meet the changing needs of the communities in which they serve.

Long tenures look good on a resume, but I think we need to be in consistent prayer, asking the Lord to help us evaluate our effectiveness in our role as ministers.  Why?  Well, because God will often reveal things to us that we would not admit on our own.  I believe that is how people can have a long and effective tenure in leadership.  We have to allow God to reshape us to His needs... not allow our own desires to shape the course of our life.

I do not know about you, but when people hear my name, I don't want them to shake their head and say, "Wow, I remember when God used their ministry in dynamic ways, but that was so long ago."  I do not need it to be about me, or my name.  However, I do want to be able to look back at life and realize that I did not get in the way of what God was wanting to do.  I would much rather look back and see all the ways that God redirected me, and the fruit that the redirect produced.

Sometimes, that redirect may come in the form of God telling us that it is time to move on from our current ministry role.  Yup, starting over is hard, but it forces you to completely rely on God... and that can never be a bad thing!  Often, the best thing we could do for ourselves, and the ministry in which we serve is to realize that is time for change.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Are You A Leader of Your Own Making, or A Leader of God's Making?

Questions for Church Leaders

Leadership is a huge privilege.  Leadership is also a big responsibility.  A good leader must think about those who follow, and how our actions impact those who follow behind us.  Leading the church is an even bigger privilege and responsibility!  Paul talks about the qualifications of an overseer, or pastor/elder, in 1 Timothy 3:1-5:

"Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.  Now the overseer is to be above reproach,  faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable,  hospitable, able to teach,
 not given to drunkenness, not violent but  gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)"

There are many people who naturally have leadership traits, but God has called a few of us to be disciples (followers) that help shape and lead the lives of other disciples (followers) towards Himself.  Sounds like a simple task, right?  Well, on paper it should be, but when imperfect people get involved (that'd be all of us), it does not always work out so smoothly.

I have now been in church ministry for about 18 years.  I do not say that to brag at all...  In fact, it's a miracle of God's making that I have survived that long!  In that time, I have seen many different examples of leadership from many church leaders.  ALL of them were examples of leadership, but not all were GOOD examples of Godly leadership.

Let me explain.  In leadership, we are leading one of two ways...  We are either 1) Following the Spirit of the Lord, or 2) Following the direction of our own heart.  Hopefully, we are walking the Lord closely enough that our own desires are in step with those of God.  To put it more simply, we are either leading people towards the throne of God, or leading them away from it.

In preparing for a teaching series on David, I was reading and studying the life of his predecessor as king of Israel, King Saul.  Like many leaders of God's people, Saul started out in the right way.  Samuel describes Saul in this way, as he addressed the nation of Israel, "Do you see the man the Lord has chosen?  There is no one like him among all the people."  (1 Sam. 10:24).  Saul was a fine human specimen, had humble enough beginnings.  He sought the face of the Lord and Godly advisors, and gave God the credit for the amazing victories granted in battle, etc.  

However, at some point during Saul's forty-two year reign as king, he began to change.  He began to rely on his own thoughts and experience rather than seeking God's guidance.  In his arrogance, Saul even offers a burnt sacrifice, which was only to be offered by the priests.  Samuel's response to Saul should be haunting to each of us in ministry leadership positions:

“You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.   But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

We have to remember that successful leadership of God's people is only possible through the express direction of the Lord.  It does not matter how long we have served in ministry, the urgency of the leadership of Christ should be what we seek.  We should not settle for our own delusions of grandeur in ministry.  Large buildings, hip services, video game stations, mission trips, even the term "pastor" are all meaningless if God is not the center of it all.

I stated earlier that I had experienced church leadership from both ends of the spectrum.  I have seen leaders struggling to maintain their own vision of what a church should be... while watching their church crumble around them.  I have also seen leadership that is so passionate about listening to the direction of the Lord, that God began to move in ways that none of us had ever imagined.

The real question that we have to ask ourselves is this... "Is my ministry focused on person of Jesus, or is it focused on the person of me?  I do not know about you, but I do not want to go the way of Saul.  King David (who succeeded Saul) was not perfect,  but God did amazing things to bless Israel because of the attitude of his heart towards the Lord.

May we all be like David in that aspect.  Sure, David failed a few times, and so will we.  The difference in David and Saul is that David had a tender heart toward the things of God.  Pray for that tenderness, pray for Gods discernment as you lead!