Posts Tagged Leadership

Staying Focused When Mud Flies

By virtue of the ministry I’ve been allowed to have, I often interact with ministry leaders who are facing intense ministry and personal challenges where they serve. It is not an easy day in which to serve the Lord, that’s for sure, but when has it ever been such? I suppose the difficulties in our day sometimes seem larger because of the magnifying glass called the internet. One person can sound like a thousand. A problem is broadcast around the world in minutes and remains on the cyber-shelf for all to see long after it has been resolved. Accusations can be flung with limited consequences and an incredibly low standard for proof.

It is the world we live in and it is probably not going to get any better, so all who aspire to leadership better accept the fact that it will happen and learn how to respond productively to it. There is a lot that could be said about productively responding, but in this post I want focus on one—don’t let it derail your ministry! Perhaps the only thing sadder than ungodly attacks is when those being attacked allow their attackers to set the agenda and redirect them away from fruitful ministry.

Thinking about some folks getting hammered recently, I was reminded of Nehemiah’s steadfast leadership in the face of much struggle and opposition. Nehemiah 6 records how he faced three serious challenges, yet remained focused on his purpose and ministry.

He faced the challenge of distractions (vv. 1-4). Two men, opposed to his work, invited him to a summit meeting—in fact, they sent him four invitations (v. 4). Rather than get caught up in their distraction, Nehemiah firmly replied, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (v. 3). Because their invitation had nothing to do with his mission, he refused to get distracted by it.

He faced the challenge of distortions—people said things about him that were not true (vv. 5-9). Those who did not like the work that Nehemiah was doing tried to discourage and intimidate him by spreading unfounded and baseless accusations. They accused him of promoting himself and of seeking an agenda of rebellion. Few things take the wind out of someone’s sails like these kinds of distortions. But rather than get discouraged and quit, Nehemiah rebuffed their accusation and remained steadfast in his mission. He prayed and pressed on!

He faced the challenge of deception (vv. 10-14). Next, Nehemiah faced a challenge from an unexpected source—an acquaintance, someone he thought to be on his side. Shemaiah attempted to trick Nehemiah into acting wrongly by fleeing into the temple in self-preservation. Its seems that the plot was designed to cause Nehemiah to panic and act cowardly. If he fell for it, then the leader would be discredited and the people would be disheartened. Instead of turning to hide, Nehemiah “perceived that surely God had not sent him” (v. 12) and he kept pressing on.

Distractions. Distortions. Deceptions. I believe that anyone seeking to do something for the Lord will face these challenges. Like Nehemiah, if we are walking in obedience to the Lord (cf. 2:12), we must not allow them to stop us. The answer to the distractions, distortions, and deceptions was Nehemiah’s intensity, integrity, and insight. He was completely committed to doing what God put in his heart to do. He was focused on the work, not himself, so he refused to engage with character assassins. He would not violate God’s Word in order to protect himself and he knew that anybody asking him to disobey God was not acting on God’s behalf.

Ministry leaders can’t afford to mistakenly think that the echo chamber of a Facebook page or internet forum actually represents a “multitude” of concerned voices. A vocal minority should never be allowed control of the agenda simply because they can scream louder, fight dirtier, and use the internet to bully their way forward. Nehemiah understood that there is nothing to be gained by trying to pacify people whose sole ambition is to harm the work. His words should be ours, “Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (v. 3)

Friend, don’t become weary in doing well. Don’t let struggle and opposition sidetrack you from God’s will. Don’t get sucked into a squabble which is designed to derail and destroy the work. Keep praying and keep pressing on for the Lord’s glory!

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Following is a stewardship too

I spent the last two weeks teaching a leadership class for our seminary’s summer school program. It was challenging and encouraging to spend four hours a day looking at this subject with men involved in and preparing for vocational ministry in the church. My last post came from notes I was preparing which addressed the topic of transparency and accountability in leadership. I would like to follow up on that, in part because I think more needs to be said and, from reading some of the responses to what I wrote, it seems that I need to be more clear!

Let me restate my main point: leaders are obligated to lead within the boundaries established by the organization itself. I suppose there might be a case where an organization’s only governing guideline is do whatever the guy in charge says, but I don’t know of any churches or parachurch entities which formally say that. All of the ones I know have some kind of governance arrangement. Integrity demands that the leaders honor those boundaries, not circumvent them.

I left room for differing interpretations about how to honor them. I left room for changing them with integrity. What I said did not in any way rule out change; it attempted to articulate what could not be changed by the leader apart from the will of the led. And those who are being led should be able to make free, informed choices, not coerced or uninformed choices.

One of the sad realities of congregational life in a sin-cursed world is that some people will misuse something like I’ve written to further their own agenda. Their interest in what I wrote has very little to do with the concept and a lot more to do with party politics. The Scriptures are absolutely clear that God’s plan for the church is to have godly and gifted men direct its affairs (cf. 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 5:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17). To deny this is to deny what God has plainly said.

Nothing in my previous post contradicts the clear biblical teaching about pastoral leadership. Within a context of congregational church government, God’s plan is for elders to serve as overseers over God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). My post addressed the possible danger to the congregation when the properly appointed leaders do not lead transparently and with integrity. It was not against leadership; it was against bad leadership.

Biblically, texts like Hebrews 13:17 teach that following leaders is a stewardship responsibility too. Obey and submit are pretty strong words. Since the context is the spiritual care of God’s people, I believe it is proper to say that the kind of obedience and submission God’s people owe to their shepherds is: (1) spiritual in nature (“watch for your souls” and (2) biblically defined (cf. “spoke to you the Word of God” v. 7). When it comes to congregational life, it would seem that the disposition of the members should be toward following, not fighting with their leaders. If the leaders are violating God’s Word or breaking trust with the church’s governing documents, then God has told us how to handle it (1 Timothy 5:19-21). Sadly, my observation is that most church fights are not about disobeying God’s Word.

Just to be clear, let me illustrate the kind of problem I wrote about in the previous blog post so people don’t misapply it. An example for church life would be a pastor who knows he has enough money in the bank to survive chasing off the people who disagree with him, so he launches the church in a new direction in spite of the majority’s disapproval of it. An educational example would be an administrator hiring faculty and staff who do not agree with the doctrinal statements of the organization in spite of his obligation to work within that boundary.

Here is an example of what I wasn’t talking about. I was not talking about a pastor who leads the congregation properly through the process of making changes to its constitution. I was not talking about pastors exercising proper authority with regard to the spiritual care of the congregation (which includes its unity and oversight of its ministries).

God calls leaders to lead with integrity. He also calls members of the assembly to follow its properly appointed leaders. Both sides of the equation should do so knowing that the church is the Lord’s and to Him each will give an account.

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Leadership Is A Stewardship

The leadership of an institution is a stewardship entrusted by both God and men. I followed a man who shepherded this congregation for forty years. The same man was the founding president of DBTS. I serve a congregation with a clear set of doctrines and by-laws which govern it, and they called me to serve because I affirmed my agreement with those. Yes, I think God directed my life to this place of service, but He did so by the means of human agency–a pastor, a pulpit committee, and a congregation.

I fully acknowledge that this is one of the great challenges of leadership in ministry contexts. The leaders are not free to pursue all of the paths available to him. They must work within the boundaries of their defining documents. They must work under the authority of whomever invested them with the stewardship of leadership. That means that beliefs of the leaders are not the de facto beliefs of the organization. If I changed, for example, my view of end times, it does not mean that Inter-City Baptist Church has changed its view. I don’t get to make that the call. The congregation does.

When the leader’s beliefs shift away from the organization’s stated beliefs, there are two options which involve integrity and one which does not. Integrity would lead the leader to either resign because he no longer can affirm his agreement or to put the question of changing the organization’s position before whomever has the authority to make the decision. For the leader, however, to take actions which are contrary to the organization’s beliefs and governing documents is a serious breach of integrity. Dress it up in whatever pious language you want, but it is deceptive and destructive.

For a pastor to chart a new course which effectively empties the church until the only ones remaining agree with him is unethical. For the leader of a service organization to pursue a new direction that leaves the organization vulnerable to collapse unless people go along with his choices is simply wrong. This is not servant leadership. Really it is not leadership at all; it is coercion. The congregation or organization is not allowed to make a free, informed choice about its new course or direction. The leader has imposed his will, not served.

I want to make sure I’m not misunderstood here. I’m not referring to interpretive calls about what fits within the church or organization’s governing documents. I’m talking about contradicting and circumventing them. It is the mindset that treats a leader as if he has some direct pipeline from God that gives him the right to ignore the boundaries properly held in place by the by-laws and articles of faith. It is the evidence that no matter how much lip-service we pay to being God-centered, too many of our churches and parachurch organizations are really built around men.

A genuine servant leader lives within the stewardship boundaries outlined for him in the governing documents of his church or ministry. If he finds himself in conflict with those, he either removes himself or calls for the church or ministry to reconsider its position. If he does the latter, he does that first, not after positioning things so that saying no will lead to catastrophic consequences. Leaving people no choice but to bend to your will is the antithesis of servant leadership.

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The Challenge of Spiritual Leadership

Seminary started up again for us this week with the first classes meeting on Thursday. I usually preach in the first two chapels of the new year. I decided that if the Lord allows, I am going to do a series on spiritual leadership in the local church. I doubt that I’ll blog about all of the messages, but I did want to share a portion of the first one. The text was Titus 1:5-16.

The point of this message was the need for spiritual leadership in the local church. The Apostle Paul did not believe his missionary ministry was complete until the local congregation was formed with godly and gifted leadership in place. Until leaders were in place, the church was not in proper order (v. 5). While there are many positive reasons for this, it seems clear from the NT that one significant reason for the appointment of godly leadership was the threat of false teaching and false teachers. That seems to be the case at Crete, and Paul’s instructions to Titus are aimed at protecting the flocks on that island. So, to cut to the end of the message, I challenged the men with three applications based on this passage that answer the question, “How should we respond to false teachers?”

We must silence them (v. 10) by reproving them severely (v. 13).

This passage makes it unavoidable that a chief responsibility of the spiritual leaders within the local church is to engage false teachers and false teaching energetically. To do any less is to be unfaithful to God’s call and commands. For those within the flock that are disinclined toward confrontation, you must remember that it is God’s will whether we feel comfortable with it or not. And those who are inclined toward combativeness need to remember that the goal is restoration, not destruction!

The tendency to minimize doctrinal purity is a problem all by itself. People might criticize us for being too hung up on doctrinal matters and for being too critical of those who are teaching other doctrines, but there is great danger in relaxing our commitment to sound doctrine. There is overt danger in false doctrine, but there is also a more subtle danger in accepting the belief that doctrine doesn’t matter.

We must multiply the number of godly and gifted men who can teach the truth and confront error (vv. 5, 9).

The text reminds us that we can’t just curse the darkness, we must light candles! On one very important level, the answer to false teachers is biblical teachers. The very existence and presence of those who are teaching empty words for sordid gain means that we must equip and train those who can teach healthy words for God’s glory! The purpose of the seminary is to assist local churches in the equipping of men for this great work.

We must maintain the standards established in the Scriptures (vv. 6-9).

Crucial to the point just made is to remember the burden of this text. It is not just a matter of appointing leaders. It is a matter of appointing the right kind of leaders, leaders that meet the qualifications of this passage. The local church has an obligation to maintain the standards taught here so that it can honor God by its commitment to biblical truth. When a church ignores or violates these standards, it is revealing a loyalty to man that transcends its loyalty to God. We must acknowledge that some of these standards are broad enough that exact applications will be debated. However, we must have a heart commitment to do what we believe to be God’s will in the application of these standards.

We cannot afford to adopt our culture’s approach to identifying and elevating leaders. People rise to leadership too often because of ability, attractiveness, or assertiveness—they can do things better than others, possess magnetic qualities that draw followers, or push their way to success and power. This text reminds us that none of those are central. Godliness is. The church does not need entrepreneurs, celebrities, or driven people in places of leadership. It needs men who walk with God and can faithfully handle the Word.

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