Friday, August 26, 2016

Preventing Conflict

As sage pastor Max Lucado quipped,
"Conflict is inevitable. Combat is optional."

While conflict is indeed inevitable, we can do some things Christianly to minimize the likelihood of conflict. Much of this I have learned far later than I wished in my ministry, so I'm hopeful some of you younger leaders can benefit from my late-arriving wisdom. And in many ways, I still struggle. Just keeping it real.

Three keys, I think:

1) Do the right thing.
2) Do the right thing in the right way.
3) Do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

I didn't way it was earth shaking. Just helpful.

First, do the right thing. And honestly, if I don't do the right thing, I'd hope for conflict! Someone should care enough about us, about our ministries and our churches, more importantly about the kingdom of God and His reputation to get in our way when we do the wrong thing.

Sometimes you and I don't know we're doing the wrong thing until the right person steps in our way. This has beautiful and difficult implications for leadership. It means we can lead with humility because we admit we don't always know what the right thing is. It means we can welcome input from those we lead because they may know a right way that we've not yet discovered. This is just one reason team leadership is better than solo leadership. The wisdom writer nailed it:

Plans go wrong for lack of advice;
Many advisors bring success. 
(Prov. 15:22 NLT)

Second, do the right thing in the right way. This is probably where I messed up most in the first 15 years of ministry. There are processes in place for a reason. If I don't like them and disregard them, I should expect conflict. If you are frustrated by the committees (sometimes perceived as hoops to jump through) required to do the right thing in the right way, get some help from a key leader in your ministry. Otherwise it might needlessly cripple your effectiveness if you disregard the process.

I'm embarrassed that it was in the church that I was introduced to the phrase, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission." While I agree that it is usually easier, I can't seem to figure out how it is more Christian. Walk through the process in the right way. Ask permission. You will prevent a great deal of conflict, frustration, and even agony.

Third, do the right thing in the right way at the right time. This may be the most difficult of the three. Most of us who have been entrusted with a leadership position have gotten there because we usually do the right thing. Doing things the right way is simply a matter of choosing to do so. But doing things at the right time requires personal, spiritual, and cultural sensitivity.

Some questions that might serve your journey: Is it the right time for you, personally? Do you have the time? Have you allowed this "right thing" to adequately mature in your mind?

So how about you? What have you discovered that helps prevent unnecessary conflict?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Impressively Awful

I'm going to start with an embarrassing story.

One of the schools I attended got a new teacher a couple of years ago. I was meeting that teacher for the first time and really felt the need to make sure they understood just what a big deal I was.

I did say I'm embarrassed by this story, right?

So I started going on and on about the kind of church I'm in, the places I've been "blessed to serve," (I was trying to demonstrate impressive humility too) and the consulting I do, etc. etc. etc.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

I was working really hard to impress him.

And I'm not sure how severely affected by that encounter he was, but I was deeply affected.

I wanted to walk into the restroom and throw up.

Seriously. It was awful. I was hearing myself say these things and thinking... "what in the world am I doing?"

I am still embarrassed.

Perhaps you and I share this perspective: Not a single person who has tried to convince me how great they are has succeeded.

And here I was, on the other (gross) side of that dynamic.

I think this may have relevance to our role as worship leaders.

When you and I are on the platform (or in the booth) and trying to impress people with how great we are, we will fail. Every. Single. Time.

More than that, every time we impress people with how great we are, we are stealing greatness from God. This is sin. And I am a great big sinner in need of great big grace from a great big God.

Let me say it one more way: the more people are impressed with me, the less they will be impressed with God.

Maybe this is why I spend so much time in pre-service prayer times or post-rehearsal devotional times encouraging team members to be on guard, so we use every gifting we have to point to the Giver.

We must make much of Jesus, not of music. And certainly not of ourselves.

My hope is that people will not walk out of our worship gatherings talking about how good the music is, nor the musicians, nor the preacher. My dreams come true when they leave our service talking about how great God is.

Am I projecting this on to my team? Or do you struggle with this too? How have you successfully battled against the temptation to be impressive?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

How Was the Gospel?

Larena was painting the interior of my pastor’s house. She is from Mexico so her English is sometimes awkward. One Sunday after our services, Pastor Tim walked into his home and was greeted with a broken English question expressed in a thick hispanic accent:

“How was the gospel this morning, pastor?"

When I heard that story, I wondered if hers may be a far better question than some of us ask after worship. So let me ask you, how was the gospel this Sunday in your church?

First, was it clear? If someone who had never heard the “good news” attended your church, did they hear it in the sermon? Did they sing it in your songs? (The gospel, I've learned, is more than the cross. It includes creation, fall, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and second coming.)

Second, was it compelling? The gospel isn’t the gospel unless it is good news. Again, our sin and the provision of forgiveness for that sin by the death of Jesus are elements of the gospel, but while we may think of it as the heart of it, that’s not the end of it. The gospel is good news: Forgiveness. Resurrection. Hope.

Third, was it communicated as a path to life change? The good news is for everyone. The addict can be set free. The marriage can be restored. The sinner can be saved. Life change doesn't happen--as you know--by will-power but by God's power. Gospel power.

Finally, how will you ensure the gospel is clear and compelling this Sunday? Will you use short scripture readings to connect the truths of the song lyrics to elements of God's glorious gospel?  Will there be a gospel-rich video serving as a transition piece? Will you, pastor, remember to include the gospel in your sermon? Will you, staff member or congregant, encourage your pastor to do the same? What about the more experiential elements of worship--directed prayer, communion, etc.?

I'm so curious: How does your church do this well? How have you seen it modeled that encourages you to be faithful to sing, preach, and experience the gospel in worship?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Why Do We Serve?

I'm reading a short book by Henri Nouwen entitled, In the Name of Jesus Reflections on Christian Leadership. My pastor read it last summer and highly recommended it.

While reading a segment about the re-instating instruction of Jesus to Peter to "Feed my sheep" something occurred to me.

As an aside, has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever occurs to God? This is such massive evidence of how different I (the creature) are from God (the Creator). Things occur to me all the time! By this stage of life and ministry, I expected to more stuff figured out. Less to discover. Less to learn. But God continues to teach me new things, and He graciously teaches me old things in deeper ways. What a great God we worship!

So back to the "feed my sheep" epiphany...

This is not a new passage for me. I have read it many times, studied back in college, and have even preached from it before. 

You probably remember the scene: Jesus and Peter meet on the beach after the resurrection. Peter has gone back to fishing for fish. After having breakfast together, the Master asks the fisherman, "Do you love me?" Peter responds, "You know I do." And Jesus speaks those familiar words: "Feed my sheep."

It was just one of Nouwen's sentences that grabbed me: "Having been assured of Peter's love, Jesus gives him the task of ministry."

Assurance of love, then resumption of ministry. We serve people (feed sheep) out of love for God. 

I know. It's not groundbreaking.

Or is it?

In my experience and observation, we often serve people out of a need for their love and acceptance. Somewhere beneath the words we speak are the truths we feel: If I serve them well, they will love me. I'll be part of the group. I won't be lonely any more... for a while.

We also serve people out of a need for workers in our ministry. Few of us would admit we've ever done this, but I suspect most of us have thought, "I'd better serve them well or I won't have them at the piano/drums/mixer (fill in your own blank) any more. Then I'll be in real trouble."

We may even serve people out of a sense for what it does in us. Some psychologists have gone so far to say that altruism doesn’t exist. While I disagree with them, I'd have to say some of us serve in part because of how it makes us feel. (I'll leave it to you to discern how much is some or part.)

When we serve people in those ways we consume them.

But Jesus came to give life. "Christ in us" wants to give life to those we serve.

The only way we can do that is to serve them with love for God as the source. With love for God as the cause. With love for God as the motivation.

And I don't know about you, but I need to do a better job of sitting in God's Presence, letting Him love me. Knowing His love. Feeling His love. Trusting His love.

And then I can serve people in the way Jesus did, the way He trusted Peter to serve them: from God's love fueling heart, mind, and soul.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Don't Break God's Heart

Why attend worship?

If, for example, I am amply fed in Bible Study time, then why go to worship? After all, in my small group I learn about God. I develop deep friendships with people--friends that would do anything for me. I can even give God His tithe and my offerings online or in my small group. So why should I choose to attend worship?

A friend of mine once wrote a short story about a very sad birthday party. All of the friends arrived at the birthday girl's house. They brought presents. They played games. They talked and talked and talked. But they never gave presents to the birthday-girl. They didn't include her in their play. They talked to each other, but never to her.

Carl's story powerfully portrays the difference between Bible Study and worship.

In small group Bible study we learn the great truths of God's word. We talk about God. We delight in His truths. We discuss the amazing things God does in our lives and the lives of others. This horizontal kind of small group experience is essential in our quest to become fully devoted followers of Jesus.

In worship we take knowledge and turn it into relationship. Rather than talking about God's majesty, we talk with God about His majesty. Rather than singing about how much God loves us, we sing our love songs to God. In this vertical time, we express our love and we experience His love.

In other words, Bible study is like a woman telling a friend how much she loves her husband.

Worship is a wife telling her husband how much she loves him.

Church, you are the Bride of Christ.

We must not, we can not, neglect the opportunities we have to tell Jesus how much we love Him.

The single greatest power you possess is the power to choose. We all choose to--or not to--follow Jesus. We choose to obey or deny. To do right or wrong.

Some who claim Christ choose not to worship. They decide to sleep, or play, or work. A few serve at church but never take time to pray and sing from their hearts to the heart of God. Speaking of singing, many will say the music isn't their style. (I'm glad my wife's love for me doesn't depend on the style of clothes I wear, or the way I trim my beard.) Some even attend a gathering set aside for the Bride to engage her Bridegroom and still choose not to worship.

To sum it up, when we choose not to worship we break God's commands. And His heart.

Please, brothers and sisters, don't break God's heart.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Leading with Soul (Open Eyes)

Titanic was an epic film. The story demands such a telling. I remember when it was released (1997) and there was a running commentary among my friends: "Why would you pay money to see it? Everyone knows how it ends!"

I'm glad I went to see it.

Not only do I love movies, I was indelibly marked by a single phrase from Titanic. You might have missed it, or maybe I was late coming to an understanding you've had for a long time.

When Smith asked how long 'til the ship sinks, Thomas Andrews answers, "An hour... two at most." And then Smith responds with, "And how many aboard, Mr Murdoch?"

Here it is. The moment I was undone in that movie theater almost 20 years ago... a moment I've never forgotten.

"2,200 souls on board, sir."

Not 2,200 people or 1,500 passengers and 700 crew. No breakdown by 1st class, 2nd class or 3rd class.


When we stand before the church to lead worship--whether as a singer or instrumentalist, we aren't leading songs or music. We're not just leading heads and hearts.

We are leading souls.

And that is one of the reasons I want my eyes to stay open as much as possible.

See the connection?

The folks you and I are leading to the throne of grace don't want to be led by a voice or a body. They don't want to be led by a musician or even a pastor.

They want to be led by a soul.

Our eyes are windows to our souls.

Let's not close the windows. Let's not seal off our souls.

Let's use our eyes to engage our brothers and sisters with words of encouragement and testimony. Join me in ensuring we focus attention on the God of the heavens when the text is directed to Jesus, the lover of our souls.

In other words, let's lead souls with our soul.

I'm curious... how do you do this? Or how have you seen it done well?

Monday, June 20, 2016

His Face

You can tell a lot by looking at someone's face.

If the skin is wrinkle free, they are probably young. If the eyes are not wide open, they are likely weary. If the mouth seldom raises at the corners, sadness is nearby. If the nose is shaped like a lightening bolt, there has been some trauma--maybe even several traumas. If the hair is matted, cleanliness is not a priority or not a possibility. If the skin is fair, that speaks to one possible ethnicity; if dark, another.

How do you imagine the face of Jesus? I'll go first, but I'd love to read your comments.

First, I don't think His skin was wrinkle free. In fact, I think there were two places where wrinkles developed deeply: his forehead and his eyes. You may have already figured out why. Certainly when He prayed for His followers--including us--His brow would furrow from intensity. And doubtless His eyes had crow's feet from the thousands of times He smiled and laughed.

I envision His mouth as usually closed. I am convinced that the greatest listener in the history of our planet was our Savior. Of course when He spoke, it was with the perfect question or complete authority. I don't mean authority like a politician or police officer, but as someone who knew truth, how it could set people free, and with great hope that the listener would discover that freedom. Perhaps like the great evangelist, Billy Graham.

His nose would have been distinctively middle Eastern, larger than mine. But no deviation in His septum. The Bible teaches that Jesus never had a broken bone, so while His nose would've been big, it wouldn't have been crooked.

I wonder about the length of His hair. Back in the day, when mine was long and curly (down to my shoulders!), I took pride in imagining Jesus' would have been similar. But really, I think other than having dark hair, it would've been coarse. (No such thing as leave-in conditioner back then.) He was a working, traveling man. Surely it wasn't slicked back, so he'd appear in any way "polished." He was a normal guy. His hair probably looked like pretty much every other carpenter's.

His skin would be darker than mine, even when I'm tan, but lighter than T. D. Jakes. I picture the olive skin of our mediterranean friends. Skin that is rich in color. Skin worn but not rough. Skin tender but not soft.

And finally, His eyes. I can't even begin to find words to describe how I envision the eyes of Jesus. Full of compassion, no doubt. Full of every Godly emotion. But mostly when I see the eyes of Jesus, I see searching eyes. They are looking around every corner, up every tree, along the sidelines of every crowd. They search for one more. The lost. The marginalized. The hopeless. Those eyes just can't wait to peer into the eyes of another person who yearns to be healed, forgiven, restored.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about those eyes is that they have never stopped looking. Still they seek those who are lost.

Do we? When we stop looking at His face in worship, I fear we stop looking at the world the way Jesus did. And does.

Now...your turn. How do you imagine His face?