REThink Leadership?

 

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Powerful main sessions with challenging speakers and excellent music refreshed me.

I spent last week at a conference in Atlanta. My goal was to come away with practical ideas of how to approach developing leadership teams in this new era of ministry, especially in a church going through revitalization. My expectation with the “REthink” title was for new, outside the box, approaches to leadership that are proving effective in churches that are working hard to realign and readjust to changing culture. While the conference was very well organized and flowed smoothly, I am coming home with none of what I went to find. It’s not a total loss though. I’m coming home inspired and energized in other ways.

What happened?

You who know me will probably not be surprised at the epiphany I had at this conference. As I filed in with 750 other “lead pastors” I was uncomfortable from the start. Though the promotional material described the dress code as “very casual” and relaxed, only 3 of us were in shorts and t-shirts. And only one of those, me, was wearing red sneakers. The rest of the crowd was mostly in sharp, button-down shirts and what I would call dress jeans pulled up high on the waist with nice leather belts. My epiphany? These are not my people. I don’t fit. Table exchanges were mostly brief, professional, pleasantries.

For the next two days I sat in a room that I will call “corporate church America.” The talk centered on managing our staff members, meetings and structure. At one point my table discussion focused on how often staff meetings should occur at each staff level. I didn’t have much to offer.

I told Robin I felt like I was at a fish-care conference representing my little glass bowl with a single goldfish swimming around while the rest of these guys were in positions overseeing aquariums like Sea World and the Boston Aquarium. I went to one breakout session that promised to help lead an established church from the old to the new. Point one was to not change anything for six months in order to learn the systems. Point two was helpful information for firing staff members not in line with the vision and point three focused on how to make quality hires for open positions. I left to try another workshop. As I walked in they were laughing about a pastor that gave his congregation his home phone number and how crazy that is. (My cell number is on the back of our bulletin.)

My mind kept darting through scripture about servant leadership, shepherding, gospel partnerships and teams. I don’t want to judge harshly. Maybe the corporate model of the CEO pastor is the way it has to be in giant churches. All I can tell you is I have no desire for that whatsoever!

Thankfully, the main sessions were where I found encouragement for servant leadership, personal soul care and investing in relationshìps. I had some excellent speakers pour into me and encourage my spirit. I got some excellent evaluation questions to consider in working to improve my own leadership style. I think that was the talk that got me thinking the most.

“What is it like to be on the other side of me?”  (Brad Lomenick)

He pointed out that every leader brings a climite to his organization and that most times the leader has little idea what that climate actually is. Old leadership models stress fear based leadership to bring results. Thankfully most in the church have abandoned that approach. But, Brad told a story about growing the organization he was working with to the point of losing his personality and becoming a demanding, workaholic, task master. His team was afraid to be truthful with him and hesitant to approach him with new ideas or feedback. The climate he was creating was unhealthy and he wasn’t even aware how much he had changed. Brad challenged us to return to our churches and ask, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” The goal is honest feedback to help us be better leaders.

I wonder what kind of climate I bring? What is it like to be on the other side of me? For the past 3 years I’ve been trying to navigate leading the rebuilding of a church after it had been through decades of decline. On a number of occasions I’ve been pretty sure that I’m not the right person for the job. I’ve made some painful mistakes, hurt some people and had some things I wish I had done differently. But, thankfully, most of the time, I’ve been able to look at the fruit of growth and changed lives and thank God for putting imperfect me in this position and working despite my numerous shortcomings.

Most of the conference was great, especially when we went across the street to join with the 8,000 youth and children’s workers at their conference. Of course, they were relaxed, friendly, smiling and there was no sense of the structure of corporate America. The level of joy was refreshing. The “professionals” disappeared and the business vibe evaporated. Not that the serious crowd on the other side of the street loved Jesus any less, there was just less freedom and spontaneity there. It was guarded.

My soul was refreshed in singing loudly with hands in the air. My tablet filled with notes and quotes of both encouragement and self-improvement. My ideas vault expanded. Andy Stanley, Jon Acuff, Reggie Joiner,Doug Fields and Perry Noble poured into me and refreshed me.

My conclusion, even after two “are you interested in a move” conversations, was that God placed me right where I am in a faith family that I love with the longing the Paul writes about in the first chapter of Philippians. I have no desire for a big staff or becoming the biggest church in Maine. I am not Corporate Carl and have no desire to live his life. I love the team approach where we are all ministers together. I love that changed lives is our measuring stick rather than numbers. I love that loving others is our heart and that we are simple and uncomplicated.

I am not called to Guatemala. I am not called to Pennsylvania or to be on a staff of 18 in North Carolina. I am more convinced than ever that God has me right where he wants me in little, old, Westbrook, Maine. I am beyond blessed to be serving with friends I love dearly.

If we do grow to a multi, fulltime staff level, I’m not ever going to be Corporate Carl and the big cheese. Instead I pray for a team working together, loving each other and serving together where each of us will sharpen the others regardless of position or title. My prayer is that we will continue to grow together as family, building one another up, forgiving one another and pushing forward together.

 

 

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Are We Making It Hard(er) for People to Meet Jesus?

After our series on the Foyer, Living Room and Kitchen atmosphere, this blog post on the Exponential Blog struck a chord with me. – Scott

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By Arron Chambers

Some things in life are more complicated than they need to be.

Like turning on the television. Remember when you could turn on the TV by just urning a single knob? Now, you need a degree from MIT to navigate the remote control. Or like ordering coffee–an infinite number of coffee options, but most of those options change with each coffee shop. I love white chocolate-flavored coffee in a medium-sized cup or mug, which at my favorite coffee shop, is a 16-ounce (not medium) white chocolate mocha. But when I go to Dunkin’ Donuts, the closest thing I can find to that same drink is called a medium (not 16-ounce) Dunkaccino, which is always difficult for me to order because I have to pay for it with my man card.

Or becoming a Christian. Remember when becoming a Christian was as simple as hearing and responding to the gospel? Now, too many Christians and churches have made it so complicated to find Jesus. Put yourself in the Toms, Skechers, Vans, Doc Martens, or Birkenstocks of a lost person with me for a moment and realize what they have to be willing to walk through to actually hear the gospel.

They have to walk through the stereotypes that Hollywood and the media project of Christians as not being very nice or normal. I spoke for an event in Tennessee where I heard a heartbreaking story. A local church youth group ate at a local steakhouse, made a huge mess and left a note instead of a tip. The note to their server: “Repent or you’re going to hell.” The server burst out crying and left work. That story so enraged me that my wife and I made plans to eat at that steakhouse the next night with my in-laws. We asked for that server and left her a huge tip. My in-laws resolved to do everything within their power to build a friendship with that young woman with the hopes that she’ll meet Jesus along the way.

They have to walk through the well-documented hypocrisy of some of our biggest celebrity preachers who have sinned publicly and scattered their golden house fixtures, jewels and fur coats as they fell back to the earth.

They have to walk through our denominational division and find the “right” church with the “right” version of the gospel.

They have to walk through our undocumented and unspoken yet highly unbending dress codes, which clearly prohibit tattered jeans, skinny jeans or saggy jeans and T-shirts advertising beer, pot, the Oakland Raiders, Obama, or ‘80s big-haired rock bands.

And then, if lost people can clamber over, around and through those obstacles, they have to walk through our doors … where the fun really begins.

None of this is a surprise to Jesus. Remember what He said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14).

Yes, the way is hard, so why would we make it even harder? I’m convinced and convicted that it’s time we simplify evangelism, focusing on three key areas:

1. Relationships

Let me put it simply: Relationships are the key to reaching lost people.

I define evangelism as “an intentional relationship through which someone is introduced to Jesus Christ.” Healthy relationships are essential if we want to have the kind of life God intended for all of us. And they are also essential if we want to reach lost people like Jesus did. A few years ago, the Institute for American Church Growth (today known as Church Growth, Inc.) asked more than 10,000 people, “What was most responsible for your coming to Christ and this church?” Seventy-nine percent responded, “A friend or relative invited me.”

Which is why a man who was at one time the leading abortionist in the country came to Christ. I’ll call him Richard.

One day a preacher (I’ll call him David) met Richard and started a conversation with him. The two men quickly struck up a friendship, both unaware of the other’s profession until after a relationship had already come to life.

Richard, a recently retired abortion doctor—at one time performing more abortions than any other abortion doctor in the United States. David, a presently employed preacher—at no time thinking he’d become friends with an abortionist.

Over countless breakfasts and cups of coffee, they forged a strong friendship. On paper it shouldn’t have worked, but in real life it did. David told me that Richard used to hate Christians, especially the ones who yelled at and picketed him and his office. He said that their anger only made him more resolved to keep doing abortions.

Interesting.

Well, David didn’t yell at Richard. Instead, he ate with him, loved him and rejoiced with him when Richard gave his life to Christ, repented of his sins and was baptized. You see, it’s really not that complicated.

Let’s just love people, intentionally.

2. Resources

I don’t know how Peter did it.

How did he convince about 3,000 people to give their lives to Christ without handing out even one fake $1 million bill with the steps to receiving the “free” gift of eternal life detailed on the back?

Where did we get the idea that gimmicks, pamphlets and direct mail campaigns were the best way to lead people to Christ?

What if we set aside the gimmicky resources and simply just told people the true story of what Jesus has done to transform our lives?

What if we removed the gospel from all of the impenetrable packaging so that lost people didn’t have to work so hard to receive and enjoy truth, grace, forgiveness and life? What if we embraced every opportunity to develop intentional relationships with lost people through which we can introduce them to Jesus telling them true stories of transformation?

Seeing this through the paradigm of The Golden Rule, I’d much rather you give me a true story than a fake $1 million bill.

3. Responding

At Journey Christian Church where I pastor, we’re big on taking away people’s excuses for not coming to church. So we’re intentional about creating an environment where truth can be proclaimed in a relevant way, where it’s okay to not be okay, and where grace always wins.

We want to take away their excuses for not being the church in the community, so we’re intentional about creating regular opportunities to serve our community in significant ways.

We want to take away their excuses for not responding to the gospel, so we’re intentional with how we present the gospel and how they can respond to the gospel each week. I’m surprised by how many churches are no longer publicly calling people to make decisions for Christ, and instead are leaving the presentation of the gospel for a more appropriate time, such as the quarterly New Members’ Class. We’ve intentionally designed our weekly services to include a lengthy time of commitment during which someone can take communion, pray in one of our prayer rooms, be prayed over by a church leader, give his or her life to Christ, and be baptized.

And when it comes to baptism, we’ve gone to even greater lengths to take away their excuses. We baptize people in their street clothes (I do the same, so I need three sets of clothing ready to go). We have large black T-shirts they can put on over their clothes, plenty of towels and plastic trash bags to protect their car seats on the ride home. And our worship center seats are plastic and thus waterproof. In the past 12 months, we’ve baptized 205 people. We see people submit to baptism almost every single week.

It’s amazing how such a simple act can have such a significant impact on a congregation and how a congregation who witnesses transformation on a weekly basis can have such a significant impact on a community.

Yes, the gate is narrow, and the way is hard that leads to life. Let’s resolve to not make it any harder than it already is.

Questions to consider:

What is one thing you can do this week to help your children or grandchildren to either find life in Christ or grow in their relationship with Christ?

What is one thing you can do this week to help someone who is “far off” find the narrow way?
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This article was excerpted and adapted from the new eBook Narrow-Minded Evangelism: ReThinking Evangelism … & The Golden Rule by pastor and author Arron Chambers. 

About Arron Chambers

Arron Chambers, author of six books, including Eats With Sinners and Devoted: Isn’t it time to fall more in love with Christ? (NavPress October 2014), is also the pastor of Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colo., an inspirational speaker, a marriage coach, husband of a lovely wife, and the father of four beautiful kids. For more information, visit his website.

Are You Riding a Blind Horse?

horseBy Scott Linscott

By the Grace of God and personal discipline, Robin and I have enjoyed 29+ years of marriage so far. Like everyone else, we’ve had times when we have drifted apart and intimacy waned and times when we’ve rediscovered the infatuation of puppy love. Ebbs and flows.

Honestly, we’ve never mastered the “praying together” key to success that all the Christian marriage books stress so heavily. We’ve prayed together during some particularly tough times but, on the whole, we’ve each had separate prayer lives. When we’ve tried praying together, it feels like I am just putting on my pastor hat. But, we’ve always shared what we pray for, we pray for each other and we talk about what God is teaching us. But the “pray together” thing? The marriage books might call us failures. I’d argue that!

The keys to the success of our marriage? One is that we’ve never stopped dating. We’ve been together long enough to recognize the patterns of intimacy in our marriage. When we don’t make time for each other, intimacy wanes. We self-correct by making sure to reconnect by dating. We like to share each others interests as well as learn new things together. Our latest adventure will be a ballroom dance class.

In the first years of our marriage, I wanted to share one of Robin’s passions. Robin was a junior Olympian horse jumper and spent much of her childhood at one barn or another. She went on three-day rides for 100 miles. She loved horses. Me? I was terrified of horses because of my childhood experiences.

But I pushed my fears to the back of my mind and gave horseback riding a try. We went on a trail ride with friends. Knowing my fear, the owner of the stables put me on the slowest, most gentle, oldest horse she had. She said, “This is Geronimo. He’s blind.”

Geronimo kept his pace by staying close to the horse in front of him. He was not going to run or move. He was, supposedly, the perfect horse for me … until we went down a small hill and the horse in front of us stumbled and trotted a few steps up the other side leaving Geronimo on his own. Geronimo stepped into the mud by the stream at the bottom of the hill and freaked out! Suddenly I was on a blind horse running in the woods! Geronimo ran until he smacked into a tree. We laugh about it now but there have been few things in my life more scary than gripping the mane of a blind horse running in the woods.

Today, I see lots of people riding blind horses in their lives. No, not actual horses but they plant themselves on things that I see leading to collisions with the trees of heartbreak and ruin.

I see young families with both parents working themselves to death to afford the 3200 square foot house, the lake house and the new vehicles with satellite radio and heated seats. The debt of their lifestyles puts crushing weight on their marriages until they break and end in divorce.

I see single women searching for love and giving themselves away time after time hoping to find love and then hitting one tree after another. They ask, “where are all the good men? Why do I attract such losers?”

I hear teenagers talking about anxiety problems while they apply to 7-10 colleges and feel the pressure to get into the best school so they can land the job that will bring them wealth and fulfillment. Then I see them graduate college with mountains of debt and no jobs that will allow them to make the payments. They hit the tree of depression and disappointment and move back home with their parents.

Is there an alternative? Yes there is. But, it is foolishness to society.

Jesus told the parable about the men who chose different locations to build their houses. One built his on sand and was washed away by the storm. The other chose the rock and withstood the storm. The rock is Christ. The rock is faith.

The Good News is that you can climb off that blind horse you are on at any time. The Good News is that you can rebuild your house and plant it firmly on the rock. It’s totally your choice and it’s never too late.

Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

 

Click to listen to the 12-29-13 message, “Are You Riding a Blind Horse?”