Human Stewardship

What are the people in your church worth to you?  How much do you value them as individuals, as volunteers, as brothers and sisters in Christ?

Al Newell challenged me with some thoughts on stewardship that I found to be frustrating, hurtful, and helpful.  Frustrating because they reminded me I have a lot of work left to do.  Hurtful because they reminded me that I don’t love people the way I should.  But helpful because they gave me a way forward in ministry.  If you have people involved in your ministry, here are some thoughts on stewarding those human resources:

Misappropriation of Resources

When an organization or church has a misappropriation of funds, there is an outcry.  We all know that we have to steward our financial resources in a godly manner.  But how are we stewarding our human resources?  Churches misappropriate people every day – putting them in a volunteer position they are not equipped for, allowing them to lead without any experience.  We often talk about the cattle on a thousand hills belonging to the Lord, but so do the people in our churches.

Temple Building

God is in the process of building his temple – the church!  And the building blocks of that temple are the people in our churches.  We talk a lot about taking good care of our facilities, but are we taking care of the Lord’s temple?  Are we equipping the saints?  Are we leading them well?  Do we love them enough to make sure they are in the right church, the right ministry?

Right People in the Right Places

If we really love our people and we want to steward God’s resources well, then we have to be looking to put the right people in the right places in our church.  This means we have to create a system that allows us to find what place those people need to be in.  This means we need to be seeking the Lord as we decide what ministries our church should have.  If no one in your church is gifted and called to lead an evangelism seminar, you wouldn’t force them to.  In the same way, if we only have 2 people who are called and gifted to teach small groups, we should only have 2 small groups.

Loving Them Away

Recognizing that all our people are God’s people, not our own, we may sometimes need to love them enough to send them away.  Maybe they need to go on the mission field.  Maybe they need to go into full time pastoral ministry.  Or maybe they just are a better fit at the church down the street.  Do you love the Lord, the universal church, and your people enough to get them into the right place for them?  When we love someone away we bless the other ministry, that person, and the Kingdom of God.

I admit that I have a long way to go when it comes to stewarding my human resources.  How about you?  How can we steward human resources better?

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Systems Thinking: Personal Prayer

prayer2I’ll admit it: I struggle with prayer.  I always have.  I understand how it works, I know lots of different ways to do it, and I believe in its power.  But I have always struggled to pray well because it has always been outside of my systems thinking.  I’ve always thought about prayer as needing to be “authentic” – and by authentic we normally really mean spontaneous.  And I don’t do spontaneous.

But this week I was challenged by a prayer warrior to have “established and formal” prayer.  That sounds like a System to me!  And that I can get my mind around.  So what does a Personal Prayer System look like?  Here are some aspects I think need to be in place:

An Appointment

A Prayer System starts with having a time designated to pray.  It is important to have the time blocked out or it will get used for something else.  Just like anything else, if we don’t make time to pray, we won’t do it!

A Direction

Once you have time set aside to pray, a Prayer System needs a direction for the prayer to go in.  There are lots of ways to pray, and lots of things to pray for.  So choose one!  Choose a way (or many ways) to pray, and what you are going to pray about regularly (family, self, sins, church, the lost, etc).  Then stick to the plan flexibly – there are times you may need to shift your plan.

A Team

A Personal Prayer System starts with you praying, but it also needs people praying for you!  Find 2-4 reliable, trustworthy people and ask them to pray for you – as part of your system.  Then work them into the system by creating a scheduled sharing of praises, needs, and answers to pray.  Make sure to include those answers as encouragement to them to keep praying!

An Evaluation

Finally, a Prayer System, like all systems, needs some way to evaluate success.  Define what success looks like for you (time in prayer, answers to prayer, daily impact on life, etc).  Then create the scorecard – what you are going to track and evaluate (days I prayed, number of prayers clearly answered, number of times God clearly moved, etc).  Now evaluate, redesigning the system as necessary.

When we have a Personal Prayer System, our prayer becomes “established and formal”, and our lives, families, and ministries will be covered continuously in prayer.

How can systematic prayer transform your personal prayer life?

to the Center

English: A of . This church is situated in Sym...

None of these things is bad in itself.  We should belief the right things, act the right way, and have outer signs of our faith (faith without works is still dead).  But a church that is focused on the perimeter loses its focus on the center, which is Christ.

Rather than focus on the line between “us” and “them”, what would it look like if the church was focused instead of Jesus and Him Crucified?

A church focused on the Center will understand that we are all journeying toward Jesus – sinners and saints.  This journey then becomes a unifying thread between the found one and the lost one.  Both need to be moved in the same direction, just in different increments and ways.

A church focused on the Center will allow the lost to experience the community of the found, for there the lost experience Jesus.  This experience becomes a common experience between the lost and the found, a starting ground for conversation.

A church focused on the Center will view evangelism as discipleship, as it draws the lost toward Jesus and the found closer to Jesus.  They will see that discipleship begins before conversion, not just afterwards.

The Center focused church creates less distinction between the lost and the found, as it views both as travelers journeying in the same direction and moves to create commonality between the two.  When the lost and the found are together, the commonalities between them are readily apparent.

But the Center focused church will also create more distinction between the lost and the found, for the fruit of their lives will quickly display who is drawing close to Jesus and who is far from him.  When the lost and the found are together, the differences between them are readily apparent.

This is a church I want to be a part of – a church that takes seriously Jesus’ call to full discipleship of those found and those lost.

What do you think a center focused church might look like?

To love my enemies?

Two bombs. Three deaths. 130+ injured.

No motive. No answers. No one to blame. Yet.

My prayers go out to Boston, those affected, and their families.

How do we respond to tragedy like this? What is our paradigm for making sense of injustice like this in our world?

Blame? Revenge? Calls for Justice? This is often our first response. Shortly after the event, some vowed that those responsible would “feel the full weight of justice.”

And yet as Christians, our response must begin with prayer, mercy, and forgiveness.

Prayer for those affected: those injured, those who suffered loss, those whose peace has been taken from them. Prayer for those in authority: those who must oversee restoration of men and women, those who must restore trust, those who must lead us through. And Prayer for those who took these lives, that they might come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Mercy toward those affected: medical aid, housing aid, counseling, food. Mercy toward those leading: patience, willingness to follow, giving them the benefit of the doubt. And Mercy toward those who took these lives, that they may be given the chance to be reconciled to God rather than condemned to Hell.

Forgiveness. The story of the Good Samaritan teaches us to love our neighbor. But it also tells us that our neighbor is not only those like us, or those we like, but includes those who are the most different from us, those we hate. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And Peter reminds us that God desires that ALL might be saved.

What is our response to today’s events as followers of Jesus? To reconcile all things to God (2 Corinthians 5), including those who cause us harm. I am challenged to do this by Alex, a young Christian who forgave and prayed for salvation for the man who killed his parents.

Prayer. Mercy. Forgiveness.

Segmenting Church Leadership

How should the local church be governed? I can’t provide an adequate answer to a question that we’ve been divided on for two thousand years. But I do want to point out some benefits to a local church having a segmented leadership structure. The idea is to have multiple leadership boards rather than one “megaboard” that handles everything from replacing light bulbs to spiritual discipline. The model can have two, three, or more leadership boards, but is probably most effective with three – a lead board that handles purpose and direction, a board that focuses on resources (volunteers, budgets, and facilities) and a board that focuses on care of people.

Manageable Workloads

Megaboards never get anything done because they are trying to do to much. There isn’t enough time in the day for one group to do all that needs to be done to lead a church. By segmenting leadership, each board has a manageable workload. This allows the church to move forward because the leadership can accomplish things. It also lets the board members feel like they are doing something, which leads them to be more engaged.

Better Decisions

Because of their massive workloads, megaboards tend to be inefficient. Segmenting leadership optimizes board efficiency by narrowing the focus of the agenda. Since less things are being considered, they are given full attention. This leads to better decisions, and more of them. When people are asked to make many decisions in one sitting, they tend to make poorer decisions.

Gifted Leaders

The likelihood of a person being gifted to lead in spiritual oversight, administration, and care at the same time is fairly low. But on a megaboard, you have people who are gifted in one or two areas being asked to lead in all three. When you segment leadership you allow people to serve in their area of giftedness. And when people are serving in their area of giftedness they lead better.

Multiplying Leaders

With one board, leadership is limited to a select few. This can lead to an amalgamation of power among the board and a lack of new leaders being developed (as there is no need for them). By contrast, with segmented leadership leadership development becomes necessary as more leaders are needed. And the segmented boards naturally prohibit power plays by the few. The more leaders a church has the better off it will be, and those leaders all own the purpose and strategy of the church.

I think there are many benefits to segmenting leadership, but help me out – what potential issues might crop up with this model?

Emotive Metaphors and Truth

The other day I heard Jason Gray’s song “More Like Falling in Love” from the album “Everything Sad is Coming Untrue.” While I normally enjoy Gray’s music (and enjoyed the musicality of this song), I found myself at odds with the lyrics.

He declares that following Jesus has to be “more like falling in love than something to believe in” and “more like giving my heart than pledging my allegiance.”

Although I understand the meaning behind the song – that Christianity is not just a religion, but a relationship – I still take issue with the idea that my Christian walk has to be emotional to be valid. As a person who is more likely to analyze than emote, I am bombarded with messages that tell me that my relationship with God needs to be emotional. This is probably because the creatives making the messages are more likely to emote than analyze, but it still bothers me. It is as if our American church has decided that a relationship with Jesus is based on how it makes me feel, not because it is true.

That is what the song says. “I don’t want something to believe in. I want someone to love.” But Jesus is not just someone to love. He is the Truth. We love him because he is someone to believe in. And is that not what love is? Love is believing in someone. I won’t even mention that DC Talk taught me that love is a verb (action), not a noun (emotion). We do want something to believe in. We need it desperately. We love him because he first loved us (truth), not because he makes me feel good.

I am a Christian because I believe the Bible to be true, and that Jesus is the Truth, the Life, and the Way. How I feel is quite secondary. I don’t believe that Christians never get depressed, feel alone, or angry. I think we are allowed to doubt a little, to question God (see: the Psalms). But in all that emotional mess, the truth anchors me. My faith is greater than my emotion. He is bigger than my circumstances.

Have you ever felt like we trade the truth for emotion in our Christian messaging?

4 Obsessions of an Extra/Ordinary Pastor

I love Patrick Lencioni’s writing. His case study style fits my learning style, and he says simple, yet profound things. Randy Richards, one of my professors said “You know something is true when you hear it for the first time but think you’ve known it all along.” That is what Lencioni does. You are reading a new insight, but you could swear you knew it for years. The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive is like that.

But I find that pastors often have a hard time taking business insights and translating them to their realm. So here is my “church translation” of the Four Obsessions

1. Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team

The first obsession lead pastors must have is the obsession to build and maintain a cohesive leadership team. Obviously, this refers to the staff, but even more so to the leading board of the church. The pastor must have a Board that understands the vision and mission of the church and is sold out to making it a reality. To make this happen, the lead pastor must have a large part of (if not the only part of) choosing the members of the Board. Then, he has to take the time it takes to get them to the point where they trust each other and know each other personally. This might mean that some meetings are all about building the group and leave “mission critical” issues off the agenda. I recommend Larry Osbourne’s Sticky Teams as a guide to this area of your leadership.

2. Create Organizational Clarity

The second obsession of the lead pastor must be to create clarity about the church. This means that they do need to take the time to really seek God’s face on the mission of their church. Why is your church there as opposed to another? What is your church supposed to do that another could not? And how are you going to do it – what is your strategy? If the lead pastor is unsure of the purpose and strategy of the church, everyone else will be too. And a church with no direction is going to go nowhere fast.

3. Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity

Thirdly, the lead pastor must over-communicate that clarity to the church. You have to tell the leadership, the staff, the congregation, and maybe even the community what your church is about until you are blue in the face. This means carving out time on Sunday mornings. It means using email, newsletters, thank you notes in giving statements, the church sign, the business meeting, staff meeting, board meeting, and personal conversations. As Lencioni says, when your people make jokes about how much you talk about it, you are starting to talk about it enough. Talk about it often, and in multiple media.

4. Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human Systems

Last, the lead pastor must reinforce the purpose and strategy of the church through all of the human systems. You must choose leaders based on it. You must choose volunteers based on it. You must decide what programs to have based on it. You must “fire” volunteers when they don’t own it. You must reward people publicly who are getting it. You must create your budget around it (if you don’t think that creating a church budget is a human system, you must not have done it before). Every place that you have a system that touches leadership, staff, volunteers, donors, or congregants, you have to alter the system to support your purpose and strategy.

In sum, a pastor’s role is not just to preach and teach. It is to lead the church. Leadership requires having a direction, knowing that direction, communicating that direction, and making that direction strategically correlated to everything about the church.

I think this is hard for a pastor in our church culture because it will require him to say no to a lot of things people want him to do. What do you think? Is this doable, or will it require a paradigm shift for a lot of churches?