Tag Archives: leaders

Choose wise local leaders [God’s heart for good government, part 1]

12 Nov

The midterm elections were this week, the results are in, and now the politicians can get back to the business of governing.  That is good news for us, not least of which because the political road signs are coming down.  Postcards from candidates probably stopped arriving daily in the mail.  The TV ads are finally done. In this day and age, that means the ads on YouTube, Hulu, and other online sources, are also done.  I even got text messages from campaigns.  How did they get my number???  But those, too, have ceased.

How many of you get sick of all the money and attention given to our government elections?  Yeah, me too.  It’s pretty common to complain about elections, politicians and government.  In fact, I heard someone say this week that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, so they voted, because they still wanted to be able to complain!

I suppose people will complain no matter if they voted or not. Why do we complain?  We complain because we’re not just sick of the election, we’re sick of government in general.  We point to all the ways government is messed up.   Have you heard the quote, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”?  It reminds us that there is so much bad government, even in systems, like democracy, which intend to be good.  It leaves us wondering if there is such a thing as good government. 

As we continue studying Deuteronomy, we arrive at a section in chapters 16 and 17 describing God’s government structure for Israel.  In this series of posts, we’re going to try to learn God’s heart for government.  Is there anything we Christians can learn from this?  Let’s find out.  Turn to Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and 17:8-20.

First, God mentions local judges in Deuteronomy 16:18-20.

For the last 40 years Israel had been together in close proximity as they traveled through the wilderness.  But now, entering the Promised Land of Canaan, they were going to spread out and occupy towns across the whole land.  Israel is the size of the state of New Jersey.  The people were not going to be close together anymore, so their governance had to change a bit.

As we see in verse 18, God is first giving them instructions about the local level of government.  He tells them to appoint judges and officials in each of the twelves tribes and in their towns.  That word “towns” is actually the Hebrew word “gates” referring the town gates, and it was customary in that culture for the elders of the towns to hold court at its city gates.

But how would they know who to appoint as judges?  Israel already had some experience with picking local leaders.  40 years earlier when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit, he watched Moses, the top leader of the entire nation, spending all day, every day deciding all the law cases for everyone (Exodus 18).  Jethro said to Moses, “This is insane. Before you burn yourself out, appoint judges to help you.”  He further advised that these local judges were to be “capable, from all the people,” meaning that not just one tribe, but all tribes should be represented.  Additionally, the judges were to be, “men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.”  This came up also in Deuteronomy 1:13 when we learn the judges were to be “wise, understanding and respected men.”

What we see in all these passages is that God shows a heart for his people to have wise, godly local government, and for the common person to have representation.  There were also national-level government leaders in Israel, as we will see in future posts in this series. But here in Deut. 16:18-20 we see the importance of having good local government.

This principle is very much mirrored in our American federal, state and local governance structure.  We have a governor for the whole state, but we also have local senators.  Same way for the federal government.  We have two senators for the whole state, and the House of Representatives for much smaller groups of population, and of course we have the president leading the whole country. Finally we elect leaders in our counties and towns, such as mayors, commissioners and judges. 

When you elect those those leaders, how do you choose to vote?  On the eve of the conflict 2016 general election, I preached and blogged about choosing leaders.  You can read that here.  What we see in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 (and Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1:9-18) is clear: God’s desires local leaders who are known for their wisdom, trustworthiness and character, people who will represent all people.  Do you use those traits when you consider who to vote for?  If you are a leader, elected or otherwise, how will you demonstrate and grow in these traits?

God has a heart that all would represented, and that they would be represented fairly.  In our next post, we’ll dig deeper into what that fair representation should look like.

Is it weird to preach a sermon about leadership that is mostly for those who aren’t leaders?

3 Mar

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Have you ever been asked to lead something in the church and thought “What? Me? No way!!!”

The thought of being a leader can raise a number of feelings.  Here a few that I have heard:

  1. It’s too much responsibility. What if I make a bad decision?  I don’t want to have to deal with the consequences.  What if I have to weigh in on a difficult situation?  What if I don’t know what to do?  I don’t want to know about the dark underbelly of the church.
  2. It would be too hard.  I don’t think I’m leader material.  I don’t like to be up front or in charge.
  3. I don’t think I’m called to be a leader. God never told me that I was to be a leader.
  4. I’ve never been a leader before, so I can’t be one.  I don’t know what to do!
  5. I’m too shy, too quiet.  I don’t like to speak up, and I certainly don’t want to be up in front of a crowd.  I hate public speaking.
  6. I don’t know the Bible well enough.

Have you heard these before?  Maybe you have heard them coming out of your mouth!  Are there other reasons that you have heard, or that you have used, to suggest that a person shouldn’t be a leader?

And most importantly of all, should these concerns invalidate a person from becoming a leader in the church?

As we continue our series through 1st Timothy, we have arrived at chapter 3, and it is all about leaders.  Who should be a leader?  How should they become a leader?  At Faith Church we have wrestled with these questions numerous times.  In 2014 we updated our approach to leadership, and we said we made these changes based on biblical principles. For those of you a part of Faith Church, read what Paul says to Timothy, and then answer: how well do you think we did?

Check out 1 Timothy 3.  Read the selection, then continue reading below.

Paul gives Timothy quite a long list of qualifications for leaders, doesn’t he?  One of my concerns as I prepare this sermon is that at Faith Church we currently have 9 people on our Leadership Team.  Maybe the rest of the church will hear the topic and think “Oh, this sermon is just for those 9 people on the Leadership Team.  So I don’t have to listen in.”   If you’re thinking something like that, I encourage you to still listen in. Here’s why:

This sermon is mostly for those who are not leaders yet.  It is for the rest of the congregation, those who might become leaders, and even those who won’t.  Why?  Because those 9 current leaders have already achieved these qualities in large measure or else there is no way they could have been considered for our Leadership Team.  Our current leaders can hear these words from Paul as an important reminder, for sure.  But it is best for all the rest of us to see Paul as speaking primarily to us. Everyone can and should see these qualities as describing how a disciple of Jesus should live.  Therefore, Paul’s words are for all of us.  Let’s all pay close attention to the life that Paul describes here.  Let’s all ask God to speak to us through his word, as perhaps there is something in these descriptions of overseers and deacons that we need to hear.

Join us Sunday, March 3, at Faith Church to learn more!

How “majority rules” can be so good and so bad

18 Aug

Do you believe that “majority rules?”  I am reminded of the game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and their “Ask The Audience” tool.  If a contestant doesn’t know the answer to a trivia question, they have the option, one-time only, to ask the audience which answer the audience would choose.  Audience members then pick up a key pad and enter their answer to the multiple choice question.  The contestant then sees the results, hoping desperately that a large majority of the audience chose one answer.  Sometimes the audience does just that, making it easier for the contestant to go with the majority.  But sometimes, particularly on hard questions, the audience is not able to pick one answer with a large majority.  How often do you think the audience majority is right on Millionaire?

In the church we often think majority rules.  We often create a system of church governance based on majority rules.  We Americans especially love this because of our culture of voting.  Everyone gets one equal vote.  We all have a voice, an equally important voice.  So churches, particularly in America, have adopted at least a partially congregational form of governance.

Is a congregational style of church governance a mistake?  I suppose it would better to ask, Can we support a congregational approach with biblical teaching?  Yes, some will say.  No!, say others.  And still others, maybe.  Take a minute with me to think about this.

Faith Church is officially called Faith Evangelical Congregational Church.  Isn’t that a mouthful!  The Evangelical Congregational (EC) part of our name is a reference to our denomination, the EC Church.  (To my EC brethren, can we please consider shortening our name somehow? I say that with a smile on face, but I also consider it a legitimate concern.)   The EC in the EC Church is not just two really long words.  They mean something.  I dealt with that word “Evangelical” a few weeks ago (and why we’re removing it from our church sign), and now let’s look at the word “Congregational” (which, by the way, we’re also removing from our sign, but just because it is such a long word!).

Basically, the word “Congregational” speaks to our polity.  “Polity” is little word that refers to a form of government. You can see how it is related to the word “politics.”  People often complain that a church can get so political, insinuating that to be a bad thing.  But the reality is that all churches have some form of government, and thus by their very nature are political entities.

EC Churches are congregational in polity.  What that means, historically, is that we each own our property, and we are self-governing.  We voluntarily commit to and connect with the denomination.  Locally, we also see the will of the congregation as important.  We have an annual congregational meeting where all members can vote on things like who will fill leadership roles, our annual budget, large purchases, and any changes to our by-laws.

I suppose some congregational churches could try to be even more congregational than we are.  They might try to have a congregational meeting monthly or even weekly and vote on all kinds of matters.  We don’t do that.  Our congregation long ago decided that they wanted to turn over the administration of the ministry of the church to a smaller group comprised of members of the congregation.  That group is our Leadership Team.  In the Bible these people are called “elders”.

But even the Leadership Team, meeting every other month, cannot devote enough time to organizing the ministry of the church, so the congregation decided to create seven Serve Teams, one for each major ministry area of the church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, outreach, missions, stewardship (finances) and operations (physical plant). 5-7 volunteers from the congregation serve on each of those teams, and thus in the serve teams we see congregationalism as well.

But is this version of church polity a biblical one?

Sometimes, to reveal a bit of my thinking, I wonder about the value of congregationalism.  I see pros and cons.  On one hand, I think it is really good and important for as many people as possible to get involved and invested in the life and ministry of the church.  Giving, serving, praying, helping, leading, teaching, you name it.  But on the other hand, is it possible that congregationalism, at its root, is based on the assumption that majority rules?  Don’t get me wrong. I think Faith Church’s polity is very balanced.

It also seems very possible that the concept of majority rules is faulty when it comes to church polity.  Should we ever make any decisions just because the majority says so?  As Nelson Mandela famously said, sometimes the people are wrong.

In those moments, we need leaders to step out and lead, even if our leadership is unpopular.

The concept of “majority rules,” and therefore congregationalism, is not always best.  In fact there are some wonderful biblical passages we will look at to delve into this further.  Just as the congregation is not always right, because sometimes people have the wrong ideas, people should not all have equal footing to impact decisions.  Before you think I am being discriminatory, let me explain.  In our society, we are right to consider all people equal.  But aren’t there really limits to that?  Not all are equal when it comes to performing heart surgery, right?  You don’t want just anyone managing your 401K, do you?  Furthermore, not everyone should be teaching our kids, should they?  So let’s look at congregationalism and leadership a bit further.

Some people want to be leaders and some don’t.  Some people who want to be leaders have no business being leaders.  Some people who don’t want to be leaders would be great at it.

Is it wrong to want to be a leader?  Does wanting to be a leader automatically disqualify you from being a candidate for leadership?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

What are the factors going on behind the scenes in a decision like this?  Who should be a leader?  Why should they be a leader?  And how should we select them to become a leader?

Once they become a leader, how should they lead?

And for those of that are not leaders, what posture should we have toward our leaders?

As you can imagine, this coming Sunday I will be preaching on leaders and leadership, and to an extent, followership also.  My spell-checker doesn’t like that word “followership”.  It underlines “followership” with a squiggly red line to alert me that it might be a typo.  I double-check, and it is not a typo.  So my computer has not heard of followership before.  It should have.  Have you heard of it?  You should have also!  A few in the church will become leaders.  Most will be followers.  So just as leaders should learn the art of godly leadership, followers need to learn the art of godly followership.

Join us at Faith Church on Sunday as we talk about leadership and followership in the church.

How to submit to leaders and not hate it – 1st Corinthians 16:5-24, Part Two

5 Nov

In this final section of 1st Corinthians, Paul mentions a bunch of leaders that were familiar to the church in the city of Corinth.  At one point, he urges the church to submit to it’s leaders.  Submit is such an ugly word.  It has definitely been abused by many leaders.  As a leader in a church I can hardly stomach hearing those words on my lips.  “Submit, you peons!”  It’s so brutal.  obey

I know that it is much easy to submit to leaders who are awesome leaders.  Paul describes the leaders that way. They were mature, faithful, caring leaders, and as such, the people should submit.  I don’t know that good leaders will make it easy to submit for all followers.  Some of us just have a hard time submitting to anyone.  I think Paul is saying that it is possible to submit to leaders and not hate it.

What does it look like to submit to leaders?  Here are some thoughts.

Pray for them! Regularly. Make it a part of your daily practice to pray for the leaders in your church. Pray that they will be able to depend on the Spirit’s power to serve as leaders, that they will have wisdom and guidance.

Submit to their decisions, even when you disagree. It is possible to disagree with leadership and still humbly submit and follow their lead.

Talk with them about your concerns. It is possible to present ourselves when we are concerned and disagree with leaders, in a loving way.

What do we do when we disagree and are concerned about a decision that our voted on leadership has decided on?

First, we need to ask ourselves humbly and honestly (and we need to get wise mature people to evaluate us in this as well): Are we being influenced by consumer culture? Consumer culture is the water we swim in. We get to consume, we get to have choices about what we consume. We don’t like one brand, we go with one of the 15 other brands. We do that for everything. We have learned a sense of entitlement that has us thinking that we deserve choices. And it is our right, and what is best for us, when we don’t like what we get, that we can make another choice. The same goes for churches

But what about learning to submit to leaders, and allowing them to fulfill their God-given role of leading? Even when we don’t like how they are leading? Even when we disagree? Yes, it is possible!  Maybe we just need to try.

What do you do when a leader messes up?

7 Mar

People talk about leaders a lot.  We love to evaluate them and discuss how good, or how bad they are. They are more public, and so when they mess up, the mess up is usually known to a lot of people.  Today’s new is filled with President Obama’s slip-up on an Aretha Franklin song.  Tomorrow’s news might be a slip-up that is far more consequential, like the recent antics of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.  How do you talk about your leaders?  Do you judge them?  Gossip about them?  Encourage them?  Support them?  And what should we do when leaders do screw up?  Clearly they most certainly will make mistakes, and sometimes big ones.  How should we respond?  Turn a blind eye?  Tell someone else about it?

What would love do?

Join us on Sunday to learn what Paul has to say about this. This week Phil Bartelt will take us into chapter four of our study of 1st Corinthians.  Take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 to get reading for Phil’s teaching.  Let’s just say that what we have studied so far in chapters 1-3 has been the calm before the storm.  It’s about to get wild.

Should leaders run from power or wield it?

28 Feb

“How to be a good leader”

When you see a phrase like that, do you check out, move on, and think that’s not for me because I’m not a leader?  Leadership speaks of power, and especially abuse of power, and many of us have been negatively affected by leaders run amok.  But maybe, even if you think you’re not a leader, you should read on.  You probably work with leaders.  And you might be like me, somewhat afraid of leadership, especially the power part.

I sat in a meeting a few years ago where I was confronted about my fear of the use of power.  It affected me deeply.  A group from Faith Church was visiting our sister church, Kimball Avenue Church, in Chicago.  We were there for a week to learn from them what life and ministry is like in their city.  Our brothers and sisters at Kimball Avenue have a heart for God’s justice, and for the previous year or so, we were feeling like God was teaching us about this aspect of his heart as well.  We were having a bit of difficulty understanding it, though.  In suburban, rural, basically well off Lancaster County, it is hard to see injustice.  When you do see injustice, it is hard to know what to do.

We had joined with Kimball Avenue in a Lenten Compact, fasting for justice, but we sensed that we needed to learn a lot more.  So at their pastor, Bruce Ray’s, invitation, a group of 10 of us drove to Chicago to learn from and serve with them.  It was an eye-opening week.

I’ll never forget sitting in a meeting room of a local bank early in the week.  A bank?  Yes, a bank.  Bruce took us there because he wanted us to see how the finance industry impacts the housing industry.  If banks are super strict about lending money, it can be very hard for low-income families to own homes.  This particular bank had a great reputation for being willing to help people, despite the severe economic downturn that took place in 2008.

There we sat, listening to a lady who worked for a local community justice organization talk about power.  She was advocating for the appropriate use of power to enact change for justice.  In particular, she was talking about trying to sway politicians.  I became very uneasy when she talked about how we can exert power.  When I hear the word “politics” I want to run the other way fast.  Politics doesn’t change the heart of humans, only God can.  And so I expressed my hesitation, talking about how, at best, politics is ineffective, and at worst, abusive. Frankly it seems the abusive part is much more the norm, and I want to run away from that kind of power.

She looked at me and without hesitation said, “So you mean that you run away from the use of power as a pastor in your church?”

It set me back.  I thought I was right in wanting to run away from the use of power.  I didn’t see myself as a power-hungry pastor.

She made a very persuasive case for the righteous use of power, specifically in a community where injustice is being done.  And sometimes that means wielding political power.

Over the last few five years since I became pastor of the church, I have learned she was right; I’ve seen how I do have power.  I don’t say that arrogantly or lightly.  The power leaders of the church wield is very precious, very scary, and while it can do severe damage, it can also do amazing good.  If fact, it is such a mighty force, that it can be hard to contain, hard to control and use in a wise way. Pastors and leaders in the church have sometimes left behind a trail of brokenness.  But that shouldn’t cause people to run away from power. Instead we need to learn how to be better leaders, we need to learn how to use power for good.

So how should we use power?

Especially in the church, we need to think about this question.  In our society there are many ideas out there about the appropriate use of power; some good ideas and some really bad.  Steve Jobs famously used a “reality distortion field” (basically he was quite willing to bend the truth to get what he wanted) and is remembered as a somewhat brutal taskmaster.  But he achieved great results, so it is okay, right?  Should we bulldoze through a situation until we get our way?  We’re the boss, right?  If the church grows, does it matter how we get there?  If people become disciples of Christ, is it really so wrong to lie a bit, to manipulate, or exaggerate to get them to step out in faith?

In the middle of a long discussion about how the Corinthian disciples had fractured their church through celebrity preacher worship, Paul takes a moment to talk about those celebrity leaders, and any leaders for that matter, and how they should lead.  Join us on Sunday to hear what he has to say.  We’re going to be studying 1st Corinthians 3:5-17.  Check it out ahead of time!