Friday, April 9, 2010

Being a Leader is HARD

Being a leader is tough. Let me say that again. Being a good leader is tough. Anyone can stand up in the front of the line and say "follow me." But truly leading people is so hard to do well.

I was thinking this afternoon about accountability. Actually, about accountability in terms of making tough decisions. A leader who is not accountable to himself, his responsibilities or his organization will pass over the tough decisions. Either by passing the buck so that someone else has to do it and then can be blamed for it. Or by simply ignoring the issue that needs to be decided on and hoping it goes away. Neither of these is a good choice. Both errode trust and increase the ineffectiveness of the organization. Neither are a sign of a good leader.

Within the setting of our congregations, our leaders are called on to make tough decisions all the time. And we need to be held accountable by ourselves and the people we are leading to not only make those decisions, but to make effective decisions. That's the other part of what makes this so tough.

For some leaders, decision-making is easy. They enjoy the responsibility and are comfortable with being at the front of the line. However, to often, some leaders make decisions based off of their comfort-zones, their opinions and their interests. When they should be setting aside all subjectivity and objectively gathering information, weeding through it and then coming to the decision that best moves the congregation towards achieving its' goals.

Here's an example of where we might be either avoiding addressing or have made decisions based on our opinions or preferences. To have a Gospel Meeting/Homecoming or not? This is a tradition that has been great for the Church! Thousands of Christians have come to Christ through a Gospel Meeting. And countless more have been restored while attending one. The catch is that all these Christians are now in their 50s or older. Meetings haven't been an effective evangelism tool in at least one, probably two generations. So the question needs to be asked, "what is the goal of a Gospel Meeting?" If it is to evangelize, then it's not meeting its goal and hasn't for some time. And as a result a tough decision needs to be made. If we have changed the goal of a Meeting, then what has it been changed to? Has that been identified and communicated to the congregation? Is it possible that this is a tool that was great at one time, but is no longer effective because of changes in society? Is it possible that we need to put our resources and efforts in another tool to reach lost souls?

Being accountable is one of the biggest keys to being an effective leader. And it is difficult to do well and do consistently. Gospel Meetings are just an easy example to pick on to make this point. Good leadership requires being accountable to everyone - especially the organization. Which means making difficult decisions by objectively considering factual information and not just opinions, preferences and traditions. As leaders we've always got to do what's best for the Church.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sunday Worship Service

This is a post from Brett Harrision. He shared some of his thoughts on worship, particularly our Sunday assemblies. He has some good thoughts worthy of our consideration. I put the comments in bold/italics that really caught my attention.
Sunday gatherings as “worship"
I’ve made it known I believe we should rethink what we do in our Sunday gatherings, and even what we call them. I’m afraid we’ve done a great disservice to actual worship by referring to what we do on Sunday mornings as just that — “worship.” Here are a few of my scattered thoughts on Sunday gatherings. For my just as scattered definition of worship, see this.Sunday gathering is an opportunity for believers to bring our lives of worship and obedience and lay them before God. We come together to celebrate what God has been doing in us, and in our community through us. And we encourage one another in this process of worship and obedience. Spiritual gifts are used to build up one another and, more importantly, the body as a whole.
I’m afraid we’ve made worship about songs and sermons. The Old Testament prophets speak to us, yet we refuse to listen. God desires for us to know him, enjoy him, love him, and be obedient to him. He desires for worship to penetrate the very core of our lives, and change who we are — so that we live more and more in keeping with his desires.
We waste a lot of time measuring our Sunday gatherings, in order to assess how “good” they are. The unfortunate truth is that a Sunday gathering can only be as “good” as are the sacrifices of those in attendance. Have I brought before God the fruits of worship, a changed and obedient life? Or have I once again laid before him a blatant disregard for his commandments and wishes?
I believe Sunday gatherings are primarily for Christians — not for visitors and/or proselytizing. We should be using the gifts given us by the Spirit to encourage one another, build up the body of Christ into maturity. Our time together has become about evangelism and “seeker-friendliness” because of our stubborn refusal to be Christ’s representatives in our communities, and to live every day as citizens of God’s kingdom. If we’re not willing to live glaringly spiritual lives in front of non-Christians, what we’re left with is to invite them to a Sunday assembly of the “saints.”
I view Sunday as the last day of my week. My reasoning is that I have lived an obedient life of worship throughout my week, and on Sunday I’m able to bring and lay before God in worship the sacrifice of my own life . I don’t see Sunday as my “day of worship,” but rather it is the day I celebrate with my family my past week of worship. I do worship God on Sundays, but I would suggest no more than on other days of the week. But Sunday is a tool for bringing greater worship in every other day of my life, as I’m encouraged and held accountable by other believers, so that I can worship God by obediently living Christ into the community for another week.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Reflections on Acts 16:6-11

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days. - Acts 16:6-11
This passage comes on the heal of Paul and Silas visiting the churches that Paul and Barnabas had established in Galatia during what we know of as the 1st Missionary Journey. As I read this passage, I can't help but see the Holy Spirit working in this situation, guiding Paul's every move. For example, why did God want Paul to go past Asia with all those citites to be evangelized (Ephesus, Miletus, and the seven mentioned in the NT that were at some point obviously evangelized)? Then, Paul didn't stop in Troas to preach. That would have been a great place to preach. A port city with direct route access to Rome and the western world. There were thousands of people coming and going. He could have set a fire that others could have spread with them as they traveled. But, the Holy Spirit didn't want him to stop there. Instead, he received a vision to go to Macedonia. Where he ended up establishing churches in cities such as Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea.

God closed doors and opened doors so wide that there was no doubt to Paul and Silas as to which ones they were to enter into. You know, I think God works a little differently today. I don't think we get visions like Paul did. And the Holy Spirit doesn't speak "out loud" to us. But God hasn't left our side. He's still right there. And just like with Paul, He has a plan for each one of us. We just have to pay attention to which doors He is closing; and more importantly, which doors he has left wide open for you to walk through.

Have the courage today to walk through the doors and be used by God. May God bless and keep you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Thinking About Easter

I've been thinking a lot about Easter lately. I suppose this blog's a day or so late, but . . .

Here's where it starts for me. I've always thought that since God has told us to celebrate Jesus' resurrection each Sunday, there's really no reason to celebrate it on a particular day. Especially considering that the day we celebrate it isn't actually the day that Jesus was resurrected. Easter was actually marked or identified by the Council of Nicea in 325AD. The bottom line for me has always been that it just isn't something God has told us to celebrate. And adding to that, there's no evidence that any of the Apostles or even the early Church fathers mentioned, much less practiced this holiday. Because of this lack of any biblical authority, I've always said "no thanks." Let me just add that my thoughts on Christmas are pretty much the same.

As I see more and more congregations going to Easter services I'm left wondering why? What's the point? Why are they doing it? And more importantly, does this make God happy? Well, I can't answer the last question. I just don't know. But I am much closer to offering a more confident answer to the first couple of questions. Here it is . . . more people go to "church" on that day than any other. These folks who are presumably lost are there for one reason and one reason only - to celebrate Easter. This is an open door. Is it a door that God opened? I'm not certain. But I am sure that it's an opportunity to engage people in a conversation about Jesus Christ and the resurrection that provides hope to all men everywhere.

One thing I am sure of, the Church has been missing too many opportunities and closing too many doors. Perhaps this is one we should be walking through?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Did you hear that?

Do you ever listen to the rhetoric in prayers? We say some silly things sometimes. One thing that gets me everytime is when we pull out the King James talk. You can take the most laid-back, regular ole' southern guy who speaks with a drawl and probably couldn't tell you what the Elizabethan period is, and then stick him in front of a microphone and he starts sounding like Hamlet. Why?! What is the point?

One more and I'll stop complaining. By the way, I do have a point, I think. What's the point of praying to God that "everything we do will be done in spirit and truth"? First of all, we have taken that one statement from Jesus out of content and absolutely beaten it to death. Here's the other thing, why do we say that to God? What control does He have over the decisions we make in our worship? Either we worship scripturally or we don't. Are we asking God to accept our worship, regardless? I doubt it. Is it that we're asking that He step in and zap us if we're about to do something wrong so that we don't do it? I hope not. If you really think about it for a moment, it's easy to realize how silly that statement is.

Okay, if you're still reading, thank you. Here's my point. Let's start being more thoughtful about our prayers and less robotic. Let's focus more on talking to our creator, our sustainer and our best friend; and worry less about sounding religious or saying the right thing. Let's stop trying to be religious (or show how religious we are) and just start talking to God like He's the most important being in our life.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Divorce and ReMarriage

This is a repost that I have edited, made some additions to and would like to share again. It has a different title and a bit longer than the first post.

I've never been through a divorce and my parents are still married. So I have never had a front row seat to one of the most awful and damaging events that man has ever invented. But in a recent conversation a dear friend of mine (who has experienced a divorce) described it as going through a death in your family. And that there is an empty void, an empty chair at the kitchen table that can never be filled. Divorce stinks. There is never anything good about it. Ever. And chances are, you have either been through a divorce or personally know of at least a couple of people who have.

I recently heard someone ask this question, "is their divorce scriptural?" I've heard that question (and statement) more than once. It's always gone right over my head. Probably, each time those words are uttered it's in reference to adultery. Meaning, adultery makes divorce scriptural. Here's a question: since when is it okay to get divorced? What scripture is there that says it's scriptural to get divorced for a specific reason? You might be thinking that Matthew 19:9 is the answer. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." The "except for" part does not provide scriptural grounds for getting a divorce. He never condoned divorce. In fact, in the preceeding verse, Jesus states that "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way." I believe that I may be in the minority on this view. I just don't think it was ever God's desire for a husband and wife to divorce, but because of our sinful nature he Has decided to allow it. God has made it clear that He hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). In further defense of my opinion, it just doesn't make sense to say that a divorce is scriptural only when your spouse cheats on you. Does that mean that a woman who is being abused and then leaves and divorces her husband is unscripturally divorced? No, of course not! God hates it that our sins have created a desire and in some cases a necessity to get a divorce. That includes all sins and all divorces.

As with any topic, it would be foolish to take another person's view and ignorantly claim that as your own. Study the scripture for yourself. Think about it for yourself and come to your own conclusion. Here are a couple of things for you to consider. There are only five passages that teach on divorce and remarraige. Here they are: Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.

James O. Baird wrote a "little" book in 1981, And I Say Unto You . . .: A Study of Eight Positions on Divorce and Remarraige in View of Matthew 19:3-12. In this book he covers eight possible positions on the issue of divorce and remarraige. Here's a reworded list of them.

1. The only scriptural reason for remarriage is if your spouse dies.

2. The only reason a person can remarry is if your spouse "physically" cheated on you. This is the traditional view of within the churches of Christ.

3. A Christian may remarry if their divorce occured before they became a Christian because baptism washes away all sins.

4. Since non-Christians are not in a covenant relationship with God, the laws of Christ do not apply to them, and so a Christian may remarry if his or her divorce occurred before baptism. This is the same ending as #3 but for a different reason. This view was popularized by JD Bales in his book, Not Under Bondage (1979).

5. If a Christian's spouse leaves then they are not bound to the marraige and may remarry. Scriptural justification for this view is found in 1 Corinthians 7:15.

6. Both spouses in a divorce involving sexual sin may remarry. This includes the person who committed the sexual sin, once that person has repented for his sins. This is the view that Gus Nichols held to.

7. Both spouses may remarry if their divorce was for "legal" reasons. In other words, if it was legal in the view of their government.

8. Both parties may remarry no matter what was the cause of their divorce because repentance and forgiveness do not include the restoration of their original marraige to each other.

Let's assume that we take position #2 and cite Matthew 19:9 as scriptural evidence (this is my view on the matter and is probably the most common with evangelicals - especially those of us within the Restoration tradition). If we believe that a person only has scriptural authority to remarry if their spouse committed adultery against them, how then should we handle marraiges within our fellowship when the couple is not married within that scriptural authority? Threre seems to be three responses available.

1. Ignore it. This is not acceptable if we feel that the couple is living in sin. To ignore sin is to condone sin, which is to sin.

2. We can demand that the couple separate because God never recognized their marraige in first place. It has come to my attention that this is a common view. I completely disagree with this.

3. We teach the scriptures. And we teach the couple that their choice to marry in spite of a lack of scriptural authority was a sin against God. And that they need to repent publicly for their sin. But, we do not insist on a separation or termination of their marraige. I understand that you may completely disagree. But allow me a moment to explain.

Think back to when God instituted marraige. It was never for His own benefit. He saw that man was lonely and thought it would be good for him to have a companion. It was for man's benefit. Move forward to when divorce was addressed in the OT and again by Jesus. It is abundantly clear that divorce is a sin and that God hates divorce. For our discussion, the question is then why. Why does God hate divorce? Why does God not want for a couple to divorce. For me the answer is fairly obvious - because of the pain that we inflict on each other. God knows and understands the damage that we create when we sin against our marraige and when we divorce. And his ultimate desire is for man and woman to marry and live together for the benefit of one another. Assuming that logic and reasoning to be correct, why then would God require another divorce that would lead to more pain, more hurt and more damage to a family (in most cases including children)? That just doesn't seem logical. Instead, because the couple has publicly sinned we ought to treat their sin as we would any other - with public confession and repentance.

Though he and I do not agree on all these issues I am indebted to Dr. David Warren for his insight and teaching on the matter.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Explaining Shepherds Instead of Elders

Here's a few thoughts on the last post. Actually, this is why I think those Elders are spot on with their asseessment and why I agree with them so earnestly.

This generation of Elderships is going to turn over a Church to the next generation of (hopefully) Shepherds that is full of strife, internal attacks and division; and worst of all, thousands of dying Churches that will be taken off life support during their generation or possibly my childrens' generation. For all the concern and complaining about the state of the United States and the economic system; the Church in the United States is in far worse shape. The good news is that it is completely fixable. Through God's grace we are only a step away from redemption. But it has to start at the top. It has to start with the Shpeherds. That's why these men caught my attention.

If you haven't read the previous post, here's a very short summary. They choose to identify themselves as Shepherds (instead of Elders) because it helps them to remain focused on the primary responsibility of feeding, protecting and leading the sheep that Jesus entrusted them with. They (and I) contend that the worldly idea of a 'board of directors' has infiltrated and essentially polluted the Churches' understanding of the Eldership - which leads to Godly men stepping outside of their God-given roles and turning into a management team or 'board of directors'.

I agree completely. Here's an example of what I am talking about. Consider the congregation where you worship. When someone comes forward to publicly seek repentence and reconciliation, who greets them, takes their confession and shares that with the assembly? Is it the Elders or the preacher. It's been my personal experience that usually it's the preacher. And when that happens, the Elders abdicate their authority and responsibility of caring for and protecting the sheep, and pass it on the preacher. Which results in the preacher taking on a the role of a denominational Pastor. Neither of these outcomes are scriptural. Here's an example from the other side. Consider for a moment who makes the decisions on where to spend money and how much will be spent. I've never seen an Eldership abdicate their authority on money decisions to anyone, especially a preacher. Why, because it's not the preachers' role. And by taking on that responsibility the Church would, by default, ease towards becoming Pastor-lead.

These examples certainly don't apply 100% across the board. But let's assume that these examples do apply and that they occur more frequently than we would like to admit. Consider the unintended outcome of this. Elderships are making the decision to prioritize business or money decisions ahead of the care of souls. When I think of the problem in these terms it really its me like a punch in the stomach.

Before I quit writing, I want to say that I am not dumping on Elders. Everyone now and then, you might run into a man who has become power hungry and egotistical about his authority. But the majority of time, the Elders are men who love God and the Church with all their heart - and they are doing the best they can. In my opinion, the problem is a lack of training. You would be hard-pressed to find a congregation who would hire a preacher with no training. But we would be hard-pressed to find a congregation that ordained an Elder that had training. The Shepherds have a greater responsibility than a preacher could fathom. Yet we throw them out their and leave them to their own devices.