Saturday, August 30, 2014

Leadership Toolbox: The Problem with Church as business

Business is booming for church PR and HR firms on the West Coast of the USA.

Up North in Seattle the De Moss Group, the nation's largest Christian ministry PR firm has been hired by Mars Hill Church at great expense to turn the heat down on the Mark Driscoll cauldron of criticism. Whether his recent repentance and standing down is godly sorrow or PR  crisis management is not clear, but suffice to say that there are a significant number people close to the situation who are skeptical about the sincerity of the process. It's easy to see how biblical integrity in restoring  a famously gifted preacher could be undermined by a PR company wanting to save bucks, butts on seats and ultimately the brand. Business principles and biblical processes have seldom been comfortable bedfellows, have they?

Further down the West Coast here in Southern California, there are many Christians with stones of righteous anger in clenched fists, ready to pelt the much maligned preacher up North for being a cut throat business-minded bully posing as a preacher. But if it is him who is without sin who should cast the first stone perhaps we should unclench our fists and do some honest soul-searching. In the milder South, we might be more mild and refined, but church, especially big church, is no less big business.

What that means is that we have to produce a high quality ministry product which means that we need to attract high quality ministry personnel. This often means that we have no time to mentor, train and raise up a crop of indigenous leaders from the soil of our own churches. The height of irony in this regard was seeing a post by a Mega church in our city wanting to fill a post for a 'Pastor of Discipleship.'

I just don't know if Jesus is really okay with us outsourcing the making of disciples, do you?

Now before I come off as self-righteous, let me acknowledge that I am not on principle against PR firms or employing church staff from outside. Five years ago during a messy church law suit we did hire a PR firm to help us represent ourselves well. In a libel culture it was helpful to have their expertise. However, when conventional PR wisdom undermined Biblical counsel we allowed Scripture to have the final say, which to be honest, was at great personal cost to us. I can also hardly afford to be against 'ministry imports' from time to time,  since I was brought in from the outside to be a pastor in the church I now lead.

My beef is with a perceived reluctance within churches to do the hard yards of raising up indigenous leaders.
The fruit of this attitude seems three-fold:
a.They defer the hope of those within churches who feel a vocational ministry call, which makes many hearts grow sick.
b.They avoid the messy process of mentoring young leaders, looking for some fantasy ministry knight in shining armor to rush in and rescue them from their ministry deficiencies. Such a person does not really exist.
c.They tend to employ hired hands rather than true shepherds, who leave as quickly as they arrive if the job does not find their fantasy ministry niche'.  These people may be skilled, even gifted, but seldom carry the ministry DNA of the church and it's leaders, and their character is untested.

My appeal is two-fold:
a. Every church invest significant time into the messy privilege of mentoring and risking with indigenous leaders, especially younger leaders. We have found the Porterbrook Network to be a great in-house training resource for developing leaders. We would love to help you get your leaders engaged in this course.
b. As leaders, we would do well to come to grips with books like Paul Tripp's "Dangerous Calling" and John Piper's "Brothers, we are not professionals," that insist upon ministry as calling before profession.

Let's trust God to help us raise up sons and daughters from the soil of our churches.

Tribute to Jonathan Dancer: Prophet and Priest

Yesterday I heard the news that Jono, as he was affectionately known, had gone home to be with the Lord after a long battle with cancer. The grief of losing a young man who has left a young wife, is somehow more acute, isn't it?  Christians are not given an exemption from the deep pangs of grief. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. The blow of Jono's absence is significantly softened by the knowledge of his presence with Jesus as I write.

From California, I read the tributes of  honor to Jono that rolled in like warm Indian Ocean swell after winter. Then I read his final tribute to his wife, Debbie, posted on the day of his death.

"I have the most incredible wife. She has been a pillar of strength walking with me through this valley. I have fallen so in love with her my heart aches with gratitude for my precious wife, Deb." Heartbreakingly sad and sweet. May the lovingkindness of Jesus and His saints bear you up at this time, Debbie.

I wanted to write a brief tribute to Jono too, not because he was a close friend, but because his life left an indelible impression on me. I first met him when he sang in the choir at the our annual NCMI event in Bloemfontein. Larger than life in stature, gesture and voice, I cannot remember seeing Jono doing anything in half measures. He was a band leader's dream. Whole-heartedness personified, he was a worshipping thermostat of sorts who would alter the temperature of any room with contagious passion for Jesus. His heart was as big as a hotel.

Some may perhaps have thought him at times to be little melodramatic.
When I reflect on Jono's dramatic and brief life, I wonder whether that was God's whole point?
Jono's life was like the Divine Playwrite's one-act play.

God has often used dramatic people to get His people's attention. I think of the prophets who had to live their message in dramatic fashion. Hosea married a prostitute to demonstrate God's unfailing love to Israel, His unfaithful wife. Ezekiel lay on his left side for over a year and then on his right side for 40 days, to demonstrate the number of days that Babylon would lay siege to Jerusalem. Theirs was not merely a message. It was an oracle. A burden. It may not have been rational but it was impossible to ignore. Jono's life was reminiscent of these remarkable men. Perhaps the drama, and dare I say it, the brevity of his life, was intended to grab our wandering attention and stir the embers of our affection?

While teachers are concerned with the truth of God, and pastors concerned with the people of God, prophets are concerned with the very heart of God. They are not always theologically sound, and not always socially appropriate, but they treasure the heart of God. This is why we need them.
Jono was obsessed with the heart of God.  He  lived in pursuit of the heart of God, and we all watched this holy pursuit, feeling both delighted and a little convicted at our relative tepidness.
That's what prophets are made to do.

Jono was also a priest. Not the kind with a dog collar and a robe. The kind who understands that  Jesus the Great High Priest has qualified us to minister to God and His people. He could get lost in worship, but he could also make you feel like you were the only person in the world when he listened to you. He was able to draw empathy out of the deep well of his soul and pour it out for whoever needed it. He took a genuine interest in the welfare of the saints.

One memory illustrates this for me more poignantly than any other. A number of years ago we were staying in my parents house near Durban, visiting family and doing some ministry.  Jono was living in my parent's upstairs loft apartment at the time. I was teaching some musicians and worship leaders that Saturday morning, so I got up early to pray and do some final prep for the gathering. As I sat at the dining room table with my notes, I could hear Jono upstairs, already awake in his loft singing and praying. He was in full flight, his melodic voice drifting downstairs, impossible to ignore.  I stopped preparing and listened. Jono was praying for me, unaware that I was listening in. He was praying for grace and clarity for me as I taught that morning.  He was praying for God's presence to transform the musicians who were coming to be trained. And in true Jono fashion, he was praying for that we would all pursue the heart of God in worship.

Jono Dancer, I salute you. A true prophet and priest.  As you now minister to the King with unhindered delight in heaven, may the prophetic drama of your full, brief life here on earth bring us to attention.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Leadership Toolbox: Leading through Collaboration

One of the ways in which I've had to grow as a leader, is to develop a more collaborative leadership style. I'm not sure that I was completely non-collaborative as a leader in South Africa, but it seems to me that the culture in which I was raised placed a higher value on decisive authority than collaborative authority.

Moving to the USA almost 7 years ago forced me to reconsider what part of that value system was cultural and what was truly biblical.  The approach did have many strengths of course, because it tended to produce great visionary entrepreneurs who had a real can do mentality. Stuff got done. Ground got taken. Quite often though it was at the expense of due process,  and because we South Africans are generally loyal towards our leaders, any dissenting voices would often be labelled as having a heart issue towards  authority.

Especially in the churches we worked with that had an elder-led rather than a democratic church government, teams who did not appear to be co-operative with a decisive leader were labelled democratic, which was by no means a compliment. The recent Mars Hill/Mark Driscoll situation has reminded us that not all American-style church leaders are collaborative. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Celebrity church culture here can afford a leader a dangerous amount of privilege and power that can so easily result in the abuse of God's people. Honestly though, those cases seem to me to be the exception to the rule.  I've found generally, the expectation is that far more attention is given to due process, accountability and collaboration.

Now let me make it clear that I am still convinced of the Biblical wisdom of elder-led churches, and living here the last 7 years has further convinced me of the deeply damaging effect of  democratic church government  or elder board/pastor separation within churches. I'm thankful for men like Dudley Daniel and Terry Virgo who glimpsed and fought for a more biblical version of church leadership and brought so many churches into the freedom of this expression. "That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly - Praise the Lord!" Judges 5:2

Within the call to lead though, there does exist the Scriptural value of collaboration which I've had to discover and own. Every team in Scripture, beginning with the Trinity, has a leader. However,  God the Father collaborates in the opening stanzas of the Genesis creation account with the words, "Let us make man in our image." We also glimpse the collaborative nature of the Trinity in Isaiah 6, when the prophet Isaiah overhears God asking, "Whom shall I send, who will go for us?"

Moses receives counsel from his father-in-law Jethro about his approach to leading Israel and it transforms his leadership philosophy. Jethro was a pagan priest yet he still had wisdom for Moses!  The Book of Proverbs speaks often of the power of collaborative decision making. "Plans fail where there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." (15:2)  Luke describes Paul's leadership style as both decisive and collaborative within his apostolic team in Acts 16. Paul has a dream of a man from Macedonia calling to him and his team mates conclude that it was the Lord, saying, "It seemed right to us and the Holy Spirit." They left that day.

Within the elder-team I lead, I am a first among equals rather than simply a first. I don't just lead a team. I am on a team, which means that my wife and I are accountable to the men and women we lead for how we live and for the decisions we make. I believe the best decisions are made in plurality by consensus, with regard for a first among equals. I am so grateful for  a team of leaders who are brave enough to disagree at times. They have saved me many times from poor or hasty decisions.

 Collaboration requires both courage and finesse. Colonel Norman Shwartzkopf famously said, "When a decision is being made everyone is obliged to give their perspective. Once a decision has been made, everyone is obliged to give their support." Decisive leaders fear that it will slow down their decision making process, which may be true, but it results in better long term decisions and more buy in from those we lead.

So how do I collaborate?

I've developed a way of flagging the different levels of my convictions about decisions with three icons. A light bulb, a heart and a bull-horn. The differing levels of conviction calls for a differing level of collaboration from the team.

The light bulb indicates that this is just an idea for me, and the team is welcome to shoot it down, disagree, tweak it or run with it if it strikes a chord with them. I am not heavily invested in the idea.    I have lots of ideas, and not all of them are God ideas, or even good ideas! The value of the team is not only on whether it is a good idea, but also whether or not it is practical to implement this idea.

The heart is when I have a perception about something or someone. It is often more intuitive than logical, and it often has to do with a problem that needs solving. Here I need to hear from the team as to whether I am perceiving correctly or not, and if I am, how do we solve the problem together? This is deeper than just an idea, and it may be a God-thing, but I need to see if I am seeing rightly and if so, what we do about it?

The third is the bullhorn, which indicates conviction. This is deeper than an idea or perception. It would be a mix of Biblical truth, prophetic intuition and strategic thinking that has led me to this place of conviction. Sometimes it will be a proposal, but generally it comes after we have discussed a decision at length as a team and have not been able to reach consensus. The team then releases me to go and hear God and come back with a decision.  Obviously the team still has a responsibility to weigh my convictions with Biblical wisdom and to give a different perspective if absolutely necessary, but I am asking the team to be more circumspect in the way they handle this conviction, and to receive it with a measure of trust in God's hand on me as a visionary leader of the team. Their level of collaboration is less on whether or not this is from God or not, and more on how we implement it.

Here's the thing. I do not 'pull the bull horn' too often. The problem is that if a leader 'pulls the bull horn' all the time, decisions will get made, but the team will begin to shut down. If, on the other hand,  all your discussions are in the realm of  idea or perception, then decision making will be painfully slow, often argumentative and will lack the fingerprint of God's leading.

Leading collaboratively is messy and costly but from my vista it is worth the effort.
I encourage you to find ways to assess and adjust the ways you lead.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Praying for the Persecuted Church.

This is the symbol that ISIS has used to mark Christian houses In Iraq. Thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes because they bear this symbol. Many Christians around the world have displayed it as a sign of solidarity with the persecuted  Christians in Iraq. Perhaps you will too?

The Gospel has  not only reconciled us to God. It has also reconciled us to the Body of Christ, His Church around the world. When Jesus met Paul the persecutor of the Church on the road to Damascus, He asked him, "Paul, why do you persecute me?" Jesus was saying that He takes persecution to His Body very seriously and personally. After Paul's conversion he wrote, "When one member of the Body rejoices we rejoice with them, and if one member hurts we hurt with them." The writer to the Hebrews also instructs us to, "Continue to remember those who are in prison as if you were together with them and those who are mistreated as if you were yourselves were suffering."

 It is with this in mind that I ask you to read this letter from Nick Saltas, one of our elders and the pastor of our Fullerton campus. We will be praying for the persecuted church tomorrow at both our Brea and Fullerton gathering tomorrow. Join us.

Hi all,

As many of you may be aware, the persecution of Christians in Islamic nations is intensifying, especially in Iraq. As a community of believers we are one body with our brothers and sisters around the world. Please take some focused time to pray for the situation in Iraq. Here are some specific prayer points:
  1. Deep courage and new faith for Christians who are facing persecution. That the HS may empower them to speak like he did with Stephan, Peter and John.
  2. The tangible presence of the Holy Spirit as both Comforter and Empowerer as they face horrible decisions.
  3. That, at they face of death, Christ would reign in their hearts and give them peace that surpasses understanding.
  4. The provision of resources including basics like food and water for refugees.
  5. The downfall of ISIS - that God would dismantle this group - that ISIS soldiers would come to have experiences of the living God and Creator  

Below are some details:
• "Christian genocide…children are being beheaded, mothers are being raped and killed, and fathers are being hung."
• "Right now, three thousand Christians are in Iraq fleeing to neighboring cities,"
• "There's actually a park in Mosul where they actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick... this is crimes against humanity. They are doing the most horrendous, the most heart-breaking crimes that you can think of."
• Christians are given three options, convert, pay a fee, or die by the sword. Arabo reports that after Christians pay the fine, the fighters take the Christian wives and children "and make them their wives - so it's really convert, or die."
• Children who have escaped to the mountains are dying of hunger and thirst
• One poor Christian is forced to say the Shahada 'there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet' and then beheaded anyway.

Facts about ISIS
• IS claims to have fighters from the UK, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as the US, the Arab world and the Caucasus.
•10,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria
• $2 Billion in funding
• More than a million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence

Graphic reports of ISIS brutality (maybe don’t share?):

All for Him

Monday, August 4, 2014

Songs in the night

By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8

In 1994, the first year of our marriage, I started getting night terrors. I think it was a culmination of burn out from the pressure of trying to hold it all together; complete a post-grad degree, hold down three part-time jobs and continue serving in our local church. I desperately wanted to be a good husband and build a good marriage, but internally I was out of my depth and sinking fast. I'd literally have times when I would feel beside myself, like I was out of my body watching myself. It was weird and scary and culminated in these night terrors that came every so often. It was like spiritual darkness filled the room.

My poor wife. I think she must have wondered where the steady, strong guy to whom she had said I do, had disappeared!  We would wake and pray together until the darkness would subside, and God's peace would return. One night though, it was so bad that prayer didn't seem to have any effect. I was still gripped by fear. The devil was having a field day. It was all I could do to ask my wife to sing over me. She is shy, with a tuneful, but quiet voice. She certainly doesn't consider herself a singer. 
But she is a mighty worshipper. And she began to worship God over me, singing that old worship song "I worship you, Oh mighty God," over and over. Slowly the darkness subsided, as God's peace and presence flooded in. I was the well known worship leader, but my courageous wife led worship for me that night when I was frozen in terror.

Worship is warfare. When God's people were besieged by a great multitude from Edom, God told their leader Jehoshaphat to stand firm, sing and see the salvation of God. As the people sang to the Lord, He set an ambush on the enemy. (2 Chron 20:20) Paul and Silas sang hymns to God after being unjustly beaten, imprisoned and put in stocks for delivering a slave girl of a demon. As they sang, God sent an earthquake that rattled the prison doors open, and broke the prisoners free.  The jailer and his whole family were saved because of this act of God and the example of Paul and Silas.(Acts 16)

Yesterday in my interview with Rynelle, I asked her what we may have lost in worship in the church more recently, she replied, "I think in the last decade we've really tried to recover a depth of truth in our worship. But perhaps we may have lost some of the expectation of encounter as we sing to a resurrected Christ."

Songs in the night are a bending of the heart, mind and will towards the greatness and goodness of our God, rather than the toughness of our situation. Sometimes a song in the night doesn't change the situation immediately, but changes our perspective on the situation.  Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples after he had been betrayed by Judas at the last supper. In fact, on the cross he cried out directly from the Psalms, which was Israel's hymnbook,

"My God , my God why have you forsaken me?" 

 Job sang a song to the Lord after he had lost his children and his possessions.

The Lord gives, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Singing songs in the night is not only glorifying to God and good for us. It is empowering for others. There may be people in your life, people like me in 1994, who need you to sing them through their dark night.

In the words of Ross Graham, "I may need you to sing for me until I can sing for myself."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"The Pastor's Kid." a reflection.

My daughter and Chelsea, her youth leader and PK buddy
I never pre-order books. But I pre-ordered this one the moment I heard about it, for a couple of reasons. The first was that I'd been thinking about writing on the peculiar phenomena of PK's myself for some time. Maybe even just a blog or two. My first thought was, "Aah, he beat me too it." The truth is that Barnabas Piper, the son of renown preacher and writer John Piper, has an insight and a reach that I may never have, so I'm glad he's done it. It's long overdue, I think.The second more obvious reason, is that I'm a PK myself and my kids are PK's, so I spend a good deal of time reflecting on what  my parents did that I'd want to pass on to my kids. After all, if being a PK was so bad, I'd never have become a pastor. There are certainly some things I experienced that I wouldn't want to pass on to them though, so I want to keep learning and growing as a father to PK's. The truth is I want my kids, and the kids of every couple in vocational ministry to grow up to love and serve Jesus and His church, whether vocationally or not. My wife and I are so grateful that my kids love the church we lead. I hope they always do.

Being a PK is like living in a fish bowl. Barnabas's fish bowl was just bigger and more pressured than most, and he suffered under a feeling of being known of, rather than being known. He makes a profound point when he says the unique pressure a PK faces is that their behavior can literally cause their dad to lose his job. That pressure pushes so many PK's into dishonesty and hypocrisy.

Barnabas's story is one of recovering from the hypocrisy of knowing all about God but not really knowing God Himself. He does a masterful job of describing the complexity of recovering from this PK hypocrisy, and discovering his own faith journey. He's brutally honest about his own wrestles, but fairly vague about his parents shortcomings. I would have preferred if he'd been more specific, although he did describe how his father's God was huge but inaccessible and that he was too serious. Barnabas had to discover a more accessible God.  What is clear in John Piper's foreword is that the book caused him some painful reflection, and yet he commends it to readers. I do too.

For more, click The-Pastors-Kid-Finding-Identity

A few insights in the book that impacted me:
1) Don't manipulate your kids into behaving for fear of making you look bad. That may get results initially, but it will ultimately make your kids either hypocrites or rebels.
2) Don't preach to your kids. They don't need another sermon. Have conversations with them. Be their Dad, not their pastor. 
3) Play with your kids and be affectionate with them. (Barnabas treasures the memories of playing with John more than any sermon or family devotion) 
4) When you confess your sins in front of your family be specific. Vague confessions encourage your kids to be vague with you too. 
5) Find ways to show that this is not just your job, like visiting another church when you're on vacation. 
6) Establish their identity first as children of the Father, not children of a pastor. 

Some random things I'd add, in no particular order.
1) Don't use your kids in sermon illustrations unless you've asked them first. 
It only intensifies the fishbowl feeling.
2) Don't answer the phone during dinner time. Let the kids know that family time is sacred.
3) Celebrate stories of God's provision to your family, and moments of his undeniable power.
4) Allow them space to process the pain of their friends who've moved on to be part of a new church plant. or just plain moved.   
5) Pray that they'd encounter the Holy Spirit at a young age. 
6) Empower younger leaders in the church to disciple your kids too. 
You don't have the whole package.
7) Allow them space to wrestle in faith without the pressure to believe because they ought to.
8) Encourage them to talk about the dynamics of being a PK. You'd be surprised how acutely they feel  it.

How about other insights from PK's, or parents or PK's?