Power of Renewed Vision

by Bill Cox 

Over the course of the past two years, I have been conducting a Leadership Training Course at New Hope Christian Church in Bridgeport, Illinois.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard well-known, respected preachers like Ben Merold, Bob Russell, Barry Cameron, Gary Johnson, and so many more say that a church will never rise above the level of its leaders.  And I knew that for our congregation to grow and be successful over the long term, we needed to focus on leadership development.
 
I chose to use e2’s series of four books, Answer: His Call, Reflect: His Character, Lead: His Church, and Enjoy: His People.  While studying the third chapter of Lead, we were stopped dead in our tracks.  As our leaders discussed this issues at hand, we realized that like so many churches, our only plan was, “See you next week.  Let’s do it again.”  The chapter was entitled, Looking Ahead:  Leading through Strategic Planning.  Suffice it to say, we did not have a strategic plan in place at our congregation. 
 
Gary Johnson wrote that chapter.  I had known of Gary for years, and had, in fact, already scheduled him to speak at an event in our area.  So, with the approval of our leadership, I emailed Gary to ask if he would also come and share with us concerning strategic planning.  Long story short, our journey with e2 had begun with that message.
 
We had our first meeting with Gary in June, and rather than jump right into a three-year strategic plan, he shared with us the need to establish a Vision Statement, Mission statement, and Core Value Statements.  And then guided us through that process.  He didn’t come to tell us all the answers.  He led us through a process whereby we ourselves set the V, M, and CV based on our own knowledge of our church, our community, and our convictions.  He helped us determine a launch date for a series of messages as we introduced these new ideas and plans to our congregation.  He helped us think through various concrete actions we could take that would help to continue this process, such as new signage in our building, a video explaining these statements, bookmarks and magnets, and so on, and launching a new web site for our congregation.  We have implemented each of these ideas.
 
This Sunday, October 1st, I will be preaching the 4th message of our nine-week series explaining it to our people here at New Hope.  Excitement is growing, people are getting on board, and we are looking forward to having Gary back to guide us through the process of establishing a three-year strategic plan now that the foundation has been laid.
 
You may visit our website at newhopegps.org.  Our video explaining the process is there.  New Hope Christian Church wants to be Today’s Help & Tomorrow’s Hope.  We will accomplish this by Loving God, Loving People, & Serving the World.  We posted our Core Values Statement there as well.
 
Thank You, Gary, and e2: effective elders for all you do for the Kingdom.  You have been a great blessing to us, and we look forward to continuing our journey with you!

How to Deal with Dysfunctional People

by Michael C. Mack 

As shepherd-leaders; we lead messy, meandering, often seemingly unmanageable sheep.  But we’re not alone.  The world’s greatest leader had to deal with many kinds of trials with those he led. And while Jesus’ followers eventually did great things that changed the world, at times they looked more like a dysfunctional mess. 

Within two pages in my Bible, Jesus had to…  

  • rebuke his leader-intern (Mark 8:33).  Actually, this verse says he looked at all the disciples as he addressed Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
  • deal with Peter missing the bigger vision during their mountaintop experience (9:5-6)
  • stop an argument between some of his group members and the religious leaders (9:14-16)
  • rescue his group members when they couldn’t do what he had told them to do (9:18, 25-28)
  • correct his disciples who were arguing about which of them was the greatest (9:33-34; also see 10:35-45)

The next time you’re frustrated by tensions and problems in your church (or even in your eldership!), look again at Jesus’ group. 

Jesus’ goal was to develop these same messed-up men into fishers of men who would actualize His church, carry His mission forward, and make disciples of all nations.  If I were leading these guys, at this point I might have given up or decided to start over.  (Then again, I probably wouldn’t have called these guys in the first place!) 

I often miss God’s long-term perspective and the big-picture plan He’s using me to accomplish.  I’m guessing I’m not alone.  

I want to encourage us by considering how Jesus dealt with the dysfunctions in His group.  

While Jesus’ group was a mess and often dysfunctional, it was healthy.  That might seem like an oxymoron, but Jesus understood the principle of process.  He saw not only what they were, but what they were becoming.  And often this process of becoming looks very messy.  But think about this: Jesus’ dysfunctional group eventually changed the world!  We do ministry today because of what these ordinary, unschooled men did through God’s power.  

If your church is a mess – if it includes a bunch of dysfunctional, sinful, pride-laden, argumentative men and women – don’t give up!  Ask God to help you see the process of what your group members are becoming.  At the proper time – God’s time – you will reap a harvest if you do not give up!  That takes standing on faith, as Jesus did. 

Jesus was modeling for these men how to stand firm when they would need to deal with opposition, because they certainly would.  As they carried out His mission, they, too, would need to lead messy, meandering, seemingly unmanageable people, and they would remember how the Chief Shepherd had patiently discipled them. 

Keep in mind the perspective of Jesus: “My Father is always at his work to this very day” (John 5:17).  God knows, better than you, what the people in your church need, and He is working in their lives. Your job is to continue to do what He’s called you to do, trusting God to do what only He can do in and through His sheep that He has entrusted to your care.

Restoration

by Shan Caldwell 

Most of us have been there.  We get the text, the phone call, the email – someone in the church has been caught in devastating, ongoing sin.  As leaders, we know we need to get involved – to do something – but what?  How do we go about addressing the sin and restoring the sinner?  And how do we grow as leaders in the process? 

It is typically most beneficial for the leader to seek restoration in up to four areas:  God, family and friends, church fellowship, and kingdom service.  Restoration in all these areas is the goal, but only in a progressive and prioritized way.  Restoration in all four areas may not be possible or even healthy. 

We must first pray and act on behalf of God to restore people to God.  Without a restoration to a surrendered and dependent relationship on God, further restoration is flawed.  Any restoration that does not begin with a relationship to God will be hollow and will eventually fall apart.  When a man says that what he wants most is to be restored to his family in a family conflict, that restoration will eventually fail if he is not first restored to God. 

After being restored to a relationship with God, an individual must next be restored to a relationship with family and friends.  Next is a restoration to fellowship within the Church, and finally a restoration to service within the Church.  In a case where a leader has fallen, too often the leader immediately apologizes and wants to be restored to service.  This should not be allowed, as restoration to God, family and fellowship must come first.  A return to service will take time and a restoration plan, if it is ever possible at all.   

This process of restoration is painful and messy and tempting to avoid, but as leaders we must wade in.  Paul writes in Galatians 6:1 concerning our responsibility to lead people back to God who have been caught up in sin.  He says that he is writing to those “who are spiritual.”  That means those who are Christians and especially Christian leaders who are held to a higher standard.  He goes on to say that we should seek to restore a person “gently.”  Some versions also add the word “humbly.”  This means that the leader must not have a goal to “win” in a conflict, but to gently restore.  This also means that the leader must understand that he or she is equally guilty of sin and in danger of Hell were it not for the grace of God. 

In Galatians 6, the NIV then adds the sentence, “But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”  I always thought this was an odd statement because I wondered why I was in danger of falling into the same sin with which the other Christian was struggling.  I now believe that Paul was warning against the sin of spiritual pride.  

The primary obstacle to dealing with conflict in a healthy, effective manner is spiritual pride.  When I am unwilling or unable to see that God may want to work in my heart to make me a more effective leader and follower through the input of others, I am falling prey to this pride.  When we are guilty, we need to repent of this sin.  As Christian leaders, the practice of trust, the overcoming of fear and the characteristic of humility equip us to use conflict as the springboard through which God purifies our leadership of selfish desires that “battle” within us, and clears the Church of obstacles and impediments to its mission.  Moreover, by engaging in healthy conflict, we allow multiple points of view, led by the Holy Spirit, to create initiatives and solutions unhindered by pride.  When no one “owns” an idea, the glory is given all the more easily to the One who deserves it. 

Proclaiming His Death

by Dick Wamsley 

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, 
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 
1 Corinthians 11:26 NIV 

My friend, Greg, used that text for a communion meditation he shared recently.  He told a powerful story of how Christians living in a country that’s hostile toward the Church proclaim Jesus’ death through their participation in a uniquely daring communion service. 

Greg served for years with TCM International Institute at Haus Edelweiss, in Austria, where theological graduate students from countries in eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and central Asia all converge for concentrated study.  One student told him about how the church he serves in one of those “closed countries” observes the Lord’s Supper each week. 

Adults of the church meet in various home for study and worship.  Children are sent to a different location.  If parents are caught teaching their children the Bible, those kids can be taken from them.  It’s illegal in this country for parents to “proselytize” their own children. 

At an appointed time, the adults all meet at a restaurant for a meal and to observe the Lord’s Supper together.  They may sit at several different tables, but the predetermined leader situates himself so that everyone in the group can see him.  After all have finished their meal, the leader picks up a piece of bread and bows his head in silent prayer.  Everyone knows what he’s doing, though nothing is said.  When he lifts his head, he eats the piece of bread.  Others at the various tables follow his lead.  Then he bows again in silent prayer.  Again, he lifts his head and will pick up a glass of wine, water, or whatever else he has to drink, and drinks.  Others follow in like manner.  No words are spoken.  No verbal acknowledgement is made of what they have just done.  But everyone at the tables knows they have just “proclaimed the Lord’s death.”  In fact, it’s the very reason they gather in a public place to observe the Lord’s Supper – to proclaim Jesus’ death even at the risk of being discovered.  

When I heard that story, I knew I had to share it with you, and it suggests the following questions of us: 

  • Do we, in this country, give as much special attention to the observance of the Lord’s Supper? 
  • Do we have a sense that we proclaim the Lord’s death each time we eat the bread and drink the cup? 
  • How do we help prepare Christ-followers to “participate” in the body and blood of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16) 

As leaders in the Church – specifically as elders – we are entrusted with overseeing the Church’s corporate worship experiences.  In a recent blog, Bob Russell wrote that the Lord’s Supper is “the most profound and effective memorial of any kind.”  If that’s true, then the way we lead the body of Christ in “proclaiming the Lord’s death” is critical.  It deserves more than just deciding the simple mechanics of how we will pass around bread and juice and how long it should take. 

Greg’s devotional thoughts drew me into the profound sacredness of the Lord’s Supper; that I was proclaiming our Lord Jesus’ death with other Christians around the world, some of them at risk of their own lives.  What a solemn moment that was!  What an extraordinary opportunity we have to lead others toward the foot the Cross, to “the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). 

Wisdom

by Mark Miller

wis·dom (wizdəm)
noun

The quality of being wise; power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, understanding, etc.; good judgment; sagacity.* 

Over the last twenty-five years of ministry experience I have accepted from others – with too much false humility – assertions of my possessing the gift of “uncommon wisdom.”  I never really questioned the importance of the word “uncommon;” whether it spoke to a spiritual versus worldly component of my “gift,” or to some above-average degree of acquired wisdom in the way I lead.  Honestly, it did not matter.  Something about being labeled as one with “uncommon wisdom” puffed me up in those insidious ways usually unseen by others, but are both titillating and terrifying to the one upon whom such distinctions fall.  In my youth (anything under fifty by most standards now!) I dismissed the terror and basked in the titillation.

But then I found myself approaching middle-age and suddenly surrounded by younger, smarter, and more talented staff – not to mention the sheer scope of our ever-expanding ministry – and I began to wrestle more and more often with my capacity to lead wisely in such a context.  In fact, I frequently find myself musing to others in leadership that I feel as if I know less today than thirty-plus years ago. But as the common paraphrase of Matthew 26:52 goes, “He who lives by the sword, will die by the sword;” and so I find myself needing to reflect “wise-ness” in a season that leaves me feeling as if wisdom has failed me.

If, by wisdom, we just mean the common, worldly understanding – a ’la Webster’s earlier definition – which finds its source in “knowledge, experience, and understanding,” then the Seminary has fulfilled its mission.  My concern comes from the obvious conclusion: in the worldly paradigm, one can only increase their knowledge and/or experience, and their capacity to assimilate those resources, to grow in wisdom.  

But the Word of God says otherwise.

While both the Hebrew and Greek words our Bibles most often translate “wisdom” seem to support the more common “worldly” meaning of the word, their use in context – contrarily – seems to point more towards a spiritual capacity to know what God would have us do.  While that difference may sound subtle, even inconsequential, the plain reading of Scripture tells us differently.

When speaking of wisdom, James’ letter to the Jewish Christians of the Roman Empire indicates that just such an uncommon capacity is needed.  When we lack that what-would-God-have-us-do conviction, we must ask Him.  And He gives it as a gift of His grace, and it will only be allotted when there is evidence of unwavering faith, (James 1:5-6a, NASB):

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting.”

The book of Proverbs, rich with the personification of wisdom, even shows there is both worldly, common wisdom and a Godly, uncommon wisdom by claiming that “there is a way (a “wisdom”?) which seems right to man, but its end is the way of death,” (Proverbs 14:12, NASB).  This wisdom suggests that all the knowledge, experience, understanding, and the attendant capacity to assimilate it all, stills leads to devastating consequences.  That kind of decision and fate could be avoided by looking not inward to our own resources, but outward to the graces of God.

Biblical wisdom, then, calls us into godly attitudes and behaviors which will keep us in the light of God’s glorious will, and away from the worldly attachments of personal aspiration and human agenda.  Most things can be taught, many others can only be “caught,” but the most glorious aspects of life must be diligently sought because they only come as gifts – gifts of which we are never worthy, but with which we must always be faithful. 

*Note: Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed. (Cleveland, OH: Wiley Pub., 2005), “wisdom.”