Last Words

by Brad Dupray

I was standing by my father’s bedside watching him slowly pass, his tired body worn down from years of fighting cancer and having suffered a debilitating stroke.  He was virtually comatose.  At the time I was just learning how to be an elder myself, as my Dad had been for my entire life. 

Across from me stood one of Dad’s fellow elders, Don.  He was just one of many elders and friends who came and went from the hospital to pray with Dad and our family.  That day, Don was simply doing what elders do – shepherding God’s flock.  As we stood there quietly talking, Dad opened his eyes for a moment, looked straight at Don and said, “I love you.”  

Those were his final words. 

If you suddenly woke to say your final words to someone at your bedside, what would you say?  For Dad, it was to a fellow church leader, a brother elder.  Paul had a similar experience, though he had plenty of time to gather his thoughts.  Acts 20 records one of the greatest “final words” discourses we find in the Bible.  

Paul spent three years in Ephesus leading the church, teaching the elders how to “eld.”  On that day, he was en route to Jerusalem, anticipating a confrontation which would lead him to the emperor in Rome – and likely to his death.  This was the day he would say his final words to elders he had grown to love, so he chose those words wisely. 

He told them to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock … [because] savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”  Having served as an elder for fourteen years myself, now, I have seen savage wolves.  Sometimes they are passive-aggressive.  Sometimes they are just aggressive.  Paul’s warning to be “alert” was an homage to the work he had done, “declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house.”  When elders fulfill their responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God, they are protecting the flock.  

Paul also told them, “In everything I showed you that … you must help the weak.”  Jesus’ brother James said that “pure and undefiled religion … is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress…”  When trouble brewed in Acts 6 because the Greek widows “were being overlooked in the daily serving of food,” the Apostles (de-facto elders at the time) could have jumped in and handled the practical issue themselves.  Instead, they delegated: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”  Their appointment of fellow servant-leaders, “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, [that they could] put in charge of this task,” ensured that the weak were provided-for.  The overseers devoted themselves to the most important task, which was teaching the Word of God.  Paul’s admonition reminded the Ephesian elders it was ultimately their responsibility to see that the vulnerable were helped. 

Finally, Paul put to his friends a nugget of truth from the Master: “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, `It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  As our culture shifts toward leadership by Millennials they want to know: how are we modeling compassion?  As often is the case, the church can be a step behind the culture.  What are we doing to reach out to the disenfranchised?  What can elders do to lead their church in showing the community – and the world – that we aren’t trapped by our own four walls, that we’re generously compassionate?  

Several elders at our church told me it was Dad’s custom to close each elders’ meeting by saying, “I love you guys.”  It wasn’t trite; it came from the heart.  We can learn a lot from final words.  When Paul finished speaking to the Ephesian elders “he knelt down and prayed with them all.  And they began to weep … grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.”  

But they would never forget his final words:  

Protect the flock.  

Help the weak.  

Model generosity. 

Surrender

by Russ Howard

Growing up in the church, I suffered a hard idea for living.
 
“God deserves your best – all the time.”

“Always have a daily quiet time – the earlier and longer, the better.”

“Sin less.”
 
While there is nothing wrong with exhortations like these, they and many others combined to leave me with a spiritual inferiority complex.  Instinctively, I knew I could never pray enough, read my Bible enough, do my best enough, or sin less enough.  For years I felt like a second-rate Christian and church leader. 

Then God spoke to me through a simple metaphor in John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted.  In a simple, almost cast-off paragraph, the author contrasts the difference between doing life as if one is in a speedboat, versus a sailboat.
 
I laid the book down.  I knew in that moment that I had not been living my life in a “speedboat,” nor in a “sailboat.” 

I had been living in a rowboat.
 
I worked my spiritual disciplines like oars.  I felt good if I had prayed long and hard.  I felt unworthy if I had not.  I earned every bit of movement by the strain of my muscles and the sweat of my brow.  But I knew I wasn’t moving far enough, fast enough.  I should always be doing more.
 
Imagining life in a sailboat released me.  It didn’t mean life would be easy.  There is plenty to be done on board a sailboat: mending, raising, and adjusting the sails, maintenance of all kinds.  But all my effort cannot move the ship alone.  Only the wind can move the ship, and God is in the wind.
 
Wind is a significant idea in both ancient Jewish and Christian thinking.  The writer of Genesis uses the word Ruach when describing “the Spirit of God” hovering over the waters.  Ruach doubles as the word for both “wind” and “spirit,” as does the word Jesus and Paul used in the New Testament – Pneuma.  God is Spirit.  God is a great wind.
 
This simple metaphor transformed my spiritual life – now I work my spiritual practices as sails rather than oars.  It also transformed my leadership.
 
As a church leader, my dream and passion is for people to flourish in their lives with God: enjoying God, together, for the good of the world.  It’s a big dream, and it’s not one I make happen.  I can, however, raise sails.  And I can trust the Wind to take people where I cannot.
 
When I face big leadership decisions or struggle to find words to share with a grieving friend or am still wrestling with Sunday’s sermon text on Saturday, I remember that it’s my job to do what I can.  I put in effort, but I know I am not earning anything.
 
When I raise sails, I am more confident in God’s strength.  I am more hopeful when the wind is still, knowing I’ve raised the sails and God will send the wind when it’s time.  I am more grateful accepting the wind as a gift and thanking God for moving the ship.  I am more winsome knowing that God is more than enough to take me where He wants me to go.
 
Jesus once said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).  He says surrender to Him, and He will gift you with a life like no other.  Take Him up on it. 

Put down your oars and set sail.

Streamlined Decision Making

by Jerry Harris

Churches regularly wrestle with their speed and agility in decision-making.  This is especially true with churches that utilize a church eldership that is wholly separated (structurally) from the church staff.  Everyone has an opinion, some informed and some uninformed – irrespective of whether it’s coming from paid staff or lay leader.  

While everyone fits in the body of Christ, Paul teaches us that our individual location and function within that body is highly specific.  There are just some things that others do better than us – and vise-versa.  It’s true for decision-making too; one leader’s opinions will be more informed and gifted than another’s, depending on the topic at hand.  

God designed the Church to run more like an organism than an organization.  Just like the human body, Christ expects His body, the church, to operate according the gifts and abilities of its parts.  The problem arises when, in the church, decision-making is accomplished by committee after hearing each opinion equally.  This might sound fair to our Western ears, but it isn’t the way Jesus designed His Church to operate.  Leaders often don’t shine as brightly as they otherwise could because everyone wants to, or at least is expected to, weigh in on every subject.  Not only does this slow down the decision-making process, but the entire exercise is confused by opinions that aren’t beneficial to the body moving forward. 

In an effort to get a laser focus on this, we did a leadership exercise early on at the Crossing. Before an annual strategic leaders’ retreat, I asked each elder to write down what he saw as the greatest strengths of the others there.  Those papers were turned in to me ahead of the retreat to be compiled.  

At the retreat, we had the elders sit in a circle, put a chair in the middle of the room, and one by one, each elder sat in the chair.  

Once seated, I read to each elder what had been written about him.  It was wonderful, encouraging, affirming, and humbling.  After the comments were read, all the leaders gathered around the elder in the chair and prayed.  Each elder broke down as he humbly received the praise.  

There were two very important things that became apparent through the exercise: 

First, we saw that in one or two areas, each leader was especially equipped and gifted.  We realized that we each had a specific role inside the leadership and that our opinion was vital in specific areas.  This did not mean that opinions in weaker areas were useless.  It did, and does, mean that God has provided us a well-rounded team, with each part of the team having more insight than others in specific matters.  Recognizing this, we work more like an organism, not an organization, reaching decisions quickly.  

Second, we saw that God had given us great talent in nearly every necessary area when we viewed ourselves as a body rather than a committee.  It was awesome to see that God had already provided all we needed to make great, highly competent decisions.  Discussion also streamlined as each leader gave the weight of opinion to the leader or leaders with recognized expertise.  This also has the entirely Biblical effect of affirming each leader as we rely on the gifting, equipping, and expertise of each part at different times.  

John Wooden, the great basketball coach, was often heard saying, “Be quick, but don’t hurry!”  Operating as a body makes the church quick to move, pivot, adjust, release resources, and to trust each other while they do it.  It accomplishes all this without feeling frantic as deadlines approach, or feeling insecure because insufficient time was spent on a particular subject. 

There are dozens of “one anothers” and “each others” in the New Testament.  God has provided for us, especially through fellow Christ-followers – and we can trust His provision in our leadership’s decision-making process.  Lean on your fellow leaders, and watch our Father do the remarkable.

Self-Leadership before Others-Leadership

by Dr John Turner
Be an example to all believers in what you say,
in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 

1 Timothy 4:12 (NLT) 
 
Before we can effectively lead others, we must first be willing and able to lead ourselves.  I believe it is actually the most difficult aspect of being a leader.  Anyone can bark, “do as I say, [not as I do]!” 
 
But that model is not biblically appropriate, not in concert with how Jesus led, nor empowering to those we are called to lead.
 
To lead others effectively we must lead and empower ourselves.  Let’s examine three areas of life to see if we are leading ourselves well.
 
Walking with God is the first step.  Leaders worth following cultivate a vibrant, growing, dynamic and interactive relationship with Christ.  Leadership skills without spiritual vitality are useless.  Christian leaders of all roles – elders, staff, deacons, volunteers of every stripe – exercise spiritual authority, which is a combination of holiness of our character, empowered giftedness, and deep experiences with God.
 
Effective leaders continue to grow personally.  Effective leaders know there are multiple areas in which self-leadership is expressed; consider: deepening character formation, authentic relationships, constant skill development, remaining a life-long learner, and staying ministry/harvest-focused.  The possibilities here are endless. 
 
Leading ourselves requires the removal of personal blockages and obstacles from life and from our roles as leaders.  Leaders who have been in leadership for a significant length of time can develop a complacency with the status quo of the church’s ministry.  This complacency, “mission-drift,” etc., simply means we lack a vision for the harvest.  Jesus was on-mission “to seek and save those who are lost.”  Lacking a sense of vision, lacking urgency for the harvest breeds fear and timidity in the leadership of the church because conflict inevitably comes when we pursue Jesus’ mission above all else.  Vision requires change, and change is often resisted – conflict.  When we lack the leadership skills to enact change, it can make us fearful and timid about addressing any change, even necessary change. 
 
We shouldn’t forget that poor delegation or other management skills can also impede our self-leadership.  We are not the only Kingdom leaders.  To know what we can delegate and realizing what we alone need to do releases ministry into others’ hands.  And that’s a huge part of self-leadership – knowing when to let go.  “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”  No matter how often we repeat that to each other, we need to remember in all humility that God has, in very tangible ways, given leadership of His Kingdom to us…for a time.  If He’s entrusted us to be His hands and feet in this world, we can certainly give away ministry to others. 
 
To lead others well, we need to lead ourselves.  “I can’t lead others where I myself haven’t yet been.”  So let’s stay close to God, first of all; constantly pursue personal growth; and tirelessly knock down our personal roadblocks and blind spots.

Unified, Servant Leaders

by Dr Don Green

After studying leadership for over 30 years, and in that time reading hundreds of definitions for it, there is one definition that still inspires me more than any other.  I first heard it from a Theology of Leadership professor in my doctoral program. 

Leadership is a lifelong process of taking the initiative

  • to know God deeply,
  • to reflect His holy character abundantly,

and through loving relationships, 

  • to draw people together
  • to further His purposes in the world. 

(Guy Saffold, © 2007, Used with permission)
 
There are several reasons why that definition made its way on to my computer monitor as a daily reminder, and is now seared into my consciousness.  

First of all, it acknowledges that leadership is a lifelong process, not a quick fix or “seven easy steps to success!”  Secondly, it suggest that as leaders, we take initiative.  We are proactive, not reactive.  But let’s also notice what we take the initiative to do – to know God deeply.  Since as leaders, we serve as “stewards of God’s work” (Titus 1:7), we must have a deep, intimate awareness of God’s will and His Word to know what pleases Him. 

As leaders we are also responsible for taking the initiative to reflect His holy character abundantly.  Nothing less than leading like Jesus is expected of spiritual leaders in the church.  Consequently, we are to be molded and shaped into greater Christlikeness so that, in unquestioned character, we look more like Jesus, and in our unwavering conduct we live more like Jesus, and in our unconditional commitment we love more like Jesus.  

Biblical leaders lead through loving relationships among their fellow leaders and among those they lead.  One cannot miss the repeated emphasis throughout the New Testament on the importance of leaders caring for others.  Effective leaders understand that they are not filling an office or exercising authority but rather living in loving, caring, nurturing, equipping relationships with others. 

Leading effectively means that we draw people together.  We do not lead “Lone Ranger” style or autocratically, but by bringing out the best in others.  Rather than dividing people into groups we draw diverse people together to unity around a common purpose.  Finally, we are leading God’s people to further His purposes in the world.  We are not leading to accomplish our desired ends or our individual vision, but to achieve what God wants and to avoid what is unacceptable to Him for His glory and the good of His kingdom.