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Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

The Peak of the Christian Life

pinnacle-of-christian-life

Question One: What is the chief end of man?
Answer One: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Westminster Shorter Catechism

If you were to ask most preachers the question, “Practically speaking, what does the peak of the Christian life look like?” most of them would give an answer related to the answer given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. (Even if you don’t come from that tradition.)

The theologically correct answer to that question sounds like this, “You are in God’s sweet spot when you follow God’s call wherever that is. So it’s different for each person. For me, being in God’s sweet spot has meant being a pastor at this church. But for you, the pinnacle of the Christian life could be ____. Anything less than following God’s call to that is not the pinnacle.

But if you listened to their preaching you’d hear a much different message.

A lot of preachers accidentally lift themselves and their calling to an unhealthy place. Preachers, in their messages, often imply that their calling to become a pastor is a higher calling than anyone else in the church. (Read 1 Peter 5:1-10) They use their obedience and their life as an example of getting into God’s sweet spot. Sitting there, listening to them preach and use themselves as the pinnacle of the Christian life week after week… you might start to believe that working for a church is the pinnacle of the Christian life. While I don’t think that most preachers really believe this to be true, it is easy to use themselves as an example to illustrate their sermon. And more often than not they use themselves as a heroic protagonist in the story… thus the implied status that they are the example of the peak Christian.

The truth is there are a lot of people attending and even working at churches that believe that lie. (Heresy) Even if the preacher never directly says that that working at a church is close to the peak of the Christian life and being the lead preacher is the peak, most people believe that a pastor must be somehow superior unless they are taught otherwise.

Next, you see this pattern emerge all the time! A person feels stuck in their spiritual journey. They desire something “greater” and decide that they need to take a leap of faith. Out of an earnest desire to experience the peak of the Christian life, they start pursuing something else. They follow the leadership example they hear year-after-year and walk away from where God has them in order to chase “the pinnacle of the Christian life” by serving at a church. And those people further perpetrate the lie by testifying, “I used to be an accountant, but God called me to become the Pastor of Finance at this church. Even though I am making much less money I am happy to be in the Lord’s service.

Financial sacrifice does not equal a ministry calling. But listening to the testimony of a lot of preachers, you’d think it was. As if God was going to cosmically bless a ministry simply because you gave up earning potential?

The irony continues once you make that leap. Once you get on staff at a church you learn a dirty little secret. The priesthood of all believers is true.

You want to reach a majority of the community you live in for Jesus Christ? (I believe most churches do.) It simply will not happen through the church staff or its programs. [Even the biggest megachurches only have a tiny reach into their community.] It will only happen when the people in the congregation take hold of what the Bible teaches and takes the Gospel to the places they have access and influence. (Places 99% of pastors have no access or influence.) This mega-change in a community is just as likely to come from a house church of 12 as a megachurch of 20,000. Just like in Acts, God is not interested in the size of the Temple. He is interested in bringing the message of the Jesus to the people where they are. Did Peter, Paul, John, or Timothy grow endearing church organizations? I think not. It was never the goal of the early church to create a massive, efficient organization. The early church built no cathedrals, had no mega-meetings, and lifted nothing but spreading the message as far, deep, and wide as they could in their lifetime. This is a far cry from the little-church-kingdom building we see among clergy today.

I belive most Christians aspire the peak of the Christian life. It’s a good thing to aspire to! Let me encourage you with this. To reach the peak of the Christian life probably won’t mean an Abrahamic move. You likely won’t be called by God to sell your land and move your sheep, goats, and wife to a foreign place. Nor is it likely that God wants you to stop being an accountant, teacher, nurse, or business person to work in a church. The church needs more Christ-followers in the workplace and fewer business people dressed up as pastors.

More than likely you can reach the peak of the Christian life right where you are, in the career you are in, with the friendships you have.

“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:25

If you are seeking something more significant in 2010 I want to challenge you to first do your very best right where you are. Don’t forget to consider that God may have you in the right spot– it may just be you that needs to change.

Look at your life through the eyes of Jonah and ask yourself… what am I running from? That’s most likely what God is calling you to.

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Church Leadership

Podcasts for Preachers

podcasts-for-preachers

Since April, I’ve been a regular commuter using San Diego’s excellent public transit system. Essentially, it takes me an hour to get to work and I use this as me time. While walking, riding my bike, standing on the platform, or riding the trolley I am typically listening to music or podcasts.

My weekly repertoire includes exactly zero “Christian” podcasts. (Unless you count my own!) What I’ve found that I enjoy listening to most are shows that tell stories really, really well. The other day it hit me that some of the shows I listen to every week would actually be excellent to listen to for those who craft messages each week.

So, here’s my list of shows I’d recommend preachers listen to in order to sharpen their delivery: (add you own in the comments)

1. This American Life. I’ve joked around in saying that Ira Glass is the best preacher in America. Clearly, Ira is not a pastor– he’s Jewish. But TAL regularly tells the best stories out there. The pace, the clarity, the way that the commentators often get out of the way and allow the subject to speak. If you are serious about crafting an oral story… you need to list to this show.

2. 60 Minutes: Listen to the audio version of this show. (Available on iTunes) This show is always good on TV, but there is something about listening to it as audio only that makes it better. I love the manner in which they track a story. Almost every story uses the same pattern but it never gets old. Also, I love how they tease the stories up front to keep the listening intruiged. The worst part of the show is Andy Rooney. But just hear him as the old man who grabs your hand every week and annoys you.

3. The Moth: I love this show for two reasons. First, it’s first person stories. Second, it’s a single story per episode. These are stories told live on their mainstage in LA or New York. If you like to integrate testimony into your messages, this will help you.

4. This I Believe: More stories told in the first person. This concept has been around for decades and has captured the core beliefs about famous people, everyday people, and people in-between for that entire time. Essentially, people write an essay about something they believe to be true and then perform it in their own voice.

5. TEDtalks: If you had 18 minutes to present your life’s work, what would you say? This is the premise of TED.  This is like the Willow Creek Leadership Conference for everyone else. Each week you’ll see a well-known person make the presentation of their life.

What would you add to this list?

I think evangelicals are just coming back to the concept of story. For whatever reason we’ve gotten into a habit that preaching ought to be a lecture instead of a story. But with our cultures fascination of story, many leaders are seeing that in order to preach into people’s lives they have to be a better storyteller.

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Church Leadership

What to Say When the Youth Pastor Leaves

the-truth

It’s June. Professional youth ministries most dangerous month. I’ve served in three churches and all the hiring, firing, quitting, and retiring with the youth ministry seems to happen in June. It’s a wicked combination of the end of the school year and for a lot of churches, the end of the budget year. I could offer some theories as to why so many churches hire and fire in June… but that’s not the point of this post.

“What do we say when the youth pastor leaves?”

Church leaders: Tell the truth. If the person quit, just say they quit. You don’t have to spin it. Just tell it like it is.

But if you are firing them, I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who were fired and then asked to enter into an agreement (never in writing) that for a sum of money they will say that they have decided to quit. Hundreds. If you are man or woman enough to fire a person than be man or woman enough to tell the congregation. You don’t pay severence to someone you are firing to cover up the fact that you are firing them. You pay them severance because they are self-employed and ineligible to claim unemployment benefits. It only makes matters worse when you fire a person and then put on a charade that you are sad to see them go. You throw a party, you say all sorts of glowing things in public when you know full well that you sat in a board room and decided this person needed to be fired. If you lie, your lie will be found out. Your sin will be exposed and the embarrassment you were trying to avoid will come back to haunt you for years. If you made a brave decision as the leadership of the church then it is a sign of your strength as leaders. When you try to wuss out, it shows what kind of leaders you are.

The truth always wins.

Church staff: Tell the truth. If the leaders of your church dismissed a person don’t ever lie about it. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “The leaders decided to go another direction.” You don’t have to go into the specifics of why the person was fired. But don’t participate in the leaders lie if they are trying to spin the truth. That makes you party to the lie! Your corroborating the leaders story and remember, the truth will come out eventually. And remember, this is exactly how you will be treated if they let you go later.

The truth always wins.

Youth Pastor: Tell the truth. I have been in your shoes. I know what it’s like to have that meeting where the leaders tell you that you aren’t the person they want pastoring their kids anymore. I have felt my world crash around me in that moment. I’ve looked across that table when they told me what to say. They are going to wave a big check in front of your eyes and you are going to think, “How else can I feed my family? How will I pay my rent? How will I have enough money to get the heck out of here?Just don’t get bought by Satan. Think about it… would Jesus ask you to lie in His name? Not telling the truth is telling a lie! Church leaders who ask you to lie for a little bit of money are doing the work of your sworn enemy. Walk out of that meeting with integrity. Do not cave to their pressure and promise of financial security to further their lie. They will end up offering you the same severance check anyway… because it is the right thing to do and the congregation will demand it. Moreover, your telling a lie to the congregation will only make matters worse. They are trying to get you to take the fall because they know you are leaving the church.

Candidates for youth ministry positions: Find the truth. Your well-being and the well-being of your family and future ministry depend on you discovering the truth! If you are interviewing at a church you need to talk to the former youth worker. During the interview process ask the search committee about the previous person. Then ask for their email address or phone number so you may contact them. This is 2009, you can find them in 10 minutes on the internet. Be a detective and get to the truth as to why that person left. If there is a lie… don’t take the job. This is precisely how you will be treated. If the previous youth worker was fired and the pastor and the elders participated in that lie, confront them! No matter how good they make that job sound, that entire relationship will be based on lies unless they come clean. Confront their sin and then don’t take the job. Show them what a leader looks like.

Some may read this and think, “Boy, Adam McLane has a chip on his shoulder about this. You would be correct. I am sick of seeing my friends in ministry asked to lie for a few thousand bucks. I am sick of churches hiding the fact that have fired a person. I am tired of the Bride of Christ doing things that are worse– even illegal— than what happens in the business world. I know that a healthy ministry can only be built on the truth. And it is time to speak up and get some truth out there.