Christian Living

Sober Judgment

Photo by Cayusa via Flickr (Creative Commons)

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

I struggle with this verse. Paul makes it sound so easy and appealing. Because it ultimately is. However, culture– even Christian culture– tells you to rewrite Paul’s words like this:

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, gloss over the bad stuff and judge your life with beer goggles, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Romans 12:3, the way I want it to read.

A fail is funny and losing is winning

Paul’s phrase, sober judgment, is difficult. It involves looking at the hard realities of the goals we have for ourselves and measuring that against the results our life has produced. Sober judgment is deeply honest. A win is a win and a loss is a loss.

Judging yourself with beer goggles is so much easier. It involves laughing everything off and believing the lie that failure is funny and winning is somehow losing. The crowd tells you, “That’s OK, everyone fails” to make you feel better. But before long their empathetic response becomes your justification.

Applying Sober Judgment

Sober judgment involves staring into the mirror at reality. It means is that somewhere in your life you measuring with real math, setting actual goals, and being corrected along the way.

Are you measuring up against your goals? Are you honest with yourself on what needs to change? And are you willing to take corrective action so that you can celebrate real success instead of the success of merely incremental failure?

Christian Living

Public Ministry Prerequisites

A friend recently expressed a frustration that anyone who works in a church feels all the time. He said, “We just get the leftovers of people’s time, energy, and heart.”

He said it in a negative way. I affirmed him in a positive way. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

I get the same dirty look every time I say that.

Here is what most believers in your church really want to know— but you won’t give them a straight answer.

In your opinion, what does an “all-in” lifestyle look like?

When am I doing enough for the Kingdom so that I have the right & responsibility to say no?

This is the elephant in the room in every church. This is what people in the pews long to know. They all want to hear a simple answer to that simple question.

They need a checkbox and you give them an essay. They ask for a cheeseburger and you bring them a Power Bar. And you wonder why they just tip instead of tithe? That disappointed look as people meander out of your sanctuary Sunday mornings? Yup, that’s it. They don’t know if they are doing enough. And you won’t tell them.

Why? Because, as church leaders, we don’t like the answer.

Mark 12:28-34 deals with this exact question. See what happens when a religious leader asks Jesus, “What am I supposed to be doing with my day-to-day life?

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

I love that last line– ZING!

You didn’t see religious leaders lining up to ask the Messiah another question, did you? Nope. They didn’t like Jesus’ answer back then and church leaders don’t like it today.

You can hear the groan of every single church staff member. Why didn’t Jesus implore people to give more time to the church? Why? Why?! WHY?!?!?!

The frustrated staff

Every staff member I talk to has the same 2-3 problems. (Youth pastors, worship pastors, senior pastors, children’s pastors, small groups pastors… all of ’em.)

They have vision for great programs. Great ideas. But they struggle to find the resources and people to implement them.

They all deal with the same pressure: In order to be judged as having done a good job, a noble ambition, they need the resources to implement their programs.

The frustrated parishioner

[Confession: I never saw this on church staff! Like literally… it was there, but I never saw it and no one ever articulated it to me. I didn’t see it until I transitioned from being on staff to becoming a parishioner.]

Each week, sermons implore them to live out the Gospel in their daily life. At work, at home, with their friends, seek justice, etc. Then they are told they need to keep their relationship with God first and their ministry to their family second. But each week they are also asked to help with the programs of the church.

They all deal with the same pressure: They have a 40-50 hour per week job to pay the bills, they have kids that need help with homework and other stuff in their lives, they need to keep their relationship with God growing, their relationship with their spouse and kids second… there isn’t much time or energy available after that. And the church gives them 30 hours worth of things they could be doing with the 4 hours they have available each week.

Frustration by design?

It’s not supposed to be like that. Jesus, our Groom, never intended a life in His church to be frustrating for the bride.

Worse yet. Everyone is frustrated and it isn’t working. The church, as a whole, is reaching less people. Our population is exploding and our churches are happy to hold steady. That’s a net loss.

We need to get back on course with what the Bible teaches us about our daily lives.

Prerequisites to public ministry

(These are the things you need to take care of BEFORE you consider anything at church. Otherwise, take a ticket and head to the end of the frustration line. You’ll be there a while.)

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Are you putting your relationship with Jesus on hold so you can serve? If so, you are being disobedient. No wonder you are frustrated.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus didn’t mean this metaphorically. He meant it literally. If you don’t know your neighbors names and are not actively loving them… then you aren’t qualified to help out at church. Define neighbors: If their property touches or is adjacent to yours, those are your neighbors. God placed you on your block because He is smarter than you are. He wants you to love and serve them. It’s not something you do when you have time. It’s something you make time to do. And it’s more important than helping at youth group or singing in the choir. That’s why it’s a prerequisite.
  3. Love your family. When Megan was 6 she said to me, “Daddy, I wish you spent as much time with me as you spend with the kids at church.”  Six. Years. Old. That’s when I knew I needed an extended break from public ministry. It wasn’t that I was unqualified. And it certainly wasn’t that I was unsuccessful. It’s that things had gotten out-of-order. Never again. If your family is groaning because you are spending too much time at church… it’s time to readjust.

If you have those things in order than you can consider helping a program at church. And if you don’t have these three things covered, not just in your opinion, but in the opinion of the people in your life, than you need to stop doing public ministry.

Trust me, the church will endure and prevail. She will be fine!

To my frustrated church staff friends:

Here are two things I learned the hard way.

  • You are not exempt. Being a pastor at the church does not mean you can be so busy you don’t spend time with God, don’t love your neighbors, and don’t love your family. In fact, having your house in order is a biblical requirement (1 Timothy 3:4) for leadership because it validates everything you do and say. #1 & #3 are usually OK with church staff… it’s #2 we forget to invest in.
  • It won’t get better until you change your behavior. I think I made the mistake of thinking that I could circumvent this if I created a good enough program or if I just invested in developing leaders more. It didn’t. It only spun more out of control as time went on. The reality was that it didn’t get better until I took care of those 3 prerequisites.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1

Church Leadership Culture

Stick it to the Man

I want to see church culture change. I know that if we’d just apply what we believe the church would be the most attractive option on the planet.

And I also know that in order to change the leadership culture within a church you have to do three things.

  1. You have to play along to gain access to the people who can change things.
  2. You have to gently prod leadership with ideas that are approachable.
  3. And sometimes you need to show them your middle finger and just plain stick it to the leaders by giving them glimpses of your vision for reform.

Here are some examples of moments in history when visionaries have extended the middle finger (mostly figuratively) to the man and changed the culture forever.

  • 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence and told King George, “Come and get me, punk.
  • William Wallace lead a band of warriors against King Edward in a fight for independence for Scotland. “I’m not your slave, I’d rather die than serve you. Here, look at my butt.
  • On December 1st, 1955 Rosa Parks sat down in the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. “What are you going to do about it?”
  • George Whitefield lead massive outdoor revivals in staunch opposition to the established church and local laws which required permits to preach. Much of the American evangelical church was born from his disobedience. “We are going to meet outside, where the people are… you know, just like Jesus did. You OK with that, sucker?
  • Martin Luther recognized he could barely move the needle an inch in his lifetime if he worked within the rules of Rome. So he wrote some things down and made his own appointment with the Pope Leo. “You’ll be changing one way or the other, Mr. Fancy Hat.
  • Instead of ignoring the Pharisees and their muttering, Jesus teaches his band of cultural losers that they should go out and try to reach Pharisees. “Sometimes you stick it to the man by going out and loving the man while sticking it to him.”

What’s the problem with this?

  • A lot of us are the man.
  • In nearly all of those situations, the established religious leaders were on the wrong side of history. Oops.
  • We stand in a long time of people who realize… awful hard to stick it to ourselves.

The reason I’m saying this is to remind people like myself that we are, oftentimes, the biggest agents against change. We have our ways. We have our culture. We look at prominence and degrees. As the established religious leaders we give a million excuses why the pains in the neck are wrong and we are right.

World changing men and women come into our lives, observe our behavior and practices, and give us the middle finger.

The lesson from the examples above is simple: When people come to you to give you the middle finger of no-more-fellowship… you need to listen to them. You need to give them the opportunity to be heard.

They may be right and you may be wrong.

You need to look at those people with sober judgment.

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. – Apostle Paul, Romans 12:2