Saturday, January 28, 2017

Servant Leadership

We talk about servant leadership a lot in our churches and missions, but different leaders mean different things when using the term and practice servant leadership differently. 

(Now that I have begun a PhD program in organizational leadership, I will use my monthly blog to discuss leadership theories and offer practical application in ways that will help the Church accomplish the Mission.)

Robert K. Greenleaf developed the leadership theory we call “servant leadership” in 1970. Greenleaf (1977) based his theory of servant leadership on examples from the New Testament. Other theorists have continued to explore the Scriptures and leadership studies and have furthered the description of servant leadership. Jesus Christ set the example when he washed his disciples feet and finished with these words:

John 13:14–16 ESV “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

The Theory

In servant leadership theory, leaders primarily attend to the needs of followers, while accomplishing organizational goals as a secondary priority. Servant leaders build trust with their followers by communicating openly and honestly, exhibiting personal integrity, and trusting followers themselves. Servant leaders listen to their followers’ personal concerns, help them grow wiser and healthier, and empower them to achieve their individual goals. Such leaders seek to create a culture focused on caring for the needs of all the organization's members as they work together to achieve common goals, all the while seeking to develop many other servant leaders within the organization. 

Patterson (2003) developed seven constructs for describing servant leadership: (a) love, (b) humility, (c) altruism, (d) vision, (e) trust, (f) empowerment, and (g) service. In Patterson’s definition, love concerns itself with moral judgment and action. Humility shows itself by keeping proper perspective of oneself and staying focused on others. Altruism consists of concern for the welfare of others and acting with complete fairness. Vision focuses on the personal vision and faith of followers, not the organization’s vision, rather the individual’s goals and fit within the organization. Leaders build trust through integrity and mutual respect. Leaders empower others by truly sharing power, emphasizing teamwork, and valuing input. Finally, the mission of servant leadership will be achieved by service as a way of life, attitude of the soul, and manner of being.

Servant leaders primarily concern themselves with serving their followers, while also helping them contribute to the organization's mission. How applicable is servant leadership in leading your church or mission?

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977) Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist.

Patterson, K. A. (2003). Servant leadership: A theoretical model. Servant Leadership Research Roundtable, Virginia Beach, VA. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Approved And Entrusted

The concepts of being “approved” by God and “entrusted” with His gospel played a key role in the Apostle Paul’s self-understanding of his mission, his relationship to God, and his relationship with all people including the Thessalonians. This approval and trust empowered him to minister boldly in the midst of great opposition, to remain committed to avoiding error, impurity, and deceit, and to stay focused on pleasing God rather than people. 

(Now that I have begun a PhD program in organizational leadership, I will use my monthly blog to discuss leadership theories and offer practical application in ways that will help the Church accomplish the Mission.)

In the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul recounted God’s powerful working among the Thessalonians in their radical conversion to Christ from idolatry and their immediate zeal for spreading the gospel throughout the region. Intense opposition followed Paul wherever he went and the Thessalonian church had already begun to experience it for themselves. And so, Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote this letter to encourage this new community of Christians in their faith and identity in Christ. They would need to be able to withstand, persevere, and triumph in their new life of adversity and persecution.
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-4, English Standard Version)
Empowerment of the Apostle Paul and His Team

Motivation and empowerment increase when people’s work matches their values, when they possess confidence that they will be successful, when they can choose when and how they perform their work, and when they believe they can make a difference. God delegated to the Apostle Paul tasks of appropriate difficulty that related to his career as an Apostle. In his empowerment of the Apostle Paul, God delegated in a manner consistent with what is considered good delegation: (a) specifying his responsibilities clearly, (b) providing adequate authority, (c) monitoring his progress, (d) providing necessary information, support, and assistance, and (e) turning his mistakes into learning opportunities (Yukl, 2013).

God’s empowerment of Paul noted in 2:1-4 fits with psychological empowerment as a leadership theory. Paul referred to himself in 3:2 as a co-participant, sunergon, with God in the Gospel, and described the delegation of duties in 2:1-4 in various ways. God approved Paul and his team and entrusted them with the Gospel. Consequently, Paul ministered with great motivation to please God and appeal to people with the Gospel. 

The four elements of psychological empowerment are: (a) meaning, (b) self-determination, (c) self-efficacy, and (d) impact. Paul felt empowered because God changed his life and gave him a new mission (meaning), trusted him to develop his own strategies and methods (self-determination), infused him with confidence that he could be successful (self-efficacy or competence), and allowed him to witness the results of conversion and transformation of people, and the establishment of churches (impact).

Empowerment Continues for Us Today

As a public Apostolic epistle, 1 Thessalonians was meant to be read aloud to the faith community in Thessalonica and to all faith communities (5:27) for their encouragement. God’s empowerment of Paul extended to the empowerment of the Thessalonian believers, and it has continued to extend to His Church ever since and all throughout the world. From the Apostle Paul’s ministry model with the Thessalonian church Christian leaders and churches today can shape and re-shape their ministries accordingly, and by God’s Spirit and grace can expect similar results that will bring Him glory through increased effectiveness and spiritual joy. 

Christians should proclaim the gospel boldly and live out the gospel genuinely. The Apostle Paul served as an entrusted messenger, teaching Christ-followers how to live out the gospel they preach. Can Christians today likewise appeal to others to examine their lives as Christians, and ask God to do the same? Such transparency speaks volumes to the world about honesty, integrity, and authenticity. The world needs more Christians like this. This will further strengthen and empower the church as God keeps supplying a greater boldness and the grace to prove faithful as those “entrusted with the gospel” (v.4). 

Yukl, G. (2013). Leadership in organizations (8th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Pathway For Others To Follow

As Christians one of our greatest desires is to lead others to God, to a real salvation experience through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The book of Proverbs is likewise concerned with the very same goal, and so will help us greatly in doing this. 

Proverbs 10:17 ESV “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.”

A Better Translation

“Whoever heeds instruction.” This is the person who meditates upon the Word of God and deliberately puts it into practice. “Whoever rejects reproof [i.e. correction].” This is the person who abandons the teaching he or she is given.

In this verse the phrase “is on the path to life” is more accurately and better translated from the Hebrew as “is a path to life.” This person who heeds instruction becomes a pathway to life for others to follow there. 

The point of this Proverb is the effect of our obedience on others, not just ourselves. As the apostate actively leads others astray (and gleefully quite often), so also, the faithful follower of God will show others the way to life. This is life both in terms of a quality and spiritually fulfilling life, but also in terms of eternal life with God.

Obedience Affects Everyone

In our culture, we tend to think that our obedience or disobedience only affects ourselves. Many social scientists strongly disagree and write, speak, and teach otherwise. However, it appears few of us listen, because we are so committed to our out of control individualism. Yes, even Christians.

Maybe some people would agree that on occasion our obedience or disobedience to God can have an effect others. Yet, this is usually acknowledged only if there is a direct and immediately observable effect. For example, we bless someone with kind words of spiritual counsel, or we hurt them with our angry words; we might meet some tangible need, or on the contrary commit some abusive act.

Instead, we should consider that obedience has indirect effects that can accumulate weightiness over time. Things like years of faithful time in the Word and prayer and letting the Holy Spirit change our lives. Things like faithful church attendance and simple, even behind the scenes, works of compassion and service. These will change lives and direct people to life often more than we realize.

Furthermore, there are ripple effects from our attitudes and behaviors that spread throughout the fabric of society, and especially within our Christian communities and our local churches. Our character is revealed by our attitudes and behaviors, again positively or negatively. It is especially grievous when we “reject correction” from the Word, the Spirit and fellow Christians, repeatedly refusing to be spiritually transformed and grow in wisdom. This is what “leads others astray.”

A Better Pathway

Perhaps, you have seen the truth and principle of Proverbs 10:17 at work, both positively and negatively? How a person’s, or one’s own, obedience or disobedience affects other people, even groups of people? The examples are limitless.

May we become a better pathway for others to follow and find life with God.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Not Just Any Verse For Every Situation

Pastors deal with complex situations in leading their churches, complex situations in counseling their congregations and complex situations in speaking to their broader communities.

Few troubles are as frustrating for pastors as church members who might be somewhat familiar with a situation, or outsiders with little knowledge of a matter, approaching them with urgent Biblical counsel they have discovered that will help him.

Where Do the Bible Verses Come From?

When Christians read their Bibles, sometimes verses strike them like never before, and they are eager to share them and apply them. Maybe it applies to this situation with which our pastor is dealing, they wonder.

Many Christians have favorite Bible verses they have memorized and find useful in their lives on many occasions. Somehow they made a connection from one of their favorite verses to the pastor’s situation. Maybe it will help, they reason.

Other Christians stay current with cultural trends and Christian trends. They know the Biblical passages under discussion these days. And so, they hope to inform their pastor and help him see how the situation with which he is dealing is addressed by this current discussion.

Yet other Christians believe that all of Christian theology and practice can be encapsulated in key verses. Often these key verses have to do with broad themes such as love, grace and mercy, or authority and submission, or divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and the list goes on.

In each of these examples, people wrongly think they have the secret answer verses providing simple solutions to complex problems. Sincerely motivated as they may be, not just any verse applies in every situation.

3 Unrecognized Problems

When we are excited by our new discoveries in the Bible we see perhaps more connections than are warranted. When we see the world primarily through our favorite verses we can miss a lot of other things in the Bible and in other people’s lives. When we vigilantly stay current, the foundations and the history too quickly fade from view. When we live by broad themes we might feel especially skilled, however, we might fail more often than we realize in specifics of life’s realities.

First, people often miss the point of the text they are referencing. It certainly holds great and godly instruction. It is inspired by God and intended by Him for proper use according to His intention. But such a misuse of the text will not really advance God’s purposes.

Second, people often miss the point of the situation into which they are trying to speak. Likely, they don’t really understand the life situation and the spiritual dynamics of it. As a result, they mismatch it to their selection of Scripture.

Third, people often miss the best and proper texts that could provide the counsel that is needed. Because of a cursory search of Bible passages and only a surface analysis of the situation, they draw hasty and inaccurate conclusions on both fronts.

3 Constructive Solutions

First, as a pastor and leader, make sure to pushback against off-base counsel. Often people are simply too eager to share their point of view without understanding other points of view. They are mistaken about the Bible, the situation and their relationship.

Second, teach people about how to use the Bible, and how to use it well and appropriately in conjunction with its purpose. Assume those who would counsel you are well meaning, even if you suspect they are not.

Third, explain with patience both the situation about which they are concerned and the Bible verse they about which they are excited. We do not have to share all details, and obviously most often we can’t do this. But, we can share what we are doing, our approach to the situation and the Bible, and our seeking of counsel.

Finally, simply thank those who visit you in this manner. Thank them for their concern. Thank them for their love of the Word of God, and eagerness to live by it and please the Lord. Thank them for praying for you and others involve. Then, close by asking for their prayers and praying together with them.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why Don’t We See More Of Our Missionaries?

A few years ago a fellow pastor and friend of mine asked me, “Why don’t we see more of our missionaries? Is there something wrong with our church?”

Perplexed and Hurt

This seemed strange to him because overseas missionaries who are on home assignment are usually eager to visit their supporting churches and reconnect with many friends in the church. This church considered itself very mission-minded, genuinely devoted in prayer and partners in the work. My friend was somewhat offended and hurt.

I happened to know this church and its approach to missions fairly well. True, it was somewhat of a mission-minded church, but the leadership and the congregation were not as committed to missions as they thought they were. It is safe to say that those outside the church would not describe the church as a mission-minded church.

3 Measurements of Commitment

So, I asked how much the church supported each of its missionaries.  It was a modest sum, probably a little too modest. Then we talked about the travel costs for the missionaries to visit the church. This cost was not reimbursed by the church, either. Their missionaries seemed to visit when their church was an easy add-on to a trip, but they were not the main destination.

Then we talked about what a missionary visit would look like. Were opportunities created for the missionaries to give an in-depth view of their work, and would they have freedom to ask others to become supporters of their ministry? It turns out that the church didn’t take the initiative to create such opportunities, or much else.

Then I asked about recent mission trips taken by the church. The last significant one was over five years ago. Occasionally people still talk about it and reminisce about its value and glory. However, in today’s world of inexpensive travel and easy to organize short-term trips of value, it should be routine practice to have church leaders and others visit a church’s missionaries. This is a wonderful opportunity to encourage them, bless them, learn from them and be of value to them.

Making Necessary Adjustments

My pastor friend agreed that they were really a low mission commitment church. And their missionaries probably didn’t sense great commitment on the church’s part. The relationships had not been nurtured. Gladly, my pastor friend decided to make the necessary changes! 

Since our conversation a few years ago, the church has been steadily increasing their financial support of all their missionaries. The church leadership communicates much more and at a higher level of quality with their missionaries and their congregation. 

There is a new level of engagement that is obvious to all. Missionaries are highlighted and given greater access to people. Slowly, new trips are being organized, well-planned for added value, and they are being seen as a key investment for the advance of the Gospel!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sermons Are Not Meant To Be Remembered

How many of you remember the sermon from last Sunday?  Don’t worry, you were not supposed to anyway.

Look at and Listen to the Preacher:  Not Obnoxious Learning Devices

The congregation really wanted sermon notes in the bulletin, so I gave in. However, I don’t like people looking down when I am preaching. Much more preferable is to have everyone engaged with me in the amazing biblical text, enjoying it together.

Another bad idea is having people looking to the side at a screen as if this holy event were a business presentation or educational lecture. And yet, the ultimate bad idea is fill-in-the-blank preaching notes, especially when bloated with alliteration.

It is also infuriating to listen to powerful (and often long) illustrations, well-crafted story-telling, creative reconstructions of a Bible story (sometimes even including theatrical garb and voice), because the Bible gets lost, and really fast.

Entertaining, motivating, counseling, providing practical steps, creating artsy set designs—can we just stop it and just preach the Word? This is all for getting people to remember. And we falsely assume that remembering brings about transformation. It doesn’t.

What if we gave up on getting people to remember sermons and just went for the transformation outright?

It is actually easier, less time consuming and much more enjoyable for everyone, trust me. Simply listen to the preachers as they explain and apply the Word for us all. It is a good and beautiful thing. Look at the preacher!

Look at and Listen to the Book:  Preaching is Unique Communication

I have never preached so that people remember outlines, stories, life principles or any other cute Christian slogans or quaint Christian sentiments. I don’t want people to remember my sermon, I want them to know and love God more through the Scriptures, and be able to do so on their own, in their families and with other people.

There is no parallel for preaching, not school teaching, not academic lecturing, not business presenting, not inspiring, not theater, not solving problems. We really need to stop trying to find an analogy, because no analogy exists.  Preaching is a unique event.

If the goal is to rejoice in God and His Word before His People, trusting the Holy Spirit who wrote the Bible and indwells His People to stir their hearts for the glory of God, then what are we doing messing around with inferior methodologies and delivery methods that cannot hold the weight of the message!?

We need to believe more in God and His Word. Our goals of transformation are going to be accomplished through the Biblical text. Each person in the congregation should be able to go back to the text and remember by the Holy Spirit and re-preach it to themselves. They should be able to see God’s transformational truth from the Word themselves without the added baggage of the preacher’s outline obscuring the text and confusing them.

This kind of preaching is what the people of God really hunger for. This kind of preaching is what those without God really want and really need to hear. We preachers need to stop playing games and simply love our people and preach the Word. Look at the book!

( See related blog post: Hijacked Preaching)

I remember when I became a Christian at the age of 17. All I wanted was someone to teach me the Bible, someone who knew the Bible, loved the Bible and simply explained it to me without pulpit antics or goofy gimmicks to get me to like the Bible.

As our Apostle Paul instructed Pastor Timothy (2 Timothy 3:14-4:5):
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Lest you think I am a complete iconoclast, I will grant that add-ons can be helpful, but they are not preaching, they are add-ons. All I am asking for is a more thoughtful and prayerful reconsideration of what we are doing when we are preaching the Word of God, the Holy Scripture.