Monday, April 13, 2015

Four Ways to Know if Your Church is Out of Touch

"We want to reach our community!"  In 23 years of ministry, I've never served or consulted with a single congregation that didn't say this.  But for too many churches, they just weren't getting it done.

For many years, church leaders have attended conferences, listened to church growth "experts," and copied strategies that were successful in other contexts in the hope that the result would be people coming to Christ and communities being impacted.  But too often, the most critical piece of the puzzle wasn't even considered.

Too many churches are implementing "strategies" that have little to no connection to their community.  This is because too many churches are completely out of touch with their surrounding community.

How do you know if your church has lost touch?  Over the years, I've observed four primary indicators:

1. The members of the congregation aren't from the community.  Driving through a not-yet-regentrified area of Louisville Kentucky years ago, we saw prostitutes on the corner, witnessed people entering the local crack houses, and sensed the obvious presence of darkness.  But once we turned into the church parking lot, we saw a Lexus, parked next to a Mercedes, which was in turn parked next to a Cadillac.

Those who had been members of this church for decades claimed they wanted to reach this community.  But the community had drastically changed over the years, and the church members no longer lived there!  They understood nothing of the poverty and addiction that surrounded them, and had no personal desire to envelope themselves in the lives of "those people," but they fully expected the community to   come into a facility, structure, and approach to ministry that was totally foreign to them.  If no one from your church lives in the community, it may be time to relocate your church, and give the building back to believers who actually live there.

2. Church meetings don't include substantive discussion of the community.  It was a three hour business meeting that included a lot of very important issues: what should the worship service look like?  How should we structure ourselves?  And of course, "who is going to be in control?"  But for 180 minutes, this dying church said nothing about Jesus, or the community that surrounded them.

If you spend more time analyzing the church than you do serving the community your church was put there to serve, its a sure sign your church is completely out of touch.

3. There is no link between church ministries and the common concerns of your community.  The church was seriously considering spending $3 million on a brand new, state-of-the-art "family life center," complete with a full-sized gymnasium, free weights and nautilus equipment, and aerobics classes.  Problem was, no one had considered that there was already a $15 million facility just across the street that provided all those things already--and did so in a way the church would never be able to compete with.

Too often, churches start food pantries, ministries for single moms, recovery ministries, divorce care, financial counseling, and a thousand other things without so much as asking a single person from the community what the needs are.   A church that truly serves its community listens to its community, connects community needs with its own ministries, and those ministries with the Gospel.

4. Community Transformation isn't part of the vision.  When I teach church planting courses, one of the assignments always includes the students assembling an initial strategy plan for a new church that includes community analysis, vision, mission, and an overview of the first 18 months.  And I warn the students that if the vision stops with a picture of the church, they will have earned a failing grade!

Church is essential to the mission.  In fact, without the church, there is no true mission!  But though the church is necessary, it is not ultimate.  God's Kingdom is ultimate, and the result of any effective church that is aware of its surroundings is a community that reflects more of the Kingdom of God.  How will the community look different 10 years from now if your church is truly obedient to Jesus.  If you haven't answered that question, then whatever you have described isn't vision.  If you've never asked the question in the first place, your church may be completely out of touch.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Sex: The New State Religion

Last October, I wrote the following piece in reaction to several legal developments that threatened religious freedom.  Recent debate over an Indiana law that would have afforded people of faith a day in court--and required the government to demonstrate a compelling public interest before requiring someone to use their creative gifts to endorse something they don't believe to be right--reveals even more clearly that freedom of religion has now taken a back seat to sexual libertarianism.  These developments demonstrate that a new state religion has emerged, empowered by a far-left fundamentalism to silence dissent, shut down debate, and punitively affect people whose conscience runs counter to the sexual revolutionaries of the day.  I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether what I've written below is now more substantiated than it was even 5 months ago.

Religious Freedom in America is dying.  Though this has been stated often, and ignored just as often, rolling one's eyes at the statement doesn't make it less true.

The biggest irony here is that the vehicle being used--possibly in an unintentional way--to kill religious freedom is the very vehicle everyone in the country was assured would not affect it--laws that now codify our current sexual revolution, and are most visible in cases involving abortion and LGBT rights. 

Those who favor these laws have for years assured Christians that these changes in the law would not in any way affect religious freedom, or infringe on the consciences of those who believe these actions to be sinful.  Many of us responded by saying that these moves would in fact affect religious liberty--perhaps in an irreversible way.  Turns out, we were right.

A number of recent examples point clearly to this fact, most recently a California law that now requires churches with group health plans to cover abortion services.  And just last week, there was the debacle surrounding the Mayor's office in Houston, Texas, which in response to statements and petition drives from area churches sought to subpoena sermons and other correspondence.  Though I sometimes find myself in disagreement with Ecclesia Pastor Chris Seay, I found his open letter to Houston's Mayor to be a perfect combination of humility before Caesar, and bold confidence in the God who rules above Caesar.  You should read it here:

Additionally, my friend Tim McKnight, who teaches Missions at Anderson University in my home state, has written a thorough and accurate post on the history of religious liberty, the role of Christians in securing it, and the way it has been turned on its head over the past few decades.  You can read that one here:

In light of so much happening at once on this front, I expect those of no faith to believe and behave as they do.  But I've been particularly disappointed in what seem to be many misinformed Christ-followers who greet these developments with a shrug and a question of "what's the big deal?"

Well, to doctors, insurance administrators, bakers, photographers, coordinators and venue operators who have been sued and threatened with fines and jail time by the government, its a VERY big deal.  Earlier in the year, I wrote on the issue of gay weddings to encourage Christ-followers in those professions to consider serving gay couples as an expression of the love of Christ, but in that same article, I was also clear that such service should not be rendered by orders of the compelling influence of Caesar.

And now, continued threats of fiscal and criminal punishment have been leveled for the first time at ordained ministers who refused to officiate at a gay wedding, merely because they operate a "for profit" wedding chapel.  The message in this one case is clear:  Religious freedom only applies if you are "non-profit."

Yet from the other side, people of faith are told that even as a "non-profit" your free speech is limited.  Rather than deal honestly and straightforwardly with the honest differences we have, the far-left have sought to silence the voice of the church by categorizing certain moral issues as "political," and consequently threatening the church's tax-exempt status for speaking on issues that for centuries have been understood to be the clear domain of faith communities. 

In short, the two-sided approach to killing religious liberty is clear:  Punish "for-profit" entities for living their convictions,  punish "non-profit" ones for speaking publicly about their convictions, and do both from a position of power wherein government presumptuously monopolizes the conversation, and silences dissenters.  This is intellectual and political cowardice at its worst.  And when taken together, recent events reveal three clear trends that, if not stopped, threaten the very existence of religious freedom in America.

Followers of Jesus who don't see these trends want to be compassionate--especially toward our LGBT neighbors, and like them, I want to see the church continue on its present learning curve so that these image-bearers of God are increasingly treated with the dignity and respect they are owed as human beings.  But those who shrug their shoulders at concern over our current sexual revolution in the west and its more recent effects on our legal system are looking past some rather ominous shifts.  In particular, this current revolution has resulted in the following:

1. It turns religious freedom on its head. The First Amendment to our Constitution places no limits on individuals, or even corporations--be they for-profit or non-profit--in regard to religious liberty.  Quite the contrary, the Constitution actually limits Congress. I find it incredible that government at any level presumes the right to instruct people of faith--individually or corporately--as to what they can and cannot say inside their houses of worship, and what they can and cannot do (or refuse to do) outside those houses of worship.  Rather than adhering to what the Founders of this country called our "first freedom," they are by legislation and judicial fiat establishing a state religion, and that religion is sex. But what I find more incredible are those who claim to follow Christ who seem to be OK with government attempts to be Lord of the conscience.

2. It defines marriage as a "right." I have dealt before with the misconception of marriage as a "right" here, yet I must admit the highly effective message discipline practiced in recent years by those who use deceptively beautiful phrases like "marriage equality."  Those who aggressively favor homosexual unions have been largely successful in couching their agenda in the verbiage of "civil rights."  If interracial marriage is permitted, for example, then what is wrong with allowing two men or two women to be wed to each other?  In responding to this question, evangelicals have too often accepted the premise of that question.  Rather than speaking of who does and does not have a "right" to marry, we should continue to point out that no one--not even heterosexual couples--have a "right" to marriage.  Historically, this institution has been viewed as a status of privilege, and this truth is functionally proven by the fact that although a clerk of court may be forced by law to issue a license, no public official--minister, notary public, or judge--is required to perform the ceremony(at least, not until now).  Marriage is not a "right."

Consequently, a marriage license is not a statement of "tolerance," but affirmation.  Through a marriage license, the public via their local government is saying "this is a good thing, not only for this couple, but also for society as a whole, which has always benefited from strong families that have a strong marriage as their anchor."    It's one thing to ask for equality in public accommodations, or housing, or employment.  These are rights that should belong to any human being created in God's image and likeness.  But when the homosexual community asks for the privilege of marriage, they are asking for more than mere "tolerance," and we are seeing proof of this in the civil and criminal cases that are now unfolding before us.

3. It illustrates the results of postmodern thought.  Philosophical postmodernism can only ultimately lead to one place:  nihilism.  And, we are seeing the results of that slide before our very eyes.  The ironic foundation of a radically relativistic epistemology comes full circle when those who find themselves in the majority seek to impose one view of what "tolerance" means to them on everyone else using the power of the state.  This is precisely what we are witnessing in our current environment, which says to people of faith "keep it to yourselves, keep it in your church buildings, synagoges or mosques, and don't dare try to apply it outside those realms," and calls such restriction "religious liberty." 

In the end, this isn't about the homosexual community.  Its not about "tolerance" and its not about protecting a vulnerable class of people.  Its about a guiding philosophy that is currently taking us on a dangerous, agenda-driven trajectory.  The next issue could very well involve your own church, and/or your own pastor.  It might even involve you merely seeking to follow your own convictions as a follower of Jesus, and facing fines or even imprisonment for doing so.  Followers of Jesus asking "what's the big deal?" need to be cured of their ignorance, pull their head out of the sand, and join pastors like Chris Seay in speaking out before its too late.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Church Planting Jugulars: Three Mistakes to Avoid

Over the past 10 years I've had the honor of assessing, training, and speaking into the lives of hundreds of church planters here in the mid-Atlantic, and around the world.  Though my current role doesn't include the oversight of church planting, I still love these God-called men and women who risk much to establish more and more outposts of God's Kingdom.  

There is no mission without the church, and the church moves forward best by multiplication, which means that all who love Jesus should also love church planting.  Some of the most joyous experiences of my  ministry have been watching the birth of new churches.

Conversely, the most painful conversations I've had over the past decade involved conversations with planters who failed.  I"m sometimes asked what I believe are the most common pitfalls of those who don't make it.  My top three are below:

1. They have a vision for the church, but not for the community. In his book Winning, former GE CEO Jack Welch laments the overuse of vision and mission statements in the business world. I share these lamentations because I have seen winsome statements crafted by church planters in their training that have little to nothing to do with the area they are seeking to reach. Simply put, many church planters I talk to know how many they want to show up, they know what kind of building they want, and of course, they know what their salary should be. The problem is that these ideas are seldom expanded to include how the church system they design will impact the community around them.  Rather than start with an understanding of the community, they start with inserting a foreign church system into the community.

Those tempted to define their church's vision in this way should read Bob Lewis' book The Church of Irresistible Influence. To make short a long story that is worth the read, Lewis' Fellowship Bible Church of Little Rock, AR came to the conclusion that although their attendance exceeded 3000 people every Sunday, if their church disappeared the city of Little Rock would not notice, which made their church a failure by default. The subsequent story of their efforts to become a city-impacting church is inspiring, and worthy of emulation.

Any church planting vision that is worth the paper on which its written will have an "end game" that reaches beyond the walls of a building and sees the transformation of an entire community by the Gospel.

2. They depend too much on the denominational system, The truth about denominations--and those of us who work for them--is while we can be a great help to you, we can also handicap you, especially if you depend on us too much.

This is particularly true of the guys who go "full time." The temptation is to act as an employee of the system rather than the church planting missionary God has called you to be. My most frequent recommendation to church planters is that they begin in a bi-vocational role. Intentional outside employment is good and healthy. It gets you into the community, and forces you into relationships with people who don't know Jesus. In addition, it tests your stamina and resilience. While planting a church, I worked two additional jobs while simultaneously finishing a doctorate. Needless to say, I have little tolerance for guys who think they can't do this unless they are doing it full-time.

But regardless of whether you are full-time or part-time, from day one you should refuse to see yourself as a denominational employee. To be sure, if part of a denomination, you are accountable to those who support you. At the same time, God has called you to plant a church, which means that if you are spending more time around the office than you are in the field, you aren't fulfilling your calling.

3. They have unrealistic expectations. My book Planting Churches in the Real World deals directly with this issue.   Too many guys come to the field having read Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley and others, and they think they will be next in line. Subsequently, when they haven't broken the 50 barrier after their first year in the field, they feel like a failure. In addition, there are a few denominational folk out there who also make them feel like a failure, when the truth is that their plant is simply the "norm."  

A few years ago, Leadership Network found that new churches whose attendance exceeds 100 after four years are a small minority. The problem is that when church planters read the stories of Northpoint and Saddleback, they forget that people love these stories because of how extraordinary they are. If you are a church planter, know that while I pray you are indeed one of those exceptions, more than likely your experience will be quite "ordinary." Just remember that throughout the Scriptures, God used ordinary people, places, and events to accomplish great things, and don't give up!

Monday, March 23, 2015

What is a "Great Team Member?" 5 Questions to Ask

Leadership is, by default, a "team sport."  If you have no one to lead, how can you be a leader?  But having a group to lead doesn't necessarily mean you will lead them well, nor does it mean they will necessarily be a "great team."

Over the years, I've often bragged publicly about the folks who have worked for me, and I have been truly blessed through most of my ministry to have some great team members.  But I've also had some bad experiences in this department, and my observations of these contrasting experiences have revealed a few characteristics that make someone a truly great team member.  So if you have leadership responsibilities over a group of people, how can you tell if someone will make a "great team member?"  I've found the following five questions helpful:

1. Do They Want You to Personally Succeed?  Great team members aren't just after their own success. They want the entire team to succeed, and they have a clear understanding that if the guy/gal at the top fails, such failure will also reflect on them.  This  means they will sometimes challenge the leader for what they perceive is the leader's own good.  It doesn't mean they will always get it right, but if their motivation is to see you as their leader succeed, they are someone you want to keep.

2. Do They Care About Your Well-Being?  Great team members aren't all about the work, principally because they understand that anything affecting one's personal life in a negative way will eventually spill over into the professional arena.  Great team members are personally concerned for your family, for your health, and for your mental well-being.

3. Are They Loyal without Being Blind?  One doesn't need to be a "lap dog" to be loyal.  In fact, "blind loyalty" is actually disloyalty, because it ignores things that can bring a leader down.  As a leader, I've always had a policy with those who work for me that is expressed in this way: "My door is open to you, so long as you close it before you criticize me."  If I'm about to do something incredibly stupid, I want people on my team who will tell me that.  Part of "managing up" is striking the careful balance between respect for authority in public, and appropriately challenging that authority in private.

4. When they Offer Criticism, does it contribute to solutions?  Anybody can criticize.  Anybody can find something wrong with the plan.  And anybody can tear down people they work for.  We are all imperfect, and finding those imperfections merely to point them out is the work of kindergarten students.  Great team members are able to offer appropriate criticism, at the right time, aimed at the right place, in order to point toward a right solution.

5. Do they love the mission?  My friend and colleague Mike Crawford says that Marines don't need to sit around for hours discussing their mission.  They simply dig a foxhole and fight together.  Too often in the church, we think that if we can just somehow "create" community, we will have mission. But it actually works in the opposite way.  Community doesn't create mission.  Mission creates community. In the end, it doesn't matter how educated or skilled the individual members of your team are.  If you aren't clear on the mission, and engaged in it together, your team will always be dysfunctional.  This means you have to ask, of each individual member of your team: "Do they understand that the overall mission is more important than any 'part' of the mission, and are they committed to that mission with us?"


Monday, March 16, 2015

Creflo, Character, and the Ripple Effect of a Heterodox Life

Western Christianity never looks more lavish, or less like Jesus, than when its leaders are embroiled in scandal.  This past weeks events proved no different, as Creflo Dollar, an Atlanta area pastor and "Word of Faith" teacher made waves across the internet by asking his congregation to provide funds for a new private jet--at the bargain price of $65 million.

Anyone even casually acquainted with Dollar's background and ministry will not be surprised at this latest development.  Formerly a student of Kenneth Copeland, Dollar promulgates a message of health, wealth and prosperity that sounds less like Jesus' call to take up one's cross, and more like Milton Friedman on steroids.

So first things first:  when scandals like this are caused by prosperity preachers, followers of Jesus need to send an abundantly clear message that this is NOT Christianity.  Often, our Pentecostal brothers and sisters are unjustly blamed because of the more casual relationship that exists between these movements and prosperity teaching.  But the historical roots of the so-called "Word of Faith" movement aren't anchored to Azuza Street, but to Spencer Massachussets, where E.W. Kenyon developed his philosophy of New Thought Metaphysics.  His teachings concerning the nature of reality--and the ability of the human mind to bend that reality by "tapping into the divine" and "positive confession," are a bizarre mixture of eastern panentheism and practices that originated in a form of Vajrayana Buddhism.  The subsequent "positive confession" teachings of the late Kenneth Hagin and his students built on these teachings.

So when it comes to the origins and essence of "health, wealth, and prosperity," Word of Faith theology bears absolutely no historical, Biblical, theological, or philosophical resemblance to anything like orthodox Christian faith.  We may call this twisted faith system many things.  "Christian" is not one of them.  So its important that when non-Christian leaders cause scandal that affects the name of Jesus, genuine followers of Jesus call these false teachers what they are.  But at the same time, we must also admit that many who might otherwise be considered "orthodox" can be guilty of the same things.

To be sure, prosperity teaching certainly makes it easier for someone to do what Creflo Dollar has done.  But Dollar's recent actions aren't primarily about heretical theology.  Nor are they about affluence.  Honestly, I'm not sure who it was who first suggested that ministers should be poor, but whoever did it was forwarding a poverty theology that is every bit as heretical as its prosperity counterpart.  If a pastor is doing well financially, in most cases we should be happy for his success.

But when your net worth is north of $27 million, and you are seeking to bilk one of Atlanta's poorest neighborhoods--one in which the average annual income is less than $29,000--out of another $65 million just so you don't have to fly coach, that's a character issue! 

And when it comes to a lack of character, the ripple effect through the western church is vast!

Too often, churches and ministries have skimmed right past the instruction of the pastoral letters, and ignored their call for character, because they were attracted to winsomeness, or leadership skills, or visionary ability.  The results in too many ministries have been tragic.  And while they will never make the headlines like someone coveting a $65 million plane, the results of low character even in "doctrinally sound" environments are very similar to those produced by religious charlatans.  When we ignore character, in the end we really don't look that much different from the heretics.

After many years of working within denominational systems, and with many, many churches, I've observed three primary ways that low character presents itself, damages the body of Christ, and casts aspersion on the mission:

Pride; When a leader of low character becomes prideful, he or she develops a "God's man" syndrome that causes them to think themselves "above" everyone else.  This sometimes leads to an entitlement mentality.  Like Moses in Numbers 20, they feel as though their faithfulness over a certain period of times means they should be allowed to blow their stack, or otherwise use their ministry for personal gain.  I've seen pastors pad their resumes, embellish their achievements, and use ministry resources for personal pleasure--all because of pride.

Personal:  Personal animus sometimes causes a leader to harm entire ministries simply because he or she won't practice Matthew 18.  I've counseled with churches where staff conflict was handled in an unhealthy way, and the conflict rippled out to eventually divide the church. I've seen church members scarred, staff terminated, and ministries ruined because someone who presumed leadership was willing to damage mission simply to be vindictive.  Leaders unwilling to take the relational high road for the sake of mission are leaders of low character.

Power:  Low character leaders will sometimes abuse their authority for personal gain. More obvious examples of this involve sexual misconduct and/or financial impropriety.  I've unfortunately had to deal with a few pastors over the years who couldn't keep their pants on, or keep their hands out of the offering plate.  At the end of the day, it was their sense of entitlement that fueled these behaviors, and the power they were granted for the good of those under their care was instead used to serve themselves.

In each of these cases, the ripple effect of low character carried a very high cost.

So how do we respond to this dilemma?  The answer to this question has been starring us in the face for the past 2000 years.  In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, we read clearly that the first qualifiers for spiritual leadership have little to do with ability, vision or charisma, and everything to do with character.  Unfortunately, western Christendom has too often looked past these essentials, and we have paid a dear price for it.

Pastor search committees, executive search teams, senior pastors looking to hire staff shouldn't ignore the importance of skill and competence, nor should they view visionary leadership as an undesirable trait.  But deep questions to determine if a leader is truly above reproach, genuinely devoted to his family, morally consistent, financially responsible, and relationally respected are the most important questions.  Eventually, the things a leader does when no one else is looking will break through all the "visionary" facade.  When that happens, it suddenly becomes clear whether the things which are most important are inherent in a leader's life.

Creflo Dollar's theology and lifestyle are easy to identify as a false Gospel to anyone with an ounce of discernment.  But for those who call ourselves followers of Jesus, its the less distinct expressions of bad character wrapped in "solid theology" or "visionary leadership" that is the real danger.  The Holy Spirit through Paul has warned us for 2000 years; when it comes to spiritual leadership, character is king.


Monday, March 09, 2015

My Favorite Half of Romans 14

One of the most annoying experiences of ministry often comes, interestingly enough, after I've preached a message. It's that moment when I'm standing in the back of the church shaking hands, and someone comes up and says "great message Dr. Rainey. I wish _________ could have been here to hear it. They need it!"

Honestly, it's hard in moments like that to keep my temper at bay. I want to ask, in righteous indignation, "don't you need it too? What's wrong with you that you see faults in others before you see them in yourself? Haven't you read Matthew 7:1-5?? Are you an idiot?? . . . .

. . .but just before exploding, the Spirit reminds me that often, I too, am an idiot.

For example, many folks on my wife's side of the family come out of a Holiness background. Because of this, they hold strong convictions that I don't hold. I remember early in our dating life when Amy would say "don't talk about movies we have seen around the relatives. They believe going to the theater is sinful."

Of course, my instant reaction was to appeal to Romans 14. After all, Paul has given us clear instruction regarding how to relate to each other on "debatable" matters. There is nothing . . .absolutely NOTHING in Scripture that forbids me from seeing a good movie, especially one in which there is lots of gunplay, fast cars, and buildings blowing up in a hopelessly gratuitous fashion. There is liberty in Christ, and where "movies for guys who like movies" are concerned, I aim to exercise my liberty!!

Furthermore, those who would object to my affinity for fast cars and bullets on the silver screen should consider carefully the following verses from Romans 14:" . . .and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him." v.3b"Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another?" v.4"Why do you pass judgement on your brother?" v.10"Therefore, let us not pass judgement on one another any longer." v.13a

Wow, if only my "weaker brother" were here to read these verses. He sure needs it!

Problem is, in quoting my preferred half of this text, I've totally ignored (i.e. violated) the parts that are addressed to me in an effort to point out those parts that are addressed to my weaker brother. Talk about irony!

As a "stronger brother" in this regard, I should instead be looking at the following passages:"Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains. . ." v.3a". . .but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." v.13b"For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died." v.15"It is not good to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble." v.21

Do such texts mean that I should totally abstain from seeing the next "Avengers" movie when it releases? Not necessarily. At the same time, it probably means I should keep quiet about it around certain folks out of deference for their convictions. OF course, they have their responsibilities as well. But I'm not responsible to fulfill my weaker brother's responsibilities. I'm responsible to fulfill mine.

The same is true for any other debatable issue. My denomination, for example, has, on the whole, very strong convictions about alcohol consumption . . .convictions that I share to a large extent. So when it comes to beer, I switch teams. I'm no longer a "strong" brother. Now, I'm a "weaker" one. And within our churches, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon: almost anytime a debatable issue divides the strong and weak, the weak come out on top in the form of additional rules. The strong are often warned against causing others to stumble. The weak are rarely called out for judging their stronger brothers.

Perhaps this explains, at least in part, why there are so many evangelical churches that are culturally unengaged—bordering on the isolationist. To be sure, some of my more aggressively evangelistic brothers sometimes do things, and go to lengths, that give me pause. But when comparing those I believe sometimes go too far with the multitude majority who don’t go far enough, I think we need more of the former!

The thing that interests me about any debatable issue is that most folks are just like me . . .they have a propensity to appeal to those verses in Romans 14 that are addressed to their opponents. The problem with this approach is that it not only ignores those texts most applicable to you, but it also violates the spirit of the very texts to which we appeal; a spirit that is best summarized by Paul's contention that "the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."

"Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." (vv.17-18)

Appealing to my "preferred half" of Romans 14 is never conducive to the kind of peace and Kingdom thinking that Paul describes. To pursue peace, I have to appropriate the other half . . .the half that describes my responsibilities when it comes to debatable issues.

With this in mind, maybe I don't need to judge my brother who participates in activities I find I can't participate in without sinning. Conversely, perhaps I need to resist colorful descriptions of "Fury" in front of certain family members.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all practiced such things, righteousness and peace and joy would be seen more clearly in us by those who need to know Jesus. Just maybe, this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans 14.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Five Things a Pastor Search Team Should Never Do.

For more information on these principles,
check out my book "Side-Stepping Landmines."

The following is an introduction to the principles in my book Side-Stepping Landlines, which can be ordered here. 

Over the past ten years, largely due to serving as interim pastor in 7 different churches, I've consulted with numerous teams who were charged by their churches to find a staff member.  In most cases, the team was seeking a Senior or Lead Pastor, and in most of those cases, the team felt inadequate for the task.

In some parts of the country, that feeling of inadequacy would be no surprise, but in the Mid-Atlantic, where 30% of the population has a Master's Degree or higher, and where 87% of the work-force is white-collar and high-income, its truly shocking.  Many of the people I've talked with on pastor-search teams in this area have themselves been part of conducting executive searchers for Fortune 500 companies, yet they still felt unprepared when it came to serving their church by recommending the next pastor.  I've discovered that, regardless of the demographic makeup of the church, those chosen to search for a pastor always feel a bit uncomfortable.  And I've seen too many search teams make some pretty big mistakes--over and over again.

Over the years, I've seen 5 common mistakes that Teams seeking a Pastor usually make.  These are things a Search Team should never do, but almost always do.

1. There is a fine line between communication and confidentiality, and Search Teams cross that line repeatedly.  Most Search Teams understand that confidentiality is important, and they also get that the congregation needs to be kept "in the loop" on the search process.  Unfortunately, clear guidelines are often missing on how to strike this balance, and the result is that many Search Teams say things they shouldn't, and keep to themselves things that need to be said.

2. They use people with their process rather than using the process to find the right people.  In other words, too many Search Teams become slaves to a process, rather than using that process as the tool.   The process becomes the end rather than the means, and this causes too many Team members to burn out, and too many good candidates to get burned.  Effective search teams master the process.  They are not mastered by it. 

3. They ask hypothetical questions when they interview.  Anyone with average intelligence can answer a hypothetical question in a way that makes you think he is an expert on every subject.  On this issue, many Search Team "handbooks" are no help either, as many of them are filled with questions that are philosophical and hypothetical, but never allow the Team to see for themselves what kind of man they have sitting in front of them.  Asking the right questions, and translating a candidate's answers appropriately will give the team a realistic picture of the person in front of them.  

4. They assume the important stuff, and as a result, fail to ask the hard questions.  Nearly 40% of pastors have had an extra-marital affair since the beginning of their ministry.  37% regularly struggle with pornography.  More than 50% admitted that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way to make a living (Translation:  They are in it for the money!)  The most important questions are aimed right at issues like these, and they come right from the texts of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Unfortunately, many times these questions are never asked because a committee assumes that the title "Reverend" means they have a morally straight guy in front of them. An effective search team asks hard, and sometimes very personal, questions of a candidate. 

5. They don't consider contextual fit, and often hire the "best" candidate instead of the "right" candidate.  The guy with the highest earned degree, the longest run of experience, or the best "track record" in ministry might be the "best" candidate in a stack of resumes, but that doesn't mean he is right for your church.  Effective search teams don't hire the "best" man.  They hire the "right" one.

Search teams interested in learning more about these principles can find them in my book "Side-Stepping Landmines."