Prayer Retreat

It is good to take some time away, very good, even if it is only for a 24-hour period. And, thus, I am much anticipating this weekend in which our leadership team will draw away to the Ardennes of Belgium for a short, 24-hour period to be together, seek God, hear from God and respond to His leading of our lives and the life of the church we lead.

I pray it is like a refreshing rain during a hot mid-summer’s day.

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Reaching & Training the Nations

As I mentioned, this week I had the opportunity to travel over to England to be with many of the leaders that we work with in the UK. I continue to be amazed at the doors open to a relatively smaller grouping of churches. But God has been gracious to entrust such opportunities to us around the world.

From India to southern Africa to South America to the Asiatics to the western world, it is no doubt stirring to see what is taking place as we partner with churches and ministries in the varying parts of the world.

This week we also launched a new website that more fully explains what we are about. Currently, Lifelink International has been the banner under which our churches have worked. And such will continue to exist. But the larger banner we are now identified by is Global Horizons. This new website explains even more fully what we are about with regards to church, ministry, training, and serving in humanitarian aid.

I am back to the UK again next week for another opportunity to spend time with some of our leaders. I look forward to more time for strengthening and encouragement.

Travel to England

Our church, Cornerstone, works closely with the family of churches known as Lifelink International. Therefore, a few times a year, we have the opportunity to travel to be with the leaders of our churches based in the UK. And they also come to visit us every few months. This is flows out of the understanding that church at its core is relational. This is not the only way to express relationship amongst churches working together, but it is a very helpful way. Such opportunities provide encouragement and strength to the leaders and churches working together.

For the next 2 weeks, I am excited to head over to England for just this – to be with church leaders, interact with staff and students at our ministry college (Trinity School of Theology), and see what God is doing around the globe amongst those with whom we have the opportunity to work.

So, I head off to the Eurostar very soon. I hope to post an article this week, one building off some thoughts that have come from my recent review of Eugene Peterson’s book, Eat This Book. And of course, though we shall see how it all unfolds, I do hope to post some thoughts next week on Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. I’m just over halfway through with it now.

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

The title of this article is a play of the title of a book by John Piper: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. I have not read the book, though it sits in our building. But I can guess what it’s about. The summary on Amazon.com is as follows:

Pastor John Piper says, “We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. . . professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness, there is no professional tenderheartedness. There is no professional panting after God.”

In Brothers, We are Not Professionals Piper pleas with his colleagues to abandon the secularization of the pastorate and return to the primitive call of the Bible for radical ministry.

Maybe I’ll pick up the book one day.

But I write this article because of some recent sporting news in the US. If you are a sports fan and particularly a college basketball sports fan, which is my favourite sport by the way, you will have noticed a little saga over the past week between Michigan State and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tom Izzo, head coach of the Michigan State basketball team, who had been coaching the same well-known college for the past 15 years, was being wooed by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to be their next coach. Now, at the same time, if you know sports, there has been an ongoing saga with the Cavaliers best player – LeBron James. Will he stay or will he go to another team? Nobody is sure. And most thought Izzo would definitely not want to come to Cleveland if he knew LeBron was heading off to another team.

In the end, just yesterday, Izzo decided to stay with Michigan State, and I am kind of glad for his decision. Such doesn’t usually happen anymore – sticking to the same team/job.

Now, within coaching, or any professional job, people are enticed all the time with better jobs and better money and better perks. And there is nothing wrong with such (well, sometimes it can go bad, even somewhat extortionary). Of course, a coach that starts at a smaller college will at least consider heading to a larger college with greater pay if it is offered. And then, if another job again comes along, the coach would have the right to consider stepping into that job, even making the jump to the NBA where making millions is a certainty.

But, while this is fine and dandy with coaching, or banking, or accounting, or things of that sort, I get very uncomfortable when this is the mindset of church leaders. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to lay a blanket statement out here that, if a pastor is offered a [better] job by another [larger] church and he accepts, it is completely wrong in every situation. Each situation has to be considered individually. But to have this as a mindset, that is where the problem begins.

There are so many people out there who have a dream of finishing university at 22, finishing seminary at 25, and then expect (or hope) to have a ‘job offer’ given to them from a church. I have no problem with 25 year old people being in church leadership. I have friends who started in their early 20’s. I started at 27. That’s not the point.

The point is that, at least in America, and now in other places with the effect America has on other places, we think it is our God-given right as an aspiring church leader to be hired, paid, given insurance and a nice 401K (retirement) plan, and get all the little extras (like a car and a Blackberry). I’m not sure where we got this idea.

But this is where capitalism has burst into the church like Niagra Falls. It’s absolutely everywhere!

First off, one problem is that we use the terminology of hire and fire with our pastors. Huh? Hire and fire! Now I do understand in today’s world, for those able to receive a salary and insurance and taxes, we utilise this terminology. It’s understandable. Still, I steer clear of it because of what it portrays, or what it does not portray.

You see, pastor (or I like the word shepherd) is first and foremost a gift. Check out Ephesians 4:7-16. It doesn’t say Jesus hired pastors. It says He gave them as a gift to the body of Christ. Or, to put it in even better terms, Jesus gave pastors to be a ministry-serving gift. And this is where we have gone off track as well. We don’t even know what ministry is. The word simply means to serve. There is nothing inherent in this word that means something like ‘the person who stands up front, preaches, and gets paid for it.’ Absolutely nothing in the background of this word.

The word pastor, or shepherd, refers to one who cares for the sheep. That’s our call. It might involve preaching, though even with study and preparation, that takes up about 3-4% of my time per week (of course, I preach once on Sundays and some can boast of preaching at 5 services per week). But pastoring involves caring for the sheep and it happens across many varying ways, not just preaching.

I’ll never forget the time I was at a leadership conference. First off, they started in Judges. Not that we can’t learn anything from Judges, but I was thinking that’s not where you generally start. I would start with Jesus, since He is the greatest pastor (or shepherd) ever. But at this conference, one speaker encouraged us to not spend so much time with the people. Rather we needed to give plenty of time to focus on our message to be preached. Now, sure we need to guard our time and not be overly abused from jumping from one person to another. But shepherds like to be with sheep. Jesus, as the Great Shepherd, loved being with people. I’m thinking that if we identify ourselves as pastors, we are going to want to be with the people. Otherwise we need to ‘resign’ (to use another word that goes in the grouping of hire and fire).

You see, most pastors are not pastors. They are CEO’s of large businesses who provide a product for a group of consumers. Yep, that’s what you see a lot these days. You’ve got guys who are good at vision, good at time management, good at managing people involved in tasks, but they are not really shepherding the sheep. Again, as I keep making side notes, I don’t have a problem with vision, managing time and people. I see that in my role at times. But it does not start there and the end goal is certainly not that. Those whom Jesus gifts as shepherds are not gifted to manage. They are gifted to care. And this will mean washing people’s feet. You know, like the Great Shepherd did.

Therefore, because we don’t have a clear grasp on what ministry truly is, what pastoring-shepherding truly is, we talk about hiring and firing (and resigning), we talk about capital campaigns, and our ears even perk up when another church down the road offers us a larger audience with better pay and perks. Again, to consider pastoring another church is not a problem. It’s the mindset that causes the heart of the Great Shepherd to break.

We can easily fall into the trap of approaching church leadership from a professional, business, capitalistic framework. This is dangerous, my friends. Actually, it’s very dangerous not only for the people we ‘lead’, but for our own selves. We will burn out, we will lose passion if it turns into this. Unless somehow we truly desire to feed our greed and keep jumping from Division 2 to Division 1 to a larger Division 1 setting to the great Professional league. With a shift like that every 5-8 years, you might make it to retirement. But you will be empty in your 60’s and 70’s.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are not professionals. The church is not a business. God’s favourite system is not capitalism. If we are pastors, then we have received a ministry gift to serve in caring for the sheep. And rather than a business, the church is a family. And rather than capitalism, God’s favourite approach is His seeing the right-living of His kingdom rule on earth as it is in heaven, which oddly enough comes through serving. At least that’s how the Great Shepherd did it. And that’s what He is asking of those He gifts as shepherds.

What happened with Tom Izzo is fine in the world of college basketball. And I’m glad he chose the path of staying where he was, though he didn’t have too shabby of a place to stay at. But that bigger job and higher pay enticement does not belong amongst the church, the ekklesia, the body and bride of Christ. He gave His life for something else. Let’s walk in the footsteps of the Great Shepherd.

Appointing New Leadership

This past Sunday within Cornerstone International, we officially appointed two new leaders within our local church. An absolutely exciting time and opportunity in moving forward in all that God has for us. For me, it is quite clear that the leaders in the local church are recognised by mainly two names:

1) Elders (also known as overseers). They are called to be the shepherds, or pastors, and teachers of the local flock. Jesus is the great shepherd and overseer of the whole flock (1 Peter 2:25), and so the elders-overseers of the local flock are called to shepherd the local flock. Some Scriptures to consider are Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5-9.

2) Deacons. There is no ‘formal definition’ from Scripture, per se, but deacons are basically leading servants. As the body of Christ, we are all called to serve and wash feet. But, specifically, deacons are some of the leading servants within the local church who also provide support to the elders. Some Scriptures to consider are Acts 6:1-7; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

To be honest, I believe that many local churches lack proper leadership from a biblical standpoint. There is a major deficiency, which leads to the same in the lives of the sheep.

What I mean is that many leaders of churches are more like CEO’s and business managers. But biblical leaders are first and foremost shepherds. Now, of course, there are specific people gifted in shepherding ministry. Yes, shepherd (or pastor) is not a title. Nope! It is a gift for ministry, which means a gift for serving the sheep. But too many people are appointed into leadership, especially ‘pastoral leadership’, and don’t function as shepherds. That is far from the cry of the Good Shepherd.

So that might be the biggest defect in church leadership – leaders being appointed that don’t know much about shepherding the flock. And people toting around the title ‘pastor’, but think their main function is to preach powerful messages and think vision.

Listen, I’m not saying we all know this stuff and are perfect at it. I have realised just how much I don’t know as a younger leader of 30. So I’m not trying to say we can reach a point of being perfected in leading. But I’m talking about people who have been in church leadership for decades who don’t know anything about God’s shepherding heart. Rather they lead by dictatorship and manipulation. Or some that might be younger like myself and don’t realise they are being called to care for others first and foremost.

I’m also not against powerful preaching and vision. I look to God for such in my own life and ministry. I’m not even against considering business principles in helping us lead. But that’s not where we start. My preaching is less than 1% of my week. In the end, I don’t believe sheep will follow the vision of someone who is not a shepherd at heart. And business will only get someone so far, even if the mega-church down the street suggest otherwise.

I also am concerned when the elders of churches function in some kind of ‘board’ methodology. Remember, the elders are the shepherds of the church. Someone might specifically have a strong pastoral gift. But the elders are called to care for the sheep.

Yet, in many cases, you have elders who handle the finances, make decisions, sign official documents, but they never get involved in caring for the sheep. Such people are not elders. And such people either need to change or step down from such a role in the local church.

I am more of a teacher-pastor than a pastor-teacher. That’s ok. But if I am not looking to care for and shepherd, then I am falling short of God’s call on my life as an elder-overseer-shepherd-teacher. And you know what? I do fail. And I am so glad when the Good Shepherd reminds me of who is the best shepherd. It certainly is not me. And I revel in the reality that His power is going to be made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I was reminded of that this weekend as we prepared to appoint new leaders.

It was a powerful gathering this past Sunday, recognising two deacons to stand with me. I hope in the near future to appoint elders with me and other deacons. But we are also not going to be hasty in laying on hands, as Paul reminds us (1 Timothy 5:22). But God will open doors as I allow Him to shepherd through me.

On Sunday, Ian Rawley, who is part of the apostolic team working with the Lifelink churches in varying nations, came to remind us of the message we are all stewards of and I then charged these two new deacons from Acts 6:1-7. Serving will lead to an expansion of the kingdom – see the result in Acts 6:7.

I am encouraged of what God is doing in our midst. And now I ask that He continue to help us equip more leaders in our midst.

You can listen to Sunday’s message and charge at our podcast.

If you would like, you can also download this PDF document with more of my thoughts on church leadership: Church Leadership