Enjoy Where You Are

I always look forward to Rob Bell’s session when he is at Catalyst.   Rob is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI. but is probably better known for the “Nooma” series of videos he has produced.  He is also a popular author and Conference speaker.  

He began his session by telling about a conversation he had recently had with a young  pastor who said he wanted to quit. Rob asked him to draw a pie chart of what he does every week.  He had been a pastor for a year and wanted to quit every day.  Then Rob said, “So I asked if he practiced Sabbath.” and there was total silence.  At this point I knew that my lifestyle was going to be challenged!

The Sabbath rest is one of those concepts and truths that I intellectually agree with, but which is so counter-cultural that I do not practice it with any consistency. I am just too achievement oriented to take the time for silence.  But let’s get back to Rob Bell. 

He next tackled the prime directive of church growth: Bigger is better.  He reminded us of  what happened to Jesus in John 6“…from this time on many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him…”

Jesus laid down his expectation and they didn’t think they could fulfill them so the crowd thinned.  What would Jesus say to modern church growth experts that say if you do A then B then C, then there will be growth and numbers? Sometimes the crowd thins, and people leave, even ones who are close to you.

Rob hammered his point home by tell the story recorded in Luke 21.  Jesus saw the rich giving large gifts and a poor widow giving a small gift yet even though the rich had given more money Jesus said that the poor widow had given more than all of them.  The poor widow gave “more” out of her poverty than the “more” that the rich gave out of their prosperity.  More is not always more.  What we naturally think is an important measurement may not be how God measures things.

Rob continued his assault on the status quo by appealing to John 5:19, where Jesus says, “the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing.”  His work comes from a grounded, centered, calm place where He only has a few things to do, and He sets out to do it.  He is not distracted.  He is not stressed.  There is a difference between something that is hard and difficult and something that is a burden.  Rob’s point: God will not give you a burden you can’t carry.

Rob pointed out that of the ten commandments in Exodus 20, the first 9 are external and measurable,  but the last commandment about coveting is not externally observable.  Rob believes that the “tenth” is sort of  a reward for following the first 9 rules: if we do then we won’t have a problem with the 10th rule because we won’t want anyone else’s life.  Then he went for the jugular by applying this to ministry! 

Rob asked “Have you had a deep dissatisfaction with what you’ve done?  Are you carrying this burden for this thing you’re building for God?  Have you stressed about the size of your church or organization?  Do you carry the burden of feeling like you have not accomplished enough for God?”   Then came the application: God wants to set you free from that.  Jesus wants you to simply enjoy the place that you are at and the work that is in front of you.  At this point I was squirming in my seat but there were more questions to come.

“Is there any way in your ministry, that you have neglected to take care of yourself?”  Rob reminded us that we are called by Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself.”   Rob’s point: We need to take care of ourselves so that we can be energized.  At this point Rob asked the pointed question he had asked the pastor in his opening story “Have you been observing a sabbath?  Which day of the week are you busy doing nothing?  Which day of the week have you set aside to feed your own soul so on the other six you have enough food to share with others?  Which day of the week can you not be reached by phone or email?”  I was sweating but Rob was finished!

“Does your spouse get your very best, or does your spouse get what is left over from the church? Do your kids get your very best, or do they get the scraps?” Ouch!  (I bet there wasn’t a pastor or any chuch leader at Catalyst that didn’t feel like they had been punched in the gut) We all know it but Rob hammered it home – our children pick up on what really matters to us without us saying a word. If it is not going well at home, it will not go well at church.

Rob ended by inviting us into the peaceful, calm place in the center of Jesus’ love.  Jesus invites us to simply enjoy the place that we are at and the work that is in front of us.  His love isn’t based on accomplishment.

May God make me believe that to the core of my soul!

Lessons Learned From 50 Years in Leadership

Chuck Swindoll, Chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, received  a Lifetime Achievement Award at Catalyst 09.  He then spoke on “10 Things I Have Learned During Nearly 50 Years in Leadership”.  Because I am in the process of retiring from UGACCF after 28 years here and after 41 years of ministry what he had to say really resonated with me. His “top 10” list of leadership lessons were:

  1. It’s lonely to lead. Leadership involves tough decisions. The tougher the decision, the lonelier it is.
  2. It’s dangerous to succeed. He expressed especial concern for those who are under 30 and are very gifted and successful.  Sometimes God uses someone right out of youth, but it is rare because He usually uses leaders who have gone through “crushing and failure” first.  This was a reference back to what he was told by an experienced minister when he was fresh out of the military and a freshman at Seminary: “When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible person and crushes him.”
  3. It’s hardest at home. Swindoll was quite humorous in relaying the truth that no matter how “famous” you are as a leader, speaker, or teacher at home you’re not anything special.  No that I am famous but as one who has traveled and spoken a lot over the years I can testify that this is so true.  Instead of applause you get “Dad, you’re not wearing that in public are you?”  No one ever told me this in Seminary.
  4. It’s essential to be real. If there’s one realm where phoniness is common, it’s among leaders.  Stay real.
  5. It’s painful to obey. There are rewards but the Lord will direct you to do some things that won’t be your choice.  Invariably you will give up what you want to do for the cross.
  6. Brokenness and failure are necessary.
  7. Attititude is more important than actions.  Swindoll joked “Your family may not have told you, but some of you are getting hard to be around.”  His point: A bad attitude overshadows good actions.
  8. Integrity eclipses image.  Our world highlights image but what is really important is what you do out of the spotlight and behind the scenes.
  9. God’s way is better than my way.
  10. Christlikeness begins and ends with humility.

2 Corinthians 4:5-7  tells us that we must be willing to leave the familiar means without disturbing the Biblical message. We get that backwards. This was written in the first century, and now we are in the 21st century. Methods change but the message stays the same. Don’t miss the message. As you alter the methods, don’t mess with the message.

Swindoll also gave 3 important observations abotu minstry:

  1. With every ministry a special mercy is needed.
  2. In every ministry the same things must be renounced and rejected: hiding shameful things, doing deceitful things, and corrupting truthful things.
  3. Through every ministry a unique style should be pursued.
    We don’t preach or promote ourselves (it isn’t about us). We declare Christ Jesus as Lord (it’s all about Him). We see ourselves as bond-servants for Jesus Christ.

Swindoll concluded with “5 Statements Worth Remembering During Your Next 50 Years of Leadership”:

  1. Whatever you do, do more with others and less alone.
    It will help you become accountable.
  2. Whenever you do it, emphasize quality not quantity.
  3. Wherever you go, do it the same as if you were among those who know you the best.
    It will keep you from exaggerating. it will help keep your stories true. A good friend will tell you things that others will not. They will hold you close to truth.
  4. Whoever may respond to your ministry, keep a level head.
  5. However long you lead, keep on dripping with gratitude and grace.
    Stay thankful. Stay gracious

I would love to hear which of these lessons strikes you most.  So please add your comment.

Make Your Mark

Last week I was privileged to attend the 10th annual Catalyst Conference.  As usual it was an incredible experience.  This week I want to share some of the great lessons I learned at Catalyst.  Catalyst is always opened by Andy Stanley and Andy is always good but this year his message was the best I’ve ever heard from him.  (Of course, that may just be because I needed to hear what he had to say).  Andy’s message was “”Make Your Mark”, which was also the theme of Catalyst 09. 

In the Ridley Scott movie, Kingdom of Heaven, the Orlando Bloom character (the blacksmith) has a phrase inscribed in his shop in Latin: “What man is a man who does not leave the world better?”  Andy used that phrase to set up this tension: If you have the leadership gift, you want to make your mark, to leave the world better. But the truth is most of the time the defining moment, the mark you will leave, will happen when you don’t know it’s happening. So the problem for leaders who want to leave the world better is “What should I do since I don’t know the thing to do that will make the biggest difference?”   Andy drew insights from the Book of Joshua to help us break that tension.

When Joshua entered the Promised Land, he was on the verge of making his mark.  But instead God marked Joshua.  He was a couple of days out from attacking the city of Jericho when Joshua 5:13 records that Joshua saw a man in front of him with a drawn sword.  Joshua asked him, “Are you for us or against us?”  The man (angel) answered, “Neither.”  This angel, speaking for God continued: “I have not come to be a part of your story; I’ve come to see if you’re willing to play a part in my story.”

Joshua obviously was because much later, when he was 110 years old, he addresseed the nation and said in Joshua 23:8, “Cling to the Lord your God as you have done this day. … Take diligent heed to yourselves to love the Lord Your God…. Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Like Joshua I would like to think that at the end of my life I will be able to look back and see that I have made my mark. I would liek to be known as one who loved the Lord God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and to be able to say to the next generation, “There is no greater thrill and joy in the world than to play your part in God’s story.”

Andy told several touching stories about the marks his dad (Charles Stanley) had left on his life.  He told us his dad’s motto:  “God takes full responsibility for the life wholly devoted to Him.”  Andy related how even when his dad was literally punched in the face during a church conflict, even when he was verbally attacked while running for President of the SBC, he did not falter because his job was to devote his life wholly to God and then what happened in his life was God’s resposibility.

“God takes full responsibility for the life wholly devoted to Him.” 

Instead of being concerned with who is for us or who is against us we should be consumed with Who we are for!    This brings freedom and is modeled for us by Jesus: “Not my will but yours be done.”

I was challenged when Andy said “Making your mark isn’t worth your life.  Living to make your mark is too small a thing to give your life to. But to be positioned to be open to whatever mark God wants to make through you, that IS something worth giving your life to.”

I think this challenged me because in all honesty I’m not always sure that my energy is going into making my mark or devoting myself to God so that he can make His mark through me. 

How about you? Are you energized more by making your mark, or by devoting yourself to God, thus allowing Him to make His mark through you?