Leadership Development from … the Book of Acts?

I like Phil Newton a lot. He is decidedly biblical as pastor of South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, taking that church in a solid direction based on Scripture and not tradition. His booklet, The Way of Faith, has been helpful for me for use as a primer for the Christian faith.

Recently, Newton penned an article about leadership development from the Book of Acts. How wonderful! Here’s an excerpt:

Potential leaders had to learn to follow before leading. The consistent pattern in Acts never separated evangelism and discipleship as though the former succeeded in producing new believers even if the latter were neglected. “The goal of mission,” Johannes Nissen rightly notes, “was the formation of a new community in Christ.” In obedience to Jesus Christ’s command (Matt 28:19–20), the disciples baptized and instructed new disciples. Donald Hagner points out that the “therefore” in Matthew 28:19, connects the assignment of disciple making to not only the disciples but to every church that comes after them. The Great Commission’s emphasis falls on the hard work of nurturing in discipleship rather than proclamation, evident by the clause —“teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:20). The atmosphere for training leaders to engage in mission and to strengthen local churches permeated the experience of discipleship. Those that launched out in church planting had a foundation for pastoral work established in the Christian community’s discipling ministry.

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The Five Points of Criticism–and How to Respond

The book of Nehemiah is a fascinating account of how God instills a vision for His glory and the good of His people, then how God works in Nehemiah and the surrounding circumstances to carry it out.

But challenges arose–significant challenges that could only be withstood by a man whose heart was gripped by God’s call on his life.  Nehemiah’s task was to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, for the destruction of the city and its walls left it exposed to enemy threat and pilfering.  When Nehemiah heard the account of Jerusalem from other Jews who had visited there, he wept and prayed (Nehemiah 1:1-11).  Through this, God galvanized him in approaching the king, asking for materials and safe conduct to rebuild the wall, and to rally the troops to go help.
But those challenges.  They came in the form of Five-Point Critics.  How so?  Nehemiah chapters 4 and 6 give a blueprint for us to spot out the Tobiahs and the Sanballats of our walk.  Here’s how to spot the ungodly, selfish critics that may come our way.
  1. The quality of the workers. When Sanballat saw that they were moving ahead and rebuilding the wall, he said, “What are these feeble Jews doing?”  Critics will go after your qualifications, your experience, your supposed strengths.  What fuels them?  Envy, jealousy, power?  For Sanballat, it was anger and rage.   Who knows what lies in the heart of man, except that the heart is evil and desperately wicked above all things–who can know it (Jeremiah 17:9)?  The end product is discouragement.
  2. The quantity of the work.  “Will they restore it themselves?  Will they sacrifice?  Will they finish up in a day?  Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that” (Neh. 4:2b)?  Critics see the bigness of the task.  Christ-followers see the bigness of Christ who calls to the task.
  3. The quality of the work.  Tobiah chimes in:  “Yes, what they are building, a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall” (Neh. 4:3).  Self-explanatory, yes, but we see that these critics discourage by questioning the structural soundness of this wall.
  4. The quantity of the critics.  Critics breed more critics–it’s a contagious disease, to be sure.  “But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward… they were very angry … and they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and cause confusion in it” (Neh.  4:7-8).  Critics come together like birds of a feather to work to undermine God’s work and will.  When God continues to move regardless of their complaints, they recruit more critics to fight and confuse.  They will do whatever it takes to get their way and slow down the process of the sanctifying momentum among God’s people.
  5. The cruelty of the critics.  Nehemiah shows an enemy warned by Shemaiah that they would come to kill Nehemiah, so he should lock himself up in the Temple for protection (Neh 6:10).  If they cannot frustrate the plans, they will destroy the one executing the plans–even if those plans come from God himself.
How did they respond?
  1. Nehemiah prayed (4:4-5). (“Hear, O our God, for we are despised… .”)
  2. Nehemiah kept moving (4:6). (“So we built the wall.”)
  3. Nehemiah left the fighting to God (4:20). (“Our God will fight for us.”)
  4. Nehemiah remember the great work and wouldn’t come down (6:3). (“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”)
  5. Nehemiah held fast, even when death would possibly approach from his enemies (6:11). (“Should such a man as I run away?”)
  6. Nehemiah did his homework on his enemies (6:12-13).  (“And I understood and saw that God had not sent him.”)
  7. Nehemiah prayed again (and again, and again, and again)(6:14).  (“Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things they did.”)
  8. Nehemiah persevered until completion (6:15). (“So the wall was finished… .”)
  9. Nehemiah used it as an opportunity to teach the people to give glory to God for His blessings (Neh 8-9).  (“They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave sense, so that the people understood the reading.”)
  10. They praised God by dedicating the wall to Him–putting into practice what they had been taught:  give glory to God for His amazing grace (Nehemiah 12). (“And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”)
So much more could be said.  Criticisms will come, dear Christian.  God warns us about this–and gives us the prescription to respond.  Praise Him for His kind providence in Christ Jesus.

[Addendum:  I just noticed that 9 Marks had a blog post from a few years back on the Five Points of Criticism on how to engage in godly criticism–worth reading, I might add.]

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For the Person of Christ or for Personal Preference?: Critiquing the Cause of Criticism

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Comes to terms quickly” (Matthew 5:23-25a, ESV).

How do we sort through criticism?  Is all criticism bad?  Is it all good?  Do we shrug it off?  Avoid it?  Quit when we receive it?  Let’s critique the cause of critics and criticism today!

Some people are difficult–but in a constructive way.  They challenge us in our walk with the person of Christ.  So one would say that are not difficult, but their exhortations may land in a difficult manner on us.  The end result, however, is being stronger in Christ.

Others are difficult in a destructive (or at least non-helpful) way.  They challenge us to walk in their personal preferences.  So one would say that they are difficult in that we risk working for their glory by their standard, and not for God’s.

I talk to quite a few pastor friends–and all of them (as with all people) deal with criticism.  All of us at some point have been among the critics and among the critiqued.  God calls us to be ones who are mature, able to discern truth from falsehood (Hebrews 5:11-14), but we must also discern the motives behind the criticisms.  Are we denying self and taking up the cross and following him?  Or are we exalting self, crucifying others, and following our own aims and desires and expecting others to follow suit?

Remember Thing from the Addams’ Family?

The beauty of the Body of Christ is amazing.  So many different personalities and backgrounds—and God brings them all together for unity and maturity.

Do you remember the Addam’s Family?  Remember Thing?  Thing is a dismembered hand that was part of the family, who would move around on his ‘fingers’ and find ways to make symbols to communicate.

While Thing brought high entertainment value to the black & white TV screen, there’s nothing funny about this in the context of the church.  Some want to function as a dismembered body, doing their own thing apart from the Head, who is Christ (Colossians 1:18-23). The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).  We are nothing without the head.

When you bring a criticism to the church about an issue, ask yourself the following questions to critique the criticism:

First, is the criticism you are bringing based on the person of Christ, or personal preference?  This takes some serious prayer, but also a willingness to let others in your life who will tell it like it is.  The Apostle Peter was told by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:11-14 that his actions were based on personal and cultural preference.  If you are teachable (that is, you understand you are a human being and do not have it all figured out), this will be a welcomed aspect of your sanctification.  If you are not teachable, always willing to teach, and seldom believe you have anything to learn from anyone else unless they have a radio ministry or have published a book, you’re headed for a fall.  Your ‘Christian walk’ is all about the steps you deem fit to take–and everyone must march in lockstep.

Secondly, if this is based upon a biblical issue, have you gone directly to the person to address this, or are you simply telling everyone else… maybe even guising it as a prayer concern? (I would even recommend this even if it was based on personal preference. Who knows? The issue that is bothering you so badly may disappear when you engage that person as a person the way Christ intended, rather than a distant enemy or annoyance.)  There have been times in my 20+ years of ministry when someone has come to me to complain about someone else.  My first step is to ask them, “Have you gone to them to express your concerns?”  Many times, the answer is, “No, I haven’t yet!”  After I encourage them to go, a time later they returned with another complaint.  “Did you go and talk to them?”  “Well, no, I didn’t feel led to at the time.”  So I would arrange a meeting right then, if possible–especially if it was after a worship time.  We don’t wait to feel led, for God has already led with his command (Matthew 5:21-26).

Thirdly, are you actively involved in serving the church as a servant of Christ, or merely looking as a spectator or as a judge in the Olympics–a removed observer? I ask this because it’s amazing when you are involved with a group of people, you begin to see how they serve, the attitude in which they serve, and how that service is not about merely serving themselves, but Christ and others. Didn’t Christ come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)?  When you’re not serving others, the only person that tends to matter is yourself. That’s not how God intended us to be.  The approximately 60 ‘one another’ passages in the NT give this away.

Fourthly, when speaking about the issue that is bothering you, do you use your words more to criticize and gossip about that issue or to pray about that issue? Prayer is the instrument God uses to change hearts. Maybe the heart of the one that troubles you needs to change–or maybe your heart needs to change!  

The path of least resistance is to complain and think only of what self wants. It’s easy to do that.

But if our critiques are based on biblical truths and biblical issues, then that is another blog post for another day, which will springboard from Ephesians 4:15. In this case, if it’s about personal preferences, then don’t raise them up to tests of faith. We are sinners–all of us. Some are in the demographic of being a sinner saved by grace. But others aren’t. We risk being very legalistic if we expect people to operate based on our Law rather than on God’s law in speaking the truth in love.

Time is too short for self to get in the way!  The world needs Christ!  Let not personal preference provide a stumbling block to the person and work of Christ!

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“I’ll Pray for Your Leadership, You Pray for My Follow-ship”

After a particularly joyous Sunday at our church where I pastor (with a fellowship to follow), one of our dear senior adults came up to me and engaged me in a conversation about the service.  Since I’m still learning the ebbs and flows of the church where Christ has placed me, I often use humor to scope out the lay of the land.  This time, our service went somewhat longer than usual, and I preached a few minutes longer than usual.  So I made a comment about having a talk to that “long-winded preacher we have.”   This time, though, I followed it up with, “We say when we start, but not when we end.  And God did something wonderful this morning.” 

How this person responded not only encouraged me, but reminded me of an important lesson.  He said, “Preacher Man, we have been trained here over the years to be done by 11:30.”  (He paused, and I honestly braced myself for what was to come.)  “But you’re just going to have to un-train us!  Keep preaching the Word!  It’s taking hold!” 

When we parted, he said to me, “I’ll pray for your leadership—you pray for my ‘follow-ship’.”   I hugged him and thanked him, promising him that I certainly would. 

No church is perfect!  At least, in my situation, if it was at one time, it lost it’s perfection the moment I set foot on the premises.  But you can’t love Jesus and hate His bride.  He’s called us to be a part of it with all its warts and wrinkles.  We know that He is working in us to make it  spotless and without blemish (Ephesians 5:28). 

John Maxwell once said, “If you are a leader or want to be a leader, and no one is following you—you’re just taking a long walk.” 

Are we leaders in our churches, but no one is following our lead?  We can react in one of the following ways:

  1. “Well, these people haven’t got it together.  They just need to get on-board.  I’m right—can’t they see that?  If they can’t, they must be so worldly as not to know better.”  These folks suffer from self-righteousness.  Don’t take time to share with them your struggles—they will subtly or not let you know that they just cannot relate to you.  If you’re a Christian, you should never struggle with Scripture reading, prayer, witnessing, or any other myriad of activities along this line.  You have to lead people from where they are to where they need to be with boldness mixed with compassion (speaking the truth in love—Ephesians 4:15). 
  2. “Who am I to lead any of this?  I’m only a sinner saved by grace, but that’s all.  Who would ever want to follow my lead!  I can barely lead myself.”  Trevin Wax recently posted how dishonoring to the Spirit of God it is to say you’re “just a sinner saved by grace.”  Take the ‘just’ out and recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in you through the atoning work of Christ.  And recognize that God calls all Christians to tasks, and has gifted all Christians to certain tasks.   We were not given a spirit of fear, but of “love and power and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).  Rest on the fear of Christ, not on the fear of man.
  3. “Before we do anything, let’s find out what others think because I’m afraid to make this decision.”  This can be a good rule of thumb, especially with your key leaders.  In our situation here with the hurt that has taken place over the years from various fronts, the key lay leaders here need to know that the ministry leaders hear them and have an avenue in which to contribute to a conversation.  So whenever we make a key decision, they need to be in on the discussion.  And when it comes to the congregation, they need to be communicated with clearly.  But there is a balance in discussing/communicating, and balancing that with not leading at all until you know where the current is flowing (politicians get blistered for not saying anything until the latest polls are in, then lacing their speeches with those poll-driven talking points.)  Leaders have to lead.  If this is out of balance, then the leadership and ‘follow-ship’ become reversed.  God has placed shepherds and teachers to lead in proclaiming the Word of God and to lead the sheep into His pasture.   And we must lead the sheep boldly, instilling in them the confidence that they know the shepherd cares about them and their ultimate well-being.

One young minister lamented how people kept getting in the way of his ministry.  The older minister replied, “People are your ministry.”   There’s wisdom in this reply!  Christ has called us to minister to actual people.  May we ministers minister, and may all of us have a heart ready for others to minister to us! 

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The Role of Skill in Church Music and Worship

Our Music Team at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church and I are meeting about every six weeks to two months for a number of reasons:  encouragement, direction, and focusing on leading God’s people in worship.  When I came in view of a call to ARBC, some asked me what kind of musical style I preferred.  Personally, I have a wide range of tastes, so I told them that I wanted music that’s a joyful sound that’s doctrinally sound

I am in these meetings because at this time we do not have a “Music Minister” in the traditional Southern Baptist sense.  And to be honest, that’s OK.  The Scriptures are inspired, the methodology is not—but we must be led by the Spirit to move where God would have us.  I love what our music team is doing—and they are all volunteer: 

  • Gene Shoun: leads our Sunday morning worship and does a tremendous job in bringing us to the throne of heaven;
  • Diane Weston: play the piano and leads our Praise Team, giving us a great blend of music that all serves under the umbrella of worship;
  • Dee Dunn: Dee coordinates our choir—unreal the Spirit they have.
  • Don Taylor:  Don leads our Sunday night worship times, getting all of us to appreciate and sing with vigor the great hymns of our faith, connecting us with our significant heritage.
  • Dolores Sears: plays the keyboard and the organ, which is a great help to us all.
  • Gloria Hughes:  she serves as our choir president and brings a great spiritual leadership to this team.

At the risk of burying the lead, we are going through an amazing book by Bob Kauflin called Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Crossway, 2008).  All of us love this book.  Kauflin doesn’t tell us to pick a style—he tells us that all styles, if done with excellence and with doctrinal soundness all bring glory to God. 

One particular area he covers that is often missing in church music and worship education (outside of seminary) is that of skill.   Why is it often missing?  It’s because, in my opinion, not taking into account the Spirit in music.  Improving one’s technical prowess, for some, lessens the work of the Spirit moving through.  “If someone’s heart is in the right place, they they should just try their best, and God will bless.” 

In truth, Kauflin reminds us that a lack of skill and a lack of practice in improving that skill can become a hindrance to the worshipers and not a help.  So he takes time to share five things from Chapter 3 (“My Hands: What Do I Practice?”) for us to remember about skill (pp. 34ff ). 

  1. Skill is a gift from God, for His glory.  “What do you have that you did not receive?  If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
  2. Skill must be developed. “We read in 1 Chronicles 25:7 that the musicians ministering at the tabernacle were those ‘who were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful.’  Skill must be developed. . . . The greatest musicians put in countless hours honing their talent, realizing that skill must be developed (p. 35).
  3. Skill doesn’t make worship more acceptable to God.  “Even if I can play the most complex chord progressions, write better songs than Matt Redman, or play a song flawlessly, I still need the atoning work of the Savior to perfect my offering of worship (1 Peter 2:5)(35).  
  4. Skill should be evaluated by others.  “I can’t always tell if what I’m doing is helpful or where I need to grow.  I need the eyes and ears of those with whom I am serving.” (36)
  5. Skill is not an end in itself.  “God wants us to realize that the point of our practice isn’t to receive the praise of others.  It’s to bring glory to him.” (36)

What does skill help us do?

  1. Skill helps us focus on God. "The more comfortable  I am with practical aspects of leading, the more I can think about the One to whom I’m singing.  I focus on developing skill so I’ll be able to focus more on God.” (36-37)
  2. Skill helps us serve the church.  “How do we serve one another?  By leading clearly so people aren’t wondering what words to sing next or what the melody is.  By using fresh arrangements that aren’t distracting.” (37)
  3. Skill multiplies serving opportunities.   The broader your skill set, the more areas you have in which to serve.

Skills to develop

  1. Leadership:  “Our goal is pleasing God, not trying to make everyone happy.  Our goal is to serve the church (39).
  2. Musicianship:  This involves technique (“mastering the mechanics or building blocks of a style”), theory (“understanding how music works… like a road map that helps us get our bearings and return to the right path”), and taste (“knowing what fits…what to put in and what to leave out”).  (39)
  3. Communication:  “God wants to change them through eternal truth and an unchanging gospel.  That takes clear, theologically informed communication.”  “If I wanted to grow in communicating more effectively, I should write down what I wanted to say and keep it to a certain length.  The more I though through comments in advance, the more substantive they would be and the easier it would eventually be to prepare them.” (40)
  4. Technology:  “It can be a valuable asset or a terrible taskmaster.  Be familiar with current methods of transferring and downloading music (legal ones, of course), notating charts, using MIDI, producing music, amplifying sound, and projecting lyrics and images, to name a few.” (41)

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
2 Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

4 For the word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:1-7, ESV)

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Book Review: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin


Historians over the last century have ranked Abraham Lincoln has one of the top two presidents in the history of the United States—most rank him first by a long shot. On the surface, the reason many cite is that his presidency coincided with the great turmoil and struggle in our history: the U.S. Civil War.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, author and historian extraordinaire, has penned a classic that could be classified not simply under “History > American History > Civil War,” but could stand as one of the finest books on leadership in print. Here is a description of the book from the Team of Rivals website:

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by life experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.

It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.

We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.

This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln’s mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation’s history.

According to the website, Steven Spielberg is making a movie based on this book, focusing on the last four months of Lincoln’s life and presidency.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Lincoln demonstrates how to reconcile and work with those who are not merely different from him in personality and ambition, but are indeed rivals—each having believed at one point they deserved the presidency more than he. The way he earned their respect and loyalty is something to behold.

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Harmony in the Church At All Costs (Tozer)

[Taken from Tozer Daily Devotional by Literature Ministries International.]

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. –1 Peter 5:8

Some misguided Christian leaders feel that they must preserve harmony at any cost, so they do everything possible to reduce friction. They should remember that there is no friction in a machine that has been shut down for the night. Turn off the power, and you will have no problem with moving parts. Also remember that there is a human society where there are no problems–the cemetery. The dead have no differences of opinion. They generate no heat, because they have no energy and no motion. But their penalty is sterility and complete lack of achievement.

What then is the conclusion of the matter? That problems are the price of progress, that friction is the concomitant of motion, that a live and expanding church will have a certain quota of difficulties as a result of its life and activity.

A Spirit-filled church will invite the anger of the enemy. This World: Playground or Battleground?, 112-113.

“Lord, thank You for the many signs that we are alive! Satan must see real life, and I guess that’s a good sign. Give us victory though, that we might not succomb to his attacks. Amen.”

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Gospel-Gripped Leadership: Three Ways to Deal with a Complaint

I am preaching through Acts at my church (Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY) and have come to Acts 6:1-7, which I will preach this coming Sunday (July 31, 2011).  In verse 1, we read that, in the midst of the blossoming of the church, “a complaint arose from the Hellenists.”  What was the complaint?  You’ll have to read up on that—and come on Sunday!

Yet, there are three ways to deal with a complaint!  To be clear, I don’t have any particular episode in mind, just some general reflections from 20 years of ministry and 40 years (come October) of living.

Ignore it.  Just don’t address it at all.  Say to yourself that any complainer must be carnal and move on to those who don’t complain because non-complainers are Spirit-filled and love Jesus.  That’s not only bad leadership, that just plain silly.  (Of course, one has to take into consideration if this is coming from a Son-of-Diotrephes effect, of which Joe McKeever deals with beautifully.)

Internalize it.  Here is the polar opposite of ignoring it.  Take every complaint to heart, because regardless of what happens at a church or any business, if you’re the leader, it’s always a reflection on you and therefore your fault.  Another way to internalize it is personally:  every complaint you hear is equally valid.  One complaint about a program or a direction in the church grinds everything to a halt.  This is especially true if the aim of the church is to make everyone happy, forgetting that the aim of the church is to glorify God and produce Christ-like, Spirit-filled disciples. 

Investigate it.  Yes!  This one!  No blanket categorizing need apply here!  See the nature of the complaint—it may teach you something!  I shudder at times when I have not listened to a complaint when I should have!  Sort through the complaint and see if it’s just a personal preference or if it’s a significant issue that could effect the spiritual direction of the body of Christ.  This is what the apostles did—and what we as leaders must do!

Ultimately, we serve Jesus Christ!  And the role of a God-called leader in the church is to meet folks where they are and take them where Christ is, and there are may ways this can be (see Jude 21-24).  If complaints arise because some expect leaders to serve their personal preferences, then one can go from serving Jesus to serving people very quickly.  Pray for God-called leaders to serve Jesus first, having in mind the things of God rather than the things of men (Matthew 16:20-28). 

What think ye?

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C.J. Mahaney, Leaves of Absence, and a Merciful Confrontation

I first heard about this from Justin Taylor.  C.J. Mahaney is taking a leave of absence as head of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Nothing unusual about leaves of absence.  Yet the transparency of C.J. is striking as to the reason for this leave:

Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.

“These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety.”  I’m thankful he clarified this, because the pattern of ministers leaving the ministry usually falls into these two categories.  What the nature of the offenses are is not our concern and would be conjecture and sheer speculation should we attempt to dissect his note.  The fact is that C.J. was confronted regarding “pride, unentreatability (or being unapproachable), decit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.”  The world considers this par for the course among leaders.  Yet, C.J. will have none of this.

He goes on:

I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this. I believe I have by the grace of God perceived a degree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others.  I have had the opportunity to confess my sin to some of those affected in various ways by my sin. And I am so very grateful for their forgiveness.  But I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed.  Although my experience of conviction has already started—and this is an evidence of God’s mercy—I’m sure there is more for me to perceive and acknowledge.  Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others.  And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private.  Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation.

So here is what I am going to do. I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others.  With the guidance of the SGM board, I would also hope to pursue reconciliation with former pastors of Sovereign Grace during this leave. I have stepped off the board and I will not be the President of Sovereign Grace Ministries during this period of examination and evaluation. In order for me to receive an objective evaluation in relation to these charges the board is securing the help of a third-party ministry that has no history of relationship with SGM. With counsel from that ministry, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.   After processing these findings, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.  This leave of absence will also help remove any impediment to the panel’s exploration that could potentially arise if I remained in my current position, and it will enable me to fully cooperate in the process.

To be clear: my aim for this is not to air Mahaney’s dirty laundry, but to show how God’s mercy is prevalent even in times of needed confrontation of sin.  At this point in the process, Mahaney is more concerned about his relationship with Christ and reconciling with his brothers in Christ more than keeping up appearances and holding on to his position.  He sees the need for personal holiness and personal examination.  He also sees the need for accountability with godly men who will deal with him in a gospel-gripped manner.

I encourage you to read the rest of Mahaney’s letter, along with Justin Taylor’s comments as well.  And pray for Mahaney and the rest of the Sovereign Grace Ministries leadership.  May they come through this stronger in Christ than before!

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Reflections on the Newspring Leadership Conference 2010


On September 16, 2010, I attended one of the best leadership conference I’ve ever been a part of—the first NewSpring Leadership Conference held at NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina.  The lineup was combination of relatively new as well as seasoned leaders in the evangelical world.

Below are some quotes doled out at the conference.  Afterwards, I will give some impressions of the conference and NewSpring Church in general.

Perry Noble

  • “In the midst of planning and preparing, we must not forget about Jesus.”
  • “Before God will do something through us, He wants to do something great in us.”
  • “Disney and Microsoft should not outdream the church.”
  • “If we’re not willing to be uncomfortable, we will become unfaithful.”
  • “If you’re always accessible to people, you won’t be alone with God.”
  • “In the Bible, no work equals lazy, and no rest equals disobedient.”

Mark Driscoll

  • “Don’t become cause centered, but rather be Christ centered.”
  • “Do you want God to use you greatly?  Then He must wound you deeply.”
  • John Calvin: “Everything passes by or through the hand of God.”
  • “Jesus did not suffer so we would not suffer, but we would be like Him in suffering.”
  • “Suffering is a great clarifier.”
  • “God likes to prune before harvest.  Your ministry is filled with fruitless branches.”
  • “A religious culture does no provide safety for confession.”
  • “You don’t want to convert people to ‘religious people’ –they are the ones who murdered Jesus.

Jud Wilhite

  • "Reach out to the broken, and you will always have an audience."
  • “When people are talking more about your programming, props or humor than Jesus after church, you have failed.”
  • “See restriction as an opportunity.”
  • “Fight the martyr mentality (of not having what you would like in church).  Focus on what you do have.”

Francis Chan

  • "If you put your life story into scripture, would it look normal? Or would you look like the one who played it safe?"
  • “Being afraid means being part of the 98% of people, don’t loose your courage.”

Judah Smith:  “Matters of the Meantime”

  • “What do you do when you are not where you used to be, but not where you’re supposed to be? What you do in the meantime shapes vision.”
  • “When the disciples were in the storm, they didn’t jump ship—they stayed in the boat.”
  • “Just because you have delay, doesn’t mean your dream is denied.”
  • "What do you do when you’re not where you used to be, but not where you’re supposed to be? Stay in the boat!"

Steven Furtick:

  • “You can borrow someone else’s faith until you have the maturity to have your own.”
  • “Immediate obedience is underrated.”
  • "There’s just something about immediate obedience."
  • "If no one has laughed at your vision lately maybe its because its not big enough."
  • “You don’t need a lot of faith to finish, all you need is a little faith to get started."
  • "Your destiny is not connected to those who leave your life."
  • “God’s past performance is the best predictor of His future ability!”
  • "The most extraordinary acts of God begin with the most ordinary acts of obedience."
  • “Always be more concerned with who we are reaching than who we are keeping.”
  • “Err on the side of grace.”

Andy Stanley

  • “Stop thinking categorically and think relationally … Its easy to place people in categories when you don’t have a relationship"
  • "Acceptance paves the way to influence"
  • “Churches always gravitate toward insiders rather than outsiders.”
  • “Churches always risk going from simplicity to complexity.”
  • “Churches risk having an attitude of preserving rather than advancing the Great Commission.”


Impressions on the Church

  • This church must have had over 200 volunteers who served in a myriad of different ways: parking, registration, greeting, helping, coffee house, book store, snack line, seating, and on and on and on.  It was a well-oiled machine and that made it very, very helpful.  And all of the volunteers were thankful to be a part of a great church.  It showed.
  • Their band rocked my face off.  Personally, I wasn’t crazy about it, but my friend Mark loved it.  Their music was an unabashed celebration of Jesus.  May ours be as well, regardless of style.
  • There were very few Christian symbols around the church.  No pews, but theatre seating (not a negative, mind you).  There were no pulpits, but a chair and table (not a negative, mind you—I don’t see one single pulpit mentioned in Scripture unless you are worshiping in a synagogue).  They’re vision is to reach those who are not being reached, so this is the direction they are moving.  In a city of 30,000 people, 10,000 are coming to their worship service and are hearing the Word. 
  • They went all out in their children’s area.
  • Their small groups are exclusively home groups, which is why we noticed no classrooms anywhere in their large campus.  Again—this is not a negative.  Just an observation.  Given how our REACH groups are expanding and working, I can see where this could be incredible.  All learning does not need to take place in a church building. 

Impressions of the Speakers

  • Positive:  Each of them have a trust and faith in the Lord to do great things for Him!
  • Positive:  Each of the speakers had a great way of encouraging and rallying the troops for Kingdom work.
  • Negative:  I was disappointed that Mark Driscoll and Steven Furtick felt it necessary to include a profanity for emphasis or shock value.  It’s like taking a pure bowl of water and putting a drop of potty water in that bowl.  Infects the whole thing.  That one word in each of their talks kept me from passing this talk on to other leaders in my church.  Call me a prude if you will.  It does not add to the message—it takes away big time.
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