Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

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If you’ve seen any number of cop movies you’ve inevitably seen the good cop/bad cop routine. The “bad cop” takes an aggressive and accusatory tone with the subject while the “good cop” positions him or herself more sympathetically. The subject is encouraged to cooperate with the “good cop” either out of trust or out of fear of the “bad cop.”

Jesus introduces a similar dichotomy during the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah with a parable about the Good Shepherd in John 10. “Shepherd” is a common designation for a leader in the Bible. Hannukkah celebrates a transition in leadership when true leaders took back control from their corrupt counterparts.

How can you tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd in the church today?

Good shepherds act like the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has a personal attachment to his sheep (v. 2-4). He loves you and knows your name. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb;  He consecrated you before you were born (Jeremiah 1:5). God knew Peter’s name and changed it to fits His work in Peter’s life (John 1:29). Your name is so important to God that it must be written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life in order to get into heaven. Revelation 20:15 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (NASB).

Jesus also provides for his sheep. The 23rd Psalm can be applied to our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He provides spiritual nutrition and refreshment. He provides rest and restores our souls. He also provides a path to righteousness when we don’t know the way.

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, also He protects his sheep. He laid down His life for his sheep. He laid down His life, so He could take it up again. (v. 17). He laid down his life voluntarily, it was not taken (v. 18).

Bad shepherds act like greedy charlatans.

Bad shepherds frighten the sheep. Bad shepherds are called all kinds of things in this passage: thieves and robbers, strangers, and hired hands. Instead of coming to the sheep through the doorway, they climb over the wall and scare the sheep.

Fear is one of the tools of a bad shepherd. They use their power to threaten or intimidate their followers. They scare people with stories of what may or may not happen. Fear is a good motivator, but a bad master.

Bad shepherds also feed themselves first. Bad shepherds only care about themselves. They steal or hurt the sheep for their own benefit. As far as I know, Simon Sinek is not a believer, but he has discovered the reverse of this biblical principle in his book, Leaders Eat Last.

Bad shepherds flee at the first sign of danger. The hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming because he doesn’t care about the sheep (v. 12-13), In the end, bad shepherds are really imposter and charlatans and it’s the onset of hard times that reveals them for who they really are.

According to Jesus, you can tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd by the way they take care of the sheep.

I want to encourage you to only follow godly leaders in the Church. There are all kinds of influences and influencers in the local church and the church-at-large – some good and some not-so-good.  bad. Don’t be cynical, just be discerning.

I want also want you to evaluate your leadership in light of Christ’s example. You may not have an official position of leadership, but you have influence over others. Allow God to lead you so that you can lead others in His church.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is about sheep as well as shepherds. Check back tomorrow for a post about how you can tell if you are a sheep that has gone astray.

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The Power of “With”

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The Apostle Paul made an important discovery near the beginning of his second missionary journey. In Acts 16 we read about his visit to Derbe and Lystra. While he was there, Paul discovered a young man named Timothy. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois brought him to faith in Jesus Christ and mentored him (2 Timothy 1:5). The Christian community in Derbe and Lystra spoke well of Timothy.

The Apostle Paul an even more important decision in Derbe and Lystra. Paul decided to take Timothy with him on the rest of his missionary journey. Timothy would become one of Paul’s main associates he planted churches and ministered throughout the Roman Empire. Timothy stayed with Paul into his third missionary journey and on into his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 20:4).

Paul’s bond with Timothy is evident in the two New Testament letters that bear the younger man’s name. While Timothy was serving as the pastor at the church in Ephesus, Paul referred to his protégé as his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul closes his second letter to Timothy with a plea to “make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Timothy 4:9).

How did Timothy become one of the most influential leaders in the early church? I believe it happened through the power of “with.” Paul chose to take Timothy with him and share his calling with Timothy. Paul was a visionary leader and a high achiever. He may have been able to travel faster, prepare quicker, and accomplish more by himself, but he chose to include Timothy. Paul invested himself in others because he knew the value of along-the-way discipleship and mentoring.

I wonder what would happen in our churches if every ministry staff member, every deacon, every Sunday School teacher, every ministry leader took the time to invest in just one other person? I think it would change our churches for good in at least three ways. First, it would help to close our generation gap. If those who are older and more experienced in their faith would look for opportunities to bring someone younger along with them, it would build a bridge between generations. Second, it would solve our volunteer crisis. If those who know took the time to train others it some of the practical aspects of church ministry, it would go a long way towards empowering others to serve. Third, it would breathe new life and excitement into our churches’ ministries. Leading and be lonely and exhausting. If leaders would slow down long enough to share their load, they might rediscover what lead them to ministry in the first place.

Will you find someone that you can mentor in your own areas of life and ministry? Whatever you do for the Lord, you can share it with someone else so they can follow in your footstep, even if you’re not a “ministry leader.” You will also discover the big power of a small word – the power of “with.”

5 Tips for Leading More Productive Meetings

Staff-MeetingIf churches are made up of people, than meetings are an inevitable, and important part of church life.  Meetings have gotten a bad reputation, but that doesn’t have to be the case in the place where you serve.  Here are a few tips to lead more productive meetings

  • Have a plan.  The old saying is true: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You may choose to send out a written agenda ahead of time, or make one up at the start of the meeting. Either way, have a plan and stick to it
  • Be flexible. Flexibility is a necessary complement to good planning. Sometimes new information comes to light or situations change, even during the middle of a meeting. Good leaders take advantage of changing situations and adapt whenever necessary.
  • Solicit input.  The best meetings are a collaboration of the best ideas in the room.  Be prepared to ask open-ended questions, listen, and clarify for the sake of the group.
  • Surface conflict. Not everyone will voice his or her concern or opposition to a decision. A good leader will find ways to bring divergent opinions and disagreement to the surface so that it can be dealt with. This is one way to encourage buy-in and support moving forward.
  • Clarify next steps.  Whether its further research, a follow-up meeting, or a phone call, every meeting can be improved by clarification. Make sure that everyone knows what is happening next and who is responsible for each step.

What other tips would you share with church leaders who want to improve the productivity of their meetings.?

Five Tips for Making a Hospital Visit

pastor-hospital-visitChristian leaders minister to others in crisis situations. One of the most common crises is going to the hospital for surgery. Here are five suggestions to help you be a better hospital visitor.

  1. Be kind and courteous.  Remember, you are there to encourage the patient, not embarrass them. Don’t sit on the bed, make light of their health condition, or get in the way of the hospital staff. Instead, stand where the patient can see you easily, use humor, only when appropriate, and compliment the hospital staff whenever possible.
  1. Respect their privacy.  Patients take their pain and sickness to the hospital, but usually have to leave their modesty at home. It is always a good idea to knock before you enter a patient’s room or excuse yourself if they need to get settled in their bed. You should also be careful not to share too much information with other caring people, even as a prayer request.
  1. Make time for spiritual encouragement.  If you are visiting on behalf of a church, the patient is probably expecting you to pray with them at sometime during your visit. Don’t be shy about leading the patient and whoever else may be present in an uplifting word of prayer. You may also choose to read or quote Scripture as an added encouragement.
  1. Don’t impersonate a doctor.  You may learn details about the patient’s health situation or diagnosis during your visit. The patient may even ask for you opinion. In either case, resist the urge to share your “unprofessional opinion” with the patient or their family.
  1. Don’t wear out your welcome.  Most people are glad to have visitors in the hospital, but they may feel as if they need to entertain you while you are there. Unless the situation is critical, it is best to keep the visit brief; 15 to 20 minutes is usually sufficient.

These are just some suggestions I’ve found to be helpful.  What would you add to it to help others make better hospital visits?

Six Tips for Leading Others in Prayer

prayer-part-2-pic-web-586x300Pastors, deacons, and other Christian leaders often have to privilege of leading others in prayer in a worship service, Bible study, or similar gathering. Here are six suggestions to help you pray more effectively in public.

  1. Prepare.  Prayers don’t have to be spontaneous to be meaningful. Feel free to write down some notes or focus your mind for few minutes before hand so that you will feel more at ease.
  1. Don’t apologize.  Nervousness or humility can lead some people to start their prayer out with an apology. Leave it up to the congregation to decide if they are sorry that you were asked to lead in prayer; don’t make their mind up for them.
  1. Match the mood of the service.  Different services have different tones. Some services are energetic and upbeat while others are more somber and reflective. If you violate this principle you may make people wonder if you have been attention to the rest of the service.
  1. Pray for the benefit of other.  Leading others in public prayer is not the same as praying by yourself. Share enough details to draw the congregation in, but not enough to embarrass yourself or the people listening to you.
  1. Don’t editorialize. Public prayer is not the place to air your negative thoughts or opinions on the sermon, the church, or other church leaders. Instead, concentrate on lifting others up and leading them into the presence of God.
  1. Keep it relatively brief.  You will not wear God out, but you might wear the congregation if you choose to drag on with long-winded prayer.   If this suggestion doesn’t make sense, review the previous suggestions till it does.

This is not an exhaustive list.  What would you add to it to help other pray more effectively in public?

How to Start a Prayer Support Team

prayerWhen it comes to prayer support, there is no such thing as too much.  I’ve never met a Christian leader, paid or volunteer, who complained because they had too many people praying for them, too often, or with too much passion.  If you  need more prayer support, you may want to form a prayer support team.

A few years ago I read The Book of Church Growth by Thom Rainer.   In a chapter on the power of prayer, Rainer listed 6 potential facets of a church-wide prayer ministry.  One of those ideas was to organize a team of prayer warriors called the “Pastor’s Intercessory Prayer Partners” who were devoted to pray for their pastor and his ministry on a daily basis.  Over the past few years I’ve taken this idea and put it to use in my own ministry with some modifications.  I call my team the “Pastor’s Prayer Team,” but you don’t have to be a pastor or a church staff member to benefit from this approach.  You could use it with your Bible study group, international mission ministry, or non-profit organization.  All you need is a ministry, a group of people who are willing to pray for you, and a way to communicate with them.  Here is a 5-step process for starting or improving your own prayer support team.

1. Teach and model the importance of prayer.

Jesus did more than just talk about prayer. He taught his disciples how pray and modeled prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane among other places (Luke 11:1-13, Matthew 26:36-46).  People will not be motivated to pray if they don’t know how to pray or why prayer is important.  They will not be eager to join you in pray if they are not convinced that you are passionate and persistent in your own prayer life.

2.  Ask people to commit.

Some people are not ready or willing to join a prayer support team, but some are!  Those who are willing are just waiting for your invitation.  This can be done in a number of ways, but I would recommend doing it in writing so you have a list of people for follow-up. Depending on your situation you could use a sign-up sheet, a commitment card, but I prefer email.  I ask those who are interested in joining the team to send me an email to let me know.  Then, I use those email addresses to send a return email acknowledging their request and to build a distribution list for future use.

I do not ask my prayer support team members to commit to a specific frequency of prayer.  Instead, I ask them to pray for me, my family, and my ministry on a “regular” basis. If that ends up being daily, great; if it ends up being once a week or every other week, I’ll take it.  My goal is to equip and organize people to pray.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from participating just because they can not make a daily commitment.

3. Share regular praises and prayer requests.

Once again, this can be suited to your situation.  You can send out regular praise and prayer requests via “snail mail,” email, or social media.  They could also be added to a newsletter, either in print or online.  I choose to use email because it is faster and easier than “snail mail,” but more manageable and accessible for the people on my team.

Praises should be shared along with prayer requests because people like to hear good news along with your needs.  Sharing praises is a way of thanking your team for their prayer as well as reminding them that prayer really does make a difference.

Every ministry has its own cycle.  A non-profit organization or missions ministry may operate best on a quarterly or monthly cycle.  The local church runs on a weekly cycle, so I try to send out my praise and prayer requests on a weekly basis.  Whatever your frequency, let your team know your intentions and stick to them.

4.  Be humble and transparent.

This is not as much of a step as it is a general principle.  One of the pitfalls of kingdom work, especially if it is perceived as successful, is pride.  Pride causes us to keep others at a comfortable distance because we are afraid they might see our flaws.  This simply will not work with a prayer support team.  Put yourself in the shoes of one of your team members.  Would you be motived to pray regularly for someone who came across as superficial or fake?  This does not mean you should share every sin and struggle with your team.  It does mean, however, that you need to be open and honest about your needs

5.  Show gratitude and appreciation

Who doesn’t like a little appreciation for their efforts?  Being a part of a prayer support team is usually something that is done behind the scenes.  In order to keep your team inspired and engaged, you need to let them know they are not alone and they are making a difference in your life and ministry.  You should tell your prayer support team how much you appreciate them every time you share your praises and prayer requests. You may also want to send a separate “thank you” note sometime throughout the year.  If you use email like I do, you may choose to send a “pen-and-paper note” for emphasis.  If possible, you could organize a reception once a year to recognize your prayer support team and let them interact with each other.

What methods have you found effective for recruiting prayer support?  Have you ever formed a prayer support team?  How have you benefited from the process?

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: Running and Coaching Well

Feet-Running2In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the Apostle Paul compares the Christian life to a foot race.  He encourages us to “run in such a way that you may win” (v. 24b).

The writer of Hebrews also makes the same comparison urging believers to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrew 12:1-2).  Christians who are also leaders must read this passage from two perspectives.  First, they must read it as a “runner” striving to live their own life well.   But Christian leaders should also read these verses as a “coach” who is responsible to help others run their race well.

Recently, I set down with the staff that I am privileged to work with and looked at Hebrews 12:1-2 from the perspective of coach.  Here are the “coaching tips” that we gleaned from the passage.

  1. Remember, you are not alone.  One of the best parts about running in a road race is the camaraderie and the people who cheer you on.  The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone.  We all need to belong to a local congregation to encouragement and support.
  2. Even if you are slow, just keep going.  The Christian life is a more like a marathon than a sprint; it requires endurance.  Distractions and stumbling blocks are unavoidable, but just keep moving.
  3. Stay focused on Jesus.  Focus in key because it determines your motivation and direction.  For the Christian, the focus should always be in Jesus Christ, “the author and perfecter of faith.”

What other coaching tip would you add to our list to help others “run” well?

Devotional Thought for Leaders: The Cult of Personality

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1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 3:4-9

One of the issues the ancient church at Corinth struggled with was division.  In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to that church he wasted no time in identifying one of the main sources of their conflict.  Apparently, the church had been influenced by a cult, the cult of personality.  The people in the church had divided their loyalty among several key church leaders.  Some people had aligned themselves with either Paul or Apollos, while others claim exclusive allegiance to Peter or Jesus Christ.  It would seem that the last group had the right idea, but lived it out in a divisive way.

 Paul goes on to remind the Corinthians that every human leader in the church is just that – a human leader.  Compared to God the Father, or His Son, Jesus Christ. we are all just “workers” in God’s field.  Some may plant and some may water, but it is “God who cause the growth” (3:7).

Unfortunately, the cult of personality didn’t end with the first century church.  Power, fame, and influence are big values in our culture today, and they slip easy into the church.  Sometimes it’s a pastor who is secretly (or not so secretly) set on becoming more popular than Jesus.  Sometimes it’s an up-in-coming staff member or lay leader who wants to make a name for him or her self.  Sometimes it’s a long-time member who enjoys exerting their influence and control.  Whatever form it takes, this passage warns us that the end result of the cult of personality is division, and ultimately distraction.

Here are some questions to help you stamp this cult out in your church or organization:

Is the conflict in your church or organization issue based or personality based?  If it is personality based, what are people doing to create the problem?  Are you part of the problem?

How can you humbly engage with the divided parties and turn their attention back to God and His mission?

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: Leading By Example

004-jesus-washes-feetJohn  13:1-20
Jesus knew that his time was short when he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Feast of Passover.  So he got up from the meal and surprised them by setting aside his outer garment and wrapped a towel around his waist like a lowly servant.  Then, he proceeded to wash the disciples’ dusty, dirty feet.  When Peter objected, Jesus told Peter that he must be washed if he was to have anything to do with Jesus.
When Jesus finished, he returned to the table and questioned the disciples about what had just happened.  Jesus told them that they were right to revere him as their Rabbi and Lord, but he went on to explain that leaders in God’s kingdom, must be servants as well as leaders.  Then, he commanded them to follow the example he just given them of washing on another’s feet.
The thing that stands out about this passage is not just what Jesus said, but how he said it.  In the closing days of Jesus’ earthy ministry, he taught his disciples about the important of humility in leadership.  But he did much more than teach them or instruct them to serve others; he modeled it for them.  He led by example.
Today’s Christian leaders would do well to support their directives, teaching, or instructions with a consistent example.  Leadership is not just what you say, but how you act.  It is as true in the conference room as it is in the pulpit – “Practice what you preach.”
Here are some questions to help you lead by example:
Are you sending any mixed messages in your leadership?  Are you telling people to do one thing, but then doing another thing yourself?  What can you do that fix that?
How can you adjust your leadership style to “show” as much as you “tell?”  Are their lessons or principles that you are trying to communicate right now that need to be experience as well as explained?

How to Teach the Bible Through Discussion Without Missing the Point, Part 2

sm-grp-bible-study-LOWResThis is the second part of a two-part series on how to teach the Bible through discussion without missing the point of the lesson.

Interactive small group Bible studies can be a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship, especially when they are combined with a dynamic church worship service and opportunities to serve and do ministry.  Several weeks ago, I introduced this topic by pointing out 4 major challenges to leading an effective and interactive small group Bible study.  Today, I will share 5 suggestions for teaching the Bible through discussion without missing the point and here they are:

1.Have a clear goal(s) in mind

Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar is credited with the axiom, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit is every time.”  If you don’t know what you are trying to teach, there is no way anyone else will either.

Discussion based teaching should not be used as an excuse for lack of preparation.  Be flexible, but write down 1 to 3 goals, truths, or principles that you want to communicate.

2.     Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are designed to solicit participation and information from the group.  They are questions that require more than a one word answer.  When used strategically, they can create momentum and buy-in.

Open-ended question help you connect with your students, but they also help your students connect with each other.  As group members hear others respond to questions they are urged to share their perspective and insights as well.

3.     Deal with distractions

In part one of this two-part series, I listed distractions as one of the challenges that small group leaders have to overcome – they are inevitable.  Instead of the ignoring a distraction, identify the “elephant in the room” and move on.  And don’t forget to laugh, when appropriate.  If something happens that is funny, enjoy the moment use it to bring your group closer together.

4.     Clarify responses

Group discussions can become unproductive or confusing without some leadership.  When needed, restate participants responses and ask if that what they meant, if they are unclear.

This kind of clarification can also be a good way to transition to another stage in the meeting or point in the lesson.  It gives the leader an opening in the discussion while affirming the rest of the group.
 
5.     Sensitively seek full participation

Part of a  group leader’s job is to keep “the ball going.”  If some of the members of your group are shy or introverted, you may have to find ways to engage them without embarrassing them.  You may also have to gently restrain over-talkative group members by thanking them for the participation and asking others to chime in.

Do you have any suggestions you would add to the list?  What have you found helpful in teaching the Bible through discussion without missing the point?