Friday, December 24, 2010

Working the holiday

Yesterday we had three ‘Eve-of Christmas Eve’ Services. Today we’ll have seven more. All will be well attended; at a few we’ll be holding our breath to make sure everyone fits in the parking lots and our overflow rooms.

I love working and serving here on Christmas Eve. A few years ago I think I finally understood. I have the opportunity to serve in the most important institution ever; I play a part that is likely the most challenging and the same time rewarding of my entire adult life.

For those that know me, they will likely not understand as I’ve had some very challenging and rewarding job assignments in the past. However, for those that know me well, they will likely share my view that if Christ is truly Lord, and came just as the Bible teaches, then nothing else could be more important.

Just this past year, our Pastor read Ephesians 1:23. A verse that I’ve read before and appreciated but this time it was from the Message Bible and states: “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

I love the local church. Christ is the hope of the world and the local church is the body of Christ, the physical representation of His Kingdom until He comes in glory.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Holiday Different

"The story of Christ's birth is a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love."

This is the beginning line of the "Advent Conspiracy", a website and a movement that has been advocating a different type of Christmas holiday the past two years.

Pastors and churches are being challenged to do Christmas different. To get back to the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is all about God's grace. If you are looking for a good Christmas verse, here's one:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.John 3:16–17 (NIV)
If we understand Christmas we understand the truth behind the teaching of Jesus that it is better to give than to receive.

Santa is likely a good cultural addition as long as we don't confuse Santa with Christ. The real gift at Christmas is the Christ-child. When our children were young, my wife and I decided to tell them the truth behind Santa. It was a great opportunity to celebrate a good man, a 4th. Century bishop who had a reputation for giving. While the fact that our children knew the truth horrified and shocked some of our friends, we felt our children were better off.

Our challenge continues to this day with our grandchildren. We want them to grow up knowing the story of Christ's birth. We will smile when they open their presents at Christmas and enjoy their toys as only children can. We will also encourage them as they grow to keep the story of promise, hope and revolutionary love close to their hearts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Three things to remember if you are in ministry

Like many, I've attended more than a few "how to" seminars. I've been an active participant in seminars on everything from how to stay organized, how to do public speaking, motivate employees, run a successful fundraising campaign and open up a satellite church.

All of these seminars have one thing in common in their ability to list the top five or ten things that are necessary. I've always laughed when I thought of complying a 'list' of priorities when the very definition of a priority means that it needs to before or 'prior'. A list seems of ten or more seems to contradict the idea that anything is actually the priority or the most important.

I have however likely discovered three things to remember if you are in ministry. If you keep these things 'front and center', you'll have better days and restful nights. The three things are actually quite simple:

  1. The organization you are a part of has been around over 2,000 years and Jesus said "the gates of hell will not prevail against it". You can help or hurt the mission but the mission is bigger than anyone of us.

  2. Your most important tool in your tool bag is Prayer. It accomplishes more than everything else. Give it a try.

  3. We win. Read the end of the book....Revelation 21:3 "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God."


Friday, November 12, 2010

What are you doing here?

Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt that the weight of the world is on your shoulders and that your very future seems hopeless?

That time comes all too often for many. It’s often irrational as well since rarely do the things that we fear the most actually come to pass.

God asked that question, “What are you doing here?” to Elijah (1 Kings 10:9). He actually asked that exact question, “What are you doing here, Elijah” twice. When God asks us a question, it is for our benefit, for our self-examination as He already is fully aware of the answer. God doesn’t ask questions to learn anything.

Elijah was an amazing man of God. He commanded the clouds to dry up and bring no rain for three years and it didn’t rain. Her raised the son of the widow of Zerepath from the dead. He defeated the 450 prophets of the evil King Ahab and the false god Baal on Mount Carmel, and called down fire from heaven. Elijah then outran Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel (about 28 miles…. quite a marathon!)

God however asks Elijah this particular question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” because Elijah had then succumbed to doubt, fear and his own personal anxieties. While God had demonstrated amazing miracles at his hand and constantly provided for him, Elijah now feared for his own life.

Sometimes God needs to ask us the same question. Not because he desires to know the answer but He wants us to examine exactly in Whom our trust resides.

Elijah is often criticized for running for his life after seeing so many victories but I think many of us can relate. We often need to be reminded exactly what we are doing here and in Whom we trust.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Changing God’s Way

I received a pre-release copy of a new book today, authored by a good friend of mine. A few years ago, this new author, Dennis, was actually one of my interns. We've remained good friends and I've always enjoyed his friendship and his heart for God.

We spent literally dozens of hours together each month looking at scripture and talking about how the church is to reach and preach and teach. We also talked often about how the local church has been changing and trying to find new methods while preserving truth.

The fact that this 180 page “soon-to-be-released” book and the accompanying 75 page workbook was authored by someone that was my intern made me take notice. It reminded me of the verses in the book of Hebrews regarding how we are to remain teachable and also should in fact become teachers.

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. (Hebrews 5:11-13)

Maturity is something that needs to be taught. Without a Godly influence our maturity process is nothing more than aging. The process of maturing as a Christian is called discipleship. While there are many great programs and books out there (like my friend’s first edition), true discipleship requires a disciple-er.

Given a little time, we are to be both a learner and a teacher. Whom are you disciple-ing?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Keeping it Simple

Some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with were the best because they kept it simple. Not simple as in “easy-to-accomplish,” but simple in philosophy and in intention.

All too often leadership theory becomes a difficult combination of strange words, unusual or forced principles and too many unnecessary steps. It reminds me of when my wife and I were newly married. We were learning how to not only be husband and wife but then in just a few years, also mom and dad to two little children. Some of the parenting books we read at the time caused us to almost give up hope. The books told us that there was a lot of stuff that we weren’t supposed to do, words that we were warned not to use and particular activities that were to be introduced at very specific ages. It was tempting to throw up our hands and surrender. Ultimately we thought it best to get rid of the books and just use some common sense.

Common sense worked the best, particularly with a little help from the Book of Proverbs.

Leadership is really very much the same. It’s really more about some very simple and very easy to understand values that we as leaders embrace, and then model and ultimately teach. Sir Winston Churchill, one of the greatest leaders of all time, and leading England at the time when the entire world needed him the most, said, “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”

Leadership is all about leading people. Management on the other hand is about managing tasks and not about people. People are much more likely to be motivated to follow time-tested principles and values that have a lasting impact for the greater good. Great leaders have always understood that people are much more likely to embrace the principles and values that help them become a part of that which is greater than themselves.

Jesus in many ways had a leadership style that also embraced that which was simple but that which was also great and transformational at the same time. Joy, peace, truth and love were common themes for Jesus. All of these are one syllable words that have great impact. To his followers, Jesus gave values to embrace and simple instructions to obey. Those that listened to Jesus became his disciples and ultimately changed the world. When we as leaders embrace his principles and his values, we ultimately walk where Jesus walked and can then lead others to follow as well.

by Ken Behr

Reprint from ChurchExecutive.com August 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Healthy Boundaries

1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year, when I was in the fortress city of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, arrived with men from Judah, and I questioned them about Jerusalem and the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile. 3 They said to me, "The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem's wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down." 4 When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:1-4)
If Nehemiah had a word for us today it would be, "You need to build some walls to keep danger away"

Notice that Nehemiah “heard these words an wept”. What are the things in your life that you have seen that have made you weep? Do you come from or have you been impacted by someone in your family that have broken homes because of adultery or abuse? Do you recognize the pain in children when their mom and dad no longer love each other. Do you know how that makes them feel? Do you know that over 60% of all married people at some time during their marriage are unfaithful to their marriage vows? Do you know what it is like to have to deal with drunkenness, a DUI or the strange behavior that accompanies someone that is drinking too much?

Proverbs 25:28 tells us "a man who lacks self-control is like a city whose walls are broken down." Without self-control, passion, lust, peer-pressure and our pride will be our downfall.

Don’t be seduced! We live in a society that has discarded the persuasion that some choices are always right and some choices are always wrong. Black and white has given way to many shades of gray! I have learned that I can’t walk so close to the fire that you won’t be burned. The Bible says that it’s impossible to live that close to Sodom and not be affected. The King James uses the word, “vexed” (2 Peter 2:7). We all need healthy boundaries; we need to know where we can tread safely and where it was better not to venture.

So what are “healthy boundaries”? What does it mean to set up personal boundaries?

A boundary is an invisible protective fence around our personal God-given space.

A boundary is something we are supposed to have. It is not “keeping people out” so that we don’t ever interact with others. It is a space or a distance that gives you protection from being controlled by the influence of others, but through which you can have healthy relationships.

Boundaries are lines that we have determined before hand that we will not cross. Boundaries are personal but are to be fixed and not flexible. For example, boundaries tell us there is danger beyond a certain point. I don't want to put myself into a position where I can jeopardize my life, my testimony, or my family.

Heathy personal boundaries help us to not fall into a weakened or defenseless position where we can be easily be compromised.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Right Kind of Church

What makes a church “right”? In other words, what is the quality or the character of a church that is really doing it right or according to how we think Jesus would want His church to be?

That question has a lot of right answers but I’d like to focus on just one possibility. That one possibility comes directly from Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says, "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” (Romans 12:10 NKJV)

Don’t you just love it when you find a church where people really love each other? I’m not talking about being friendly or casual but truly ‘kindly affectionate’.

Being kind is a virtue that is too often lacking in the world today. While it really is a virtue, many think of being ‘kind’ as sometimes being ‘weak’ or being ‘simple’. One of the hallmarks of really having kind is displaying kindness even when it’s difficult, such as when kindness is combined with the need for forgiveness and patience. Paul tells the Ephesians, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you." (Eph 4:32 NKJV); and he tells the Colossians, "therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering.” (Col. 3:12 NKJV)

It’s relatively easy to put out signs at church that say, “welcome”, but true kindness combined with affection goes further. Kindly affection extends our welcome to everyone in the community regardless of their background, race, ethnicity and gender. Kindly affection welcomes sinners as well as saints. Kindly affection allows us to honor each other in the church and most importantly gives each other room for God to finish the work that we often feel is already perfected in ourselves.

I love that kind of church!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Leading Teams

I love it that football is back. There is something about both NCAA and NFL football that makes the Fall especially worthwhile. Monday night football, Hank Williams Jr. singing "Are You Ready For Some Football" and two hour pre-game shows are a part of the weekly experience. At this time of the year there are lots of great memories that flash through my mind like little Kodak pictures including my son and I watching and talking football together.

Football, football teams, sports and teams in general are great analogies to describe life. Everyone has likely heard that "There is no 'I' in 'TEAM", which is true and not without meaning.

Here are two quick lessons I have learned from football, football teams, sports and teams in general. They are very applicable to the local church but also to other cooperative endeavors:
  1. All teams need a leader

    This is true whether the team is small or large. While its nice to see cooperative leadership, democratic principles and egalitarian opportunities, teams still need a leader. Leaders help set the vision and the direction. Leaders also make sure that objectives are clearly stated and that everyone stays on task. Team leaders are also the ones that make the adjustments when needed, and as needed, so that energy is not wasted and time critical functions are performed. Teams that lack leaders, or just as importantly lack good leaders, are bound to be more focused on process rather than results, tasks rather than talent, and inputs rather than outputs.

  2. Every team member needs a job; all jobs need an owner.

    There is a saying that is often true regarding getting things done: "If no one really owns it, no one will do it". I'm a big fan of making sure that people are operating in their "sweet spot", the exact place where God has given them specific talents and ability. However, I'm even a bigger fan of accomplishing the mission. Just as football games are about blocking and tackling (the most basic assignments) leaders need to make sure that all of the necessary tasks and assignments are owned by someone, regardless of how unimportant or seemingly menial.

Most often, the team (insert your company, department, church or group here) that has only average or mediocre talent and resources but has superior leadership and good task ownership will succeed while others will fail. While teams succeed where individuals fail, it is the individuals that ultimately make teams successful.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Truly Pursuing Excellence?

Not everyone really understands what it means to pursue excellence. Some believe that excellence has something to do with how much money is being spent or how great a facility looks or even how many people are impacted. None of these measurements are adequate for excellence. A common definition of excellence that may work is “The state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority”.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some great leaders and in some great organizations. These have included some for profit, non-profit and churches and all have had the desire to excel. Many similar organizations around the country have embraced a passion for excellence as one of their core values, one of their uniquely identifiable characteristics.They too have a desire to excel.

The problem with “excellence” is that it’s often difficult to define or quantify. For example, an excellent children’s ministry will include some elements that most people will agree are necessary in order to be considered excellent. However, many other elements become pretty subjective. One person’s opinion on style, curriculum, facility set-up, signage, branding, or hospitality may differ greatly from another’s. It’s all really subjective. It’s kind of like modern art: one persons completed masterpiece may be too gosh, gaudy or glitzy for another.

These subjective measurements are the wrong ways to look at excellence. Excellence is something that is to be a personal pursuit. Organizations, like churches, can only pursue excellence when individuals are fully committed to the worthy pursuit of excellence as well.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, the Apostle Paul encourages us, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (NKJ). We work, we minister and we pursue excellence because we are glorifying God as we excel in our individual ministries. Similarly, in Colossians 3:23 Paul says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord.” (NKJ)

We can excel, we can do all for the glory of God, we can work as unto the Lord regardless of the quantity or quality of the resources we have been given. It’s excelling in the use of all of the resources that we have been given that brings excellence in our individual and collective ministry. One church or organization may have a lot more resources, but excellence is never about quantity but about quality.

For some, excellence becomes a matter of dollars and cents. Its one of the few objective measurements we use but it becomes a poor barometer of whether what we are doing is actually bringing glory to the Lord.

Using dollars invested in ministry is an unfortunate measurement of excellence on a number of levels. First, while excellence is a great objective, throwing money at a ministry doesn’t necessarily ensure quality of content, program or result. In addition, ministry is ultimately about people and people value true relationships and personal care more than fancy programs, impressive buildings or over-the-top presentations.

While I’ve encouraged ministries to embrace excellence and use all of their available resources for the glory of God. As an antidote to thinking of excellence as something measured by money, I’ve asked ministries to re-embrace the values of stewardship, entrepreneurship and integrity. There is something to be said and very fulfilling about leveraging very limited resources for great Kingdom impact.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Confidence and Leadership

I just had the chance to read “The Confidence Factor” by Tom Mullins. Tom does a great job of using his insight as both a former winning football coach as well as the successful founding Pastor of Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida to weave together inspiring stories of people that had the confidence to lead and be successful. Tom also gives us very practical lessons on building confidence.

I’ve really never lacked confidence; which for me has been both a blessing as well as a curse. Being confident certainly is an enabler in leadership and in management. It propels us to find creative ways to solve people and logistical issues and it also helps us to keep striving when challenges arise.

For me, there have been times when I’ve been a little over-confident. Looking back, every instance of over-confidence not only led to less than satisfactory results but always had one common element. The common element was that that I was leaning and relying completely on my own abilities and talents and not fully trusting in God.

Successful churches require confident leaders. Confident leaders are similar to travel guides that make sure we see all the right sites, fitness instructors that improve our ability to exercise and firm up our flabby bodies, and wise professors that challenge us to learn not only the correct answers but also how to reason and use rationale to formulate answers to future and yet unknown questions. These leaders all have the experience in their unique area and also the confidence that they can communicate well what they already know.

One way for us to have confidence is to constantly build on our life lessons and to know that if we let Him, God is also willing to build us up and help us lead with confidence. The Apostle Paul said it well, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

by Ken Behr Reprint from ChurchExecutive July 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Yes, You Belong Here!

Have you ever had the opportunity to join a ministry or a church and realized immediately that it is just a great fit? You immediately identify with the mission, you connect with the people and enthusiastically embrace their passions.

There is a reason for this I believe and it's not about your background, your education or experience but it's all about Christ.

In Ephesians 2:10, the Apostle Paul says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."

This is a great verse as the word "workmanship" is a cool word. The specific Greek word is used only twice by Paul, here and in Romans 1:20. It is the word "poiema”, which is where we get the word “Poem” in English. Strong’s says that the actual meaning of this word is “To make a thing out of something." Like a modern day psalmist would take a few common words and make something new, perhaps a powerful song to use in worship.

Paul could have used a different Greek word. The other word for this creative act that is used many more times by Paul in the NT is the Greek word, “ktizo”. And get this….this word, according to Strong's is “to make a thing out of nothing." Like when God created Adam or God created the universe.

You however are God’s workmanship; you were made by God for the work you do. God however, didn’t start with nothing, he started with you! Your talents, ambitions, personality, quirky behaviors, successes and failures. It all goes in to the pot, gets stirred up by God and out comes your ministry.

If you are in ministry, you are here in the Kingdom of God for a purpose. A purpose that he planned for you to walk, a work that you uniquely would do with Him. God comes alongside us, takes all of our natural talents and even the nasty stuff as well and creates a new work, His workmanship. Together we belong; we have work to do that God has planned for us. It’s Kingdom work.

WHY A NON-DENOMINATIONAL EVANGELICAL CHURCH?

Our small Christian non-profit ministry recently requested and received approval from the IRS to be re-classified as a ‘church’.      ...