Hurney and Gettleman, Grace & Truth

I’m always looking for current events that display Biblical principles for successful leadership. The decision by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson last week to fire Dave Gettleman as the team’s general manager provides some excellent fodder for a discussion of good and bad leadership traits. After being fired in 2012, Marty Hurney was appointed as the interim general manager.

Here are just a few observations:

  1. Timing is everything. As King Solomon pointed out, “A wise heart knows the proper time and procedure” (Ecclesiastes 8:5 NASB). One of the unusual things about Richardson’s decision is that it came just eight days before the start of the Panthers’ training camp. Even Richardson had to admit that the timing was “not ideal.” An organization’s major decisions ordinarily should be planned with enough time to allow for a smooth rollout and careful communications to all the stakeholders. In this case, even Panther’s head coach Ron Rivera was apparently caught off guard by Richardson’s decision.
  2. Instead of evaluating a person’s overall track record and the long-term picture for an organization’s success, leadership often comes down to “what have you done for me lately.” By almost any measure, Gettleman’s tenure with the Panthers was extremely successful—except for last season. But despite an amazing Super Bowl run in 2015, Richardson apparently felt that the trajectory was going in the wrong direction. And, no doubt, trajectory is more important than past successes. I’ve seen numerous situations where pastors face similar scrutiny. Past success is deemed irrelevant if church attendance and finances are on a downward slide.
  3. We must resist the urge to jerk between extremes. From my perspective, Marty Hurney’s decisions as general manager tended to err on the side of GRACE—giving players big contracts and sometimes keeping them past their prime. In contrast, Dave Gettleman was a man of TRUTH—looking at a player’s current productivity and being unwilling to break the bank when a player’s performance didn’t merit a huge contract. In switching back to Hurney, I think Richardson was siding with grace and loyalty. He wanted to take care of players like Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis, who were in negotiations for new contracts. And it seems he may have been unhappy with how Gettleman parted ways with Panthers stars like Steve Smith and Josh Norman.

I would argue that both Hurney and Gettleman were successful, but partly because the Panthers benefited from the combination of grace and truth that these two general managers provided. Hurney was credited with a harmonious locker room, full of players who felt honored and appreciated. Gettleman was applauded for clearing out players who were past their prime, which greatly improved the salary cap situation.

Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, was full of BOTH grace and truth (John 1:14). He didn’t have to jerk from one extreme to another, for He perfected embodied these two qualities every successful leader must demonstrate.

In Jim Collin’s best-selling book, Good to Great, he notes that organizations thrive when they have “the right people on the bus and have them on the right seats on the bus.” That pretty much describes what a successful general manager must do in the NFL.

When it comes to the future of the Panthers, my hometown team, I hope Marty Hurney will have learned the lessons from the past—both from his own decisions and from those of Dave Gettleman. May he bring back the grace needed to recreate a harmonious team culture, where past performance is honored. But may he also have the guts to make hard decisions when a player is overpaid or should no longer be “on the bus.”

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Moses or Aaron — Which Kind of Leader Are YOU?

I would much rather be a leader like Aaron than like his younger brother, Moses. Aaron was clearly the more popular of the two, and for good reason. While Moses often seemed aloof—a loner and introvert—Aaron was a man of the people, far more comfortable in social settings.

We see the style of these two leaders in stark contrast in Exodus 32. Moses shunned the people in order to climb Mount Sinai and spend 40 days with God. Aaron stayed down at the bottom of the mountain, where he could hang out with the people.

Which of these leaders would you like to be? Isolated for 40 days—just you and God—or partying with the people in joyous revelry?

When the people got impatient waiting for Moses to return, they “gathered around Aaron” (v. 1), the leader they knew would give them what they wanted. Their request was remarkably straightforward: “Make us some gods who can lead us.”

How would you have responded to such a request? Would you rebuke the people or “go along to get along”?

Incredibly, Aaron complied with their plan and asked them to bring him their “gold rings” that he could melt and shape into a calf they could worship (vs. 2-4).

Notice that bad decisions typically end up being about the gold—the money. How many politicians, preachers, and CEOs have gotten themselves in trouble by telling people, “Bring me the money!”

Of course, Aaron rationalized that all of this was done so the people could have “a festival to the Lord!” (v. 5). Isn’t that astounding reasoning? Yet it has happened again and again throughout history: practicing paganism “in the name of the Lord.”

And you have to admit, Aaron really knew how to throw a party. After going through a few religious rituals to relieve their conscience, the people “celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (v. 6).

All the while, Aaron was the chaperone—the “adult” on duty during an episode of “Israelites gone wild.”

Both God and Moses were livid about the situation. After smashing the stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments, Moses angrily demanded from Aaron, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” (v. 21)

Moses apparently thought Aaron must have been tortured or threatened with his life in order to permit such an idolatrous orgy. But no, it was all too easy for the people to persuade Aaron to do their bidding. He was a man of the people, after all.

Aaron seems to have been completely tone deaf to how serious this offense was. First, he blamed the people. Then he acted as if the calf had just miraculously appeared when gold was thrown into the fire.

But his brother had been with God, and he wouldn’t buy any of these lame explanations: “Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies” (v. 25).

Are you a leader, or parent, who allows people to “get completely out of control” in order to have them like you? Do you choose to look the other way instead of take a stand?

When God’s people compromise with sin or idolatry, the result is always the same, as Moses points out: We become a laughingstock to the Lord’s enemies. Instead of being respected or liked, our credibility is undercut.

So I ask you again: Would you rather be a leader like Moses or like Aaron? Let’s be honest: It would be no fun at all to be in Moses’ position in this story. Who wants to be the “bad guy,” calling for repentance and spoiling people’s “fun”?

There always are consequences to Aaron’s kind of people-pleasing leadership. “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (v. 35). At the end of the day, the pleasures of sin were replaced by a plague of judgment.

Last year a prominent Christian humanitarian organization displayed the Aaron kind of leadership. After announcing that it was changing a longstanding policy on a moral issue, the ministry reversed itself just two days later because of the public outcry.

With Exodus 32 as a backdrop, I can’t help but wonder if both of their decisions were based on fear rather than faithcompromise rather than conviction…and popularity rather than passion or prophecy.

And if my suspicions are true, both of the decisions were more motivated by “gold” (money) than by God. Why? Because the Aaron kind of leader always looks to money rather than God’s anointing to grease the wheels of ministry.

I guess I would rather be a Moses kind of leader after all.

 

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Debunking 8 Myths About the Christian Life

While studying the origins of the Church at Philippi, I was startled to discover how the story contradicts many of our common misconceptions about the nature of the Christian life. The narrative in Acts 16 debunks at least 8 myths—and I bet you’ve believed some of these misconceptions yourself.

Myth #1: As long as you’re well-intentioned in pursuing spiritual activities, any direction is okay.

The apostle Paul never intended to plant a church in Philippi. In fact, he had other plans. Plan A was to minister in Asia, but he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (v. 6). Plan B was to preach in Bithynia, but God closed that door too. Finally, the Lord spoke to Paul through a dream that he should go to Macedonia, where Philippi is located.

This story shows that God has a specific plan for our lives, even when it comes to “good” activities like evangelizing and planting churches. Yet it’s bewildering in Acts 16 to see God actually forbidding Paul to preach the gospel if that means going in the wrong direction. While the Great Commission tells us to go into “ALL the world” and “to the ends of the earth” (Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8), God wants to direct us on how to proceed.

Myth #2: If you’re a very spiritual person, you’ll always get it right the first time.   

It would be hard to be any more spiritual than Paul, yet it wasn’t until the third try that he found God’s optimal direction for his life (vs. 6-8). That’s such good news for you and me. We shouldn’t despair if we don’t hit the bulls-eye at our first attempt to find the Lord’s perfect will.

Myth #3: The most important ingredient in church planting is good preaching.

Hey, I’m a preacher, and I certainly put a high value on good preaching. But if you read Acts 16, you’ll see that the secret to Paul’s success clearly was PRAYER, not preaching. He met Lydia (his first convert) at a place of prayer (vs. 13-15), and he was on his way to pray when he cast a demon out of the fortune-telling slave girl (his second convert, vs. 16-18). And the Philippian jailer (his third convert) was saved after Paul and Silas caused an earthquake through their prayers and worship (vs. 25-34).

I surely hope your church or evangelistic ministry has great preaching, but these illustrations demonstrate that prayer must be the foundation of everything else we do in God’s kingdom. Without that, our impact on people will be superficial at best.

Myth #4: If people are saying the right things, that automatically means they have the right spirit.

Oh, how I wish I would have understood this misconception earlier in my ministry! Many preachers, politicians, or church members say all the right things, but they are being motivated by something other than the Holy Spirit.

Look at what this demon-possessed girl was saying while following Paul and Silas day after day: “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (v. 17). What’s wrong with that? Most pastors would have put her on the front row so everyone could hear her words of affirmation! But Paul discerned that her right-sounding message had originated with the devil rather than the Holy Spirit. Can you tell the difference?

Myth #5: If you’re in God’s perfect will, everything will always go great for you.

Believing this myth will bring tragic consequences, because it means you’ll also believe the corollary: If things AREN’T going very well for you, you must not be in God’s will. What a horrible, yet incredibly common, misconception. Even though Paul and Silas were following the direct leading of the Holy Spirit to minister in Philippi, the result was catastrophic. Their clothes were torn off, they were brutally beaten with rods, and they were thrown into prison, with their feet in shackles (vs. 22-24). All this happened because they were following God’s will!

Myth #6: Nothing good ever happens after dark.

Verse 25 says Paul and Silas received their breakthrough “at midnight.” I love that. Some of God’s greatest miracles seem to happen at our midnight hour—when things look the bleakest and all hope is gone. We may not be shackled in a jail cell, but perhaps we’re imprisoned to an addiction, a health problem, a mound of debt, or a toxic relationship. No matter what the situation may be, the Lord can break off our chains “suddenly” (v. 26).

Myth #7: God’s salvation is a fragile thing, easily lost.   

Paul later described his complete confidence that the One who had BEGUN a good work in the Philippians would also COMPLETE it (Philippians 1:6). Exactly how confident was Paul in God’s ability to care for these new converts in Philippi? In one of the most stunning plot twists in all of Scripture, verse 40 says that after meeting with “the brethren” gathered in Lydia’s house, Paul “encouraged them and departed.”

The “brethren” numbered just a handful of folks at this point, all of them new believers. But instead of staying to care for these converts, Paul and Silas left town! He entrusted them to their Heavenly Father’s care, believing that nothing would be able to separated them from His love (Romans 8:31-39).

Myth #8: Everything in God’s kingdom rises and falls on leadership.

I’ll admit, there’s a lot of truth contained in this statement, and I’m sure I’ve quoted it myself at times. However, there’s also a misconception here, because we’re often wrong about who is supposed to provide that leadership.

For example…

  • The Israelites could have panicked after Moses died and his unproven understudy Joshua was suddenly in charge (Joshua 1).
  • David’s family never considered him a worthy candidate to be the next king (1 Samuel 16).
  • All of Jesus’ disciples except John denied and deserted Him, and they certainly seemed to be a bad bet to lead the church and reach the world.

But the Church in Philippi is one of the most remarkable examples of God raising up unlikely leaders. In Paul’s opening greeting to the Philippians (1:1), he refers to the “overseers and deacons.” Isn’t that unbelievable? When Paul left Philippi, the church consisted of Lydia’s household, the slave girl, and the jailer’s family.

So where did the overseers and deacons come from? Did they get imported from some Bible college or seminary? Were they transplanted from the church in Jerusalem or Antioch? Certainly not. These were homegrown leaders.

My friend, what are you trusting in for the success of the church? Are you relying on the grace and power of God, or in the charisma and qualifications of the human leaders? Thankfully, Jesus is both the Author and the Finisher, so we would do well to fix our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:2).

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Would YOU Have Enlisted in David’s Army?

Everyone wants to be associated with winners…champions…success stories. And that’s exactly why we need the lessons about life and leadership found in the story of how David’s mighty army began.

The scene takes place in 1 Samuel 22:1-2, when David was running for his life as King Saul attempted to find and kill him. The prophet Samuel had declared that David would be the next king, but the fulfillment of that prophecy looked very unlikely at the moment.

David had no palace where he could set up shop. He found no lofty mountain citadel where he could safely oversee the battlefield. Nor were there any barracks where he could gather and train an army.

Instead, he escaped to a seemingly hopeless training ground: “the cave of Adullam” (v. 1).

If you had to choose sides, would you have wanted to align yourself with David? Yes, he had Samuel’s prophecy going for him—but not much else.

A cave is a dark place…a confining place…and often a damp, moldy place as well. And for those of us with tendencies toward claustrophobia, it would have been a terrifying place.

Yet something miraculous happened there in the cave of Adullam: 400 people gathered in support of David! It’s as if they had a vision for him, at a time when he probably struggled to have a vision for himself.

Of course, these folks didn’t seem to have any more potential than their haggard leader. The well off and “respectable” people of Judah didn’t see much hope for David’s ragtag group, and it’s probably no wonder. David’s “mighty men” consisted ofeveryone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul…and he became commander over them” (v. 2).

How would you like to lead—or even be associated with—such a forlorn group?

Think of it: David’s initial army didn’t look like “the best and the brightest” in the eyes of the world. Just like Jesus’ motley band of disciples many years later, no one would have chosen them to succeed in rocking the world.

In addition to all of their other liabilities, David’s men initially were paralyzed by fear. When the Lord instructed him to attack the Philistines in the next chapter (23:1-5), David’s followers protested that they were too afraid to complete the mission: Behold, we are afraid,” they said, trying to excuse themselves from combat.

However, David’s men fortunately didn’t remain in the cave, cowering in the darkness. Despite their misgivings, they went out and won a great victory.

Although the story of David’s army begins in the cave of Adullam, it doesn’t end there. Soon others were gaining confidence in David’s leadership and flocking to his side (1 Chronicles 12). Even though they were skeptical and slow to respond, they eventually recognized he was a victor…a person of destiny…and someone they should follow.

By the end of the story, these fearful, distressed men had become giant-killers, just like David, their captain (2 Samuel 21:15-22). They were true disciples, able to do the same works as their master.

What an encouraging message! Even if you feel like you’ve been hanging out in the cave of Adullam for a while, remember this: God is preparing you to be a mighty warrior! He’s getting ready to take you from the dark place into His marvelous light and victory.

So don’t judge your situation by what your natural eyes see today. Look forward to God’s prophetic vision for your life and for the other warriors around you. He’s preparing you to slay giants!

————————————————-

I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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Called & Equipped

Are YOU Ready for the Ministry God Has Called You To?

The Bible makes it absolutely clear that every believer is called to “ministry” of one kind or another (1 Peter 4:10-11). This doesn’t mean everyone is called to be a pastor, of course, but we’ve all been given spiritual gifts of one kind or another—gifts that God expects us to use to advance His kingdom.

However, in addition to recognizing our CALLING as God’s ministers, we must also understand God’s processes to TRAIN and EQUIP us for the work we’ve been called to do.

So here are two vital questions today:

  • Do you know what God has called you to do?
  • If so, what are you doing to be equipped  for that ministry?

For years now, most American churches have largely relinquished their training responsibilities to seminaries, Bible colleges, and parachurch organizations. Many of these have done an excellent job, and we should be grateful for the service they’ve performed in helping to equip people for ministry. However, it’s time for local churches, or groups of churches in a region, to again fulfill their biblical mandate “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”  (Ephesians 4:11-12).

No matter how a person seeks to be equipped for ministry, there are three crucial steps that will always be necessary. These are shown in the development of Ezra’s teaching ministry: “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel”  (Ezra 7:10).

Ezra’s pattern is valuable for any of us who desire to be prepared for service: Study, do, and then teach.

Let’s take a closer look:

Study. Ezra’s teaching ministry came after he first set his heart to study the Word of God for himself. No matter how good the training is that we receive from others, there is no substitute for personally studying and meditating on the Scriptures. Proverbs 5:15 exhorts us: “Drink water from your own cistern, and fresh water from your own well.”

Do (practice what we’ve learned). Ezra saw that the goal of his studying was not merely to gain knowledge—it was to bring about obedience. Jesus made a similar point when He said that the man who built his house on a rock was the one who not only heard the Word, but also acted  upon it (Matthew 7:24-27). We will have no authority to teach on scriptural principles that we’re not actually living.

Teach. We have a responsibility to share with others the things we have learned. Our training is deficient if it does not result in both doing the Word and also helping to equip others.

We must never forget that God Himself  is the One who ultimately trains His people for ministry. Our hope must never be primarily in the human vessels or organizations He chooses to use. Rather, we must trust in the wisdom of His customized training plan—designed just for us. Our Heavenly Father knows best  which means of training will best prepare us to fulfill His plans for our lives. And often the much critical key is our passionate hunger to fulfill His purposes—whatever that might take.

Although the Lord Himself is the master equipper, He has chosen to do much of the equipping through people. If we are wise, we will humble ourselves and receive from those He chooses to mentor us.

If we’re honest, we should be troubled that our model of church life often bears little resemblance to the New Testament church, where apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers all were tasked to train their replacement. This biblical model demonstrates that, whatever  ministry we have, we should be equipping others to fulfill that same kind of ministry.

So I ask you two questions: Have you been adequately trained  to fulfill the Lord’s purpose for your life? If so, are you actively training others, imparting to them the same lessons God has taught you?

Your answer to these questions will play a key role in determining your future fruitfulness and impact. God wants to get you ready!

 

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The Superstar Syndrome

Leadership Lessons I Learned on the Volleyball Court

In my younger days I used to be a rather good volleyball player, and it was always fun showing off my abilities at our church outings.

Many of those who played volleyball at our church picnics simply weren’t very good. On every team would be several uncoordinated players who frequently missed the ball or hit it in the wrong direction.

Not only did I like to show off my volleyball prowess, I also liked to win. If I was in the vicinity of weaker members of the team, I felt obligated to help them play their position. When the ball was hit their way, I was there to give assistance in case they missed it.

Inevitably, I ended up covering a lot of ground on the volleyball court, helping my less-competent friends in every way possible. Usually they didn’t seem to mind too much, since I was saving them the embarrassment of making a fool out of themselves.

Yet as I went up and back and from side to side, covering for the weaker team members, there often was a troubling result. The ball would drop—you guessed it—right in the position I myself was assigned to cover!

At the time, I really didn’t think much about the problem of volleyballs dropping where I was supposed to be. After all, I was making some pretty sensational shots while guarding everyone else’s position.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized my tendency to do exactly the same thing in my role as a church leader. I saw myself as strong, and I was desirous of helping my “weaker” brothers and sisters with their assigned tasks. If there were “holes to plug” in the church, I would generally take care of them myself instead of waiting for the people who were assigned to the jobs.

The result of this codependent tendency was often similar to my experience on the volleyball court. Although I covered a considerable amount of territory trying to plug the holes left by those who missed their assignments, I frequently found that the “ball” dropped right in the position I myself was supposed to be handling. Again, I was so busy filling everyone else’s job that I didn’t satisfactorily fill my own!

I began to understand the predicament of the maiden in the Song of Solomon, who complained that she had been so busy taking care of other people’s vineyards that she neglected her own responsibilities (Song 1:6). While I originally figured God would be impressed that I covered so many gaps in the church, I now am struck by the reality that He will primarily hold me accountable for whether I fulfill my own appointed role.

It’s interesting to note that a unified team of ordinary players will often be able to beat even an all-star team. The synergy created when players know how to work together harmoniously is sufficient to defeat a team of all-stars who each are more intent on their own success than on the success of the team.

The Bible is filled with stories of leaders who struggled with these issues. Moses had to be told by his father-in-law Jethro to delegate some of his responsibilities in problem-solving for the Israelites (Exodus 18:13-27). King Saul angered God by impatiently usurping the role of Samuel, the prophet (1 Samuel 13:7-14). And the apostles wisely recognized that their highest priority should be giving themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” rather than overseeing the distribution of food to needy widows (Acts 6:1-7).

What about you? Have you found and focused on your God-given role? Or are you trying to be a superstar, unable to work together with the rest of the team? Remember: If you spend your time doing the job of others, you’re likely to find that your own job is soon neglected.

 

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The Myth of Full-Time Ministry

I’ll never forget the day I knelt in prayer beside the bed in my college dorm room and popped the important question: “Lord, do you want me to serve You full-time?”

Almost immediately, the clear answer came, “Why, of course, Jim!”

I was thrilled. The following Sunday I went to church and proudly told my friend Bob Hahn about my call to ministry.

“Bob, while I was praying yesterday, I asked God if He wanted me to serve Him in full-time ministry. He said He did!”

My older and wiser friend paused, then looked me right in the eyes when he responded. “That’s good, Jim, but I’ve been seeing lately that full-time ministry doesn’t necessarily mean what I once thought.”

Quickly concluding that Bob was just jealous that he wasn’t called to full-time ministry, I didn’t hear much of the rest of his explanation. Looking back, though, I wish I had listened closer that day.

Now having the advantage of more than 35 years of hindsight, I think I have a better understanding of what Bob Hahn was trying to tell me about full-time ministry. At times I’ve indeed been a “full-time minister” as a senior pastor or staff pastor. But at other times I’ve been an attorney or done other “secular” jobs. Often this is described as “tent-making” or being a bi-vocational minister.

It often surprises people when I tell them my ministry while I was an attorney was just as fruitful as when I was a full-time pastor. Perhaps even more fruitful.

When I supported my ministry by means of a secular job, I was much freer from people’s expectations about what my “ministry” should be. In contrast, when my paycheck came from the church, I sometimes ended up serving church activities more than I was serving God!

When I was supported by my work as an attorney, it was far easier to tell people “No” when they wanted me to do something outside the sphere of ministry God had given me (see 2 Corinthians 10:13-16). When I was a full-time pastor, however, there was a great temptation to do whatever people expected, regardless of my calling or the Lord’s will.

I found that another pitfall in full-time pastoral ministry was that it tended to separate me from the “real world” where most people were living. It was especially difficult to have meaningful contact with those who didn’t yet follow Christ.

Too often, pastors who go directly from college, to seminary, to full-time ministry end up secluded in an ivory-tower world, with experiences quite different from those faced by the people we are endeavoring to disciple and lead. While we try to encourage those in our flock to reach out to their unsaved friends and co-workers, our friends and co-workers are all church folks!

By glamorizing the importance of full-time ministry, we perpetuate a myth that has seriously weakened the church for many centuries now. Bob Hahn was trying to tell me that, in a sense, every Christian is supposed to be serving the Lord “full-time.” Even if we gain our livelihood through work at a secular job, we are to see it as a ministry—for we are working as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:22-24).

Paul told the Corinthians that everything he did was “for the sake of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:23). But sometimes that included working with his hands to make tents in order to support himself. Think of it: The mighty apostle was willing to be a manual laborer and small businessman at times, rather than beg for offerings!

I also love how Paul said the fragrance of Christ was supposed to be manifested through us “in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14). He didn’t say believers should emit Christ’s fragrance just “in every church meeting,” or “every time we preach,” or “every time we lead worship.” No, his vision of “ministry” was much bigger than any of that.

Because of their detachment from everyday living, many “full-time” Christian leaders struggle to give their flock clear, practical instruction on how the gospel can be lived out in the marketplace. As a result, we give the faulty impression that ministry is something done mainly in church buildings.

It’s time to regain the perspective that every Christian is called to be a minister. Our ministry began the day were saved, because that’s when Jesus ordained us to serve Him and bear fruit for His kingdom (John 15:16).

If you are being obedient the Lord full-time, you ARE in full-time ministry—no matter whether a church gives you a paycheck or not. You have the great privilege and opportunity to minister to people every day and in every place—whether in office buildings, banks, construction sites, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, neighborhoods, athletic fields, schools, and in every other place where people are found.

So what are you waiting for? If you are committed to full-time availability to God, your full-time ministry has already begun!

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Who Is Holding Your Rope?

If I asked you who was responsible for writing nearly half the books of the New Testament and over 30% of its content, you probably would say the apostle Paul. Although that’s the correct answer, I was actually thinking of a couple of other guys. If not for these “other guys,” Paul’s amazing ministry would have never taken place.

These unnamed heroes are described in Acts 9:23-25, soon after Paul’s conversion. Paul learned that the Jews were plotting to kill him, watching the city gates day and night in order to get their chance.

Keep in mind that Paul hadn’t planted any churches at this point. Nor had he written any epistles. He was just a new convert—but one with a special calling from God.

So how would Paul escape this plot? “During the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.”

We’re never given the name of these “other believers,”  referred to in some other translations simply as “the disciples.”  But make no mistake about it: Their faithfulness in “holding the rope” on Paul’s basket was the difference between success and failure, life and death.

This observation leads to two important questions for each one of us:

      1. Who is holding the rope for YOU? If you face tough times someday and your back is against the wall, is there anyone  you can count on to hold your rope and keep you from crashing to ground? In an age of megachurches that often don’t even provide staff members for counseling, weddings, hospital visits, or funerals, are you confident that other believers will be there for you in your hour of need?

      2. Whose rope are you holding? Are there people who are counting on you  to faithfully hold their rope, serving behind the scenes in order to ensure their safety and success? Are you willing to be a selfless, unnamed servant while God raises up someone else to prominent ministry?

The problem with rope-holding is that it seems unnecessary when everything is going well. You may be saying today, “I don’t need anyone to hold MY rope! I can navigate life just fine on my own, thank you.”

But the truth of the matter is this: We ALL need someone to hold our rope at one time or another. And if we are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, He will surely call upon us to hold someone else’s rope in their darkest hours. Are you ready? Have you invested your time in relationships that will stand the rope-holding test? Or are you content just to “play church” and maintain superficial, noncommittal relationships?

In the days ahead, who will hold your rope? Whose rope will you hold? Your answer to these two questions will have profound implications.

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Are You the ‘Aaron’ Kind of Leader?

I would much rather be a leader like Aaron than like his younger brother, Moses. Aaron was clearly the more popular  of the two, and for good reason. While Moses often seemed aloof—a loner and introvert—Aaron was a man of the people, far more comfortable in social settings.

We see the style of these two leaders in stark contrast in Exodus 32. Moses shunned the people in order to climb Mount Sinai and spend 40 days with God. Aaron stayed down at the bottom of the mountain, where he could hang out with the people.

Which of these leaders would you  like to be? Isolated for 40 days—just you and God—or partying with the people in joyous revelry?

When the people got impatient waiting for Moses to return, they “gathered around Aaron”  (v. 1), the leader they knew would give them what they wanted. Their request was remarkably straightforward: “Make us some gods who can lead us.”

How would you have responded to such a request? Would you rebuke the people or “go along to get along”?

Incredibly, Aaron complied with their plan and asked them to bring him their “gold rings” that he could melt and shape into a calf they could worship (vs. 2-4).

Notice that bad decisions typically end up being about the gold—the money. How many politicians, preachers, and CEOs have gotten themselves in trouble by telling people, “Bring me the money!”

Of course, Aaron rationalized that all of this was done so the people could have “a festival to the Lord!”  (v. 5). Isn’t that astounding reasoning? Yet it has happened again and again throughout history: practicing paganism “in the name of the Lord.”

And you have to admit, Aaron really knew how to throw a party. After going through a few religious rituals to relieve their conscience, the people “celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (v. 6).

All the while, Aaron was the chaperone—the “adult” on duty during an episode of “Israelites gone wild.”

Both God and Moses were livid about the situation. After smashing the stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments, Moses angrily demanded from Aaron, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?”  (v. 21)

Moses apparently thought Aaron must have been tortured or threatened with his life in order to permit such an idolatrous orgy. But no, it was all too easy for the people to persuade Aaron to do their bidding. He was a man of the people, after all.

Aaron seems to have been completely tone deaf to how serious this offense was. First, he blamed the people. Then he acted as if the calf had just miraculously appeared when gold was thrown into the fire.

But his brother had been with God, and he wouldn’t buy any of these lame explanations: “Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies”  (v. 25).

Are you a leader, or parent, who allows people to “get completely out of control” in order to have them like you? Do you choose to look the other way instead of take a stand?

When God’s people compromise with sin or idolatry, the result is always the same, as Moses points out: We become a laughingstock to the Lord’s enemies. Instead of being respected or liked, our credibility is undercut.

So I ask you again: Would you rather be a leader like Moses or like Aaron? Let’s be honest: It would be no fun at all to be in Moses’ position in this story. Who wants to be the “bad guy,” calling for repentance and spoiling people’s “fun”?

There always are consequences to Aaron’s kind of people-pleasing leadership. “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made”  (v. 35). At the end of the day, the pleasures of sin were replaced by a plague of judgment.

From my perspective, this week’s decisions by World Vision and its president, Richard Stearns, are a sad example of the Aaron kind of leadership. After announcing that World Vision would now be willing to hire openly gay married couples, the Christian humanitarian organization reversed itself just two days later because of the public outcry.

But with Exodus 32 as a backdrop, I can’t help but wonder if both of their decisions were based on fear rather than faithcompromise rather than conviction…and popularity  rather than passion or prophecy.

And if my suspicions are true, both  of the decisions were more motivated by “gold” (money) than by God. Why? Because the Aaron kind of leader always looks to money rather than God’s anointing to grease the wheels of ministry.

I guess I would rather be a Moses kind of leader after all.

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4 Leadership Lessons from My Local Publix

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Here in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Harris Teeter grocery store chain has had a virtual monopoly in recent decades. There is a smattering of Food Lion and BI-LO stores in the area, but they’ve never been a match for the quality and customer service offered by Harris Teeter.

But the entrance of Publix into the Charlotte market may well change Harris Teeter’s dominance. They’ve opened two new stores near where I live, and I’m already a huge fan. The Publix slogan is “Where Shopping Is a Pleasure”—and I’ve found the slogan to be quite accurate.

In the short time I’ve been exposed to Publix, I’ve already observed a number of important, but very rare, leadership lessons on display:

1. They care for their employees, not just their customers. Publix has been named one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” The employees radiate a positive attitude, as if they love their work and love serving the customers. Publix is “employee owned,” meaning that employees not only receive a salary, they also become invested in the company’s stock. Leaders of every organization should learn from this principle and ask themselves: Do our employees have a sense of ownership, or do they just “work here”?

2. They provide a clear path of upward mobility. When a new Publix store opened here recently, I got talking to one of the workers during the grand opening. Little did I know at the time, but it turned out he was the president of the entire Publix organization—with more than 1,000 stores in all! I found out later that he had started working at Publix as a food bagger, working his way up the ladder until he became the president. Rumor has it that he’s now worth more than $200 million, not just because of his salary, but primarily because of stock he’s accumulated in the company. Does your organization enable people to grow into increasingly influential roles? Or do employees get the sense that your leadership team is a “closed club” that they will never have access to?

3. They are already great, but they’re hungry to get even better. When I unknowingly talked with the Publix president that day, it was to provide a suggestion—in fact, it was more like a complaint. He listened intently and even took a few notes. Then he walked me around the store to show me some of the things I had missed up to that point. I left the encounter with him with the clear feeling that I had been heard. And I saw that even though the Publix organization has been in existence since 1930, they weren’t resting on their laurels as some other grocery chains have done. They still are eager to receive feedback and keep improving the customer experience. What a great lesson for every organization. We should always want to grow and improve, no matter how successful we’ve already been.

4. They’ve trained their workers to lead, not just point. If you ask a question to an employee of most grocery stores, they will politely give you an answer and point you in the direction of what you’re looking for. For example, if you ask where you can find the apple sauce, they will say, “It’s over there on aisle 3.” There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but Publix employees often take an additional step. “It’s on aisle 3,” they will reply, “and let me take you to the exact spot.”

Do you see how significant this leadership principle is? Many CEOs, politicians, preachers, or other leaders are great at pointing the way, but they often do a terrible job of leading the way. For example, if you ask a preacher how you can have a better marriage, he is likely to refer you to a book or sermon series on the subject. If you ask a politician what it will take to make the country better, he will probably give you some platitudes from his stump speech. But where are the leaders who emulate the Publix model—taking people to the destination instead of merely giving out advice and pointing?

The Bible has many examples of leaders who truly led the way. They weren’t just “do as I say” leaders, as so many are today. Aren’t you glad Moses didn’t just stay in Egypt and give the Israelites a map they could follow to the Promised Land?

Yes, it’s important to point people toward the precepts and principles we are called to follow as believers. But the apostle Paul emphasized that he wanted people to follow his example as well: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, 2 Timothy 3:10-11, Philippians 4:9).

I encourage you today to do an assessment of your organization’s leadership culture. I think there are some things we all can learn from Publix.

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