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Archive for April, 2012

There’s a scene in the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that reminds me of the wrong way to confront someone.

It’s the scene where Indiana Jones races through a Middle Eastern city looking for Marion, who has been kidnapped.  As Indiana runs around frantically, the crowd quickly disperses and Indiana is left staring at a large, scary-looking guy whipping his sword around.

What will Indiana do?  Yell at the guy?  Run?  Call for reinforcements?  Ask for a sword of his own?

Indiana takes out his gun … and shoots the guy dead.  (When I first saw the film, my friends loved that scene.)

That may be the way to handle sword-wielding bad guys, but it’s not the best way to handle a confrontation with someone you love.

And yet that’s what many people do when they confront another person.

In essence, they shoot them.

Jesus suggested a better way in Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

Your brother is another Christian believer.  This passage applies to sisters in the Lord as well.

And the implication is that your brother or sister has sinned against you, violating you in some way.

Let me share five hints for handling a potential confrontation in a more healthy manner:

First, confront in person. 

It is not fair to confront someone in an email, or on Facebook, or in a text, or via snail mail.

The person you’re confronting can’t see your face, or hear your tone of voice, or read you at all.

I don’t like the telephone for confrontation, either – and no, I haven’t confronted anyone via Skype.

Unless impossible, confrontations should almost always be done in person.

You can convey your love for the person through your voice tone, body language, and facial expressions.

You can enter into a dialogue rather than force the other person into listening to your monologue.

You can encourage them to listen to you much easier if you confront them in person.

Second, confront them alone.

If I’m struggling with something you did wrong, or I’m concerned about our relationship, Jesus commands me to talk to you alone “just between the two of you.”

It’s not fair for me to ask someone else to confront you.

It’s not fair for me to bring two or three people into the situation … yet.

What if I’ve got the facts wrong?  What if I’m seeing things incorrectly?  What if I’m overreacting?

Meeting with you one-on-one is the fairest way to handle matters.

Third, deal with issues as they arise.

There is an immediacy to Jesus’ words: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault …”

But what do most of us do?

We avoid confrontation, so we wait … and stew … and get hurt again … and avoid confrontation … and stew … and get hurt again … and then:

WE EXPLODE!

And the object of our wrath probably has no idea about our strong feelings.

It’s an old expression, but true: keep short accounts with people.

As Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”

Handle people’s offenses as they arise.

When you avoid dealing with issues as they arise, you’ll be tempted to accumulate offenses.

You’ll keep a running list.

You’ll try and rope others into agreeing with your list.

You’ll eventually be tempted to dump the whole list of offenses on your brother or sister at once, which will seriously damage your relationship and may even end it for good.

Practice confronting people within a short time after they commit an offense.  If you can’t do that, LET IT GO.

Fourth, ask for permission to confront.

We have a right to confront people with whom we are close: family, friends, long-time co-workers.

But we have the right to confront because people give us that right.

I’ve learned to say this at times: “I’ve noticed something you do that I’m not sure you’re aware of.  Would it be all right for me to share that with you sometime?”

When they say yes – and most people will because they’re curious – they have just given you permission to share your concerns with them.

I went to lunch one time with a man who attended my church.  We barely knew each other.

He started criticizing my preaching.  I stopped him cold.

I told him that he hadn’t yet earned the right to criticize me that way … and he hadn’t.  If I changed for him, how would those who liked my preaching feel?

It’s not that I can’t learn from others.  I can.  But some rights must be earned.

Finally, affirm your relationship.

Let the person you’re confronting know that you value their friendship and that you are “for” them, not “against” them.

Tell them, “I hope we’ll always be friends.”

In my own life, I only confront people if (a) they’re harming themselves or others, or (b) they’re harming our relationship.  Otherwise, you have to let most things go.

You can never predict how people will handle a confrontation, but if you (a) confront in person, (b) confront them alone, (c) deal with issues as they arise, (d) ask for permission to confront, and (e) affirm your relationship – you have a far greater chance for success.

Your thoughts?

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It was one of those moments you never forget.

I was sitting in the office of our new pastor when suddenly, the phone rang.

The pastor took the call.  It would change both of our lives forever.

Several leaders in our church – including people who had taught me the Bible – were caught in behavior unbecoming of spiritual leaders.

And these leaders were prominent in our fellowship.

Because I stayed in the room, I could tell by the pastor’s conversation that this was serious stuff.

And it was even more serious when I learned the names of the people involved.

I didn’t want to know anything … but it was unavoidable.

And I was only 19 at the time.

This revelation shook me up.  People I had put on a pedestal weren’t the angels I thought they were.

That night, I went with the pastor to visit people in their homes.  As we discussed the events of that morning, he told me something I’ve never forgotten:

“Jim, don’t ever be shocked by what Christians do.”

That was my baptism into the inner circle of church life.

The inner circle of a church is composed of the pastor, staff members, and key leaders who know what’s going on and make decisions that influence church life.

After being in the inner circle of eight churches over 35 years of ministry, I’ve come to four conclusions about that circle:

First, the inner circle deals with the back side of church life.

When I was a kid, there was a piece of wood that was used for home plate whenever we played baseball in our driveway.  I kept the wood on the side of our house.  The wood looked great on its surface, but when I turned it over, the back side was full of bugs.

Churches can look like that, too.

It’s not that staff members are partying or board members are swearing at each other.  It’s more subtle than that.

It’s that people who appear to be Christians on Sunday may act like secular people behind the scenes.

I’ve known leaders to make threats.  A few have used passive aggressive tactics.

Some have agreed to a decision in a board meeting and then sabotaged the decision in the parking lot afterwards.

Most people who serve in the IC are right-on believers, but life in the IC can become stressful.

You have to be called to serve in that IC … and refuse to be shocked by what you see and hear.

Second, the inner circle is composed of humans, not saints.  My first few years in church ministry, I wanted to believe that my pastor and board members were truly saints of God.

And then I got to know them.

And the more I got to know them, the more I discovered how human they really were.

And the more human they were, the more I liked them.

When I discovered that a leader liked baseball, or a movie I enjoyed, then we shared something in common that we could discuss whenever we saw each other.

But I was shocked at times by how non-human some leaders seemed because they tried to give the impression that they were perfect.

I always had trouble with those leaders.  In fact, most of the leaders I’ve had trouble with over the years never admitted that they did anything wrong.

The human ones were comfortable being authentic.  The inhuman ones tried to act angelic.

That’s one of the benefits of reading Christian biographies.  You find that people you admire are human … just like you.

A veteran Christian leader recently told me that the key to God’s blessing in a church is when the leaders become real with each other.

He may be right.

Third, the inner circle sometimes makes decisions in a messy manner.

My first-ever job was in a butcher’s shop.  I had to go into a closet and clean out the machine where hamburger was made.

Believe me, you don’t want to see how hamburger is made.

And you might not want to see how decisions are made in a church, either.

Some people think a pastor comes to a board meeting, makes a proposal, everyone nods their heads, and the decision sails through.

But reality is far different than that.

I’ve brought proposals to a board meeting that I thought would be approved in five minutes … and one hour later, the board was still haggling about it.

Not arguing … just haggling.

Some people can handle it.  Others cannot.  Those who cannot should probably serve elsewhere.

But those God calls into the IC gradually accept that decision making can be messy.

It’s the price we pay for letting a multiplicity of leaders manage a church.

Finally, the inner circle tests all who are in it.

A friend of mine sits on the board of a prominent church.  He told me recently that his pastor receives scores of critical notes about his preaching every single week.

My friend believes in his pastor and in his church’s mission … but it’s obvious that not everyone does.

If you sit in the back of a church sanctuary on Sundays, you’d never know about all the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes.

And in a healthy church, you never will.

By contrast, the Four Gospels give us glimpses into Jesus’ IC.

There were events that only The Twelve knew about … like Peter trying to walk on the water.

And there were conversations that only Peter, James and John heard … like Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane.

I must confess, when I first read the Gospels, I was shocked by much of what happened in Jesus’ IC.

But as I grew in my faith, I came to realize this one crucial truth:

God only uses imperfect people.

And that includes the IC at your church, too.

If you’re in the IC, loosen up a bit.  Be authentic rather than legalistic.

And if you’re not in the IC, pray for those who are.

Because they represent you.

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How do you react when you look in the rearview mirror of your car and see a police car behind you with its lights flashing?

That happened to me yesterday.

I was driving in the fast lane from Phoenix to California on Interstate 10.

One moment, nobody was behind me.

The next minute, I thought I was dead meat.

When I moved into the right lane, a sheriff zipped past me to handle a matter further up the road.

But for one brief moment, I assumed I had done something wrong … although I didn’t know what it was.  (My speed was fine.)

My guess is that you’ve had that feeling, too.

Somebody suddenly appears in your life and signals that you’ve committed a serious offense.

Maybe your spouse accuses you of emptying the checkbook … but you’re sure you didn’t.

Or your boss accuses you of undermining her leadership … but you can’t imagine what she means.

For some people, their first reaction is to instantly confess … even if they didn’t do anything wrong.  Just being accused of something prompts them to admit their guilt.

For others, they quickly defend themselves … even if they are guilty as charged.

I bring this up because many pastors – when they undergo forced termination – usually aren’t told the real reason why they’re being pushed from office.

They’re told by members of the governing board:

“We just thought it was time to make a change.”

Or …

“We think your time here is up.”

Or …

“We love you, pastor, and sense you’re not happy here anymore.”

But the pastor is never told the real reason why he’s being ousted.

Maybe the board can’t articulate it.

Maybe the board lacks the courage to be honest.

Maybe the board doesn’t have a good reason.

Because if they did, they’d be forced to say:

“We want to run the church without your interference.”

Or …

“Several of our friends are upset with you and we want to keep them as friends, so … out you go.”

Or …

“Your preaching has been hitting the mark too often recently – and that makes us uncomfortable – so we’d like you to leave so we can feel better about ourselves.”

The pastor was cruising along the road, assuming everything was fine, when suddenly … the flashing lights appeared.

In our culture, we assume that when someone is charged with wrongdoing, they must have done something wrong.

But that’s not necessarily true.

Jesus was accused of blasphemy by the Jewish leaders and sedition by the Roman leaders – but He wasn’t guilty of either offense.

We’ve known that ever since the Four Evangelists wrote their Gospels.  The resurrection ultimately vindicated Jesus.

But many people still assumed that He did something wrong because He was crucified.

Years ago, at a church I served, I was accused of doing something I didn’t do.

If the charge got around the church, it could have ended my ministry.

I talked to someone who worked for human resources at a large secular company about the accusation.  This person gave me some great advice: “Just because someone claims you did something wrong doesn’t mean you did.”

While I knew that mentally, I needed to grasp that emotionally.

I have since learned that, like Jesus, I may at times be falsely accused of certain offenses.

And other people – even friends – may believe the charges against me … not because they possess any evidence of wrongdoing, but because they choose to believe the charges.

But the church of Jesus Christ is called to a much higher standard.

1 Timothy 5:19 says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder [pastor] unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”

When the witnesses make the accusation, they need to provide eyewitness testimony or some form of evidence.

They need to accuse the elder/pastor to his face.

The pastor/elder has the right to cross-examine them.

But you know what often happens?

When an accusation is tossed into the ether, the pastor hears about it and quickly resigns … not because he’s guilty, but because he’s certain that he won’t be given any kind of fair process to answer the charges.

The flashing lights alone indicate his guilt.

But as I learned yesterday, those lights may not be aimed at you at all.

If you’re upset with your pastor – and a fair amount of my readers are based upon the search terms they use to find this blog – make sure that you follow the biblical process outlined in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21 if you choose to take matters further.

Or those lights in your rearview mirror may later be intended for you.

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Nobody likes to get yelled at.

Especially kids.

Many years ago, in my second pastorate, I was preaching one Sunday morning.

So the nursery workers could hear the service, someone installed a loudspeaker high on the nursery wall.  (I was always amazed that any parent put their child in that nursery because it smelled of gas.  We never did discover the source of the problem.)

Anyway, on this particular Sunday, I must have been passionate about some issue, because one of the little kids heard my voice, looked up at the speaker on the wall, and cried out:

“Don’t yell, God!”

I wonder how many people have been driven out of churches because the pastor yelled.

A pastor needs passion or people will fall asleep.

A pastor needs to vary his voice pitch to sound interesting.

A pastor needs to get excited every now and then.

But yelling?

I was scheduled to go to the dentist today, but my appointment has been postponed until next week.

Why is it that most people don’t like to go to the denist?

At least in my case, it’s not just the pain … I know I’ll leave that place alive.

I’m more afraid of the dentist yelling at me for not taking care of my teeth perfectly … even though I floss every day.

And I don’t like to get yelled at.

Let me share three reasons why pastors don’t need to yell when they preach:

First, yelling never makes a point more emphatic.

I once read about a pastor who took his notes into the pulpit with him.  In one place, he wrote, “Weak point.  Yell louder.”

My wife and I recently attended a church service where the pastor spoke a mile a minute during his message.  He sounded like former Lakers’ broadcaster Chick Hearn on steroids.

After the service, I told my wife, “He could have made his points more effectively if he had slowed down and spoken softer at times.”

I wish our politicians would quit yelling when they speak.  Maybe pastors can lead the way.

Second, yelling assumes that people aren’t listening. 

I’ll never forget the third sermon I ever preached.  (It was much better than the first two.)  It was on 1 Peter 4:8.  I went to my pastor that morning and asked him if it would be all right if I pounded the pulpit when I preached that night.

He said it was fine.

When I pounded the pulpit, I’m sure I felt better … but I’m not sure anyone else felt better.

Like many pastors, I once assumed that if I sensed I was losing people as I preached, I had to yell a bit to recapture their attention.

I no longer believe that … especially in a day when pastors use amplification when they speak!

Finally, yelling makes people feel that God is yelling at them, too.

I stay away from people who yell at me.  Most people act the same way.

And when a pastor yells at a congregation, some listeners – maybe most of them – sense that God is yelling at them, too.

That’s certainly the way the kid in the nursery reacted to me many years ago.

He so identified my voice with the voice of God that when I yelled, he thought God was yelling at him.

But doesn’t God also speak through a still small voice?  Elijah needed to learn that lesson.

I think the day of yelling preachers is long gone.  It doesn’t work anymore.

Passion is good.  Conviction is necessary.  Even an occasional rant is okay.

But yelling?

I agree with my small friend:

“Don’t yell, God!”

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Last Saturday, I had the privilege of leading two workshops on conflict at the Christian Ministries Training Association convention in Pasadena, CA.

During one of the workshops, I mentioned how some churchgoers have the attitude that the church they attend is somehow THEIR church, like they own it to the exclusion of everyone else.

I mentioned, however, that Jesus said, “I will build My church …” in Matthew 16:18, and that Jesus is the Head of the church (Colossians 1:18).  Every church belongs to Jesus, regardless of its name or its pastor or its history.

When I said that, I received a lot of “Amens!”

Why is this issue important?

Because there are people in every church who believe they are more important than anyone else and that their agenda for the church should be carried out.

These people are variously called “powerbrokers” or “subterranean pastors” or even “Protestant popes.”

It has been my experience that most of these people operate behind closed doors.  They revel in their ability to influence church events and plans.

Sometimes they are charter members.

Sometimes they are large donors.

Sometimes they are corporate executives.

Sometimes they are people with their own agendas.

But what makes them dangerous is that they act like the church is theirs.

This sentiment usually surfaces during a time of conflict with the pastor.

The powerbroker takes a stand and tells his/her network, “This is MY church.  I am staying here no matter what.  My family is here.  My friends are here.  My ministry is here.  If this conflict becomes polarizing, then we’re staying, and we’ll make sure that the pastor is the one who leaves.”

This attitude – which is very prevalent in hundreds of churches – will eventually cause everyone in that church great pain.

Here’s why.

When a church is looking for a pastor, they pray about who God wants to assume that role.

Then they select a search team.

The search team surveys the congregation.

They solicit resumes and narrow them down.

They watch and listen to sermons.

They narrow down their candidates to a few and prioritize the list.

After months of work, they finally select the man they believe God wants in that church.

That pastor moves his family to a new city.

He believes that he comes with the call of God.

Then the pastor slowly tries to implement the agenda God has given him for that church.

And when the pastor runs into trouble with that agenda – usually between years four and five of his tenure – there are people in the church who say, “This is MY church.  We’re staying … and we’re going to make sure that the pastor leaves.”

But who prayed for these powerbrokers to come to the church?

Who searched for them?

Who called them?

Nobody selected them to lead that church.

They selected themselves.

Let me tell you what should happen when people are disgruntled with their pastor’s agenda.

It’s simple.

They can challenge and question his agenda when it’s first announced.

But after it’s been decided upon … the powerbroker and his/her friends either need to follow the pastor’s agenda fully or leave the church.

That idea also received an “Amen” last Saturday.

It’s wonderful to feel some pride in your church … but no matter how much you’ve attended, or served, or given over the years, that church does not belong to you at all.

It belongs to Jesus, who called a gifted pastor to lead it.

Let him lead.

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How committed should a pastor be to the church that employs him?

I grew up in an era when pastors were expected to be available 24/7 to the people in their congregation.  In my first-ever class in seminary, Dr. Charles Feinberg – Mr. Talbot at the time – told our class, “If you can be anything other than a pastor, do it.”

Since I felt called to pastoral ministry, I didn’t know what else I could do.  (I had already tried working at McDonald’s and that experiment didn’t go so well.)

I had a friend in seminary who was a carpenter.  After he graduated, he went into that profession rather than pursue pastoral ministry.  He was able to be something other than a pastor.

But that was never true of me or many of my colleagues.  Bill Hybels used to say of pastors, “We’ve been had.”

Wives often complain that their hubands are married to their jobs, but in the case of pastors, it’s very much true.

While Roman Catholic priests have been instructed not to take a wife so they can be “married” to The Church, Protestant pastors usually commit bigamy: they marry both a woman and a local congregation.

When I grew up, pastors were more married to their churches.  Today, they’re more married to their wives … and that’s much healthier.

But pastors still struggle with how committed they should be to their church.

Let me share several thoughts about this topic:

First, pastors tend to be overly-responsible individuals.  They want their churches to grow both spiritually and numerically.  They want seeking people to find the Lord.  They want to visit sick people in the hospital and counsel people in pain.  They want to manage the church well and start new ministries and oversee worship services and make sure the church looks good and run the staff well … and on and on and on.

Scott Peck said that people who take too much responsibility tend to be neurotic.  If that’s true, then pastors must be among the most neurotic people on the planet.

When I was a pastor, I cared about every aspect of the church: music, small groups, leadership training, youth ministry, children’s ministry, and everything else.  Sometimes I was accused of not caring about certain ministries, but I tried to keep tabs on everything through the staff.  However:

Second, pastors are overly-sensitive to criticism.  In my second pastorate, I tried to help the deaconesses with their ministry and basically got kicked out of the meeting.  (I never interfered with women’s ministry again.)  But in that same church, the seniors were upset with me because I didn’t interact with them in any way – and they felt I had abandoned them.

While it sounds spiritual to say that pastors work for the Lord, He doesn’t directly pay their salary.  People in the church do.  And every pastor knows that when people in a church aren’t happy, they stop coming, giving, and serving.

So a pastor tries intensely to please as many people and groups as possible.  He knows that when people are unhappy, they spread their discontent to others … and bad things happen.

So the pastor runs around like a wedding planner trying to make sure that everything at the church is always perfect so people won’t complain about his leadership … or his caring … or his spirituality … or his preaching … and on and on.

However, pastors wish they could be divine.  While they represent a divine God, they themselves fall far short of divinity.

Pastors don’t know everything.

Pastors can’t be everywhere at once.

Pastors don’t have all power.

Only God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

Many years ago, a prominent church leader went into the hospital for a procedure.  He was angry with me for not coming to see him in the hospital, but I knew absolutely nothing about it.

He expected me to be omniscient, but I couldn’t be.  Even pastors have their limits.

I honestly believe that many pastors burn out because they’re trying to serve without limits (an indication of divinity) when they actually have many limits (an indication of humanity).

When pastors feel overly-responsible for their churches … when they act overly-sensitive … and when they feel like they have to be divine to succeed … they gradually drift toward being married to their church.

And in the process, the pastor puts himself in danger of being divorced by his spiritual bride.

I’ll write more about this topic next week.

What are your thoughts about pastors being married to their churches?

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Albert Pujols is considered to be one of the best players in baseball today … and some believe he’s the greatest hitter of all time.

Pujols is also a believer in Jesus Christ.

Last winter, when Pujols was trying to decide which team he should sign with as a free agent, he and his wife did something unusual.

He and his wife got down on their knees and asked the Lord to help them make their decision.

And Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels (from Anaheim!).

It’s amazing how the Lord guides us when we ask for His help.

My wife and I recently moved back to Southern California.  As I was putting my new study together, I noticed that I was missing several items: some magnets that I’ve purchased in other countries and a set of DVDs.

I have torn this place apart looking for them.

In fact, one night last week, I went through every box in the garage … and there were a lot of boxes there!

While I categorized all the boxes, I never did find the magnets or the DVDs.

Yesterday morning, I did something I should have done earlier.

I asked the Lord to show me where the magnets were.

Immediately, the Lord led me to look in a certain area of the garage.

I opened boxes I had opened several times already … only this time, I spotted a small box that I hadn’t remembered seeing.

The magnets were in that box.

But I still couldn’t find the DVDs.

A few hours ago, I asked the Lord to guide me to them so I could stop obsessing about where they were.

He led me to a stack of boxes in the garage.

A couple minutes later, I found the DVDs … in a box underneath another box that I had thought I had opened.

Have you ever had this happen to you?

You’ve lost something: your ATM card, your keys, your wallet, or your glasses.

You’ve looked everywhere and can’t find them anywhere.

And then you stop looking around you and start looking up.  You ask the Lord to show you where they are.

And He does … miraculously.

That’s a very small use of the power of prayer.  There are much bigger issues to pray about than lost magnets and DVDs.

But if the Lord can guide us to those items, can’t He answer our larger requests as well?

James 4:2 puts it simply: “You do not have because you do not ask God.”

If you want the Lord’s guidance, may I encourage you …

Ask.

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