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Questions that Awaken a Leader’s Life

Tue, 29/01/2019 - 4:51pm

Four questions to help guide us into resurrection life.

As leaders in the church or marketplace, we are often and consistently bombarded by questions of all varieties. This can unintentionally create a modus operandi that we are to haveall the answers to the most pressing questions. We become the all-knowing source for solutions. Slowly and subtly without us realizing, we forget to ask ourselves questions—the most fundamental questions in life.

Questions probe the heart and reveal our lives. Four questions I have been pondering lately are personal, relational, incarnational, and movemental in nature. The personal is the most indispensable.

Personal Question

1 – Do I have a life worth imitating?

Throwing all masks aside and casting off any sense of false authenticity, is the life that I am currently living worth imitating? Have I discovered a way of life that I would gladly invite others to live into because it is beautiful and good? Is my life rooted in a love that knows no boundaries? Is my hunger for significance grounded in Christ, transcending my current sense of failure or success, inadequacies or gifts?

Have I discovered ajoy that can pierce through disappointments, disasters, and distractions? Am I on a pathway that is growing my capacity for peace and patience with people amidst the stress of activity around me and the demanding deadlines ahead of me?

In those moments of thick silence and disrobed solitude, could I say with the Apostle Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ?” Or is my life more reflective of the “Underground Man” in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground?

The underground man or woman lives in a world divested of transcendency, and thus they are left to scratch and claw for meaning in a horizontal framework. Unable ...

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Why Christians Won’t Work Together

Mon, 28/01/2019 - 4:51pm

In the majority of locales across North America, one will often find collegiality among pastors, but rarely solidarity.

Does church planting foster healthy relationships between pastors and a collaborative spirit between local churches for a shared kingdom mission?

Not often.

At one time, the motive for church planting revolved around a desire to impact a new community with the good news of Jesus. A church in the city recognized that regions lacked access to the gospel, so rather than asking people to commute 30 minutes, they determined to plant a healthy, autonomous church in this new locale.

But the motivations for church planting aren’t always so pure.

Common today is a spiritually disguised mantra that in essence says, “Our church is way better than yours.” Church planting is not immune from this hubris. Church plants can emerge from dissatisfied leaders determined to launch an upgraded experience that will fix the liabilities of frumpy and unfashionable sacred assemblies.

An entrepreneurial spirit fleshed in this pseudo-missional disguise often swaggers a mile down the street and goes to market with a new brand, where “it’s ok to not be ok.”

Not to be outdone, another ecclesiastical sherpa, impatient by the pace of change at First Presbyterian, flanks the entrance to the city’s new community center with shiny new A-frame signs announcing a new church with a strange Latin name and a tagline, “This isn’t your grandparents church.”

And the market-share of the community’s religiously predisposed shifts from holy cathedrals to high school cafeterias. But is this a kingdom win?

What is a kingdom win?

Missionary thinking automatically recalibrates for increased evangelistic effectiveness, but the proposed remedies shouldn’t be aimed toward existing believers to create a sense of ...

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The Problem With Using Numerical Incentives In Church Leadership

Fri, 25/01/2019 - 4:50pm

When we require the promise of numerical increase to motivate us to behave biblically, something is wrong.

If a church wants to break growth barriers, here are some of the principles pastors need to follow:

  • Equip church members to do ministry, not just have ministry done for them
  • Train the people you have to reach out to the people you don’t have
  • Be friendly and welcoming to your guests
  • Preach in a way that is clear, biblical and action-oriented
  • Simplify your ministries and your discipleship process so they’re easy to understand and follow
  • Have a clear understanding of what your church is called to do – then do it
Why Does That List Look So Familiar?

On the other hand, if you want a church to be healthy, missional and effective, whether-or-not you break growth barriers, what do you need to do?

The same list.

Why do we need the incentive of numerical increase to inspire us to lead our churches according to sound biblical principles?

Shouldn’t we all be leading our congregations to be healthy, loving, Bible-believing and evangelistic simply out of obedience to God’s Word?

When we require the promise of numerical increase to motivate us to behave biblically, something is wrong.

Faithfulness First

A healthy church always contributes to the growth of Christ’s kingdom, even if they don’t experience numerical congregational increase from week to week.

That should be enough incentive for us to break bad habits, establish new ones, keep learning how to pastor better, and continue equipping church members to live more worshipfully, compassionately and evangelistically.

If a church growth book, conference, podcast or blog can remind us of the need to keep applying healthy church principles, I’m grateful.

But as we mature in our faith and in our leadership, breaking attendance records should matter less, faithfulness ...

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For Christian Women, Persecution Looks Like Rape

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 4:49pm

Around the globe, female followers of the faith suffer sexual violence, forced marriage, forced abortions, travel bans, and trafficking.

For years, Nigerian doctor Rebecca Dali has cared for her country’s poor and widows. But it was her most recent efforts—reintegrating former Boko Haram captives—that won her the United Nations’ 2017 Sérgio Vieira de Mello humanitarian award.

Dali offers psychological support and practical skill training for Christian girls and women who are often suffering from intense trauma brought on by kidnapping and sexual assault. Many of them have children or are pregnant by their rapists. Because of the stigma this carries, she’s had to talk women out of abandoning their children. And because of their Boko Haram ties, these girls and women are often ostracized by their own communities. As a result, Dali advocates on behalf of survivors whose families and husbands refuse to take their daughters and wives back.

Dali’s work serves but a tiny number of the millions of women around the world who suffer from persecution. Of the 245 million Christians attacked for their faith last year, many are women and girls who are specifically and most frequently targeted through forced marriage, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. These are the findings of Gendered Persecution, an Open Doors report that examined the differences in persecution by gender in 33 countries for women and 30 countries for men. (An updated report will be released this March.)

While forced marriage is the “most regularly reported means of putting pressure on Christian women” and “remains largely invisible,” when analyzing the data on female persecution, researchers Helene Fisher and Elizabeth Miller found that

Among all forms of violence… the one most often noted [for women] was rape. The research ...

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Sexual Violence: Whose Fault Is It?

Tue, 22/01/2019 - 7:49pm

In case it's not crystal clear, let us be emphatic: The sole individual responsible for sexual violence is the perpetrator.

In the movie Good Will Hunting, there is a poignant scene in which Will (Matt Damon) talks with his therapist Sean (Robin Williams) while Sean cradles Will’s counseling file. The folder is jammed with gruesome pictures of injuries Will experienced at the hands of his alcoholic dad.

Sean quietly declares that the pictures exposing Will’s brutally beaten body were not his fault but Will quickly dismisses Sean’s statement and remarks that he knows that already. Yet Sean sees through Will’s veneer of disregard and continues to proclaim Will’s innocence.

Will suddenly erupts in anger as he backs away from Sean, but eventually Sean’s words seem to penetrate his soul and he begins to weep as Sean embraces him. Yet, even though Sean repeatedly tells Will that the abuse was not his fault, Will cries out three seemingly perplexing words: “I’m so sorry” (Schultz & Estabrook, 2012).

What incited Will’s words? Why was he sorry?

In a different culture, in a different time, penned on the pages of Scripture, Tamar, the daughter of King David, who was on the precipice of being raped by her half-brother Amnon, cried, “Where could I get rid of my disgrace?” (2 Sam.13:13).

Discussions about this deeply felt sense of disgrace or shame that survivors frequently experience regarding the violence done to them are resurfacing through the #MeToo movement and the sundry of sexual violence stories perpetrated by both male and female clergy who victimize girls, boys, women, and men within sacred places.

However, the question remains: Why are people who are sexually violated and victimized sorry about what was done to them?

The reasons for the self-condemning experience of shame among ...

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In Defense Of Longer (And Better) Sermons

Fri, 18/01/2019 - 10:47am

How long should a sermon be? As long as it needs to be.

People don’t hate long sermons.

They hate boring sermons. Irrelevant sermons. Impractical sermons. Uninspiring sermons. Unprepared sermons. Over-prepared sermons… You get the idea.

A bad sermon can’t be short enough, but an engaging sermon can go longer than you think.

However, before you let your next sermon drone on and on, make sure it’s everything it needs to be.

A Tale Of Two Sermons

Recently, I heard two sermons that went well over 45 minutes each. Both were good. They had great content and I was moved by them.

One of them, while good, would have been even better with some editing. The speaker could have dropped up to 50 percent of it and a very good sermon could have been a great one. The other sermon, though long, felt rushed. It could have gone 10-15 minutes longer and no one in the room would have complained.

The issue wasn’t the length, or even the quality of the sermons, but the fit. One sermon was the right fit for the content and left us wanting more, while the other was too long for the content and left us wanting less.

A better question than “what’s the right length for a sermon?” is “what’s the right length for this sermon?” or “what length of time will help it do everything it needs to do in the best possible way?”

Make Room For What Needs To Be Said

Too often, we limit what we can do with a sermon by the format of the church service.

Why not give the sermon the time it needs by putting a little wiggle room in our Sunday service format?

Got a short sermon? Let the worship go longer. Got a long sermon? Maybe get to it earlier in the service than you usually would so the worship and announcements don’t crowd it out.

People have longer ...

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How to Lead Well as a Church Planting Leader

Thu, 17/01/2019 - 4:47pm

Three tips from my own experience as a church planting leader.

Many frequently joke about the turnover rate in church planting leadership. It seems that whenever I’m at a conference or church event, someone new will come up and say, “Hey, Ed. I’m the new leader of church planting at [insert denomination name].”

To be fair, this issue happens across denominations—it’s not just certain ones in certain parts of the country. It happens at the district, network, and denominational levels.

Church planting requires a certain set of skills—organization, initiative, patience, and passion, just to name a few. These skills are especially required for a church planting leader. To last long term in this capacity without burnout requires some forethought and consideration. Here are some thoughts on how to lead well in this position

First, dedicate yourself to being an advocate.

As a leader of church planting, it’s important to remember that you are not actually a church planter; the roles are different. You aren’t the official doer of all things church planting—you are, by definition, the one who helps organize and oversee the work being done by church planters out on the field.

Church planting leaders who enter into the territory of their church planters in a micromanaging sort of way ultimately undermine their own authority at one time or another. Simply put, if you find yourself frequently saying to the church planters you oversee, “this is what you should do” or “this is how I did it” and “this is how I’m going to do it,” know that this approach is unhelpful in the long term.

For many who work under the leadership of a denomination, your advocacy has to be directed upwards. It’s your job to work ...

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Why Current Church Trends Mean Very Little In Smaller Churches

Mon, 14/01/2019 - 7:45am

Small church ministry isn’t about following trends, it’s about knowing people.

In a couple recent articles, I wrote about current trends in church worship music. (You can read them here and here.)

If you worship or serve in a smaller church, you may have read those articles and shrugged, or maybe you saw the titles and didn’t even bother to read them.

I don’t blame you.

While our brothers and sisters in bigger churches look for trends, compare notes and learn from the latest innovations, small churches usually let those trends pass us by without a ripple.

It’s not because small churches don’t care, it’s because current trends almost never apply in smaller churches the way they do in bigger ones.

Here’s why.

The Unique DNA Of The Small Church

The smaller the church is, the more unique their DNA is.

Especially in a church of 75 or fewer (that’s over half the churches), the mix of personalities makes every church a unique place.

The bigger the church becomes, the less each individual personality affects the whole, so it becomes more helpful to know the latest trends. Not necessarily to keep up with them, but to have the ability to speak into them.

But when a church is small, it isn’t nearly as important to know the latest trends as it is to know the individual people in your congregation and your surrounding neighborhood. To know their needs, their histories, their strengths, their personalities and their relationship with Jesus (or lack of).

Knowing People, Not Trends

If you pastor a church of 50 in an agricultural community, you don’t need to use the latest social media app. If you oversee a small denominational church in a once thriving, but now dying inner city, you don’t need to study blogs about the latest church trends.

In both situations, you need ...

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CT Women’s Top 10 Articles of 2018

Wed, 09/01/2019 - 4:43pm

Why being ‘spiritual’ is never enough, how Kate Bowler experienced Christ in her cancer, and 10 lessons from same-sex abuse inside the church.

Read CT Women’s most-read articles of 2018, ranked in order of which ones our online readers engaged most.

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What Will I Preach This Sunday?! 6 Tools for Overcoming Preacher’s Block

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 10:41am

Simple steps to help you prepare better, preach stronger and have a greater impact.

One of the greatest challenges of pastoring is coming up with something fresh to say to the same people week after week.

As a pastor, I’ve been preaching for over 30 years. Over 4,000 messages. For many years I would regularly run out of things to say – or, more accurately, new ways to reinforce the same foundational truths - but Sunday was coming whether I was ready or not.

If you’re the preaching/teaching pastor, you know the feeling. The Saturday Night Dread. The “what am I going to say this week that they haven’t all heard 100 times before?” panic.

It still happens to me occasionally, but it doesn’t happen as much as it used to, because over the last three decades I’ve learned a few tools that reduce the pressure and make Preacher’s Block a little less frequent.

What To Talk About?

The main issue in Preacher’s Block is coming up with a subject. An idea valid enough to be worth saying, but fresh enough to keep people’s interest.

That’s easy when the audience is new. Or when you’re new to them. But when you’ve been at the same church for years, even decades, you can’t keep saying what you’ve said before – even (especially) if you’re reinforcing the same foundational Bible principles you’ve taught dozens of times.

Over the decades I’ve discovered a handful of tools that help in this task. They’re not the “right” way to preach and/or prepare. They’re some tools that work for me. And maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. Preach In A Series

Yeah, I know. This is not exactly a new idea. But of all the ways to reduce the “what am I going to preach about?” panic, this is the best one, ...

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5 Reasons Leaders Should Never Say “I Don’t Like That”

Fri, 04/01/2019 - 7:39am

Good leaders never make their decisions based on personal preference. They make decisions based on the mission.

Good leaders have strong opinions.

And they should.

But our decisions should be guided by the mission, not by our opinions.

This is especially true in church leadership. The importance of Christ’s mission should be communicated in everything we do and say. Including in subtle cues that often remain under the surface.

The Importance Of Saying “No”

One of the most important aspects of leadership is the courage to recognize and stop bad ideas so that better ideas can thrive. Saying “no” is hard. If it’s done badly it can lower a team’s morale, and even lose good people.

But it must be done. So it’s essential that we learn how to do it well.

Unfortunately, one of the easiest and most common ways we express our disagreement with a new idea is also one of the worse.

Saying “I don’t like that” is one of the fastest ways to kill innovation and stifle a church’s mission – especially when it’s said by the person in the lead position. In a church, that’s usually the pastor.

Here are five reasons “I don’t like that” (or something similar) should be banished from the vocabulary of every leader.

Saying “I don’t like that”... 1. …makes it more about the leader than the mission

Good leaders never make their decisions based on personal preference. They make decisions based on the mission. “What are we trying to do and how well will this idea get us there?” is all that matters.

The reason we don’t like something may, in fact, be because it doesn’t move the mission forward. If so, we need to say it that way. When we phrase our disagreement as if it’s a personal preference, we subtly divert the ...

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Want To Accomplish Your Goals? Dream Bigger – And More Long-Term

Tue, 01/01/2019 - 10:38am

While it may seem counterintuitive, thinking bigger and on a longer timeline is often a better way to get things done.

You won’t succeed at your New Years resolutions this year.

Sorry for the bad news, but it's highly unlikely, statistically speaking.

But here’s what you can do. You can start.

Want to write a book? Start writing every day.

Lose weight? Start a healthier lifestyle.

Grow in your faith? Start a purposeful discipleship process.

Bigger Goals, Longer Timeline

It’s been said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.

I have found this to be overwhelmingly true.

This may be one of the main reasons New Year’s resolutions fail. By trying to get something of lasting significance done in a year, we’re trying to accomplish too much in too short a time. So when we hit a snag or two (as we always will), we see the dream fading away and we give up.

The Complexity Of Accomplishment

For instance, imagine your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight this year (probably the most common New Year’s resolution – at least in the USA).

To do so, the gyms of America will be packed on January 1. But by the end of the first week, they'll be much less packed. And by the end of the month? Back to December levels.

Why such a sudden drop-off? Because we're trying to do too much too soon.

The discipline required to lose weight is multi-faceted. It requires a stunning combination of factors, from finding inspiring long-term motivation, to landing on the right eating plan, to establishing a workout regimen that fits your lifestyle and interests, to finding friends and/or a coach who will provide the right mix of motivation, encouragement and knowledge. And so much more.

Take The Time To Do It Right

Imagine, instead of saying "I'm going to ...

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Interview: Women in Missions Leadership Walk a Tightrope

Mon, 31/12/2018 - 4:38pm

Researcher Mary Lederleitner explores the confusions and frustrations they face.

What distinctive gifts do women have for the global church? Is the church helping or hindering women leaders? In Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead, missions researcher Mary Lederleitner describes both the particular obstacles women leaders face and the unique blessings they offer the body of Christ. Drawing upon two decades of personal experience and interviews with more than 90 women serving in roughly 30 different countries, Lederleitner outlines an emerging model of leadership that is faithful, connected, and holistic. Amy Peterson, adjunct professor at Taylor University and author of Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, spoke with Lederleitner about her research.

In your preface, you mention never having expected to write a book about women in leadership. What changed?

I’ve met a lot of women who are hurting because of divisive claims about what women can and can’t do in mission and ministry. The complementarian-egalitarian framework isn’t serving the global body of Christ well. Once you are in one or the other theological camp, the other group often wants little to do with you. Sometimes it seems like the two groups are enemies rather than people who are destined to live and serve God together for all eternity. I believe our Lord wants us to find a better way to dialogue about women in mission and ministry.

I’ve met women who are the first females to fill their leadership role in mission agencies, and they often feel so alone. Many are struggling to figure out how to lead effectively without the benefit of female role models.

What are you finding that men and women most appreciate from your research?

At a recent conference, a male leader ...

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