Model teamwork

“When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed” (Acts 20:36). Much of Acts chapter 20 describes the relationship Paul had with the elders at Ephesus (particularly from verse 17 to the end of the chapter). I am inspired by the cooperation and teamwork of Paul and the elders. This section serves as a model for how I want to be a cooperative teammate with elders in church leadership.

Women of the NT Letters, part 1

The New Testament includes the stories of numerous women. We already noted the important role women played in the life and ministry of Jesus and in Acts. Before moving on to the letters of the New Testament, perhaps we should pause and reflect on the significance of Jesus allowing Mary to sit at his feet, “listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). Jesus offered this woman something that others denied – time to sit and learn at the feet of a rabbi.

But there are so many other noteworthy women in the New Testament. That being said, here is some information about a few more of the women and some additional passages about women in the New Testament letters.

  • Romans 5:12-21 The apostle Paul, writing about the importance of Jesus to all who have sinned, tells of how sin entered the world. Worth pondering is that Paul points to the disobedience of Adam (as opposed to Eve).
  • Romans 7:1-6 The apostle Paul uses an illustration about marriage to make his point about the law. Interestingly, he uses the rights of women as the heart of his illustration.
  • Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 Paul commends Phoebe to the church in Rome. Phoebe is a deaconess or servant who has been helpful to a great many people, including Paul.
  • Priscilla in Romans 16:3-5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 Paul describes Priscilla and her husband Aquila as his “fellow workers.” Paul mentions that they had risked their lives for him, and in so doing, had blessed him and all the Gentile churches. They are also described as hosting a church in their house. Previously in Acts, Luke had introduced us to Priscilla and Aquila as teachers with knowledge and skills to more fully teach Apollos, known to be a learned man with a thorough knowledge of scripture.
  • Mary in Romans 16:6 Paul described Mary as a woman who “worked very hard” for the church at Rome.
  • Junias in Romans 16:7 Paul writes of his relatives Adronicus and Junias who were followers of Jesus prior to his conversion. While the language can be argued, Paul seems to refer to the two of them as “apostles.”
  • Additional women in Romans 16 Paul mentions a number of other women in Romans 16. Clearly, these women played a significant role in the life of the early church and were coworkers who blessed Paul.

To be continued….




First Tested

For some time I have been reading a chapter a day of Bill Hybel’s book, Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs. I have thoroughly enjoyed being reminded of important church leadership principles through the use of quick stories which function like parables.

Hybels addresses a number of important issues that will be familair to anyone who has been involved in church leadership. I may not always agree with how Hybels deals with a particular situation, but reading his insights always makes me think through how I would act or react in a particular situation. One refreshing feature of this book that makes it real and accessible is that Hybels is not afraid to admit his mistakes and at times be very specific about how he has mishandled certain situations.

Check out the following from page 80.

“What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made as a leader?” It’s one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received since I began coaching pastors and church leaders.

My answer’s always the same: “Placing people in significant leadership roles who were not first tested.” Truly, most of the worst managerial calamities I’ve caused — ones in which people got deeply hurt — can be traced back to my being overly optimistic putting people in roles they were ill equipped to play.

More times than I care to admit, I shouldered people with meaningful ministry responsibility before I’d adequately assessed their spiritual depth, their relational savvy, their capacity to operate effectively within a team environment, and their ability to deal with a crisis. Time and again, a stiff penalty was paid by all.

Hybels goes on in this short chapter to tell of ways he “first tested” men and women before they were entrusted with leadership roles.

If you are looking for a book that addresses common church problems with practical approaches, you might enjoy this easy-to-read book.

Building on Strengths

“Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2).

Paul asks and even urges the Thessalonians to live their lives in a way that pleases God. Paul could have “ordered” them to do so (military style), but instead makes a gentle yet authoritative request. Domination was just not his style, even though as an apostle he could have commanded them (2:6-7). What was his style of leadership? Both reinforcement and encouragement were top priorities in urging his readers to become more like Jesus. Paul reinforces their positive behavior and encourages them to build on their strengths.

Throughout 1 Thessalonians Paul reinforces –

  • Their faithful work, loving labor, and hopeful endurance (1:1-2)
  • Their modeling the imitation of the Lord in the face of suffering (1:6-7)
  • Their reception of the gospel message (1:8-9)
  • Their turning from idols to God (1:10)
  • Their accepting the preaching as a word from God (2:13)
  • Their standing firm in the face of hostile countrymen (2:14-16)
  • Their loving steadfastly in spite of persecution (3:6-7)
  • Their loving all the brothers throughout Macedonia (4:9-10)
  • Their belonging to the light rather than the darkness (5:5)
  • Their encouraging one another and building up each other (5:11)

Are these people perfect? Far from it. Do they have problems? You bet they did and Paul was not afraid to correct them. But we must not overlook the reinforcing style Paul uses throughout this letter. His urging them to “do this more and more” (4:1, 10) is his way of encouraging them to build on their strengths. They were doing some things right and they needed to understand that and continue building on those strengths.

Paul’s reinforcing style is seen as even more remarkable when he is able to use it in writing even the Corinthians who are well-known for their troubles. In spite of their problems Paul writes about his “complete confidence” in them (2 Corinthians 7:4, 16), his boasting to Titus about them (2 Corinthians 7:14), and his boasting about their eagerness to give to poverty-stricken saints (2 Corinthians 9:2).

While there may be times church leaders refuse to address the faults of their congregation, perhaps as often they fail to see the good things happening in their midst. When we fail to address inadequacies the congregation’s growth will be weakened by the ignored sin. When we neglect to see any positives the church’s growth will be stunted by missed opportunities to build on strengths. Paul looked for the good and built on the strengths – not a bad leadership model!

Burdensome Leadership, Motherly Ministry

“As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:6 b-8).

Paul recognized church leaders can be burdensome. Some of us more than others understand what he means, since some have experienced church leaders who were a burden. Heavy-handed. Oppressive. Dictatorial. Following such leaders sucks all the life out of you. There is no joy as you robotically go through the motions of a worship service. The words, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs” (Psalm 100:2) and “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1) seem like a cruel taunt.

But Paul’s ministry style was different. Not only did he not manipulate with flattery or conceal with masks, but also he did not throw his apostolic weight around. You might expect an apostle to be consumed with his self-importance, but Paul was not. In fact, he was careful not to be patronizing or condescending. Paul’s ministry was gentle rather than harsh or arduous; so gentle that he described his ministry as motherly.

Motherly ministry? What an awesome word picture! Who is gentler than a mother caring for her baby? She is aware that her purpose is to provide for, protect, and nurture her child. There is no aloofness between mother and child. She opens up and shares her very life with her little one. Her son is her delight. Her daughter is her joy. She takes delight in being with her children and sharing her love with them.

Such is Paul’s ministry: loving, caring, nurturing, sharing, delighting, and endearing – a model of ministry that is far from burdensome. Paul’s mentoring of Timothy included instruction about gentleness: “God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool . . .” (2 Timothy 2:24 The Message). Paul was merely embodying the teaching of Jesus in his ministry to the Thessalonians and his mentoring of Timothy.

When the other disciples were indignant that James and John were jockeying for position in the kingdom, trying to establish their rank so they would know just how much authority they had to throw around, Jesus corrected them. “Jesus got them together to settle things down. ‘You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,’ he said, ‘and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage’” (Mark 10:42-45 The Message).

May God help church leaders be motherly, not burdensome.