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.

A Shepherd of God’s People

Psalms 78:70-72 NIV
“He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”

Our Great God,
Thank You for choosing ordinary, less-than-perfect people to serve You as shepherds. May we serve with integrity of heart and skillful hands.
In Jesus’ name,

The Gentle Art of Pastoring

I am enjoying reading Good Shepherds More Guidance for the Gentle Art of Pastoring which includes helpful essays on matters like “Paul, The Elders, and Spiritual Formation,” “Doctrinal Disagreement: Must It Be War?,” and “When Worlds Collide: Clashing Spiritual Styles in Church.”

One essay that caught my attention was written by Virgil Fry who is a hospital chaplain who spends much of his time at M. D. Anderson. Perhaps this caught my attention because sometimes we just don’t know what to say to someone who is in pain or grieving. His essay, entitled “Shepherding the Seriously Ill and Grievers,” included the following suggestions for alternative responses to support someone in crisis:

Instead of: It’s probably not as bad as it seems.
Try: What helps you get through tough times?

Instead of: Just pray harder.
Try: Are there spiritual issues I can help you with?

Instead of: You shouldn’t dwell on the negative.
Try: It’s hard to find anything good at times like this, isn’t it?

Instead of: I don’t understand why you are so upset.
Try: Help me understand what you are going through.

Instead of: The more you talk about it the worse you’ll feel.
Try: Let me be your sounding board for a while.

Instead of: Don’t you know it could always be worse?
Try: It probably seems very overwhelming right now to you.

Instead of: You’ve got to keep smiling and look for the positive.
Try: I’m impressed that you are able to keep going.

Instead of: Where’s your faith?
Try: Sometimes our faith journey takes mysterious routes, doesn’t it?

Instead of: Everything happens for a good purpose.
Try: Right now it’s probably hard to see any good coming out of this.

Instead of: Just count your blessings.
Try: In spite of everything, you seem to have much going for you.

Instead of: You need to stay busy with other things.
Try: May I help you talk through your options?

Instead of: Here’s a professional counselor you should call.
Try: Would you consider seeking additional help?

Instead of: I know lots of people who’ve dealt with that.
try: Sometimes it helps to find some others who have survived the same thing.

Instead of: You know we’re not supposed to ask why.
Try: Isn’t it amazing how many people of faith also struggled with why?

I hope these suggestions will be helpful to you, as they were to me. May God give us the patience to be quiet when we can help best by listening, words to say when we can help best by talking, and the wisdom to know when to be quiet and when to talk.

Easily Unsettled

“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Jesus is coming and when He does, His people will be gathered to meet Him. God wants His people to be encouraged and comforted by this basic Christian teaching.

God does not want us to be a fearful, troubled people. And what better to settle us down than to let our minds rest on the end-times scene of the sky cracking open, Jesus being revealed, and our being gathered to Him.

This coming of and gathering by Jesus brings peace of mind to hearts troubled by illness, grief, poverty, spiritual struggles, and personality clashes. Whatever trials we may be going through, we can rest on God’s promise of Jesus’ return. What a blessing to be a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd — green pastures. quiet waters, and the assuring presence of the shepherd’s rod and staff.

Yet sometimes the peaceful flock is excited, shaken, even troubled by people claiming to have a message from God.

A rumor here.

A report there.

You begin to feel the wool standing on the back of your neck as you grow alarmed at the claims you are hearing.

“Listen to this.”

“Read that.”

“You have missed out on what God is doing.”

“This is not my opinion, I have a word from God.”

While it’s hard to believe there are people who would do this to a peaceful flock at Thessalonica – upset their tranquility by trying to convince them they were going to miss out on the joy of Jesus coming and gathering His people — it’s even harder to believe they justify their actions by claiming authority from God.

The apostle Paul calms the flock with words of reassurance. He asks them to slow down and not jump to conclusions. Not every vision, prophecy, or “breathless report” (MSG) is to be accepted. Simply put, some people who loudly and boldly claim to have a message from God, in reality, do not.

Jesus is coming and when He does, His people will be gathered to meet Him.

Settle on this promise.

The Blessing of Accountability

“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Church leadership is hard work. Watching the flock requires constant attention. Searching for strays demands energy and endurance. Feeding the spiritual family means hours spent in preparation through prayer and study. Taking responsibility for souls can be a huge load to carry. Being out in front of the church means walking closely with God because you cannot lead people where you haven’t gone. Admonishing people requires thick skin to go along with a loving heart. And through it all, fostering a peaceful environment can be difficult.

Keeping peace is easy if by peace you mean just avoiding conflict. To maintain this brand of peace you turn the other way when someone is drifting away from the flock. You let go the strays since they might kick and run as you try to bring them back. You wash your hands of any responsibility for the stubborn in the waters of “that’s just the way she is, nothing we do is going to change her anyway.” You find it much easier to keep this kind of peace when you walk behind the flock with a shovel rather than walking in front with a staff. You dismiss admonishment as kind of an old-fashioned approach that just doesn’t work any more.

But peace, real peace, is so much more than the absence of conflict at any cost. The peace Paul calls the church to experience is in the context of a leadership devoted to watching, searching, feeding, leading, admonishing and taking responsibility. All this and peace, too? No question about it, church leadership is hard work.

While this passage reveals a lot about the difficulties of leadership, Paul’s primary purpose here is not to instruct leaders on how to lead. Instead, he is instructing the followers on how to follow. What is the responsibility of the church to their leaders? In a word, respect. Paul asks the followers to respect the work of their leaders.

How does a church show respect for the leadership? Maybe the best way to get started is to understand what hard work is involved in leading a church. Respect may well be the reaction when the hours required and the energy expended are calculated and understood. But there is more to it, I think. Respect may best be shown by following the leaders: remaining in the fold, grazing in the green pastures, listening to direction and instruction, paying attention to warnings, and living in peace. I do not know of a church leader who wouldn’t appreciate that kind of respect.

But the responsibility of followers goes beyond mere respect. It means loving the leaders. Look at how Eugene Peterson has rendered the beginning of verse 13 in The Message. “Overwhelm them with appreciation and love.” That raises the bar for followers.

So we might need to evaluate how we are doing as followers. Are we showing respect for church leaders? Are we giving them our wholehearted love? Remember, leading a church is hard work and accountability is a real blessing.

Dad Skips Search For Son

People from all around Kittitas, Washington gathered to search for Cody, the eleven year old boy who had been missing for several weeks. Alarmed neighbors. Frightened classmates. Concerned friends. Helpful strangers. They all gathered, listened closely to the instructions on where and how to search, and then scattered to cover as much territory as possible.

One person was obviously missing from the search, the boy’s father. He “lawyered-up,” refused to talk to anyone about his missing son, and skipped the search. The father and his girlfriend even refused to attend the candlelight vigil. The community rallied to find the boy. The boy’s father refused to search.

Can you believe it — Dad skipping the search for his missing son?

Maybe now is a good time to remember what kind of Father we have. Take a moment to read through Luke chapter 15 and reflect on three pictures of God.

God is like a shepherd who searches for that one lost sheep until he has it safely in his arms (verses 1-7). When he finds it, He rejoices with his friends and neighbors.

God is like a woman who searches for the valued silver coin she has lost until she has it back in her hands. (verses 8-10). When she finds it, she joyfully celebrates with her friends and neighbors.

God is like a father who patiently and persistently watches and waits for his son to come to his senses and return from the far country of sin (verses 11-32). He won’t stop until his son is back in his arms. Little does the son know that while he is traveling down the road toward home rehearsing his plea for forgiveness, his father has been looking down the road to the far country while going over plans for the welcome home party. Talk about a blow-out celebration — the best robe, the ring, the sandals, and the fattened calf.

What endearing pictures of God! I don’t think I will ever understand a father skipping the search for his missing son. How can a father’s heart be so apathetic? But more and more I am grasping the Father God who loves us so much that He never stops seeking, searching, waiting, and watching for us. More and more I am understanding our God initiates and leads the joyful celebrations of heaven. The more I know Him, the more I want to joyfully celebrate right here and right now.

After all, when you know the Heavenly Father who would never skip a search, why would you wait until heaven to celebrate with Him?