• Make Sure You Avoid These Mistakes in Leading People at Church

    Leading people is always a tough job. One of the hardest things to do as you lead people is to assess where people are at spiritually. This is hard because spiritual growth is usually unseen. One of the ways I have assessed spiritual maturity and growth in the past is by seeing how much people are serving in church. If they are serving a lot I would think they are mature and growing in their faith if they aren’t serving much or at all that must mean that they are immature and not growing.

    But as Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson show in their book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth. Judging spiritual maturity or growth on the hours one puts in at church can be misleading. Here is what they say about being active in church and the spiritual disciplines:

    Never let the passion to serve eclipse a commitment to personal spiritual disciplines. Since those Growing in Christ are very active volunteers, it’s easy for leaders to affirm this segment’s high levels of serving as a clear measure of their spiritual growth. But leaders must not lose sight of the need to affirm and challenge these individuals in their commitment to personal spiritual disciplines such as prayer and reflecting on Scripture. Spiritual growth is about more than being involved in church activities; among other things, it also requires spending time with God.

    Here is what they say about high levels of service and qualifications for leadership:

    Don’t confuse high levels of service with qualifications for Christian leadership. The fact that some people serve a ton in your church does not by itself mean that these individuals are ready for leadership roles—especially ones that require spiritual leadership over a group of people. Their high degree of involvement does not necessarily mean they are mature followers of Christ. We wish this were not the case. It would be much easier and a lot more convenient to just ask people about their previous serving experience and then place those with the most impressive resumés into leadership. That is how it works in most organizations, and some people in a congregation assume that is how it should also work in the church. They tell us all about what they are involved in and how successful that involvement has been as justification for a leadership position in the church. But we can’t let that influence us. Instead, it’s vitally important to shift the focus from activities and accomplishments to the condition of the heart. We need to listen between the lines to make sure they are in love with Christ and not just the church. Have they organized their lives so they can spend time with Christ, the one they love, when no one else is watching? It’s tempting to settle for a record of service as qualification for leadership—especially when you’re trying to find ten or twenty new small group leaders—but resist the temptation.

    What the authors are not saying is that church involvement isn’t an indicator of spiritual growth and or maturity they are saying it is not the only one.

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  • Small Shifts in Doctrine May Destroy the Future Church

    A mate tells me a story about the first time he played golf. Needless to say he sucked. One shot was far left and in the trees and the other was far right in the water. His friend that took him out to play golf said that he was only off by a few millimeters! My friend then hit another ball in the water and said “Yeah looks like it!”. His friend said “No your club face is just a few millimeters off from where it should be. If you turn the club face a tiny bit in the wrong direction in has huge results. A small change here means huge changes down there!”

    I hate golf but I think this is a great analogy for doctrine. Because if doctrine shifts subtly in one area we may not see the full affects of this shift till we we are long gone. A small change in doctrine can have huge affects later on down the line. And therefore we must assess changes in doctrine, however subtle, just on whether they are still within in the bounds of evangelical belief but also how will this shift affect the witness of the gospel in future generations. Small changes in doctrine may mean huge changes in later generations. This is what P.T Forsyth helpfully pointed out about a century ago:

    The ideas at the centre of the Christian faith are too large, too deep and subtle, to show their effects in one age; and the challenge of them does not show its effect in one generation or even in two. Individuals, society, and the Church, indeed, are able to go on, externally almost unaffected, by the way that they have upon them from the past; and it is only within the range of several generations that the destruction of truths with such a comprehensive range as those of Christianity takes effect. Therefore it is part of the duty of the Church, in certain sections and on certain occasions, to be less concerned about the effect of the Gospel upon the individual immediately, or on the present age, and to look ahead to what may be the result of certain changes in the future. God sets watchmen in Zion who have to keep their eye on the horizon; and it is only a drunken army that could scout their warning. We are not only bound to attend to the needs and interests of the present generation; we are trustees for a long future, as well as a long past. Therefore it is quite necessary that the Church should give very particular attention to these central and fundamental points whose influence, perhaps, is not so promptly prized, and whose destruction would not be so mightily felt at once, but would certainly become apparent in the days and decades ahead.  P.T. Forsyth The Work of Christ, pp. 142-43

     

    Let us not be historically naive  Let us make sure we learn from the past and see how small shifts in doctrines may mean huge losses in the future.

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  • How Christians get Holiness Wrong

    What does it mean to be holy? When I was a teenager I thought that to be holy meant that you shouldn’t do certain things (e.g. have sex outside of marriage, swear, listen to the Backstreet Boys, etc.). This version of holiness says you are holy if you avoid the wrong things. This is what I think Christians generally mean when they talk about holiness.

    But there is something missing with this view of holiness. Actually not something missing but someone missing. Notice how Jesus is missing from this view of holiness? Because Jesus is missing from this view of holiness it not only is it not Christ centered but it can be legalistic. I I am only concerned with doing the right things and not doing the wrong things my life therefore becomes about me and what I am doing but as Christians we know that our lives should be all about Jesus.

    Having Jesus at the centre of our holiness also reminds of us of where our holiness comes from. It doesn’t come from a certain will within ourselves. It comes from Jesus who made us holy by his shed blood on the cross.

    What does this look like practically I hear you ask. It means now we live out of who we are. The Bible says we are new creations and therefore we live like we are new creations. We don’t do the things we did once because that is not who we are anymore. As you can see a Jesus centered holiness is less about striving to be someone or something and more about becoming what we already are. Sure it means that we will not do some things (like listen to the Backstreet Boys) and we will do other things (read our Bibles and pray). But our motivation for doing these things is different. We are trying to be who we are because,  in Jesus, we already are holy.  It means because Jesus has made us right with God we are totally dedicated to him and therefore we will be apart form anything that is sinful. As Anthony A. Hoekema says

    Contrary to popular opinion, therefore, holiness means more than doing certain good things and not doing certain bad things; rather, it means being totally dedicated to God and separated from all that is sinful. 

     

  • Tough questions from a girl who was hurt by adultery

    Last year I sat down with a friend of mine who was at Bible College. A few years ago a mutual friend of ours had committed adultery and was disqualified from ministry. It hit us both very hard but I think it hit her harder because he was her youth minister who led her to Jesus and the girl he cheated on his wife with was her best friend.

    I found myself asking a question that I am not sure I wanted to know the answer to. I asked:

    “What do you think I can learn from this situation?”

    She said I should ask myself these questions:

    Do I think I am above it? She said that no one is above it and to think otherwise shows we are arrogant. But if we think we aren’t above being committing a sin that disqualifies us from ministry we will make every effort to guard against it.

    Do you admit that you are wrong? Her youth Pastor was challenged about the relationship he had with this girl before the scandal came out and yet he never admitted that it was wrong. In fact, he never he admitted he was wrong about anything. Pride does come before the fall.

    What’s in your closet and who knows about it? She said everyone has junk in their closet but what kind of junk is it? A porn addiction? Do you lust after girls/guys in your church or youth group? Who knows about the junk in your closet? If no one knows then no one can hold you accountable and if no one can hold you accountable the sin will overcome you.

    Is your wife involved in your ministry? She said that our friends wife didn’t know what he was doing in his ministry, she didn’t know the relationships that he was forming or where he was most of the time. She said partnering with your wife in ministry is not only helpful to you in ministry but is an added level of accountability.

    If God took away your title as pastor would you still be a Christian? Her ex youth pastor and my friend since the indiscretion has since walked away from Jesus and yet she told me a touching story about seeing him and how he said he still has sermons to preach and  how he loved being a youth pastor. He said that he wished he could all take it back. She reminded him of the gospel and how Jesus loves him and died from him. But he hasn’t come back to church. Maybe it is because of the shame of his sin but she thinks he was more in love with the title of Pastor than Jesus. This is a question of identity. Where do we find our identity? Is it in our Job/title/role or in Jesus? If it is in our job we will want to be needed/wanted by our people if it is in Jesus we will create proper boundaries in our ministry and pastor those people by pointing away from us as their functional saviour to their real saviour Jesus.

    These are very tough and yet timely questions.

     

  • How to forgive your Pastor

    Pastors can be the most disappointing people in the world. I know because I am one. We disappoint ourselves; we let down people in our congregation sometimes by forgetting something and sometimes by a hasty word or action.

    We all can recount times when we have been hurt or at least frustrated by a pastor. This hurt or frustration if left unchecked can fester and destroy our respect and love for our pastors and can even destroy our faith

    What is the solution?

    The Gospel is our solution. Nothing more nothing less.

    Sorry to disappoint you that I didn’t come up with something new and hip but the Gospel is the solution for the following three reasons:

    1. The Gospel teaches us that all people are sinful. Pastors are called to a different standard of Character (e.g. 1 Timothy 3). But we pastors are still sinners, we do make mistakes and we will do in the future. The gospel teaches us to expect this and not to subscribe to some wrongheaded notion of “Pastor Perfect”. Now this can’t be an excuse for pastors and if there is sin your pastor’s life he, just like you, needs to be made aware of it and helped with it in loving and helpful ways. If we recognise that our pastors, just like us, are sinful then we would be more able to forgive them. It also gives us pause to think about what sin I have brought into the relationship that I have with my pastor.

    2. The Gospel teaches us that we have been forgiven. You have been forgiven for everything, how amazing is that? Have you ever thought about how much your God loves you and how much he has forgiven you? When we compare what we have been forgiven to what we need to forgive the two are incomparable. We have been forgiven infinitely more than anything we should forgive. When you pastor sins, upsets you, disappoints you remember forgiveness and how much you have been forgiven and see your pastors sin in this light.

    3. The Gospel teaches us that God is in control. God wasn’t surprised by what happened between you and your pastor. God is not in heaven thinking “I didn’t see that one coming!!” No, God works all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) and so God is working what just happened for your good and his glory. If you knew this would it be easier to forgive your pastor?

    The answer is always the gospel nothing more nothing less.

     

  • What I Wish I Did When I Planted Resolved Part 5: Worked on my Preaching and Prayer Life More

    “That was a lazy way to make that point!”

    This was one thing an older brother in Christ told me over and over as he critiqued my sermon. But his next comment hit harder.

    “Hans, you have potential but if you just rely on your gifts and don’t work hard that potential will be wasted!”

    Cutting words but true words. They were spoken to me a few years before I planted Resolved. But what I found when I started Resolved is that I didn’t work on my preaching and prayer like I should have. I was happy to arrogantly rely and rest on my gifts instead of putting the hard work in. This meant that my sermons weren’t as good as they should have been and that I haven’t improved as a preacher as much as I should have. It also meant that my prayer life sucked and I now am working hard to get it back on track.

    As a pastor my primary job is to be a man of the word and prayer and so I need to give adequate time to these pursuits.  A great sermon doesn’t just happen, it comes about through work and sweat and prayer and reading and thinking and practicing and….well you get my drift.

    It is easy when you plant a church to neglect the things that don’t seem urgent like preaching and prayer. But these things are vital if we want churches to grow and flourish.

    How are you organising your days and weeks so that you can adequately prepare your sermons and you can spend good time in prayer for yourself, your family, your church and your city?

    Let’s not be lazy in these things. Let’s be disciplined!

     

  • Things I wish I did when I planted Resolved: Worried about church government later

    I believe that Elder government is the biblical model of church government. But the question is do you need to kick off a church plant with it in place? Does a church plant need some kind of specific church governance structure?

    When I was at bible college I read a bunch of stuff on church governance and I was convinced that the bible dictated church government and so when I dreamt about my church I dreamed of a church with a strong elder board and a strong system of church leadership.  So this is what I started. The only problem with church government is that you need a clear plan of directing people and leading this structure because structure can turn toxic very quickly and they can stagnate the church. Looking back this is what happened. I didn’t know exactly how to lead these groups so I didn’t lead them well and so people got frustrated, things didn’t get done and the church stagnated.

    We are now at a place where we asking some big questions of what an elder board should do in a church our size. One of the most helpful books I have read on this is Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne.

    All this being said I do think that the elder and elder governed model is the biblical model of church government. But I wish I worried about church government later.

    If you are planting a church you do need to think hard about church government. Because church government is biblical but also because getting it wrong can stunt growth and can hurt people. But you also need to think about when to implement the structure. If you get this worng it can also stunt growth and hurt people.

    Don’t implement your church government until you know exactly how it will function and what that looks like for your church.

     

  • What I wish I did when I started Resolved Part 3: Been fine with not keeping people happy

    We want our churches to be filled with happy people. Because happy people are nice, they give money, are involved in ministry and bring their friends to church etc. If we, as church leaders, live by this we will be running around making sure everyone is happy.

    This is not the game we are in and this is not the game we are to be playing.

    But it is exactly the game I was playing up until recently at Resolved.

    If someone was unhappy I worked hard at making sure they were happy. I would spend hours with them listening, talking, debating, praying etc. In order to make sure they were happy with me and Resolved. I didn’t want them to leave and I wanted no needed them to like me.

    Some people who were unhappy with me or Resolved were very open to working things out. They wanted reconciliation and wanted Resolved to flourish more than anything else. These people quickly became the members Resolved needed.

    But a lot of the time it didn’t go like this. It seemed like no matter what we did some people were unhappy with Resolved and my leadership. No matter how much we oiled the squeaky wheel it squeaked. Trying to get some people to be happy caused us to waste time, it threw us off our game, it caused emotional strain and stress to us and to them. It wasn’t loving for us to play this game with them because it helped them focus on all the bad things and I am sure made them more unhappy with Resolved instead of bringing resolution. Now I am not saying we don’t talk about the things that need improvement or that we don’t try to mend relationships we must do this. What we cant do is work hard at keeping some people happy when they probably will never be happy.

    But what I was really doing in trying to keep people happy was really selfish and arrogant.

    I wanted people to be happy with me.

    I wanted people to stay at Resolved so I looked good because I was the pastor of a growing church.

    I wasn’t thinking about them and their wellbeing and to top it all off my self-centredness was throwing the whole church off its game.

    I am convinced that we need to let some squeaky wheels keep squeaking. I am also convinced that sometimes relationships have become so toxic that sometimes the best thing we can do to pastor some people is ask them to go to another church. A church where they can get fully behind the leadership of the church, a church they will enjoy, a church that they can bring their friends to. When they find a church like that everyone wins.

    As a church leader our job is not to make people happy but make disciples.

    We are playing for an audience of one.

     

  • What I wished I did when I planted Resolved part 2: Worked on our culture

    “Culture trumps strategy every time!”

    We were two and a bit years into our church, we had very talented people, we had big visions, catchy graphics and videos and yet people at Resolved were depressed, tired and burnt out and I was one of them.

    Here was the church I dreamed of planting and I was ready to close it down.

    What was the issue?

    Our culture sucked. Not the outside culture of the world but the culture we had created and let grow in our church sucked.

    Did we preach the bible? Yes

    Did we have talented people? Yes

    But we weren’t growing in anything but despondency and our culture was to blame.

    If you are starting a church please work on the culture of your church because no matter how good your people are or your strategy if your culture sucks your church will suck and it won’t grow.

    Here are the things that I want in our culture and a few things we are trying to do to get each one back on track.

    Evangelistically minded

    As a church we are called to make disciples and so this must be part of our DNA. Next year we are stepping up to the plate with a bunch of different events that people can bring their friends who don’t know Jesus to. We are also letting our people know what sermons in each series will be specifically evangelistic so that they can pray and bring their friends to those Sundays. In doing this we will be emphasizing that ever week is a great week to bring a mate to Resolved but on these specific weeks we will be inviting people to come to know Jesus through prayer or a short course.

    Growth in every area

    We want growth all over the map. We want people to come to know Jesus and we want people to grow in their love of Jesus and grow in their leadership abilities. We are starting small with some one to one discipling and we are doing a thing we call Dig which helps people wrestle with theology in a deep and intelligent way. We are also starting Catalyst which is a training program where we will be training future leaders of Resolved and the church at large.

    Loving

    We want to foster loving relationships. I am not sure that there is a strategy that we can employ with this one. But to say that right now as I think about Resolved I know that we have people who deeply love each other and this brings me countless joy.

    Honesty and openness

    I think we have always been honest and open. We have tried to do this by talking about what we struggle with when we preach or lead. If I am not honest when I preach or lead why will anyone be honest with me?

    Encouragement

    Our generation is more likely to tear down then encourage. We have seen this at Resolved also. We are seeking to point out whenever anyone does something (no matter how big or small) that is good and we will be telling them how encouraged we are to see them doing this thing. I have started this already and I am seeing this catch on which is exciting!

    Do what we say we will do

    We want a culture of execution at Resolved. This means I need to be more disciplined in following up deadlines and making sure things get done. This means I and other leaders to have to play a bit of bad cop from time to time. But this is worth it if we want a culture of execution.

    What culture are you seeking to build?

     

  • What I wish I did when I planted Resolved part 1: Led more directly

    This week I will laying out some of the mistakes I made when we planted Resolved. Some of these mistakes I kept making until recently. I will also talk through some of the things that I am doing now to counteract these mistakes,

    The first mistake I made was with my leadership. I have always been an upfront, lead with strength kind of guy. But when I started Resolved something changed. I turned into a guy who wasn’t that upfront and this upfrontness diminished more and more. I let standards slip, I left people in the jobs they shouldn’t have had to begin with, I let people let us all down and I didn’t do anything.

    Why did this happen?

    I think I let these things slip because I was scared. You see when you start a church you want all the people you can get at your church. You want the people who are there to stay and so you think I won’t offend them by pulling them up on this or stepping them down out of leading this ministry because if you offend them they may not stay. So I did something I thought I would never do.

    I compromised and backed away.

    This has hurt our church to no end. Having the wrong people on the bus confused our vision and some ministries didn’t happen or didn’t happen like they should’ve. Compromising on standards meant that some people lost confidence in me and others as the leaders of Resolved and some even lost confidence in Resolved as a church and Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

    What I am doing now:

    Praying: I am praying that God would grant me wisdom, humility, love and courage. Wisdom to know what we need to do make Resolved the church we are called to be. Humility to listen and take on criticism and know what criticism to take on board. Humility also to remember that my job is not in the people pleasing business. Love for my people and the city of Sydney:  I want to love Sydney and my people so much that I do not compromise on the vision that God has given us for Resolved. Courage to make hard decisions, to lovingly confront issues and people, courage to lead and not coast.

    We are making sure we have the right people in the right seats on the bus: Having the right people is extremely important having them in the right positions is almost as crucial. I am excited about next year primarily because I think we are getting there in this area.

    Leading more strongly: That means having a strongly articulated vision and plans and not compromising on the vision and plans unless I am convinced we need to. That means setting standards and systems and making sure we execute.

    Preaching to myself: I need to keep preaching to myself that God is big and people are small rather than the other way around. When I get put off my game I have realised it is because I overvalue people’s opinions (negative or positive) of me and forgetting that I am playing for an audience of one.

    When I remember that I am playing for an audience of one I am the leader that I need to be. Please pray that I would play for an audience of one!