A time for silence

About six weeks ago I found myself in a conversation that drifted into a topic that made me a bit uncomfortable.

I listened carefully and at one point thought I was going to have to respond, or more accurately, push back. But just as I was preparing to make my case, I had a strong gut feeling that I should remain quiet.

And that is what I did.

One day last week it became clear that staying quiet was exactly what I needed to do.

There is a time to speak out, no doubt; but there is also a time for silence.

I’m thankful I got it right, at least this time.

Thirsty

“Thirsty” is used in pop-culture to describe someone who craves attention. The church needs to learn this word and understand the concept. Numerous articles I’ve read recently warn against appointing someone who wants to be the center of attention to a church leadership role. Why? Because it’s a sign of immaturity. Mature Jesus-followers do not demand attention. They do not thrive on being liked. They are not “thirsty.”

Sustaining the Mission

“A major difficulty in sustaining one’s mission is that others who start out with the same enthusiasm will come to lose their nerve. Mutiny and sabotage come not from enemies who opposed the initial idea, but rather from colleagues whose will was sapped by unexpected hardships along the way.”
— Edwin Friedman

As I read this quote I was reminded of how many times I have seen this happen. For example, I immediately thought of Jesus and the twelve.

God,

Help us be faithful to Your mission whatever the unexpected hardships along the way. Help us be bold and courageous rather than fold under pressure. And may we do everything with love.

In Jesus’ name,
AMEN.

Where are the leaders?

“Where are the gentle spirits and the prayerful souls among our leaders? When will we trust the qualifications of credible lifestyle and courageous witness as much as articulation of programmes and financial expertise? When will we die to the styles of government and authority that characterize our secular society and choose the style of the gospel? So that what is most evident in those who direct and encourage us is their pilgrim status, their ability to listen and to learn and to change, and their global sensitivity. Persons who can share their own spiritual adventure and who release and affirm others to do the same.”
–Joan Puls in Every Bush is Burning

Suspicious Minds

A church leader once told me that one of the saddest things he had to deal with was people who have been taught to be suspicious of everybody and everything. People who don’t trust elders. People who don’t trust ministers. People who don’t trust family. People who don’t trust friends. People who probably don’t trust themselves.

Have you ever met anyone like that?

Do you think such people even trust God?

Where does the lack of trust originate? Is it rooted in some past experience of being burned? Or has suspicion been taught as a mark of discipleship?

Have you ever struggled with trust issues?

I certainly don’t have all the answers. Truth is, I probably don’t even know many of the right questions to ask in discussing this whole topic. But I do want to share some scripture for those who might be struggling with trust issues, those who might be captive to constant suspicions, or those who might be spiritual leaders of such strugglers.

1. God’s people are supposed to be different from the old order of animosity and suspicion.

Ephesians 2:13-15 (The Message)
“But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.

The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.”

2. Stirring up suspicion is not a mark of a healthy ministry.

1 Timothy 6:3-5 (New Living Translation)
“Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy.”

3. Partnership and trust are more appropriate for church relationships than mistrust and suspicion.

2 Corinthians 1:23-24 (The Message)
“Now, are you ready for the real reason I didn’t visit you in Corinth? As God is my witness, the only reason I didn’t come was to spare you pain. I was being considerate of you, not indifferent, not manipulative.

We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.”

O dear God,
I praise Your name.
For You are faithful.
I trust You.
Help me when my trust for You grows weak.

Help me to trust others, especially my fellow Christians, my ministry partners, and my church leaders.
Forgive me for the times I have had evil suspicions in my heart and mind.
Heal the wounds of past experiences where I have been burned, that I might be free to love, accept, and trust.
Deliver me from the attacks of the evil one, who wants me to mistrust and harbor evil suspicions.

Empower me to live a trustworthy life.
I want to be faithful to You and others.
Forgive me for times when I have violated the trust of others.
Heal them from pain I may have caused by my faithlessness.

In Jesus’ name,
AMEN.

Good Shepherds: Reflections on Skyline’s Vision Sunday

A shepherd in China was in a tight spot when his old sheep dog died. He couldn’t afford to buy and feed another dog.

How was he going to care for his flock?

After a visit to a local wildlife park the shepherd got creative. He noticed on his park tour that a flock of rare sheep was controlled by the use of wolf posters. The sheep stayed clear of the large wolf photos, refusing to go anywhere near them. So the park rangers were controlling the movement and behavior of the flock by the strategic placement of these wolf posters.

The shepherd went home, created some wolf posters, and tried them out on his flock. Just as he hoped, the posters did the trick. He could drive the flock, steer the flock, and control the flock by waving the poster of the wolf.

The image of sheep and flocks is often used in scripture to describe God’s people. The image of a shepherd is used to describe God (“The Lord is my shepherd”), Jesus (“the good shepherd”), and Holy Spirit appointed church leaders (“Keep watch over the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers”).

Shepherding a flock, while rewarding, is a demanding work. Effectively shepherding a flock involves feeding, protecting, and leading the sheep. It means scouting out new pastures, watching out for predators, and taking care of wounded or sick sheep. It means being on the move at a rate that allows the flock to get to fresh pasture without leaving behind the young or the old.

Sometimes church shepherds look for a quick fix to the needs of the flock. It is much easier to intimidate the flock with fake wolves than it is to get to know them. It is much easier to control their movement than provide nourishing food. It is much easier to scare them with posters of wolves than to engage the real wolves. Have you ever been in a church where leaders “led” by intimidation? Where leaders were constantly crying “Wolf!”? Where leaders were aloof?

I am thankful for those who shepherd the flock at Skyline who are trying to lead us by being out in front of the flock to show us the direction to go. Recently Alan DeJarnatt presented a special message to the flock at Skyline. There were no fake wolves. There was no intimidation. There was the voice of a shepherd (on behalf of all our shepherds) lovingly calling us to follow. Alan’s message left us with much to consider about our involvement and commitment to God and God’s people.

  • Am I making it a priority to be with my church family for worship and spiritual formation opportunities?
  • Am I opening my life to interaction with others in deepening spiritual friendships?
  • Am I being a member of the body of Christ by sharing Jesus and serving others in the name of Jesus?
  • Am I being a generous giver to support the kingdom work of our church family?

It would be so much easier for our shepherds to just carry around some wolf posters. After all, it’s a whole lot easier to keep the flock in line with intimidation and bullying. But I am thankful to God our shepherds have committed themselves to the messy work of getting involved in the lives of the flock. And I am thankful for their leading us with loving words to us and loving prayers for us.

Letting Go of False Security

In chapter three of her book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, Ruth Haley Barton writes about how leaders must give up their false sense of security in order to become godly leaders. Throughout the book she uses Moses as a leadership model. Moses learned through his time with God that the answer to leadership was not the physical power that he had previously used.

She includes a wonderful story from Theophane, a Cistercian monk residing at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, CO, to further illustrate the point.

I saw a monk working alone in the vegetable garden. I squatted down beside him and said, “Brother, what is your dream?” He just looked straight at me. What a beautiful face he had.

‘I would like to become a monk,” he answered.

“But brother, you are a monk, aren’t you?”

“I’ve been here for 25 years, but I still carry a gun.” He drew a revolver from the holster under his robe. It looked so strange, a monk carrying a gun.

“And they won’t — are you saying they won’t let you become a monk until you give up your gun?”

“No, it’s not that. Most of them don’t even know I have it, but I know.”

“Well then, why don’t you give it up?”

“I guess I’ve had it so long. I’ve been hurt a lot, and I’ve hurt a lot of others. I don’t think I would be comfortable without this gun.”

“But you seem pretty uncomfortable with it.”

“Yes, pretty uncomfortable, but I have my dream.”

“Why don’t you give me the gun?” I whispered. I was beginning to tremble.

He did, he gave it to me. His tears ran down to the ground and then he
embraced me.

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, pages 55-56

Barton closes the chapter by suggesting that most of us have a gun hidden under the robe of our leadership persona. Most of us have some way of protecting ourselves, some method of making us feel safe, that is inconsistent with the person God is calling us to be. She suggests that we spend time with God in order to identify the gun we carry and have the courage to hand it over.