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Leading Messy People

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“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4, ESV

Whether you are a pastor, church staff member, employer, team leader at work, or a leader in any other capacity, every person on your team is unique. They all have strengths and they all have weaknesses. Learning to encourage them in their strengths and work together through their weaknesses is vital. The proverb implies two options: Either everything under your supervision can be clean, organized, and exactly as you want it, OR you can work with real people. And working with real people can get messy.

But here’s the thing: The people on your team are your greatest resource. Farmers like clean stables, no doubt. And it would be easy to keep the stables clean if the farmer could just get rid of the oxen. But farmers don’t reap abundant harvests because they have clean stables. They reap abundant harvests because they have hard-working oxen all moving in the same direction. Much like this, you won’t reach maximum effectiveness because desks are always organized, your t’s are always crossed and i’s always dotted, and there are never any personality conflicts on your team. You will reach maximum effectiveness because you have quality, hard working team members who are all moving in the same direction toward a common goal.

Sure, there are times when letting a team member go is the right thing to do. But most of the time, before this is even an option, we should look into our leadership first and ask the hard questions. Are my expectations realistic? Have I clearly communicated my expectations? Is this a real issue or only a perceived issue? Do I have the right person in the wrong position?

Learn to appreciate the different personalities of your team members. When the small things aren’t exactly like you want them, be thankful that you are leading a hard-working group of people. Leadership is not about keeping the feeding troughs clean; it’s about getting all of your people moving in the same direction toward a common goal.

I’d rather have a diverse group of hard working team members who work through personality difficulties and other minor idiosyncrasies to be exceptionally productive than a handful of superficially spotless wax-figures who expend most of their energy keeping the stalls clean.

Clean stalls = no oxen. No oxen = no productivity. Value the oxen more than the stalls. Stalls are not your greatest resource, nor should they be your greatest investment. People are your greatest resource, and they should always be your greatest investment.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

Preaching: From God & Before God

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“For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things? For we do not market the word of God for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17, CSB)

Pastor, the weekly privilege of preaching God’s word to God’s flock is no small task. Some would say it is the most significant, most valuable thing you do every week. After hours of studying the text and praying for the Holy Spirit’s discernment, wisdom and anointing, God gives you the awesome responsibility of representing him and re-presenting his word before a group of people who have gathered to meet with him and to hear from him (not with you or from you). The message of Christ is a matter of “life” and “death”, writes Paul; the gravity of the Sunday morning hour should be an occasion for sincerity and awe.

“Who is adequate for these things?” asks the apostle, rhetorically. “No one” is the appropriate response. Apart from the calling of God in Jesus Christ, not one of us is educated enough, dynamic enough, faithful enough, or eloquent enough to represent God and re-present his word every week. Apart from Christ, the preacher brings absolutely nothing to the table. There is no room for boasting or pridefulness in the pulpit. The gravity of our weekly task would completely devastate us, apart from the call of the Father, the redemption of Christ Jesus and the anointing of the Spirit.

“Profit” is a dangerous motive for preaching God’s word. If the question is “what might I gain from preaching today?” you have failed before you have begun. What is it you hope to gain from preaching? Money? Acclaim? Admiration? Experience? The preacher is only prepared to stand in the pulpit when he seeks no such earthly reward. Our only gain is found in our humbled obedience to God. In the words of Richard Baxter, 17th Century preacher, we must walk off the stage each week able to say with integrity: “I preached… as a dying man to dying men.”

In verse 17, the apostle offers a single guiding thought that may do us all good as we prepare and preach every week: “as from God and before God.” Is this message a message from God? Am I preaching it today, as if God himself is in the room watching and listening? Biblical preaching is not biblical preaching if the message is not from God and before God. Preach the word, trusting the Holy Spirit to do the work of conviction in listening hearts. Deliver every word with sincerity, knowing that the Author of your message is in the room, listening intently as you deliver his message to his people.

When Paul meditates on the gravity of his preaching task, he comes to the conclusion that on our own, none of us are “adequate for these things.” But you can stand in the pulpit every week in humbled, impassioned obedience to God when the message you have prepared is “from God” and is being delivered as “before God”.

Grace and Peace
Tony

 

King David, Absalom, & the Pastor’s World

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Having lived in the senior pastor’s world for five years and in the associate pastor’s world for 13, I can say from experience that being called of God to shepherd his flock can often be a daunting task. It was in the pastorate that I experienced some of the most joyful moments of my life. It was also in the pastorate that I experienced some of the most wearisome moments of my life. There were times when I lay down on the floor of my office with my face planted in the rug (and if I could have gotten any lower, I would have), begging God through streaming tears to intervene, to vindicate, or to deliver.

In those moments God sometimes brought a comfort I did not understand. But other times, he simply reminded me of my calling – a pastor is who I am because a pastor is who God called me to be. There were many times in the pastor’s world when the only solace and comfort I found was to just remind myself that I was called of God. Now in a position where I have the honor of serving and supporting pastors and churches across the state of Texas, I am reminded every day that resting in the sure calling of God is often the pastor’s only consolation. As it should be.

When God calls a pastor, he calls the man first to himself, then to a people. Loving and serving God is generally easy. But loving and serving the people to whom he has called you is… well, let’s be honest… people can be hard to love. Pastors are often slandered and subverted, defamed and denigrated. It is difficult to love and serve people who go to such great length to destroy you. But in moments of dejection and despair, the pastor is to rest secure in the solace of God’s calling. He is to remember that God has called him first to himself, and secondly to the people under his care.

King David had been called of God, from shepherding sheep in the field to shepherding an entire nation spread across the land of Israel. David was a good boy. He had the heart of a lion and the courage of a warrior. But as you read 1 and 2 Samuel it becomes obvious that the only reason David was fit to be king over Israel was because God had called him to it. He was God’s anointed. God called David first to himself and secondly to the people of Israel. God could have anointed anyone king in Israel, but he chose David. That’s it. That calling from God would prove to be David’s only solace many times throughout his life.

Take, for example, 2 Samuel Chapters 15-18. David pardoned his son Absalom from banishment after he had killed one of his brothers for raping his sister (Jerry Springer would have eaten this up). Upon his pardon, Absalom surreptitiously positioned himself between the people of Israel and their king, David. Over the course of a few years Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” with his silver tongue and his charming demeanor (2 Sa 15:1-6). In short, David had been sabotaged by his own son. Absalom undermined God’s anointed and stole the kingdom away. I guess some people just have that (un)spiritual giftedness about them. Most pastors have, at some point, had a member of the flock clandestinely smooth talk his or her way into the hearts of the other sheep. It wasn’t long before the people of Israel called Absalom their king, and David was forced to abscond. By verse 30, we see David at the lowest he had ever been – having escaped his arrest in the city, yet held prisoner by his own depression in the mountains.

I’ll be honest, pastor: Absaloms will hurt you the most. The people you think are for you – you have served them graciously and poured your heart out for their benefit, even when they did not necessarily deserve it. They’ve taken you to lunch and have slipped you a $50 bill here and there, “for you and your sweet wife”. They have spoken your praises from the well-lit platform, but planned your demise in the dark corners. And one day you are blindsided by the realization that all along they’ve been playing you like they’ve been playing everyone else – and you will be the one to fall. That hurts, pastor. I know.

To add insult to injury (literally), as David continued his retreat a man named Shimei walked beside him assaulting him verbally and physically, from Bahurim all the way to the Jordan River. That’s about 15 miles! 2 Samuel 16:5-14 details Shimei’s special ministry to King David – a ministry of defamation, slander, and physical battering. Thank God for Shimei’s, right? Those people in your flock, pastor, who have the uncanny ability to kick you when you’re down. Like blood-sucking leaches, they wait to make their move until you are weary and drained; they capitalize on your disheartened exhaustion to latch on and suck from you the last bit of life you have left.

You know the ones I’m talking about. You spent all day Thursday in crisis marital counseling sessions then committee meetings. You got a call Friday afternoon just before you finished nursing home visits to inform you that one of your young families had been in a car accident – off to the hospital you went. Saturday morning one of your deacons knocked on your door at home because “we need to talk” – a two hour conversation that revealed the urgent need for three hours worth of follow-up. Sunday morning immediately before the worship service began, one of the children’s workers stopped you in the hallway to complain about supplies going missing from her closet. Absolutely drained, you preached your sermon from the end of 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 with lackluster. And the first person to catch you after the service (he may wait until Monday Morning, if you’re lucky) is Mr. Smith who takes the liberty of criticizing your sermon, attacking your devotion to the pastorate, and questioning your ability to lead the church. God bless you, Shimei.

At this point, King David just wants to give up. Can I tell you a secret? There were a few times in the pastorate where I honestly felt that way, too. But here’s what’s great about resting in the call of God alone: in Chapter 15, David was sabotaged by a smooth talker… in Chapter 16 David was defamed by a slanderous accuser… but in Chapter 17 David was delivered by the Lord’s decree (v.14). As it turned out, David’s enemies had been plotting against him in the dark corners, then defaming him on the high hills. But the whole time, God was for David because it was he who was anointed. It was he who was called. The war that David’s enemies incited brought about their own destruction. In the end, because David rested in the call, God subverted the subverters. He slayed the slanderers. He demolished the defamers.

Pastor, I have no doubt that you know how David felt. You live in the pastor’s (shepherd’s) world, too. You will spend entire seasons of your pastorate dealing with the surreptitious scheming of smooth talkers and/or enduring the malicious verbal barrage of flagrant fools. But if you’ll remember that God has called you first to himself – and if you’ll trust in his faithfulness to you in every circumstance – you will see God take you from defamation to deliverance in a way that brings him great glory and always works out for your good.

David was sabotaged. David was slandered. David was defamed and demoralized. But in the end, all that matted was that David was anointed by God. This is the beauty of life in the pastor’s world. Difficulty, dejection, and despair will, at some point, find you. But remember while your face is buried in the tear-stained polyester of your office rug that in the end, pastor, as long as you are faithful, all that matters is that you have been called by God.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

The SBC/SBTC Movement

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Having the privilege of visiting with many Southern Baptist pastors and churches has given me a renewed encouragement and sense of kingdom-expectation within our denomination. For too long Southern Baptist churches have carried the stigma of being “stuck in their ways” with regard to church life. But there is a fresh wind within the SBC, stirring pastors and churches who still hold to biblical inherency and solid Baptist doctrine, but are experiencing a new season in the movement of gospel initiative. As it turns out God is still on His throne, the gospel of Jesus Christ is still the only path to salvation, and the Bible, in its 66 Books, is still inerrant and infallible. The Southern Baptist Convention is a denomination who understands that the church can hold firmly to these things while widely varying its methods of church life together.

The Southern Baptist denomination is replete with healthy diversity: diversity in ethnicity, church polity, outreach methodology, discipleship methodology, worship style, and the list goes on. There is no single ‘face’ of our denomination; the faces of Southern Baptist life are as varied as the geographic and generational landscapes we navigate. Part of this fresh, new wind is an understanding that there is such beauty in diversity: it carries with it a “Look Like Heaven (SBTC)” kind of approach to church life together. But not just in ethnic diversity – in worship style, too! Any given Sunday, you can walk into a Southern Baptist church somewhere that emphasizes old hymns, contemporary songs, hip-hop and rap Christian worship, yee-haw backbeat TX singin’, or soulful gospel music. And the methods of discipleship are as varied as the methods of worship style. Some SBC churches employ a traditional Sunday School model, some Home Groups, some Cell Groups, some one-on-one mentorship programs, and more. Every SBC/SBTC church decides for herself what methods and styles help her to be most successful in Great Commission advance.

The beauty of it all is that these extremely diverse Jesus-centered, Bible-believing churches join hands together under the banner of cooperation as defined by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. The Bible alone is our creed, and the BFM 2000 is a common confession of our core, guiding doctrines. As it turns out, this Christian denomination which gets such a bad wrap for division and controversy actually exhibits an unparalleled unity in our biblical convictions and our Great Commission initiative. When 46,000 Southern Baptist churches give faithfully to God’s kingdom work through the Cooperative Program, tens of thousands of missionaries, church plants, church revitalization efforts, and seminary students are effectively funded with one guiding purpose in mind: that the gospel of Jesus Christ would reach the ends of the earth.

The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a fresh, new movement in this generation. It’s a Jesus-centered, Bible-believing, heavenward-looking, gates-of-Hell-shaking, forward-reaching movement. We’re moving forward together, lifting high the name of Jesus, pushing back the darkness of Hell, and heralding the light of the gospel to all nations. I’m honored to be a part of a denomination that is experiencing forward momentum for the cause of Christ.

If I were a young pastor wanting to lead my church to partner with a gospel-centered movement for the glory of God, I’d do everything I could to catch the wind blowing through the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention right now. I’d refuse to get lost in things I’ve heard about or experienced within the SBC in ages past, and I’d look to how God is using this denomination so powerfully right now to accomplish His plan, unfolding throughout the ages. I’d long to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit breathing new life into their churches. I’d want to be a part of this movement.

The SBC is not a historical platform. We’re a Holy-Spirit filled, God-fearing, Bible-believing convention of like-minded churches locking arms together for Great Commission advance. We know who our enemy is, and we live daily in the victory we already have over him. We’re moving forward. Together. And I’ve got to say… we’ve got some serious momentum, and we would love for you to be part of the movement.

Click HERE to see how your TX church can lock arms with us and be a part of the movement.

For the Churches,
Tony

5 Reasons You Need to Go to Church

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Sporting events, recitals and performances, hunting seasons, sleepless nights, family problems, conflict with others in the church, bad hair days, too much rain, too much sunshine… If you’re looking for an excuse to not be regular in church attendance, you don’t have to look for long. The culture in which we live pulls each of us in a thousand different directions every weekend, vying for our time, resources, and energy. But let’s get to the point. If you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, you need to go to church. And here are 5 reasons why:

1) To be an active part of the mission of God.

In Mt. 16:18, Jesus tells the disciples that He will build His church for His mission. Later, in Mt. 28:18-20, He empowers His church for that mission. God is up to something in the world. He is advancing His kingdom through the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel will reach the ends of the earth (Mt. 24:14), whether you are part of that movement or not. God’s mission is that every person lost in sin and scarred by its ravaging effects would hear the good news of salvation, then be given the opportunity to receive that salvation through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. “What is God’s plan for this global gospel initiative?” you ask. The answer: the local church. That’s right. God’s created and chosen vehicle for worldwide gospel propagation is the local church. And if you are a born again believer in Jesus, He has invited you to be a part of His gospel movement, pushing back the darkness and heralding the light of Christ all over the world through the work and witness of the local church. Through your faithful attendance, sacrificial financial giving, and active service within the Body of Christ (the local church), you are being an active part of the mission of God. You are joining the movement of gospel advance.

2)  To develop contextualized spiritual wisdom and understanding.

In the local church, you have the weekly opportunity to sit under the Spirit-filled preaching of God’s Word and to participate in the interactive teaching of God’s Word in small groups. Christ has chosen and set apart some to be teachers, preachers, and evangelists who are divinely charged and enabled to equip you for the mission of God (Eph. 4:11-12). If you are not regularly positioning yourself under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in a local church body, you are depriving yourself of being equipped for the mission. In 1 Thess 3:10, Paul told the Thessalonian church that he was praying to see them “face to face” so that he could “complete what is lacking” in their faith. In order to grow up in their faith under the teaching of God’s Word, they didn’t need another internet sermon or social media quick-shot Bible verse. Paul was praying for the opportunity to see them “face to face.” He wanted to brush shoulders with the people he was leading. He wanted to do life with them. Sermons and teaching series within a local church body are timely and contextual. When you hear a sermon on the internet or television, keep in mind that sermon was developed and delivered to a certain group of people in a certain context at a certain time in their life together. If it was a biblical, Christ-centered sermon it still carries value as such, but it is deprived of the contextual elements of church life together. However, if you are regularly positioning yourself under the Spirit-filled, Christ-centered preaching and teaching of God’s Word in a local church, the spiritual wisdom and understanding that you are gaining is being contextualized to your geographic area and to the timely issues of your own day. You need this.

3) To participate in corporate worship of King Jesus.

Yes, you can worship God on your own. But no, it’s just not the same. Scripture is replete with teaching on the value of corporate worship gatherings. When we lift up our voices together in song, prayer, and Scripture reading, it is a powerful thing. In Acts Chapter 4, the believers all “raised their voices together to God and said…” (v.24). The result of this corporate prayer was that “the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness” (v.31). Even in Heaven, there is and will be untold power in the joining of the saints’ voices: “they sang a new song…” and “they said with a loud voice…” (Rev. 5:9, 12). In Luke Chapter 19, The religious better-than-you’s instructed Jesus to stop His followers from worshipping Him. He responded that if they did not corporately do so, the stones would cry out! Psalm 19 teaches us that the heavens and the skies proclaim the glory of the King. When we gather together in corporate worship, we may be singing new songs but they are all part of an old song which has been sung since the foundation of the world. Through participation in corporate worship within the local church body, we have the great privilege of joining in with all of creation to declare the greatness, goodness, glory, and grace of King Jesus. But if you don’t go to church, well, you’ll miss out.

4) To live in biblical community.

Believe it or not, the word “fellowship” in the Bible is not a synonym for “potluck.” Fellowship happens as a group of people become more and more united in a common identity, with a common mission born from a common motivation.  It happens when God’s people begin to understand that we don’t attend Outskirts Baptist Church; we are Outskirts Baptist Church. Fellowship was something to which the early church “devoted themselves” (Acts 2:42). The believers were not in a constant consumer-driven, church-shopping state of mind, ready to move on to the next greatest thing. They were devoted. When things were good, they celebrated together. When things were difficult, they dug in and shared a common commitment to each other. This fellowship was unique in their cultural context. It was different – a good different. So much so that they were “enjoying favor with all the people”; as a result, “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Listen, 21st Century American Christian… you don’t just need to go to a local church; you need to be the local church. Learn to live in biblical community. Learn to give up your preferences and desires so that the unity of the church body and advancement of the gospel will be gloriously peculiar in your day, as it was in the day of the early church. Serve and be served. Do life together with the believers in your local church body. Be committed. Be devoted. This is what it looks like to live in biblical community.

5)  To live in obedience to God. 

This is where God plays the “because I said so” card. Even if you don’t completely understand why being actively devoted to your local church body is valuable, if you are going to live in obedience to God’s Word you must regularly attend a Bible-beleiving, Christ-centered local church. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we read, “And let us watch out for one another to provide love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Not attending church regularly can become a habit very quickly. The culture in which you live pulls you in a thousand different directions every weekend. Your options are endless. But God’s Word is clear that Christians are to make regular church attendance a priority. Even if you don’t understand why, the biblical instruction is to trust God’s will and live in obedience. Christian, if you are in the habit of not attending church, it’s time for a new normal.

Grace and Peace,
Tony