Rush to Judgment

For matters of complete disclosure, back in the early 90s, when my politics leaned a bit more to the right, I was quite the Dittohead. So it’s not like I have an ax to grind against Rush Limbaugh. I get him and sympathize with him. But still, he shouldn’t be so surprised by the backlash of the possibility of him buying into an NFL team.

The fact is that he’s a public figure who has built his success on his opinions and being an agent provocateur. Republicans in general need to face the facts that if they have to keep defending themselves against charges of racism, there’s probably a reason why. At the very least, they have a public relations problem issue that ought to cause them to examine their methods of operation. For example, Republicans are going to (continue to) look racist if they simply scrap programs for the poor without having a different plan to replace it with. [Just like Democrats are going to (continue to) enable this co-dependent relationship that keeps a disproportionate amount of people suckling at the government’s teat.]

Some things disqualify us from certain positions. In the hierarchy of social sins, perceived racism trumps even dog killing. This is the land of second chances and people have the freedom to pursue the opportunities that come our way. When you are outspoken, controversial, and polarizing—and that’s your brand—doors open and doors close because of your act.

As we think through the criteria of what makes a good leader, certainly their gifts are still in place. Some folks have called Rush the leader of the Republican Party, some see him as just an entertainer with interesting ideas. Either way, he has trained a good deal of his life for his vocation and in few occupations can one failing cast you from your career track for good. Don’t feel bad, it is what it is: I’m probably not going to drop my kids off at the Howard Stern DayCare either.

Sometimes We Have to Enter the Cave

“The one great advantage you have as a new church pastor is that you are forced to start small. Nothing is imposed on you. Determine that you will know every person, their names and whatever of their lives they are willing to let you in on. Be in their homes. Invite them into your home in small groups for an evening or lunch. The killing frost in too much new church development is forming programs that will attract people or serve their perceived ‘needs,’ getting them ‘involved.’ The overriding need they have is worship and that is the one thing that is lowest on their ‘needs’ list. Insist on it: keep it simple – learn to know every last one of them relationally. And call them to worship – and not entertainment worship, but a community at worship. Americans these days are not used to being treated that way, personally and apart from promotional come-ons. Religious entrepreneurism has infected church planting all over the country. When it is successful numerically (and if you are a good salesman and smile a lot it probably will be) you will end up with a non-church.”

I recently ran across this quote from Eugene Peterson on J.R. Briggs’ web site. The context is new church plants/communities (and I think being willing to enter one another’s “caves” is what being a true church community is about), but it got me to thinking. I recently told a friend that “I know you like to withdraw into your cave. I’m just saying make room for me to keep you company.” Not that I have any special insight, I just know what I’m like when I’m in a “cavey” mood. Most people want to be pursued. We want to be cared for enough, matter enough, for someone to come after us. And sometimes we need space. On our end, we need to do a good job of communicating what we want. On the end of those we are in community with, we need to go after folks.

We often talk about relationships and being in community, but have little understanding of what that means and entails. Too many “guys” act like, well, guys . We’re prone to “give people space” when problems arise and then act stunned when situations are misread or misunderstood. We rarely take the time to evaluate if our approach is a healthy way to deal with situations. (Right now would again NOT be the time for someone to try to convince me women shouldn’t be leaders or wouldn’t make better shepherds). Maybe, in shepherding people, giving people space leaves gaps in relationships, or may leave people feeling isolated or alone.

This isn’t solely a “guy” thing: most people are relationally lazy. It’s easy to hang out with someone but it takes work to get to know someone. It’s easy to enjoy someone’s company during good times and harder to walk through the mess of their lives. I know many pastors get used to people coming to them when they have problems, so they get into a posture of not having to seek people out. Just like I know it’s easy for some leadership teams to go “well, so and so has kept in touch, so my base is covered.” No, it doesn’t: neglecting relationships doesn’t cover for you. Giving people space gives them room to hide. Most times, the hiding isn’t even some deep, dark sin but rather just people being afraid and broken and thus secretive, slow to trust. Requiring shepherds to walk with them for a while before they become willing to share and open up.

It comes down to the basic tools of “doing” relationships. A part of dealing with people as grown ups, mature men and women, means that we have to take risks. That part of being willing to “lay down my life for my brother” means that they might yell at us, they might be mad at us, but we take those chances so that we can hear from them in relationship. That’s why it’s so important to walk alongside folks and pour oneself into their lives. That, in over communication, we will fail on the side of love by letting the caver tell us when they need space.

“Just A Servant”

I’ll just tell you right now, I’m frustrated. Certain aspects of our modern culture have insinuated themelves into the fabric of the church, deterring or outright corrupting its ministry. Values such as a corporate policy and philosophy have been bought into by the church, where the ABCs of church reality became Audience, Buildings, and Cash. The pastor becomes the CEO and the elders operate as the board of directors. Offerings or tithes become income, or worse, profit; people become measured as “giving units” and the Gospel becomes reduced to little more than a product to be pushed.

This “pastor as CEO” mentality bleeds into and out of our cultural ideas of leadership. Leadership becomes about power, prestige, and possessions except translated through Christianese: we can have more people reached for the kingdom, more people fed, and a larger congregation or church edifice (the pastoral equivalent of measuring penis size). Even the term servant-leader is a capitulation to this mentality when we should all strive to be “just a servant”.

The frustrating part is that some leadership structures view the servants of their communities as commodities. Parts to be used rather than as people. The servants aren’t so much people but rather “just” folks who do the work of church. Servants are little better than light bulbs: as soon as they burn out or otherwise “break,” they are either discarded or hoped to be repaired so they could go back to doing the work.

The word “king” and the word “gens” (common folk) come from the same root for tribe, clan, or nation; that little etymology lesson tells me that there’s a closer relationship between leader and led than we may think. Yet a corporation mentality leads to focus on ridiculous job titles to the point where the title becomes the seduction (I know many folks who got improved job titles rather than, you know, an actual raise). We become about the title rather than the role played or the work being done. And sometimes we don’t want what comes along with a title because those extra intangibles get in the way of the actual work.

Servants are the people who run the church and make it work, wielding the informal power and influence that comes with service. Too often preachers, as important as they are, are reduced to plug and play ear ticklers. We want more of a servant mentality among our people. We want everyone to be like them, but we don’t appreciate them. We need to invest in nurturing them. They are the shepherds, constantly serving the sheep, getting them fed, guiding them, protecting them, co-pastors of a church.

Kingdom leadership is informal, without many official positions. The model of leadership we present is Jesus and yet, he led by serving. He saw needs–physical, emotional, or spiritual–met them, and THEN spoke. It was more important for him to walk alongside his disciples and pour himself into their lives—getting a towel and washing the feet of those who walked beside him—rather than isolate himself so that he could prepare sermons every week.

Not everyone is meant to “lead” or, better said, hold office. Better the “leaders” find their people’s individual passion and gifts and then let them loose. Life is short and we have too little time to not be the people God intended us to be. Striving to be a servant seems to be the best way to subvert our natural inclination to “will to power.” The corporate mentality forgets that loving others isn’t efficient, and we need to be about loving well rather than running efficiently. Loving people well influences. Loving people well is kingdom work. Loving people well is true leadership.

“We express our gratitude to those who serve because to serve is godlike. If Jesus is our window to God, then we are never more like God than when we serve others. Our chief identity is that of children of God, but the best means by which we reveal our identity to the world is through service to others.

“More than any other description, the great apostle Paul called himself “the servant of Christ and of God.” Paul understood himself to be following in the way of the Master – that of self-giving service to others. He remembered his Lord’s teaching that our greatest goal in life should be to hear these words of approval from God: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Sadly, this is something Jesus’ own disciples often forgot”.

Take Your Ass Home

Dear Pastor, Ministry Worker, or Non-Profit Person:

Before I decided to work in ministry, part-time though it may be, I went around and talked to a lot of folks that I know in ministry. From pastors, to people who do other full-time ministry or charity work, one particular warning kept popping up: your first ministry is to your family.

Take your ass home.

Are we family here? Let’s be real then: you ain’t that important to Kingdom work. Yes, we are called to be missional and join in a ministry of reconciliation, but you aren’t irreplaceable. The work will be there tomorrow. You can’t sacrifice your family, (especially) not even in the name of the Lord or doing His work.

Consider this a welcome to leadership lesson two. It took me a long time to get comfortable (well, first that I’m a leader, and then) with the idea of what it means to be a leader in the Biblical sense. Being a leader doesn’t require sinless perfection. It doesn’t require academically qualified or highly skilled (we may not outright say it, but we tend to expect our leaders to have initials after their name if they are going to speak or write). A piece of paper doesn’t make anyone a good leader. It’s more about their character. Their honesty (with people and money). The stability of their personal/family life. An ability to teach. A maturity as a believer.

Take your ass home.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got next to zero self-control in this area. Left to my own devices, every waking moment would be filled with me volunteering for one group or another. My wife is already suspicious that I may be committing “ministry adultery” with all of my recent writing about Outreach, Inc. (Though, combining it with existing ministries is fine. However, she is, for real, tired of me volunteering for things, be it writing or “in the name of the Lord”). Here’s how we solved the problem for us: she’s in charge of my time. It’s similar to submitting to who is gifted in what area.

She’s better at balancing a checkbook and making (and sticking to) budgets, so she runs that aspect of our life. My heart and mind want to prioritize my family, but it’s funny how “work” can make us lose sight of these things. To ensure that I wouldn’t, I asked her to hold me to account for making sure I spent however much time she needed me to at home (this includes regular date nights). I have a day job, I work for the church, and I write – to which she’s been quite sacrificial in accommodating. To ensure that my time/priorities don’t topple out of order, for every “new” venture I decide to adopt, I have to drop something else I do. She also gets a veto on how many evenings I book up with “stuff” (everything we do gets cleared on the Family Calendar Board), because neither one of us wants to be constantly “busy”. It’s our system, but I know how this “mutual submission” talk makes some folks nervous, so your mileage may vary.

The bottom line is that too many of us think that we’re indispensable. That we have to be at church, our ministry, our vocation, our whatever, from sun up to sundown. Yes, sacrifice is often required and there is not enough time in the day to get everything done. However, your family is not that sacrifice. Tuck in your kids and kiss your spouse because if you’re neglecting your family, you’re neglecting your first ministry.

Take your ass home.

Love and kisses,