Thursday, October 20, 2016
Christian Challenge is hosting its first Servant’s Heart Leadership Development meeting this Saturday. It’s something I’m really looking forward to. It’s not a staff meeting. It’s not a planning meeting. It’s not a business meeting. It’s a time of worship, vision casting, and prayer for our church family (and friends). As I've shared internally, I urge all ministry team leaders to attend. I encourage all ministry team members to attend. And I welcome all church members to attend - and visitors too! :)
As I shared on a recent Sunday morning, we are all leaders. We aren’t all leaders in exactly the same way - our roles and responsibilities in life are different - but we all have people in our lives that are watching us. We all have a degree of influence among our friends and family. So our choice as believers isn’t so much whether we will be a leader or not. The real question is whether we’ll be good leaders or bad leaders. The difference between the two often comes down to the preparation, to the work we’re willing to put into it.
We understand that our vehicles require regular preventative maintenance. We know that if we don’t change our oil, we’re putting the engine in danger. We understand that rotating our tires can extend their life. We may not like it, and it may happen at the most inopportune times, but we expect that from time to time we’ll have to repair or replace worn out parts.
But when it comes to our spiritual lives and witness, sometimes we expect ourselves (and everyone else who serves in a leadership capacity) to continue operating at a high level with zero leadership maintenance. But that’s not how it works. If we didn’t have to work at it, Paul wouldn’t have told Timothy to be ready in season and out (2 Tim 4:2). Leadership requires ongoing maintenance!
We all need some preventative maintenance. I’m not writing this as the accomplished master who has it all figured out - I am guilty of this too. I fill my calendar with so many “good” things that sometimes they crowd out the “best” things. We think we’re doing OK, so we postpone the maintenance for a more convenient time. But unless we make it a priority, that more convenient time will never come. As a result, we become fatigued, and sometimes burnt out. (Been there, got the t-shirt!) We may continue to serve and others may not even know that we’re struggling, but we lose the joy and motivation that we once had.
I’m not necessarily talking about walking through difficult times. We will all face difficult seasons, and sometimes they come no matter how prepared we think we are. But not everything we go through is a trial beyond our control. Sometimes we put ourselves into difficult seasons by neglecting the preventative maintenance that God intended for us to follow.
So what does that preventative maintenance look like for leaders?
1 - STAY CONNECTED TO THE ULTIMATE LEADER.
If your daily schedule is such that you don’t feel like you can set aside a quiet time with God, that should be a red flag to you. As the old saying goes, if you’re too busy to have time with God, you’re too busy! :)
Back in January, I started a Facebook group for anyone who wanted to commit to daily Bible reading with me. We’ve been working through several short plans, and anyone is invited to join us at any time - just go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/ReadingBibleWithBroNathan/ to sign up. And if you’ve been through our Disciple’s Heart class, you’ll remember the “Gems for Jesus” daily devotional journal that my father designed. You don’t have to use a devotional book or follow a Bible reading plan to spend time with God, but these are both great tools that can help you get on track and stay on track. So if you’re struggling in this area, consider joining us on Facebook. If you’d like a copy of the Gems devotional notebook, contact our office.
We have to work at keeping our priorities in line, because just because we’re busy doesn’t mean our busy-ness is healthy. As believers, we are all called to serve. But sometimes our service can become an idol, or at least an impediment to our relationship with God. We can get so caught up in the “what” of ministry that we completely lose sight of the “why.”
When we become disconnected, we can also become resentful. In the story of Martha and Mary, Martha was busy serving. She was doing a good thing, but she let it consume her. Instead of enjoying her service and seeing it as an act of worship to God, Martha resented her sister Mary for not helping her. When we start to resent others in that way, it’s almost always an indication that something is wrong in OUR lives, not THEIR lives.
2 - GET INPUT FROM OTHERS.
One of the dangers of leadership (and life in general) is that we can become nearsighted. We get so involved with whatever situation is right in front of us that it can become hard to see the bigger picture. Have you ever heard the phrase “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” Sometimes we need a little help to see the bigger picture. That might take the form of asking a mentor for advice, reading a book from someone you respect, listening to a podcast, or maybe attending a conference. Or sometimes we just need to “phone a friend!”
For example, as a parent, sometimes it helps to ask other parents how they would handle a situation. They’ve probably been in your position before. They’re familiar with the principles involved… but because they are outside of your family, they can offer an outsider’s perspective. In the business world, sometimes a business owner will bring in an outside consultant to help them streamline their business processes and suggest things that the in-house team might not have considered. A friend of mine just started a Facebook group for “moms of multiples” to talk to each other, help each other, encourage each other - because mothers of twins, triplets, quadruplets, etc, face special challenges that only they can understand. And they can often be each other’s best resource! Even if it’s just letting a stressed, frazzled, worn-out mother know somebody else understands!
As a pastor, I appreciate the wisdom that other pastors share. I’m part of a weekly gathering of pastors from different denominations but with a common love for Jesus. Their wisdom is invaluable to me! I’ve also taken some of our leadership team to conferences like the Right Now Conference that takes place in Dallas every November. I also love to listen to leadership podcasts, like those from Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel. I can’t overstate the importance of getting input from others as a way of keeping you in tune and providing ongoing maintenance to your leadership potential.
3 - GIVE ENCOURAGEMENT TO OTHERS.
Pure encouragement is a rare commodity these days. When someone approaches us with a compliment, we often immediately wonder what they’re looking for in return. Consider the parent who looks with suspicion on the smiling child who tells them how smart, or nice, or pretty they are. :) Pure encouragement is given with no strings attached and no attempt at manipulation. We’re not trying to close the sale, curry favor, or make up for a previous offense.
For maximum effectiveness, the encouragement needs to be more than a simple compliment. Don’t misunderstand me, compliments do have their place and should definitely flow more freely from us than criticisms. But encouragement goes deeper than a compliment. If it’s something you could say with equal conviction to anyone, even a perfect stranger, it’s probably not something that will have much of an impact on the person you’re trying to encourage.
“You look nice today” is a compliment, but it won’t mean near as much as saying “You handled XXX situation very well.” A single substantial word of encouragement, something that doesn’t ring hollow or feel manipulative to the person receiving it, can carry that person for a very long time. It’s a little bit of “preventative maintenance” for them. So look for opportunities to give sincere, meaningful encouragement to others. It will make the that person’s day. But it’s also a tune-up for you, getting you in the positive habit of changing your focus and perspective. Encouraging others requires that you take your eyes off of yourself and focus on the positive things in others.
My prayer is that Saturday’s Servant’s Heart Leadership Development meeting will touch on each of these areas for everyone who attends and will provide much needed encouragement and leadership maintenance! If you’re in central Louisiana and would like to join us Saturday at 9:00 AM, we’d love to have you. While my focus is on the leadership team of Christian Challenge, I welcome anyone to attend if you’re interested in doing a little leadership maintenance! But remember this, no matter where you are, no matter how faithful or neglectful you’ve been with your own spiritual preventative maintenance, we can all benefit from keeping our focus on God, receiving input from others, and training ourselves to see others through God’s eyes.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
One of my goals when I relaunched my blog was to also highlight the thoughts and writings of others through guest blog posts. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a guest post, so this week I asked our children's minister, Jason McManus, to share. I didn’t give him a particular topic to cover, just asked him to share what was on his heart, and he chose to address empathy, or more specifically, practicing empathy.
And that’s a great reminder, because we tend to see empathy as more of a passive thing, and not something we need to work for. Jason makes a great case for taking some deliberate, conscious, and sometimes difficult steps towards practicing empathy, even when we don’t want to. P.S., the writing is all his, but I did add in the bold for emphasis, as is my style! ;)
A Guest Post by Jason McManus
Did you know that one of the best ways to see from someone else's perspective is by reading? That's right, one of the key ways to teach someone empathy is by giving them something to read with a viewpoint that is at least a little different from their own. I don't actually want to talk about reading though, I want to talk about perspective. What I want to share with you in this entry is what empathy looks like in a Christian's life. I also want to tell you why I think we all need to practice more of it.
The first thing we need to do is define the term. Empathy is a psychological state similar to sympathy, but instead of feeling sorry for a person, you relate to them or identify with them. The problem many of us have with empathy is that we tend to be naturally pessimistic. When we have an argument with someone, instead of assuming it was a misunderstanding we assume that particular person is rude, insensitive and probably a pathological liar. Yes, I acknowledge that sometimes people are all of those things, but a lot of times they are just doing the best they can and trying hard doesn't mean they don't make bad choices.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” - Matthew 7:12
This verse is often called 'The Golden Rule' and really shows the heartbeat of what empathy truly is. Jesus was teaching that instead of using our emotions to know how to treat people, we should take the time and think about it. If we let our emotions rule us, we will act out in anger, jealousy and other passions that go away as quickly as they come and leave disaster in their path. This is not an ideal way to spend our lives.
So where does that leave us? It sounds good in theory - “empathy”, sure we'd all like to consider ourselves like that, but are we really? Often times we try so hard to mold our lives into exactly the way we want them that we forget to help others. It isn't that we don't care or that we are mean people, it is just we are too focused on ourselves. There is a big difference between being selfish and being self-centered. The selfish person sees an issue through someone else's perspective and just doesn't care. The self-centered person wants to help, they just never realize there is a need.
Isn't that where we find ourselves more often? We don't mean to be unkind, we're just too busy thinking about our lives. It's not just a simple act of 'deciding to be empathetic' that will actually change our worldview though. If it were that easy, wouldn't we all be doing it? This is one of those times where there isn't an easy answer. There is just a straight-forward and hard answer. Start practicing.
Here's some examples. Has your boss been yelling at you? Try and figure out what he thinks he is achieving by sending those insults your way. Surely, there is more to it than 'he is mean', but it is up to you to find out. Time to do your best Sherlock Holmes impression and think about things from other angles. Try and think like someone from the opposite side of the political aisle, or try and understand what someone from a different nationality or race would think about a certain issue. This doesn't mean you have to always agree with your new found perspectives, but at least you are learning to widen your viewpoint.
Now let's think about how we can use this in our faith walk.
“Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” - Hebrews 13:1-3
Do you hear the heart of the writer here? Love everyone and think about what others are going through as if you were going through it. If you truly want to live a lifestyle of service or just want to continue being a reliable friend, you ought to try and figure out where they are coming from. Make the effort to understand your friend's point of view. Living this way may be hard, but true friends are worth their weight in gold.
Another thing about friendship though, is it gets messy. It also gets scary. The scary part of empathy is that it makes us vulnerable. It makes us feel weak. Some people (myself included) will ask something like this. “What if I go out of my way to accommodate someone and they don't want anything to do with me?” On the other hand, perhaps you don't want to invest emotionally in people because you have been burned by friends before. That's life though, everybody gets burned. Pick yourself up, shake the dust off and go try again. Good friends are worth the risk and vulnerability is not weakness despite what anyone tells you. Making connections with people, serving others and putting genuine love for others into practice are some of the most productive things you can do with your time. Also, because time is such a valuable and finite resource we should learn to actually spend some of it on things that give us long term results.
Matthew 6:19-21 says it this way:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
You can't take stuff with you, but the impact you have on other people's lives is an eternal value, a treasure that no moth can eat and no robber can steal. We have to be a community of believers that teaches and practices empathy. Looking at life only through our own glasses will severely limit our effectiveness in this world. I'm thinking and praying hard about how I can spend more of my time investing in things with heavenly value and I hope you will too.
Jason is a long-time friend and leads our children’s ministries at Christian Challenge, including overseeing Sunday School and the Kids Community experience on Wednesday nights. It was my honor to teach him in youth group and a pleasure to watch him grow up into a man a God! He is married to the lovely Marsha and they have two gorgeous children. I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did! --Nathan
Thursday, October 06, 2016
Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of poor customer service. It’s frustrating… and I’ve been there. Of course, there are still people out there who are committed to doing a good job, and I’ve had the privilege of being served by many hard workers who exemplify a good work ethic. It just seems as if there aren’t as many of them around as there used to be. I have to admit that sometimes I feel a bit like an old curmudgeon longing for the “good old days” when (at least it seemed like) courtesy and diligence on the job was the rule rather than the exception.
One of the reasons customer service is so important to me is because as a teenager I was blessed to work for small business owners who were actively involved in the day-to-day operations and took great pride in giving excellent customer service. I was taught that the customer was the reason I was there and was never an inconvenience. And they lived it out in front of me by doing little things - like parking far away from the front door so the customers would have the best parking spaces or by not chasing people out at closing time. I watched them take a loss to save a customer, and in doing so make a life-long friend. That had a long-term impact on me as a young man, and shaped my understanding of customer service.
This past Sunday in my “God’s Secret” series I talked about Proverbs for Work. Coincidentally over this past weekend, two different social media posts about bad service at local restaurants went viral. This is still something of a hot topic, even though members of the management of both restaurants (Taco Bell and Johnny Carino’s) have reached out to the offended parties and promise to take steps to rectify the situation.
But regardless of whether the root of the problem was a bad work ethic or a bad attitude on the part of the employees (or just bad management)... clearly something is wrong. And it’s not just something wrong with the establishments or employees who were the subjects of the viral social media posts. It’s a much more pervasive issue than that. It’s a fundamental flaw in our modern American culture.
Often, as believers, our values are going to be in conflict with those of the culture in which we live. And that’s the way it ought to be. We are in this world but not of this world. And when it comes to our work ethic, the Bible makes it clear that we should be different from the world.
1 - The voice of our culture says, “I’m not getting paid enough to do that.” Our culture sees success as getting the maximum return for the minimum investment. We also tend to value ourselves and others by how much we earn. So it’s not surprising that people who feel like they’re not getting paid enough for what they do won’t want to do anything more than the minimum required to get by. And it’s also not surprising that employers will try to pay as little as possible to get the job done. It’s a vicious circle.
But the Bible says no matter what kind of work you do, work “with all your heart.” (Col 3:23 NIV) That instruction was actually given to people who lived in a culture where indentured servitude was commonplace. And it still instructed the servant to work hard, no matter who their master was, because it’s the right thing to do.
(By the way, the Bible also has some strong words for employers. A Christian employer ought to be treating his or her employees with respect and pay them a fair wage. “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Col 4:1 ESV) Again, this is spoken to those living in a culture that accepted slavery - and yet the master/employer was commanded by God to be fair and just. And the Scriptures have some harsh things to say to those employers who cheat their employees with regard to wages. (1 Tim 5:18; James 5:4; Rom 4:4; Jer 22:13; Lev 19:13; Prov 22:16; etc.))
2 - The voice of our culture says, “That’s not my job.” We’ve become a culture that goes out of our way to NOT go out of our way. You see it in the employee who, coming back from break, steps over trash on his way back in. You see it in the employee on break that won’t pitch in when the counter gets backed up. You see it in the disinterested attendant who doesn’t care about anything outside their immediate job description.
But as believers, we shouldn’t be looking for excuses to avoid doing good. We don’t just represent our bosses, we represent Jesus. I’ve already quoted parts of Col 3:23 but listen to the whole verse: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” (Col 3:23 NIV) When you work for the Lord, there’s nothing that’s NOT in your job description! There’s no shirking of duties or dumping your work onto someone else! And this applies whether you like your boss or not!
It’s easy to work hard for a good boss. It’s a testimony to work hard for a bad one! Or as Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” (Luke 6:32 NLT)
I mentioned the good examples I had in my early years from employers who were small business owners. I was blessed to get to work for bosses who were not above picking up cigarette butts or trash in parking lot, helping unload a delivery truck or working late helping fill a big order. They modeled servant-leadership to me and showed me that good customer service also means serving our co-workers well.
3 - The voice of our culture says, “Someone else was wronged, so I have the right to wrong others until it changes.” We live in a culture that believes it’s an acceptable form of protest to deny service to someone because you don’t like what they represent to you. It’s sad that we’ve become a society content to judge someone by the color of their uniform and not by the content of their character as individuals. (Yes, that line was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
In the Manifesto of the Kingdom of Heaven (also known as the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus charged to disciples to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Mat 5:43-48) Note that we’re called to pray for, not prey on them! Just because you don’t like what someone stands for, or what someone like them did, doesn’t give you the right to discriminate against them. It was wrong when our country allowed “Whites Only” counters and water fountains, and it’s wrong when police officers aren’t served because of their profession.
The Christian Work Ethic calls on us to treat everyone with dignity and respect. That brings up the sensitive topic of certain professions that may get called on to provide services to people engaging in what they consider sinful behaviors. I believe that is a highly personal decision, and I’m not encouraging anyone to violate their conscious by designing websites for bars, doing landscaping for casinos or baking cakes for non-traditional weddings, if those are personally held convictions. Those are decisions you’ll have to make for yourself. But we are still called to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Period.
On Sunday, I spoke about four work-related themes from the book of Proverbs. In a nutshell, they were A) Don’t be lazy (Prov 24:30-34); B) Don’t be negligent (Prov 10:4); C) Be honest (Prov 11:1); and D) Don’t cheat your boss (Prov 14:23 and 20:17). It’s easy to understand these simple bits of advice… but the reason that they’re in the book of Proverbs and echoed throughout the Bible is because they’re not easy to do. Our human nature wants to go the easy route. Our culture tells us that it’s OK. It’s hard work to go against that grain!
But it’s worth it! As Prov 22:29 says, “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” (NIV) This doesn’t mean it will happen overnight, but people who work hard, who are diligent, who are honest, who are trustworthy… they can’t help but stand out, if they’ll just keep standing long enough.
As an employee, are you trying to get by with giving less than your best? Are you grateful for your job, or are you resentful?
As an employer, are you treating your employees the way you would want to be treated in their shoes? Are you rewarding their hard work, or are you the only one who profits from their labor?
These are questions I think Christians should ponder deeply. And we should also consider the idea that there is no secular/sacred divide when it comes to work. All work is ministry when done “as unto the Lord” - and you never know who God will reach through you. (As a bonus, check out the "Work as Worship" teaching series made available by Right Now Media.)
I’ve got a great closing challenge for you that you can start right now. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and 30 or 31 days in most months (other than February). So here’s the challenge: Commit to read the chapter of Proverbs that corresponds to the day of the month for a year. It will only take a couple of minutes a day, and you’ll be amazed at how much practical wisdom you pack into your heart. Then you’ll begin to learn God’s Secret Wisdom for those who fear Him!